In Dog Years

mood: content | drinking: tea

leeloo_12years

It’s true, what they say about dogs being man’s best friend.

My parents bought me a puppy when I was five years old. We lived out in the country and they wanted me to learn the responsibility of pet ownership. Mitzi the Beagle became a good friend of mine, accompanying me on most of my childhood adventures.

Mizti was joined later by Biskit, a blonde Cocker Spaniel, who had a natural mohawk and the sweetest temperament. They were better friends to me than I was to them. I went off to college and left their care to my mother, leaving them behind as if they were teddy bears I had outgrown.

I channel some of my guilt over my unfaithfulness into my love of LeeLoo, my current best friend of 7 years.

Although, let’s be honest, LeeLoo is easy to love for her sake alone.

Boy and I decided we wanted a dog 2 years after moving to San Francisco. (And after trying, unsucessfully, to cultivate warm fuzzy feelings for a tank of tropical fish.) We did our breed research and settled on Boxers–a medium-sized short-haired dog with a good temperament.

Then we scoured websites like Petfinder.com for a friendly face and a good backstory. We noticed LeeLoo’s giant underbite right away, and added her to our list of potential candidates.

Early one Saturday, we drove the 50 miles south to San Jose. LeeLoo was there, with Bay Area Boxer Rescue. She was 5 years old and had been abandoned by her family in LA: sent first to the pound, then to the LA Boxer Rescue. No one wanted her. So they sent her up north to try her luck, and that’s where we found her.

LeeLoo was the first dog we looked at, but after spending nearly 2 hours with her, we couldn’t leave her behind. When we left for home, she was in the backseat.

I quickly learned that being a dog owner in the country doesn’t mean squat when it comes to living with a dog in a metropolitan area. LeeLoo, Boy and I had a lot to learn about each other. We learned quickly with the help of a dog trainer named Dennis and logged a lot of hours of together just roaming the streets, sidewalks and park trails of San Francisco.

LeeLoo soon proved herself to be a loyal, loving and hilarious companion. After 7 years together, we know each other well.

She’s traveled with us on countless roadtrips all over California, up to Portland (where she met her famous Internet boyfriend, Henry D. Monster), down to Phoenix and all points in between. We’ve explored the beach, climbed the mountains; I’ve brushed snow from her paws and pulled out a few cactus needles, too.

She’s always waiting at the door when I get home and no matter how bad my day was, she manages to make me smile.

LeeLoo is part of our family, and today she turns 12 years old. That’s something like 84 in dog years, but as I told her this morning (while handing her a piece of birthday bacon), she doesn’t look a day over 65.

Boxers don’t often live into their teens, and many of them go before their time due to cancer. We’ve been lucky so far, and we’re hoping LeeLoo has many good years left to her. (If 7 naps a day on the couch can add years to your life, she’s going to be spry well into her second decade.)

Here’s to you, LeeLoo. We’re going to celebrate by going to the beach later, with a stop for some cheese on the way.

-Lo, who believes that dogs know a lot more than you might think.

Finding Gratitude

mood: quiet | drinking: koolaid-tasting vitamin water
us_house

In the spirit of the impending holiday, I’m going to make myself a little list of the things I am grateful for.

I’ve realized recently that I’ve spent the better part of this year griping about all the changes in my life. Time to step back and take a breath and notice the things that haven’t changed, or that have changed for the better.

So. Here they are, off the top of my head: Ten things that make me happy to get out of bed in the morning.

1. Boy. Through good, bad and ugly, he’s always there when I wake up. It’s an easy thing to take for granted in the hubbub of everyday living.

2. LeeLoo. She’s had a tough year, and is coming up on her 12th birthday, which in dog years is rather geriatric. But she’s hanging in there and is always ready with a lick and an eloquent Boxer sigh.

3. Our new home. We’ve only been sleeping under its roof for 10 nights, but it already feels like home. It’s cute, it’s cozy, it’s ours. And at night, you can see the stars so brightly and the ocean thunders so loudly. I feel incredibly lucky to be here.

4. My family. Mom & Dad were here just a few weeks ago, and my sister and I were talking about how weird we are, among most of our friends, that we actually enjoy spending time with our parents. I’m grateful for that kind of oddity.

