Thursday, February 19, 2009

My Interview on Animal Talk Radio this week

Blog for the week:
I did a fun radio interview yesterday on Animal Talk Naturally – one of the best radio programs out there concerning how to best care for our beloved pets.
Hosts Dr. Kim Bloomer and Dr. Jeannie Thomason have been so very suppotive of Bark magazine, and of me personally (sniff!). They promote my writing, my book Rex and the City: A Memoir of a Woman, a Man, and a Dysfunctional Dog; and most importantly we support the same message, which is that all shelter dogs deserve a good home—even the so called ‘unadoptable” ones. Love cures all.

In this program, Kim, Jeannie and I talked about how to successfully treat your dog holistically for Lyme's disease—using teasel flower essences and homeopathy. And how to avoid expensive, unnecessary visits to your Western veterinary practitioner. I am no expert on the subject by any means—but ATN wanted to interview me as sort of a ‘layperson’ – not a professional. Listeners are more apt to trust someone with ‘real life experience.’

It is our hope that pet owners nationwide—and throughout the world—will recognize how UNNECESSARY it is to treat out pets exclusively with Western medicines: antibiotics, vaccinations, and the like. There are natural alternatives, and people in this country need to realize we don’t need to be slaves to the pharmaceutical industries.
My dog was not only cured of Lyme’s Disease using flower essences and homeopathy; she is now naturally immunized against further infection.

Here’s a link to the interview here:
Radio Show:

Here, also, are links to Green Hope Flower Essences (for information on teasel flower)
and to the American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association
and to a cool new vet in Charleston, SC:

Thursday, February 12, 2009

The Last Rex Column

This is a cross-post from my final Rex and the City installment, which appears in the Jan/Feb 2009 issue of Bark magazine:

Farewell, Fine Friend

For the past few years, readers have been asking what has happened to my “Rex and the City” columns, and, more pointedly, asking what happened to the dog we called Rex (his real name was Wallace). Well, the truth is, he died. Almost six years ago. His death was sudden and tragic and traumatic and I cannot write about it in detail because it is too sad.
But, long story short: After five years of marriage, Ted and I finally divorced in 2002. It was the right thing to do, and we still love each other, but apparently Wallace did not think it was the right thing to do: He died the day after I moved out.

Ted and I had agreed upon joint custody of the dog, and the plan was that I would take Wallace for the first two weeks after my departure. I’ll never forget the sense of both excitement and sorrow I felt as Wallace and I drove off to my new cottage in Hyde Park. I remember looking at him in the back seat and telling him that we were starting a new life, in a new house. “You’ll love it,” I told him. “We’ll be happy together.” But that didn’t happen. My new life stopped almost as soon as it had begun. We arrived at the cottage late at night, and in the morning, he died. I hadn’t even unpacked.

I have since heard many stories about pets dying—suddenly, mysteriously, and/or unexpectedly—shortly after their humans separate. Who can explain this? Do he not want to live without us, his trinity? Did he feel his job on earth was complete? I still don’t know. All I know is that I felt that not only had I lost my dog—I’d also lost the only pure love I’d ever had in my life. Dogs are Love, period. Love on four legs. I cried every day for two years.

The sense of loss was all-consuming. The pounds fell off me, eaten away by anxiety and sorrow. Plus, what was the point of eating if there was no dog to lick my plate? For months I sank, crying during the day, and even in my sleep, for I dreamed of Wallace constantly, sometimes seeing him maimed, sometimes believing he was alive again. Then there was the guilt I felt for not protecting my dog, and the agony I felt at the fact that Ted totally blamed me. There was the anger at the man who had killed him—an anger turned into an obsession as I contacted lawyers and plotted all sorts of revenge. But none of this brought Wallace back.

Meanwhile, readers and editors kept asking when my next “Rex” column would appear. Believe me: I wanted to continue to writing about Wallace, because it would mean that, somehow, my beloved dog would live on. But I just couldn’t do it. I couldn’t be witty. I couldn’t write lite little stories about his cute doggie antics and comic dog-in-the-city episodes. Maybe next month, I kept telling my editors and myself. Maybe next month I’ll be “ready” to write about him again.

The Bark columns, to date, had covered only the first six months of Wallace’s life. I obviously had a lot to say about this dog. Sometimes one column might chronicle one short day in this dog’s rich and varied dog-life. I wrote about his first trip to Central Park; his first encounter with a man dressed like a hot-dog; his first experience being forced to dress like a drag queen for a doggie Halloween contest. I literally have hundreds of pages of notes about this dog (I’m talking more than five hundred!) and I would have been happy to write about him forever. Because I was writing about laughter and love. Anyway, that was all cut short when he died. It’s not easy to write about someone who wasn’t supposed to die. Not like that.

There was so much I hadn’t yet written about: Marrying Ted, spending five years arguing with Ted; watching the dog get sick every time I tried to leave; and then, finally. Then the accident; calling Ted; Ted arriving at the scene, sobbing; Ted falling to his knees before Wallace’s body, saying “My boy, my boy.” Ted refusing to allow me to touch him. Me telling Ted I was sorry. Ted saying “Get out of my face.” Ted later refusing to let me have any of Wallace’s ashes. Me eventually stealing a small portion of the ashes, which Ted still doesn’t know about ’til this day.

