Punk and my Pet Doggie
Our dog, Georgia, is dying slowly. She has been ever since last summer when we discovered, upon taking her to the City of Angels emergency vet with an enlarged heart and shallow breathing, that she was suffering from acute degenerative heart failure. We learned she has a very leaky valve which is causing the heart itself to enlarge and all the remaining valves and other basic structural elements of the organ to devolve. We were also informed that there were many medications available to help lessen her symptoms. And that if she would be willing to take them, we could definitely prolong her life. But even so, we were looking roughly at about 6-18 months tops.
We discovered that day back in August our beautiful, sweet 12-year-old pearl of a Beagle- our first "baby"- our licky lump of warm furry acceptance and love unconditional--was dying of a heart slowly unraveling.
The irony of this is not lost on me, as I too struggle with the results of my leaky heart valve which only gets leakier the older I get. Georgia and I both share the symptoms of "bleeding hearts" in ways real and symbolic. We are both lovers- fiercely loyal and heart centered. (She of course has it all over me in terms of patience and forgiveness, but really, what dog doesn't?) Thus, it has been monumentally hard for me to separate myself and my own experience from that of my dog. She has heart doc appointments and I feel the pain in my own chest. I view her xrays or listen to the results of her EEGs and it's like I'm hearing the voice of my own cardiologist.
For that reason, and for the simple stone cold fact that I love her like one of my own children, it has been nearly impossible for me to come to accept that she is, of course, going to die, and that time is really more upon us than ever. Which is why this weekend when we awoke early Saturday morning- 2am- to find Georgia at the foot of our bed where she resides every night, panting like a coked-up rodent, unable to catch her breath- unable to stand up- unable even to eat a piece of turkey meat containing medicine that would potentially clear her lungs a bit and allow her to breathe better---- I pulled my shit together to get her down the stairs and into the arms of my husband. He then drove her, hacking and shivering, back to the City of Angels where those beautiful human souls tend to the acute strife and eventual passing of thousands of well-loved cats and dogs every year. 24 hours a day.
They put our Georgia in an oxygen tank for over 2 days and nights, stuck her with an IV drip full of diuretic to drain the fluid in her lungs, among other procedures. She lay in a little glass box for over 48 hours while back at the ranch, I swung all over the emotional map from weepy and inconsolable to meth-addict twitchy to face down in the toilet, shuddering, wretching terror. In short, it was a raw couple of days, but they saved her life at City of Angels- and gave our family the beautiful gift of potentially another few days? weeks? months? with our beloved 4 legged girl. Still the fact remains that though she is now stable, back home, eating and drinking like a champ-- she will die- and it will be very soon.
Now, Jeff and I are exceedingly lucky- all six of our parents are still alive. (My mom and dad are both remarried. So no- neither Jeff nor I hatched from some sort of tri-humanoid egg...) They are all relatively healthy if not robustly so. Two of my dear grandmothers are also still with us, the oldest of which at 92 sends me and the whole family long, beautifully composed emails replete with interesting links and factoids. In other words, we here in this household have not had to deal much yet with death. At least not in a big way. The kids have had hamsters die, pet rats die...I suppose I did experience my dear grandfather pass when I was 26 and had just been released from my frightening odyssey of a hospitalization back in '96 for endocarditis. (Severe life- threatening heart infection which saw me enter the hospital in a coma, and leave four weeks later with my life, but with a scarred valve, among other things...) Papa flew all the way from Kansas with my Nana to visit me there in the hospital- sharing his silly jokes, huge barrel laugh, and work our co-obsessive love for crossword puzzles together. He died merely four months after I got out of Cedars, his heart -also frail- finally giving out. (These things run in the family.)
And I recall the pain and grief as being a dull thudding wall that I hit upon arrival at the funeral, and not a moment before. After having barely escaped the tiny 8 seater plane ride from Wichita to Salina, pitching the whole 36 minutes in a crackling angry thunderstorm, I arrived breathless on Kansan soil to finally understand that I was never going to be able to talk to my Papa again. That the strangely coifed, pin striped-suited outline of the creature lying serene in the casket who looked a lot like my Papa was never going to embody his spirit any more. That part of him was gone- the crinkles around his eyes when he cracked his devilish wide grin. The big strong hands to hold mine crossing the street- motionless. It all finally hit me looking at him there dead in his casket- at his funeral. And that hurt. A lot.
