Roberta Branca

Archive for October, 2010|Monthly archive page

Sweet October

In Living in New Hampshire, Private Musings Gone Public on October 12, 2010 at 5:07 am
You have to physically experience Fall in Northern New England to truly appreciate its beauty. Bright sunshine, mild temperatures, and the resplendent orange, red, and yellow leaves are a heady mix. It is beguiling, leading one to forget the harsh, icy, snow-bound winter that lies just beyond October.

This year, October  is poignantly bittersweet for me for several reasons. For the first time, I followed my mate’s custom of taking the entire first week of October for an at-home vacation (well, almost the entire week — several days in a row, any way.) That’s the sweetener — a few days to really enjoy the weather, the colors — even rainy days can be relaxing when you are surrounded by magnificent fall foliage.

That’s the sweet-sweet part: weather plus color plus vacation. The bitter-sweet part is the one year anniversary of our dog, Nestle’s, diagnosis of cancer. Nestle’s decline last year followed the seasons of Autumn and Winter down to the time of day. She first collapsed from fluid on her heart on All Hallow’s Eve. As Autumn’s color gave way to November’s leafless grey and cold, Nestle experienced days when she was tired, and other days where you could believe nothing was wrong at all. Her second collapse was on the night before Thanksgiving, and she died of heart failure at 7 a.m. on Christmas Day.

Her death was the second dog loss we experienced that year; our other Sheltie, Laddie, was put to sleep on Sept. 25. The anniversary of his death hit our household hard, although I was slower to acknowledge it than B (my mate).

So while I’ve always associated October with the end of summer and the beginning of the holiday season, this year is marked with some internal apprehension. What sort of celebratory mood will we both be in as each holiday/anniversary approaches? It will be especially hard for my life-mate, who had been with Nestle since her puppy-hood.

As for me, the week spent leaf-peeping, hiking, and movie-going was interspersed with memories of Nestle barking at falling leaves; running with golden sun shining on her fur; jumping like a jack-in-the-box as I scooped her dinner food, which I now do for an entirely different dog.

When this new dog, Cosmo, came into our lives, I thought we were “replacing” the two dogs we’d lost. There is no such thing as replacing one living thing with another, though. Although the three dogs share a common heritage as purebred Shelties, their personalities make them as different as night and day.

Laddie and Nestle were proud and independent, bestowing affection only occasionally but content to lie nearby and provide companionship at all times. Cosmo, while affectionate, crosses the line into “neediness.” If he receives a pat on the head, he will immediately throw himself into your lap and roll over to have his tummy rubbed. If we are watching a movie, he will jump up on the furniture and insert himself between us. If he curls up next to you on the couch, he either licks your feet or scrambles up toward your head for extra attention.

Nestle was a stealthy problem-solver when it came to stealing food. She used her wits to defeat a child-proof cabinet lock and a cardboard barricade to get at the dog food we keep in a kitchen cabinet. Cosmo merely waits for opportunities, such as food left out within his reach. He is tall enough to pull a pan of chicken off the counter, and probably smart enough to get into the food closet if he was so inclined.

Laddie’s preferred form of play was to hid under blankets, or slap at you with his front paws. Nestle enjoyed tug of war and would bring toys to you to indicate her desire to play fetch. She did this sparingly, though, maybe once a week. She would deign to play fetch if you initiated it, and our level of interest in the game was usually well matched.

Cosmo, on the other hand, drops a ball in front of you several times a day, never tires of the game, and eagerly (over-eagerly) engages when his humans initiate the play instead of him. When you play with Cosmo, you can guarantee you are going to tire out before he does.

It is safe to say that Cosmo is more energetic, with too much energy, than the dogs I was so used to. What is less clear is how much of this is due to his younger age. Cosmo is only four, after all. Time will tell whether he calms down a bit as he grows out of doggy adolescence.

There are times when I think we got a new dog to early in the grieving process. Other times, of course, I just enjoy Cosmo for who he is. At all times, I feel grateful to have the ability to have a dog in my life. It is only in the past few months, though, that I have been able to separate my old grief from my new dog-owning responsibilities and experiences.

