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Welcome to Dairy Land or See Ya San Diego!

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I haven’t updated this blog since June, might have been May, I’m not quite sure. What started as something I updated every week became more and more sporadic as a health problem took over my life, changed everything, and left me to pick up the pieces. The topic of the blog started to take a turn in late March/early February; what started as funny anecdotes about pet sitting became personal rants about various things. Then there were a few posts about my health issue, how a primary care physician mismanaged it and then nothing…tumbleweeds…less than nothing. My life as I knew it completely changed, forcing me to move from sunny San Diego back to rain-soaked Madison Wisconsin (a fine city in its own right but nonetheless very different from what I’d been accustomed to over the last decade) to live with my parents while I figured things out. Here I am, a man in his mid-forties, and a serious sleep disorder forced me to move back to Wisconsin from California to live in my parent’s basement. It’s almost like the set-up to a bad movie produced by Happy Gilmore Productions (no offence dudes). And the town they live in is cow pastureland, cornfields and dairy farms. I moved from the very edge of the Pacific Ocean and into the heart of cheese country.
There are many things I use to console me: 1) I can now watch the Packers play every week during football season 2) My entire family lives here and I do enjoy their company very much 3) Once I get my shit together I can get the f*ck out of here and go back to California. We’ll see how that works out.
I am writing this on the evening before seeing the neurologist to review the results of my polysomnagraph (a sleeping EEG). This was a test I’d begged my doctor in Encinitas for but he refused me, telling me it was ‘a pain in the ass’ and that he could figure out my problem without tests. Well, thanks to the neurologist here, we know what I am dealing with (preliminary results were phoned to me right after the test) and that it is nothing life threatening, but what a trial it has been! I’ve been hosting a seemingly endless stream of ‘exaggerated hypnic jerks’, sleep starts that every one has but, in my case, EXAGGERATED. Most people will have a few and then fall asleep. Mine go on all night, every night, nonstop. Just when I am on the verge of sleep: POW! A jerk that shakes my whole body (or just moves my hand, foot, arm, leg, neck, back etc.) waking me up. Shit, I’ve been through this a million times. I’m sort of sick of telling the story.
Irony, that lousy bitch, came in the form of my returning to this lovely manure tainted paradise and the problem seemingly going away. All of a sudden I could sleep without twitching, and I was able to reduce the medication I took nightly. I did the sleep study and it showed I was ‘normal’. Five days later and the twitches came back with a vengeance straight out of the bible. Seriously, they were like electric shocks being sent through me at regular intervals (possibly from a cow prod?). And worse yet, the medication was no longer working! Sleeping pills used to shut them down and now it was barely keeping them at bay. I was jittering and jiving the night away until I was forced to get up because sleep was impossible.
The worst part of the whole ordeal (besides leaving my sunny seaside town and my pet-sitting business and my independence) was having to try and get people to understand my problem. Somebody was forever giving me advice on what they did when they couldn’t sleep. I don’t know how many times I had to tell them: it isn’t that I can’t sleep, this isn’t insomnia! I am jerking more than a prepubescent boy who’s just discovered masturbation! This is a physical problem, not a mental one. Of course, the longer it went on, it became a mental problem; I nearly had a nervous breakdown from lack of sleep. Hence why I came to my parents house and am writing this in their basement, hence why I abandoned a successful business in one of the best cities in America to cut grass and weed flowerbeds.
So, this blog can still be about funny pet sitting stories, no problem there, but I am no longer a pet sitter. In fact, as I alluded in the previous paragraph, I’ve been working as a landscaper for my brother in law’s company. I work much harder now and get quite filthy. Inbred chicks at the BP won’t give me a second glance when I come in reeking of organic compost (read: manure) with circles of dirt lining my neck like jewelry. Writing, well, let’s just say I haven’t been doing a great deal of that. My latest novel is stagnating at around two hundred and five pages and promotional activities for my self-published novel The Gyre Mission: Journey to the *sshole of the World have screeched to a dead halt, with the exception of the video pitch I submitted to greenlightmymovie.com. I’m not sure if that $40 was well spent, but it was an interesting experience.
Tomorrow I find out what my neurologist (actually, not my neurologist after tomorrow; I had to switch health insurance and my new policy no longer covers him) thinks of this on again, off again problem. Maybe he will do me a favor and give me a lethal dose of barbiturates, like they use to euthanize animals. Put me out of my misery, as it were. Or maybe he’ll just shrug his shoulder and say: “Sucks to be you dude.” Whatever it is, I’m sure it will be worth the two hundred + bucks it costs for thirty minutes of his time, and that bit of advice you can take to the bank. Just don’t take it to mine; the check will bounce. Peace.

