james herriot, loreena mckennitt


been reading a great deal of james herriot lately, real name alf wight, if memory serves. in his books I get some of the riveting treasures that I do not get in my actual life. science. nature. animals. interesting oddball humans, as opposed to just the nasty kind or asinine-ignorant kind, and so on. I get the truth: true snapshots from the life of a hard-working man (where does one find a hard-working man anymore?) who valued deeply some of the same things that I value deeply myself.

I do not, anymore, read very much fiction. a little, but not as much as in the years prior to 2008. I crave truth, both in my life (where I don’t get it) and in my reading. so, because I hunger in my daily life for things that for some reason humans and the cussed randomness of living deny me, I’m doing some asperger’s perseverating. reading herriot’s books over and over, trying to cement in my mind his descriptions of the yorkshire dales, his worries over tough medical cases, his moments of self-doubt and his moments of triumph over a sticky patient illness. and many other things besides, that I desire to keep planted in my mind. and I imagine myself walking around here, around turners trolls, with someone very like james herriot. someone who is a vet of his type (dedicated, non-money-grubbing, sincerely captivated by animals). someone who loves music of a certain sort, and learning. walking around the river, the canal, the woods, talking trees and snow, wildflowers and bach, and the great difficulty of pneumonia in dogs. I imagine. which is a very poor substitute for the real thing, but it’s all that’s on offer in my stingy existence.

the more of his words, his medical cases, his turns of phrase, his trips to the high hills to smell the grass-scented air that I can memorize, the more often I can have with me, in my mind, a person of high quality.


there’s been other perseveration going on too. in music-land. I possess very little of loreena mckennitt’s music, and most of what I do own is still undiscovered in my storage unit. but with the small amount I do have here with me I have begun to try to memorize her too. I consider her to be a person of high quality as well, and the uncanny thing is that in an interview I heard with her, she said she had planned to go to veterinary school. so she’s an animal person. in the same interview, she said that when she first began making CD’s, she sold them herself out on the streets while she played her harp or violin, busking. she became so popular in that do-it-yourself way that a big record company eventually approached her. she didn’t like the deal they offered her. she said something like: I’m making more money than that doing it myself, so why do I need you?

this interview was aired ten or more years ago on a folk music show I listened to. the host said she was doing this because it was loreena’s birthday, and loreena was having a tough time. her fiancé had been killed in a boating accident, and she had withdrawn from public life. no interviews, no performances. this went on for five or six years. when loreena surfaced again, the host of this folk show ran into her at a music festival, and reported back to us that loreena was working on a new album. that album was an ancient muse, which came out in 2006.

any person who will deeply grieve a loved one for five or six years is, in my estimation, a person of quality.

when I now listen to loreena for about three hours most days, it’s not often the words I’m trying to memorize — I memorized most of those a dozen years ago. I’m trying to memorize the notes: every note from her voice, every note from every instrument. and trying to memorize the emotion she puts into each phrase. she is phenomenally good at putting almost palpable emotion into every phrase she sings, each one getting the emotion appropriate to whatever the words are saying. and of course there is the voice itself. operatic often. a truly beautiful, agile voice.

and again I imagine… that I know her, or someone very like her. we talk animals, and music, and poetry (many of her lyrics are verses by dead poets that she puts to nothing less than inspired music). we talk grief, and love. always a pale substitute, but when the people one meets in one’s daily life are dull, lazy, uninspired and uninspiring, these shining creatures that I meet only from a distance stand out for me not only as examples of the kind of people I yearn to know, but also as examples of what people could be, if they had an ounce or two of motivation to examine the concept of goodness, and the concept of dedication, and the concept of integrity.


read…   All my stars…   Stolen stars…   Mugsy’s book

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all photos, graphics, poems and text copyright 2008-2013 by anne nakis, unless otherwise stated. all rights reserved.


the life of the mind


three years ago, I became acquainted with someone who desired a friend who understands the life of the mind. 

yes, I’m familiar with that, the life of the mind. for those of us drawn to it, it’s something life can’t be lived without. it’s as necessary and satisfying as eating good food, as living in a home where you feel good, at home, comforted. but it isn’t everything, this mind-life.

I suppose, though, that if you live in relative comfort, with a decent income, a spouse, a home of your own, cars, vacations, as so many people around me do, you can build an altar to the life of the mind and worship thereat. but for people who live as I do, on the bottom rungs of the amerikan ladder, lacking any piece of the amerikan pie and the measure of security such things bring, it is much harder to glorify intellectual pursuits in the absence of any degree of comfort and safety. at least it is for me.

but for years (easier years than the last thirty-odd, to be sure) I did worship at that altar. through grade school, high school, college, I thought the life of the mind was a holy grail. social things gave me less satisfaction than mind things, and brought with them much hurt, insecurity and disillusionment. social things so often broke pieces out of me, whereas mind things gave me new pieces to myself. new pieces every time I learned something new.

all those years I focused most on two things: animals, and my brain. not because my family or other people didn’t matter, weren’t wanted or needed, but because they brought the pain and fear with them, the moments to have my fragile sense of self-worth, my fragile sense of being valued by anyone, hacked to pieces. people-oriented things brought the moments of feeling worthless, unloved, hugely unimportant. asperger’s, as always, made these dangers worse. you are by definition an oddball when you have it, and by definition you do not fit in.

also, I believed in those years that the surest way to the improvement of the self was to expand the mind. and I was always very big on the improvement of the self. always very perplexed as to why all the people around me weren’t engaged in this pursuit as well.

