Into the New Year

2019 was the end of a lot of things in my life, which means 2020 can only become a beginning. I had 5 goals at the end of 2018, and of those 5, I think I managed to accomplish most of them. Getting back to writing was the great failure, but I did continue querying, get back to exercising, get more comfortable in my role as a Co-Head of Operations, and sort out the housing situation.

I did query the novel hard — more than 50 queries sent. Now the time comes to end that process. If someone chooses to pick up the book, I would be MORE THAN THRILLED, but I gave it its shot and now I need to move forward. Write the next one, begin again. If a single book that failed to gain traction was the end of my willingness to work towards publishing, I would be a poor author indeed. Writing is always about failure and trying again. Every novel is better than the last, every character stronger, every quirky use of language more deliberate. Writing is a constant process of growth, and that includes abject failure to launch. It hurts, of course it does. But it’s part of the cycle and publishing wouldn’t mean anything to me if it came easily.

On the exercise front, 2019 is the year that I came to terms with the fact that now is the opportune moment to be real about my own health. After watching heart attacks and health scares throughout my family and friends, it’s impossible for me to blithely assume that I can live as long as I want to live and be healthy, and not do anything to help it along. It’s not about body shape or size — it’s about keeping my heart young and fit, my lungs strong, my tendons loose. It’s about putting in the work now that will pay off in twenty years when things start to weaken. I’ve never been good at exercise, but I very much want to have enough time to write all my stories and be with all the people I love, and so for those things I can get on the elliptical.

2019 is also the absolute last year that Sarah and I will ever want to own and live in a house. Holy CRAP is it nice living in a condo. Seriously. Snow falls and we don’t have to think about shoveling. Windstorms arrive and there’s no need to pick up sticks. It costs more, which is a whoooole other problem, but overall, the change from house to condo has been the right one and has worked out beautifully. Plus, being downtown is amazing and I don’t think I could go back to the suburbs or a small town again if I tried. The energy of life here is great, not just nature (though having the Mississippi out my window helps with that), but of people, of ambition, of dreams, of creativity, of community — it’s so much sharper here than it ever was anywhere else I’ve lived. I can breathe up here in the sky like I never did on the ground, literally and figuratively.

We lost things, though. We lost Maia. We lost others (not friends of ours, but friends of friends, and sometimes the mourning process happens to you even if you aren’t the one grieving). I lost a lot of time and stress to personal grief about people I love who were on the edge. I lost a kind of blind faith in certain organizations. We lost a fridge to a squeaky death.

And yet, I can’t define myself and my life by what I lose. I can only define it by what I gain.

I gained a new job this year, a new perspective on city living, a new daily view out the window. I gained confidence in being a Co-Head of Operations, and gained greater trust in my team. I gained more closeness with people I love. I gained perspective on writing and how that intersects with CONvergence (post for another day). I gained a new appreciation for public transit. I gained the ability to sleep at night without worrying about noises outside. I gained the ability to run a lot farther and faster on the elliptical. I gained new music and new art on my walls and new shows/movies to watch and consider and new books to enjoy. I gained a new kitten.

This is Tadashi, adopted the weekend after Christmas at 7 months old. Because everybody needs a pause for kitties!

His current favorite pastimes include “burying” toys in the gaps between couch cushions, getting held and pet, pouncing on toes under blankets, wrestling with Kiba, aggressively licking and being licked by Kiba, eating, finding out what the humans are eating, trying to eat what the humans are eating, bonelessly napping, and purring while sleeping on feet.

So. Cute.

Anyway.

There will always be more loss and failure and disappointment on the horizon, and usually not very far off, either. Death and grief happen because life is invariably fatal, no matter how much you love someone. The world doesn’t always give you the gift you ask for, and there isn’t always a fair or soothing reason why. Bad shit happens. People disappear. Hoped for dreams fail miserably. Future paths dry up and leave you stranded.