No, I could not write about any of this.

For time had stopped somehow. Sorrow, fear, and guilt kept me trapped. At one point I was so distraught I consulted an animal communicator. I guess I wanted someone to tell me that Wallace was okay somewhere, and that his death wasn’t my fault. She said this, and more. She said Wallace had come forth to be my helper. She said he had also come forth to learn two lessons: One was that people can be mean and the other was that people can offer unconditional love. (Boy, did he help me learn this, too). She also said—and this is what gave me the most hope—that Wallace would come back to me. As another dog.

Thus, I began my search. I began to spend hours on the Internet, trolling through dogs on I had a few set criteria. The dog had to be a rescue and he/she had to be either a French Spaniel (what I believed Wallace to be) or an English setter/Springer Mix (what Ted believed Wallace to be). But anyone who has ever but the words “spaniel” or “setter” into the search engine at Petfinder knows that hundreds of images will come up. On any given day I might see 324 cocker spaniels, 276 Springers, a handful of Brittanys, one King Charles mix and four Clumbers. “Setter” brought up hundreds of English, Irish and Gordon Setters. I wanted them all. (French Spaniels never came up because they just aren’t that common in the States.) I would search until the sun had set and the house was dark and there was nothing but me and a blue screen and 798 spaniels. I felt, in many ways, like some kind of porn addict, trying to find true connection in a lonely world. But for months no connection came, and I remained dogless. And empty. (Note that in all this time I never searched for a man!)

Rumi once wrote: “do not grieve for loss because everything you lose comes back to you in a different form.” The problem was, back then, that I wanted Wallace to come back to me in the exact same form. This can be an obstacle if you’re trying to adopt another dog. Every night I looked into the eyes of a thousand dogs and ask, “Wallace, is that you?” But I couldn’t find him, which left me bereft. Plus, how do you pick a new dog? Especially if you believe your previous dog was perfect and irreplaceable?

There were a couple of near misses: Polly, the sweet, half-blind Pit Bull mix who had been found stabbed and starving on the roof of an apartment building in Brooklyn. Arnold, the droopy-eyed Bassett I met a shelter in Hyde Park, N.Y. Café, an actual French Spaniel who had been relinquished by his guardians, a young couple who had divorced; neither wanted to keep the dog because he reminded each of the other. I never met Café—he was being fostered by a breeder in Montreal, Quebec—and yet to this day, he stays in my mind. I’m pretty certain he was meant to be my dog. And it would have been good karma to pick up a new dog right where my old one had left off. And yet I could never manage to “find the time” to drive up to Canada.
In 2003, I came very close to adopting an English Setter who looked exactly like Wallace, but my application was denied. (It took about six months to recover from that rejection.) I once even found a dog named Rex! Rex was being fostered at the very same shelter at which I had found Wallace years before. This Rex—a Great Dane puppy—had mischievous blue eyes, and I immediately wanted him. But others had already expressed an interest—a young couple from the city. I watched them as they discussed whether or not they should get this Rex. In my eyes, they were Ted and me all over again, trying to figure out whether to follow their minds or their hearts. I sent them a silent blessing and drove off.

Around that time, I was approached by an editor who wanted to publish a book version of the columns. I was thrilled! Publishing a book had long been one of my dreams. So I spent months writing an expanded version of the columns, carrying the story through my divorce and Wallace’s death. “Umm, there’s a problem,” my editor said. “We want a happy ending. We want you and Ted to be married, and we want Rex to be alive.” She asked that I end my memoir in a different place, namely, at the moment Ted and I got engaged. This felt wrong. “I wanted a happy ending, too,” I told my editor. “But it didn’t turn out that way.”

“No one wants to read a book about a dead dog,” she said. (This conversation took place two years before Marley and Me was published—the bestselling memoir about a dead dog :)

And so, because I did not trust my own instincts, and because I trusted this editor, I agreed to cut my life story in half. It took several months to write this half-memoir, and in that time I stopped searching for dogs on Petfinder. Part of the reason was that I was living in a cottage in Woodstock that had no internet service. Part of the reason was I felt icky about not being able to write the truth, which made me feel like a bad person, which made me feel I didn’t “deserve” another dog. But I think the main reason was—and it feels shameful to admit this in a dog magazine—I had started to enjoy the freedom of not having a dog.

This is what I did in my time “between dogs:” I traveled. I spent six months working as a decorative artist at a Buddhist retreat center in Colorado. I spent one summer at the Byrdcliffe artists’ colony in Woodstock, and another glorious summer at Edward Albee’s artist colony in Montauk, a hip seaside town that has no leash law. Every morning, I’d ride one of Albee’s rickety three-speed bikes down to the surfer’s beach and watch dozens of dogs frolic on the shore. (I called this “getting my dog-fix”). Back in the city, I went on countless dinner-and-movie dates with friends. In my dog days, I’d have skipped the movie because I would have felt guilty about leaving Wallace alone in the apartment for so long. But now, I was “free” to a certain extent. I never had to get up four times in the night to take my diarrhea-boy out in the middle of a snow storm in February. I never had to risk getting poop on my hands if my plastic bag happened to have a hole in it. I never had to worry about smelling like dog drool or if my dinner guests were going to find white hairs in their food. All I had to do now in life was take care of myself and I definitely had more time on my hands. I could stay out for six, eight, ten hours. But to what end? What price freedom? I still had no love, and no warm body weighing down the bed at night (note again that I am not referring to a man).

