Thursday, October 27, 2016

For my 20th birthday, my husband (oh my gosh, that was so, so long ago… when I had a husband) gave me, among other things, a huge wooden desk, circa the 1940’s, that he’d purchased at a used furniture store. My other gifts—purchased thoughtfully to celebrate and support the launch of my career as a writer—were a four-door file cabinet, a brass stamp holder (because back then, all my submissions went through postal mail; we didn’t have internet yet), a stapler and a box of staples. All of these items except the stamp holder, which was stolen when our house was fumigated, I still have—including the original box of staples (missing a hundred or so).

The desk, back then, was already old and worn, with multiple scratches and coffee rings marring the finish on the top. But it was big and solid and vintage, and I filled it with file folders, manila envelopes, pens, pencils and notepads. Oh, and plain white paper for my IBM Selectric typewriter. And then I started writing.

Just a few short years later, when I was 23, we needed a photo for the back cover of my first book, so my husband took this one:

There’s my typewriter and the stamp holder. A thick, kidney-shaped sheet of glass came with the desk to protect the top, and you can see it reflecting the light from the desk lamp. You can also see my leather-bound, Thompson Chain Reference Bible in the background. I wrote my first book at that desk, typing away between 4:00 and 6:00 in the morning, stopping when my son, who was an infant, woke. He’s 39 now.

I loved that life. My oldest daughter is a poet and a teacher now, with a son who is the same age I was when I began writing that first book. But back then, she was an adorable four-year-old with an incredible imagination and a mind that never slumbered. I would spend the first hours of the morning writing, then stop when my son woke, fixing breakfast for the kids and my irascible husband who would criticize the way I stirred his coffee or buttered his toast (made with the bread I baked myself every week). But then the hubby would shuffle off to work, and the kids and I would be left to have adventures and read books and sing and dance until lunch, after which they would nap and I would return to working on my book.

Happy, happy times. I wanted to live my life that way. Or, almost. While my husband had initially been supportive of everything I did, his criticism and disapproval eventually became toxic. Two more children would join our family before I finally decided I could no longer live with his negative energy or the verbal sparring that had become the daily norm for us. I left him, went back to college full time, then began teaching high school, then returned to college to get my master’s degree, then began more teaching as an adjunct professor at night. I still found time to write, but I had to fit it in the tiny cracks of space I found between child-rearing and working and taking care of the house and the yard and doing the shopping and so many other things. But I longed to return to the long slow days in which I immersed myself in my two greatest joys—my kids and my writing.

In June I retired after 27 years of teaching. In August, I bought a little house I want to live in for a long time, with lots of natural light and quiet mornings, much like I had when my kids were little. I decided to make the den my writing cave, so I put in a new floor and painted the walls a pale green, then set up all the comfortable, familiar writing tools—my good old desk, my file cabinet alongside it. The typewriter has been replaced by a laptop, and on the desktop now is a huge copy of Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary and atop that, the Cambridge edition of the Complete Works of William Shakespeare.

Two nights ago, I came into this room and sat down at this good old desk to spend an hour writing the previous blog post. Before I began, I stopped for a moment to thank the Universe that I have finally come full circle, with long days in which to write and care for my babies, although the “babies” now are two spoiled cats and one very quirky dog. When I looked up from my acknowledgement of blessings, my eyes fell upon that old picture of me sitting at this desk. I’d found it in a box during the move. Now it sits upon the desk, a reminder of how fleeting time truly is, how every moment we spend with our children is an investment in their future, no matter how small or idle the activity we’re engaged in. And it reminds me as well that yes, I can do this; I’m a writer. It’s time to get to it.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

What men know versus what women know regarding sexual assault

It’s time I wrote about this. Women, though, tend to keep quiet when such incidences happen to them. That’s one of the things men know.

First, a clarification: I will be speaking in terms of men assaulting women, but I am fully aware that men assault men, women assault women, and yes, it’s possible for a woman to sexually assault a man.

Second, a definition: In tort and criminal law both, an assault is the threat of bodily harm coupled with an apparent, present ability to cause the harm. (So if you were thinking that in order for it to “really” be sexual assault, the guy has to put his hands on the woman, rough her up or hurt her a bit or go further than just groping her, nope. He’s culpable if he as much as breathes down the back of her neck and tells her he wants to ____ her; if she feels the threat of bodily harm and believes he has the ability to carry it out, that constitutes an assault.

This is something most men don’t know. (Yes, they should, but where and how would they learn it? I am only aware of it because of my stint in law school—and that was at the age of thirty-six. Certainly we don’t teach our boys this in public school, but yes, somehow, we should.) Of course, a man can make a play for a woman, flirt with her, talk sexy to her—if she is amenable. But we all should agree that uninvited sexual attention that is not reciprocated is wholly inappropriate—to say nothing of what Donald Trump said it was okay to do.

In fairness to Mr. Trump, if you listen very carefully to the audio of his casual and very unfortunate conversation with Billy Bush, you’ll hear him say these words: “They let you.” If you’re a star, his point was, they let you. Not the amorphous “they” we sometimes speak of. Women. He meant women. Women will let you “grab their pussies” (as Trump so crudely put it) if you’re “a star.”