then I became twenty-six. a college grad for four years, and now a mother. becoming a mother brought about changes in me, almost immediately, that don’t seem to jive with the changes other women experience when they become parents (asperger’s oddball yet again). suddenly there was a near-panic that I had concentrated too much on my brain, and not nearly enough on heart, soul, spirit. with really a wave of shock I came up short against the realization that no person, not I or anyone else, is comprised of a brain and nothing else. things that I must have understood at a different, non-conscious level (most of the time) suddenly leaped into the limelight. I was behind. I had a lot of lost time to make up for.

the life of the mind, magnetic as it is, has also been problematic. one of the problems is that I’ve spent most of my time dumbing myself down, using smaller words and smaller concepts and keeping my brain on a very tight leash when conversing with most other people. I didn’t have to get any older than twelve to see that I couldn’t walk the particular kinds of worlds I’ve lived in with my brain just following its own bent: most people would not or could not engage with me on that level. many people have considered me a show-off or know-it-all, and have felt inferior. and when most people feel inferior to another person for any reason, they either abandon or attack. I’ve been the recipient of these abandonments and attacks my whole life long.

the other problem with this life is the one I’ve already mentioned: a person is not just an intellect. however rich and rewarding the life of the mind may be, it does not, for me, satisfy the other very important facets of humanness: heart, soul, spirit. and when in my twenties I had my little epiphany regarding such things, I began a more than thirty-year quest to enrich, to feed, to meet the needs of my heart and soul. I have largely failed in these efforts, failed to find the people who mesh with me in these ways.

now, in 2013, after the psychological savagery perpetrated on me and my animals in 2008, after the same kind of savagery practiced on me by my human family since 1997, after my brother’s apparently uncaring tossing of our family home and family possessions down the chute (these things were dear, dear to me), what is left? the life of the mind. I deplore it that that’s all that remains for me during whatever number of years I might still live. I deplore, grieve, that I never found any humans who could join me at the levels of brain and heart and soul. with so much that was valued by my heart and my soul having been taken away by other people, with so much that my heart and soul need never having been granted by the randomness of living in the first place, there remains only the life of the mind.

the life of the mind is hugely compelling, but it isn’t enough. not by a long way.


read…   neverending solitaire (asperger’s)…    kaikenlainen (brother)…

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all photos, graphics, poems and text coyright 2008-2013 by anne nakis, unless otherwise stated. all rights reserved.

stress and art

wednesday 4 april 2012                                                                                                         

In 2002, I was under a ridiculous amount of stress from, among other things, an alcoholic turners falls landlord and his very iron-fist-in-the-velvet-glove girlfriend. I’ve notice over the long years of stress from one source or another that it’s very interesting the ideas the unconscious mind comes up with as ways of existing through the pressure. In 2002, for me, it was drawing. It was not a decision, not a conscious plan. Just one day in extreme anxiety I grabbed a pencil and a very small piece of paper and started drawing. And never stopped for the next ten months. My battered psyche suddenly latched onto drawing and wouldn’t let go for a long time.

One of the products of those ten months of diminshing anxiety, panic and rage through art was bookmarks. I’d make my designs several to a page of white paper, xerox these master sheets, cut them apart, and hand ink each bookmark individually. On the front a drawing, on the back a very short poem and some designs in the margins. These bookmarks took many hours to produce, with layer after layer of different sorts of ink, until I felt the ink had the amount of richness that I was looking for. My livingroom had very poor lighting, so I’d sit at a western window sill while the lowering sun was at its brightest, working until the sun was too low to keep providing the right light. This had the added of advantage of the heat of the sun making the inks flow more freely. I slaved away at that window sill for months. At completion, I’d haul the bookmarks to greenfield to get them laminated. I sold them. Both in a shop and just on my own, selling to people I ran across in my daily travels. I also did a couple of small, framable pictures that I sold. I was starting on notecards when the drunken landlord and his harpie sidekick did their worst and sent me and my animals into near-destruction. Drawing came to a grinding halt for months.

Don’t have much left to show for all that work. A lot of it was sold, a lot given away as christmas and birthday gifts. There are four or five surviving bookmarks hiding somewhere in my storage unit, but I haven’t as yet unearthed them. This past christmas my daughter told me that she still had two of the ones I’d sent her for christmas way back in 2002 (shock: she kept them all this time?), and so she has loaned them to me for scanning. The person who scanned them for me did so at a slant (I can’t imagine why), so the samples I offer here are slanted.

When my animals and I moved to the home that belonged to the multiple-personality-disordered, sociopathic professional woman who told us that that home would be both “stable and permanent” for us, I hoped to get back to the bookmarks and notecards and framable pictures and even some framable poems. But stress from that particular bullying, psychically warped turners falls landlord began so quickly that I never returned to the projects that I hoped would put a little of my creative work out into the world. I wasn’t looking to make money. Just to have a tiny portion of my massive creative output out in the hands of some people who might enjoy it, might get something from it to feed their souls. Screw me. Turners falls toxicity struck yet again, as it has repeatedly struck for now twenty-seven years.


read…   Spite and malice…   Poison and snowflake trees…                                                           

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all photos, graphics, poems and text coyright 2008-2012 by anne nakis, unless otherwise stated. all rights reserved.


no bells and whistles

monday 19 december 2011

It’s been a long time I’ve been writing on the internet. When I started out, I was the victim of a number of what turned out to be silly notions regarding the kinds of readers I might find for the writing.

