Observations from an unpleasant week…

I’m sure it will come as a surprise to no one here when I say that I don’t, as a general rule, like new things. I like the same meals I’ve been eating for decades. Every object in the household has its place and should be in it. I mostly can’t control what happens outside the doors here, but what happens inside is done with good order and discipline. I suppose it’s the kind of thing that could make a person hard to live with, but the animals don’t seem to mind, so all is well.

Over this last week we’ve been adjusting, by necessity, to the new order of things. From that, I’ve made a few observations.

The most surprising of the bunch, is just how much water Maggie was taking in every day. I was refilling their gallon bowl at least three times a day. Now I’m averaging about a quarter of that. No wonder she wanted to go outside every two hours. I knew she was a thirsty girl these last few months, but the slow upwards creep of her water intake just didn’t seem overly alarming – except in retrospect. As always, hindsight is a bitch like that.

Jorah, fierce guardian and barker at of anything that moves in the yard or on the street has become terribly fearful of the backyard at night. For most of the last week he’s had to be trussed up in full harness and nearly carried outside for his pre-bedtime bathroom break. For these last two years, I had no idea that he was relying on a security blanket the approximate size and shape of a labrador retriever to cover him while charging off to bark at and chase anything that rustled during his nightly rounds.

The cat, not surprisingly, seems to be the most adaptive of us all. Hershel was back in the warm embrace of his own daily routine inside 48 hours. A week along, I’m quite convinced he’s starting to throw the stink eye at the rest of us who are still deviating, even if only slightly.

We’re still very much in a transitional mode here, but our wild ride over the last week is starting to settle into a new and slightly different rhythm. The sooner that comes together, the better, because new sucks.

A very good girl…

I remember the day I brought Maggie home like it was yesterday. I wasn’t even looking to add another dog at that point. It was a few weeks before Christmas and I didn’t want the inevitable headache of taking a puppy on a 1600-mile round trip drive. Then a friend at the office put up a “free puppies” sign. Mama had died giving birth and the large litter was eating the family out of house and home. It was a fire sale – everything must go – before they were dropped off at the shelter. Surely there wasn’t any harm in going to take a look. As I recall, people from our office ended up taking some if not all of that litter.

I came back after lunch that day with a sleepy chocolate lab snuggled down inside my coat. For the next almost 14 years, she was my shadow. Through the successes and failures of life, tens of thousands of road miles, changes of jobs, changes of houses, there she was with a wagging tail and a smile on her face. Maggie was one of the most consistently happy dogs I’ve ever had the privilege of knowing.

For the last few years, though, Maggie was also a very sick dog. Sometimes it felt like we were keeping her together with bubblegum and bailing twine, but she was always game for another trip to the vet and eager to greet everyone there. As long as she was up for pressing on, there wasn’t a test or procedure I was unwilling to try or a specialist I wasn’t willing to meet. Over the last week, despite some new meds, I watched that old spark slowly fade away. 

There’s more we could have done. The vet would have pumped her full of more meds if I’d have asked for them. It would have been so easy to go down the road of calling for extraordinary measures, but she deserved better. She deserved to meet the end walking in under her own power and while she still had some of the old nobility about her.

I couldn’t ask her to suffer so I didn’t have to – not after so long together, not when she’s done everything I’ve ever asked of her and so much more. 

From start to finish Maggie was a very good girl – a once in a lifetime dog. 

My life was incalculably better because she was part of it and is now the darker for her absence. I’m going to miss her terribly.

Irreplicable…

Over the weekend I saw three separate posts on Facebook saying some derivation of “They’ll replace you at work before your obituary is published, but you’re irreplicable at home.”

Based on my decidedly unscientific observation of human behavior, this has to be one of the greatest lies we tell ourselves. Not the part about being utterly replicable to your employer, of course. That bit is gospel truth. But being indispensable at home? Please. 

Looking around at the number of people who are regularly being cheated on, cheating on their significant other, getting divorced, meeting the 3rd “love of their life” in the last year, having kids they don’t see or support, barely functioning due to chemical dependency, or otherwise contributing nothing to their family or society at large, it seems to me that a fair number of us are every bit as dispensable at home we are to an employer. I suppose that’s the kind of thing we’re not supposed to say in polite company, though.

Look, I guess you’ve got to tell yourself whatever it takes to get through the night or to give some semblance of meaning in the face of a universe that truly does not give one shit… but realistically, we’re mostly just impressively complex electrochemical bio-machines designed to propagate our genes. Maybe it’s not as comforting, but it has the stench of honesty that I’ve increasingly come to appreciate.