5. My friends. Recently a small group of good people gathered for chicken pot pie at a cozy restaurant in the Castro to celebrate my birthday, and I looked around the table at all these people who love me–just love me, asking nothing of me in return–and I was overwhelmed with my good fortune to have all these lovely ones in my life.

6. Books. I’ve been reading so many good ones lately. Right now I’m nearly finished with Margaret Atwood’s The Year of the Flood. God, I love books. I love getting lost in another world or being enraptured with the turn of someone else’s phrase. I would be lost without words in my life.

7. New acquaintances. You’re never too old to make new friends, and I’ve made two new forays in that direction recently, meeting Louise, the friend of a friend, and Julie, who took my photo for her art project I live here: SF. I love those unexpected moments when you connect with someone new and think, “Huh. This chick’s pretty cool.”

8. Etsy. Yes, I know, it’s geeky. But this website has opened me up to a whole new world of artists and crafters and seamstresses and amazingly creative people. My sister bought me a Lisa Falzon print off Etsy for my birthday this month and I’m totally in love with it. How else would I have discovered an illustrator in Ireland and have one of her pieces hanging on my dining room wall?

9. Creative outlets. My writing group, first and foremost. The girls in this group rock my face off every time we meet, and I’ve written some things this year that would not have been possible without their input. And then there are the cinepoems. Michelle and I just continue to work so well together and continue to churn out new ideas. We just finished “Homogeneous” and already we’ve got another shoot in the works for December.

10. San Francisco. As I said in my last post, I just really really love this city. It’s a beautiful, weird, wonderful place and I’m so happy that I get to call it my home.

As it turns out, there’s so much to be grateful for, even in the midst of a truly crazy year. And I am, I am grateful. And lucky. And blessed.

And so are you.

-Lo, choosing the bright side.

Friendtastic

Mood: dithering  | Drinking: iced tea

facebook1

Obviously, today’s topic of discussion is facebook. BUT. Let’s get one item of business out of the way so as not to be talking around the pink elephant teetering on the coffee table, yes?

My updates have been pathetic of late. I hear you. I know this. It’s not accidental. It’s not even laziness, not really. Here’s the big secret: In about T-minus 14 days, give or take a few, there’s going to be a whole new ladonnawitmer.com banging about on the interwebs. So shiny with newness, you’ll need Olsen-sized shades to stand the glare. I swear.

Part of this fabulous new update will include an absolutely amazing blog space. So I have been loath to post in the old format when I know something so much better is just around the bend. Patience is a virtue I am lacking…

That said, I will do my damndest to post more regularly so you aren’t clicking here in vain. Okay? Okay. Now to the topic at hand.

Remember friendster? Oh, the internet days of yore. I joined friendster way back in the day when it was the new big thing, and the only one of its kind. And then I quickly abandoned it for myspace, newer bigger thing. I found lots of old friends on myspace, made a few new ones (hi, Jillie), and still maintain a space there.

But then, in 2006, facebook opened its door to every tom dick and mary, and we all began flocking to it. Myself included. The difference, I’ve found, with facebook, is that there are just SO many more people there.

My friends list includes a dude I went to kindergarten with, high school classmates I have neither seen nor spoken to since graduation, a girl I worked at Dairy Queen with in 1990, an ex-boyfriend from my college days, fellow Pulliam Fellows from 1994, my cousin from Indiana, my best friend from San Francisco and my new boss.

It’s a harrowing cross-section of my life, with people from literally every stage, every decade, every major experience.

I’ve had a delightful time reconnecting with some long-lost acquaintances, renewed a few meaningful friendships, and cyber-stalked people I’ve been curious about for years.

The question, “What ever happened to so-and-so?” has never been easier to answer. Now you know exactly what happened to them, and you have pictures to prove it.

Since I live 2,000 miles from where I grew up, I never run into anyone from high school at the gas station, never see an old college friend at the grocery store, never have to worry about an unexpected ex-sighting whilst wearing my fat jeans and a limp ponytail.

But that also means that I’m fairly well cut off from my old life/lives and all the news that goes with it. Facebook is a treasure trove of information, and I’m happy as a pig in shit wallowing in it.