October, therefore, will be both easy and hard this year. Easy to enjoy the warmth and color around me as I walk my dog. Hard to continue letting go as memories of Nestle will inevitably flow through my consciousness this month. Easier to enjoy this new dog who is no longer “new” and is becoming familiar. Harder than usual not to think of the absence of Nestle and Laddie.

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Moment By Moment: Stepping Out and Getting Started

In Private Musings Gone Public, Procrastination, Support on October 4, 2010 at 4:00 am

Today marks the end of a weekend of stepping out of my shell. On Friday and Saturday morning, I spent two hours volunteering at the state Democratic offices in Portsmouth, making phone calls of all things. It’s a more worthwhile endeavor than I anticipated. For one thing, elections for all the Democratic candidates in our state are expected to be really, really, close. And the majority voters are not only registered independent. They are really, really, truly independent. Most informed me that they were still researching the issues and weren’t ready to make up their minds. One or two did not want to discuss their voting preferences. I was surprised how many people were willing to listen to my views on why I think they should vote to re-elect Carol Shea Porter as a Representative. I think the honesty of my approach goes a long way toward securing the ear of the person on the other end of the line. That, and a “smile in my voice.”

On Saturday afternoon, I had the chance to meet the other congressional representative, Paul Hodes, who is running for the U.S. Senate. He was personable and warm when I spoke to him, yet fiery and committed when he spoke to us all as a group.

On Friday night, my sig-other and I had dinner with his mother and brother, and spent a couple of hours in good conversation with them afterwards. Friday night, I am proud to say, I sat right down to my writing. After all, the night’s conversation turned several times to writing, and what my plans were for the near future. Peer support is a strong motivator. I reached an arbitrary word-count goal before I knew it, and found myself with an entire scene I’ve been trying to put together coherently for several weeks.

Saturday night was not so productive. I have a much harder time visualizing myself at the computer with a blank canvas of time in front of me, and I hemmed and hawed about starting a writing session and finally just settled for watching PBS. On the upside, there were back-to-back mysteries on Masterpiece Theater so I told myself it was a form of “research.” Particularly watching an Agatha Christie story unfold — A Pocketful of Rye.

On Sunday, I attended a service at the First Unitarian Universalist Society of Exeter. It’s only the third time I have attended since moving to the Seacoast five years ago, and the second service I’ve been there to this fall. I arrived just in time for the end of coffee hour, which gave me the chance to say hello to the only other person I know at the church, an old friend who used to attend First Parish UU in Cambridge. I was greeted with a huge bear hug, and although she had attended the earlier service and left when the bell for the service rang, her presence was with me throughout the service.

None of these activities comes easily to me. I am shy, and an INTP on the Myers-Briggs scale. I was wracked with guilt that I wasn’t using my free time writing. I worried that getting up earlier would mean spending fewer late-nights on my writing. The thought of meeting new people caused a lot of anxiety on my way to all of these events.

But, during the church service, I was sitting next to and behind a group of women who were obviously all good friends, enjoying listening to their chatter about the upcoming year in religious education, etc. They kept drawing in a couple seated two rows in front of them. During the meditation, we were all asked to stand and touch the backs of our hands to the hands of the people on either side of us. These three rows of people formed a circle with their chain of people, and still managed to connect with all the other people in the row. Partway through the meditation, I noticed that the two women next to me had stopped merely touching hands, and were holding hands instead.

Witnessing that moment of connection, and being clear-headed from meditating, helped me realize that the nervousness I feel about anticipating new people or crowds generally goes away once I am in the moment with other people. Although I may never be a social butterfly, I generally enjoy a sense of connectedness with other people. It hit me then to approach my writing the same way: if I can channel the initial anxiety about getting started, and just sit down to the task, I can then just proceed moment by moment.

What made writing so successful Friday night was that I didn’t mind if I stopped for a short break, to make tea, or pace a bit. I felt good about the day’s events, and just didn’t think so much about the possible failure of writer’s block or procrastination.

In short, it’s the moments that make up the writing, not the blank page being filled with words.