01 August, 2013

Making [Inner] Peace

Subtitle: Metaphor Mashup

Literally, constructing it. I’ve been having conversations with a few friends lately about making peace. Some have already located the ethereal building blocks for this castle, others are still roughing in the architectural drawings. Still others are hiding under a cardboard box, drawing in the sand with a finger or a stick. Each of those friends understands the crucial truth that peace can be made. It can be built: constructed to serve as a fortress for the soul.

I have other friends and acquaintances who seem to view that feeling of peace, or love, or contentment, or excitement, or anger, or any of the other many and varied important emotions we feel come from without rather than within. They search high and low for the things that “make” them happy or content without finding those things.

I truly do believe that external keys to inner peace are a holy grail: they don’t exist. There have been times in my life when I felt completely out of control. Depression bogged down my inner workings, grinding gears anytime I tried to shift. It felt like driving with the floormat bunched up under the clutch. Being a “fixer” by nature, I would try and identify the things that were “making” me depressed. Funny enough, when I changed those things, I only felt marginally better. What relief I did feel was also temporary. I hadn’t yet figured out that these external factors weren’t truly what influenced my ability to have a peaceful life.

It’s not all hearts and flowers. I am not saying I never feel anger, anxiety, fear, sorrow, hurt, depression, jealousy, rage (especially road rage!), betrayal and any of the other myriad emotions I felt before. I feel them, but they no longer ruin me. There is much more work left to do, but I am at a place where I am comfortable in my skin. I can be upset by something, live the process of being upset and come out the other side realizing my baseline stability has not changed. It has been a lot of work, it continues to be a lot of work every day.

I have found I can be angry, irritated or just plain pissed and still find compassion in my heart for myself and for the object of my anger once the initial adrenaline has worn off.
My life has not been easy, but neither is anyone else’s. We each have our own scale of suffering and joy. The extremes on either end can only be measured in relation to our own experiences. This isn’t about comparing tragedy or fortune and using someone else’s life as a measuring stick. It is not a competition to see how miserable we are. I don’t need to have anyone tell me, “buck up, I’ve been through so much worse.” Nor do I need to say that to someone else.

I’ve been through a lot in my life so far.

Imagine I have a friend who has lived a charmed life (She is imaginary, I PROMISE). Stable family, loving relationships and never had any real injury or loss. She gets into a car accident, totaling her car and breaking her leg. The doctors say in 8 weeks she will be as good as new and the insurance company covers the cost of the car. To her, this will feel impossibly horrible. She has never felt physical pain like this, financial pain like this, the embarrassment of a traffic accident, her family’s disappointment and anger, etc. Her continuum of  [pain]--------[joy] has been recalibrated with a new low point. That new low point is the lowest low she has experienced.

It would be easy for outsiders to judge her pain and say “it is only a broken leg,” “it is only a car.” They don’t realize that to her, this is as bad as it has ever gotten. Suffering is entirely relative. The kids today would understand if I said “that’s so META.” It is not a competition.
While I have been through a lot that seems empirically “worse” than what this imaginary friend is experiencing, we were both in the same place. The bottom end of that continuum of 
[pain]--------[joy] . My job is to provide support so that my friend can have the stability to experience this pain without it ruining her, and weather the experience wiser but not less peaceful.

Some say adversity makes us stronger. WhatEVER. Adversity gives us opportunities to learn what our character and nature are, and work to change them into what we want them to be. Adversity is relative and everyone has equal access to the amount of adversity necessary to help us become the people we want to be with the emotional lives we want to have.

Physical life is different from emotional life and we have less control over physical life. We would all love to be young, beautiful, thin, drive an expensive car, have a great house that is self-cleaning, the perfect partner(s), and a job or non-job we find fulfilling every day. But why? To be happy? It has taken me until this point in my life to realize that happiness won’t come from any of those things. If I am discontent under lesser conditions, I’ll find a way to be discontent under greater conditions.

This is a lesson other people will try to tell you, just like it seems I am trying to do today. Other people have attempted to “tell” me this for years, possibly even since I was a little girl. People telling me this was what gave me hope that it was possible. It lit a fire in my belly to learn how to cope with the human condition as best I can.

I’m coping, and I’m continuously making progress. There are plateaus along the way, but my castle is well under construction. I’m building a few guest bungalows for those of you who want to visit.

17 April, 2013

A car by any other name...