Here’s the thing, though… I tend to be pretty conservative with my “add friend” button. If I see a little picture square of a bona fide long-lost friend, I’m only too happy to request their virtual friendship. I tend to leave old acquaintances and ancient co-workers to their own devices, however. If they send me a friend request, I’ll happily accept, but I’m not running around collecting names to drive up my friend count.

So I have trouble understanding why the little brother of a former classmate — someone whose name/face I know, but with whom I cannot recall having one single conversation — would want to be friends. Or rather, would want to add me to his friend list and then never, ever speak of it again.

If I request a friend, I usually follow up with a “OMG, I haven’t talked to you in 15 years, it’s so nice to see you, how are you, tell me all about your life, blah blah blah.”

What’s the social networking standard of conduct for virtual friendship? Shouldn’t there be some sort of actual socializing and/or networking going on? You would think. Right?

So heads up, if you’re one of the head and shoulders on my friends list, I’m gonna expect you to say hi once in awhile. That includes you, dude from college with whom I shared many an weekend adventure. Start yapping!

In the spirit of equal sharing, I will start writing on walls with abandon momentarily. Consider yourself warned!

Meanwhile, keep an eye on this space. I promise you the transformation will be well worth the wait!

-Lo, social networking butterfly.

My friend Monica

Mood: Sobered | Drinking: Water

monwedding

In the summer of 1994, fresh out of college, I joined 9 other bright-eyed, know-it-all writers in Indianapolis.

We were Pulliam Fellows, part of a prestigious post-graduate journalism fellowship at The Indianapolis Star & The Indianapolis News. For three heady months we busied ourselves with bylines and more than one after-work beer binge in Broad Ripple.

I wrote stories about county fairs and boys with AIDS and even went “undercover” as a hippie for a feature story when the Grateful Dead came to town.

But one of the most memorable and longest-lasting memories of that bright summer came outside of the newsroom and my fellow Fellows. That summer, I met Monica Mertz.

The details of how we met have gone fuzzy, but I believe it had something to do with an ex-boyfriend who also happened to be interning in Indy that summer. The guy wasn’t a keeper, but Monica became a lifelong friend.

What I remember most about those early days is her quick wit, her sudden smile, and how easy it was to feel as if I had known her my entire life. I spent quite a bit of time at her house that summer, and after I moved back to Illinois, she came to visit.

Two years later, I stood up in her wedding to John Pryor. Yes, that’s me on the left up there with the fabulous pointy shoes. (It seems that in 1996 I had yet to discover the wonder of black hair dye.)

I spent a long time searching dusty photo albums last night for a good picture of Monica and I. Apparently we couldn’t be photogenic at the same time, because I have very few photos of the pair of us, and one of us looks wonky in each of them.

I chose this photo not because of my awesome 90s hairdo, but because I remember so much of that long-gone day. The giddy excitement of Monica’s sisters, Natalie & Kimberly. Monica cracking jokes as we all got ready, the smell of hairspray and curling irons everywhere. The calm sureness she had as she walked down the aisle. The way John stared as if there were no other woman in the world.

Monica and John moved to South Carolina to build their lives together, and we didn’t see much of each other for the next few years. In fact, the last time I saw Mon was when she played her gorgeous violin at my own wedding, in the middle of a Chicago blizzard.

We’ve kept in touch through emails and phone calls. So I knew, about a year and a half ago, that she had been diagnosed with lung cancer right after giving birth to her third child.

Even though it was the big “C” word, I wasn’t worried. Monica is one of the strongest people I know. I didn’t think cancer could stop her.

But this Monday, after 18 months of fighting, it did.

I’m not ready to start losing friends. I feel too young for it. I’ve known four other people my age who were diagnosed with cancer, but they survived. I guess I naively expected Monica would, too.

Death seems to be everywhere these days. I just attended a memorial service for the brother of one of my best friends. He was just 45. He, too, died of cancer.

Last year we buried my grandfather, and this Saturday I’m flying to Hawaii with my mom and sister to say goodbye to Nana, my mom’s mother, who has been diagnosed with lung cancer and given just a few weeks to live.

The finality of loss is hard to comprehend.

