Discover Prompts: Day 14 – “Book”

Today is Earth Day, April 22. I’m a bit behind on Discover Prompts. This entry is for the word “book.”

I spent most of my life pursuing advanced degrees in English literature, English language, and linguistics, as well as teaching college English.

So books are like basic building blocks in my life. I read every day. I feel them between my fingers. I speed through words on my Kindle. I browse catalogs for new ones. I dream of the books I’ll never get to write.

But for this entry, I want to focus on the use of the word “book” as a verb, as in, “Let’s book!” Or “Let’s book it!”

You can “book” a flight, “book” an entertainer for a gig, you can even “book end” a discussion. But it’s “book it” that fascinates me. Zora Neal Hurston uses the phrase “bookity-book” in her writing from the 1930s, meaning to run away quickly. So “book it” could derive from that and was fashionable in the 1970s.

But “book it” may also be related to “boogie” as in “Let’s Boogie!” which could mean “let’s dance” but also “let’s get out of here.” “Boogity Boogity” is a catch phrase of Darrel Waltrip who used it to colorfully announce the start of NASCAR races. Waltrip borrowed it from the famous ’70s song “The Streak” in which Ray Stevens says “Boogity Boogity Boogity.”

As with many slang phrases, the word got shortened and we were left with “Book it” meaning to depart quickly.

Let’s put a bookmark in this discussion and bring it up another time. Right now, I’ve got to book.

Discover Prompts: Day 13 – Teach

I’m a bit behind in Discover Prompts. Day 13 is the word “Teach.” Today is April 22 – Earth Day.

I’ve always taken exception to the phrase, “Those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach.” I came by the teaching profession almost by accident. But I later realized I had been a teacher most of my life already.

To pay for graduate school, I took a Teaching Assistantship. Our TAs weren’t like in other disciplines, student helpers for a Professor. We had full charge of our classrooms, including syllabus development, rules, assignments, conferencing with students and grading papers. We did have some guidelines to follow, such as having to assign so many papers per term and meet requirements for a common final exam.

I was extremely shy at the time, but I understood English and writing and had a knack for learning. So I learned that I could prep any material handed to me and present it to an audience. But then teaching took on a life of its own for me. Rather than work towards a graduate degree in English for what reason, to be a writer? to work in publishing? I began to pursue knowledge of literature and the field of English to teach – to share my love of literature, writing, and the world of letters with others.

My students responded, most of them well. As with many teachers, I’ve had my share of bad apples, of students who were predisposed to be unhappy regardless of the circumstances of their classes. I was not a good teacher for those who didn’t want to be there, though I could motivate good work. Those I motivated were already predisposed to want to work, so the hard work of motivation – the crank starting of desire to learn – was already activated. I merely helped the student move forward with each step they took.

After 25 years of teaching, I decided it was time to do something else. I spent 25 years as a teaching assistant or an Adjunct college professor, mostly for in-person classes, but also online for the last 6 years of teaching. An active 17 year career in web development made transitioning to teaching online easy for me. I was always a techie. For a while, I sought full-time work in community colleges, but I never landed a job. I also had a life outside of teaching, and as an adjunct, I had no contract and thus did not make much money, so I never really got time off in the summers. Year after year, grading ground me down, and I got slower and slower at it. I needed a break.

Now that I haven’t taught for a year, the first time in 25 years, I see my slavery for what it was. But I’m proud to have been a teacher. In my heart, I will always be a teacher. Not everyone can teach, just like not everyone can write well. But one thing I learned from teaching is that anyone can learn to write. To learn to write, you must write. To learn to teach, you must teach.

So let’s change that phrase: “Those who can learn, can do anything. Those who won’t learn, will be slaves.”

Discover Prompts: Day 12 – The “light” of day

It’s Earth Day, April 22. Happy Earth Day to everyone. (I’m a bit behind on Discover Prompts, so here goes to catching up. Day 12 – Light)

It’s easy to get lost in the fog of uncertainty and routine. Especially now. Day after day drifts into one another like linked train cars following, being pulled along with no chance to say “no,” no chance to put on brakes, to put up a fuss, to stomp in heels and stop forward motion. Time is relentless that way. Tick tick tick tick tick tick……ever onward.

So when the slightest change to the day occurs, I try to be present for the moment, to see something new in the sameness.