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Mis-diagnosis of a man already on the edge

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It has been several weeks (maybe a month) since I have posted a blog; for all practical purposes it seems I have fallen off the face of the earth. In fact, I have done just that. In March I posted a blog entitled ‘To sleep, perchance to dream’ in which I described a sleep disorder that had been plaguing me. The disorder, as I’d explained it, was right as I am about to fall sleep one of my hands, feet, arms, legs, elbow, neck, whole body, etc. twitches, awakening me. This goes on all night. Seriously, when I try to go to sleep, the moment my body relaxes, I twitch and am fully awakened. To say ‘this sucks’ is truly an understatement, but what’s worse is/was the treatment I received from my primary care physician, a doctor I’d seen only twice previously for an unrelated matter. This self-important asshole didn’t listen to me; I told him what I was experiencing and he concluded (after a brief, basic neurological assessment) that I was bi-polar. This was all in my head, he told me. Possibly I needed a medication called Seroquel, something to even me out. I probably ran around like a maniac for several days, he postulated, excited and hyper, and then I’d crash and become slow and unresponsive for the next few days. No, I told him, that was not the case. Sure it is, he said, ignoring me.
Now, I’d already been prescribed trazadone and lorazapam from an urgent care facility, meds I was taking for sleep at the time of that visit. I’d gone to them, desperate, after four nights without sleeping, and they were kind enough to listen and give me something. I took the meds, slept, and made the appointment for a week later with my doctor (the soonest I could get in). The disappointment I felt when he told me it was psychological was profound, but by that point the efficacy of the two drugs were vastly reduced so I wasn’t thinking as clearly as I should have. In other words, I believed him. Two days later, after having not slept at all, I decided I needed some tests. I called an MRI center and made an appointment. I couldn’t get in without my doctors referral, of course, so I then called his office and asked to be referred. I admit I was doing things backward, but what the hell, I didn’t know the procedure. I’ve been gifted with having good health the majority of my life. There was a definite learning curve going on. After waiting all day, a game of cat and mouse (me chasing after them, they answering my questions elusively, implying that it was all right, that they would fax over my info but not doing so) I called the clinic and they told me to come in, that my doctor’s office promised to send the records. I was on the table when the doctor’s office called and said they refused to refer me. Crestfallen I left, and his male nurse called me. He told me that we all get twitches right before sleep and I just had to learn how to relax. He recommended I do deepbreathing excercises, acupuncture treatments and take medical marijuana. I was so distressed and muddled that I took him up on all three. I made an appointment for acupuncture (not knowing if my health insurance would cover it or not-they don’t, it turns out) and went there the next day and got my medical marijuana card to the tune of $50. I then purchased $180 worth of liquid THC, edibles and a smokable that was supposed to knock you out cold. After one application I discovered smoking was out of the question; it made the twitches 100 times worse. The liquid THC was no better; it made me drowsy but couldn’t get me past the twitches like a prescription sleep aid. At my own best judgment I decided not to eat the brownie. Disappointed anew, I found another doctor online and made an appointment to get a second opinion. I picked a doctor based on how quickly he could see me, not on his credentials, and for this I paid dearly. It turned out he was an even bigger ass. Without anything other than a brief physical assessment he decided I was suffering from depression. The twitches were all in my head, he told me, and I should seek the care of a psychiatrist. I left his office with mixed feelings; I’d been doing everything the doctors told me to do: I’d done the MMJ, I’d had the acupuncture (only one treatment, all together I;d do two) but still nothing worked. I still had the trazadone (I’d stopped taking the lorazapam when I got down to ten pills because I didn’t want to get addicted and then run out, having read that even two weeks use could cause dependency. Whether that’s right or not is irrelevant; my doctor and the other doctor made it clear they wouldn’t prescribe it to me again, in fact most likely thought I was there seeking more of that particular drug) but it was only working sporadically. I mixed it with benadryl, liquid THC and melatonin, and some nights it still didn’t work. So I went home, got online again, and found a psychiatrist nearby that had availability within the week. Meanwhile, my primary care physician offered a service to his patients that was quite convenient, an email service through his website. Utilizing it, I contacted him and told him I’d gotten a second opinion and that the other doctor didn’t think I was bi-polar, that he thought I was depressed, and I’d made an appointment to see a psychiatrist. In the meantime, I ventured, was there anything he could prescribe for me to help me sleep because the trazadone was wreaking havoc on my system, giving me monstrous diarrhea. He got back to me, said he wasn’t surprised about the other diagnosis, said there was no need to see the psychiatrist, that he could handle my psyche meds himself, and proceeded to prescribed mirtzapine, another anti-depressant in the same class as trazadone but much easier on the digestive tract. I looked up the drug, read all the information about what a wonderful aid it was to sleeping, and was briefly excited…until I tried it. He prescribed a 30mg dose, one I’d find was quite heavy for what I needed. Throughout the entire ordeal I’d researched every diagnosis, every drug. Mirtzapine, I found, was more active for insomnia at lower