Farm Girl Passing

I love it that cows keep eating even in the rain. They don’t even look up. Rain is meaningless to them.

This raises some questions. Are all cows born stoic, impervious to wet? Or did each learn that no one will come if they complain? And how would they complain anyway? Mooing?

These and other thoughts pop up while we are driving south on I-43 back home to Milwaukee from the U.P. Like, why are there car tires stuck on fence posts? Why do so many farmers own boats and why are the boats always for sale? Do the people living in farmhouses know that people driving by imagine they are them?

I think about living on a farm mostly because I am, at least temporarily, enamored of physical labor and can see myself in a smart pair of muck boots from the Tractor Supply Company. I also like weather and animals and the idea of having farm implements parked in various random places where the grass will grow long because the mower can’t reach. I like the idea of chickens pecking and goats wandering about – the look of freedom, wearing a flannel shirt untucked over a long underwear top, the waffle knit kind.

I wouldn’t be on the farm in my flannel shirt for two weeks before I’d want to get in the car and take off. That would be hard with the chickens and the goat and the cows, which were, after all, the impetus for this entire piece. You see, I don’t really want to live on a farm. I just want to think about living on a farm. Where I want to be is in a car driving by a farm and thinking about living there. Which is what I’m doing at the moment. It’s sort of a dream come true.

Dog Day

We went to the Midwest Sled Dog Symposium in Curtis, Michigan, today where our retired sled dog, Swirl, was fussed over like a returning war hero by the people who raised, trained, raced, and ran him for seven years. One after the other described him as “the happiest dog we ever had” and scratched his back and his ears while he stood as he does, quiet and smiling.

The owner of the kennel sat down in front of me and said, “You’ve done everything right. He looks great, really fit, healthy.” And thus, my fears about his thin tail just evaporated (see last night’s post). Then was explained the reason why Swirl had become a touring dog instead of a racing one. On track to be an Iditarod dog, Swirl was taken to Oregon at the age of two to race. It was there it was determined he was a plenty fast runner but had a slow recovery time. A good sled dog will sleep four hours after running a long ways and then wake up ready for more. Not Swirl. So he became a working dog. And then a pet, which it appears was his plan all along.

Blair Braverman, Iditarod musher, author, and Twitter maven, was the keynote speaker at the conference along with her husband Quince Mountain. Blair described her missteps as a rookie in the 2019 Iditarod including her forgetting to pack any water in her drop bags – the supplies that are sent ahead to the race checkpoints. So she traded Costco cheesecakes for other mushers’ water and when she ran out of cheesecakes calculated that it would take three weeks for giardia to set in and the race would only take two weeks so she might as well just drink from streams which is what she did. I loved that.

I also loved that her husband, Quince Mountain, a military veteran, former cowboy, now dog musher, and, along with his wife, a former competitor on Naked and Afraid, is a trans man and there seemed not to be a single weird look or vibe or anything about that in this conference center in a little U.P. town where down the road a big Trump 2020 sign sat in a front yard. Of course, maybe folks drove off and talked amongst themselves but I don’t think so. I don’t think anybody cared and that was very cool. It was like, at last, something very good I lived to see. Of course that was my take as a spectator. Quince’s impression might have been completely different.

It couldn’t have been a better day.

Tomorrow I’ll be back to writing about anguish, death, self-doubt, and various forms of mayhem, my natural habitat. Dog day is done.

Taking Swirl to the Symposium

Tomorrow we are going to the Midwest Sled Dog Symposium in Curtis, Michigan. It’s being put on by the people who used to own our dog, Swirl. We’re taking him along to say hi to the other sled dogs and because if we leave him here he will eat all the pens and soap in the house.

I’m worried that his former owners, the sled dog kennel where he was born and raised, will think he’s too fat. Or too thin. Or unhappy in some way. He’s had a big coat blow (that’s the northern dog term for massive shedding) and his normally thick bushy tail isn’t. This bothers me and I’ve been obsessing about his tail all day, looking at it from afar like I do my car when I convince myself that my left front tire is low again.

And then there’s the no balls thing.

We took him to Pet Fest in Milwaukee and a pair of vet techs saw his shaved right leg where he’d had an IV and asked what surgery he’d had. When we said we’d had him neutered, they fist bumped the air. Yes! they said, the best thing you could have done for him, avoids a ton of problems. Still, I feel like he lost his wilderness sled dog self and wonder if his former owners will see right away that Swirl’s been citified.

Because he’s been finding weird things to chew – like pens and soap – we’ve been trying to run him more. Today on the beach, he ran up and then alongside a group of five women having a girls weekend in Grand Marais. They stopped and petted him, looked around, and studied his tags as if it was improbable that such a fine dog would belong to the two people in hand me down jackets lagging behind. I called him back to us to show he was ours but, of course, he turned tail and ran. Not for long, though. Soon he looked back to see where we were and then came barrelling across the sand to skid to a stop and turn around so I could scratch his back. It made me feel like a sheepherder in Ireland who could, with a whistle, have her dog turn on a dime and fetch up an errant sheep gone off in the woods. That is a special feeling.

