Thursday, October 26, 2006

Starved for Attention (Uh, and Some Food, Too)

I found the Alley Cat three years ago last July. It was a normal summer evening and I was drying the dishes after dinner. Craze had already taken off to a film screening when I heard a cat screeching. It was loud and pained. My first thought was that some young serial-killer-in-training in our neighborhood was torturing a cat. So, I opened the backdoor to investigate, intent on putting a stop to any bloodshed.

Immediately, I saw the source of the wailing. Instead of the imagined scene of carnage, what I saw was a tiny kitten looking out at me plaintively through the window of my garage. As I walked towards the window, it didn't run away and when I spoke to it through the glass, it just howled at me woefully with one eye closed.

Now Craze and I had seen a cat in our garage a full six days before. We had been coming back late on a Friday night after some social outing and, as we drove down the alley, our car's headlights hit the window at the side of our garage and we saw what we thought was a large cat leap across its expanse. "Was that a cat. . .in our garage?" I'd said in surprise. As we opened the garage door, shining the car's headlights into its empty space, we saw no cat. But what we did see was a mess. This cat had knocked down books and unwanted knickknacks from one of the high shelves. "It must be a BIG cat," we agreed as it had knocked down half a set of hefty encyclopedias, circa 1930.

But further inspection showed no sign of cat. We left the garage doors open for a few moments and walked away, giving the big fella time to escape without fear of capture. After walking back, and still no sign of anything feline, we pulled in the car, shut the doors and retreated into the house for the night.

But on this mid-week summer's evening with many food-and-water-less days between that moment and this, I found myself staring at our apparent culprit. Could it be that this little cat had made all the mess? And worse still, could it really have squirreled itself away in our garage for all this time, with nothing to eat or drink except the odd grasshopper or spider it might catch? Clearly, the animal had finally given up trying to hide. It was in pain, probably because it was starving to death.

So, I ran back into the house, grabbed the garage door opener and opened the door wide. But the cat did not run out. Once inside the garage, I walked towards the window where its tiny body still sat and as I did, it ran, quick as lightening, into a pile of boxes in the corner. "Here kitty, kitty, kitty," I called, to which the little cat again wailed his now obscured reply.

I put on a pair of garden gloves, afraid that this wild cat might scratch or bite me, and then started moving the pile of boxes working my way towards the meowing. Just as the kitten was in my sight, he was off again, hiding himself in another part of the garage under yet another stash of junk.

After 20 minutes of digging through boxes, I finally had a better idea. Food. Food would surely bring this starving creature out of hiding.

Back in the house, I grabbed some of my old cat Dee's kibble and put it in a bowl. Walking back towards the garage, I spoke to the alley cat again. And again in response, it wailed, now from underneath an old bookcase. Placing the bowl at the edge of the bookcase yielded dramatic results. The tiny cat, probably smelling actual food for the first time in at least a week, immediately came out of hiding and began to eat. He literally seemed to inhale the food, making a noise I'd never heard a cat make either before or since that moment. It couldn't get the food into its mouth fast enough.

I talked to the cat gently as he ate and then it occurred to me it probably needed a drink. I dashed back inside and grabbed a small bowl of water. Back in the garage doorway, the little cat immediately made a b-line for the water, actually slurping as he drank. In fact, he was so dehydrated that he drank the entire bowl in one long drinking session.

This little cat was impossibly filthy, but cute. It was mostly grey with some black markings, a black tail with grayish white rings cascading down to the tip. One eye didn't seem work too well, often staying closed when it looked up from the food and water to send admiring looks towards its savior. The kitten was so small, maybe only 8-10 weeks old by my guess, its ribs clearly outlined against its dirty, matted fur.

As the cat continued to eat and drink, I gingerly put my still-gloved hand closer to the cat. It didn't flinch. More boldly, I ran my hand over the cat's body, which the cat immediately seemed to enjoy. For the first time, it actually moved away from the food to enjoy some more petting attention. Clearly, after initially satiating its hunger and thirst, the cat was also clearly starved for attention. For several minutes, it happily went back and forth between the bowls and my hand, its little body beginning to purr loudly like a small engine.