doses, a quarter of what he recommended. At lower doses it wasn’t an anti-depressant, it was an antihistamine. But the drug was hit or miss; one night it would work, the next it wouldn’t. And the way it made me feel the next day made it entirely worthless. I felt washed out, dizzy, depressed. After four days I contacted him via the website again and told him it didn’t work, that I needed something to fight my symptoms (the twitches), not the side-effect (sleep loss) and he pulled Restless Leg Syndrome out of the hat this time. Gone was the bi-polar, out with the depression, now I had RLS! Ordering no tests to confirm, telling me we could do a sleep study but it would be a terrible inconvenience, he prescribed ropinerole, a medication used for Parkinson’s and RLS. Desperate for anything to work, I decided I’d give it a shot. This decision was made on a Friday, and I couldn’t get the medication until Monday, so I had the weekend to research it. Long story short, by the end of the weekend I was convinced that this was not the right medication, not only because I had none of the symptoms of RLS, but that the side-effects (it would take a week to start working, I couldn’t take any other sleep aids with it, Omeprazole contradicted its efficacy, and it could potentially cause ‘sudden sleep onset’) weren’t worth it. I drive over forty miles a day for my job; the last thing I needed was to fall asleep behind the wheel while doing seventy on the freeway. As it turned out, getting this medication and seeing the psychiatrist fell on the same day, and for that I am entirely grateful. She did a psychiatric evaluation, to which I answered the questions as honestly as I could; I left out how utterly depressed I was simply because the reason for it was the sleep loss and the mis-management of my care. By the end of all her questions she determined I definitely was not bi-polar and that I was not merely suffering from depression. She actually did what the other doctors didn’t: she Googled my symptoms and found links for ‘hypnic jerks’, ‘sleep starts’ and ‘myoclonic twitches’. Reading some of the posts that described in detail what I was telling her, she decided that she would prescribe Lunesta. To say that I was thrilled is being trite; I was nothing short of ecstatic. Finally, a REAL sleeping pill, not a fucking anti-depressant with somnolent properties. I almost kissed her. She gave me some samples and it worked like a charm. At the risk of this blog post being waaaayyyy too long, that unfortunately is not the end of my story. Turns out my health insurance wouldn’t cover Lunesta because it wasn’t available as a generic so I had to get Ambien. For some reason she’d prescribed Lunesta in a 3mg dose (the highest) but Ambien in a 5mg dose (the lowest). The Ambien didn’t work for sour apples. I needed to take four Ambiens, two benadryls, two droppers of liquid THC, and two melatonin to get about four hours of sleep, and sometimes I even added a trazadone. By this time I was truly at the end of my rope. I was suicidal (don’t tell the shrink, she’d have me committed). I was faced with a very tough question: call my parents and ask for their help or kill myself. In the end the choice wasn’t that hard; I called my folks. Anyone who has read this blog knows I am a pet-sitter/dog walker. I’d been carrying on throughout this whole ordeal and none of my clients were aware of the difficulties I was going through, yet meanwhile I was growing more and more despondent. When I was overnight pet-sitting I felt as if I was drowning, trapped. I was anxious, panicked, unable to think what I was going to do next. One morning I was walking a dog I’d been pet-sitting over the course of the week and I found myself plotting my suicide, my method, the note, the day…and that was when I started making phone calls. First I cancelled all of my up coming overnight pet-sitting jobs, then I cancelled all the up-coming visits, and next I cancelled with all of my regulars. I then looked up my health insurance, checked on my out of state coverage, then called my Mom and Dad. Within two hours they had a flight home for me (California to Wisconsin) for the following week. My clients were bummed, but understood that it was for my health, for my own good. Before I left I saw the psychiatrist and she was kind enough to prescribe Ambien CR (12.5mg strength) and a client of mine gave me two weeks of 3mg Lunesta. Between the two I figured I could hold on for a while longer.
As I am writing this I’ve seen a doctor in Madison, Wisconsin, and he was quite surprised at what my primary care physician had done (diagnosing me via emails with no tests, as well as the dose of the ropinerole: 2mg’s when the drug starts at .25mg’s). With his help I have an appointment with a neurologist that specializes in sleep movement disorders and will hopefully be recommended for a sleep study in which they will do a polysomnagraph (a sleep EEG). Via this test it will prove conclusively that the twitches are real, that this hasn’t all been in my head. Hopefully from there they will offer a solution, a treatment that won’t just mask the symptoms. Throughout all of this I’ve realized that the sleep medication suppresses my central nervous system, stopping the twitches. When the medication wears off, they come back. At first I thought the medication was just knocking me out, getting me past them. I’ve had this for so long I’ve been able to study it, to see how it works, and what works on it.
This has been a long ordeal, and presently I am losing money (in more ways than one: I have to pay out of pocket for the acupuncture, probably for some of the tests, I am not working, I’m paying rent for my place and I’m not there etc. etc. etc.) but at last I finally have some hope. My family has been very supportive and with their help I’ve been doing much better as I while away the time until my appointment in three weeks (yes, the neurologist can’t see me until May 20th). I’ve also been doing nothing to promote my novel The Gyre Mission: Journey to the *sshole of the World and I haven’t posted a blog in a month. So, if anyone reads this, please buy my book. I really need the freakin’ dough! Peace!