The odds of getting readers were against me from the start, but it took me more than a year to begin to see that. I have new ideas now, more than three and a half years into the internet writing thing, about what most people want to read. People seem to want to read trendy, and I am nearly never that. Nearly never do I write or tweet about something that is in the news, local or national or global.

People want also, I’ve observed, to read a kind of superficial, clever, cutesiness that is very popular nowadays. A cleverness that gives the seeming of real intelligence, but when you scratch the surface, there’s not much there. And I have been dumbstruck by the volume of writing that tells people what to do, and how they avidly read this stuff: how to yoga, how to run, how to lose weight, how to think, how to feel emotionally, who to read, whose music to listen to, and on and on. But if most people blogging and tweeting are telling us how they’ve decided we should think, feel, eat, etc., what does one make of that? I get it that each individual has their tastes and their beliefs and they are attached to them and they naturally believe that these things would be good for others as well. I occasionally recommend things myself. But I don’t make a religion, a monolithic mission out of preaching to people my way. If everyone is telling everyone else how to be, then who is actually listening? Everyone’s telling.

And what have I been writing. True stories from my own life. Poetry. Blog pages that break from the basic stories and reflect thoughts of the moment. This is all I have left to write. Before the events of 2008, the events that make up the bulk of my blogging, I also wrote fiction. I’m no longer able to do this. Creating fictions, after the most severe trauma of my life, no longer interests me. I can only write fact or allegory, thoughts or poetry. These things are the wrong things.

It doesn’t help one jot that the true stories from a true life that I’ve been writing are stories of meanness and ugliness. Not fun. Not uplifting. Not positive. Itchy, nagging reminders that no matter how much we try to brainwash ourselves to the positive contrary, there are vicious people in this world, everywhere, who will do vicious things to an ordinary person in an ordinary life. I’m by no means the only ordinary person who has been the victim of extreme mental cruelty dished out by other people. But people don’t want to know this. Think positively, everybody’s beautiful, forgive forgive. Superficial. The wearing of rose-colored glasses. 

And it doesn’t help one jot that I myself am a depressive person, a situation only made worse by the events of 2008. And I am cynical. And bitter and angry and not one whit interested in forgiveness. This is not what’s wanted in internet reading material. Or perhaps any reading material at all. 

I see myself, and my writing, I guess, quite differently than anyone else does. I see myself as a depressive, but also as someone who loves beauty where I find it. In animals, in nature, in certain music and art. I long to find a similar beauty in human beings, but thus far cannot. I do understand that I’m bitter and angry, and make no attempt to deny that, but I also see, especially in my writing about animals, that I am loving, and loyal, and possessed of a sense of fun. I see myself with many facets, some of which are antithetical to each other, yet exist in the same person. This is not the stuff of modern-day bells and whistles. Not the stuff to bring the readers jumping to the website.

I have read many “depressing” books about personal struggles, and continue to read them. Autobiography concerning traumatic brain injury or years of suicide attempts or the death of a daughter or devastating poverty. At the risk of being called morbid, I will state that these are the human stories that engage me . The story of the easy life (and I always shut these down after about twenty pages) cannot hold me. I haven’t had an easy life. Therefore I am interested in the stories of hardship. That’s the way I’ve lived: hardship. With such I can identify. For such I can feel empathy, compassion. Who are the readers of these published books that depict hardship? Would those readers read me, if they knew about me? Probably not. If there are two things I have been mostly unable to receive from people (either as an internet writer or in real life), they are compassion and empathy.

I have no bells and whistles to appeal to the internet throngs. No trendy, no instructional, no pop culture salivation, no clever one-liners, no rose-colored glasses. I am askew in the culture, in my town, anywhere I go. Asperger’s, depression, anxiety, bitterness. Only truths to tell, and many of them unpleasant. That being said, the unavoidable conclusion is that there will be very few internet readers for me, there have been very few, but my efforts on the page will continue… The life I had was stolen…  I have nothing much else to do…


read…   Mugsy’s book…   All my stars

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all photos, graphics, poems and text coyright 2008-2012 by anne nakis, unless otherwise stated. all rights reserved.

persistent vegetative state

sunday 18 december 2011

For decades, December was one of my darlings. But in the December that was 1996, when a close relation pulled a stunt that ruined the yule that year, a cut was made, a clot loosened, a little clutch of cancer cells began to grow. To say exactly which disease began ailing December is impossible for me. I think, in fact, that it was more than one.

In 1997 it was worse. The disease processes had advanced. In 1998 there was much less of December than I had ever known from her before. By 1999, almost half of what had always been was gone.

Armed with caffeine, and now and then a pinch of prescription poppy, I tried, solstice after solstice, to bring what healing I could. To bring back into my darling some of the old fire, the sparkle, the song, the jollity in winter. To this degree or that, I would succeed. I was fierce that December not die. However debilitated she had become, however many tears and shadows there were now in her eyes, however many hours of grief, December must not die. She was crippled, she was often grim. Whispered incessantly about her former self, but some essence was still there. Some amount of struggling life.

And then it was 2008. If cruelty has names, then one of its names is 2008. If cataclysm has a name, then that name is 2008. December bled its brain nearly gone, clutches of malignant will became metastases that left no system untouched. Knives flashed again in the short December sun. Lips of open wounds, so many, mumbled wishes left undone.

