To Grieve For a Stranger

Lou Reed David Bowie

So this has been a shitty week.  We woke up Monday to David Bowie passing at 69 from cancer and today Alan Rickman.  Two of my all-around favorite people.  Whom I have never met.

I always feel strange crying for someone I don’t know personally.  They have family and friends who have a real, severe loss they are dealing with.  It doesn’t seem right that some weirdo they don’t know has taken this death close enough to their heart to be sad.  

The first time I experienced a profound sense of loss when a public figure died was when I was 14.  Nirvana was my favorite band.  (I’m not trying to be retroactively cool, it’s just the truth.)  Then Kurt Cobain died and I felt sad and wore black (well, I wore a lot of black anyway, I was a grunge kid after all) and mourned.  In fact, no deaths of strangers hit me that hard until 2013 when my husband sat me down in the living room of our apartment and told me Lou Reed had died.

Since I was an adult I was a little more self aware.  I thought it was kind of odd that I was so upset for someone I hadn’t met.  But I was.  I was sad for his family, sad for me, sad for the world.

When artists die we often say the world has lost something.  That’s true when anyone dies I think.  When my father died when I was in college I thought the the world was at a loss, even if a majority of the world didn’t know it.  But these people grace us with their art.  And when they are gone, they can no longer produce that art for us.  

So is it selfish that we’re sad?  Because we want more?  I don’t think so.  I think we’re disappointed, but I think a lot of us are also sorry for any suffering the person might have endured.  For the pain those close to them may feel.

This grief is a different phenomenon than grieving the loss of a personal friend or family member.  But we can’t help our feelings of loss and sadness.  And it’s something we can share with many other people.  People we know and people we don’t.  People all across the world.  So this grief is different, but valid.  It has to be, or else we would not feel it.

David Bowie will always be a treasure.  His music created a safe place to be in for so many different types of people.  Alan Rickman was a brilliant actor and had so many great roles.   They both seemed to be honestly lovely people as well.

Thanks for reading.  I really just needed to work this out.

Here is Alan Rickman reading “A Grief Observed” by CS Lewis.

 

Above artwork is Lou Reed and David Bowie by Guy Peellaert, from Rock Dreams (1970-1973).  Totally used without permission.

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Where Have I Been?

Vulture

I started this blog a little over a year ago with the intention of posting every week.

Oops.

When we last left off, I had just gotten a job at a wildlife sanctuary and hospital.  This was in the height of “baby season.”  Baby season means that from spring through the beginning of fall, everything is having babies.  This is big in the wildlife rehab game as we get any and all orphans.  So I was taking care of baby squirrels in my apartment instead of writing.  I’m saving lives here, guys!!!

Squirrels Squirrel

What is it like to work with wildlife?  Pretty glamorous.  If you like poop.  And if you don’t and then start working with wildlife (or any animals or, I’m assuming, human children) you will eventually because it tells you so much about the animal’s health.  Not to brag, but I’ve cleaned the poop of:  racoons, deer, bald eagles, squirrels, owls, oppossums, doves, pigeons, turtles, hawks, gulls, bobcats… the list goes on.  And on.

Yeah, bald eagles.  Because I’m an American.

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But, seriously, working with wildlife has changed my life.  I now know that I want to continue to work with animals for as long as I am able.  I’m still trying to figure out what that means for writing and other aspects of my life.  But it is worth it if I can continue this work.  In the meantime, I do hope to write more.  So stay tuned…  I know.  Promises, promises.

I also got to bottle-feed fawns and have an awesome turkey vulture story.  Though it would be difficult for one to have a turkey vulture story and it not be awesome.

 
Oh, and I also adopted a dog and moved to California.

Mental Illness Metaphor: It Follows

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(Spoiler Free)

I finally watched David Robert Mitchell’s film It Follows, which is now available to rent.  I had been wanting to see it for a while since I heard it was actually a good horror movie, which is rare these days (if you’re looking for another recent good one, check out The Babadook; it’s on Netflix).

I enjoyed the film.  The cinematography was wonderful.  It has that old-school horror movie feel and with complex shots.  There were beautiful tracking shots, wide shots, and impressive 360 shots.

The cinematography lends itself to feelings of both claustrophobia (the fear of enclosed spaces or being trapped) and agoraphobia (which can also be fear of enclosed spaces, but is commonly thought of as fear of being outside).  Those two fears together is an old joke, but is also a very real comorbidity for many people.

This led me to interpret the film as metaphor for mental illness (as opposed to a super obvious metaphor of the dangers of sex).  The main character Jay feels trapped within her own home.  And trapped when she is at school and when she is in her car.  She is also hyper-vigilant when outside.  This is where the expansive wide shots come in.  We can see an entire neighborhood or an entire forest or beach front, but we know that anywhere out there can be danger.  The camera also follows Jay through narrow hallways and tunnels, keeping the audience confined with her with little room to escape.