"What are we going to do with you?" I said to the little cat, picking it up gently to reveal that "it" was a "he." The cat just looked at me happily, continuing to purr, eat, drink and periodically make erratic dashes towards my hand for additional petting.

Clearly, I had to contain this creature until a decision was made about what to do with him. I ran back into the house, headed to the basement and grabbed the trusty cat carrier. Taking it back outside, the little cat was still there enjoying the riches of Maggie's all-you-can-eat cat buffet. And as I approached, the little cat did not flinch, still in a state of blissful contentment that he was now no longer dying of hunger or thirst and that someone was actually petting him. Just twenty minutes before, he had avoided all attempts at human contact. Now, he couldn't get enough. "Hi, little boy. How we doin'?" I said, as I leaned down again to scoop him up. He wriggled happily in my hands, enjoying the scratches and the chatter, always replying in his own feline voice.

I put him in the cat carrier along with the food and water and an old towel, left it in the garage and headed back into the house. I'd wait until Craze got home to chat with him about what to do with our little visitor. I was thinking we should keep him. He had no collar or tags and just looked like a stray. I wasn't too sure that my old cat Dee would love him, but I also welcomed the opportunity of having another cat. As selfish as it might be, Dee was pretty old and I liked the idea of having another, younger cat still around when the day came that Dee would have to leave us. Maybe she would like him? And if she really didn't, we'd find another home for him. A better home than the alley or our garage. But if we did decide to keep him, we'd first have to take him to the vet to ensure that he didn't have any diseases. Dee's health was fragile and I didn't want to compromise her by bringing the little guy into the house too soon.

A few hours later, I was lying in bed watching TV when I heard the back door open. Craze was home. Within a few moments, his footsteps were on the stairs and then his face appeared in the doorway. He looked a little startled. "Um. . .there's a cat in our garage," he said both as a matter of fact and at the same time, a question.

"I know," I replied victoriously like the storied great white hunter. "It was hiding in our garage and I captured it." I then went on to relate the whole story in minute detail. At the end, I looked at Craze hopefully and asked, "What should we do with him?"

"Take him to the shelter, I guess," Craze answered, with the response I was definitely NOT hoping to hear.

"I was thinking that we could keep him," I offered tentatively, waiting for a moment. Then I continued, "We could take him to the vet in the morning and have them make sure he's healthy first, of course."

Surprisingly, even though it was clear that Craze wasn't totally thrilled at the prospect of another pet, he agreed to make the final adoption decision once we knew the cat's health status. He even agreed to drop off the cat at the vet the next morning. The vet would do their blood work and then we'd decide if it made sense to pay for all his shots and then bring him home and give him a name.

The next day, I sat in my office staring at the commuter screen, engrossed in a new business pitch when the phone rang. I picked up the phone, identified myself and the familiar voice at the end of the line immediately said, "You suck."

"Why?" I replied unsure what I'd done. Craze went one to relate his trip to the vet. He'd put the cat in the car, resolved not to keep him. But then once in the vet's office, the little Alley Cat had made quite a ruckus. Craze said that his outcry was so plaintive, that he couldn't help but feel sorry for him. So heart-wrenching, in fact, were the little guy's cries that Craze had admitted that he'd started to cry, right there in the vet's office.

"It was embarrassing," he grumbled. "Crying over that dumb little cat at the reception desk. But, he just seemed so alone, I thought if we don't keep him, who will take care of him?" After a moment of silence, he added accusingly, "You totally planned that. You knew that I'd feel so sorry for him at the vet's that I couldn't say no to keeping him. That's why you had me drop him off there."

The fact of the matter was, that hadn't occurred to me at all. It never crossed my mind that having Craze drop the little cat at the vet's would cause such an emotional outpouring. But, I was secretly glad that it had. "So, what did the vet say?" I asked, changing the subject.

Craze, his composure regained said, "They're going to look at him and run the blood tests this afternoon and give you a call later. If he checks out, we can pick him up tonight."