But for some reason, dealing with this process of Georgia dying- this prolonged process of pills and regular vet-cardiologist visits and emergency room scares-- all this that my Nana certainly went through over the last few months of her 50 plus years with my Papa, from which I was spared by virtue of sheer proximity -- for me, this dying is worse. This dying is taking its time and it's just awful.
Which brings me to the second part of my essay. Punk. Yes- punk. And yes, this will eventually get tied together at the end of my blawg by the words and wisdom of my very own therapist. This rope wound around these two themes was in fact freshly woven just late Tuesday morning in a sage-green office at a rate of what is nowadays I believe $250 an hour. (But man, it's worth every thread I think.)
So let me start a little from the beginning of this "punk"piece. I believe I have mentioned somewhere in the past month or so about how I've been awash in the punk of it all lately. About how I've been hearing some different musical muses in my ears and have been penning my own version of punk songs. Like a little bit of the more melodic Clash or pop-pier Replacements sound with a Chrissie Hynde voice atop. Some of my newer tunes are still solidly steeped in rock, but there's a few that definitely live in the punk arena- and for any who might have heard my music in the past 15 years or so, you know that's new new new for me.
So, to attend to this untimely middle-aged calling, I've been doing some research that was frightfully UNattended to in my high school and college years. Sure, by the time the late eighties/early nineties rolled around I was knee deep in Nirvana and Smashing Pumpkins. I was Pearl Jamming with the best of them. I had seen and loved "Sid & Nancy" in my teens. My first concert with friends (sans parents) back in '85 was Fishbone at Chicago's Metro, to be followed by the Beastie Boys at the Aragon the next year. I think I had permanently "borrowed" a friend's Ramones Tshirt in college. And by my early twenties, I somehow managed to get into a downtown LA loft to witness Jane's Addiction and the Chili Peppers take the small stage drunkenly together around 3:00 in the AM. In short, I wasn't entirely bereft of current musical education, but still little more than a poser. I had finally hopped the caboose of what punk had become in Los Angeles in the early 1990's, which was of course at that point deemed "alternative rock."
I didn't really know anything in depth about the punk movement itself, beginning in the late 60's in Thatcher's England and migrating quickly over to Reagan's America in the 80's-- I had really missed all those underground years. I had been introduced to (and mostly disliked) Husker Du and Sonic Youth, Fugazi and The Replacements by male friends whom I knew and liked in high school, but were just outside of my actual social circle. Or perhaps, I was sadly just outside of theirs.....these were boys a tad bit older than I for the most part- some I idolized a bit- lusted after too. Some had their way with me, others became closer friends, but this set of smart, funny, educated, white, upper middle class Chicago area boys were the punks in my day- in my purview- and I'm sad to say I didn't log many more hours hanging with them in the small sweaty underground clubs in the city. I was too busy wearing a Type A personality like a tight sweater, decorated with a 4.1 GPA, making a hasty exit from high school early in my final semester of senior year to move to Los Angeles where I had already been accepted at UCLA's School of Film and Theater. Oh, if only I'd done more drugs, had more sex....perhaps I woulda found my rock and roll a whole lot earlier.
So now it's 2013. I've dabbled a bit in Improv and Sketch Comedy in my early twenties straight out of college. I've tried my hand at acting in LA which as most would imagine is a cold, hard pill for almost any young attractive actress to swallow. I shot a few indie movies, did a TV show, a couple of pilots that never aired....to be truly pithy- I had almost no career whatsoever. And after endocarditis changed the landscape entirely for me whereby I realized for the first time how fleeting and precious life is, I left acting and began my long long relationship with my true love, which turns out, is music, starting back in 1997. Right around the time my Papa died, in fact.
In brief, my music career to this point has seen a variety of small tidbits of luck accompanied by blunders of bad timing or failing to follow through out of fear. Appearances on local news morning TV shows, accidental opening one-offs for bands I blithely tripped into, four full length records all on my own label, with my own publishing still in tow, and a few collaborations under my belt. Some awards. Some interviews and film/TV placements. Some stellar reviews. Some not so stellar. A lot of no's. A lot of pain. A lot of cricket sounds from the universal audience upon finishing a project and presenting it to the world. Ah- the life of a (gulp- you know I hate this moniker) "singer/songwriter."
And now, you know, I'm done with that chapter. With chasing down the music industry. With trying to constantly present the Holly Long to the gaping maw of the music world- dripping with blood and offal from some other equally wonderful and some not-so-hot solo artists and bands nationwide. I'm ready to rock- I'm ready to be in a band. I don't give a shit anymore.