So my goal tomorrow is to bring my dog to see his old kin and do it without apology. I am hoping he smiles with his tongue hanging out as if he could have never envisioned being so happy. And I hope he jumps back in our truck and doesn’t have to be hauled away under protest. Like he’s homesick or filled with regret.

My daughter thinks I’ve gone around the bend about this dog.

Beauty Is As Beauty Does

Sometimes I look in the mirror and I wonder – how far are you, Jan, from being a crazy old lady who cuts her own hair with the poultry shears.

I think it’s a very thin line. One day I’ll wake up and just say, what the fuck! I can just cut my own damn hair. And from then on I’ll wear extra large t-shirts from car dealerships and the yoga pants I bought at Goodwill last Friday and have worn every day since.

Oh, some dear reader will say, who cares how we look. It’s our inner beauty that counts. We are all God’s children, the perfectly dressed and the unraveling attired alike. Don’t you worry, Jan, they’ll console me, their disgust for my superficiality dripping from their sweet words. The ‘you don’t need to care how you look, dear’ comments will fight amongst themselves for territory – you’re so old now, it doesn’t matter,hon; you’re an activist, they never dress well; makeup and great clothes are part of the capitalist scheme to make us want what we don’t have and can never be.

All of this came to a head this week at a big event for my wee nonprofit, Time of the Month Club, a group that collects menstrual supplies for women who are homeless. It was our first ever lunch – with sponsors and monogrammed cups, speakers, 50 women in a room, a very big deal.

Anyway, I wore a skirt with pantyhose. Like I was 800 years old. I did this because, dear reader, my pants shrank In the wash. Yes, my favorite dress pants, the decidedly chic black number with the just right height length, super comfy and sleek, shrank to a pair of tight pedal pushers. I’ve had a problem with dress capris in the past because, for some reason, even though I’m not real athletic, I have calves like a linebacker so my capris would always get stuck like Grandma’s when she was gardening.

And the pantyhose. Jesus. I cannot with the bare legs. My legs, which are nice legs, I have to say, the oversized calves notwithstanding, are freckled, spotted, dimpled, stretched, veined, and mottled, most of all mottled. So going bare legged with a skirt is a no can do. But when I looked down at my legs at the lunch, waiting for one of the speakers to wrap up so I could continue my emceeing job, I couldn’t believe I was wearing pantyhose. I felt like a nun having a wild night on the town.

I did wear red shoes, though. It made me feel like the Pope. The Pope wears red shoes, why I don’t know. So the red shoes added a papal flair to my attire – my skirt and my nun pantyhose. It was an ensemble topped off by a fabulous shirt with streaks of black and red. I love that shirt. It’s so emphatic and seemed so right for an event talking about women and their periods.

The event was a success. A lot of women came. The lunch was wonderful. The speakers were amazing. I stood in front of everyone, my old lady self, and talked about women and homelessness as if nothing else in the world mattered, just talked as if my heart was in my hands and I was passing it around for people to look at like show and tell in the third grade. This is who I am, this is what I believe. And I was beautiful in that moment, if only to myself. It was righteous and fine.

Got My Chops Back Friday Round-Up

What I did this week was get things done. After days and weeks of moping and having a brain dull as an old tennis ball, I just focused on getting stuff done. Meetings, writing, planning, checking things off the list. Just work the list, I always say, work the list. For a person like me, productivity is its own balm. So I got balmed up this week, plenty good.

My beloved Street Angels dealt with a very sick homeless woman who was turned down at shelter because she couldn’t get to the can on her own. In a wheelchair, sick in ten different ways, weak, and living outside, she just was too much for the shelter to bear. I know. They have rules and staffing issues and all that. So Street Angels took said very sick woman to the ER where they kept her for a bit and then discharged her at 1:00 a.m. To the street. My outrage about this and other things this week led me to the conclusion that anger may be the fountain of youth since I’ve never felt more ready or able to go to war.

Yesterday, I stood next to the person who put the peas next to the chicken and gravy over mashed potatoes. We were in an assembly line to put hot meals together to distribute on homeless outreach. She was so careful to make sure the peas hugged the side of the styrofoam container furthest away from the chicken and gravy. “Some people don’t like their food touching.” And I loved that so much, that she would think of that.

Our dog basically lost his balls. There remains a facsimile of balls but it bears little resemblance to what was there. I mentioned this to my husband at the dog park, looking at Swirl’s minimalistic balls swinging like deflated balloons and he said just this, “Better small balls than a dead dog,” he being the one advocating neutering the dog to avoid cancer later. It was our first visit to the dog park in ten days – the recuperation period that long – and it was a sweet return.