Later the vet confirmed that our new little friend was fine. They estimated that he was about three-months old, just very underweight. His wonky eye was also fine, he just seemed to have an odd blink. He had fleas which they'd treated him for, but all other tests came back negative. The vet then offered to keep him overnight until the fleas were completely eradicated and said we could bring him home the next evening.

So, one more night and $375 dollars later, we brought home our little garage tenant. We gave him a bath and watched much of his grey coloring run down the drain to reveal pure white across large expanses of his body. So, we had a black and white cat, not a black and grey cat as first thought.

We kept him separate from Dee for a couple of weeks. She was never thrilled with our new adoptee, hissing at him and giving him a good whack now and again. And she refused to play with him. But as time went on they learned to live in peaceful coexistence. You could often find them curled up separately but together in our front window or in the sunshine just inside the back door. And a little over a year later when the time finally came when Dee left our house for the last time and did not return, the normally happy and affectionate Alley Cat went into mourning. Each night as we'd return from work, he would cry the kind of loud, pained wail I'd first heard the previous year emanating from our garage. His old friend was gone. And even though the Alley Cat had two humans who loved him, he was lonely.

And then, just as it had come to me that long-ago summer evening, I had another bright idea. "Let's get a pet for the Alley Cat!" I offered gleefully, like a kid contemplating a trip to the circus. "Let's go to the Anti-Cruelty Society tomorrow and get him a friend," I continued, smiling at Craze over the dinner table.

Craze just rolled his eyes at me, immediately resigned to his fate. After all, he loved the Alley Cat and knew that I was right. Though he was now a big, majestic boy, the Alley Cat was starving again, this time for companionship. And as his providers, it was up to us to serve up a solution.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Spam Anyone?

I love my father-in-law. But clearly he loves Internet spam. And what he loves even more is forwarding it to everyone he knows with reckless abandon. A couple of months ago, he had me washing out my dryer filter with hot water and a scrubbing brush because supposedly the use of dryer sheets blocks the flow of air and causes fires. From the moment I put said filter under the tap, the water flowed right through though--even before any scrubbing took place. Obviously his online warning was not needed (and I'm sure the lawyers at P&G would have done something about this long before now if it was true that an innocuous Bounce sheet was bound to set homes across America ablaze).

Today, he sent out two spam-erific missives. The first was about Daisy, a seeing-eye dog, who supposedly saved her master, almost 1,000 other people and herself from the collapse of one of the Twin Towers on 9/11. It seems far-fetched to me and I have yet to google the particulars of this to see if my dad-in-law's high percentage of false info versus true is still being maintained. The second message included a long list of surprising "facts." Some, indeed, are true. For example, Warren Beatty IS the brother of Shirley Maclaine. However, I couldn't believe one of the other items and a momentarily online search verified that, to the contrary, soap vixen Susan Lucci is NOT the daughter of Phyllis Diller. Please, Paul--make it stop!


So, I'm working away on the computer at home as usual and The Bug has taken up her roost at the end of our bed. The master bedroom gives her the perfect vantage point to keep me in her sights and an excellent launch pad should any anonymous noise require her immediate barking attention and intervention. So, I decided to take a break and actually make the bed. After shooing her off, I noticed a dark patch on the hot pink fitted sheet. Had The Bug peed on the bed? Oh no. It's her latest doggy habit. Drooling.

Now, The Bug is not a massive, foul-mouthed beast. Unlike some dogs, I've never seen her drool, not even when we were eating some delectable nugget right in front of her. She is typically a tidy, medium-sized mutt of the Border Collie-ish persuasion. But I have noticed with increasing regularity dark patches of doggy drool on her favorite dozing spots: the bed, the couch, etc.

Aside from my dribbling dog, something that might be even more disturbing is my reaction. In the past, I probably would have been grossed out by some visiting canine drooling on my furniture and bedding--running to the sink or washing machine to put things right asap. However, since becoming a dog parent myself, I have become increasingly ok with her various bodily fluids, drool seeming somehow the least offensive. When seeing the puddle besmirching my bottom sheet right where my feet will rest tonight, instead of immediately removing it, I just shrugged my shoulders, pulled the duvet over the top, and said out loud, "Eh. . .it'll dry."