Monica comes from a strongly religious family, and everywhere on her facebook page are messages of hope, people telling her family how much fun Monica is having in heaven right now, pain- and cancer-free.

It’s not that I don’t believe she’s gone to a better place, as they say. I just want to be able to grovel in my grief for a little while. To mourn the sudden absence of that contagious smile, that kindred spirit.

So this is for you, Monica. You are already sorely missed, my friend. My heart is with you today, wherever heaven might be.

-Lo, who feels old and yet not old enough, all at the same time.

In the Valley of the Shadow

zander_fam
Mood: Pensive
Drinking: Diet Coke

The people in this picture have been very close to my heart and mind lately.

Many of you who read this blog know the Zander family. For those of you who do not, a short backstory…

I met Dieter and Val in Chicago nearly 12 years ago. They swiftly became people I looked up to, not only as mentors, but as friends. Over the years we’ve shared many meals, memories, milestones, and even a marriage… Dieter performed the wedding ceremony for Boy and I.

We all ended up in California and have maintained a steady friendship even as our lives diverged down different paths.

Dieter, who is a minister and musician, has chosen to live his life within the church, as has Val, while Boy and I have moved further and further away from the church.

But never have I felt any sense of judgment or pressure from Dieter and Val. Nothing but the utmost love. We’ve shared many long and intense conversations over cups of tea about God, about spirituality, about the pros and cons of the American church, about the hopes and dreams that Boy and I have for ourselves, for our future.

We’ve watched the Zander’s three sons grow from tousled children to tall young men, and we’ve been so proud, as if we had something to do with the miracle of maturity.

So it’s no small thing to say that the Zanders, all five of them, mean a great deal to us.

When we heard the news that Dieter had suffered a catastrophic stroke on February 4th of this year, we felt as if some bedrock in our lives had suddenly shifted violently out of place.

After weeks in a medically-induced coma, Dieter woke up to a new kind of life, one in which his speech has been radically altered, in that he cannot find the right words to communicate, so his thoughts are virtually locked inside his brain, and his right arm is partially paralyzed, as well.

Boy and I have been lucky enough to get to spend time with the Zanders since Dieter’s stroke, a privilege that many of our friends back in Illinois who also love the Zanders would love to have.

We’ve seen Dieter take on this new challenge with amazing courage and faith. We’ve watched the Zander boys step up into manhood and take on heavy new responsibilities. And we’ve seen Val bear her unexpected new burden with such astonishing grace.

I visited the Zander’s church this past Sunday to hear Val speak to the congregation about what her family has been dealing with these past few months.

I had to mangle quite a few kleenexes just to get through her story, and I felt such deep respect and awe at her honesty in the face of great pain, and her unwavering commitment to her family. I am so grateful to have this woman in my life, and I continue to learn so much from her example.

All of that to say this… the Zanders are the kind of people who make this damaged world a better place, just by living in it. They are now enduring the greatest trial of their lives. And I want to help.

Their church has recently started “The Zander Initiative”, a fundraising campaign that will run through the month of May to help support the family as Dieter works so hard to regain the abilities his stroke has taken from him.

Whether you know the Zanders or not, you can help to, if you feel so moved. Please visit this website for more information about what you can do.

And even if you don’t give, please hold these dear ones in your prayers. And if you don’t pray, hold them in your hearts.

-Lo, with all the love in the world.

Just Another Day

twistytreeMood: Contemplative
Drinking: Water

I complain too much.

This is not a revelation. I’m a half-empty glass girl. We all know this.

But the sky outside is so blue, and the water so deep, and the wind ruffles my hair just so, and the new Magnolia tree whispers so sweetly with its broad green leaves, and I feel it all. But those aren’t usually the things I talk about.

I like to talk smack. Oh yes, I’m very big with the smack-talking. But not so with the actual carrying-out-of-smack. Boy and my sister will both tell you this.

I see a lot of wrong in the world, in myself, in other drivers. I see half-empty glasses everywhere. Wars and rumors of wars. Fear and famines. Horrors and hatreds. We are all, somewhere inside there, cheats and liars. Selfish and stubborn. We’ve all got something wrong going on.