Was I fool or optimist (and is there in point of fact a difference between the two) to go on coddling December, to believe in the face of so much rot that December would one day again be almost her former self again? If I just kept nursing the patient. If the right sort of other would appear on the scene. The other who held no knives, who carried the right medications, who could explode clutches of cells with the heat of sincerity. If I just kept on nursing, the right one would come. December would never be the same, but she would be vivacious again, she would be again some shape of treasure.

This other never arrived. So was I fool or optimist. I was an optimist, which is the same as fool, in December’s eyes. The patient is all but dead. Nothing changes that.

My nursing has fallen off since 2008, but I can’t say that I’ve finally called a halt. I sit beside December, hold her hand, festoon the place with candles, colors, ornaments. I sing to her much less than before, but still I try the singing here and there. There are moments when she opens her eyelids, sees the festooning that once made her gleam, sees me. Smiles a tired smile to me and closes up again. There are moments when her fingers move, when she makes a ghost of the old warm pressure on my hand. I sit beside my wasted darling every year since 2008, and call myself, sotto voce, still the fool.

Comatose as she is, the best part of me wants that other still to come, that healer; needs December to be at least a convincing replica of what she once was. The patient is all but dead, but still I arrive at the bedside daily with gifts in my hands, frozen roses wrapped around, a few notes, perhaps, on my lips.

There is a coma, a parody of death. A massive diminishment of life. Though a fool, I don’t lack brains. I know how small December’s chances are.

I am a fool, but not stupid. I am a nurse to the last, but not stupid. I am a wizened elf-nurse whose blood is riddled with what was once love, once cheer, once song, once an imbecile belief that the other, the doctor could still arrive.

I’ll bury my darling December when the moment comes (it will come. the patient is all but dead). Bury her and festoon her grave. I’ll do this, still in a misery of love, the way I’ve done it all: alone. And I will do it with rage, and with bitterness, every ounce of such that I can still muster at the end. I will throw handfuls of grave-dirt into ghoul-faces gloating at the cemetery gate.


read…    Scealta liatha...   Shadowpoems

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all photos, graphics, poems and text coyright 2008-2012 by anne nakis, unless otherwise stated. all rights reserved.

dog shit a la landlady



tuesday 5 july 2011….   turners tyrants

Long before the mob-chick moved into the building where I had the last real apartment I’ve thus far ever had, I was already living under the sneaky, underhanded, controlling tactics of the landlady. Her vicissitudes were so extreme that she would alternate between the traits I’ve just listed, and a whole different set: smiley, giddy, kind, brainless.

When she moved me into her newly-purchased rental property (supposedly purchased to rescue me and my animals), the nice backyard was full of dog poop from a tenant who had two dogs, as well as others in the neighborhood who simply let their dogs squat there. I said to her, This is the nicest yard I’ve ever had in turners [compliment, gratitude], but it’s full of poop. Is there anything we can do about that? [reasonable question from a tenant who has equal right to the yard]. She said she’d been letting her own two dogs poop there, but that she would stop. And that she would speak to the tenants who were letting their dogs do it, and get them to clean it up. This was in April of 2004.

All of this did indeed happen, and the yard was nice for a couple of weeks, as the tenants began taking their dogs to the empty lot to poop. The empty lot was right behind our backyard, so it was no hardship to get there.

Then the old shit began again, if you’ll deal with the intentional pun. Jim and Cissy (the tenants) were lazy. They found it much easier to just open their door and let their two dogs out to crap in the yard. My own dogs and I would end up stepping in it. The yard stank like hell on sunny days. By this time I was friendly with Jim and Cissy, and talked to them myself about the situation. They sat there at the picnic table with me and made sheepish smiles and said they agreed with me completely: that it wasn’t difficult to take the dogs to the lot, and it wasn’t fair that I should try to enjoy a yard stinking with a veritable minefield of piles. More than once we had this conversation, and more than once they agreed with me completely, and promises were made.

But in point of fact, this is what actually happened: Through May, June, July, August and September of 2004, their dog shit was most often picked up by ME. It was either that, or not be able t0 enjoy the nicest yard I ever had in turners. Jim and Cissy were in their twenties, and healthy, and had only two dogs. Whereas I was in my fifties, suffered from painful and debilitating chronic illnesses, and had four good-sized dogs who made good-sized piles of poopy. And I, middle-aged and ill and having twice as many dogs, made the effort to take four dogs to the lot, three times a day, so as not to foul our yard. I felt that if I could make this effort, so could the young and healthy.

Winter came, and the dog shit accumulated on the snow. At spring thaw, there it all was, spongy and wet. I decided to just let it biodegrade, since it was half degraded already. But of course a new crop of spring shit was being planted, and I determined that I wasn’t going to clean up other people’s stink and germs anymore. I marched to landlady’s office and told her this. I’m not spending another three seasons cleaning their poop, and I’m not sitting out in a stinking yard, stepping in poop everywhere. Landlady rather sourly said she’d talk to them.

This went on. I talked to landlady one or two more times, told her nothing was happening. Her suggestion, in a whiney voice with a two-year-old pout on her face, was that all three of us should pick up the dog shit together. I was stunned. Why would she, or any other landlord, deem that it was my responsibility to pick up another tenant’s dog shit, especially when I was seeing to it that there was no poop from my own four dogs in that yard that belonged not to me alone, but to three other tenants as well? I had called the board of health, but they said they wouldn’t do anything because it was the landlord’s thing to do. I’ve learned since then that this isn’t true. The  board of health can indeed intervene in a situation where there is excessive dog excrement in a public or shared area. They were simply too cowardly to confront my landlady, who is a prominent businesswoman in this pit of a town.