I'm beginning to understand how parents get used to changing shitty diapers. . .

Monday, October 23, 2006

Maggie Sumner is Mind Bloggled

I started writing this blog because I think (make that "hope") that I have interesting things to say. And it would be nice if others read it once in a while and offered up their thoughts, too. So, this past weekend, I stalked the Internet trying to figure out how people get traffic for their blogs. What's interesting is that some of the blogs I enjoy are mere blips in the blogosphere, while other blogs have HUGE numbers and, for the life of me, I can't see why.

There is the girl in Singapore who writes about eating ice-cream on a bus. Her blog is in Technorati's top 100. Unless she's repeatedly posting nude video of herself or others as part of her discourse, I'm not sure what it is that keeps folks coming back for more. Many of the top blogs are admittedly techie and that ain't my thing, yo. And having worked for years as a professional communicator, I find the long-winded sites authored by "experts" in social media both tiresome and pompous. Too much marketing speak. Too many middle-aged guru guys touting their online prowess as a means to woo potential clients to their agencies and get them to fork over the big bucks. And there's no spontaneity there. You know everything they put out goes through their PR filter. WHAT-A-YAWN.

But what's truly "mind-bloggling," is the sheer number of folks out here, trying to have themselves be heard. If there was a volume dial for all these blogs, the noise would truly be deafening. It's at once exhilarating and terrifying. So much angst and anger, love and sorrow, and smart-ass and just-plain-smart commentary thrown up into the ether.

I may be in my forties (very early forties, thank you very much), but where this blogging thing is concerned, it's clear that I'm just a fledgling with a lot to learn. That said, I think the key to traffic is probably not to think too much about the numbers and just keep writing about damned interesting topics. After all, as technology seems to make our personal relationships more and more distant, the need to make human connections seems to be proportionately more pressing.

If you build it, will they come? I guess that remains to be seen. And sadly today, when it comes to keeping things interesting, I think I may have lost the battle. But in the long run, as my cockney father liked to say, there's still a chance that I might win the war.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Dinner Was a Real Pain

Friday night before leaving his office, Craze informed me that he felt sick. Now, I'm pretty lucky that he is not sick very often and any illnesses are typically short lived. And thank god, because when ill, he can be the most annoying, whiney baby ever. He's just not fun to be around when he's sick.

All Friday afternoon, I had been gleefully been looking forward to the approaching weekend even though I'd been fighting off my own cold for the past few days. I showered, got dressed in my going-out-someplace-fun clothes and put on make-up, only to have any hopes of dinner and a movie dashed at 5:40 p.m. when Craze called.

So after a Friday night spent at home in front of the TV and a Saturday of the same, I finally asked him what he wanted to do about dinner. I didn't want to cook. I cook ALL of our meals. So, come the weekends, I want a break. After much back and forth discussion, it was decided that we would check out an Ecuadorian restaurant not far from our neighborhood called La Peña (Spanish for the "rock," group" or "circle," not the "pain") on Milwaukee. The Chicago Tribune gave it Three Forks and it had gotten rave reviews on an episode of "Check Please." Craze called and made reservations for 8pm.

When we arrived, the place was buzzing with activity and we were ushered to a table near the stage. "Cool," we thought, since we'd heard good things about the live music. We were handed menus and then our wait began. After about ten minutes, a dour waitress arrived at our table. We ordered an Ecuadorian appetizer and a salad, two chicken skewer entrees and one margarita. Our appetizers arrived fairly quickly, but Craze's salad was a fiesta of room temperature iceberg lettuce, tomato and cucumber. Not too great. My bacon and cornmeal pancake appetizer was an unappetizing beige ball of dough. It was lukewarm and not very tasty. Craze looked at it and said, "It looks like it has problems." A later taste test verified his visual diagnosis.