But, for me, I can’t measure my life by those. Life is dark and light, black and gold, wrapped around one another like twin vines. Growth comes in the contrast, in the places where they meet, in the glow of like crashing against unlike. And if I spent all my time looking at everything that didn’t go my way, looking at only one side of the coin, I would miss out on so much joy. I would miss out on so much laughter. I would miss out on so much hope.

In the middle of 2019, I had a lot of stress and despair and fear, and at points I was low and scared and sad and nothing in the world seemed beautiful. And looking ahead to 2020, it doesn’t mean those feelings won’t come back, or won’t find new life in new crises. But today I can let things end with peace. Today I can look back at all that was lost and gained, and I can see the wheel turning in all those changes. Life doesn’t stop, even when we wish it would, for good or ill. Death cycles to renewal, failure to growth, despair to relief and hope.

Life is a cycle, not a circle. It is a spiral, winding ever upwards. Even when you pass over what you’ve walked before, you aren’t in the exact same place. You’re up a level. You’ve come farther, even when the stairs are familiar.

And for all the pain and sorrow and grief, there are joyful, amazing, soul-affirming things too. 2019 has ended, and so much with it. I look forward to every new beginning 2020 will bring.

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Maia

I am intentionally backdating this entry because it really belongs in 2019 and not 2020.

Sorry for disappearing like that. I really did intend to put up a few more blog posts in December. And then things went really sideways and I needed to prioritize.

Trigger warning for the end days of a beloved cat.

Sarah and I adopted Maia in June 2005. She was 1.5 years old then, born January 2004, and had been in a shelter with her kittens who had all found new homes. We brought home another cat with her, Thunder, who was about 5 at the time and had already been through one family. Maia was a tiny thing, a tortoiseshell cat mostly black and gold with a habit of interrupting any time anyone was petting Thunder, because she just wanted ALL THE PETS. She was friendly to the point of silliness, even getting stepped on regularly in her haste to greet people as they walked in the door. She also became Sarah’s couch companion, wanting to be on Sarah’s lap, on the pillow behind her, or otherwise nearby as often as possible — and when Sarah was asleep most mornings, Maia would climb onto the bed and sleep on her chest and sneeze into her face. Maia seemed to enjoy the game of getting her whole head as close to Sarah’s face as possible, including sleeping on her neck and jamming whiskers up her nose.

Maia and Thunder had a rough start, but once they sorted out their kitty hierarchy, they became good friends. They would tussle and Maia would ATTEMPT to prove her dominance, but Thunder outweighed her two to one, and would just put his heavy paw on her head and that would be that. The rest of the time, they would groom and cuddle and generally enjoy each other’s company. Thunder was more tolerant than appreciative, I think, but Maia was happy with having a kitty friend who was warm and purred at her.

In the beginning of 2015, we lost Thunder unexpectedly. He had a seizure late one night and we rushed him to a 24-hour vet clinic. By the time they assessed him, he was seizing again. By the time they were giving him the injection to put him down, he was gone.

I’ve had cats my whole life, but no loss is easy. This was the first one that hit another cat as hard as it hit me, however. Maia responded to Thunder’s death by falling into feline depression, not eating, not wanting pets, hiding in unfamiliar spots. That kind of behavior in cats can be dangerous, as stress and not eating can kill them relatively quickly.

And, the truth is that I’ve always found I move on better from the death of one pet with the introduction of another. There is no replacing the one who was lost, no filling that specific void, but a new cat changes the shape of the hole in my heart, and that makes it easier to go forward and remember them with fondness (and exasperation) rather than grief.

So, within a few weeks of losing Thunder, we brought home Kiba.

Kiba was a very different cat from Thunder. Both were big males, and Thunder had always been a little timid, but Kiba is a downright coward. Even after we finally got him to come out from under the bed, he maintained the habit of running under there any time he was startled. Or the doorbell rang. Or someone came in. Or it was a day ending in Y.