Jay can also see something that no one else can see.  This can obviously also be applied to a mental illness understanding of the film.  If someone is ill and hallucinating it can be very real to them.  It can also be incredibly difficult to convince other people that there is a problem.

The comforting aspect of this story is that Jay’s friends and sister come to accept what she is saying and try to help.  This is acceptance is still a struggle for the millions of people suffering from mental illness.  They do not have this strong support system.  Having friends and family accept a mentally ill person can be life changing for that individual.  But stigma still surrounds mental illness.  A lot of people do not understand what it means to suffer in your mind (while anyone who has ever been injured or been sick understands what it means to suffer in the body).  Maybe a view of this movie could be beneficial.  The tension and fear that carries the story along is how it feels to suffer from an anxiety disorder.  I believe education is key to understanding mental illness and breaking the social stigma that surrounds it.

(I recommend this film.  And it’s a bonus that it quotes T.S. Eliot and Dostoevsky’s The Idiot.)

Why Animals?

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I have recently accepted a job as an animal caretaker at a local wildlife sanctuary where I will be caring for sick, injured, and baby wildlife with the goal of reintroduction to the wild.  I also volunteer at a no-kill shelter and occasionally help out with a rescue group that specializes in the much-maligned, but truly wonderful, bully dog breeds.  And when I’m not doing that, I take courses online to learn as much as I can about animal behavior and welfare.

A question often put to people who spend much of their time helping animals is, why not help people instead?  I have yet to be asked this question.  That is, I’ve yet to be asked it by someone other than myself.  I sometimes feel that I should be helping out my fellow humans more.  So I will now explore my motivations.

My love of animals began at a young age.  Pictured above is me and my first dog Daisy, a Shepard mix adopted from the famous North Shore Animal League.  As a toddler, I also remember feeding the squirrels in the yard and watching ladybugs land on the kitchen windowsill with my mother.

That toddler now wants to devote her adult life to helping more and more animals.  Let’s look at the who, what, and why of that decision.

Domestic Animals:  While there are disgraceful instances of flagrant animal abuse and neglect, most of the animals I spend time with are not that bad off. People relinquish their pets because they no longer fit into their lifestyle or living arrangements.  Irresponsible pet owners don’t alter their animals and excessive breeding occurs.  We have a major overpopulation problem in this country.  As of this writing, my county’s shelter, which is trying its best to be a no-kill facility, is at capacity and may have to euthanize for space for the first time in a while.  Staff and volunteers of rescues and shelters scramble to make their animals healthy and adoptable just to continue the never-ending cycle of taking in more unwanted dogs, cats, rabbits, etc.

Wild Animals:  Some are known as nuisance animals, but to be fair, we did encroach on their territory by building our homes and shopping centers.  If we are responsible for displacing wildlife – not to mention hunting, poaching, and capturing them for entertainment – then we should be responsible for helping wildlife. 

Farm Animals:  My volunteer work was born out of my veganism.  My being a vegan came from my extreme pleasure in knowing that my food has not suffered.  Being one person against the “system” can feel overwhelming, so I have been striving to do more to help more animals.  But these are the animals I feel need my voice the most due to the sheer volume of suffering endured by these creatures and the sheer volume of ignoring that is done by consumers.  These animals can feel fear and pain.  That should be all anyone needs to know.

Captive Wildlife:  There have been some strides toward change lately, but it is still an uphill climb to educate in order to effect more change, because the people making profits off of these animals surely will not change unless their wallets shrink.  Circuses, amusement parks, and most zoos do not have their animals’ best interests at heart – no matter what Sea World’s latest ad campaign tells you.  Animals have been ripped out of their homes, inbred, and forced to perform under the most appalling of conditions and for our amusement.  If you want to learn about wild animals, visit a sanctuary or watch a David Attenborough documentary.

Okay, so this has gotten a little more preachy than I intended.  That happens sometimes when I get started on this topic.  Sorry (not sorry).

But I do still feel guilty that I do not help my fellow human more.  It’s not like I never do – I write my representatives and give money when I can and have been known to protest.  But why is almost all of my time spent helping animals?  If I’m being honest – I don’t do great with people.  I’m just not a people person.  Yet I feel – no, I know – that all people should be treated equally and justly.  And I want this to be the norm one day all over the world.  But my greatest passion is animals.  

I guess will probably always feel guilt from time to time.  That I could and should be doing more.  More for animals, more for people.  The flip side is this:  I’m selfish.  I’m doing this because I’m selfish.  Helping animals makes me feel good.  Giving five bucks to a homeless guy makes me feel good.  Voting for the local school board makes me feel good.  I want to keep feeling good.  I just have to remind my self that there are worse ways to be selfish.

I’m Writing a Novel (?)

novel write

I’m in the research stages for a young adult book idea that I have.  It just sounds so crazy to me to say things like, “I’m working on a novel.”  Like, that’s something that writers say.  I’m just an unemployed lady with a laptop.