What Annoys Jeff This Week?

1. Shady book shops. I’m not generally the kind of guy who walks around expecting something for nothing, but when I spy a deal, I like to snap it up… Which is what leads to the frustration of online booksellers who don’t realize they’ve underpriced a particular volume by about 2/3s of its actual retail price until someone comes along and tries to buy it. At least they were nice enough to immediately repost it for sale at a much higher price. That’ll be a hard pass from me. I’ll buy it from a competitor and even pay a bit more for the privilege since they’re not doing shady shit.

2. For reasons surpassing my limited efforts at understanding, my Twitter feed this week has been filled with posts saying something like “Stop doing x thing that makes y people feel uncomfortable.” Ok, I guess, except that in this little passion project of theirs we find that “X” is an absolutely normal, everyday activity and “Y” is some random bunch of wackjobs with perpetually hurt feelings. I assure you, if you’re planning to go through life expecting everyone to make you “comfortable,” you’re in for a great deal of both butt hurt and disappointment. But hey, good luck with that.

3. Friends. Friends are good things to have, I suppose. The simple fact of being a friend doesn’t, however, make you immune from criticism. At least it hasn’t in my experience. Some of my closest friends are the first to tell me when I’m heading off the rails. It’s not always a fun experience, but getting a third-party perspective has often served to be awfully instructive to me. If you’re looking for someone who will be nice just to be nice or who wants to go along to get along, I might not be the one for you… and that’s OK, too.

Not quite a teenager…

I’m an early riser. I like to blame the yearly days of my career when crawling out of bed at four in the morning was the only way to (usually) beat the worst of the day’s traffic heading into DC. That old 6:30 AM – 3:00 PM is still my favorite, though I haven’t worked it in years because various bosses have seemed to want people in their cubes as late into the afternoon as possible. From my seat, it’s always been the earlier in the day you can get out of the office, the better the day overall. 

As much as I want to blame a job I haven’t had for almost 15 years for doing this to me, I really do like the mornings. It’s a few hours of enjoying the world before other people wake up and ruin the experience.

Maggie, an ever loyal and supportive chocolate lab, is usually game for being awake and moving. She’s never far from my side, gamely following along whether it’s cooking breakfast, sitting with a steaming cup of coffee on the porch on a cool fall morning, or working through email long before the sun’s up. Jorah, though, couldn’t be more of a contrast – a case study in “not a morning person.” He’ll grudgingly get up at 4:30 for the promise of breakfast, but lately he’s added a new trick to his repertoire.

After breakfast has been served and he’s patrolled the house while I’m showering, Jorah sneaks back to bed. Any of the five dog beds aren’t good enough, of course. He finds is way to my bed before burrowing into the covers and catching another hour or 90 minutes of sleep before really coming out to start his day.

We’ll see if this is a short-lived fluke or if it’s going to become part of his established routine. The only thing that’s certain is that the youngest member of the household appears to not share a love of mornings with the rest of us. Thank God he’s still fully supportive of our geriatric bedtime, so it’s not quite like having my own teenager.

Feelings…

Memories on Facebook are something of a two-edged sword. As often as they dredge up something I’d forgotten about from the recent past, they also throw up moments that seem like they should have taken place much longer ago. 

Two years ago, the internet was raging about the seating of then judge and now Justice Kavanaugh on the United States Supreme Court. It feels like it was both yesterday afternoon and about 600 years ago. 

We seem to be in a long stretch now where someone or another is constantly screeching, rending their garments, or taking to the streets for whatever cause of the day is ginning up popular attention. It’s hard to tell the days of the week in some ways because it has all blended together into one large, continuous mass of demonstrating how we feel.

I’ve long been fond of a phrase I first saw many years ago that says something to the effect of “The Universe Doesn’t Care About Your Feelings.” 

The universe is on to something there. I’ve been working hard to tune out most of the extraneous noise in favor of focusing in on those things I can in some way control or influence. I can’t quite shake the feeling that if we all would just spend a little more time tending our own garden, life would be less shouty and obnoxious. 

Then again, the universe doesn’t care about my feelings either, so do whatever.

The news cycle has its priorities, and I have mine…

So… What do you want to talk about today?

The screaming banner headlines on every new site in the western world say the topic is tax returns. Maybe it’s tomorrow’s presidential debate if you read the more subtle, non-72 point font headlines a bit further down the page. Maybe it’s another day to rage about COVID-19, or Russia, or protests turned riot.