Anyway. Kiba has become our big buddy, and he’s cuddly and lovey and vocal and always wants to be where his people are. But he and Maia did not forge any kind of useful relationship. Maia, ever the submissive cat, finally was the old lady who ruled the house, and Kiba was the interloper. Their fights were legendarily noisy, though no harm ever came to either participant — they fought more for show than to cause pain. Maia would shove Kiba away if he was sitting somewhere and getting pets, and he let her, because she was the old cat with the established territory and he knew that. They got to the point that they could sit within inches of one another, but that was it. No grooming, no cuddling, and no touching except as precursor to combat.

Still, Maia’s depression was gone — apparently having a kitty companion works even when they don’t get along. And she spent the time getting even more pets, sleeping on Sarah, sneezing on phone screens, chasing Kiba, and generally enjoying her kitty life.

In the fall of 2018, Maia was diagnosed with the early stages of kidney disease. Not at all uncommon in a cat her age, in fact, and she was still active and healthy, so that mostly meant a change to a prescription food and watching her for more changes. Kiba was already on a separate prescription food, so we took to separating them overnight so they could free-feed, and so there were no loud battles while we were asleep, and everybody was fine with this arrangement.

In November, we took both cats for their annual visit, and Maia had her blood drawn to check her levels because we were starting to notice a few little changes. Not much, but we thought her thyroid might be acting up. She was starting to lose weight, and her appetite was down. We had noticed a few odd spots on the floor, but Maia already had a history of a little bit of throwing up from time to time, as cats do, and sometimes it was little more than water, so we didn’t think anything of it. Her test results were actually really normal, so we assumed all was well.

A week from that vet visit, we noticed Maia urinating on the floor. We called the vet, but they warned that incontinence was not unexpected in a cat with kidney disease, even controlled, and at her age. We started putting towels on the couch so she had something to catch the urine if she didn’t make it to the box, and set up a stool to make it easier for her to get up and down. Soon, though, she was regularly not making it at all. She also slowed down how much she was eating.

We called the vet to ask for advice, but they said that the stress of bringing her back in might do more harm than good. We were tasked with getting her to eat as much as possible to see if that might help her regain energy and thus control. In the meantime, we started her wearing kitty diapers. First cut from cloth, then newborn disposable diapers, we changed them regularly and kept her clean — and learned that it would probably have been easier to bathe and diaper a running chainsaw than Maia, who was deeply displeased by this whole process.

The diapers worked at controlling the mess, and a whole lot of laundry later our place was kitty-pee-smell-free. But it showed us a new problem — Maia wasn’t having bowel movements. We let that go a little while to make sure she was eating enough, then added Miralax to her water to try to loosen things up. She would regularly strain, but to no avail. Until SUDDENLY THERE WAS AVAIL.

Poor kitty suffered a whoooole lot of loose stool for days. No blood, which the vet said was good, and if we could get her eating now that her system was running again, we would have a chance.

But, really, Maia was done — only none of us knew it.

On Thursday the 19th, when lots of other people were out seeing Star Wars, Sarah and I stayed in with Maia mainly getting pets on my chest. She wasn’t purring, we realized, for the first time in her life. She still came to get cuddles, but she was still in a way that was eerie on her. And she was starting to stumble a bit as she went to get water or back to her place on the heating pad. Sarah and I went to sleep with the proverbial bad feeling.

In the morning, we knew. Maia barely moved, and when she did, she walked like she was dizzy or disoriented. We called the vet and made an appointment and held her and cried for the hours in between. In the car on the way, she kept wanting to see us both, turning her head and meowing at Sarah until she could position her correctly. We told her what a good and brave girl she was and how much we loved her. By the time we laid her down on the table at the vet, she didn’t even have the strength left to lift herself up.

We let Maia go on Friday, Dec 20th, less than a month shy of her 16th birthday.

(She was obstinate to the end. It took more meds than vets give a 30 pound dog to stop her heart. Neither Sarah nor I were surprised.)