I’ve never been an early riser, though I’ve suffered from insomnia for the past 2 years. The move from west to east, I think, has thrown my internal clock into alarm. Or somewhere deep inside I could be aware of a more cosmic clock ticking louder, the hands moving relentlessly forward. Tick tick tick tick tick tick tick….. with so much left undone.

One morning, I got up just after 5:00, set coffee to brew, and sat at my desk with two open windows in front of me, shades pulled up. I live on the 6th floor of a downtown apartment building in New Haven. My apartment building is shaped like a block letter U, with windows facing 300 degrees NW. The apartments on the other side of the hall face the street. My windows face the interior of the building so I see the other arm or leg of the U across the way, reminiscent of Hitchcock’s Rear Window.

Weather travels north to south in this area, so clouds skitter above the buildings diagonally, from upper right to lower left in line of sight.

This is all to say that I have no direct view of the sun coming up, nor the sun going down at night. If it’s clear, I get a brief burst of sunlight in the afternoon coming through the windows.

On this particular morning, sitting with my coffee, steam rising from the cup like in a television commercial, desk neatly arranged, I sat and watched the clouds slowly moving. The bottoms were gray, light gray, not heavy with rain, and the middles were white. The tops of the clouds were just slightly pinkish, like fresh cotton candy. And I realized what I was seeing was the light of sunrise.

Every day I’m reminded that I can see what’s not there if I just look. I see love in her eyes. I see adoration in the way my puppy curls and sleeps against me. I can see the day’s promise, naturally stoic and neutral, fraught with the dangers of disease as well as the sun’s life-giving warmth, in the simple changing light against the side of the brick building in front of me, sometimes glaring and bright and other times more suffused, the sun blocked by clouds behind me, out of sight.

I can see what’s not there, if I just look.

Discover Prompts: Day 11 – Bite.

I had braces for 5 years. I got braces (and glasses) during the first week of my senior year in high school (rah!). The braces straightened my teeth but did nothing for my bite. Try as we might (aggressive retainer, palate expander, rubber bands rubber bands rubber bands), we could never correct the cross-bite.

I say “we” because dental and orthodonture work is a collaborative venture between doctor and patient. I should say “he” because despite his fancy office and degrees, he didn’t fix my bite! I did all that was asked of me.

So when I came down with TMJ disorder, he pulled out all the stops to get me appointments and set up consultations with doctors and surgeons to avoid getting sued.

Since I was 21 years old (35 years now), I’ve suffered from a bad jaw, due to a horrible cross-bite. Sometimes I don’t realize how chronic the pain is. I can’t just eat foods. I have to plan what I’m going to eat so as not to set my jaw off. I spent 10 years post-surgery starting when I was 22 eating a no-chew diet of soft foods. The surgeon did arthroscopic surgery to clean out the joint. In doing so, they cleaned out the fluid and the debris and discovered that my discs were mangled, all corroded and wrinkled like an 80 year olds, with holds in them. I can only imagine what they look like now, if they’re even still there, given all the popping and cracking and POPPING and CRACKING that they do constantly.

The surgeon said that the surgery would last 10 years, and true to that, 10 years to the day of the surgery, my jaw popped/cracked big again. It was 10 years of eating soft foods, practically drinking my food. I finally said “enough!” and I started eating what I want and managing my symptoms.

On top of all of that, I was part of a study of TMJ during the 80s and 90s, and after 7 years, they finally published their article: they concluded that the surgeries that so many people had gotten were no longer advisable. TMJ problems, for the majority of cases, could be resolved with physical therapy and behavior modification. Thanks. Thanks a lot, guys.

But I’m not here today to discuss my bite, but that of my first dog, Tippy, a mutt that we got for free in front of the grocery store when I was 3 or 4 or 5 years old. Tippy was my dog (the other kids had a brown curly haired dog named Chipper. Tippy was half Pekingese and half Cocker Spaniel. She was black except for a while flash on her chest and a white tip on the end of her tail. She had the most severe underbite I had ever seen in a dog. Her bottom jaw stuck out and showed constantly. She wasn’t pretty, but I loved her and she loved me. She would lick me all over and would race around the house with zoomies when I played with her.

The rest of the family tolerated Tippy. She got fat through her life and she was a barker. If someone knocked on the door, she would keep up a ruckus until my dad yelled at her to stop. He’d take a step toward her and she’d run, a result of too many newspaper swats on the butt to shut her up. We had one particularly loud set of friends, the Guilmettes, and Tippy did not like Colin Guilmette. When they visited, Tippy would bark and bark and bark, even when we put her into the back bedroom. When my dad scolded her, she would get back at him by jumping on their bed and peeing in the middle of it.