When I was in second grade, my mother bought me brown oxford shoes. These were to be my school shoes. My play shoes were $1 sneakers from our dime store. I remember being astonished that she’d bought me little man shoes. They were brown with brown laces, as severe as an old nun’s habit. I wore them with white anklets. I remember to this day sitting at my desk in class and looking down at my feet and feeling such disbelief that those were my shoes. But they were and I just had to learn to live with that reality.

The Currency of Homelessness

I heard our local police chief refer to homeless people as an eyesore. An eyesore. Like a junkyard, like old wet carpet piled at the curb, like boarded up, burned out buildings on main street. Living breathing people seen as an eyesore.

He wasn’t speaking about his department’s official policy toward homelessness, as in, their mission was to reduce community eyesores. He was just talking off the cuff, albeit to an audience of a couple of hundred people, influential ones to boot. We all heard what he said. The word came out of his mouth like he’d used it at roll call the day before. There was no pause, no searching, no thinking Do I mean eyesore or do I mean tragedy?

I wanted to follow up with him but I didn’t. I wanted to think the chief didn’t really mean it. The police here are pretty decent with homeless folks. They don’t clear camps and roust people who aren’t bothering anyone although they have in the past. Two years ago a man who had lived on the banks of the river told me about having his tent and all his belongings trashed by the cops. I believed him but, you know, I didn’t subject what he said to me to a full investigation.

Yesterday, I pulled up to a stoplight where there was a woman holding a sign soliciting money. I don’t always give panhandlers money but I keep dollar bills in my console for that purpose. Someone holding a sign isn’t usually enough for me. I need to look in their eyes, make some connection because, otherwise, it’s such an exercise of noblesse oblige, tossing a dollar bill at someone. Handing them a dollar bill becomes more like a handshake if you are able to look someone in the eye.

I said, “How you doin’?” She took the dollar bill and folded it into her pocket. She was maybe fifty, hair dyed brown, gray roots, heavier, wearing baggy jeans and a hoodie even though the morning was already plenty warm. She most certainly lived in the big tent city that has emerged under the east-west freeway that splits our city in half.

“Are you doin’ okay?” I asked again, as if there was an answer. Yeah, I’m doin’ great out here with your dollar bill in my pocket. All good. Thanks for asking. She did a little shrug, a little shake of the head, and then the light changed. And, of course, I was glad to go. I scolded myself a little. What kind of dialogue did I think I deserved for a dollar? How much shuckin’ and jivin’ was the right amount? Why is it so irresistible to tie strings to a single dollar bill?

At McDonald’s I paid with a twenty so I’d get a lot of ones back and stock up the console. I didn’t want to always have to go in my wallet. That meant sorting through different bills to find a single. Once a homeless woman, impatient with my wallet searching, pointed to a twenty and said, “I’ll just take that.” I found a single and gave it to her but I appreciated her annoyance. It was like she was saying, Hey, I’m not some little kid here standing around waiting for money for a popsicle. I got serious needs.

The common theme to all of this is judging people. Me judging who are the worthy homeless by looking in their eyes and homeless people judging me for my generosity or lack of it. Non-homeless people fuss about whether to give money to homeless people and think they’re righteous the whole time – whether they give money or don’t or, if they’re like me, they establish some eye contact litmus test to giving.

But homeless people do their own judging. Being homeless doesn’t strip people of opinion. I felt the slight scorch of opinion from the woman at the stoplight. She wasn’t just an eyesore standing on the corner. She was a person who thought my patronizing question really didn’t deserve an answer. I loved her for that. It reminded me that we’re equal.

Pobrecito (Poor Baby)

It was about the third inning when my son and I realized we were at the same ballgame but on opposite sides of the stadium. After I told him what section I was in, he sent me this picture.

The first thing I thought when I saw it was – why is my hair so flat? That’s how self-absorbed I am.

I am in a period of incessant introspection or, as some would call it, having my head up my ass. I am thinking about what I am thinking about all of the time. It’s oppressive and stifling. I need to shake it off.

Yesterday, I drove over the Hoan Bridge with the top down on my car and I sang You Are My Sunshine as loud as I could. That helped.

Today, I listened to critiques of an essay I’d written offered by members of the writing workshop I attend. The best one was a look actually, a wee bit of eye rolling, from a senior writer whose work is always very clear and purposeful. The look was in response to a paragraph that I knew was self-absorbed and precious but only after I read it aloud to the group. Oh please, I could hear her thinking. Give me a break. That helped.

Yoga yesterday helped. The teacher began by telling us she had broken her back over the weekend. This was not hyperbole. She had broken two vertebrae. It was a disarming start to the session and snapped me out of my introspection and weariness for a while. But I richoted back as soon as I got in the car.

So I think this photograph is saying something to me – beyond the condition of my hair. It’s saying – you’re but one head among hundreds. Get over yourself. Easier said than done, I say.