9 May 2017

Writing To Yourself. The Power Of Free Writing.

Write To Yourself

I have wanted to be a writer since I was eight years old, and I am on the other side of life now, and have been a writer all my adult life. I am blessed to have done work I love all of my life. Writing is identity to me, as well as healing.

When Red got sick, I just started writing about it, and I always remember that most human suffering is related to love and loss,and the purpose of healing is to help people acknowledge, experience and bear the reality of life, good and bad.

One wise professor told his students that the greatest sources of human suffering are the lies we tell ourselves, and writing has helped me to be authentic and clear and strong. Writing helps me understand myself, and I often do not know how I feel until I write about it.

I try to share my own vulnerability and humanity, my own anger, envy, pride and greed. In so doing, I have come to begin to understand who I am. Writing authentically is difficult for many people to do. We are taught to hide our feelings, not to share them, we are told it is not wise or safe to be honest, only wary and guarded.

The open world of the Internet and social media, where trolls abound like guppies, reinforces the instinct to be careful and hide ourselves. One of the most effective ways to access your inner world of feelings, writes trauma specialist Dr. Bessell Van Der Kolk of the  Trauma Center in Brookline, Mass., is to write to yourself if you aren't ready to write for the outside world.

"Most of us have poured our hearts out in angry, accusatory, plaintive, or sad letters after people have betrayed or abandoned us," he writes. "Doing so almost always makes us feel better, even if we never send the letters. When you write to  yourself, you don't have to worry about other people's judgment – you just listen your own thoughts and let their flow take over. Later, when you reread what you wrote, you often discover surprising truths."

I believe in the healing power of writing. I urge my students to write honestly, and to not use to writing to protect themselves or others. I believe writing is most effective when it is honest, even fearless, and free of the lies we tell ourselves all the time.

Van Der Kolk writes about the practie he calls  free writing, where the writer can use any object as their own Rorschach test for entering a stream of associations. You simply write the first thing that comes to your mind as you look at the object in front of you and then keep going without stopping, rereading, or  crossing out.

Free writing has become widespread in trauma  treatment, where it is found to be healing. It is also used more and more in writing classes as a simple way to encourage writing.

A wooden spoon on the counter, says Van Der Kolk, may trigger memories of making tomato sauce with your grandmother – or of being beaten as a child. A teapot that's been passed on for generations may take you back to the furthest reaches of your mind to the loved ones you've lost or of family holidays that were a mix of love and conflict and fear.

Soon enough, an image will emerge, and then a memory, and then a paragraph or two to write it down.

In free writing, there is no right or wrong. Whatever shows up on the paper is private and personal and revealing, a manifestation of associations that are personal to you, and a way to begin the practice and discipline of writing.

I love the idea of free writing as healing, as an empowering tool, and as a path to self-awareness. Writers write, and the more they write, the better they do.

I often think of fingerprints when I think of writing, no two writers are alike, no two lives are alike. The biggest problem my students face when they take up writing is that they struggle with how to get started, with where to begin.

Free writing can begin anywhere, at any time, and be about anything you see, remember or call up in your mind. We all live in a world of objects, all we have to do is look around us.

This weekend, I'm presenting the idea to the students in my writing class, I wanted to pass it along to you as well.

Posted in General

My Talk With Red

My Talk With Red.

"Nearer to the earth's heart, deeper with its silence, Animals know this world in a way we never will." –  To Bless The Space Between Us, by John O'Donohue, thanks to Patricia Wright for sending it to me.

I am anxious about tomorrow, when we will most likely learn what Red is suffering from, yet I am not fearful. I feel a strange calm and comfort about tomorrow, and I am not entirely sure why.

Red and I had our big moment yesterday afternoon,  and another life lesson for me, when he lay nearly unconscious in large hospital bay in the veterinary office, hooked up to an IV meant to ease his advancing dehydration. Red had a high fever, and my vet, usually cheerful and unflappable, could not mask her concern.

I am cursed in a way by being a rationalist and skeptic ever drawn to mysticism and spirituality.  I live between the two worlds and the animals in my life are always tugging at me to open up and see the world in a different way.

Red is much-loved in the vet's office, as he is everywhere he goes. I am not loved in anything like the way he is, and his constant presence by my side is a perpetual reminder to me of the difference between being sweet and adored, and, well…being something else.

