Tag Archives: pets

Conflict: A Love Story

images

As featured on Huffington Post 50

As some of you know, I’m spending the winter working on a novel I’ve wanted to write for many years.  It’s a love story.  Usually I write the “one woman’s search for _________________” kind of book.  But this time there are two protagonists, a man and a woman, and the story spans over fifty years of their lives.  It’s a made-up jaunt in the fields of abundant love, and who wouldn’t want to play around in those fields?  The bummer is…turns out, a love story is hard to write.  Go figure.  I thought it would be a breeze.

Here’s why:  in the story of every important relationship, real or imagined…there is a conflict.  It’s not about avoiding the conflict, or denying it, or being afraid to meet it head on—it’s about accepting the conflict and learning how to navigate it with all your heart.  That’s not easy when you factor in the origin and foundation of each player’s sense of self, future, safety, risk.  A love story can be blood-sport, and it often is.  It’s how you play the game that matters.  (Not that it’s a game—I’m just using a metaphor.  At least I didn’t use “s***-storm.”)

Most of us do not want to accept this universal truth.  We want our relationships to come easily, without bumps and hiccoughs, never mind gutting pain or bottomless challenges or high-altitude hopelessness.

In fact, you may be one of the people out there who blithely claims that there is no conflict in your relationships.  But I’m not sure I would believe you.  I have a Golden Retriever, known to be one of the most docile, uncomplicated, forgiving, accepting creatures on earth.  And believe me, we are in conflict every single day, and for a large part of it.

It goes something like this:  “No, I can’t pet you—you rolled in deer guts in the woods and you reek and I don’t have time to give you a bath.  Don’t give me those eyes again.  I can’t handle the guilt!  I have a deadline and I’m late to pick up the kids!  And no you can’t come in the car because you rolled in deer guts in the woods!  That’s what you get for being a Montana dog!  Maybe you’d rather live in a three story walk up in lower Manhattan and regularly go to a dog groomer, and enjoy Chinese take-out at the dog park!  I apologize for your 20 acres!  I know—I’m a horrible horrible person.  All you want is a little love.  I love you.  Does that work?  Do you speak English?  Can I write you a love poem instead of touching you right now?  Ugh.  I promise, I’ll get one of the kids to wash you later today.  I just don’t have time right now!  At least I let you in the house with the deer guts all over you!  Can you throw me a bone here?  Ok, that’s twisted.  I know.  Especially when I haven’t given you a bone in a long long time.  It’s probably my fault that you went out foraging for animal bones.  You’re probably lacking in calcium or something.”

And that’s just my relationship with my Golden Retriever.  You should hear my conversations with my teens!

This afternoon it sounded something like:  “I’ll give you five bucks to give the dog a bath.”

“I’ve got homework.”

“I’ve got basketball practice.”

“How about ten?”

“Twenty.”

“Fifteen.  Do you want me to show you the C-section scar again???”

“Fine.  I’ll do it for fifteen.  But I’m still mad at you for not teaching me how to do a somersault.”

I offered my best glare.  I should never have taught them how to negotiate so well.  Mother of the Year.

And so the dog, the dog I love, does not get rubbed behind the ears for the better part of the day.  But at least he gets to stay in the house.  (I don’t profess to have the cleanest house.  We choose our battles.)  And the teens, they get their homework done, and the dog gets washed eventually, and we sit at the table on that rare night when everybody’s home and we talk.  What do we talk about usually?  Relationships.  About them being hard.  With teachers, and friends, and family members, and bosses.  That’s the stuff of life:  conflict.  Otherwise there’s no story.  Otherwise we talk about the things you talk about when you’re trying to help your kid not have nightmares.   And strawberry shortcake and fields of daisies only go so far.  Strawberries mold, and daisies wilt, and fields get hit by thunderstorms and blight.

Think about it.  Even jokes have conflict.  They wouldn’t be jokes without them.  Here’s our family favorite:  ”So  there’re two muffins in an oven.  One muffin says to the other:  It sure is hot in here.  And the other muffin says, Wow.  A talking muffin.”  Conflict:  Muffin vs.  Nature.  Muffin vs.  Muffin.   Muffin vs. Itself.

The fun of it all is in Conflict Resolution.  After the dog gets his bath and you are snuggling with him, rubbing him behind the ears and down his back, after the kids forgive you for not teaching them to do a somersault, fifteen dollars richer, after the house is quiet and the I love yous get whispered…that’s when I’m thankful for the love story and its inherent conflicts.