I’d been her tenant for slightly over year, and the promised friendship that she’d said we would have had never come to be. I had come to fear her: her myriad changes of mood and demeanor, her incessant lying, her shady business practices, etc. She, for her part, had come to be tired of me, and to dislike me, and to be sorry she had bought this building and put me in it. As has happened with so many people in my life, she had come to find nearly everything about me objectionable: my atheism, my infrequent smiling, my limited desire for social gatherings, my intellectualism, my expectations that people ought to keep their word, and that tenants ought to keep communal areas in good condition. I don’t care what the inside of anyone’s apartment is like. I’m not much of a housekeeper myself, and I don’t expect that from others. But I do keep communal areas in good shape, and I expect other tenants to do the same.

She talked, and nothing happened. I devised a compromise for myself. I picked up the poop and piled it at the base of a tree right near Cissy’s car, giving them a nice whiff of the stink every time they used their vehicle. This saved me dragging their poop all the way to the dumpster, but it still left me with the stink. My dogs and I wouldn’t be stepping in it anymore, at least. Or at least not most of it. The dogs of Jim and Cissy often produced great puddles of diarrhea (don’t knowhat they were feeding them), and there was nothing I could do about that. The only other tenant in the building suggested I put the dog poop right on their back steps where they couldn’t miss it. I said no to this at first, but eventually I got so sick of the whole thing that I did it. Jim and Cissy were icensed; went to landlady and complained that I’d put poop on their steps.

Next time I went to see landlady, she whined at me over this. Then she went into a tantrum, saying that she was sick and tired of hearing about dog shit, and that if she had to hear about it one more time from any of us, she would make us all get rid of our dogs. And then where would you be, Anne, she said to me with a cruel little smile. She knew my animals were my whole world. That’s supposedly the reason she’d rescued us in the first place.

The next night I left a message on her home phone. I told her I would be out by the end of the month, which was May 2005. I had no place to go with my animals. Leaving landlady’s clutches would mean putting my belongings into storage, getting the animals the lethal injections if I could find someone to help me with rides, and striking out on my own alone. This was devastating times ten to even contemplate, but I had had years in turners falls of drunken landlords, insane landlords, tight-fisted landlords, landlords who made threats. I couldn’t keep going in that vein. I had had more than my limit of bullying in my life, and I couldn’t face anymore.

I started packing. I started calling a few people about rides to take the animals to vets. I cried a great deal, and I raged inside and raged in my journals.

After two weeks, landlady came to me with some plants for my garden, asking if I had someplace to go. No, I told her. Then why are you going? I tell her I’m going because I will not be threatened and I won’t continue to pick up other people’s dog shit. And then I ask her, Did you threaten Jim and Cissy too, because two weeks ago there was screaming and wall-banging in their apartment for hours. Yes, she says, I did threaten them. But I apologized to them two weeks ago, and now I’m coming to apologize to you. And I’m thinking: so the people who were in the wrong got an apology two weeks ago, and I, who was in the right, don’t get mine till now.

What I didn’t know at that moment, but found out later, was that by the time she came to apologize to me, she’d already been told that Jim and Cissy were moving back with Jim’s parents. They were $1000 behind in their rent (they’d owed rent money for the whole year I’d lived there). But did they blame their inability to keep up with the rent for their leaving? No, they blamed me. And so did landlady, I would later be told by her. And the only reason she came to phony-apologize to me at all was because she didn’t want to have two empty apartments at once and have to get off her butt to find two new tenants.

I stayed, because I can say in all truth that I loved my animals’ lives much, much more than I love my own. That’s been true for many years. But I shouldn’t have stayed. I should have ended the whole ugly business right then. Hindsight is twenty-twenty, as the cliché goes.


read…   Spite and Malice…  Mugsy’s book

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brainless brennan

wednesday 22 june 2011

Two days ago, on Monday, I had what has become for me over more than two decades a pretty typical turners falls experience. A fairly routine injection of their poison.

A little background: In the year 2000 I met a person sitting on a wooden chair in the alley beside our building. I often walked my cats down this alley to the edge of the park, and that’s what I was about when I saw this individual sitting in an alley in a wooden chair. I’d never seen him before. He was shirtless, hair long and uncombed, some kind of facial hair somewhere. He started yakking at me, and I was polite and yakked back. We had a little conversation. He told me all about his father and his father’s business which had now been taken over by his brother, yada yada. I had patronized his father’s business a number of times over the years and knew who he was. But I’d never laid eyes on any of his progeny until that moment.

Afterwards I see this guy around now and then for a few minutes, and we say hi how are ya, the usual insincere social baloney, and that’s that. Or so I think. But no, no, he has to appear in my life in a bigger way. After a few months, he starts seeing the woman upstairs. Then he moves in. Then I hear from the alcoholic landlord — whom I call Nookie in these blogs — that this man, Brainless, has been frying his grey cells on alcohol and drugs since the eighties, has been in and out of jail, has a failed marriage (or maybe it was two), and a couple of kids he’s not allowed to go near. The landlord, an alc0holic himself, was in no position to get judgmental about Brainless (and he didn’t). Being an alcoholic himself, having a failed marriage himself, having himself an alcoholic daughter whose marriage had ended and who had blithely agreed to her children being raised by their father in a town about a half hour away.