The entrees were the most measly portions I can ever remember seeing in a Chicago restaurant. Each of our skewers had three tasty, but thinly-pounded pieces of chicken breast, one tiny piece each of both red and green pepper, and one almost overlooked piece of onion (not even a chunk of onion, just one single sliver apiece). This miniscule offering was then accompanied by plantains, which in this case were two bite-sized rations on each plate. We had ordered a side of beans and, after confirming with our unfriendly waitress that these were black beans, they arrived, but were not of the black variety. More like a bowl of navy bean soup. They were tasty enough, but not what we ordered. And to top it all off, my margarita tasted a little like windshield washer fluid and was a big disappointment considering it cost about the same as my entree.

Our waitress never once returned after delivering either of our courses to ask if everything was ok and Craze even had to flag her down to get more water. In each interaction, it was clear that she did not to enjoy her job and wanted to ensure that no one around her enjoyed their experience either.

Forty-three dollars and change later, we exited leaving dissatisfied and still a little hungry. The only high-point of our evening was the live music which was very good. But would we go back? No way. And that's a bummer, as we're always looking for places to eat in our northwest side neighborhood because we're not spoiled for choice. I'd happily go back and pay more for my entree if it was a more robust offering (i.e more food, please), the appetizers had a lot less "yuck" factor and we had a server who cared about her job. 'Til then we can't help but misinterpret La Peña,, into a PAINFUL dining experience, versus the place we want to group around the table and enjoy a great meal.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Dead And Gone

The day before yesterday, as I left my house to take the Bug for a walk, she suddenly made her snorting, high-spirited, "there-is-something-for-me-to-chase-in close-proximity" noise. She reared up and ran forward just a few feet barking and then stood with her head down at the right side of my neighbor's front doorstep. As I walked over to see what it was that so immediately grabbed her attention, I realized that she was sniffing some kind of large animal.

"Oh my God," I said out-loud. "Is that the neighbor's cat?" The long, smooth-coated body looked like that of a honey-colored, tortoiseshell tabby. But then I saw the head. And this thing was definitely not a cat. Its weasel-like face stared glassy-eyed toward the street, death making it unaware of the dog or me. And it was big, the size of a large cat or a small dog. And it was, definitely, DEAD.

"Let's go, Bug. . . now!" I said sternly to the dog, retracting her lease, suddenly worried that this animal may have died from some disease that my beloved pet might catch. And so we walked away from this large, dead creature only a few feet from my own front door. "What the hell do I do with that?" I thought to myself, at once grossed out by the dead animal and even more grossed out by the thought of its rotting corpse staying at the side my neighbors' doorstep unnoticed for too long.

Let's just put it right out there: I am not good with dead things. Of the things I've cared about, I have only experienced close proximity to death twice. When I was fifteen, I went to see my Nana at her visitation a couple days after she died. My aunt asked me if I wanted to give her a kiss. Instead, I dropped the bunch of burnt-orange dahlias I was holding into her coffin, careful not to actually touch the body, and bolted frightened and nauseous from the room. When my mother died suddenly at 50, my father wouldn't even let my brother and I go see her one last time after the emergency room docs declared her dead after working on her for more than an hour. And at her funeral, the coffin was closed.

Then a couple of years ago, my old cat Dee had to be put to sleep. She was almost 19 and her kidneys were failing. I sat with her for a long time on the couch before we left for the vets. I scratched her ears and petted her soft, white and carmel-colored fur and told her how much I loved her. Later, standing in the vet's treatment room, I had held her as she died. I was amazed at how quickly life left her body. How different she felt once her heart stopped beating. And the dividing line between life and death had only been a second. Maybe even a mili-second. She was here and then she was gone.

But the demise of less beloved creatures usually just made me plain sick to my stomach. The rats that died curled up in the insulation in our outdoor crawl-space were dealt with by Craze. I wouldn't even go near the basement entrance for months. And I once picked up the decapitated head of a small bird that had been kindly deposited right on our back doormat with a handful of paper towels, tossed it over the side of our deck, and then ran back into the house as quickly as possible, into the bathroom and promptly threw up my entire breakfast.

But getting beyond my stomach-churning dislike of all things deceased, one thing that was dead but not yet gone was this unspecified creature at my neighbor's door. And it had to be dealt with. . .promptly.