(Hol, so wait- you were going to tie this into your DOG DYING? Wasn't that the whole construct - the whole conceit behind linking these two long chapters of rambly self-indulgence?) Yes yes yes. Be patient. Coming soon.
So part of my research is that I'm busy busy reading "This Band Could Be Your Life" by Michael Azerrad. Published in 2001, it's an exhaustive tome about 13 of the most underground influential American punk bands in the 80's. And it's cathartic to me- explosively so. I'm listening to music for the first time like Black Flag, Mission of Burma and The Minutemen whom I had only BARELY heard of, and though not necessarily loving the sounds of it, I'm totally getting the feel. I'm HEARING it for the first time.
Because all these guys are a bunch of regular Joe's - to a certain extent - who are not necessarily all THAT musical. Some have chops and a mild depth of musical knowledge (mostly the leaders of each of these bands) but most do not. They just have that thing. That Joey Ramone thing. That thing whereby they are just authentically and lovably who they are- loser-y and angry and smartassy and fucked up usually on some drug to deaden their pain of feeling lost and disillusioned and LEFT OUT. The outsiders who feel they have no place in their world, which at the time was the keenly greedy Gordon Gekko-inspired 80's replete with cold war hatred and overly shiny big shouldered zoot suits. And neon hair scrunchies. And smug smug ignorance.
I'm reading how the poor white kids, some educated, some not- the punks of this era- felt enraged and/or motivated by their total outsider status, so they just said fuck it. Fuck you. We're gonna write some songs and play some music that we dig and we're gonna show up at the little clubs and be really loud and become the DIYers and get no love from the industry but it's ok because there's this underground swell that's going to carry us and keep us constantly on the road and living just above (or more frequently below) the poverty level. Making just enough money to keep us in booze and chicks and guitar strings. And gas for the smelly smelly van that we'll spend more hours in than you did studying for your fucking LSATS.
I just vibe to the authenticity. I connect with the desire to make music despite having limited abilities and resources. I read these stories, the contours of which do not align AT ALL with my own past - except for the persistent feeling of being on the outside- of being ignored. I read these stories and I am inspired and catapulted, and feel like maybe I have found my tribe. Maybe I have been punk all along. And surely not because of the way my voice sounds, or my music even, good god no- though that is hopefully changing- but because of the thing that drives me. I too just simply want to find my voice and sing it. I want to embody the stage fully and for real and in your face motherfucker and don't give a crap if you like it or not, I've got the mic now, so you're just going to have to listen or get the fuck out.
I too am angry. I too feel pushed aside. I feel UNHEARD. At least in the way I wanted to be.
OK So now
Holly attempts to tie these ideas together gracefully.
heh heh. Well, I suppose for now I'm just really going for tie them together at all- gracious be damned.
I had therapy today after successfully getting myself out of the house to do all the errands I had meant to do yesterday. This was an amazing feat for me considering last night's festivities: One of the sleeping beings shifted in the bed I share with my husband, cat, dog, other cat, occasional eight year old boy, etc. and I awoke from lovely deep slumber to an immediate physical shaking and screaming speedy brain. Heart careening around like a dribbly drum. Panic Attack number 4 in four days. I'm really on a roll now! I could barely get the Ativan between my teeth for all the chattering.
Then this morning rousing from the --thankfully!-- four hours of sleep I managed to get, I again began quaking. Stomach in knots. Darkness looming on the horizon. But somehow I got out of bed and just started moving anyway. Brushed my teeth. Fixed eggs for my kids. Hands and heart fluttery. Feeling on the verge of retching at any moment. Got out the door and did these errands-- shaking in the car on the way to every place. Pulling it together a little more in the public arenas of car dealership, bank, gym...IN other words- I DID IT. I lived my way through streams of constant anxiety this morning. Out in the world for all to see.
My treat for all this effort turned out to be midday therapy where my shrink and I held it all for me. The fear and terror and sadness and grief about Georgia. And then out of this came a revisitation of a common theme for us in the "Healing of Holly" sessions- -- the notion that Radical Acceptance and Love of All Things As They Are may potentially be the only way to go from here.
See, Anxiety, says my shrink, is a fearful response to having feelings and not knowing how to process them- not knowing how to let them work through. When I feel anxious, I am feeling the nothing...the disconnect...the not included. The no clan. The no God. The just little old unimportant me. The ignored. Some may swear, spit and spew their anger onstage pounding away at their electric guitars, so far I've been dealing with it by shaking the night away at 2:30...and again at 9am....and 4....
