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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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?