Monday, June 29, 2009

Icons Passing

The old superstition goes that celebrities die in groups, and oddly enough, history seems to bear that out. Over the past week or so, we have all been made aware of the deaths of four iconic personalities. First, Johnny Carson’s beloved, comic wingman, Ed McMahon. Then a few days later, actor and cheesecake poster girl Farrah Fawcett, followed by the enigmatic and tragic pop king, Michael. Then, just yesterday, the news came down that pitch man, Billy Mays had died suddenly. While Billy may not be a “star”, not nearly as famous as the other three, he has undeniably been a larger than life fixture on cable television for at least two decades; with his unmistakable, booming voice and overly-dyed, black beard, convincing even the most skeptical among us of the merits of Oxy-Clean, Mighty Mend-it and the Awesome Auger. He is being remembered by those who knew him as a good man and an excellent husband and father, noble attributes that too many fail to achieve in these trying times we live in.

Whenever we hear of untimely death, it tends to force an uneasy examination of ourselves, and also of the human condition. We cannot help but compare ourselves to the deceased: our own age, health, lifestyle, and perhaps how close to the end of our own earthly sojourn we think we may be, as well as how ready we are(or, are not) to face that eventuality. The shocking, sudden finality of unexpected passing gets our attention in a way that few other events in life are capable of doing. This kind of reflection is a good thing, I think. In this fast-paced, over stimulated, information overloaded rat race world, taking pause for a little quiet self-examination is a rare and valuable occurrence.

The death among these four that has affected me the most is probably that of Michael Jackson. While “Thriller” and “Off the Wall” made my feet tap and my body sway, I cannot say that I would qualify as a big fan of his music. He was, undoubtedly, a genius in the world of music production and perhaps, even more so as a choreographer and performer. Those were not the things I thought about, though, as I watched him onstage, or in interviews.

Like so many others, I watched the Martin Bashir interviews a few years ago, just before Michael's indictment on the molestation charges, and again last night when they were rebroadcast. The thing I was most struck by was not his talent, his weirdness, his great wealth or his opulent lifestyle, but how very fragile and damaged a human being he was. It has been said that extreme indulgence in plastic surgery is a sign of self-loathing and it is easy to believe, looking at his ravaged countenance. There was no vestige of the adorable boy who sang “ABC” with his brothers. His hair, facial features, and even his skin color, radically altered, as if he had tried to destroy any remnant of that tortured, little person who had been forced to sacrifice his youth on the altar of fame. As he spoke in a gentle voice about the fear and anxiety of his childhood, growing up in a bizarre family under the alleged, violent tutelage of his father, amid the constant harassment and violation of the paparazzi, his psychic pain was palpable. His eyes, swathed in black eyeliner, still showed the intense sorrow of that young boy, beset by forces he never understood and had no control over.

He trusted Mr. Bashir as he had few others: enough to bring him into the sheltered world he had created for himself, and to speak candidly about his life and his personal demons. In the end, his trust was betrayed again when the interviewer seemed to turn against him after profiting handsomely from their association.

I have to say that I never believed the charges of child abuse and pedophilia that were brought against him. The mothers who accused him were, by most accounts, less than honorable people with nothing to lose and too much to gain by bringing convenient charges against a billionaire star. With a few, drooling lawyers thrown into the mix, the public feeding frenzy was on. Any chance of assumption of innocence seemed to go out the window for most people. “Yeah, he’s weird, he’s freaky looking, he’s filthy rich…he’s not like me and I can’t relate to him at all, so he probably did it.” Although the jury acquitted him, I think it’s safe to say that his reputation and his spirit were both irreparably damaged.

When I look at the photos of rooms filled with toys and life-sized statues of cartoon characters, I don’t see the tools of a conniving child molester; I see the trappings of a childhood imagined and longed for, but never experienced. He surrounded himself with children at play, because that is how he saw himself in his dreams. He was Peter Pan, the boy who didn’t grow up. His Neverland Ranch is a testament to the unfulfilled desires of a child spirit, cruelly grown into an adult’s shell, to yet have what had always been denied him: a happy childhood of innocence and wonder. He still longed for that safe harbor where loving parents would nurture and protect him, and help him to grow up strong. He didn’t understand the hard truth that innocence lost can never be regained, and that we humans are basically a mean, cynical lot, slow to understand and show compassion, but ever quick to judge.