 

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Man Whore 101; Just Another Day In Paradise

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I sat down to write a blog post about another funny pet-sitting incident and found that, at my current pet-sitting job, it was all but impossible to come up with something because the pets were, in a word, distracting. While pounding away at my laptop the parrot (Pedro, colored a festive red and sporting an extensive vocabulary) kept shrieking “I want to come out! I want to come out!” at the top of his lungs while Henry, a yellow lab, kept blindsiding me with love/lick attacks every ten minutes or so when he got bored with licking his massive, overly-sized, veiny balls. Not to mention Lilly, the little poodle-mix who, whenever the spirit moved her (which was quite often) decided that a good bout of incessant barking was necessary to keep the household vibe flowing smoothly. It was within this chaos that I, the ever-fearless writer extraordinaire, tried in vain to concentrate upon what would merely be a 500-1000 word post that would probably be read by two people. Oh the humanity!
Yes, the trials and tribulations of a writer beset with the occupation of tending to people’s pets is fraught with interruptions; sometimes I wonder why the hell I got into this business in the first place and then I remember: I dropped out of college and went on the road with a grunge/metal band and failed to make any money. After an extensive tour of duty as a fry cook, grill cook, pizza maker, sandwich maker and prep-cook in various restaurants, ultimately leading me to working in a dog kennel and then becoming a veterinary technician, this seemed like a dream job. I stayed in a lot of mansions, swam in a wide variety of saltwater pools, drank gallons of expensive, bottled beer and watched The Simpson’s on TV’s big enough to screen the latest Pixar masterpiece.
But after a while you yearn for your own house (in my case trailer-cue the banjo music maestro, please), and your own bed. Lately I’ve noticed that I dream crazy, vivid, lucid dreams while I’m at my place and hardly dream at while I’m pet-sitting. That can’t be good.
When I think about it, I find it amazing that I was able to write my novel The Gyre Mission: Journey to the *sshole of the World under such conditions. I barely wrote any of it at my trailer. I pet sat so much between 2009 and 2012 that the time I spent at the trailer was mostly consumed by drinking binges and intense masturbation sessions. Good times, yes, very good times…
So, as if to punctuate this entry with a hefty dose of realism, I was just interrupted during the writing of this blog by the house owner’s mother. The dogs started going crazy and, after a quick inspection I found her trying every key on her ring in an attempt to gain entry. She claimed to have sent me a text to inform me that she’d be stopping by but, alas, I never got it. So for almost an hour I entertained this elderly woman as she stumbled around the large house, going from room to room, asking after each pet (I failed to mention there was also a gecko and a beta fish). I assured her that Gecky had enough crickets to eat and that the fish didn’t appear to be suffering from ‘swim bladder’, a condition she was certain the poor little fellow had. I watched with ensuing hilarity as she tried to have a conversation with Pedro, but his vast knowledge of the English language far surpassed hers and he overwhelmed her. Recognizing defeat, she decided to go home.
After letting her out and locking the door behind her I took a deep breath, let it out, and wondered if maybe my old job manning the wing station at Hooters was still available. I recalled that the job left me feeling very conflicted (in between bouts of horniness I was plagued by a terrible, all-consuming depression) and thought that maybe I’d give them a call. What the hell, couldn’t hurt.

 

