Communion Of Dreams


The debts we pay.

“How far did you drive?” she asked, a noticeable touch of twang in her voice.

“From Columbia. Missouri.”

“That far?” She looked honestly surprised. “Y’all are very, very kind people, to drive that far.”

* * * * * * *

A couple weeks into the New Year, a Facebook friend forwarded a pic to me. It was of a medium sized dog which kinda-sorta looked like a German Shepard.

They’re looking for a home for this pup. She’s here in the KC area.”

Image may contain: 1 person, smiling, dog

* * * * * * *

Thirteen years ago, we adopted a stray. A stray we named ‘Alwyn’.

He  was a great dog.

And he did a lot to help heal me, following the closing of our art gallery the previous spring. I was deep in the depressive trough of my bipolar cycle, feeling like I had failed. Having a new pup to love and train helped pull me out of that darkness.

And saw me through the many troubled times ahead, being a care-giver for my mother-in-law through the arc of Alzheimer’s, with all the stresses and demands that included. There’s nothing quite like a brisk walk with the dog for clearing your head. And the routine of it, walking a mile or so every morning, probably helped keep me alive as well as sane.

Alwyn died suddenly and unexpectedly when he was about 8 years old. Since he was a mutt and in good health, we had expected to have him for at least another four or five years. But it was not to be.

I grieved for a long time.

Then, a year or two ago, my wife and I decided that we were ready to welcome a new dog into our lives, and that we would keep our hearts open to that possibility should one come along who needed a home.

* * * * * * *

I passed the picture along to my wife. “What do you think? Her name is ‘Ramali’, and she’s from Kuwait.”

She thought the dog looked like a good candidate.

I got in contact with the folks from Puppy Rescue Mission. Ramali was still available. We decided to apply for adoption.

It took a week or so, with the application, and discussion, and background checks and everything. We had someone come look over our home and make sure it was suitable (fenced yard, decent neighborhood, no evidence that we were running a meth lab or conducting animal experiments, etc). The folks at the rescue were polite, helpful, and thorough. A few days later we drove to Kansas City and picked her up from where she was being fostered. Here she is on the trip home:

Ramali was about 14 or 15 months old, and hadn’t had the best life. She’d come over to the States with a service member, but things didn’t work out. After bouncing around a bit, she came to the attention of the the rescue, thanks to the microchip she had, and had been transferred to the foster home while they sought to get her a permanent place.

On the application for adoption, there were the expected questions about our experience with animals, previous pets we’d owned, and our thoughts about training and discipline. We’d filled all that out with confidence that we’d be able to deal with whatever challenges Ramali might have — both my wife and I had always had dogs, and I had always had a great deal of success at working with dogs to train them, whatever their background. We expected that while Ramali might have some issues due to her previous home life, that we’d be able to work through them without too much a problem.

We were wrong.

* * * * * * *

Well, we were right, for the most part. There were some problems she had that we were able to work through. She was a sweet pup, eager to please, though high-energy. She just needed a stable home and regular exercise, combined with consistent training and attention. Within the first couple of weeks we had gotten past the worst of it, and she was learning to be well-behaved while walking on a leash, or playing, and was making real progress on almost all fronts.

The one problem was her response to cats. To our cats inside the house. To the neighbor’s cats she saw through the window. To cats she saw on our walks. At first I thought it would just take a little work as she adjusted to living in a home with cats, and that as she settled into some stability, the problem would pass with regular discipline. That had always been both mine and my wife’s experience in introducing dogs into a home with cats, or cats into a home with dogs. After a week or two everyone would calm down, and they’d get along pretty well from there. I expected that the same tactics would work with Ramali’s problem with our cats.

It didn’t.

In fact, it got worse over time.

I started reviewing online resources about training a dog to deal with this problem. I consulted friends with experience having both cats and dogs. From all those resources,  it looked like we were doing the right things, and that if we stuck with it, it’d work eventually.