There is an arc to love.  It doesn’t just hatch and bloom and self-groom.  It comes, double-helix sometimes, like the Northern Lights.  But one thing is sure:  it comes.  Maybe not in the way you’d like to write it—as a beautiful, sweeping, epic love story.  Maybe it just wants you to scratch behind its ears.  And take it for a drive with the window down.

…Or maybe you want to love yourself, and give yourself a Haven Retreat!

The next Haven is from April 2-6 at the fab El Ganzo in Los Cabos, Mexico– considered one of the most romantic places in the world.  It all begins with self-love:

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A Pilgrimage for a Dog

St. Ignatius mission-- Montana

 

A few weeks ago I had two thriving dogs—a black lab and a golden retriever.  Both around seven years old.  Both run free in my Montana land.  Both have wagging tails and healthy appetites.  Then I went away for a week to lead a few writing retreats.  When I returned, my black lab was emaciated.  She must have gotten into a gut pile, I figured. The hunters leave the guts behind in the fall and they melt this time of year, back in the woods near where I live and where my dogs play.  Maybe she’d swallowed something rotten that had messed with her system.  But she had zero appetite and that’s odd for her.  “Maybe it’s pancreatitis,” my friend the vet tech suggested.  She’s never sick.  Has the constitution of an ox.  Both of them do.  Well I’m sorry to say that you can tell where this is going.  Cancer.  “Ziggy has final stage cancer,” the vet told me with tears in his eyes.   He also doubles as my son’s baseball coach and is the father of one of his best friends.  “She’s not in a lot of pain now.  But she’s so tired.  I think the right thing to do is put her down.”

When I announced this to my kids, they both got mad before they got sad.  “How can we play with a life?”  “Who are we to decide when a creature dies?”  I couldn’t argue with them.  I agreed.  I called my vet, bawling.  He said that we could wait it out.  But with that waiting, comes quite often loss of dignity.  Urination and defecation in places she would normally be too polite to consider.  Seizures. Organ failure.  He promised that it’s painless.  Calm.  The right thing to do.

So after a few days of enthroning her in the kitchen on her dog bed, the kids lying next to her while she slept and they pretended to do their homework, crying most of the time, I kissed her, and said, “Want to go in the car?”  She came slowly, but surely, wagging her tail, skin and bones and a bloated stomach where the tumor throbbed and ruled…I put her into the car (she couldn’t jump in, though she tried), and drove her to town.  She looked out the window the whole way. I was glad for that.

Inside, we sat in a waiting room where she tried to get into it with another lab, but collapsed supine on her dog bed.  Then we went to the examination room, the same place I’d gotten wellness checks, and discussed ear infections, worms, gotten the cancer diagnosis.  My vet friend described the protocol.  I held her head in my hands.  She lay there, not moving, as if she was already half gone. He inserted the needle in her leg. I said, over and over, “May you journey well, may you journey well, may you journey well…” and suddenly I felt this sharp, nerve twinge in my left hand where it met with her head.  So intense that for a moment, I thought I’d been given the injection– not Ziggy.

It took two seconds.  “She’s gone,” the vet said.  That quick. She was that ready to leave her body.

My yogi friend says that the soul leaves the body from two places—the feet or the head.  You want the latter.  I told him the blast of energy I felt.  He said, “It was her soul.  Good.  It left through her head.”

I took a road trip after that.  Drove to a small mission church about a hundred miles from where I live in Montana, in a town called St. Ignatius.  I cried most of the way down, along the 30 mile long Flathead Lake in the sun, the water sparkling, thinking about souls.  Dog souls.  People souls.  Souls.  And I got to the church.  No one was there.  I went up the steps and opened the tall doors.  No one.  Murals all around.  Light casting across the pews.  Holy week this week, I realized.  Palms on the altar.  

I put in a quarter and lit a candle and knelt and cried.  Didn’t know what to say other than thanks.  To this beautiful vessel of love and light that lay by my feet for at least two written books and many moments of emotional life-wrestling.  Then I sat in a pew, opened the hymnal, found a few hymns that I knew, and sang.  Quiet at first, but I was alone.  So I sang louder.  Loudly. Very very loudly.  Angels and John the Baptist and Jesus and Mary looking down at me.  Dogs barking in the background.

Then I went to a bird sanctuary.  It’s spring.  Holy week even in the world of migration, and maybe especially there.  I sat on a rock in a boggy field at Ninepipes and watched blue herons fly and land.  Fly and land. Fly and land.  Long legs.  Long beak. Such trajectory and grace.  Then I drove home along the other side of Flathead Lake.  “How was it?” my children asked me.  They meant the death.