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Puke-O-Rama

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My illustrious pet-sitting career began as quite the lark. I’d been working as a veterinary technician for over seven years when I met a vet who seemed quite similar to myself. He enjoyed heavy metal, drinking beer and adult cartoons. We had so much in common! So when it came time for he and his wife to take a trip for their wedding anniversary I was the logical contender to stay at his house and watch his pets. No problem, I told him, piece of cake. I’d been over to his house before, had met all of these wonderful companion animals and thought I’d enjoy a week of watching his high def flat screen TV, drinking beer and hanging with his pack. As this job would teach me, nothing is ever quite what it seems when you are taking care of someone else’s pets.
One thing of note: he had ten pets, three dogs and seven cats. He’d brought two dogs and three cats to the marriage, his wife one dog and four cats. They got on famously, of that I must assure you; there was no problem regarding the dogs taking after the cats, but it meant the house was quite full. He told me that if he took on one more pet he’d have to apply for a kennel license.
The invaluable lesson I was to learn was that animals, like children, acted differently when someone else was in charge. My veterinarian buddy was the alpha-male of the house and his pets knew and respected that. I’ve never been an alpha anything. Houseplants don’t listen to me, much less cats and dogs. When I took over they perceived me as an easy mark.
The first sign of this was when I had dinner. I was making a frozen pizza and suddenly the twelve by fourteen space was filled with the lot of them, vying for room on the counters. Eerily, it reminded me of the movie ‘The Birds’. They just perched there, looking like a ravenous flock of vultures. I admit my efforts to shoo them were half-hearted at best; like I said, I’m not a very dominating presence. I tried to scare some loitering eight-year-old kids out of a store I worked at once and they laughed at me. And that was after I pulled the baseball bat out from under the counter and began swinging it around like a lunatic. So these guys were no different. When my meal was ready I found myself hiding in the bathroom, eating on the toilet. Outside the door I imagined I could hear their bellies rumbling, their chops slavering drool. Kitty paws appeared under the door, looking for any scrap that may fall within reach. Throughout my entire stay that was how I took my meals, hiding in one room or another. Now, when I’d hung-out with my buddy this had never happened, and it wasn’t because he yelled at them. Silently, they simply obeyed.
The next bit of business I must attribute to my own lack of awareness. Just that week I’d decided to quit smoking, so my head wasn’t quite where it should have been. I was trying to counteract the nicotine urges by drinking a lot of caffeine during the day and a lot of beer at night. Not a very brilliant idea, I have to tell you, as this made me crave cigarettes even more. I admit I was a bit on edge.
Plopped on the couch in a spot I’d claimed as my own, I sat watching Futurama DVD’s while sipping cold bottles of Grolsch. Since I was doing this for free food and beer (no actual money) I was making myself quite at home. Rest assured that these critters were getting their walks and meals and medications; I enjoyed these frothy beverages only after their care had been tended to. So it was that I vaguely noticed when one of the dogs brought forth the granddaddy of all chew bones, a rawhide monstrosity in the shape of a candy cane nearly two feet in length. To this day I have no idea what I was thinking (besides “God I want a cigarette, God I want a cigarette!”) as I let the three dogs have at it with reckless abandon. And have at they did; they devoured nearly all of it by the time I was ready for bed. I feel very irresponsible about this now because I really should have known better, and am very lucky that nothing worse than what happened transpired.
I awoke to take a pee around three in the morning and for some reason decided to look in on the dogs. Entering the living room where they had their beds, I stepped into a large pile (barefoot, of course) of something warm and chunky. Quickly backing away, I landed in another pile, and then another, and another as I made my way to the wall light switch. Once I could see I saw that the shag rug was covered in mound after mound of rawhide-laden puke. Seriously, it was fucking everywhere. My first reaction was to get mad (nicotine withdrawal is, truly, a bitch) and after yelling and cussing for a bit I decided I might as well get to it. This barf wasn’t going to clean itself up. The dogs watched me from their respective beds, not a one of them with a look of guilt in their eyes. And why should they? I was the idiot who let them eat the whole thing in the first place. In retrospect what I was grateful for later was that none of them got any stuck in their throat. Those rawhide chews can be quite nasty in that way. But, at the time, all I saw was the gallons and gallons of puke I had to clean up. It took me almost two hours.
My third lesson would later become advice I’d repeat to myself ad nauseum for future jobs, when pet-sitting became my primary occupation: no matter what instructions an owner imparts upon you about how they do something (or how their pet reacts to something) do it how you would do it, not how they would. For example: whenever an owner told me how they administered their pet’s medication and I followed suit, it never worked. I had to do it how I was accustomed to doing it or they would spit the pill out. Some told me to cradle their cat like a baby and simply drop the medication down their throat. Some claimed I could offer it like one would a treat. These methods never worked. Instead I had to use an industry standard ‘pillgun’ to get those suckers down.
So, in this case, my good friend told me his dogs were fine off-leash, that they were trained to always come when they were called. Once again I cannot emphasize enough: people’s pets will always do something else when someone different is in charge.
On one of our mid-morning strolls I decided to allow the boys (the dogs were all males) a little room to stretch their legs, so I unclipped them from their collars. Big mistake. At once they ran in three different directions, disappearing quickly. I spent the next hour running through the neighborhood, screaming my voice raw, in a state of semi-hysteria. When I at last corralled them I was so relieved I gave them all treats (instead of a reprimand) and vowed never to repeat that experience again.
And so the job went and the week passed and my friend returned. I told him everything, of course, and he had a good laugh. He told me he’d thought the dogs wouldn’t be able to get at the giant rawhide but wasn’t surprised at their cunning. He also marveled that they ran away when I turned them loose. His wife found it hilarious that I was forced to take my meals in the bathroom. We cracked three beers and toasted their continued good health and safe return. Sipping my beer, I had no idea that this would later be something I’d embark upon professionally, and be quite successful at it to boot. If you’d told me then I probably would have laughed in your face, judging by how badly I did on one of my first go-rounds. Well, the ability to have time to write necessitates many things, and sometimes we’ll do almost anything for it. That’s what it was for me, that’s why I wound up here. In the end it panned out and I wrote ‘The Gyre Mission: Journey to the *sshole of the World’, a rather lengthy tome I am quite proud of. Maybe it wouldn’t have happened had I gone down the other path and continued to grind away at the normal nine to five. Who knows?
For questions regarding my prices, my availability and just how much puke it takes to fill a five-gallon bucket (hint: five gallons) give me a call. Operators are standing by.