We also talked a lot today about animals. (Duh, right? My dog is dying- and I am crumbling.) So my therapist offers up this: He says, Holly- think of the animal that you are now. The Human as being the highest evolved (supposedly) of all the animal kingdom. Here we are perched at the top of the food chain, many of us miserable and tweaked- sad and worried and anxious a lot of the time. Here we are the product of a society that has chosen to value individualism over the group. To believe that we should be separate (as if we are) from nature, and from the Divine, and from each other. We are struggling- lost and alone. Of course you feel sad about losing your four legged child. Of course you are grieving, and this is how your body is acting. Of course you have anxiety- where is your tribe to help you through this very normal time in your and Georgia's life?
Then, he brought up the bear. Think of a mother bear, Holly, who licks her young right after they're born- because they are woozy and they need to nurse if they are to survive. She licks them to stimulate them into action. She is with them and touches- licking, cuddling, nurturing. This is what the animal kingdom instinctually does to survive- TOGETHER. And we as humans are animals working against our better instincts by going it alone.
You feel ignored and you are sad and angry? YES. Because you know we should be doing this TOGETHER. We should be working toward the group and the whole- not the Reagan American ideal of the Lone Fucking Ranger.
And now, here it is--- this is the tiny thread-- as I believe I have finally found the tendril of connection between my experience of pain at Georgia's dying and why I am simultaneously listening to and writing my own version of punk songs:
This weekend I've had panic attacks beyond anything I've experienced. And this appears to have come as a direct result of having to face my dog leaving this plane of existence. Now, In order to learn from, to use as fuel, these experiences, I am discovering, I need to embrace punk. Which as I see it is rebellion. I need to embrace rebellion! And continue to embrace Authentic. Real. Embodied. In MY rebellion. Against what I see as wrong, which is that we all seem to have forgotten (myself very much included) how to BE. And to be together in our pain, our love-- in our Tribe.
And so my grand rebellious act will be to continually strive to Radically Accept and Love All Things As They Are and align with the Now. Because as mentioned above, we've been fashioned in a different environ, and that's not what anyone's selling right about now. It aint so sexy to be pushing sheer acceptance. We're still so so infatuated with getting the next big shiny car. (Maybe THEN I'll feel like the stud I've always wanted to feel like. Maybe THEN I'll change the world!!)
So now, me being one of the Haves in this present-day warped society built on the over-valuing of striving to succeed- I must rebel against THAT. I must strive NOT to change the world. NOT to categorize myself. NOT to separate and organize and label. But to join as all the cubs to mama bear's teat. Suckle and snuggle together and BE. To be WITH what is and not AGIN. To radically accept and love the amazing world in which we are living and breathing and feeling.
And that is PUNK, my friends. Because right about now, from my vantage point, that sounds pretty much like a truly rebellious idea.
So now it's the next day. And I sit here editing this long ridiculous tome above. Not sure if I've gotten my points across. Or more importantly, if I've aptly built the idealogical bridge between my doggie and punk.
Last night brought on yet another- well, you know the deal. I'm still struggling so hard. I'm so challenged right now face to face with death and fear. But as I sit stroking my beloved animal's sleeping face-- so grateful that this face is still here for a while longer to accept my caresses-- I love.
I love I love so much.
I love my dear grandfather passed on....I love my Nana and Grammie both weaving the last sweet yarns of their lives in gracious wise old age. I love my children so that I would rip asunder whatever pieces of this wounded beating organ residing within me they might need to survive (sorry- sorta gross)...I love my dear husband who so patiently takes this bumpy roller coaster ride with me. Sitting side by side with me always squeezing my hand in support. I love my mom and my dad for reaching to me and taking me in their arms when I need to collapse. When I need to be a child. I love my extended family and my wide sweeping web of friends and compatriots on this journey. I am lucky. I am so lucky to be a shuddering mound of feeling.
And though it's only coming back into focus slightly for me now, I love the fiber of whatever it is that holds us all together. The big mystery- the love- the energy- the Universal Spirit some may call God that is breathed into us all. I see it in the watery deep amber pools of my wonderful pet's eyes - still here with me- and I hear it in the shouts and snarls of the real punk rockers- dead and alive. I hear you! I witness you, and I'm with you all! Here I come!