As is my typical modus operandi, I immediately took responsibility for solving the problem even though it wasn't on my property. And as Bug and I continued to walk along the sidewalks littered with fallen leaves, past houses decked out in Halloween ghoulishness, I couldn't get that thing out of my head. Was it a possum? But aren't possums white? Some kind of weasel, perhaps? But who's heard of wild weasels running the streets of Chicago? Its face looked a little bit like a fox, but it looked too small to be a fox. It was just a dead creature of unknown species, littering my neighborhood.

Now, I could have just gone and knocked on the neighbor's door and informed them of the deceased currently lying in state on their property. But my neighbors are a somewhat odd Hispanic family who never turn their lights on at night, go out of their way not to communicate with us and, appropriately, seem to speak mostly Spanish. And while I actually speak Spanish, the idea of having to walk past that dead thing to get to their front porch, knocking loudly on their front door and then trying to explain in Spanish that there was a dead animal in their yard and that I wanted them to dispose of it, seemed just too gargantuan a task.

"Hola, soy Maggie, su vecina. Quiero decirse que hay un animal meurto aqui en frente de su casa. . ."

It wasn't going to happen. Firstly, the wife might answer the door and there was no way in hell that I'd expect her to get out there with a shovel and a garbage bag and pick up that dead thing. I wouldn't do it myself, so why should I expect her to? So much for feminism and my usual "I-can-do-anything-a-man-can-do" attitude. When it comes to dead animals, rodent problems or any kind of outdoor home repairs, I default entirely to my meek, "but-I'm-a-girl" stance. I am woman, hear me roar. . .but I can also be a woosie baby.

And then I had a bright idea: maybe the city would come and take it away? Did this fall under the domain of Animal Care and Control? Could they be called upon to rid our old neighborhood of this dead menace--my tax dollars in action? It was worth a try.

So, after finishing our walk and returning to the house from the direction that did not require us to pass the dead visitor again, I picked up the phone. I called the city's non-emergency number and asked if Animal Care and Control could be asked to pick up dead wildlife. I explained to the pleasant woman on the line that I wasn't sure what this thing was but that it was fairly big. She said that she could put in a work order with the Rodent Patrol. Rodent Patrol? It sounded like some kind of cartoon. I imagined cute, helmeted mice racing around on mini motorcycles attending to emergencies and tracking down diminutive, animated crooks. But as fun as that sounds, I was also sure that the reality of Chicago's Rodent Patrol is far bleaker.

And so I gave the operator my neighbor's address and the approximate location of the diseased thing, crossing my fingers that the Rodent Patrol would be a quick and efficient outfit.

That evening, after dinner, I told Craze about my find. "Wanna go see it?" I asked like some carny offering tickets to the freak show.

"No. . .no, I don't," he answered matter of factly, obviously not wanting the image of this dead creature burned into his own imagination. And I was somewhat crestfallen that I was the only one in our household, besides the Bug of course, who would have to live with the memory of that fixed, necrotic stare.

The next day, as I went about my work at home, I went out of my way to avoid any trips to the front door. At some point, the Bug stood at the front window and went ballistic for several minutes, which surely meant that some unknown person was creeping around the front of our house. I was hoping that it was the Rodent Patrol, but didn't get up from the desk to look.

Later, when the daylight was about to ebb, I finally decided to get the mail. As I stood on the front porch, I peered hesitantly over the white railings onto the ground near my neighbors' first step. But there was no fur there to see. So, I more brazenly walked to the railing and looked straight down onto the death scene. But it was gone. Either the Rodent Patrol had efficiently done their job or my quiet neighbors had taken care of business. And thankfully I could finally describe the animal with the only two adjectives that seemed appropriate to me: it was now both dead, and gone.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Working For a Living

I've been seeing a counselor pretty much every week for almost a year now. I quit my job about 16 months ago and this time last year found myself sitting at my kitchen table, staring at an episode of Jerry Springer, mired in misery. Trading in my big title and fat paycheck had not brought me the happiness and balance I had expected. I'd had four months of unadulterated free time and found myself at a standstill. Unable to create a better more fulfilling life for myself but not wanting to go back to my 12-hour-a-day, Blackberry-checking-at-all-times, frenzied, unappealing work life either. So, I broke down. . .

