My Sweet, Insistent Buster Kitty

Right before I woke up this morning, I dreamed about Buster kitty. He and Bella jumped out of the car as I was parking and they ran off together to explore. My beautiful Buster sashayed around as he did when he was young, occasionally searching for me with those big golden yellow eyes. I know it was a visit because at one point he communicated to me as only he could do that he was well and felt young and happy. “I love you,” those golden orbs said. And then he ran off to play with Bella.

I am still crying on and off as I think about my boy. So much time was spent the last few months trying to get him to eat and worried about what was wrong that I didn’t truly get to say good-bye. I was relieved when the decision was made and knew that he was out of whatever pain he might have been in. I’m so glad we did that before this panic hit as I had already been so stressed trying to get him to eat. Almost daily visits to Petsmart distracted me from my real pain of losing my companion of 15 years.

But seeing him last night so young and beautiful and happy reminded me of his best days. He was a force in my life. No matter what happened – and lots did during his lifetime – he gave me a blow by blow of what was going on in his mind. Buster was the last of my kitties that were present during my second marriage that ended so horribly. He was born in Indiana and lived in Memphis, Louisiana and Michigan. He was always quick to adapt and helped both of my other animals get settled in whatever new situation we encountered.

When we first brought him home from the shelter, we tried to quarantine him to have a slow introduction to the other cats. From the empty room upstairs he was so loud that we finally opened the door and let him out. He made himself at home and got along with the other cats from the first instant. He followed me up to bed and plopped down on my shoulder that night. The next morning my husband told me that when he came to bed, Buster was asleep on my pillow curled up at the top of my head. He never knew a stranger. He knew nothing but love.

One year I took him to the vet for his annual checkup. I didn’t use a carrier for him because he was so relaxed no matter what we did. He was walking around while I paid and when I turned around we couldn’t find him anywhere. The veterinary staff looked everywhere and eventually we all fanned out into the field behind the office. Eventually one of the vet techs came down from the break room laughing. Buster had sauntered up the stairs to the employee break room and was napping in the middle of the table.

My Memphis vet called me in the middle of the workday to come get him. I had left him there for his checkup. This particular vet tech carried him around on her shoulder when he was there because that was the only way to quiet him. It wasn’t working that day. “But I have meetings and can’t come til 4,” I told her. “Come get him now,” she said. “He’s driving us crazy.” His big mouth is the reason I ended up with Buster in the first place. My ex and I had been wandering around the shelter looking at the cats and kittens, and Buster was yowling the entire time hanging on the fencing on his cage. Finally, we paid some attention to him because he was so obnoxious. We were struggling with a decision, so we let him make it for us. He was the boss.

Buster was my lap cat. As soon as I sat down or got in the bed, he was right on top of me. He was in my lap for just about every blog I ever wrote. He’d push aside Ashok or Bella or my computer to make space. At night, he had a habit of jumping into bed and plopping down on top of my chest right next to my chin. I’d put the cover over my head to keep him from licking my nose with his prickly tongue. His purr never stopped. I noticed in the last year or so that he wasn’t purring as often. I’d reach up and pet him to get it started. It soothed me as much as I like to think it did him. The last night he was alive, he was perched in the usual way on my shoulder with his two paws and his head right next to my face. I had the premonition that this would be the end, and I took a picture with my mind and heart.

I learned from Buster to ask for what you want, insist on the best and be adaptable to any situation. The first time I noticed that he wasn’t jumping anymore, I learned to deal with the sadness of watching my beloved pet inch his way toward death. I watched him learn to navigate steps instead of jumping up on my bed. I weaned him from hard food to wet food and had to stop answering his call for milk as it made him sick. But even on his last day he comforted me. As they gave him the sedative in that lonely room, he relaxed and began to purr. His liquid gold eyes held on to me as I assured him he would be okay. And last night he assured me that I was right. I miss that damn cat. Buster Kitty, please stop by anytime.

Our Health is a Public Service

Last night was the first night I did not sleep.