So that’s where I went in December before Christmas.

There’s more to talk about — the things that ended in 2019 and the things that began or will begin in 2020, but that is for next week, I think. Today I just wanted to tell the story of Maia that came to its conclusion.

But don’t worry. Yes, it’s sad, and yes, I still cry sometimes. But the wheel turns, the light gets stronger, and life cycles begin anew.

And we have a new kitten, too.

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CONvergence 2016: Kitty Love

The special guest star who walked into the middle of the last one and then chatted with us at the start of this track is Justin Hartley who drums in a couple of bands with Dave Stagner and put down some of the drum tracks on our album, too.  At least four people in the front were TRYING to wave him away from walking in front of the camera, but eh.  I thought it was funny.

This is one of those songs that would be a lot more fun if I could put it to some kind of music video of cats doing cat things.  But my ability to video edit is literally what I have done putting these on YouTube.  So…probably not happening.  If anybody wants a good copy of the audio to do it for me, let me know!

Also, this is one of those songs that I don’t really like singing into a microphone.  Most of the songs Sarah writes are in her register; Sarah sings low alto.  Most pop songs are voiced for altos or mezzo-sopranos.  I can sing all those ranges just fine, but in choir I’m actually a high, high soprano.  And it breaks something in my brain when I have to sing a pop song with my soprano voice.  I was trained to sing Vivaldi and such, so it’s very difficult for me to sing high in my register but not classical-formal-proper.  Vivaldi never envisioned a song about a cat squashing frogs, I don’t think.  Anyway, I feel like microphones always exacerbate the weirdness of it, so I get a lot more nervous and I think I sing less well overall.  Give me rock and an alto part and I settle right in — singing high is something else.

Oh well.

*Please note that this entry has been backdated.  Basically, the summer got completely away from me AND I lost access to posting on the site from the reliable computer I’d been using — and posting via smartphone is not as elegant as it sounds.  So, to make up for it, I’ve retroactively put this entry here.  Hopefully this won’t become an annual trend!

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Sorry about last week!

Since I forgot to put up a post last week and I haven’t had time to think of anything particularly clever this week, have a few pictures of our cat, Kiba:

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Kiba is about 4 and a half years old and he was a shelter cat we added to our house in the winter of 2015.  He’s big into sleeping on my stomach, sleeping on my lap, sleeping against my leg, and otherwise sleeping somewhere he can lean on me.  He’s also our resident hunter who happily kills and eats any bug he can reach and — rather memorably — any mice he finds in the basement.

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He would also like you to know that he does not appreciate being woken up from a nap in the sun on top of Sarah’s flannel shirt just for a picture, no matter how cute he is.

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Kiba spends a lot of time on this window-seat chittering and meowing at the world and everything in it.  And when there are birds or squirrels or butterflies or rabbits or bees or basically anything that moves that he might be able to eat, he will tell you, quite loudly, that he is entirely prepared to eat them…if only the stupid humans would open the window to let him get at them!

And a bonus picture of our older cat, Maia:

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Maia has been with us since the summer of 2005 when she was a year and a half old, making her our darling old lady kitty.  She is…not what I would call “fond” of Kiba in any traditional sense, but she absolutely LIVES to chase him around and pretend to bop him with her little paws.  Kiba outweighs her by something like 3.5 pounds, but she is definitely the boss around the house.

For extra special bonus, here is a song I wrote about cats in general.  Not Kiba or Maia or even Thunder who we lost in 2015.  Just cats in general.  But it is starring Mister Kiba himself, though not altogether willingly.

Of note?  It is NOT easy to not only try to keep Kiba in frame, but keep Maia OUT of frame and NOT starting one of her little dominance standoffs with him!  That relief at the end?  That was absolutely genuine.  And I’m never trying to record a song with a cat EVER AGAIN.

Though the bloopers were hilarious.  One day I’ll make a supercut of them.  You know.  Someday.  Eventually.  Sooner or later.  I hope.

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