Red humbles me through his ability to connect with people. To walk alongside Red is to sometimes feel invisible and remote.

The staffers at the hospital welcome me and urged me to go sit with Red for as long as I liked. They are used to my camera, and pay no attention to it. One of them got me a chair, another put her hand on my shoulder and saw my face and tried to comfort me. "He'll be all right," she said, "she practices good medicine," she said, referring to the vet.

Being comfort is in itself sometimes alarming to me, I would rather not have anything in my life I need to be comforted about.

I felt quite conspicuous and a bit embarrassed, looking down at Red, who could barely keep his eyes open, but managed to wag his tail when he saw me.

All I had to do was look into the eyes of the staff to see that this was serious and they were concerned. They were professional, but they are also quite human. I am a former police reporter, I haunted hospitals and accident scenes, and I know that look all too well. It is rarely good news.

Red's eyes could melt steel, and I pushed the chair aside and lay down on the floor next to his crate. I opened the door and leaned in and pulled out my camera and took a photo. Red knows me and what I'm like and he lifted his head and posed for me without being asked. Then he put his head down on my hand and I put the camera away, and we lay together like that for the longest time.

Red's genius in therapy work is his ability to make continuous eye contact with people who wish to be with him, he seems to look right into their souls, and I believe he often looks deeply into mine. If you are a sick person in hospice or an elderly resident in an assisted care facility or nursing home, that look can mean everything. Red sees everything there is to see.

He and I rarely need to speak to one another, we just are. Maria can testify that I almost never have to ask Red to do something, he knows before I do what it is I want him to do, I often don't need to speak.

It occurred to me that morning that I had just published a book about talking to animals, and yet, I had not really communicated with Red about what was happening to him.  It was embarrassing in a way, as if what I wrote in the book had somehow, in this moment, became disconnected from my life, which seemed all too real at the moment. Was it for real, or not?

The possibility of Red's dying was very real yesterday, or so it seemed and so I believed.

His look told me he was in pain and suffering and disoriented, I believed I saw great sorrow in his eyes, as if we were saying goodbye to one another. Red has hardly been sick a day in his life, and I think this was very new and disorienting to him. When I watched him,  I sat there sniffling and he rested his head on my arm and closed his eyes. We stayed that way for a long time.

Red seemed so much worse at the end of the day than at the  beginning. I was disheartened.

Let's talk a bit, I said, and I closed my eyes and cleared my head and  felt his heartbeat and warmth and heard his sights and labored breathing, and the hum and beep of the IV monitor. And we spoke to one another, we connected and exchanged images and emotions. Dogs do not speak in words, I believe, but Red uses his instincts to understand me and I use mine to understand him.

And since I do have words, I use them to translate.

I asked Red what was happening inside of him, and I asked  him what he intended to do. He responded, I felt it almost instantly. Red is what I call a Spirit Dog, he comes for a reason, he leaves when his work is finished. He will not be waiting for me on the Rainbow Bridge  to come and throw balls for him for all eternity when I die. And good for him, he is better than that.

I am miserable, he said, sick in my stomach, fevered in my body, aching in my joints and limbs. I don't understand what is happening to me.

Are  you dying? I asked. No, he said, I am sick, but not ready to die. I'm not done here yet, with you or your world. We have a lot of good work to do. Try to take it easy and see this as a fierce storm passing through me. It happens, but I am stronger than it, and it will pass through me. Don't be sad, don't be alarmed.

Red asked me to trust the process, and he asked me not to be afraid for him, or for me. He had not come to make me sad.  He told me he wasn't like the other dogs I had lost, he wasn't ready to leave, he wasn't done. You still need me, he said. Your world needs me now. We are doing good.

I sat with him for an hour, and slipped out of the clinic without seeing anyone. I replaced the chair they had brought me. I had texted Maria this: "he doesn't look good at all." And when I came outside, she was waiting for me in her little blue car. She was worried about me.

I told him what I believed Red had said to me. "He isn't ready to leave," I said. "He isn't going to die." At many points in my life, I would have rolled my eyes at this conversation and simply not believed it. Dogs and people can't talk to one another. Many of us know otherwise. If Red hadn't told me this, I couldn't have known it and wouldn't have assumed it, I have a long history of worry.

Maria nodded and said she completely understood.

But the conversation changed the dynamic for me.