These four people who have passed on in recent days were all icons, of greater or lesser degree: people who lived much of their lives in the public eye. They follow a long line of stars, now gone ahead of us, those such as Marilyn, Elvis, Janis, John Lennon, Marvin Gaye and Heath Ledger. We were privy to many of their personal trials and tribulations, as well as their careers and the bodies of work they produced. They were, after all, public figures, and we, the public went along for the vicarious ride: rubber-necking, applauding, laughing, salivating, and condemning…always, judging. Yes, they profited from their high-visibility careers. They also paid a high price for their fortune and fame.

If my fairy godmother arrived this evening, offering me wealth and stardom, honestly, I would decline it. If I could choose to have only the wealth while maintaining my comfortable anonymity, great...I have nothing against becoming rich, in fact, I have no doubt it would bring me great joy and solve most of my problems, while also allowing me to do a lot of good for others. But the freedom to live my life as I choose, without fear of being watched, followed and judged by the masses is more valuable to me than all the riches in the world. I think that very few of us could hold up well under the relentless glare of the spotlight. Living with the awful certainty of having one’s every word, every move scrutinized, second guessed and picked apart in the media is a cross that I for one, am definitely not willing to bear. In my mind, no amount of money could possibly compensate for that kind of existence.

Rest in peace (finally), Ed, Billy, Farrah, and Michael

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Ceecee's Trauma

Thirteen years ago, while I was working as a volunteer for a local animal shelter, I met Ceecee. She and her sister, white kittens with gray stripes on their heads, were found with their mother in an empty outdoor cage at a local zoo. Ceecee had a cranky streak, right from the start. The first time I held her, she was no bigger than my palm, but she resented my handling her, and like the feisty little cat that she is, she scratched me and tried to bite my thumb.

The shelter gave the two kittens all their shots and when the time was right, spayed them. When her sister was adopted, I decided Ceecee would come home with me and live with us, as long as Catboy accepted her, which of course he did. In fact he was ecstatic to have a playmate...and wrestling partner. She,on the other hand, was somewhat less than thrilled. Catboy likes to stalk her, jumping out and tackling her, biting her stomach until she screams. To him, it's all fun and games, but I don’t think she appreciates his idea of play. Still, they have grown together like an old married couple: bickering one moment and affectionately grooming each other the next.

The worst times for Ceecee are when she gets her claws clipped. This is definitely a two-person job. One person has to totally restrain her, keeping a hand under her chin so she can’t bite the lucky groomer. Each click of the clipper is punctuated by an unearthly growl and a scream that will surely set the hairs on the back of your neck to standing up.

Ceecee is not usually in a good mood. She has been known to bite the hand that feeds her.

Still, she has her moments. Sometimes, in the early morning or late at night, she likes to seek out a sleepy person and cuddle up next to them, rubbing her face and head against their leg or arm, asking to be petted. In this way, she expresses and requests affection.

My daughter has often opined that Ceecee is a “bee-atch” and a not-nice cat. I disagree. She may not be the friendly, playful, happy creature that Catboy is, but I defend her right to be who she is. She doesn’t feel the need to curry the favor of humans. She seems to be saying, “This is who I am, take it or leave it…after all, I didn’t ask you to adopt me.” And I’m okay with that. I love her, despite her disposition. I think we all deserve to be loved unconditionally by those closest to us, despite our dispositions, humans and animals alike.

A few weeks ago I took Ceecee to her annual appointment with the Vet, for her shots and a check-up. We have long been aware that she suffers from a heart condition, an arrhythmia. They recommended that we schedule her for a dental cleaning, so as to avoid a gum infection which could worsen her heart problems, and we agreed. On the appointed day for her cleaning, however, we got a phone call shortly after dropping her off, telling us that they’d decided not to do it and that we should come and get her. It seems her heartbeat was very erratic, and it was deemed too much of a risk for her to undergo anesthesia. I understood completely and brought her home.

