Dog Days

Today was a better day with my new dog, Romy. I didn’t get head-butted putting on his leash. I can still feel the result of yesterday’s crash if I move my fingers along the bone under my eye but there’s no bruise. So it can stay our little secret.

The task really is to tame him. At first, it was to give him a home. Then it was to keep our older dog from being hectored to death. Now it’s to civilize him and help him find his place in the world order. We can’t let him be a crazy shit dog because we feel sorry for his poor beginnings because, who knows, maybe he was born in the backseat of a Cadillac and ate poached eggs every morning. I’m not going to assume.

He was a decent citizen today, good for long stretches of time, sometimes even sleeping in the same room with the ancient Minnie without going after her hind legs. But then a switch flipped and he ran like a deer through the house, leaping from the stairs, jumping high enough to look me straight in the eye. We went for our second walk then where he immediately found a half-eaten sleeve of Ritz crackers (yesterday it was a champagne cork) and carried it like a small mouse for half a block. He will give things up which is amazing. I figure if his world order includes me as the pack leader I need to be in charge of what goes in his mouth. So far, he’s agreed.

I’ve never really thought about any of this stuff before. We’ve had five dogs and they just sort of lived here, driving us crazy and then getting old. We yelled at them not to do bad stuff which they did anyway until they got bored with themselves and then they just laid about unless it was time to go run on the beach. This dog is different. I have to out-think him. He is too intense and smart for a laid back upbringing. We’ll wake up one morning and find he’s taken the keys to the truck and gone back to Alabama which we have kind of wished for but not really.

99 New: It’s a Dog’s Life

As grief-stricken as she might have been, our old dog, Minnie, also seemed liberated by the death of her long-time companion and frequent oppressor, BowWow. For years, BowWow, a smaller dog by half, exercised his dominance over her as the alpha dog. He stood over Minnie as she rested on a bed or a blanket or a space of earth on the planet until she got up and moved to another spot. It didn’t need to be a prime spot, an especially cushy or warm spot, it only had to be the spot she had. His mission was to make her move from her spot. For no reason. Just because he could.

I tried to intervene. I yelled at BowWow and told Minnie to stay where she was. Stand your ground! I shouted. Sometimes I grabbed the smaller dog by the collar and took him to another spot to lie down, a nice comfy bed on the other side of the room. But BowWow returned within seconds and continued his silent, oppressive standing over her until she moved, a big dog slinking off to find a cold spot while the smaller dog curled his satisfied self into a ball on the warm spot she’d just vacated.

When BowWow died, I watched Minnie shake off her learned inferiority. She slept wherever she pleased. Because she was old and stiff, we often threw a big comforter on the floor of the living room for her. We turned the TV on when we left the house so she wouldn’t be lonely and soon seemed to replace her regular meals with snacks from the cupboard and our plates. She took to sleeping in, sometimes needing to be rousted at 9:00 am, a sign that she’d left the days of BowWow-mandated early rising behind.

You know where this is going, right? Romeo, the new dog, spent an hour in his new home being sheepish and deferential, well, maybe a day or two, but quickly grew into his 13-month old balls. He has perfected the warm spot steal and is working, not very subtly, on muscling in on Minnie’s food bowl. Minnie stands back now from the stairs if Romeo is going down or up, doing that standing aside and looking at her nails thing that women do when they want to convey their superiority in an environment where they are being trampled, like, oh, I meant to stop here in this nice out of the way spot so all the guys could hurl themselves down the stairs.

Don’t let this punk intimidate you, I want to tell Minnie but she has already gone back to the land of deference. We intervene to try to teach Romeo decent manners and to keep Minnie safe, mostly she steers a wide berth around him, finding spots that he doesn’t want to claim as her own. She is a big, old sweet girl, precious to us but no revolutionary. She has no interest in living up to our feminist dreams for her. She’s just going to keep living her dog life the way she has for twelve years, doing whatever it takes to have some peace in her world and get a decent nap. That’s her right, I guess. Or her lot.

99 New: The Patchwork of Women

I have been spending a lot of time lately in the company of women. We are smart and experienced and all about changing something that is bad into something good. We have a million ideas, reinforce each other, tell each other the truth, and laugh an enormous amount.

Our meetings are without pretense or posturing. If we ever had the habit of not listening to a colleague because we’re too busy formulating our response, we stopped doing that. Gone is the drive to one-up the last speaker, be smarter, cleverer, be the flaw-finder, oh lord, how much time women spend finding the stubborn stain in someone else’s ideas. “Yes, but…”

For much of my career, I was the flaw-finder and I was great at it. I carried a divining rod in my briefcase that could sniff out the cracks in anyone’s ideas. And I spared no one’s feelings. If something was flawed, I’d practically shout it out. It was like I just couldn’t wait to be right because you know, when I was right in my critique (or my attack more accurately), it was the men in the group who would be nodding their approval. The women just sort of steered clear.

It wasn’t that I was hungry for men’s approval, it was just the currency of the time.