Ever since I discovered magnesium, I have been sleeping through the night – coronavirus or no coronavirus. I stockpiled the stuff awhile back, and I take a teaspoon before I go to bed. Sleep like a baby.

The economic fallout has begun. The novelty of being home is wearing off. Bella has decided she has to attend all virtual meetings and is not happy with anything on the agenda. We laugh as she hisses, growls and spits at our discussions. She is the grumpy office cat. My direct reports are stressed. Fear permeates the humor and even, at moments, the gratitude. We are human after all. We can’t sort our fears into nice little boxes during the workday.

Our Medical Director hosted a talk yesterday, and I listened to the recording this morning. His thoroughness and clinical explanation comforted me. After listening I truly felt this crisis might not bring us to our knees. It will hurt, but there is a method to this social distancing madness. If we can flatten the curve, we could bypass the worst of this.

I ventured out for groceries and kitty litter yesterday. It was weird to be out during the Apocalypse. People were nicer. Normally a trip to the grocery wouldn’t promise much interaction, but even the woman behind the deli counter asked me how I was doing. I thanked her for helping us by being there and working. I’m tipping everybody I can and frequenting local restaurants for takeout. I’m lucky to be working and getting a salary. Sharing the wealth doesn’t feel optional.

Something weird was happening with me as I passed people in the store and in the parking lot. My radar went up. I measured the distance. Is it 6 feet? Are they too close? What if they have it? Are they a carrier? We might share a greeting, but I’m sure they were thinking the same thing of me. Is she safe? Where has she been? It seems that the farther I distance myself physically from others, the closer I feel emotionally. I worried about the senior citizens I saw. I worried about the man with a limp. We are all walking time bombs. The enemy is invisible, and it is in us.

I woke up at 3 AM in anxiety. Fear flashed through me that I could get this thing and die. What if? Denial is really not an option at this point. My health has become a public service. Your health is a public service. I feel a responsibility to exercise – and I did yesterday, indoors – and to eat right. I made a commitment to myself to do the only thing I can do. I can take care of myself and be no closer than 6 feet to others. The rest of it I cannot control.

Amazing what a difference a week can make. I stocked up this morning on 3 months of pet food and Ashok’s supplements. I have plenty of food including beans and rice if things head south. I don’t even know what tomorrow will look like. I think I’ll just try to stay in today, eat healthier than I did yesterday and maybe go for a run. Oh yeah, I won’t forget the magnesium. I need the sleep.

How is your adventure going?

How are you doing? Really? #socialdistancing

  • Really…. how are you doing during this time of craziness?
  • Are you hunkered in with your family, and are they driving you nuts or making you grateful to have them?
  • Do you have enough toilet paper? What about vegetables?
  • Is your income threatened? What is your biggest worry?
  • Are your pets confused?
  • Are you unnerved by having to work at home amid the chaos of a semi-quarantine?
  • Are you getting enough exercise? Do you care? What about hot baths or phone calls with friends?
  • Are you single and are you coping okay?
  • Have you lost your job? How are you going to get through?
  • Are you worried about getting sick? Or do you think it’s all a hoax?

I’m doing okay. I’m spending all day in meetings and video conferences. I’m sitting on my ass too long and not exercising enough. I’m eating too much junk, and I really don’t care at this point. It feels good to have something yummy to anticipate and enjoy. I feel lonely. I am scared about the economy, and I’m worried about the future since I work for a consumer products company. I’ve also been laid off before so I know it’ll all be fine one way or another. I’m at a different time of life now where retirement might actually be an option if the stock market rebounds. If not, I’ve got skills. Maybe it’s time for a change.

My animals are confused. Bella likes to sit in on my meetings and hiss and spit. Ashok just wants to curl up next to me and sleep. I eat lunch in my kitchen. I’ve got plenty of vegetables and only a few rolls of toilet paper. One of my direct reports brought me a care package today with dog treats, human treats and two giant rolls of TP. I’m set for a bit unless I keep eating so much.