I finally realized that, as super smart as I think I am (and in this department, my ego can be ENORMOUS), I needed help. Perhaps putting my hand up and admitting this would not totally crush my self-sufficient self image or make the walls around me come crashing down. On that day in the kitchen, I finally picked up the phone and made an appointment with Jane.

Jane was the pre-marital counselor that Craze and I had seen as a pre-requisite to getting married in the church. I had liked her. She had a straight-forward manner that I appreciated. I felt like Jane could help me--and somewhat comfortingly, she already knew me and my husband. And as I've driven to Evanston each week over the past year, I look forward to seeing Jane in her cozy office in the church basement. I like taking off my coat and sitting down between the pillows on the plump, beige couch. I talk about whatever is on my mind and it's been pretty enlightening.

I've realized that I spent much of my childhood bringing up myself, since my parents' time was taken up by my harder-to-handle younger brother. After-all, I was so self-sufficient from such a young age. They were neglectful without ever really meaning to be. And things obviously got worse when my mother died when I was twenty and my dad had a nervous breakdown. But through all this, I just kept going/doing. I worked hard to try and keep the family intact. I cleaned the house, cooked the meals and made sure my dad got up to go to work and that the rent check got mailed every month. I called my college's financial aid office to ensure that my brother could still afford to attend college the following Fall, because we were suddenly a one-income family.

I've also talked about Lee during my couch-sitting sessions. He is the man I've loved for two decades who left me for a "friend" only to return 12 years later. And then of course, he left again, silently, without a word of why. I haven't seen him now for eight years. But I still wonder how he is and what his Big Apple life is like today. And woven through these thoughts is the single wish that I could just find it in me to just stop caring and wondering. To finally just left him go.

I've also relayed the anger I still feel towards Lynn, who is no longer in my life, but once accused me of being a neglectful friend. It should be noted that during this time my focus was totally on my elderly father who was living with me for six months while he recovered from a massive stroke. I cared for him all by myself, slept on the couch of my one-bedroom apartment for months and still held down a full-time job. And through this, all Lynn felt the need to tell me was that she was experiencing "lack of friend." I barely had time to take a shower during that period, let alone find the time to chat with her or arrange a frivolous dinner outing. What a self-centered bitch! Of course though, I never called her on this.

The recurring theme of my life seems to be that I often feel alone. Even in relationships. Even in the midst of my tiny, disjointed family. I feel that I am my only safety net. I believe that I am the only one I can really rely on. And as a result, I often make it difficult to accept help from others. My drive to be the all-seeing, all-knowing doer made me great at my job. But it also gave me a crazy, work-obsessed life that never allowed the time to reflect on what I was missing or how I'd never really stopped to grieve my losses.

And unbeknownst to me, when I sat at that kitchen table all those months ago, I wasn't alone at all. All those losses were still there with me. Weighing down my spirit and scratching at the closed door inside my head wanting to be set free.

During my 17-year career, I worked really hard. And I've done a lot of creative and strategy consulting in the past year, too. Enough to pay the mortgage and some of our bills, but only a fraction of the big bucks I used to make. But we do ok. And after months of Jane meetings, I've finally begun to use my free time more constructively. It's clear that quitting my real job and going through these months of sorrow and contemplation might just be the most important work of my life.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

I Am Not My Handbag!

I was just reading a well-read blog (I won't name names) where the author talked about her expensive designer bag, love of buying designer goods on her trips abroad and how she misses hanging out at Hermes with her pals.

Why am I reading this blog? This sort of stuff is so far removed from the life that I lead to be just plain annoying and patently irrelevant. Yes, I have more than a few designer handbags (even a few Anya Hindmarch) and I could spend my money on more designer goods if I made that a priority. But do I feel the need to crow about the pedigree of my possessions as a way of revealing who I really am? No.