My aunt lived with us for a while and she thought Tippy was a hoot. She used a phrased, “You can’t teach a dog new tricks,” which I didn’t really know, which set me off when Tippy was about 8 years old to teach her new tricks. I taught her to roll over on command and to sit. I was probably inspired watching my brother train his new Golden Retriever.

I came home from school one day and saw my mom sobbing uncontrollably on the phone, so much so that I thought my dad had died. Chipper was floating on his side in the swimming pool, dead. He was old and blind and mostly deaf. He wasn’t too steady anymore. It’s likely he had a heart attack and fell in the pool. But of course, my family decided that Tippy pushed him in and that’s the story that stuck. I had to pull the stiffened corpse of Chipper from the pool and wrap him in an old woolen blanket so we could dispose of him.

Most of the time when I played with Tippy, I got right down on the ground and wrestled with her. My aunt Marilynn also loved Tippy, and Tippy would give her lots of affection too. My friends would all see me get down on the ground to get kisses from Tippy. They wanted to do the same. But she would stiffen up when they got down on the ground with her. And it happened, again, and again, and again.

Tippy would go on to bite every single one of my friends in the face. She wouldn’t break skin, but she would snap and create a lot of noise and there’d be a raspberry red mark on their cheek. It would happen so quickly. And with that Pekingese underbite of hers, it was like watching the Alien monster snap suddenly, all teeth and horrorshow. I tried to see what caused it. Once I saw that one of my friends put his hand down on her tail as he was lowering himself to her, and that set her off. But I don’t think each of my friends did that exact same thing. In all, she bit about dozen of my friends in the face. But never me. Tippy had nothing but kisses for me.

I was away at school when Tippy’s time came. She grew fatter and fatter, though she was always able to climb up on our old white couch in the den and get her matted black dog hair everywhere. Finally, her back legs gave out and she began soiling herself. She always became matted on her back legs, and Dad and I would have to hold her down and cut the mats out. For such a smallish dog, she was hairier than most any dog I’ve ever seen.

My dad called me one morning and said that he had to take Tippy to the vet. She couldn’t walk and she couldn’t control her bowels anymore.

Other than a mouse and probably some carnival goldfish and other family pets (cats, litter after litter of feral kittens, turtles, and Chipper), Tippy was the first pet of mine that died, the first pet who slept in the same bed with me, who rolled on the floor with me, and who licked me uncontrollably and zoomed around the house with joy when I played with her. I’ll never forget that ugly mug. And all those bites. No wonder those friends never kept in touch.

Discover Prompts Day 10 – Orchestrate: Eastward, Ho!

I once taught a class called “Road Trip!” with an exclamation trip. It was a sophomore-level introduction to literature course focused on the journey as metaphor. On the reading list was Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, a book that I really don’t like very much. The other works featured road trips of a kind, starting with the archetypal road trip, Homer’s The Odyssey, which served as a framework for the class. Other works on the list included fragments from Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying, Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, Nabokov’s Lolita, Hunter S. Thomson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, and some others, including L. Frank Baum’s The Wizard of Oz for extra credit. The class seated 35 students, but on the first day, 125 students showed up hoping to crash the class. Upon seeing the syllabus, maybe half of the students departed, which left a good many still disappointed as I was forced to cut off enrollment at 35.

The class attracted wannabe Beat generation and granola types. They knew more about Kerouc and Thompson and the beats than I ever cared to, so I was able to put them in charge of delivering the content for that part of the course. I did my homework, of course, and led them to some ideas about the books that they hadn’t considered as well. The class was so popular that I was approved to teach it a second time.

At the conclusion of the course, I gave out evaluations asking the students which reading we did that they liked the best. Almost universally, they responded that they enjoyed Homer’s The Odyssey the best. Obviously we read it in translation. But I was surprised by that choice, considering their preference for Beat generation-type writings. The classics resonate with people timelessly for so many reasons, which is one of the definitions that make them classics.

So I know a thing or two about Road Trips! with an exclamation point in the abstract and in art. But I’ve also taken a great many road trips in my life, especially cross-country, or cross half the country and back. In August 2018, my girlfriend and I moved from San Diego, California to New Haven, CT with her mom accompanying us. We filled two cars to the roofs, with a luggage carrier on top of the one, and a week (plus) to make the trip.