The sun was out today, so I took Ashok for a walk. People in my neighborhood are following instructions and not really interacting. It feels a bit weird. I need to run but I’m not doing it. Maybe I’ll get back to it tomorrow. With no drive time, I get to sleep in a little. It feels good to wake up when I want.

My team today committed to using our videos during meetings so we can stay more connected. It’s fun to see their kids, spouses and animals running around. A spouse almost changed his pants today before he realized there was a webcam on in the room. I’m sure we’ll see somebody’s spouse or kid in their underwear before this is all over. Some people work from their beds. Others are in the basement with their sports banners. I’m at my kitchen table trying to be comfortable in a straight-backed chair.

We are living in interesting times. I’m grateful for the ability to work at home. It keeps me employed and at some level of sanity. I’m grateful to have a quiet place to be. I’m grateful I have food and a good back. My kitchen is full of delicious tea, homemade yogurt and almond milk and fresh vegetables and fruit. I won’t have to venture out for awhile, but I’m a bit curious as to what it’s like during the apocalypse. I also want to support some of my local businesses with their drive-thru service so they have a little revenue. I don’t want to lose them. I look forward to normal again – whenever that might be.

Tell me again, how are you doing?

My New Favorite Thing: Audm

The Daily podcast yesterday featured a reading of a beautiful article about Tom Hanks. The writing was excellent, and the journalism was typical of the best long-form journalism available in The Times Magazine. It felt like a long, cool drink of water on a hot day. I’m tired of idiocy and the inability of narrators to tell a coherent story. I never have time to read those long, well-written articles, but I love getting lost in them.

At the end of the reading, the podcast host recommended trying the app Audm where articles such as these are read. Immediately I downloaded that app. I’d been debating subscribing to the New Yorker but it’s only one publication. I’m getting tired of having to buy multiple subscriptions for all of the publications that interest me.

For $60 a year I can listen to the best long-form journalism on my phone from a variety of publications. I drove to Grand Rapids today and listened to beautifully crafted and researched articles about Angola, Megan Kelly, digital campaign advertising and a writer’s devotion to his cat. I don’t remember a thing I saw on the road. I was riveted to that tapestry of beautifully crafted words.

Social Distancing: First 24 Hours

I’m going to go insane. I guess I should be grateful I don’t live with anybody irritating, but it’s only been 24 hours and I am truly over it. It was only yesterday that we got the mandate to work remotely until 4/5. I do not like working at home. I am extroverted, and I like to be running around getting things done. But this is not about me. I packed up my essential computer hardware and headed for home.

I had to go to the grocery first. I needed some vegetables, and I am truly down to my last roll of toilet paper. There were plenty of vegetables, but the shelves were toilet paper-free. A coworker just made a Costco run, so he said he could set me up if I got in dire straights. I suppose we’ll have to meet in a parking lot somewhere and he can throw it through my window. The checkout attendant at the grocery said they were getting a shipment in last night, so I was relieved to hear that toilet paper actually exists somewhere in the universe and can be had. All hope is not lost.

I went home after that and began my social distancing phase. The idea of it that bothers me more than the isolation. After all, I spend much of my weekends at home doing things around the house or going into the woods anyway. I like being alone. It’s usually a much needed down-time at the end of a whirlwind work week. But knowing that Monday – Friday will look much the same as the weekend is causing a bit of a panic in my extroverted soul. I find myself less worried about toilet paper and more worried about remaining calm. Thankfully I’ve discovered magnesium, so I stocked up.

I could have gotten out for a walk or a hike today. I needed to go out for a run. I could have read or cleaned my house or washed clothes. I should have prepped some food for this week. Instead I parked myself on my sofa and binge-watched The Ranch. I remember why I stopped watching television almost 20 years ago. But I can’t seem to stop once I get started. I know I can’t keep this up, though. I will start getting depressed and anxious if I give up on all of my normal habits. Tomorrow will have to be a more productive day in that arena.