When we got home, I noticed immediately that something was very wrong. Ceecee staggered out of the carrier and fell onto her side. When she looked up at me, I saw that while her right eye looked normal, the left one looked strange. The pupil was a tiny pinprick, and the lower nictating membrane was drawn up halfway. Her left ear was drooping to the side at an angle, while the opposite one looked normal. My first thought was that she had had a stroke. I noticed that there was dried, reddish fluid on the fur underneath her left ear. I called the Vet’s office immediately and they asked me to bring her back in.

The Vet who had seen her earlier that day told me that because her ears had needed to be cleaned, they had gone ahead and done that while she was there. She did not believe that it had anything to do with her current condition, or so she claimed. That was probably caused by a blood clot related to the extreme stress of visiting the Vet’s office combined with her heart condition, and nothing could really be done about it, I was told. This did not ring true. It didn’t seem likely to me, but hey...I’m not a Vet, what the heck do I know? I waited for a day or two, and when Ceecee did not improve, I called the office again, this time asking to speak with the head of the practice, a man who has been treating my animals for thirty years, and for whom I have the utmost respect.

He made arrangements with me to come, accompanied by a technician, to the house, so as not to further stress poor Ceecee. At this point, she had been hiding under a bed for two days, not eating, drinking water or using the litter box.

The house call resulted in a diagnosis of Horner’s or Haw’s syndrome which, as far as I understand it, is a form of facial nerve damage. It can be caused by many things, one of which is ear trauma. No one has admitted responsibility, but I believe that she was injured, either while being restrained during the ear cleaning, or by the cleaning itself, at the Vet’s office. She may or may not recover. She is after all, thirteen years old: a “geriatric” cat, by any standard. Still, I’m sad and angry. I feel guilty, like I have somehow betrayed Ceecee. She was okay before I left her in the care of supposed animal experts. I never asked that her ears be cleaned. She implicitly trusts me not to do anything to cause harm to her, and I took her to a place and gave her to people who did just that. I feel betrayed, too.

But, I know things happen. I don’t think anyone meant to hurt her. I have to believe that they had the best of intentions, and would go back and do things differently, if they could.

She has improved a lot since that first day. She is not giving up, so I’m not either. If I thought she was ready to check out I would let her go, but she has rallied. She’s walking better and has started to eat again. I spoon feed her several times a day with watered down canned food so she doesn’t become dehydrated. She has been too disoriented and unsteady on her feet to use the litter box, so she has been creeping silently over to a corner of my bedroom in the middle of the night and relieving herself. This wouldn’t be so upsetting to me if it were not new, expensive wool carpeting. Thank goodness for Bissel and Febreze.

People who don’t understand say things like, “Why don’t you put her to sleep?” or they make motions, as if they are pushing a hypodermic into their arm, while looking at me with raised eyebrows. They don't get it - why would I put up with such inconvenience?

I don’t hold it against them. I forgive them, because they know not what they do. These are simply people who have never known the grace and privilege of truly loving and being loved by an animal.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Art in Beautiful Downcity Providence

I can't believe another week has screamed by! It truly seems like time is flying. I've been busy with my stepped-up job search, renovations in our apartment and sadly, caring for an injured cat. I will write a post about that shortly, but first; I have some photos of beautiful Providence, Rhode Island taken last weekend at the Downcity Art Festival that I want to share with you.

Here we are at the Downcity Art Festival on Westminster Street.

Gorgeous glass pendants

The city's resident hawk.
(We actually saw the hawk hunting pigeons later that day as we walked to a restaurant. He lives on top of one of the high buildings!)

Assorted paintings

Baubles and whatnot

Lovely stained glass pieces

Some funky furniture!

Cute Baby shoes

Colorful handmade clutches

The Balloon Lady

A happy balloon recipient!

Above it all

There is some beautiful old architecture in Providence. I'll feature more photos of it in an upcoming post. Hope you enjoyed coming "Downcity" with me.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Goin' Down City

My sister, her husband, my little niece and I are heading south to the beautiful city of Providence, Rhode Island today for the DownCity Art Festival. It's a gorgeous, sunny day with temps hovering around 78F, and it should be a really good time. I am looking forward to seeing all the crafts, paintings and jewelry that will be on display, and of course, the people watching will be spectacular.

After the art festival, we'll find a good restaurant and have dinner before heading down to the river. There will be another Waterfire lighting this evening, so we plan to make that scene at sunset.