“Peaceful,” I said.  “Death does not have to be scary.”  I paused and braved the next sentence because when you’ve held an animal while it passes, you feel unafraid.  ”And souls live on.  I’m sure of it.”

Pilgrimage.  Sanctuary.  Souls.  The question is:  can we feel them?  Can we believe in what we can’t see?  Can we receive holy mystery?  I did that day.  And I’d like to keep receiving it.  Ziggy’s gift.

Ninepipes bird sanctuary-- Montana

 

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Franny the Fish (a love song)

FRANNY THE FISH by Laura Munson

(Written when I was 24 years old. Living in Seattle. Upon the occasion of my goldfish, Franny’s, impending death.)

Goes a little something like this: (finger picked. Melancholy. A bit of schtick, but not too much.  Think “tortured” artist.  I used to sing this to my kids until they were old enough to say, “ENOUGH!  STOP THE INSANITY.”  Enjoy.)

 

Cmaj7

I’m just sitting here

Am

Watching my goldfish die

Am7                                     D

Sipping on a nice cold beer.

 

Cmaj7

Now she lies upon her side,

Am

At the top of her fish bowl

Am7                                                       G

Screaming silent pleas to a phony tide.

 

D                   G

Poor Franny

D                                                    G

Fighting for the life inside a bowl

D                                                     G

Maybe if you let yourself slip over

D7                                                      G

You’ll find your very pretty fish soul.

 

D                                               G

Not to say that your life is over

D                                                     G

But I must admit it looks pretty grim

D                                                                     G

When you’re floating sideways on the water

D7                                                     G

And it’s all that you can do to swim.

 

Cmaj7

Suddenly she sees herself

Am

In the glass, her eyes half mast

Am7                                                        D

And flaps a prideful fin in token health.

 

Cmaj7

Oh I could tap to show I’m here

Am

Oh Franny I’m sorry

Am7                                                             G

That I am just another outside force of fear.

 

D                                                             G

Frankly I must tell you one thing darlin’

D                                                  G

There’s no point in being a heroine

D                                                              G

You’re not salmon whale or even marlin

D7                                                                         G

You’re a bourgeois fish outside your bowl or in.

 

D                                                                           G

So with these last mournful chords I leave you

D                                                    G

Then a tear and a prayerful hush

D                                                                         G

I’ll scoop you up and help you to the next life

D7                                                  G

Drop you in the toilet…and flush.

 

D                                                            G

Oh a eulogy for you my dear fish Franny.

D                                                                G

Your plight seems like my own dim destiny

D                                                                         G

But instead of going with you down the sewer

D7                                                    G  (big finish!)

I go three times a week for therapy!

 

(…and  just as I was about to flush her, she sprang alive and lived another six months. Zooey didn’t last very long after her parting, his heart being broken.)

 

 

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Dog Fog

Check out my essay DOG FOG in the Huffington Post. It’s about how I’ve become a junkie for open space, cities, and what gets us to take a walk in the park. It makes me look like a big jerk at first, so here’s an example of allowing yourself to be misunderstood. Of “outing” yourself on the page in hopes of learning something and inspiring others to learn too. See what you think.

When you travel across the country, city-to-city, in my case on a recent book tour, you notice trends. Menus boasting beet/goat cheese/ citrus salad, for instance; a prevalence of duck confit, charcuterie, and mushroom gruyere tarts. The Flashdance look is back, which if you ask me, was a hideosity the first time around. Shoulder pads, which hopefully will last approximately two seconds, women in uncomfortable footwear sporting 1930s Hollywood-plucked eyebrows. Men in pink. Lots of grey. I like to call it the prison warden look, which I’ve spent a lot of money achieving quite by accident.
The truth is, food and fashion trends don’t interest me all that much. Word trends, more so (currently running rampant: authentic, sustainable, relatable, organic, and correct.) But at-the-end-of-the-day (another one) it’s lifestyle trends that get my undivided attention. This one in particular struck me sideways on this recent country crossing: city people are obsessed with their dogs. Scarily so. Either it’s always existed and I just haven’t been paying attention, or there is something amuck in urban America that begs a bit of low brow noodling.

Why dog? Why now?” …..Click here for more

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A Boy and a Dog

Possibility:

Action:

Result:

Glee:

Surrender:

Gratitude:

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