In a sense, he’s right. This is what men know. Men know that most women don’t tell. Oh, they may go home and call a best friend and vent about the creeper or perv or lech who came onto them or was all over them and how they had to make an excuse to use the bathroom or go call the babysitter in order to get away. But most of the time in those awkward situations—at a party or at work—when a man like Trump shoves a girl against a wall and tries to kiss her, most women will just let it go. And men know this. Most men know—or to be precise, men who engage in this type of behavior—that probably the worst that will happen is a rebuff. No slap in the face, no push back, no going to the press (or the man’s wife). Women, most of the time, don’t.


Because this is what we know (and what men like Trump know): A man in Trump’s position holds the power. Say, for example, a female journalist is subjected to this behavior and she immediately writes a story and it’s printed the next day. Who will be harmed by her action? A man like Trump? Of course not. All he has to say is that she’s lying, that he would never think of doing such a thing. She has no proof, so he simply has to deny the claim. But what happens to the woman who brought it? She’s called a liar, a whore, someone out to exploit a celebrity for her own gain, someone with an axe to grind. Look at all those women assaulted by another popular celebrity who has been in the news lately. None of them came forward when it happened. Why? Because they knew. Not only would no one believe them, but their own careers could be placed in jeopardy if they said anything.

Men who engage in this behavior know this.

And women know that, most times, it’s pointless to try to do anything about it.

Three times during the years I was teaching men came at me in a manner that was highly inappropriate. Each time it began with the innocent pretense of a hug but immediately became something else. I was a single woman. All three men were married. Two of the three were popular teachers and coaches. I could have reported them. I could have gone to an administrator and documented what happened, placing their marriages and careers in jeopardy. But I didn’t. Because I knew. People—especially women—already looked askance at me for being an independent single woman, a tomboy who preferred the company of men (not for sexual reasons) over women. I knew that nothing would come of my complaint, that the perpetrators would simply deny anything ever happened, that I would be the person pointing my finger at someone—like Donald Trump—who was popular and well-liked and yes, I’m choking on the word, but yes, respected.

Interestingly (though not surprisingly), one of those men was on Facebook just tonight, I noticed, making a harsh comment about Hillary Clinton. Oh, I’m not friends with him on Facebook. But one of my highly respected teacher friends is. And I’m sure she has no idea what kind of man he really is. Or maybe she does….

As we’ve seen, when one woman comes forward, not much—or nothing at all—is done. But when many women come forward, it is sometimes powerful enough to turn the tide of opinion. Sometimes.

And there are times, I must confess, like tonight when I saw that man’s name on my friend’s Facebook page, and I read his snarky comment about Hillary, that I think how easy it would be to write a comment back in reply, there on Facebook where many, many people would see it, a comment that would out him in some way. “Yeah, ____, like that time you grabbed me in the hallway outside my classroom and….” But I don’t. He’d just deny it. I know this. And men like him? They know they’re safe. That’s why the culture of “they let you do anything” continues.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

The DNA is in! (Part 2)

If you haven't read my previous post (The DNA is in Part 1), you can scroll down if you'd like to read that one before you read this one. To recap: When I adopted Sgt. Thomas Tibbs, my quirky but much beloved pound puppy, I was told by the folks at Upland Animal Services that he was German Shepherd and Golden Retriever. You can see that Golden Retriever influence in his fluffy red coat, right? Wrong! He has no Golden in him whatsoever! What?!?

In a casual conversation with a friend one day, she mentioned that her dog-that-looks-exactly-like-a-black-lab was not a lab at all. He was, in fact, pit bull, bulldog and terrier. How did she know? She got him from a man who had done a DNA test on him. That conversation got me thinking. I know what we all assumed Thomas was, but maybe he wasn't those two breeds at all. Sometimes, because of his tendency to be extremely stubborn with a high anxiety level, I have wondered if he didn't have perhaps a bit of Border Collie in his ancestry. So I researched the cost and accuracy of the DNA test kits for dogs. Turns out the Mars Wisdom Panel for mixed breed dogs is around $80 (the same amount I paid to have my own DNA tested), and you can order it through Amazon with the 1-Click feature. Done!

An interesting note here: Thomas hates to be messed with. Just clipping the tangles out of his hair is an ordeal. (I have to do yoga first and meditate and channel Cesar Millan just to make sure I am completely calm while working with him.) But when I took a swab to the inside of his cheek and started twirling it around? Yeah, he was super chill. It was just before bedtime; he was happy and relaxed and sprawled in his bed, and I'd just been giving him head rubbies and ear scratches, so he was really in a great mood. So... Done!

The kit was easy to use and mail back. Waiting three weeks to get the result was the only hard part. And then, two weeks and five days after I mailed it, an email appeared in my inbox. "The DNA results for Thomas are in!" Yes!

Any last guesses before we learn the truth?
Golden Retriever? No, not a bit.
Border Collie? No, not a bit.
Irish setter? No.
Irish Wolfhound? Well....