How long did that guy live upstairs? Two years maybe. When his girlfriend wasn’t at home, he would often torment me and my animals with EXTREMELY LOUD electric guitar playing. He fancied himself a musician. He also apparently fancied himself a very desirable, attractive man, because in the early months, when I was still trying to be friendly with him and his woman, I was up there visiting them one day, and he suddenly took a notion. He stood up from his chair, faced me, and started undoing his pants. I could already see that he was wearing no underwear, so I quickly averted my eyes and cast them on his girlfriend. She just rolled her eyes and said “Ignore him. He’s always doing stupid stuff like that.” This is how it’s been for me in Turners. I do a very ordinary thing like go upstairs to visit a neighbor, and I have to be subjected to something. Many, many ridiculous and insulting and brainless and poisonous things over the years.

Another trick he liked to play with me when he lived upstairs, in addition to the guitar and whatnot, was to upset my dogs. On warm days our kitchen door would be open to expose the screen door. If I was in the kitchen, of course my four dogs would be there with me. I was all the time training my dogs to ignore things that happened on the porches and the stairways, not to get upset about what the various idiocies perpetrated by the other inmates of Nookie’s asylum. So Brainless would go up or down the stairs, see my dogs lying near the screen door, and he’d start barking. Immediately four dogs are on their feet and barking back, four dogs who had previously been calm and peaceful, and had ignored several other people using the stairs and the porches. But barking? That was too much for them. By this time I was no longer speaking to either Brainless or his girlfriend. I would go to the screen door, pet my dogs, and say something like “Nevermind him. He fried all his brains long ago. You’re much smarter than he is, so ignore him.”

The police came to our building looking for him three, four times over the two years or so. Once they arrested him, took him down the stairs in handcuffs. Once he went away to rehab, and his woman was sure he was going to lick it this time. He made a great deal of noise when she was off at work, which disturbed all the tenants, one of whom was the landlord himself. In time no one wanted him in the building, but there he was.

The last straw for Nookie was the new windows. He had put brand-new, energy efficient windows in the whole front of the building. In one of his stoned-high-psychotic episodes, Brainless broke, and I mean broke — enormous cracks the whole length of the bottom pane — one of the brand-new windows. Nookie made the woman throw Brainless out.

I and my animals left the building later the same year, in July of 2003. Eight stinking years ago. Since then this man and I have had no associations. In 2004 I heard he was back living with that woman again, but it didn’t last long before he was out again. In all these eight years, he and I have seen each other in passing, and have ignored each other. This is, in my opinion, what people who dislike each other should do: just ignore each other and don’t go stirring anything up.

But on Monday, Brainless (who was spawned and raised in this burg) decided he had to sling some of his turners falls cultural poison at me. He passed by me on his bicycle and said Hello Sugar in a snide little way. This time I did not freeze. I told him to fuck off, loud enough, I hope, for him to hear. And then, for good measure, I turned around and yelled at his back: Prick. This is the kind of language you have to use on many trolls in this town. It’s the only kind they understand. There are other types of trolls on whom I can use bigger words and words that are not vulgar. But Brainless ain’t one of them.

It was along about the year 2000 that I began trying to do the same kinds of verbal things people had been doing to me since 1985. I was fed up after fifteen years of it. My PTSD was much worse by then, due to various recent events in my life, and I had come to despise my lifelong tendency to freeze when someone was doing or saying something both uncalled-for and unacceptable. I have been trying ever since to spew their poison right back at them, but most times I fail. The old freezing is deeply a part of me.

But Monday I didn’t freeze, and I’m again proud of myself, as I was a month ago when I spoke back at Dickie Wall-Eye. Multiply this behavior committed by Brainless — the words, the guitar, the dog barking and other tricks — many, many times. I have had to take disgusting behavior from many, many trolls in this town literally thousands of times over nearly twenty-six years. You mind your own business and you get slammed. At least that has been the treatment levelled at me. And lots of people who have slammed me repeatedly over the years have been perfectly sober; not addicts, not alcoholics. Their particular brainlessness was genetic rather than chemically induced, though in the case of the man under discussion, I think it’sboth.

Please don’t believe that this is typical small-town life in Massachusetts, because I don’t think it is. I hope it isn’t. I spent the first thirty-two years of my life in a very small town in eastern mass, and I was never, as an adult, treated this way. But Turners? A hell-hole, a psychological cancer ward. Why am I still here? I’ve said it before: my fourteen animals were stolen from me in this town three years and three months ago. My whole way of life was destroyed by people in this town. The PTSD was exacerbated a hundred fold by the events of three years ago. I can’t leave the memories of me and my animals living life together. I can’t leave the scene of the crime.


read…  Spite and malice Sehnen

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life stories

wednesday 8 june,  2011

Trying, at the moment, to recall what year it was that I became keenly interested in reading biographies and what we nowadays call “memoirs” (for most of my life we called them autobiographies). It seems it had to be late in 1998, when I had my first encounter with Frank McCourt’s Angela’s Ashes, which I listened to on audiotape, unabridged, read by Frank himself. I was deeply affected then, and many, many times since, by the accounts of people who have had extreme hardships, and by who survived them and who didn’t, and by the lineaments of human struggles. I’m sure this is because my own existence has been so onerous to me, physically and emotionally and financially. I was not put together inside to bear the life I’ve had without being crushed by it. Others are put together differently. And so stories of difficult lives are an opportunity for me to empathize, and to study the way different personalities interpret and respond to the mercurial randomness of living.