Sharon Stone just gave a pep talk on Instagram about how important it is to do this. I know that some people think this is a complete overreaction and others are in a panic (i.e. panic-buying toilet paper), but this is truly our civic duty at the moment. I think of the sacrifices people have had to make in times of war in the past, and I wonder if we are so soft we can’t do something this easy for 4-6 weeks. It’s a small price to pay to keep truly vulnerable populations safe. I can still go for runs and hikes, practice at-home yoga and meditation, visit with friends over FaceTime and take a little extra time for cooking, reading and good self-care. We’ve all said we’re too busy and stressed with the fast pace of life today anyway. Let’s enjoy the downtime and concentrate on the basics.

How are you doing with your social distancing?

Our Time has come, Instructional Designers!

Yesterday my profession made the New York Times Upshot section. Instructional designers help prepare faculty for teaching online. Well, all of a sudden, we are in demand and are being called out front and center. My phone was pinging non-stop yesterday with appeals for help from my teacher friends. Yes, we can help. For most of my career, I have been dragging reluctant people kicking and screaming into a world that they don’t want to inhabit. Forgive me if I enjoy being chased a little for awhile.

I got my Masters in Instructional Technology at Purdue in 2006. The class demographic was 50% corporate employees and 50% public educators. We all fought the tide all day long in our day jobs. And we lost more battles than we won. Corporate America had a business case driving the change but old habits die hard. Online learning and eLearning was considered a “cost savings” by most and accepted about as happily as email was 30 years ago. I remember being unable to figure out why I would email somebody when I could just walk over to their desk. Our education professionals fought an even more difficult battle in their work environments. But we knew that technology not only enabled more flexibility in learning, it could also increase its effectiveness. The key was designing it to fit the delivery method. And that’s why we were there.

“What is it that you do?” I’m often asked. Industrial what? You teach? Huh? I don’t get it. Designing online learning is a unique skillset and hidden behind the talent, the teacher or facilitator. It requires unique skills that traditional classroom teachers don’t have. But organizations don’t think that way. “Just do it,” they mandate to shocked educators – without providing the training to support them in the change. This gap drives a lot of bad online learning design which produces a bad experience which makes people think online learning is horrible. That has always been our fight.

However…..

Coronavirus turned the tide this week. I knew someday it would come. Unfortunately there will be a lot of bad online learning out there for awhile. But I think instructional designers will be having a heyday for the next few months. Hopefully the case will be built long-term for flexibility after we get out of this panic. We can help you. And, right now, we can stop fighting resistant people. We have your attention, America.

Let us make you shine!

Change, Comfort and Distraction: Recipes for Getting Through

It’s dark outside. The time has changed once again, and now the mornings will be a tad darker. The daylight takes its time getting here. We are still a month or more away from warmer days here in Michigan, but the sun is starting to shine more frequently, and the crocus are peeping through the dirt. “I see you,” I whispered to a little bouquet yesterday.

I lost my Buster kitty last week. Buster was a force. He talked incessantly, and he was cuddly and soft. I don’t think he was a rag doll breed, but he sure could have passed for one. There was nothing he feared. When Ashok entered our home for the first time Buster walked right up to her, sniffed her nose and made it clear who was boss.

It is quiet now. Ashok and Bella are adjusting. The dynamics of the pack will change. Bella is finding her voice. She has meowed more in the last week than I ever remember. There is a sense of sadness over all of us as we get through this transition to a new normal. We are cuddling a little more, spending more time together and navigating our new hierarchy. I am relieved that I don’t have to worry about him any more as the last year or so was a struggle. But the hole in my heart is big.

Much to my dismay I have discovered binge-watching on Netflix. I haven’t owned a television in decades, and this weekend I found myself glued to my computer watching The Ranch. I got out and hiked with a friend and make some homemade scones. I ran and practiced yoga, but, other than that, I clicked Next Episode until I was sick of it. I don’t feel the better for it but it got me through the weekend by distracting me from reality.