We had several months to plan, so that made everything easier. I sold almost everything I could, donating things that wouldn’t sell, and practiced loading the car a couple of times to make sure everything would fit. I would have to drive my Toyota Rav4 by myself because my small SUV was full, including the passenger’s seat. The girlfriend’s Toyota Corolla was filled but they kept space in the front seats for the two of them to ride comfortably. For some reason my girlfriend’s mom wanted to do most of the driving.

Of course, to orchestrate this monumental move, everything had to come off without a hitch. As I said, we had months to plan and practiced packing and had everything worked out. The girlfriend’s mom would arrive the day before our trip and we would finish packing that day and then head out bright and early in the morning on August 10. I would have my last day of work on August 8, giving me the 9th to pack and clean, and then we’d hit the road. My girlfriend could clean out her shared apartment and stay with me for a couple of days so we would only have to wash down the one bedroom on the morning of August 10th before we headed out, having reduced everything to our change of clothes for the driving day and a blow up mattress. We even had a AAA Trip-Tik, and a plan as to where to stop each day, including some sight seeing destinations (St. Louis Arch, Niagara Falls) and a visit to my distant relatives and the girlfriend’s friend, who were both coincidentally in Ashtabula, Ohio. Our lists were crossed off, and everything went very smoothly . . . until it didn’t.

I’m not a believer in multi-tasking. Neurologically, we must perform one thing after another, even if our brains allow us to do those things very quickly. But it’s still one thing, then another, then another. Of course, when you get multiple people involved, you can do many things at the same time, just like an orchestra can play multiple lines of music on different instruments simultaneously, sometimes in harmony, sometimes dissonantly.

On August 1, I got sick. I had a pimple in my nose. I thought it was on the surface and tried to express it. But it was deeper. And it became very sore and inflamed, and then my nose swelled, like a clown’s or a TV drunk’s. And it was incredibly painful. It was also oozing a bit. I was working at a deli counter at a grocery store, so I couldn’t work with that ailment. I thought I would just let it do its thing for a day or two, rest up, finishing up the packing that I could, and it would clear up. But it kept getting worse.

At the time, I was also nursing a sore thumb, which I thought I might have hurt at work, but I wasn’t certain about that. My work was steady so I never got enough time off to see if some rest would improve my thumb. It was a sore spot under the webbing in the fleshy part of my thumb, a little bump under there, and it was also incredibly painful each time I went to cut a sandwich. I looked forward to some rest so the thumb could improve prior to our trip.

My nose got worse and worse. It was the most pain I had ever had. I didn’t really have access to a doctor at the time, and with moving, had no real time. I also had no medicine. I went to the emergency room. I sat there for 6 hours and when they finally saw me, they took a few tests, said there wasn’t really anything they could do, and they said to take some Tylenol and some antibiotics and rest. But the pain got worse. By the next day, the pain was excruciating, and I went back. I sat in the emergency waiting room again for 6 hours. This time they said, “well, it’s a MRSA infection, and that antibiotic we gave you won’t work. Here’s another medicine to take.” They still hadn’t given me anything for the pain. Finally, they gave me some hydrocodone and some extra strength motrin. My nose felt like a big red balloon. They tried to express it, but that didn’t work, so they stuck a needle into the end of my nose three times! I cried and held the girlfriend’s hand through that excruciating procedure. The aspiration amounted to nothing. There was nothing there though it felt like it. It was just that damn MRSA having its party. I learned that MRSA – the dangerous kind – is actually present in most of our bodies. It’s the same MRSA that leads to dangerous infections in hospitals. All I knew is I needed MRSA to stop the party. I had moving to do.

Over the next couple of days, the medicine took effect and I began to improve. It was nearing my last day of work, and I had missed almost a week of my last week. When I woke up on August 7, after a week off work, I couldn’t move my thumb. It wouldn’t bend. It had completely stiffened up. I thought maybe there was a reaction with the medicine. And then I figured out that this really was a work injury, but I was running out of time as I was quitting that job. I called my boss, told her about the MRSA, and then told her about my thumb. She was peeved that I hadn’t told her about my thumb injury sooner, but she understood when I explained to her what it was like. So now I had to file for workman’s comp, and see a slew of doctors on the last two days I was going to be in town.

So in those last two days, between packing boxes, helping my girlfriend pack the last of her things and clean her apartment, and cleaning my apartment, I had to juggle doctors appointments for two ailments – my thumb, now a workman’s comp claim, and my nose. My nose had cleared up and the doctor’s were encouraged that it would heal normally and not come back, though I had to practically bathe in Hibiclens, a surgical scrub – a 4% chlorhexidine gluconate solution.