 

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Shut The Hell Up and Write The Damn Book Already!

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The predominant thing you hear from people who want to write is their complaint that they don’t have enough time, what with their family, friends, social obligations and, the biggest of the bunch, their job. It would seem there just isn’t enough time in the day for writing because of the myriad other things demanding your time. Well, I have a few things to say about that, the employment issue.
While writing ‘The Gyre Mission: Journey to the *sshole of the World’ I was also running my own business, a pet-sitting/dog-walking operation that involved a lot of driving, a constantly changing schedule (some mornings I had to get up at six, some four-thirty, some five etc.) and a new location every two to ten days, depending on how long the pet-sitting job was. Sometimes it was a weekend, sometimes a month. In June of 2011 I stayed in six different houses, none of them my own. This business demanded that I live out of a suitcase almost 300 days a year, give or take. Here’s the kicker: the reason I initially started Moonlight Pet-sitting was because I figured it would give me ample time to write! Don’t get me wrong, it did in the beginning, but that was before it really picked up steam. Within two years I found I was now working well over forty hours a week, getting up very early every day and eventually booking myself seven days a week. With clients coming and going for various reasons I felt the necessity to take everything that came my way. You just never know what is going to happen next; the jobs you say ‘no’ to are the jobs you may not get later. To solve that, I overloaded myself. Between the end of 2009 to the end of 2011 I worked seven days a week non-stop, only taking days off for vacations, of which I took two a year.
Suffice it to say I began ‘The Gyre Mission’ in September of 2009, right before my business went full-full-time. I leisurely began the novel in earnest, fleshing out the characters, the plot, the setting and so on, and within two months had most of part one (of three parts) written, roughly a couple hundred pages. I figured I’d finish it within eight months, do a few re-writes and have it ready by Christmas of 2010, at the latest summer of that year. Oh how wrong I was.
Moonlight Pet-Sitting kicked into overdrive and suddenly the book came to a screeching, grinding halt. The two to three hours I had to write daily soon became forty-five minutes to an hour, if any. There were days I was so busy and so tired I couldn’t get anything done, and weeks, then months, slipped by with very little progress. Why didn’t I hire someone to help me with the business? you might ask. I tried, actually went through several people who bugged out on me for various reasons, leaving me to handle their work load as well as my own. I eventually gave up and tried to only schedule what I could handle myself.
So what did I do to find time? Well, I don’t recommend this because most humans wouldn’t want to live this way, but I sacrificed everything extraneous in my life. Social outings, dinners with friends, beach time, movies, family gatherings (not to sound like a monster; my family lived out of state), casual coffee shop loitering…all kicked to the curb. My life became my business and my writing, taking time to eat, sleep and unwind with some TV or a book at the end of a day.
I tried to keep a regular schedule for writing but it was nearly impossible, what with my constantly changing schedule. I wrote a lot of the first draft in the middle of the night when I couldn’t sleep (which was often due to my rampant insomnia) and then subsequent drafts in the late morning or early afternoon. First draft stuff, I realized, was easier to do when I was still half-asleep, when my mind could wander off into a nether land of crazy ideas. Fine-tuning was best done when I’d had a couple cups of coffee under my belt. I was never very good at writing late in the day, as my mind is pretty much frizzle-fried by that point, so that is when I unwound. Why didn’t I take time for social engagements then? Because I was (am) an overnight pet-sitter; my job is 24/7 baby, like it or not. It takes up your evenings but it beats punching a clock any day. Besides, most people are boring assholes and I’m better off without them around.
So over the course of three years I completely alienated myself, trying desperately to finish a project I thought I would simply never see to fruition. I thought about it constantly, obsessively, while I walked dogs and fed and medicated cats. I talked to these animals about it, hashed out plot points, argued over motives and weak characters or dialogue. It became a compulsion that wholly owned me, with no sign of release.
By January of 2012 I’d done five drafts, each successively better than the last, but I knew there was still much more work to be done. Relief came to me in the form of my business gradually slowing down; the chaotic fourteen-hour workdays were abating, resuming a normal eight-hour day. Over the course of six months I did another three drafts, shaping it into something I thought was professional, could be taken seriously in a worldwide market. As of this writing I have yet to find out; all that time may have been wasted, time that could have been better spent phoning my relatives, taking in a sunset, enjoying conversation with a friend. Maybe this book won’t sell a single copy (it will, of course, as my family and friends will want to buy it and read it just to see what the hell kept me so preoccupied for three years); perhaps it will be reviewed most horribly by a reputable source and my reasons for writing it will be nothing but a farce, the idea that I could have written something that would be successful.
Well, I’ll tell you what: I don’t regret any of it, no matter how it turns out. During the writing of this novel I learned discipline like I’d never known before, dedication to the craft, of starting a project and watching it take on a life of its own until at last it was finished.
This puppy might tank, yet I benefited by learning something very valuable: no matter what, how or why I can finish something I started and be proud of it in the end. And if that doesn’t make the whole thing worthwhile what will? Selling a million freakin’ copies of the damn thing and having someone pay me to write the next one…