But what is the truth contained in life stories? If you’re writing a biography, you cannot write it from the focal point of your subject. You’re standing on the outside, speculating much of the time, about how your subject responded internally to the world and to his or her own life. No matter how fastidious your research, now matter how many letters and journals you have at your disposal, or people who knew your subject personally, you are always limited to writing down a human being from the outside. Many readers prefer biography for this reason. These are people who place a high value on objectivity, but I would argue that all biographies are in some way colored by the sentiments of the writer.  I don’t believe you ever get total objectivity.

But, being the weirdo and misfit and Aspergian that I am, when it comes to life stories, I want the subjectivity. I want the letters and journals and first-person story. It is the inner world of the subject that interests me, the inner tolls of struggle on the individual who lived it. While I’ve always read and listened to biographies, whose cool objectivity I generally don’t believe in, I am drawn much more tightly into the first-person life story. The difficult lives.

But it seems to be trendy for the last ten years or so, for certain people to get up in arms about certain other people’s life stories. To cause a kerfuffle and say that the writer, concerning details about his or her own life, has lied. There is a certain cachet developing around calling autobiographers liars. Charlatans who just want to sell books and get interviewed on national shows. Seems like a lot of bully-brat bullshit to me, this crying foul. I even met a couple of people from Ireland in 2000 who, when I praised Frank McCourt’s book and empathized with his family’s suffering, said to me: Don’t you think he made a lot of that up. No sir, I don’t. I take him at his word. I think that accusing people of having lied in their memoirs is not only eighth-grade stuff, but it’s also denial. The particular Irish folks I was talking did not want to admit that things had been as awful for the poor in the 1940’s in Ireland as Frank (and others) has told us they were. And it exists in amerika too. We don’t want to admit that in our country or our state or our town, people around us are having devastating lives. Doesn’t fit our silly notions of amerika. Doesn’t fit our Horatio Alger and Pollyanna denial mythologies. And it might just nag at our consciences, which we absolutely do not want. Because if there are people around us in our particular town or state who are having such extremely difficult lives, then maybe we more fortunate ones should be helping. These nigglings of the conscience are unwelcome. Murmurrings inside us that perhaps we are too ungenerous and too self-involved are unwelcome. All of this goes on mostly at the subconscious level, mind you, and down there in those depths we turn the naggings of our better selves into an accusation: I don’t have to feel empathy for so-and-so who’s written this painful book about this painful life, because so-and-so is lying.

My own opinion is that it is extremely rare that a memoirist is actually a con artist telling lies in order to sell books and get on national shows. I think there are many, many terrible lives in this country, and that there always have been, and that there will continue to be. It’s very often only when one of these people writes a memoir that we even become aware of how much actual grinding hardship still goes on every single day, in all sorts of lives of all kinds of different people. And when such people tell their own stories, they tell them from their individual perspective and their individual make-up. Any friend or relative can come along and contradict the writer, and this doesn’t mean, ninety-nine percent of the time, that the writer is lying. It means that participants in the same events respond to those events according to their individual construction and feelings, and what is a horror to one is merely an annoyance to another. What scars one for life leaves little or no damage on another. I’ve known one woman to have three miscarriages in a row, and keep right on trying until she finally got a baby. And yet I’ve known another so devastated by three miscarriages that she could never bring herself to try for another pregnancy. People are different. Woman number one isn’t bad or wrong, and neither is woman number two. They are different. The truth that you get from autobiography, especially concerning emotions and lasting effects of events, is a truth that is unique to that person. The siblings or parents, the cousins or friends, each have their own perspective and their own idiosyncratic reactions that do not make a liar out of the writer. They simply make a different set of results and memories than the writer has. Because people are each, at some deep level, islands unto themselves that no other person can ever fully know, whether we choose to admit the truth of this or not.


read…   Lifelines…   Spite and malice

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smart birdie

wednesday 1 june 2011

Smart Birdie was a female house sparrow, but I did not know that on the day she came to us in spring of 1989. I might add that she did not come to our family voluntarily. It’s a long time ago now, but this is what my memory still has: I went out to our back porch for some reason or other on a nice sunny day, and across the back yard, at the edge of a parking lot bordered by a small woods, I saw my cat Mindy carrying something rather large in her mouth. Mindy wasn’t quite a year old at the time, and hadn’t yet figured out that some things are just too big for a cat’s mouth. Actually she was a long time figuring that out. In 1992, when she was four, she was still experimenting with oversized items, carrying from the canal all the way to our yard a half-grown cottontail rabbit. If I hadn’t been so nervous to get her to drop it so I could see if it was okay, I would have laughed out loud at the funny way she had to run and the stiff way she had to hold her head to carry that large specimen.

Anyway, what she had in her mouth in May of 1989 was a bird about the size of a large robin, but it wasn’t a robin. To this day I haven’t figured out what it was, but it was good sized. And this bird had inside its own mouth a nestling baby bird. Having successfully gotten Mindy to give up her treasures, both birds were taken inside, and the nursing began. The large bird didn’t last the night. So there I was with this baby I-didn’t-know-what who could neither fly nor eat on its own. And oh, silly me, I made the lunatic assumption that the bird who’d been carrying the baby in its mouth was its mother. Me with this baby who needed lots of help, and it wasn’t as though I had nothing to do. I was in grad school full-time and teaching part-time and the single parent of a ten-year-old and the mommy of a number of other animals.