Ok, so I'm tired of seeing stuff like this. It's downright rare that I post anything "political" on my blog. I'm a liberal, and a former gun owner. I grew up shooting and I don't think we need to take guns away from civilians. However, I think ridiculous memes like this propagate harmful comparisons which are entirely inappropriate.

According to the Department of Transportation as of 2010 there were 203 million licensed drivers in the US owning about 240 million cars.

According to a 2010, an estimated 70-80 million adults in the US own one or more guns, with total civilian gun numbers of approximately 250 million in 2010 according to the NRA.

According to the CDC, there were 32,163 gun deaths in 2011.

According to the CDC, there were 33,687 motor vehicle deaths in 2011.

According to the CDC, automobile deaths per capita in the US have declined sharply in the past 30 years while firearms deaths inclined sharply for 20 years, leveling out in the past decade.

So if you are willing to bear with me for a moment, let's call it 75 million gun owning adults killed 32,163 people in 2011 while 203 million drivers caused 33,687 deaths in 2011.

Unless my math is wrong (which it may be), that means a gun owner is about 2.7 times more likely to kill another person than a licensed driver, in spite of the fact that automobiles are used with much greater frequency and duration than guns.

Neither guns nor cars kill people. However, both are instruments of death used by intention or by accident.

So how do we get gun owners to be as safe as drivers? Or - how about - SAFER than drivers?

I propose a similar safety model to the one uses for drivers as a starting point.

1) Youth education. Educate kids about gun safety from a young age. Just like we teach children never to cross the street without an adult and without looking both ways, never to stand behind a car, what backup lights look like, what the horn means, never to start or drive the car, never to touch the gear shift, always wear a seat belt, etc. Teach children how to safely either avoid or handle guns.

2) Young user education. Educate kids who own guns about proper safety. Plenty of kids drive the truck and tractor on the farm from a young age. There are many talented youth markspeople as well. When I was 9 I could lay a coke bottle on its side on the top of a fencepost and shoot the bottom out of the bottle through the neck from 20 yards or so. We had access to firearms without adult supervision.

Just like we have drivers safety, we should have gun safety. Proper maintenance, assembly and disassembly, target recognition, decision making and safe choices such as never mixing drugs and alcohol or anger with weapons should be taught.

3) Licensing. In order to operate a motor vehicle legally, potential drivers must pass a written safety test, vision test and a practical driving exam, demonstrating basic proficiency before earning a license. This license must be renewed on a set schedule.

Require licensing for gun operation. Vehicle operation licenses are divided into categories such as commercial, lenses required, motorcycle, etc. Allow for different use categories if desired. Charge for this licensing and put the money toward education and health care.

4) Background checks. This is not required for operating an automobile but I think it should be. History of DUI? No license. History of violent crime? No license. I support universal background checks for all gun operators. Minor operators should have their parents receive a background check as well.

5) Taxation. Yes, I said it. To own and operate a vehicle, the vehicle must be registered and annual taxes paid in the form of license tabs. Further, the fuel needed to operate that vehicle is subject to an ever increasing fuel tax. Require annual licensing of firearms. Make the fee small. At even $5/weapon, that's $1.25 billion dollars a year in revenue. Say it takes 35% of that revenue to pay the overhead for running the taxation system. That's still $875 million in revenue. I think education and health care could use that money. Tax ammunition at a higher rate (like alcohol, tobacco and fuel) and use that to fund education and health care, too.

In addition, licensing weapons is a good way to legitimize gun ownership and remove the stigma sometimes associated with it.

Registering weapons is also a way to track responsibility. If gun operators are required to know where their weapons are at all times and responsible for reporting stolen weapons immediately, there could me some culpability for accidental firearm deaths.

Will more regulations on guns stop criminals from breaking the law? No. It doesn't stop criminals from driving without a license, driving drunk or driving recklessly either. But it may help the 70-80 million gun owners keep their firearms safely stored and safely and sanely used. It certainly has helped the 203 million drivers become safer over the past several decades.

So if we are going to compare two ridiculously disparate objects like guns and cars, let's stop doing it to further a political agenda using scare tactics and start doing it to learn how to make them equally safe instead of claiming erroneously that they are equally deadly.

23 March, 2013

The tail wag of Winter

Well, things are getting back up to speed around home.

Puget Sound from Whidbey Island

We had our annual trip to Whidbey Island for New Year's Day. It was gorgeous and sunny.