It didn’t.

Finally we consulted our vet of 20 years for his thoughts. After discussion with him, he recommended an animal behaviorist in the area who has a great reputation for working through such problems. We got in contact with her clinic, and after a long discussion they said that they probably could help us with Ramali, but that it was likely to take months or even years to succeed.

That’s when we told the rescue that we just couldn’t keep her. It wouldn’t be fair to our cats, who had basically taken up permanent refuge in the climbing tree I had constructed for them last year, any time Ramali was in the house and not shut up in her crate for sleeping at night. It wouldn’t be fair to Ramali, who would have to be kept on a close leash indoors at all times to prevent her from attacking the cats until the training could change her behavior. Ramali needed to be rehomed, someplace where there weren’t cats, and where she could have a sane and normal home life. The folks at Puppy Rescue Mission agreed, and set to work to find her another home.

* * * * * * *

They did find a good home for her, one without other pets. In North Carolina. Arrangements were made for transport. We said we’d be willing to drive her to Nashville (about halfway), where she’d be put up in a pet hotel overnight until the second half of her journey could be done the next day.

We got to the pet hotel about 2.5 hours late, due to a massive traffic jam an hour or so north of Nashville. But Ramali had been a good girl, and stayed pretty calm and relaxed through it all. We got her situated inside the kennel, then were chatting with the owner before we got back in the car to go to our hotel.

“How far did you drive?” she asked, a noticeable touch of twang in her voice.

“From Columbia. Missouri.”

“That far?” She looked honestly surprised. “Y’all are very, very kind people, to drive that far.”

“She deserves it,” I said. Which was true enough. But I had also done it for my own selfish reasons. And to pay an old debt.

I hate to fail at things. But still, being human, and ambitious, I do fail.

Alwyn had helped save me after a previous big failure. Adopting him had been mostly about healing myself.

Adopting Ramali had been about healing her. And though we couldn’t keep her, we’d made progress in healing her. Sometimes, all you can do is be part of the chain; doing what good you can and then passing along the person, or pet, or thing, to the next link in the chain. Driving to Nashville was my way of closing that loop the best I could.

Goodbye, Ramali, now known as Pepper. Have a better life.

 

Jim Downey

 

 

Advertisements


Forward, into the past.

I sewed up a book yesterday.

* * *

It’s been a rough year.

Oh, a good one, in many ways. The delightful trip to Wales was certainly wonderful. And I was pleased to finally wrap up our two-year work on the brick walkway; I recently used it, and it was nice to see how it has settled solidly after a couple of months weather. There have been other highlights, time spent with those I love, sharing & caring.

But it’s been a rough year. Mostly, because back in early spring I started my slow bipolar descent, and then got stuck stumbling along the bottom of my personal trough for the last six weeks or so. And, while I haven’t talked about it (or anything else) much here, the political situation has been extraordinarily depressing. It’s been a weird combination of things I have long dreaded and things I was writing to warn people about in St Cybi’s Well, and after significant effort to re-write the draft of that book to reflect the new political reality I found myself without the energy or inclination to continue. I felt paralyzed.

* * *

But, as these things go if you are lucky, the wheel continued to turn.

Even if the progress is steady, and consistent with my previous personal experience, it’ll be some 4 – 6 months before I completely climb out of the depressive part of my bipolar cycle.

But I sewed up a book yesterday. This one, for the first time in at least a year and a half:

Yeah, it’s one of the premium leather bindings of Communion of Dreams.

Finally.

For whatever reason, completing those books got mixed up emotionally with completing the writing of St Cybi’s Well. I think I understand it, but I don’t think that I can explain it. Well, I understand it now. At least part of it.

That’s how you solve art, sometimes. And how you walk out of depression: one part at a time, one step at a time.

The writing wants to start again.

In the meantime, I sew books.

Happy New Year.

 

Jim Downey

 



Cold comfort.