So this year, the first year of my new life as an activist and advocate, I’ve had to rid myself of my old reflexes. Zeroing in on the flaws in others dead-ended conversations and made people want to avoid me, it made me want to avoid me. So I re-calibrated myself so I just shut up a fair amount of the time.

I’ve found that doing that allows me to appreciate the genius of other people. When I stopped trying to score points, I noticed that other people – women with whom I normally would have competed – were thoughtful and genuine, careful and strategic. So instead of shutting down flawed ideas, I learned how to sit patiently and let them take root and flower – other people’s and my own.

So maybe this would have been possible working with a group of men, I don’t know. With men, listening and resisting scoring points always seemed like deference, a deadly sin in my long, 70’s feminist book. But it doesn’t feel that way with women, not at all. Sitting with women tackling public policy feels more like a quilting bee with each of us holding up our end of the quilt and admiring each other’s stitches. It’s weird and I’m still getting used to it. But I love it, I really do.

99 New: Somebody’s Baby

Somebody had to flip the switch, pull the trigger, throw the canister, aim and fire, probably several somebodies. And it wasn’t on a computer screen that they did the pointing and clicking, there was nothing antiseptic about it. People employed by the American government fired tear gas at refugees seeking asylum in the United States including women and children, small children, children in diapers.

So who are these somebodies who have worked it out in their heads that tear-gassing refugees is personally morally acceptable because that ultimately is what we’re talking about – what is personally morally acceptable. They probably had time to consider it ahead of time. It is unlikely that the decision was a spur of the moment one, the tear gas had been ordered a while ago and, I’m betting, there had been plenty of tear gas drills to make sure everything went smoothly, without a hitch, except for the part where ace photographers were able to catch refugees’ trauma in real time.

The trap is thinking that the people who did the tear-gassing are freaks. This is what I used to think about the Nazis who ran the concentration camps, dropped the Zyklon-B in the gas chambers, rousted people from their homes, made them dig their own graves, and shot them one by one. I figured that Hitler’s crew had figured out how to find all the country’s screwed-up sadistic characters, put special outfits on them, and let them loose to torture and murder.

But it wasn’t like that. Each of those Nazis was somebody’s baby, each grew up to be somebody who looked like everybody else, and then became somebody who could bayonet a baby in his mother’s arms. They weren’t freaks, they were just everyday Joes that grew up and took root in a hothouse of hatred and white supremacy.

They were just following orders.

The Americans at the border who tear-gassed refugees were just following orders. We don’t know if there were one or two or twenty who said “no, I’m not doing this.” There might have been. We do know that there were enough willing to do it that it got done. And those Americans went home to their families, helped their kids with their homework, and went to sleep in their beds while families at the border were still struggling to breathe.

It’s really unfathomable until you think about it.

Vicious, horrible things are the meat of America along with its beauty, its freedom, and its dream. We indulge our pride and patriotism while pushing institutionalized cruelty – historical and current – to the back of our very big American closet. We have the potential is what I’m saying, we’ve proven that. We are not so very far from the bayoneting Nazi because, remember, they weren’t freaks. Each was somebody’s baby.

What would have happened at the border if every single person had said no to using tear gas? What if the designated tear-gas shooters saw the desperate people coming toward them and just said, “Nope. Not doing it.” Did they think it but not have the courage to act? Or did they not think it? Neither bodes well for us as a country.

Maybe what is needed is more visible moral courage. Like the 27 Methodists singing Amazing Grace who surrounded an ICE van to protect an immigrant from deportation. The pastor said to police, “We understand this is your job, but we need you to understand that as a matter of conviction we cannot move, and you will have to arrest us.” (The Hill, 11/26/18)

Let’s lift up the Methodists and be like them. Let’s stand and sing Amazing Grace instead of lobbing tear gas at babies. Let’s beat back our bad selves and our lazy, scared, silent selves and start singing as loud as we can. Nobody will do this for us. We have to do it, even if we don’t know the words. All together and really loud.


99 New refers to a writing challenge; this is 72/99 consecutive blog posts.

99 New: The Elasticity of Names

When my daughter was born, it was the height of the 70’s women’s movement. I was determined that my child would be strong, brave, capable, respected. I wanted to give her a name fit for a judge. I envisioned her as a judge, her brass nameplate on the bench bearing the name I would give her. Her name needed to be regal, substantial. So I gave her a queen’s name – Elizabeth.

Elizabeth is a name with an infinite number of derivatives. Betty, Bette, Liz, Lizzie, Beth, Liza. Her name shrank for a while to Liz, which I liked an awful lot, but then expanded to her full judge name- Elizabeth – and I adjusted but not easily. She had become Liz to me. I saw her face and I saw Liz.

Unbeknownst to me, my daughter finally settled on Elizabeth as her permanent name which I shouldn’t have minded since I’d given her the name to begin with. With no warning, as if she should have to give warning about the use of her own given name, my daughter stopped being the person of derivatives and became her full self. I shouldn’t have been surprised since that was the plan all along – that she would be a woman of substance – but I was surprised and then I was glad. Satisfied, as if I had done this one thing right, given her a name fit for a judge. Or a queen.


Photo by Church of the King on Unsplash