As for my thumb, they got me in to an orthopedist immediately, who diagnosed a trigger finger (the second one I ever had). At this point, when I tried to bend my thumb, I couldn’t, though once in a while I could and it would pop or snap or click as if the tendon was getting stuck and then gave way. I was given a brace so as not to click it, and had to drive across country with the brace on my wrist and also had to do exercises for my thumb.

The last two days were filled with doctor’s appointments, 4 to be precise, cleaning my apartment, packing the cars, and resting. I don’t tbink I got to bed until almost midnight, the night before I left San Diego for good at some way too early time in the morning to beat Friday rush-hour traffic.

I’ve had much practice orchestrating other moves or multi-event work functions, so all of my practice came in handy when faced with these obstacles to our well-made plans.

Our cross-country drive went well, though we got tired and had to be less aggressive with miles made per day near the end of the trip. Moving into a 6th floor apartment in August humidity without a service elevator was another unforeseen obstacle – exhausting and sweaty.

As a final note, my nose completely healed, though now I suffer from a kind of trauma whenever my nose itches inside. I clean it with hibiclens as a preventative. No more MRSA outbreaks for me, thankyouverymuch! My thumb, however, was much more problematic. It took me many months to get authorization from the California worker’s comp office to see a physical therapist and then orthopedist. I went to PT, and he claimed it just needed stretching and exercise. The brace they put on it was counterintuitive to what the PT guy thought should be. It needed exercise, not stability. So off came the wrist and thumb braces. But still I couldn’t bend it properly. The orthopedist gave me two cortisone shots that did nothing. So we spent three months trying to get approval for a small surgery to cut the ligament so the bump could pass through and improve the movement range of my thumb. As soon as we got the approvals, which were good for 6 months, I scheduled the surgery, but then I was out of work and finally found a temporary job, which I couldn’t leave because the surgery would keep me out for 2 weeks. The temporary job was very physical and required me to use my hands (moving books) in a different way than at the deli counter. The exercise actually improved my thumb, and though my surgery approval passed without the doctor ever even reaching out to reschedule, I didn’t need the surgery anymore because I’ve regained 95% of my thumb movement and reduced the pain to almost nothing.

At the end, the orchestra plays those final notes, all together – Da-Dummmm! And there is rest. And applause.

Discover Prompts: Day 9 – Pairs: The Ducks at San Diego’s Balboa Park

I spent a lot of time at Balboa Park in San Diego with my girlfriend watching the ducks. They were mostly mallards, with a few exotic types from the nearby San Diego Zoo. There were 21 of them for the longest time, week after week, a combination of adults and some yearlings. There is a long reflection pool outside the horticultural building, and the ducks would bask in the sun, or hide under the foliage surrounding the pool, or swim during the active part of the day. They attracted quite a crowd. For the most part, the ducks were paired off.

I don’t know much about ducks except from what I’ve watched. I’ve heard about their corkscrew penises and violent attempts to mate. But what I witnessed most was constant duck drama. A single male duck always wanted to steal the girlfriend/partner from another duck. Maybe he or she was attractive, held to some kind of idealistic duck beauty standard. I say “he or she” because I’m not sure if ducks can be gay or not either. For all I know, those corkscrews might just have a mind of their own and not give a whit about gender.

Often a couple of ducks would be paddling leisurely on the still surface of the pond, making a wide wake behind them, ripples in the shape of a V. Then all of a sudden, a lone rogue duck would outpaddle the couple and attempt to come between them. Most of the time, the male duck would run off the rogue, squawking and raising a fuss, beating his wings, and plunging his neck forward, increasing his aerodynamics, and paddle furiously after the culprit. The rogue would flee, but not too far. If at first you don’t succeed, try try again. He’d slyly stay on the fringes, waiting for the male to drop his guard or stray too much to the side, and then he’d quickly zoom in to try to woo her away again. And then the protective male would turn again and run him off, over and over.

Sometimes a rogue duck would try his webfoot multiple times and on many different parties. On some occasions, we would arrive and a full scale war was already in progress. The females were nowhere to be found, hiding in the nearby bushes, maybe tending to the younger ducks. But the males were doing battle. Three or four males might be attempting to oust the rogue duck from the flock.