Thought I’d share a small discovery I made this weekend.

I’m working on a book conservation project for an institutional client. It’s a patient ledger for a public hospital from the 1880s. It’s a large, heavy account book, and the binding structure had broken down, the original leather-covered covers have a bad case of red rot, and a number of the individual pages had been damaged. All in all, a fairly routine project; an important piece of mundane history, but not particularly interesting from a bookbinding standpoint.

So I took it apart, cleaned and repaired the individual pages, organized the folios back into sections, and set to resewing the book. Here’s the start of that process:

And here it is further along, as I’m sewing the individual sections onto ‘tapes’ as part of the new structure:

As I did this, something caught my eye I hadn’t noticed previously: here and there was the world “cold”.

Now, people don’t usually go to the hospital for a “cold”. Particularly in the 1880s, when hospitals were usually places most people avoided. So I looked a little more closely, and saw that the entries were under the column for where in the hospital patients had been put:

Here’s the top of that page:

Why on Earth would you put someone into a “cold” ward? That didn’t make sense.

Then I noticed something else, further across the page. Here’s a pic of it from a blank page, so as not to inadvertently violate someone’s privacy:

What I thought was “cold” was actually “col’d”, the abbreviation used for “Colored.”

As I’ve said previously, about another historical artifact:

So I understand the importance of preserving the artifacts of that history. And so understanding, felt that it was my responsibility to use the skills I have acquired to that end, no matter how distasteful the task. It was my small tribute to all who resisted, who persevered, who fought.

I’m not equating the two.

But it is important that we not forget either history.

 

Jim Downey



Because what is built, endures.*

About 13 months ago I wrote the following:

But redoing a 300’+ length of brick walkway is no small task. To do it correctly would require a lot of work and a fair amount of expense for proper landscape edging, landscape fabric, gravel/chat, and sand. And if we were going to go to the trouble of redoing it, we wanted to do it correctly and expand it a bit.

As noted in that post, we (my wife and I) didn’t expect to finish the entire length of the walkway last year before winter set in. But we did get about 180′ of it done.

And this summer, after our various trips and other obligations were completed, we got back to the project. A few days ago I was able to post these pics to my Facebook page:

As you might guess, that’s where the walkway ends, some 320′ from where it began. If you look carefully, you can see our house hiding behind some trees at the top of the second image.

It was a *lot* of work. No surprise there. But I found it interesting to estimate (with reasonable accuracy) some of the numbers involved to get a scale of the project. We used about 25,000 pounds of crushed limestone. Some 2,500 bricks (most first dug up from the old walkway, supplemented by some salvaged brick from another neighborhood building tear-down). And about 1,600 pounds of sand. I have no idea how much old, too-damaged brick and dirt I dug out of the old walkway, but it was substantial enough for a good start to a landscape berm we’re going to put in along one edge of the walkway, as seen on the side of this image:

* * *

When I wrote the blog post linked above, I noted that I was probably at about the bottom of my mild bipolar cycle. It runs about 18 month from trough-to-trough, or peak-to-peak, so that would mean I’m currently somewhere between a manic high and a depressive low, but heading down. That feels about right, and fits with the onset of cool weather hinting at the winter to come.

I don’t look forward to that. Wrestling with the black dog is never easy.

But I now have a new path to walk, when I need somewhere for my feet to take me. A path which was constructed with much sweat, some blood, and a whole lot of love. A path which respects the past, but builds on it, extends it, and makes it more durable, whatever comes. That helps.

 

Jim Downey

*Of course.



Happy (re)Birthday to me …

A year ago yesterday, I met my cardiologist for the first time. After looking over the results of my stress echo-cardiogram and discussing what it possibly meant with me, he said that I needed to have a cardiac cath procedure sooner rather than later. Since he’s one of the premier heart surgeons in the mid-west, and always in demand, I expected that this meant I’d get put on a waiting list and have it done sometime in the next month or so when there was an opening in his schedule.