And I’m so good at seeing it. I used to tell people that I couldn’t write “happy” poems because there’s so much more to say about unhappiness.

But then, this week, I sat on my front steps with my dog and watched my neighborhood roll past my door. I went for a run and felt the muscles in my legs push me faster and further with every stride. I stood on top of a rocky hill with my Boy and watched the sun shimmer on the endless shining water. I talked to my sister and she told me about all the things that make my new nephew smile. I read a line of poetry in praise of oranges. I made a joke and my friend – who was lying in a coma just a month ago – laughed. I got new earrings. I ate strawberries. I slept in.

So today, I’m not complaining.

I am writing, instead, in praise of the little things. The satisfying twist of a topiary tree. The soft brush of my hair against the nape of my neck. Boy’s considerable culinary skills. The way LeeLoo’s paws smell like corn chips when she sleeps. The way L belts out her laughter in rafter-rattling guffaws. The small things. The stuff of life. The everyday pieces that patch it all together, that make another day worth living for.

I was reminded today, reading a friend’s blog, of the necessity of praise. Of the value of being thankful.

It’s so easy to forget.

-Lo, sitting still.

Upside Down

zandersMood: Heavy
Drinking: Not

This week brought some heavy news, and for days now I have been weighed down with the kind of sadness that leeches color from the sky.

A very dear friend of mine, Dieter Zander (pictured here at my book release party last May with me and his wife Val) suffered a large stroke earlier this week and is still in the hospital, his prognosis uncertain.

Dieter and Val have been a special part of my life since I met them in Chicago back in 1996. Safe to say I would not be the artist — or the person — I am today if I had not met them.

Dieter saw something in me the first time he met me, and he didn’t just say “I believe in you” — he gave me a stage, a place in the real world to use my voice — and in doing so, he changed my life. And Val, with her grace and steady strength, befriended me and in our lengthy heart-to-heart conversations, gave me a safe place to dream as she imagined with me the woman I could become.

Over the years, I’ve shared many meals with the Zanders and their three sons. They moved to San Francisco two years before Boy and I did, and were here to help us settle in and make a home. Dieter officiated at our wedding, and Val helped me choose the poems for my first book.

The Zanders have been to me mentors and friends, big brother and sister, inspiration and sounding board. I have just taken for granted the fact that they are and always will be part of my life.

So I have been shocked, I have been shaken to the soul by the news this week of Dieter’s stroke, and I feel ultimately helpless in my ability to make any of this better or less difficult for the family I love so much.

Many of you who read this blog know the Zanders, or at least have heard of them. I know you’ll want more information and updates about Dieter’s condition as the days go by, so please bookmark this website: http://zanderupdate.wordpress.com/

Whether you believe in prayer or good karma or healing thoughts, please take a moment today to send one skyward for my friend Dieter, his wife Val and their sons Kyle, Conrad, and Christopher.

I pray that his voice does not stay silent for very long…

-Lo, who has a hundred things she should have said.

Get Set

ready2runMood: Ready
Drinking: Water

Five days left ’til I’m off and running.

The P.F. Chang’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Arizona Half Marathon is Sunday the 13th.

I’ve got my Aasics all broken in and my shot blocks stocked up and I even bought purple hairbands to match my grape-colored Team in Training singlet! I’m all riled up and ready to run 13.1.

Of course, I have to get to Phoenix first.

Boy and LeeLoo are coming with, and so are my friends Chris, Shel, Roy, and Mike. And Roy and Mike are not only coming with, they’re running the half marathon with me. Because they’re just that cool.

I’ve got a few more days before I go, but they’ll be filled with planning and packing and squeezing in one more Team track workout at Kezar Stadium, so I probably won’t have time to write again until those 13.1 miles are behind me.

So I’d like to thank all of you who have sponsored me by donating to The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. Thanks to you, we’ve raised nearly $4,000 ($3,940 at last count) to help find cures for leukemia, lymphoma, Hodgkin lymphoma and myeloma. You definitely went above and beyond, and I’ll be thinking of you all when I strap on my running shoes on Sunday.

I’m very much looking forward to all of it, from the starting line jitters to the finish line triumph (and probably tears), to all the miles of running in between.