In the spring, there were baby ducks, usually 6 or 7 to a mama. They would chirp and cheep at such high pitches, it seemed like they were calling to dogs. If anyone walked too closely, the mama would squawk and lead the baby ducks swimming into the middle of the pool. Most of the time, the baby ducks kept right on the mama’s tail. Usually there was a laggard, paddling just as fast as he could to catch up.

I’m not sure what happens to the yearlings. There comes a time when the yearlings must fly off, or that they grow to look like the rest of the adults. I’m not sure what happens to the ducks when they get older, nor how old they look. Do they die under the bushes? Do they have accidents? Is there a duck graveyard, some mysterious place only known to ducks, like with elephants? I could, of course, look all of this up in a book. But sometimes it’s better just to watch, to not know too much. It’s like eavesdropping at a coffeeshop, one of the things I miss during quarantine. You get an idea of what might be going on, but you don’t have the whole story and relying on bits and pieces of gossip and overheard fragments doesn’t give you all the information you need. But still, we piece together a story that makes sense. Or we just make it all up.

I’ve been away from the ducks at Balboa Park for almost 2 years now, and I miss them, probably as much as my girlfriend. This is a memory for two. We are a pair, like the pairs of ducks we watch, wandering through the world, aware of the rogues out there, making sure we keep our wake calm and sensible, basking in the sun when we can, and sleeping under the foliage at night. We need be, we are ready for life’s dramas.

Discover Prompts #8: Curve

Picture a corkscrew. It’s curvy, curved in one direction. Hold that corkscrew horizontally. As you trace the curve, it moves forward and also curves back around to where it started. If you drew a line on the top of the corkscrew, each point on the metal part of the screw would line up, the spaces between are where the metal of the corkscrew happens on the other side.

So picture each of those points being your birthday. You have a birthday. Then the year plays out. You follow the path of the corkscrew. When you reach your next birthday, you are at the same line, the same plane as the previous turn in the screw, but further down the line – one year older.

Everything comes around again. Time moves relentlessly forward, but curves as well, never to return to the same spot, though it will cross along the same plane. Is it any wonder that DNA, the genetic makeup of our very being, is a double helix, two lines of a corkscrew running parallel to each other joined together?

Sometimes it feels like we go backwards. We lose relatives to time. Death comes for all. We lose relationships. Change comes for all. We lose jobs or financial stability. Uncertainty comes for all.

But we’re not moving backwards, even if we’re not achieving our goals or making progress as we intended. Those intentions are merely dreams, goals, ambitions – not reality. They are hopes. And often enough we achieve those hopes. We get the job we wanted. We get the big promotion. We earn more money. We find the partner of our dreams. We get married. We get that house with the picket fence and 2.4 kids and 1.3 pets, and 3 1/2 baths and 3 cars. But then something happens. A recession comes. A job is lost. A health scare leads to scarcity of money. Changes must be made. The house must be sold. The pets grow and die. The children grow and move away. The relationship survives but the shared goals are different now.

The one thing you have through all of this curving and twisting is you. It’s not even that you have to change with the times. It’s hard to see ourselves. We have no perspective. We have to stay true to who we are AND change at the same time – adapt or die.

But a different perspective is that you can’t help but change. You are never at the same point on that corkscrew. Even if you think that you have remained the same, remained true to yourself, haven’t changed, have retained your integrity – everyone is different in some way after a year. The experiences you have had, the triumphs and losses have made you MORE you than ever before.

Change is inevitable. Evolution – that dreaded word that conjures up arguments between faith and science – is merely change. And change happens whether you believe it or not, or whether you have the science background to prove it or not. Change is the one unalterable fact of life.

So celebrate your triumphs, console yourself through your losses, and keep on keeping on. Because time and this world stops for no one, and change will happen whether you are onboard or not.

Below the Common View: A Dachshund’s Guide to the World

This is for Discover Prompts #7 for April 7 – Below.

Photo: Herman the Dachshund / by Author

I have a dachshund named Herman. He’s 17 pounds of double dapple short-haired red with white flash on the back of his neck and a white stripe from his foreheard to his nose, white booties on his feet, and a white tip of his tail that makes his tail look like a paintbrush. His double-dapple darker spots are hard to see but shine brightly (darkly?) in full sunlight.

Herman is a year and 4 months old, born on December 1, 2018. We got him on Februray 9, 2019, when he weighed in at 4 lbs. He’s the cutest thing, and I think we’re going to have to get more storage capacity on our phones or fill them up with Herman pictures.