I set some goals this week on my Garmin for strength training, running and yoga. I need the balance, and I need to get back to a routine. I also need to get back to reading for fun. I had made some progress but then the doldrums of winter set in, and my attention scattered. I am drinking green tea which helps keep my energy level all day and trying to avoid the roller coaster ride of caffeine and sugar. It also helps lift my mood which is dangerously close to a low-level depression. Keep moving. Focus on good behaviors. Eat healthy. Avoid idiots.

I kicked off Monday with an energizing yoga practice and a 15-minute meditation which centered me on the experience I’m having at the moment. Enya croons from my Bose. A scented candle flickers. Ashok snores nearby. I’m craving a smoothie to accompany one of my home-made Brown Butter Rye Scones.

One more minute here, please…. one more sip of green chai… one more breath… one more moment in my comfort zone.

Monday is here. Let’s do this.

The Power of Softness

“Make Liberals Cry Again.” The intention was to bully me and those like me. But there was something else that it triggered inside of me. I’ve been sitting with it for weeks trying to get to the root of what that message truly means.

A friend of mine was on a rant about this younger generation being “soft”. “They’re soft,” he kept saying in a loud, fearful, disgusted tone. “This younger generation is soft!” I was reminded of the hard outer shell he has built upon himself, and I thought of the armor I have gradually been trying to melt over the years. That’s what has been bothering me about this message. It’s the insistence that there is something wrong with being soft.

Our culture has an issue with softness while, at the same time, it worships it. We learn we can’t be soft to survive, so we crave it outside ourselves. We buy cozy blankets and get massages to help us relax. We like soft edges on mugs to hold our morning caffeine hammers. We work out and compete and then do yoga to help us relax. We are so worked up and armored up that we can’t sleep, so we buy sleeping pills to bring us to the point of softness where we can actually let go.

My ex-husband mirrored my transformation from a soft, sweet, sleepy person into an armored, edgy professional when I drank my coffee. He said my personality completely changed. I suspect that the root of my on-again, off-again relationship with coffee is rooted in this dynamic. As I’ve evolved, I’ve wanted to embrace my softness. My fear of being soft encrusted me with a hard shell that wasn’t serving me. My morning joe was the signal that it was time to armor up. “The world cannot be trusted,” it lied. “Better get your game on.”

I no longer believe that strength comes from being hard. As we get older and wiser, we get softer. It’s the ones that don’t soften that became bitter, angry caricatures of themselves. Hardness separates us in relationship. Inflexibility destroys our joints and muscles making us weak. Rigid thinking destroys creativity. Creativity is born from fluidity. Emotions have to flow – yes, even tears – or we wall ourselves off from ourselves and others. Our strength comes directly from our softness.

I’m learning to be compassionate with myself. I’m drinking tea instead of coffee. I’m learning to question the inner critic that tells me I better “man up” to be successful. I’m listening to the voice that tells me when I need to rest. I’m embracing my feminine energy. All of my life I thought softer, feminine traits were a sign of weakness. But I’ve learned that crying and loving and being sensitive to others is my strength. That’s the muscle I’m flexing now. So, go ahead, make me cry. It only makes me stronger.

Winter Diary: Ahhhh…. The Warmth

I am over it. My Louisiana blood tells me it’s Azalea time, and the dogwoods should be popping soon. I watch my Instagram feed as my friends don shorts and tank tops for Mardi Gras parades. Here in Michigan we are still in it. Winter won’t lose its grasp until early May. I won’t feel like wearing shorts til June.

The contrast in what my mind tells me and what my numb cold fingers say is unnerving. I’m in a running program now. I thought since we didn’t have snow and ice this year I’d brave the cold and get training early. But I gave in and rejoined the gym to have access to a treadmill. I have to face reality. I’m not eager to get out til it’s above 40 degrees.

But this morning I got up and made some wonderfully healthy and sweet apple-ricotta pancakes, pre-chopped all my veggies for the week, made some chia pudding and headed out to my favorite place, The Spa at Harbor Shores.