I nodded. “OK, when?”

He looked down at my chart, then back at me.  “What are you doing tomorrow?”

Good thing I don’t panic easily.

* * *

Well, as I recounted a few days later, the procedure went smoothly, though longer than usual, with the end result that I had a couple of stents placed to correct a congenital heart defect. It took a while for all the ramifications of what I had lived with, and what it meant to have it corrected, to really sink in. Part of that was coming to full understanding of just how close to death I had come, because even the slightest amount of atherosclerosis, even the tiniest little blood clot, would have triggered a massive heart attack.

But now it’s been a year. I saw the cardiologist several times over that year, most recently a few weeks ago. And, basically, I’m now past it all. I’m no longer taking any blood thinners, I don’t need to take any real precautions, I only need to check in with the cardiologist once a year or if I notice a problem. If I’m smart, I’ll continue to get regular exercise (I now walk three miles each morning, and get in plenty of additional exercise doing yard work and such) and be a little careful about my diet, but those are things which any man my age should probably do.

So, basically, today’s the first anniversary of my rebirth.

And it feels good.

 

Jim Downey

 



My ambivalent year.*

2016 was odd. Just plain odd.

On the one hand, I had the same dumpster-fire of a year that everyone had, in terms of notable deaths, bizarre & unexpected election results here and abroad, and surreal news & social trends.

On the other hand, I’m alive. Which is something of a small (technological) miracle.

I now understand better (thanks to more discussion with my doctors, research, and experience) what happened with my heart, and what it really meant. Turns out that I didn’t have any plaque build-up even in the convoluted artery in question, as I initially thought. No, it was just that badly kinked, and probably had been all my life. I had started to notice it just because of normal aging, meaning that the normal parts of my heart were slowly getting weaker.

In the last six months or so I have finally been able to strengthen the 1/3 of my heart which had never had proper blood supply. Meaning that now I am actually in better cardiac health than I have ever been before. I walk three miles most mornings (5-6 days a week, usually), and don’t feel the slightest bit fatigued from it. The other parts of my 58-year-old body may limit me, but my cardiac condition isn’t a problem at all. Part of me wonders what it would have been like to have had this kind of stamina when I was young and athletic. Another part of me realizes that those limitations helped me develop awareness and self-discipline which I may have missed, otherwise.

Related to that, as mentioned in this post, early last year our financial situation stabilized for the good. We still need to be reasonably prudent about how we go through life, but I no longer feel as if I am hanging on by my fingernails sometimes. Without that change, I may not have felt secure enough to have my heart checked out when I did — meaning that I was very much at risk for the slightest little blood clot to trigger a massive heart attack.

Unrelated to any of that, the election lead-up and results also proved to be both a blessing and a curse for me. I was astonished at the results of both the Brexit and US presidential elections (and no, I’m not going to argue the point in comments — so just refrain from making any on this topic), yet it solved a problem for me with writing St Cybi’s Well. See, in the alternate time-line of Communion of Dreams, prior to the onset of the fire-flu, the US had become an authoritarian, semi-theocratic state. But I was having a really hard time explaining how we had gotten to such a point when actually writing SCW; everything I came up with just seemed too outlandish for the willing suspension of disbelief on the part of the reader.

Well, that’s not a problem any longer. No, I’m not saying that I think that the US is headed for an authoritarian, semi-theocratic state … but because of the rhetoric and rise in power of some groups both in the US and the UK, that is no longer an unimaginable future. As a result, I have been revising the finished chapters of SCW to reflect these new insights, and I think that the book will be *much* stronger for it.

So yeah, I have really mixed feelings about 2016.

Oh well, I suppose that at least I’m around to have them. And that’s a good thing.

Happy New Year. Remember, today (and the first of every month until I say otherwise), both Communion of Dreams and Her Final Year are available for free download.

 

Jim Downey

*You should watch this sometime. Fun movie.