After that talk with Red, I had no real fear. I slept well, wrote about him on the blog, as I had promised to do. When I brought Red into the veterinary clinic this morning, Suzanne – Dr. Fariello –  asked me if I had any news to report. I said, I did.

I told her about the eating and the sleeping, and also that  I had communicated with Red.

I believed he was not about to die, he would get well, he wasn't finished with his life and work here, there was much to do. I just feel he will get well, I said, asking her "does this make sense to you?" Of course, she said, taking notes. "It makes perfect sense to me, and it is helpful for me to hear it."

She even wrote it in her chart.

So that's what I believe, and that's how I feel. I put up a poster earlier about our June Open House, and someone quickly posted a message on Facebook which said "I sincerely hope this means Red is getting better?" Rhonda meant no harm, she was just being hopeful.

But I thought about perspective, and of how animals, who do not know of death or envy or ambition, seem to be born with perspective, while human beings struggle to find it. It is my belief that Red will get well, and that the news tomorrow will be good. That is what I truly believe. If that doesn't happen, our rich lives will continue, the earth will not stop moving around the sun.

My own life teaches me to be humble and self-aware. Life happens to all of us, and I am not doing God's work and I am no God myself.

I cannot see the future.

A meaningful life cannot center only on one thing, not even a wonderful human being, let alone a wonderful dog. I have learned to accept life as it happens, not as I wish it to happen. And I will not tell lies to myself about my life.

So I could of course, be wrong, as I have been so many countless times in my life.

But I like the peace I feel,  and the calm it brings.

I think that is part of the message from Red. He has come to ground me, to guide me to the next phase of my life, and to help me prepare for my own mortality. He is a magical helper on the hero journey. He has come to show me to do good, rather than argue about what is good, and he practices what he preaches, and thus leads me to love and fulfillment. He is an Ambassador Of Good.

He knows this world in a way I never will.

Animals can touch our hearts and polish up our souls if we let them. So that is the story of my quite remarkable talk with Red yesterday, in his crate in a veterinary hospital as he lay fighting for breath and stability.

We had a good talk.


Posted in General

Afternoon Report. The Trenches Of Love: Red’s Blood

The Trenches Of Love

Nicole and Cassandra work deeply into the trenches of love and dog care, they are skilled and gentle drawers of blood. The vet staff treating Red works seamlessly together, they move together like a flock of birds or a flowing stream. Red is patient, but he has given up a lot of blood for testing this week.

Vet techs remind me of good nurse-practitioners. They can handle almost anything. They are one of the reasons I don't get my veterinary advice online. Red is getting the best possible care.

Dr. Fariello thinks this might be an extreme form of Lyme or other tick-borne disease, the ticks have been everywhere this wet Spring. He has tested positive for Lyme disease, but almost all dogs up here test positive for that.

We hope it isn't more than that, and we expect to find out soon.

Red has been through the wringer, patiently and accepting as always. This afternoon, the blood had to come out of his jugular vein in the neck, a tricky procedure done flawlessly.

I was delighted that Red ate some food today – my mix of chicken broth, cooked hamburger meat and white rice. And he held it down. I was disappointed that at the end of the day, his fever had risen to more than 104 degrees. Something in there is persistent and confounding.

Tomorrow morning, ultrasound, we expect to know more by mid day. Also tomorrow, we are delivering Connie's air conditioner to her room at the Mansion. I feel good about tomorrow, optimistic and of good faith. I let Red run a bit this afternoon in the pasture, and Maria ratted me out to the staff at the clinic. I got yelled at by everyone.

I told her she was more loyal to Red than to me. She agreed.


Posted in General

Bedlam Farm Open House: Celebrate The Art Of Rural Life, June 10-11

The Art Of Rural Life

You are invited to celebrate the art of rural life at Bedlam Farm, June 10-11. There will be an art show featuring the world of Maria and a half-dozen gifted local artists. You can come see Red herd the sheep, watch Fate run around them, meet the donkeys, hear some talks, buy my new book and get it signed, share our lives. Details at www.fullmoonfiberart.com. Hope to see some of you there.

Posted in General

Red’s Update: Where We Are. Blessing The Space Between Us.

Where We Are? Dr. Suzanne Fariello

We spent two hours this morning with Dr. Suzanne Fariello at the Cambridge Valley Vet, she is an impressive person, direct, thorough, compassionate and clear. I have great confidence in her. It was an honest exchange, and somewhat sobering. She said Red's fever was up again, which was very troubling.

