“If you go slowly enough, six or seven months is an eternity—if you let it be—if you forget old things, and learn new ones. Even a week can last forever.”
Rick Bass, Winter

"In the midst of winter, I finally learned that there was in me an invincible summer."
Albert Camus

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Day 74: The Goblet is Two-Thirds Full, or Sunday Reflections on the View from Here

Dear readers,
As of this Friday I had completed 72 of the 108 consecutive posts I have charged myself with writing in "Winter with Zoe: Meditations on Love, Dogs, and Mortality."  The goblet is 2/3 full (plus a couple sips-worth.)  Whether you've just stumbled on this blog for the first time, or you've been here many times before, I'm so grateful to you for reading.

When my wicked sister, Mira Bartok (blame her!) suggested that I do my second round of 108-straight days of meditating and journal-writing in this public way, I wasn't sure if I could come up with enough material.  I love a good challenge, but on busy days my journal tends to look something like this:
went to vet's.  new meds for Zoe.  teaching was fine.  salmon for dinner.  dreamed i was about to get on row boat to India and my sister was beside me, wrapped in a blanket.  I had to protect her.  meditated for 20 minutes.  gym.
To write 108 mini-photo essays that don't just read like a rushed journal entry, but actually have a beginning, a middle, and an end, and something resembling an epiphany--i.e., something someone might want to read--is certainly a test, but I've really enjoyed the challenge.  To be honest, I love it.  Sometimes it's all I want to do.  My normal mode of writing is to hide in my corner for a few years perfecting the same sentences and then to show the fruits of my labors to my agent or send it out to a magazine and wait for a long time.  Then, if it is published, I don't always hear back from readers.  It's very exciting and fulfilling to send something out into the world early one morning and then realize later in the day that people have not only read it, but have comments to make. 

But the speed of the blog world is dizzying sometimes, especially for someone like me, who loves leisure and can't get enough of it.  Sometimes on rushed mornings I would post, then leave the house, and then realize that I'd made a type-o and would not be able to fix it for hours.  I was in the car en route to the dentist's when I pictured a sentence in which I had written "cramp-ons" instead of "clamp-ons" to describe what we all needed just then to navigate the icy sidewalks.  I often make Freudian slips; I was probably thinking of how our feet cramp up as we try to stay upright.  A post is easy to correct, but if you don't get to it right away, you've sent a mistake out into the world.  That's the nature of a genre for which speed and immediacy are its most salient features.

One big help has been the daily meditation.  I've written several posts about it, including an early one, Day Two: Meditation for Skeptics, Slouchers, Neurotic Planners, Caffeine Addicts, and for People who Think they are Too Busy to Meditate but Want to, Day 58: The Chew-Dog Mantra for Dog Lady Meditators, and Day 33: Monday Morning Music, and  Day 65: The Yoga of Sitting Upright.  I have found that when I begin the day with a mindfulness practice like meditation, everything else, including the writing, comes through with more clarity and purpose.

Doing this amount of writing in short daily bursts has been good for my other writing, which surprised me.  It sort of limbers me up, makes me more honest, and nimble, and I've found that the novel I started revising this winter has a fresher voice.  I'm more willing to take risks now; I'm not so careful.  And I've also learned to follow a great writing schedule that not only makes me get the pages written, day after day, but also helps me pace myself and guard my energy, which protects me from burn-out.

(Check out Day 56 : Gargoyles In Love: the Search of the Perfect Schedule, Part III)

When I began "Winter with Zoe," it was December, but there was still no snow on the ground.  We've had a very mild winter.  Yesterday a friend told me her dog had just been skunked, and that when she went to the animal hospital to buy Skunk-off, she was told that many dogs have been coming in this winter with porcupine quills as well.  Critters that should hibernate haven't.  I wonder if they are walking around feeling exhausted, wishing they could get a good winter's sleep, wondering what has happened to our planet.  Here in the North Country, we have had such freaky weather: rain, freezing rain, slush, then cold, that we've mostly had to navigate ice, not snow.  (And hence the need for "clamp-ons," which I have yet to buy.)  I've written a number of posts about learning to walk on ice with Zoe, and how her new status as a tripod has taught me a great deal about perseverance and grace.