A path out of darkness.

As I’ve noted previously, I’m mildly bipolar, with my ‘natural’ bipolar cycle running about 18 months. I had noticed the start of a psychological downturn three or four months ago, following the intense boost that came with the discovery and correction of my cardiac artery blockage and subsequent recovery. Since I don’t usually realize that I have taken a downturn until it has gone on for a while, I’m guessing that I’m approaching the bottom of the cycle.

* * * * * * *

Some 50 years ago, my father-in-law (who I never met — he passed away before my wife and I knew each other) put in a simple brick walkway around two sides of his garden. OK, that doesn’t sound like too big a deal. But his garden was almost a full acre in size, and the walkway more than 100 yards in length. Yeah, it really is that long.

After his death, the garden was reverted back to lawn. And slowly the brick walkway was reclaimed by that lawn.

But since the house remained in the family, memory of the walkway wasn’t lost. Some time back the walk was uncovered, and for the last decade or so we did a pretty good job of keeping it clear and used. Here’s a pic of some of it:

20160905_093857

Note the box turtle in the patch of sunlight in the upper part of the pic.

* * * * * * *

I sent this in a message to a friend this morning who had asked if I was feeling more healthy these days:

Maybe?

I do feel a lot stronger and more … vital. But I really don’t want to be one of those ’50-something year old guys who discover the power of exercise!’ At best, it’s annoying to most people. At worst, it’s obnoxious able-ism. My situation, both my peculiar genetic problem and my lifestyle permitting me to get a LOT of exercise time in, is extremely unusual, and not something I can claim as being due to my own effort.

Yeah, I think a lot about this.

* * * * * * *

For a couple of years we’ve talked about rebuilding the brick walkway, because while we’ve been able to keep it uncovered, it is nonetheless ‘sunk’ relative to the surrounding lawn. Meaning that it collected grass clippings and mud, tended to puddle, and retained ice and snow for a prolonged period. Plus there were sections which had been damaged by construction and heavy  trucks which came into the yard to do utility and tree work.

But redoing a 300’+ length of brick walkway is no small task. To do it correctly would require a lot of work and a fair amount of expense for proper landscape edging, landscape fabric, gravel/chat, and sand. And if we were going to go to the trouble of redoing it, we wanted to do it correctly and expand it a bit.

About two weeks ago we ordered the first four cubic yards of chat, got some of the other materials, and got started. Since the edging material we’re using comes in 60′ lengths, we decided to use that as the operative size of each ‘section’ of the walkway. The first step was to remove the old brick walk:

20160907_114300

Then expand the bed, take it down, and level it out:

20160911_153047

Then put down the base layer of chat on top of the landscape fabric:

20160912_110315(That’s about 10,000 pounds of chat, by the way.)

And then start putting down brick. Here’s how far we’ve gotten as of yesterday afternoon:

20160917_135339

With luck, we’ll finish getting the rest of the bricks laid in this ‘section’ today or tomorrow. Then we’ll be about one-fifth through the whole project.

* * * * * * *

As I’ve noted previously, I’m mildly bipolar, with my ‘natural’ bipolar cycle running about 18 months. I had noted the start of a psychological downturn three or four months ago, following the intense boost that came with the discovery and correction of my cardiac artery blockage and subsequent recovery. Since I don’t usually realize that I have taken a downturn until it has gone on for a while, I’m guessing that I’m approaching the bottom of the cycle.

One of the things I learned long ago is that doing something constructive helps me cope with the depressive part of my bipolar cycle. By focusing on something in discrete chunks, I can slowly ‘walk’ out of my depression, since I can see tangible progress happening on something.

We probably won’t be able to finish the full 300’+ of the brick walkway before winter sets in. But that’s OK. Being able to spend a couple of hours working on the walk each day (when the weather permits) helps. It’s good exercise for my body. And it helps to keep my mind from falling too far into the darkness.

 

Jim Downey