Double Bluff Beach

Family Photo New Year 2013
I think we had 11 or 12 dogs between the 4 families, quite a few Aussies, my two BCs, Zora and a GSD to round out the group. Magick had a great time at the beach and was able to cover about 5 miles, surprising me thoroughly. She wasn't even sore the next day, which tells me her mobility issues are much more due to her neurologic problems than osteoarthritis.

Sunlight on the water

Rye and Lucy wading. Can you tell who is who?

 Magick had a lovely time supervising everyone.

Lucy waiting for some action

Magick looking for some treats

Rye went swimming for the first time, enticed by a GIANT stick.

Zora wagged her way around, making friends and begging for treats.

Zora shopping for snacks

Trial wise, I went to my first trial of the year last weekend in Heppner, OR. The trial was a huge challenge and we did oh-so-much better than last year. Got around the course both days and actually hit all but one of our panels and with a tidy shed on Sunday during the afternoon bloodbath when anything but letters was considered a win.

Sunrise in Heppner, OR

I learned the importance of getting ahold of Lucy rather than letting her slide through my steadies. We both showed patience in the shed and had a beautiful split which she worked nicely to hold. 

Lucy near the trial field

My husband came along for the first time ever and he had a great time exploring the hills around the house.

Doe outside the house in Heppner

This week Rye and I had two lessons with Scott. It was a bit disappointing because he worked nowhere near like he works at home. He was confounded by the different place and different sheep. Scott gave me some foundation flanking review homework. We raced daylight to the farm and did our homework every night between our lessons and the second lesson was *much* better. I went to Fido's again today and we had the best work yet. 

Sagan lying down (sheep are behind me)

Yesterday I babysat brother Sagan and he had a fun time on the sheep, having his first lesson in lying down while working. He even did his lie down on the ice, which is tricky for he who is affectionately called "Princess Bambi."

Brother Ben

Today we also had a mini family reunion, meeting up with Rye's other brother Ben and his owner. The family enjoyed a great romp in the field at Fido's and old Auntie Magick helped supervise.

Rye hamming it up

Lucy supervising

I have several exciting new projects I'm working on that I find wonderfully rewarding. You'll hear more about them as the evolve. Also I finally convinced my boss to change to electronic medical records so the big change happens May 7th. I have a LOT of work to do setting up everything before then and we will be closed for two full days of staff training in the new system as well.

Family reunion

Auntie Magick

All in all, the tail of winter wagged in our favor.

09 March, 2013

Always remembered: Gershwin. 1996-2013

Gershwin was born in 1996, he came to me in January 1997 as a 2-month-old kitten. He joined the white poofy kitty, Charlie, as well as Allie in the house. Paddy followed later that year.

His name became clear early on - with his piano-key white/black/white/black toes on all four paws. He was always dressed in a tuxedo and had grace and dignity.

A friendly and social cat, he was always the first kitty to greet visitors, rubbing and head butting them. His particular favorite was to hop up on the sofa behind you and head-butt the back of your head. I think he knew my mother doesn't care for cats because she was an object of extra attention whenever she visited. Over time, he grew on even her. He worked his charms.

He was a crowd pleaser at parties and our pet sitters always enjoyed his company.

All of my cats live indoors. Gershwin has always been an avid bird watcher. He would sit in the window and "hunt" from the windowsill. Poised, tense, tail swishing and making the characteristic hunter-chatter. His chatter was especially recognizable and endearing, earning him the nickname of "Twitter Kitty." Occasionally he would grace us with his hunter-chatter for the feather flirt pole as well if we made it sufficiently enticing.

In the early morning when everyone else (my husband) was still asleep, he would jump up on the kitchen counter to supervise my making dog breakfast. He would steal a few kibbles and I would pretend to be annoyed but really just laugh at the cat who loved dog food.

Gershwin was always game for catnip or catnap, whatever the situation presented. Agreeable and easy to handle, he was a blood donor in his youth, giving blood at the vet to help save the lives of critically ill kitties who came into the hospital where I work. He was the first cat I clicker trained and was wonderfully clever.

While I was in school, he would lie patiently beside me on the sofa, keeping me company and prodding me for attention from time to time saving me from the black hole that is writing undergraduate papers.

Last week after a few days of not eating his full ration, Gershwin earned himself a trip to the vet. Several days of tests led to the conclusion he had developed high-grade lymphoma. He had a good last few days at home, getting plenty of extra attention and delicacies to tempt his appetite. Today we helped him pass quietly to spare him any further suffering.

We will miss him very much.