Photo: Herman the Dachshund / by Author

Since Herman’s arrival, I’ve had to adjust my perspective and keep track of what’s going on below my feet, and even below his own eye level. I’ve never had a small dog before, though I’ve had many dogs in my life. Dachshunds, I’ve learned and read about, are noted for only about 50% obedience. They do what they want, when they want. But he learns quickly and gets used to routine quickly. And if he doesn’t get what he wants, he starts a strike routine of demand barking. And if you try to scold him or tell him no or take a step toward him, he runs. It looks like he’s scared, a little dog running from someone who is scolding him. But he’s really using all the powers of his small frame to instigate a game of chase.

I’m tall, at 6’1,” and imposing to a little dog like Herman who is very small. So when I give him commands from above, he doesn’t know if I’m scolding him or commanding him or playing with him. So I’ve found that I have to get down below him to get him to come to me. I have to get to his level and see the world from his point of view. That means laying completely flat on the ground. Getting on my hands and knees isn’t enough. I still tower over him, so I must slither on the ground like a snake. And even then, if he knows he’s being a trouble maker, he won’t come to me.

But he’s a scaredy cat for a little dog, too. He doesn’t like cars or buses or motorcycles, and we live in the city, so he won’t walk. He just sits and puts all his muscles into not moving at all because he doesnt’ feel safe. He will run and jump and play when we take him for walks in the woods. But getting him to walk on city streets is a hassle. Often we have to give up and carry him, as he shakes in our arms. And if he’s in one of his scared moments, the only way to get him to come to the end of his leash is to lay down on the ground and then he’ll run and climb into my lap to be protected. Of course, he’ll dive into the small carrier we have for him, that he rides in in the car. That’s his safe home.

I’m sure you can tell from the pictures just how Herman can melt any heart. Below my feet, all day long, is the sweetest, most obstinate, most adorable and playful dog that will remain a puppy for his entire life. I’m sure I’ll be writing much more about Herman in the future.

The Left-Handers Guide to Getting Behind

This is Discover Prompts #6 for April 6 on the word Hands. Something about needing and then getting a root canal slowed me down. But I’m on the mend now.

I’m a left-hander. My brother was a left-hander. My paternal grandmother was a left-hander. I know that my grandmother bowled left-handed in Ohio. She was a good bowler, and bowling is practically the national pastime in Ohio, or was back in the day. My brother was a pure left-hander as well. And I, proudly, carry the left-handed trait forward. However, my left-handedness was interrupted by an uninformed though well-meaning grandmother who believed in a right-handed world.

My teachers all tried to get me to write with a pencil like a right-hander, with the pencil eraser pointing over my shoulder. That doesn’t quite work for left-handers. We turn our hand around and point the pencil eraser away from us so we can actually see what we are writing rather than have our hand cover up the words while we are writing them. I’m sure you’ve seen a left-hander with the page turned diagonally and his or her arm twisted around, elbow flung out, just to write. And then the edge of the hand that sits on the desk runs over our writing, so we get pencil smear or pen glop all over the side of our hand and smear the writing on the page, too.

My grandmother wanted me to adjust well to life and was a constant companion early. So she taught me how to use scissors with my right hand (“it’s a right-handed world!”). Turns out scissors can be right or left-handed, depending on the edge of the blade and the angle of holding them. Also, she taught me how to throw a ball, with my right hand. Now in my head, I was processing everything left-handed, so it seemed weird to throw with my right hand. But that was my formative experience. In baseball, I can bat left or right handed, but I can only throw right handed and catch left-handed. Turns out, with ball sports where I must throw, and in soccer where I kick the ball, I do so right-handed (or footed).

But racket sports I play left-handed – golf, ping-pong, tennis, racquetball – I play all left-handed. I started learning to bowl left-handed, when I was in a league as a young junior high schooler. Being left-handed in bowling is an advantage because the lanes aren’t worn down as much on the left side because there are more right handed bowlers. But I punched a neighbor kid at school. As I flung at him with my left-hand, he was running away and he turned his back and I caught him on the scapula with the pinky of my left hand. The punch snapped the bone in my hand cleanly in two. By that evening, my hand swelled up and I could move only the tip of my finger – “No, Dad, I’m fine. See? I can move my finger!”