We have heard there will be a fire juggler tonight. Once last season the braziers were lit by this hunky guy with long hair, dressed only in black harem pants. He walked along the granite, swinging two flaming lamps around, lighting each basket with them; it is a sight to see.

Hope you all are getting out there and enjoying the weekend!

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Land Of The Nipmuck

The land that I live on used to be the homeland of the Nipmuck people. Ten thousand years ago, a group of Paleo-Indians, the ancestors of the Nipmuck traveled here from the southwest. They settled around what is now Worcester County, in south-central Massachusetts and lived in independent groups, eventually spreading into Connecticut and Rhode Island. In the beginning, the Nipmuck, or “fresh water people” subsisted by hunting the wildlife that roamed in what was then a sub-arctic climate. They crafted stone and wooden bowls and woven articles, and as the climate changed and the land warmed, they eventually evolved into an agricultural society.

The Nipmuck lived in peace for thousands of years, until the arrival of the white settlers. It is difficult to say with any accuracy how many Nipmuck lived here prior to contact with the Europeans because they were not a tribe per se, but a group of independent bands living in this area that were allied with powerful tribes such as the Pequot.

Some estimates put the number of natives in southern New England in 1614 at around 100,000. After King Philip’s War, the number was reduced to about 4,000. Those who were not killed, or sold into slavery fled from their homeland. Those who remained saw their cultural identities disintegrate as they moved into villages and their remaining lands were bought up by the government or stolen by squatters. The Algonquin dialect spoken by the Nipmuck people nearly became extinct. Today there are reportedly about 3000 descendants of the Nipmuck people remaining, but only a handful are fluent in the language of their ancestors. According to a story that the Boston Globe ran last Saturday, that may be changing.

The front page article detailed how the Nipmuck are struggling to revive their culture through the teaching of the language and the traditional songs of their people, and by retrieving lost artifacts.
Although they can do nothing to change the history that decimated their culture, they are taking steps to reinvigorate it, and I believe that is a very good thing.
There’s a state forest not far from my home that we like to visit sometimes. We bring Rigby and walk for hours through the woods, under a leafy canopy. I imagine the natives walking the same stony paths in the dappled sunlight, emerging in the open fields near the lake. I think about what it must have been like to live simply as stewards of the land, in peace and satisfaction. Then I think about what it must have been like to lose it all and to have your people scattered like chaff on the wind.
We walk back through the dark trees to the road and the sound of traffic and the terrible whine of leaf blowers and weed whackers. I slide in behind the wheel of my little Chevy tracker and for a moment, I mourn for the people and the beautiful, tranquil dwelling place they must have known. Their way of life and their world is gone forever.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Catbird Heaven

Summer has come to our corner of New England. We are lucky enough to have full access to almost one acre of green lawn, which Mac maintains. This yard is ringed with trees and bushes, many of which, we have planted ourselves, over the twenty nine years we've resided here. It is a haven for song birds, rabbits, squirrels, chipmunks, wild turkeys and even the occasional deer and coyote.

I call the yard; "Catbird Heaven", because we have several Gray Catbirds that live in the bushes at the margins of the yard. On a sunny day, the air is filled with the sounds of their mewing, whistling and chattering. The musical, sing-song calls, that they intersperse with harsh, raspy, squeaking phrases can be heard all summer long in the little green world just outside our door.

Now, in early June, tiny, white, wild roses are sprawling over the raspberry bushes and small evergreen trees at the edges of the yard. Bittersweet vines wrap around poplars, as they climb toward the sun and Virginia creeper crawls over the field grass. Tiny, Ruby-crowned Kinglets, the smallest birds in these parts, except for the Ruby-throated hummingbird, ply the grass for insects. Male Cardinals and Robins battle for turf rights. American Goldfinches soar and dip on their flight paths over the yard, from the bird bath to the top of a maple tree. A pair of Garter snakes bask in the early morning sunlight near the barn doorstep, before starting off on their daily hunt. Chipmunks scurry from rock to garden, trying to avoid the gaze of my dog Rigby, as she surveys the landscape.

It's just another day in paradise...just a sunny Tuesday here in Catbird Heaven.