Half of Thom's DNA is categorized as "mixed." In other words, there is such a hodge-podge of breeds there, it's impossible to isolate one specific breed. However, his mixture does seem to be made up of the "sighthound" breeds, which includes Afghans, Greyhounds and yes, the Irish Wolfhound. This will make my grandson Ben very happy. He is a devoted fan both of Irish Wolfhounds and Sgt. Thomas Tibbs.

But the other half?

Yes, definitely German Shepherd. I mean, look at his face. In fact, he is 25% GS.

And what else?

As soon as you read Australian Cattle Dog, I think (if you're a dog lover and know the breed) a little bell will go off in your brain. Here's a picture of one:

(This is Sugar-N-Spice's Turbo Diesel, also known as "Cummins." The photo was taken for the breeder, Rochelle Gribler, by Steve Ball.)

Check out that red color. That's Thomas alright. He is 12.5% ACD. Now I understand why he's always trying to herd me away from his perception of danger. I also understand his suspicious nature; he is wary of any new human who enters our environment, and he becomes unsettled when things are out of place (furniture moved, the truck missing from the garage, new potted plants appearing on the patio). The accompanying literature from the Mars panel explains traits of each breed, and "suspicion" is listed. Rochelle (the owner/breeder of Cummins above) also confirmed this trait as we chatted about the characteristics of Australian Cattle Dogs. ("Ohhh, no wonder!" I kept thinking as she was listing them off.)

And what comprises the final 12.5% of Thom's DNA? American Bulldog. Oh good grief!! No wonder this dog is so stubborn! Here's an example: Although Thomas loves to ride in the extra cab of the truck, he balks if I try to take him out in a place he's never been before. (See the explanation for that trait in the previous paragraph.) With the recent move, I have begun picking up my mail at the common mail delivery area, and Thom always rides down with me to get it in the evening. The other night I decided to get him out of the truck down there so we could take a nice stroll up to the lake and watch the snowy egret catch frogs. But we hadn't done before, and as soon as I opened the truck door and clipped on Thom's leash, he gave me "the look." (Someday, with time and patience and maybe an extra hand, I'll capture that look in a photo.) When he's wary, his ears go down, his eyes narrow, and he turns his head to the side--much like a human would do when suspicious of what another human might be up to. And then he dug his heels in. When he doesn't want to come forward, he will sit down on his bottom like a stubborn jackass--or, I know now, like an American Bulldog. (I did finally get him out of the truck that night, with much patience and after assuring another resident that everything was fine with us, we were just having a disagreement.)

So that's my boy in a nutshell, and that really explains so much about why he is the way he is. No, there is no sweet Golden Retriever personality in there that will emerge one day when Thom fully recovers from his previous life. But now I know how he survived through neglect and abandonment. Australian Cattle Dogs are descended from Dingoes, the wild dogs of that continent. I believe the traits of his ancestors--his wariness and fierce independence--are what made him strong enough to live through an ordeal that took the lives of other dogs around him. And now that I know what I'm up against, I can not only appreciate his strengths but also focus his training more acutely to manage those characteristics that negatively affect his behavior.

I'm so glad I spent the $80 to have the test done! For the insight it has given me, it was worth every penny.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

The DNA is in! (Part 1)

This is my boy. My beautiful, beautiful boy (yes, I sing it to him, thank you, John Lennon), Sgt. Thomas Tibbs. Look at those brown eyes! And his gorgeous mane! Oh to have pretty hair like he does!

It's hard to believe it's been almost three years since I adopted him. But what a mess he was.... This is what he looked like when he was first rounded up in Apple Valley, along with 130 other dogs:

That's not "fluffy from a bath" as my grandson thought when he saw this photo posted on Facebook. That's "missing half his hair" due to mange. This picture is hard for me to look at. Let's look at him two months later:

By the time he was transferred to Upland Animal Shelter two months later, he was already beginning to recover from the mange. He had not, however, begun to recover from all the bad things that had happened to him, and he was very frightened. The great folks at Upland, though, began to work with him, and slowly over time, they taught him how to walk on a leash and how to trust enough to accept a treat from the hand of a kind human. They spruced him up, took his glamour shot, and crossed their fingers that someone would fall in love with him.

Someone did. This is how he looked, still at Upland Shelter, in December of 2013. I didn't see this photo until after I'd adopted him a month later. One of the volunteers sent it to me. Isn't he darling?  And this is my boy now:

His coat is soft and healthy, his eyes are clear, and those ears are as floppy as a good dog's ears get, especially when we're walking in the morning.

So, the question is, what breed is he? When he was originally impounded, San Bernardino Animal Control labeled him "German Shepherd and Golden Retriever." There's that GS face... and his golden hair looks like that of a retriever. But in fact, he is not a Golden. Not at all. Nope. No Golden Retriever in this boy whatsoever, I discovered after recently doing a doggie DNA test on him. I was shocked and amazed. But then I read the accompanying information on what breeds he did represent, and several things about his personality and behavior came clear to me. I will explain those traits in Part 2 of this post. For now, if you'd like to try guessing for yourself (and perhaps win a copy of my memoir, The Dogs Who Saved Me), click here to go to the Facebook page for Dogs and give it your best shot!