 
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Posted by on January 1, 2013 in Companion animals, true stories

 

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Dearest Lily, Rest In Peace

Lily Swamp - Copy

The story behind the photo of Lily, the dog I dedicated my debut novel The Gyre Mission: Journey to the *sshole of the World to, unfortunately, is a sad one. It has been almost two years since her passing but not a day goes by that I don’t think of her, especially when I drive past the streets where I used to walk her.
I am used to making money off of other people’s misfortune, and in Lily’s case this was no exception. Lily’s owners were a married couple in their sixties, and the man (whom I never met) died unexpectedly of a heart attack. Left to her own devices, the woman hired me to help care for the dog, a wolf/German Shepherd hybrid. In my line of work I have a lot of clients like this, elderly women whose husbands have passed and are kind and caring enough to realize that their dogs need exercise and are willing to employ someone if they can’t do it themselves.
Lily’s owner was a very nice woman, but one thing I noticed over the almost three years I walked and pet-sat for her was a lack of intimacy between them. I never saw her petting her or brushing her, nor did she ever express any such desire. In fact, she told me that Lily had been her husband’s dog, one they had found in the small mountain town of Ramona, which I also feature (briefly) in my novel. Her story was that a male wolf jumped the fence where a female German Shepherd lived and, well, the rest is purely physiology. Lily was one of seven in the litter, and the man fell instantly in love with her. I believe he paid only two hundred dollars for her as the owner of the shepherd simply wanted to get rid of them.
When I came into the picture Lily was nine years old, and she was one of the sweetest dogs I’d ever met. Looking at the previous sentence I’ll graciously admit that almost ALL the dogs I’ve had the pleasure of knowing were very sweet; maybe it is in her passing that I’ve made her a martyr. That very well could be, but she took to me immediately and we became fast friends.
I was in the second year of operating my business full-time, and I must confess I was a bit of a whiner. I was gradually becoming aware that running a business by oneself (if you wanted to be successful) often times demanded a seven-day workweek, and I was having trouble adjusting to it. Sometimes the walks with Lily (with all of my dogs) were tedious, boring, and throughout I’d have a running litany of complaints going through my head about how I worked all the time and would rather be doing something else, even though this was solely how I made my money. But, with Lily and with the other dogs I came to know very well, it passed after my affections grew for them, and I began to see the walks as quality time that we had together. After the first year they became enjoyable, and I looked forward to them.
Time passed by and autumn of 2010 saw changes with the owner that I’d never suspected. I believe she was beginning to suffer from the earliest onset of Alzheimer’s as there were notes posted all around the house, reminding her to take her pills or take out the trash or run this or that errand. These notes were on index cards, taped up in various spots in the kitchen and living room, indicating that this was a permanent ritual, not something in passing. Yet she seemed to be fine, and Lily was in good health and spirits. I have to hasten to add that by this time I’d pet-sat for her over a dozen times, besides our three walks weekly, and I never deduced there to be anything that lie beneath the surface, any hidden animosity.
This became apparent when one day she called me and told me she wanted to get rid of Lily. She simply wasn’t an animal person, she explained, repeating that the dog had been her husband’s. She’d simply been taking care of her because it was what he would have wanted. And now, as it were, she was through. She complained that Lily got into things and destroyed furniture. Some of these grievances were true, but the reason for this destructive nature was that she was kept in a small enclosure alongside the house, left alone for hours on end. She was acting out because she was angry at being virtually abandoned. This is why Lily loved me so: I was, in fact, the only one who gave a damn about her, and when I pet-sat for her I kept her with me always, I never put her in the yard.
I was shocked, but told her I would do everything I could to help her find a new home. I wished I could take Lily myself but the nature of my business then and now is that I stay in other people’s homes fifteen to twenty days a month (sometimes more). I was and am single; I had no way of taking care of her and she couldn’t come with me on any jobs because she was mildly dog aggressive.
So I contacted everyone I knew through the animal hospital I’d previously worked at as well as past and present clients. A woman I’d worked with told me of a friend who rescued wolf hybrids and, excited that I might be able to help, contacted Lily’s owner. This was two weeks after she’d told me the news and, before I could tell her, she instead told me that she’d decided to keep Lily after all, was resigned to it in fact. I was relieved, of course, because this way I’d still be able to see Lily, so I kept the news to myself.
Two months went by, and in that time I pet-sat for her again. We spent quality time that I now treasure immeasurably, as it would be the last time of any significance we’d spend together.