This is just another example of how our personal identities and character development are being usurped by rampant materialism. I am not my handbag or my pricey bangle. What I wear (which at the moment is a long-sleeved Mossimo t-shirt from Target) may help me express myself to some extend, but it doesn't define who I am. Having a nice clutch doesn't make me a more thoughtful human. It doesn't convey that I have important things to say or am quick to put on the kettle when a friend needs a cup of tea and a friendly ear.

Certainly, I appreciate innovative and thoughtful design as much as the next person. And there are some things that you long to own because they are simply beautiful and just seeing them brings you pleasure. But shouldn't these purchases speak more to our personal tastes silently versus becoming the focus of dialogue? If actions truly speak louder than words, I would rather show through my behavior that I can be funny, kind and smart. Vocally defining myself as Gucci, Prada or Balenciaga says little about my character other than that I may be lacking my own originality or, indeed, character itself.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Maggie Sumner Finally Puts Out

I've thought about doing this for so long. Why finally start today? Today's as good as any day, and I'm tired of all the words swirling around in my head. GET THEM OUT! I could claim that they were voices, but that would be needlessly dramatic and just plain wrong. . .

So, what am I going to talk about here? Things that matter to me. My husband. My dog. What I think about the world. The fact that how we use all this new technology isn't necessarily making our lives better, richer. I guess I'm just gonna be putting ideas out there to see if they strike a cord with others. Some ideas will be BIG. Others may be mind-numbingly small. Whatever I write, I'm hoping that it will be honest, mostly grammatically correct and that at no point will I be precious or overly annoying (fingers crossed on that last one). And as much as I have a high regard for niceness, I can't promise that I won't sometimes overuse sarcasm. Sorry, it's just my inner conflict peaking out.

Today is damp and dreary in Chicago. I think Fall, my favorite season, has been officially cancelled this year and I'm saddened. We had snow last week. I don't ever remember seeing snow in October. I can remember plenty of youthful years where my carefully planned Halloween costume (the year of Cleopatra, in particular) was ruined by the needed addition of outerwear, but snow? Nah. And to make matters worse, I woke up with that horrible scratchy-throat-stuffed-up-right-nostil feeling. A cold may be on its way. How fitting in keeping with the official cancelation of Fall.

Besides my aching, mucus-packed head, I'm somewhat consumed by the news that Madonna is trying to adopt a little boy named David from Malawi. I can't help but think that either this kid's life has been ruined or he's the luckiest boy in the world. I find myself wondering about the rightness of a celebrity arriving god-like and plucking this tiny soul from obscurity and changing his life forever. And who gets to decide if that's ok? Probably some nameless Malawi official. Maybe it's just destiny. Or maybe it's just plain wrong. I'm hoping the kid falls into the "luckiest boy in the world" category, but only time will tell. Either way, whether she adopts him or not, his life will now never be the same. Either he's always going to be the kid who Madonna almost adopted and be constantly reminded of what he missed out on, or he's going to be Madonna's son and wonder about the place and the people he came from who have no connection to his affluent life in the celebrity microscope.

And speaking of kids, I'm still pondering whether or not to try to have one of my own. Let's face it, I'm old in the world of first pregnancies. . .maybe already way too old. And while I like children and enjoy their company, I'm usually happy to pass them back to their parents and be on my way. Every time I think of all the great ways that having my own child might enrich my and my husband's life, I'm also so aware of how it would change EVERYTHING. And that, in turn, makes me appreciate how much I love my dog, Bug, even more. Can't she be enough? Craze is indifferent to the idea of being a father. In fact, indifferent isn't really even right. He actively avoids any discussion of the subject. Hello! He doesn't want to be anything but a doggie daddy. But that's really no surprise, I've pretty much known that since I met him. And I've always been somewhat ok with that.

Ah, life's big decisions. . .they are indeed weighty.

And my final thought for the day: I'm distressed that American Pie (the song not the stupid movie franchise) is now the advertising theme for a Chevy. Clearly it is lyrically appropriate ("drove my Chevy to the levy. . ."), but it just seems plain wrong. And I drive a Chevy for god's sake! But wrong on so many levels.

Maggie Sumner again distressed by the commercialization of her childhood soundtrack.