This wasn’t the first nestling I’d tried to raise since coming to Turners trolls four years earlier, but it was the first one brought to me by one of my cats. None of the others had survived, and I blame that largely on milk. But other people I’d asked had said to feed them this-with-milk or that-with-milk, and I’d thought they’d known what they were talking about.  By the time Smart Birdie arrived, I had read somewhere that you mustn’t give a baby bird milk, as they are not mammals and have a hard time digesting milk, filling up with gas, dying. Duh, I’d said when I’d read that. I should have been able to figure that one out for myself. The Asperger’s lack of common sense had struck again.

After experimenting with I no longer remember what — and the baby’s surviving these experiments — I settled finally on bread wet with water, and baby food jars of meat and fruit. Little one seemed a lot happier and to progress faster on this menu, so I stuck with it. A year later I would raise a nestling robin on the same things (robin also courtesy of Mindy).

And of course I was scrutinizing every bird I saw, trying to see another one like the “mother” of my bird. Also, I was waiting for a great increase in size, which did not occur. Little bird reached a certain size — house sparrow size — and stubbornly refused to grow anymore. And as it grew in its adult feathers after the first molt, low and behold, there was a bird that looked familiar. I double-checked outdoors. A sparrow all right. So what was the bird that had carried it? And why was this large bird carrying off this infant sparrow? Nest-robbing? Don’t know.

Having a bird in the place was a great novelty to my cats back in 1989, and there were a number of what I’ll call adventures for Smart Birdie vis á vis cats during the first year of her life. She always took these encounters with surprising equanimity (for a bird dealing with a cat), and for her whole life she would sound the “sparrow alarm” whenever a cat was getting ready to be naughty at someone’s cage, even if it wasn’t her cage. The sparrow alarm (which sparrows use on each other too) is a rapid-fire string of one single note and sounds like the firing of a teeny machine gun.

She would even machine-gun me if I walked by her cage eating something and didn’t give her a piece. I’ve just yesterday read in Chris Chester’s book Providence of a Sparrow that chocolate is toxic to birds, as it is to many other animals. But please don’t wake my sparrow up in her grave and tell her that, because what she and I didn’t know didn’t seem to hurt her in this case. For the last four or five years of her life, she ate a piece of chocolate bar or peanut butter cup at least once a week. She was the only one of my many birds to whom I ever in my life gave this deadly treat, because she would machine-gun me so badly if  I didn’t. She loved it, and never showed even a whisper of ill effect from it. And she lived the same ten years that Chris Chester’s sparrow did, who never, ever had chocolate pass his beak.

Her name came about casually. When she was still very young and just learning to fly, she would do little hopping tricks when I went to see her at her cage, and I’d say “That was very pretty. You’re a smart birdie.” She took a shine to the words smart birdie, looking very pleased with herself every time I gave her this compliment, and so it became her name. She was the matriarch of my bird family, having been the first, and definitely the boss. Much bigger birds than herself would land on her cage when they were having their fly time, and every single one would beat a hasty retreat on hearing that sparrow machine gun. They knew when mama was scolding them.

It’s hard for me to fathom that today she has been gone all of a dozen years, two more than she lived. How can I have been without her for so long — it seems impossible.


read…   All my stars…   Stolen stars…   Mugsy’s book

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saturday 14 may 2011

Why are the details of Pepper’s arrival so murky, when many events of that same year are still very clear? Why does the memory pick and choose like that?

The year was 1991. Maybe it was in September that I bought Pepper, maybe a bit earlier. Romi and Juliet had finished raising their two mostly female broods, and after giving away three male-female pairs of finches to family and friends, I found myself with a shortage of males. Still in my seasoning period, which had already resulted in a Cinnamon and a Ginger, we now gained a Pepper.

I’d wanted Pepper to be a dad someday, but then I’d wanted parenthood for most of my finches, and it just didn’t happen. Pepper may have been the father of a clutch that didn’t survive, but Sugar was another candidate for that title. But of the three finch broods that did live, all of them were fathered by Romi. I’ve never been able to figure this out. I provided my females with handsome uncles and sons (line-breeding), and handsome non-relatives to choose from, but they just didn’t seem to want anybody but Romi. When he died, so did family-making among my finches.

So he was never a dad, but he was one of my good friends, and my longest-living finch (nine and a half years). When he was in his prime he stood up well to our Zachary’s occasional tendency to be a brat, but past middle age, all traces of macho stuff disappeared, and he didn’t want to posture anymore. Can’t blame him. I don’t know how male animals — especially the human kind— keep up all that ridiculous male strutting and vying for first place. Yes, it’s programmed into the genes, but you’d think that humans at least, having these advanced brains, could override that programming when it becomes clear how silly it is.

You’d think I’d have more to say about a life that lasted more than nine years. I wish I did. But it is a fact, even if I don’t like it, that my memory down the years has mostly held the smaller animals in groups: the finches, the parakeets, the fishes, the rabbit babies, and so on. Individual differences and quirks and voices stood out to me strongly, as long as these animals lived. But now, years after the last finch died, and the last rabbit, and so on, those idiosyncracies that I used to know so well have faded in a lot of cases. It saddens me, because I want to still recall each one of them in all their individual detail, but the fact is that often I just can’t. I remember that Pepper was a zebra finch in his ways, and was also himself in his ways, and that while he lived I knew him pretty well. I remember he was funny and good and smart and brave. I remember that I hated seeing him go, as I’ve hated seeing every single one of them go since I was four, five years old.


read…   All my stars…   Stolen stars…   Mugsy’s book

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