(See Day 48: Mindful Winter Walking).

I've also learned to take better pictures, thanks to Tara Freeman, who gave me some lessons.  Buying a better camera also helped.  The Canon Rebel T3 is easy-to-use and although I haven't even begun to explore all of its capabilities, I've enjoyed having something new to learn and to find a new way of seeing, a new form of expression.

(See Day 63: Teaching These Two Old(ish) Dogs New Tricks.)

And as for the dog herself, the star of the hour, the dog who launched six dozen posts, she's doing well.  A few days before I started the blog, I had taken her to Ottawa for her fourth chemotherapy appointment.  We received the devastating news on that day that the cancer had spread to her lungs.  But in the two and a half months since that visit, she has fought back, with the help of the doxorubicin injections, and has kept things at bay.  From visit to visit, some tiny nodules would emerge, while others would disappear.  Except for two isolated days when she had no appetite, she has been vigorous and queenly, as usual, and is always eager for her two daily walks.  Most people who see her think she looks as healthy and vital as ever.

I think the posts I'm most glad to have written are the ones about her visits to Alta Vista Animal Hospital in Ottawa for chemotherapy and lung x-rays.  I thought these posts would be very painful to write, but sometimes they wrote themselves.  I am going to turn some of this into a book, and having the challenge of writing about these visits, which were all quite emotional for me, has helped me keep a good record of the story as it unfolds.  Zoe's oncologist and the two vet techs, Dr. Bravo, Willow, and Donna, are keeping Zoe alive, and the challenge of telling this story right in the moment, day after day, will make, I hope, the pages come alive.  Often when I write a memoir, I go back to events that took place decades ago.  Having a blog like this wrestles me to the page and makes me reflect on what is happening as it happens.  Those blog posts are, Day 15: (Minor) Miracle on Bank Street, Day 36: Still Life, with Dog, Day 57, The Purple Heart Meditation, and Day 59: The Heart of the Matter, a Two-Part Day.

Every day with Zoe, and every day keeping this blog, has made me look for small miracles and events that are story-worthy.  I notice more than I ever have.  I feel, as the poet Linda Gregg once wrote, that living with Zoe, then writing about her, is "like being alive twice."  Yesterday at midday I took some pictures of her outside in the back yard.  Much of the snow and ice had melted, and it felt like late March, not the middle of February, but Zoe didn't seem to mind.  She was a mysterious black dot in the landscape, from the distance, and then closer up she was my happy dog unearthing beef marrow bones she hid in the snow weeks ago.  I felt like the many weeks I've been engrossed in this project were happening all at once.

(See Day Nine: The Curious Case of the Hidden Beef Marrow Bone.)

What has surprised me most about these past 73 days is how happy I've been.  I expected this to be a much more somber time, but as I've said before, Zoe missed the memo that she's supposed to be worried about the future.  I look at her, at her curious and calm face, and all I can think about is how lucky I am to have this time to spend with her.

I have also found that "Winter with Zoe," if I had to categorize it, is a blog partly dedicated to travel-writing.  Not only have I found myself reliving memories of being with Zoe and my husband in France, and shared other stories from travels to India, but I've learned to see my own home community in the North Country as a place to travel to with the same wonder and imagination.

(See Day 52: Travels at Home, and Day 49: What the Dog Sees in Him.)

A backyard stroll can feel like a saunter into new country when I see the world through my dog's eyes.

Thank you so much for reading.  There's a lot more to come and I'm honored to be able to share it with you.

Wishing you all a relaxing Sunday,



  1. testing to see if in Safari the "captcha" words appear

  2. Thanks for the lovely summary of your blog journey, Natalia! I, too, have really found blogging to be so much fun. I'm on a weekend writing retreat right now, and all I want to do is dream up new blog posts.