On this leap day Saturday I’m getting a massage and facial. As good as that is it’s the rest of the deal that warms my heart. My esthetician, Kelly, and I have uproarious conversations about dating, midlife and our magical spiritual journeys. I’m relaxing in front of the digital fire with a cup of peach green tea, and the sauna awaits.

Be gone, winter. I am warm, happy and well-fed. The sun is shining in my heart as well as on the crocus poking their heads above the soil. I will kindle my own Mardi Gras and azalea flames until the spring explosion of Southwest Michigan ignites. I truly don’t want for anything.

Deflecting the Tar-Baby

I saw a counselor during my second marriage to help me unwind some of the issues that we were having. It seemed that I could never make any headway in communicating my needs or in solving issues. I felt voiceless. For instance, I’d want to talk about the fact that we were running out of money every month, and we needed discipline around spending. I’d pick a time that was more relaxing and bring it up. All of a sudden, I was the problem. I was controlling. I was always bringing up “problems”. I spent more money than he did. The discussion would culminate in an argument where I was the issue..

I played back one of these pointless circular arguments to my counselor, and she introduced the “tar-baby” to me. The Tar-Baby is one of the Uncle Remus stories published in 1881. Br’er Fox constructed a doll made of tar to distract Br’er Rabbit. When Br’er Rabbit engaged with this tar-baby, he’d get stuck in the sticky tar. No matter what he did, the more he engaged, the worse off he was.

She said that people who don’t want to deal with problems will often fling forth a tar-baby. My ex was effectively distracting me from the real issue at hand by bringing up another unsolvable and more sticky issue. This would send me off on a battle with a tar-baby that would entrap me and, since there was no resolution, deflect the initial problem. The answer, she said, was to disengage with the tar-baby. Keep going back to the real issue.

I still remember the moment I spotted my first tar-baby. It was profound. I got really good at avoiding them in this relationship. In fact, the practice of ignoring the tar-baby was probably the root of the demise of that marriage. As I stayed focused on the real issues, it became obvious the problems were unsolvable because he would not engage, and he became more and more evasive and emotionally violent.

If you have someone that is evading issues because they throw up tar-babies, there are really some simple steps to follow.

  1. Recognize a tar-baby when one appears. It’s pretty simple. If you bring up an issue, and they try to distract by insulting you, bringing up one of your issues or even bringing up another or different issue of their own, they just threw you a tar-baby. The issue at hand is the one you brought up. Period.
  2. Do not be distracted. Continue to reiterate the issue you want to solve – no matter what they say, no matter what happens. The path to solve this issue is the objective of the conversation. With a healthy person who may not realize they are doing this, they will appreciate the focus. With someone who likes distracting the conversation, they will continue to throw tar-baby after tar-baby. You can always say, “We’ll discuss that issue at another time. Right now, we are discussing this issue.”
  3. Come up with a mutually-satisfying resolution or end the conversation by accepting the problem will not be solved in this conversation. I would usually end one of these painful stand-offs by admitting we were not going to solve the issue today and offering him an opportunity to discuss it later. If it was a problem that was urgent, I would offer that I would resolve it on my own.
  4. Do not allow the avoidance of the issue to table the issue long-term. If the issue is truly important to you, it needs to be resolved. It may be that you have to resolve it on your own. The other person is trying to avoid the issue. That’s the purpose of the tar-baby. Don’t let that happen.

During this work in deflecting tar-babies with him, I learned that in some ways I benefitted from the distraction, too. It kept me confused about what I really needed to do in this relationship. It was a toxic relationship with a lot of toxic patterns. It eventually became clear to me that my choices were to stay in this gridlock or start to work my way out of it. By deflecting the tar-babies, the true issues became clear, and I could make better decisions on the problems. Some were small problems that could be ignored. But they were blown into big problems due to the tar-baby discussions. Others were too big to ignore.

Is there a person in your life that uses tar-babies to keep you under control? What are the typical ones they use? How can you deflect them in the future?

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