And as a bonus? Shel and I are going to do our very best to squeeze in a desert cinepoem shoot while we’re there. Because it would just be silly to pass up a cactus cameo, you know?

-Lo, who won’t forget to stretch.

Another Day Another Dollar

powells
Mood: Clickety-Clackety
Drinking: Water

With all the recent excitement involving the wee new nephew, I’ve neglected to mention the trip to Portland.

In the calm before the holiday/baby storm, Boy and I packed the LeeLoo and a few choice bags into a rental car and hit the road northward to rainier climes.

Boy’s parents lived in Oregon before returning to California a few years ago, so I’ve been to the Pacific Northwest before, just not for long. Boy’s sister now lives there with her husband, a Greek Orthodox priest, and their two children. She’s been there for two years, at least, and our visit was long overdue.

Not to mention our adorable friend C who, as many northern Californians seem to do, recently made the Portland move. I also have another Portland friend who I hadn’t seen in 8 years.

And then there was LeeLoo’s Internets Boyfriend and his fine ladies. (They are so fine, they deserve a post of their own, so I’ll save the dog tale for later, if that’s ok with you…)

So. Obviously. Lots of reasons to visit Portland.

I’m not sure what I expected. Rain, yes, you always expect the rain up there. Big green trees, yes, that too. But so many San Franciscans seem to migrate northward with stories of more affordable housing and a city that is just as wonderful as our foggy town.

So I was expecting, I don’t know, some sort of San Francisco-like mecca. Rain-weathered Victorians and fog-shrouded hills. A bit of mist and magic, perhaps.

And while I found Portland and its people to be perfectly pleasant, if a bit too cold (the weather, not the people), I don’t think I’ll be giving up my San Francisco residency in exchange for a cheaper mortgage anytime soon.

The magic just wasn’t there for me, not like it is here. That’s the biggest reason why not. It was a bit too crunchy for me, as well. (Somehow there seem to actually be more hippies in Portland than San Francisco.) Also, San Francisco summers are about as cold as I like it. Chill the air below 40 and add a few bucketloads of rain and I’m staying far away.

Speaking of the rain, I totally showed my tourist stripes whilst knocking about downtown Portland with Boy and Sister-in-Law. We stepped onto the street and I popped open my plaid umbrella to keep the rain off my head and, oh look! I’m the only one standing in the rain with an umbrella.

In San Francisco, you can tell the tourists by their summertime shorts. In Portland, you pick them out by their umbrellas.

The one thing that makes me blink and think twice, though? Powell’s Books. It’s every bit as magical as you’ve heard. Which is saying something. Because you know those certain places that get you all worked into a lather — you hear so much and you’ve waited so long and you’re so excited to finally see it for yourself and then you get there and it’s oh, so disappointing.

Not Powell’s.

There is nothing there to disappoint. A city block full of lovely books. All easily shelved and cleverly organized. The book jockeys are sweet and helpful. And the lady in the science fiction room needed no explanation as to who Sergei Lukyanenko was.

And even better than the two heaping bags of books Boy and I walked out of there with? Powell’s bought a few of my books!

Oh yes, you can now find The Secrets of Falling at Powell’s Books. At Burnside. In the Blue Room. Small Press section. Poetry shelf. Go down to the W’s and look, there I am.

Lo, who’s still reading her way through those two bags full.

This, That and the Other

seventy6
Mood: Spaced
Drinking: Tea

Wicker Kid is writing again. I couldn’t be more delighted. Go read his latest, and you’ll be delighted too.

The Swell Season is in town, and Boy and I and a bunch of our friends are going to go see Glen and Marketa in person tonight. I’m tingling with anticipation. I expect it to be beautiful. After Once, how could it not!?

This weekend, in addition to being a birthday weekend for yours truly, is also Poppy Jasper Film Festival weekend down in Morgan Hill, CA.

Slippery Shiny Feathery Things, the same cinepoem collection that won the Best of Festival Arts award at Berkeley, is screening at Poppy Jasper on November 10 at 9pm and November 11 at 3pm.

Check the schedule if you’re in the area and want to stop by the festival for some big screen action.

That’s all for now, but it’s quite enough to keep you busy, yes?

-Lo, who’s ready for some fresh ink.