How does one write a book?  I am trying to figure that out.  I’ve written long-form things in the past, but pretty much without a plan.  I’ve come to realize, however, that it’s good to have a plan.  So here is my plan for making a plan:  I would like to have the plot, well, plotted-out before I really dig in to writing.  In my mind this means creating an entire skeleton of the story.  Then to each chapter, I add the flesh and sinew until it is whole.

The biggest issue I have right now is how do you know how a story ends without writing it first?  I really think I need that planned out first (of course, the ending or story points could change along the way once I see how the characters behave) so the story can build to it.  I think about my characters and some of my story a lot.  My characters especially like to keep me up at night.  But those are my static, beginning-of-the-book characters.  How will they end up?

I am trying to be analytical about this.  There needs to be conflict because that is how literature works.  So what is my conflict?  And how does that conflict become a climax and how does that change the lives of my characters (not to mention please my readers)?  I like problem solving and a novel is a giant problem.

I know this blog is supposed to be about my journey into my creative life or whatever, but, guys, it would really be helpful if you could tell me what to do!  Have you ever done this before?  I’ve been reading books about writing.  That’s somewhat helpful.  I just want to get a nice cold hard structure for this book down.  A complete skeleton ready to be made into a fully-formed, life-filled entity.  And I want to attack this “problem” of mine from a rational place.  (Which would not be from the Hemingway place of, “There is nothing to writing.  All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”  And also much fishing and drinking.)

It may take a while though.  Did you know that Paradise Park Wildlife Sanctuary in the UK has a live feed of its baby red pandas?!?!  This requires much of my attention (it has audio!).

Life As an Animal Volunteer

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I am covered in cat scratches. My shoes have raw chicken on them. I have a heat headache and my shoulders are sore and my back hurts…

All of this didn’t happen in one day, but it is my current state (my shoes remain outside the house now). I’ve upped my volunteering schedule. Last week I started at a wildlife sanctuary. It is very labor-intensive, but somehow causes me less pain than sitting in front of a computer for eight hours.

First day at the wildlife sanctuary – which is mainly a hospital/rehab with some permanent residents – I did a lot of food prep. Which meant slicing up fruit for baby birds. Then I spent about an hour outside smashing raw chicken necks with a giant meat tenderizer to create dinner for the birds of prey – bald eagles, owls and the like (this is so the bones are crushed and easier to eat, and this way the birds get natural calcium instead of a powder being added to their diet – and this is also how my shoes got dirty). I did get to hold a baby squirrel that day. So, you know, worth it.

My second day, however, involved hand feeding some fledglings. My friends, you haven’t lived until you’ve had seven mocking birds (or blue jays or woodpeckers) all squawking at you with their mouths open and ready for treats. I also got to put some food in the cages of baby opossums. One was particularly hissy, but the others were appreciative. And adorable. Also, baby raccoons are adorable (FYI).

I also volunteer at a no-kill shelter. So I walk dogs (and try to train them) and play with cats and kittens. An extra rowdy kitten decided my nose looked delicious and bit it as well as my earlobe. Also scratched my arms while kneading with extra sharp claws. This, however, was also adorable.

Plus, I’m still working on building a web page for a local bully breed dog rescue. So this has been a big learning curve of software and code. But I’m also educating myself on these types of dogs so that the rescue can educate the public. How I do love research.

It’s not all glamorous, however. Dog walking inevitably involves picking up poop. Bird feeding means cage cleaning. The wildlife sanctuary work is mainly food prep, cleaning, doing dishes, and folding laundry. It means being covered in sweat and scratches and fur and feathers. It means my hair is constantly askew and my outfits are designed for functionality, not fashion. It means I’m tired and my feet always hurt. It means my heart breaks when I have to leave a favorite dog at the shelter, but I know I should wish to not see them ever again – because that means they have found their forever home. It means a lot of time and energy is spent.

And I think I might have never been happier…

Writing Full Time

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I have been unemployed for a week now. I mean – I have been a professional writer for a week now. Right, I always get those two things confused.

I had a nice corporate job with good benefits and natural lighting (a very rare perk in cubicle-land). But I have given all that up to pursue my dream of writing. I realized a while back that that was what I wanted to do – have always wanted to do – and that it was actually feasible at this point in my life.

So… a writer of what? Well, that is the question.   Initially I wanted to spend a year seeing if I could manage to get paid for creative writing. Maybe sell some short stories. Maybe write a book. Then I realized how much I enjoy having disposable income, so it turned into maybe I could freelance and parlay that into a permanent gig generating content for a non-profit or a company I really believe in.

Last week it turned into a really bad cold so I slept a lot. And when I wasn’t sleeping, I was reading (which I believe is essential to writing). So far I’ve updated my LinkedIn profile and agreed to create a web site for a local dog rescue group (I don’t know how to make websites go – but I can learn).

Trusty blog readers, let us embark on this adventure together. The adventure of living the dream and reporting to no one and holy crap… I don’t have a job.