Well, the next day I went to an orthopedist and got a cast that I wore for 6-8 weeks, one of those new-fangled fiberglass casts that could get wet. As I was taking a bath one day, since baths were easier than showers with a cast, I forgot and saw my arm floating in the water. Sure, you could get the fiberglass cast wet, but it soaked into the inner lining and took 3 hours to blow dry. To leave it wet would have destroyed the skin inside. Obviously, I didn’t swm for the next 6-8 weeks either. But the point is, now with a cast on my left hand, I had to relearn to bowl right handed. I still do a pretty good job bowling, but I miss bowling left-handed. I bowl left-handed in my head, but I’m uncoordinated with my footing to actually bowl that way.

I was also in Pony league baseball at the time, and with a cast on my arm, came up to bat. The opposing manager, who used to be my next door neighbor until they moved away, appealed the game saying I shouldn’t be used in the game (we would have lost due to not enough players if I didn’t play). His son (my former friend) was pitched. Kenny was headed for the Majors and I was a lousy player but loved the game. He threw a wicked curve ball that sent me bailing into the dirt every time (I got hit with the ball so many times that standing at the plate was a lesson in terror for me.) But this time, with my cast on my arm, I actually fouled the ball off for the first time all season and ultimately drew a walk.

I still write and eat with my left-hand, and while I consider myself left-handed, my right hand and arm are stronger. I do consider myself more ambidextrous than just mono-handed.

I don’t think righties actually give much thought to their handedness like lefties do. We’re a persecuted minority, of about 10% of the population, with a high degree of genius status. The word “sinister” (defined: “giving the impression that something harmful or evil is happening or will happen”) comes into English through Old French “sinistre” and ultimately from Latin, from the word Latin word “sinister” meaning “left.”

There is nothing sinister about being a genius left-hander in a right-handed world. And I’m proud of my left-handed roots.

The Magical Refillable Santa Claus Christmas Plate

I’m a day behind with Discover Prompts: Dish for April 5. Better late than never.

We celebrated Christmas in my house, and my mom and dad pulled out all the stops: decorations, a beautiful tree, holiday gatherings with friends including big meals with elaborately set tables. Families gathered around the television for Christmas variety shows and Christmas TV specials. This was the land of the late 60s and all through the 1970s in the sunny Southern California. If the sun was shining, it was Christmas time!

Family friends from before I was born stayed friends. The Bastians kind of adopted me as their object for spoiling, before they had grandchildren. I don’t know why. When my family learned of my imminent arrival, my parents moved to a bigger house across the valley. They stayed friends with the Bastians. Grandma Bastian made Christmas goodies for all of us. We usually got 6 or 7 giant sheet cake boxes and the deeper ones too of homemade cookies and candies that she started making in October – swirled cookies, fudges and rocky road in aluminum foil loaf tins, chocolate covered pecans and almonds, toffee – the works! My mom and dad also made great treats. We usually made and decorated Christmas sugar cookies – snowmen and christmas trees and santas and the like. Mom made her famous crescent cookies, a type of powdered sugary wedding cookie. And mom and dad both made rosettes, something like a light airy version of funnel cakes. He found a deep frying iron set at a garage sale and we made those for years, sprinkled with a bit of powdered sugar.

My mom had a rattan teacart with a glass top on it. At christmas time, she’d take the decorations off of it and place a large Santa Claus cookie plate on it. This plate had the image of Santa Claus on it, in relief, with his moustache and cheeks and nose all bumpy on it and his beard an entirely different texture. It was gorgeous. It was made by my dad’s secretary, Carolyn Roemaker. This dish was filled with goodies from the beginning of December through the New Year. After the New Year, it would be wrapped up again in bubble wrap and put away until the next year.

But this plate was magic. It never ran out of supply. We’d pass the plate many times a day, taking this or that treat, a nibbling habit we all had. Should we have received a box of See’s candies, it would be added to the plate, and then we’d take one or two and go on with our chores or business.

One day, I realized (and said something) that the plate never seemed to run out of goodies. My mom said, “oh that’s silly!” But we learned the secret. When no one was looking, my mom snuck a big box of cookies and candies from under the teacart and refilled the Santa Claus plate when no one was looking. It WAS magic! She never wanted anybody to lack anything special for the holidays, and Grandma Bastian’s cookies and candies were such a special gift that made sure none of it went to waste.

The magic refillable Santa Claus plate – Christmas just isn’t the same without it.

I’m not quite sure what happened to the plate. There were several making the rounds in the family, and I think a couple developed chips in it over the years. But wherever it is, I’m sure it’s still refilling with magic to make someone happy during the holiday season.