His nausea has also returned.

She examined Red, and then spent a half hour answering every question and giving us her assessment of Red and his condition.

At the moment, she is considering two possible causes – a tick-born infectious disease, they are on the rise throughout the Northeast. It is possible he has an extreme kind of Lyme's Disease.  And also, he is possible that he has cancer.

"I can't rule it out," she said, "you have to be prepared for it." She didn't like that the fever hadn't broken, or that his appetite had not returned. He also looked very uncomfortable.

Those symptoms are consistent with Red's sluggishness, fever and nausea. He has had some food, but not much. Tomorrow, a specialist is coming to the clinic with ultrasound equipment, and that, in a addition to the additional blood work sent out today, should bring her and us closer to an understanding of what is wrong with Red.

Our appointment is for tomorrow morning. Dr. Fariello did some additional acupuncture with Red, and sent us home with him and some stomach medication. Red is very still, and clearly very uncomfortable. He hasn't moved since he got home. When border collies are that still, something is wrong. I'm making some hamburger and white rice for him. He is no longer vomiting, that is good.

But the trajectory is up and down.  He is not yet on a clear path to recovery. That suggests something serious.

Sometimes he is more alert and lively than other times.But he is also a border collie, and they do not ever show pain or resignation, and have been known to practically rise from the dead.

The ultrasound will also help Dr. Fariello eliminate a number of possible causes. She is puzzled by Red's stubborn nausea and fever. Those symptoms usually respond to medication. It was not what I was hoping to hear, but I remain both confident and hopeful that Red's condition will be treatable.

This morning, I slowly realized that I needed to read my own book, "Talking To Animals," I needed to listen and get a sense of my dog and where he truly is. Red and I are very close, if I can communicate with a 3,000 lb steer, I can communicate with him.

I remember when Rose, and then Izzy, and then Lenore and Frieda died. In each case, it was clear to me that the dog was spent and was ready to leave the world. It is my responsibility to make this decision, I never hide behind the dogs. But I can feel it when their spirit does, and Red's spirit is very much alive.

I remember finding Rose on the floor by the back door, vomiting food and blood and I felt very clearly that she was ready to go and seeking my help in leaving in comfort and dignity

i had the same feeling with Izzy, who had cancer, and Lenore, who was in terrible pain, and Frieda, who was simply exhausted. I had no doubt what those dogs were telling me, and was clear about advocating  a peaceful and loving departure from our world for them.  They can't do this for themselves, we have to do it for them.

At such times, I remember that I am their voice, I must do what is best for them, not for me.

It is, as you know, difficult to have a dog who is very ill. We have already passed the $1,100 dollar mark and we have a way to go, no matter what. Tomorrow we will have the information we need to make the right decisions for Red and for us, and my expectation is for some resolution and for a way of healing him.

( I should make clear that I'm not seeking donations for Red's treatment and am not in need of them, thanks.)

We don't put a dollar limit on Red's treatment, but I have moral objections to spending many thousands of dollars on dogs or causing them extreme suffering because we can't let go. Again, we are not there, but I always want these things to be clarified in advance, not in the heat of the moment. We can talk to Suzanne openly and honestly.

As you know, I have strong feelings about not causing extreme suffering for dogs out of human selfishness. Either way, I will seek to do – with Maria's counsel and participation – what is right for him.

I don't have those same feelings with Red, I am not a doctor or veterinarian, but I do feel Red is not done here on the earth. When it is time, it will be clear. We are doing great things together, and perhaps my judgment is clouded by my love for him, but I think I am clear-headed enough to see the truth, for his sake as well as mine.

I told Dr. Fariello that unlike my other dogs, he does not seem ready to go, at least not for me. He is doing wonderful work and has much more wonderful work to do. He has already done wonderful work on me and with me.

I believe he wants to finish it. I don't see him fading away or dying. I just don't feel it, and I believe that is what he is telling me. That might sound strange to people, but it is not strange to me.

I am not God, and I am not a seer or a psychic. And I am not objective, either. I could well be wrong. But Red is a spirit dog, and spirit dogs come when they are needed and leave when they are ready. Red is very much-needed and I do not believe he is nearly ready.

Posted in General