It was in the end of January 2011 that I received the call from the owner. She very brusquely told me she’d found a new home for Lily, a place where she would get more attention, would be happier. She was bringing her there that very afternoon. I’d just walked Lily earlier that day, and when we returned from our trek I’d spent some extra time with her, just petting her and letting her lick my face. In retrospect (this is always easy to say after the fact, but I absolutely believe it to be true) I felt she was trying to communicate something to me, something I couldn’t quite understand. After speaking with the owner, I felt as if Lily was trying to say goodbye.
Sadness overwhelmed me after I hung up the phone, the thought of not seeing Lily ever again clouding my eyes with tears. Over the course of the next couple of days I resolved to visit the owner, to ask if I could get the new owners phone number so as to visit Lily from time to time. This story would get very long if I tried to explain every nuance, every detail that endeared her to me so, suffice it to say that in our shared experiences I loved her more than most.
I met with her three days later to pick up my final payment and return her key and after inquiring she adamantly refused, telling me that Lily was beginning a new life, she didn’t need any lingering vestige of her old one. Crestfallen, I pressed and, after several minutes the owner sighed and asked me to have a seat. I have never been one for precognition, but in her demeanor I instantly knew what she was going to tell me, in fact could have told her instead. After working in the veterinary field for as long as I had I’d seen many tragic, terrible things, and I knew that what she was about to tell me was going to fall in that category. Feeling a weight like a lead ball settle on my chest, I collapsed into an overstuffed chair.
“You’ll think I’m a terrible person, but I suppose you have a right to know…” she began, and sorrow clutched my heart. She’d gone and done it, the one thing you simply cannot take back.
“Lily and I never really got on that well, she was my husbands dog after all.”
I stared at her mutely, unable to say anything.
“She’d cost me so much money, destroying the fence, chewing the boards on the deck…when she kicked dirt into the air conditioning unit that was the last straw.”
“You had her put down,” I said through numb lips, feeling tears well up in my eyes but fighting them back. My anger was so strong that I was determined not to let her see me cry. Instead I stared at her impassively, keeping a poker face.
“Yes,” she said at last, her eyes dry, her manner unaffected. In her words I could plainly hear indifference, in her body language anything but quilt. “I feel bad, but it had to be done. I simply couldn’t keep her anymore.”
I let her ramble on for a while, on the outside calm but on the inside steaming. I couldn’t get out of her house fast enough, and once my back was turned to her the tears flowed down my face like a torrential rain, giant sobs making my chest hitch and shudder. I cried all the way home, and then cried some more once inside. Those haunting last few minutes with Lily played over and over in my head, the way she seemed to be trying to tell me something. And here I’d found a home for her two months previously…if only I’d known her owner was going to resort to this I could have helped her. I slept poorly for a week and, when the owner called one day and asked if I would keep what she’d done to myself, it was very difficult to be civil with her.
Two weeks later I needed to call Lily’s old vet regarding another pet I was caring for, a completely unrelated matter. I loathed the doctor for what she’d done, for assisting in what I’d come to think of as murder, but I required her advice. Surprisingly she took the call herself (most times you speak with a technician) and, after what she said, I knew she’d done so with the express purpose of speaking to me directly.
“It’s very sad about Lily,” she said, and I quickly agreed, not knowing what else to say. I didn’t want to criticize her judgment as I’d known her a long time and had a very good rapport with her. So instead I held my tongue. “But after what the owner told me, we had to do it.”
“What?” I asked, perplexed. She euthanized Lily for kicking dirt into an air conditioning unit?
“I never thought Lily to be the type of dog to attack children, but I guess we see a lot of surprising things in our business, don’t we?”
My mind whirled. Attacked children? What the hell? And then I realized what she meant, and with this sudden awareness I at once stopped hating her. Here I’d thought she’d been in cahoots with the owner, putting down a perfectly healthy dog, but instead she’d been lied to. Lily’s owner had made up a story so that the vet would take care of it, no questions asked. I should have known.
“Yeah,” I replied, seeing no reason to share with her the true nature of the situation. “It was really surprising.”
We spoke for a few more minutes and I hung up. It was then that I decided if I ever finished the beast of a novel I was working on I would dedicate it to Lily, so that I’d always remember her. Not that I could ever forget her, but I wanted to immortalize her the only way I knew how. A friend of mine later commented on the photo of her, after I published it, saying that the picture was a bummer because Lily looked so sad. My response was that it was supposed to look sad, given the circumstances but, in all honesty, it was the only photograph of her I had. Rest in peace Lily. I’ll always love you.

 
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Posted by on December 7, 2012 in Companion animals, true stories

 

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