Any one of them could, theoretically, be a good enough topic to meet my word quota for today’s post. They’d fill the gap… and my eyes would likely roll completely out of my skull even before I added the final period.

I’m increasingly aware of the limits of my span of control, or at least on those things where I can exert some level of actual influence. If it doesn’t take place wholly within the confines of the woods and lawn of Fortress Jeff, that kind of control is just about non-existent and any pretense of influence is shaky at the very best.

I was first attracted to this phrase years ago when I heard it on the series finale of The Tudors – when an ailing Duke of Suffolk declines to intervene among those jockeying to take advantage of Henry’s quickly approaching death. The duke, in one of his most pragmatic moments says, “I’m not sure if this is any answer, my Lord Hertford, but I’ve always been drawn to a phrase used by the French peasants: ‘Praise the God of all, drink the wine, and let the world be the world.’

I’m not a particularly religious man. My praise and prayers, to the best of my knowledge, have always gone unheeded, so I can’t speak to that bit, but the rest seems to make perfect sense in its simplicity. The older I get, the more I see of people and politics and the world, the more convinced I am of the wisdom of taking care of my own, spending money for the good gin, and letting the rest of the world bugger directly off.

I’m sure that’s not at all what the talking heads want me paying attention to at the moment, but the desires of pols, activists, and news readers plays a more and more insignificant role in setting my agenda these days. It may be a decade or more off yet, but spending my time keeping an eye on large acreage plots coming available and working on my perfect floor plan feel like a far better use of time than anything CNN or Fox could possibly spew in my direction.

The half-armed crusade…

As I sit down to write today I’m running through the list of likely topics. That mostly means what ridiculous thing is sucking up all the oxygen in the worlds of politics or the Great Plague – although maybe that’s mostly the same topic now. I could rail against stupid people, always a favorite target here, but my self-imposed radical interpretation of remaining “safer at home” means I’m encountering very few of them these days. 

One potential topic I keep seeing trying to find air on social media points towards the approximately 67,000,000 children who are abducted or sold into sex slavery every year in America. I made that number up – largely because none of the memes I’ve seen seems able to agree on what that number is. They almost never cite a source and all appear to be written as if to cast an accusatory notion that “while you’ve been focused on COVID-19, you’ve been intentionally ignoring this thing over here.” At least in my small-ish social media circle I’ve observed that the people most often posting these jabs are the same ones who most likely to speculate that coronavirus is overblown / made up / a leftist plot. It’s not a 1:1 ratio but there’s a decided overlap. I’ll just say that it’s enough of a coincidence to tickle my inner skeptic and send me down my own minor internet rabbit hole.

My cursory look at the authoritative sources like National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and the most recent public NCIC report doesn’t seem to support whatever numbers are being thrown out via social media. 

Now, I’m not saying there isn’t an underlying issue lurking here somewhere. I am, however, saying that getting all your information from social media and blogs (even this one) and then launching off half armed on whatever crusade has caught your fancy, could be problematic. By all means, take a look and make sure we’re not inexplicably losing track of those 67 million people a year – but also check your sources. Please, for the love of all the gods, check your sources. 

What I learned this week…

I didn’t learn a damned thing this week. Nothing insightful. Nothing even vaguely interesting, unless you’re curious about the people who scour the banks of the Thames for washed up objects from centuries past. I did learn a few interesting things there, but suspect that’s not what most others would drop in the “interesting” category. Otherwise, the week has just sort of slid past without anything particularly informative coming to light.

If I’m horribly honest, I don’t think I could have had worse timing to bring on the whole “What I learned this week” thing if I’d have tried. The very nature of new life features such as social distance, quarantine, stay-at-home tends to limit the new and interesting.

Ah, well. It’s Friday, so whatever. 

That’s it. That’s the post.

What I learned this week…

I spent the day Thursday scouring the dark recesses of used book shops. I didn’t find any treasures, but made off with a fair few reading copies of things that looked interesting. I spent the night Thursday reading books and dispensing ear scratches between three critters.

It’s becoming increasingly obvious to me that my natural calling in life was to be a used book shop owner. Then, of course, I remember that particular line of effort would mean daily interaction with customers, who I would in no way be able to treat as “always right.” Putting me anywhere near the general public could only result in disaster for everyone involved.

So this week I learned the thing I’m probably most suited to do by inclination is something I’m utterly unsuited to do by temperament.

Not all learning is helpful.