I missed having a dog most during my morning walks. Wallace had introduced me to that best of life habits, and I am happy to say that I kept it up even without a dog. But it always felt wrong. How could I walk without a dog when there were so many needy dogs out there in need of fresh air and exercise? Only a Bark reader will understand how guilty I felt at walking sans chien, and also how it was neurotic it was that my two opposing forms of guilt prevented me from getting a dog. There was the guilt about not “saving” Wallace versus the guilt against not saving a new dog. If you’re Catholic or Jewish and a dog person, perhaps you will know what I mean.

Anyway, the lesser guilt won out, and I began a new dog-search in earnest. Oddly, once I began trolling through Petfinder again, my Wallace dreams resumed, and I would wake up sobbing every morning. I saw the same gruesome images over again. The dream-me was helpless; the dream-me tried to scream, but no sound came out. Nothing but guilt, guilt, horror, horror. I finally consulted a therapist, who said I was showing classic signs of Complex PTSD. (Hey, I’m a complex person.) This therapist advised me to consciously replace the traumatic images with happier ones.

It wasn’t so hard to come up with a happy memory of my dog. There were thousands, millions. There was one for every second of every day of the six years Wallace lived at my side. Watching him eat made me happy, watching him sleep made me happy, watching him kiss Ted sent me into the higher planes of joy. I mean, come on, I managed Here is the image I chose: it was a sunny day on Cape Cod, just a few months before Wallace died. We were walking on a deserted beach—with a sky so blue and sand so white it hurt your eyes. I hadn’t officially left Ted yet, and the question of whether to leave or stay weighed heavily on my mind and heart. But Wallace seemed beyond that question. For hours, he leapt into the surf, frolicked in the waves, and barked at the inert shells of horseshoe crabs. When gulls flew overhead he’d spring into the air, trying to catch them, and when a tern came along he tried to catch that, too. The tern, unperturbed, zipped and zoomed low along the shoreline, its wings positioned like those of a fighter jet. Wallace delightedly pursued the tern at top speed. The funny thing was that, instead of flying off to safety, the tern continued to zip back and forth along the shore. It seemed to be playing a game with my dog. This went on for hours. I’ll never forget the sound of Wallace’s paws splashing in the wet sand, or the look of pure joy on his face as he chased his friend the bird. He seemed to know that I was unhappy, that I was on the verge of making a life-changing decision. Both he and the bird seemed to be telling me: joy is the means, not the end. I remember thinking on that day that Wallace had never looked so completely and jubilantly alive. I remember thinking that everything would be okay if I left Ted.

So I began to practice holding that image in my mind. Daily. Soon I began to cry less and laugh more. Soon, I was even able to say the word “dog” without sobbing. Mostly, I began to forgive myself. I began to remember that, to his dying day, Wallace knew I loved him. And I knew he loved me. No life can be more complete than that. To love and know love.

Fitzgerald once wrote: “There are many kinds of love, but never the same love twice.” He was talking about a girl, of course, but I believe the same applies to dogs. I also believe that, just as we change, our idea of the perfect dog can change too. I now know that I can never replace Wallace, but I can expand upon the lessons we had learned together.

So I am happy to report that I have found a new love: a French Spaniel mix named Chloe. She is perfect. There’s a long story behind how I found her—or rather, how she found me—but I shall save that for the future—my dog-filled future. And, even though it is hard to say goodbye to Wallace and goodbye to my column “Rex and the City,” it must be said and it must be done. For saying goodbye to one love is the only way to open up to another. So: goodbye, dear Wallace. And hello, dear Chloe. Perhaps this is the happy ending my editor wanted. It was there all along.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Thanks to all the readers who have been emailing to ask where I have been and what I have been up to. Sorry to not keep in touch!

I’ve finally emerged from the Meher Center, where I spent a few weeks meditating, praying, and learning about the Avatar Meher Baba. It was Pete Townshend who first told me about Meher Baba, years ago, and I finally went to the center after Baba appeared to me in a dream this summer. I figured that was a clear sign that I had to go.

Anyway, I stayed in Pete’s famous cabin, saw beautiful sunrises every morning, and spent a lot of time walking on the beach. It was magical but also intense in a way I can’t explain. I will write about this later, when I have processed things more.

Speaking of writing, I am just about to hand in that dastardly novel, NOTHING KEEPS A FRENCHMAN FROM HIS LUNCH (and am thrilled with this fourth and final draft) and have already started work on my next book, a memoir about the year I spent living at a Buddhist retreat center. It’s very similar to Eat Pray Love, but the thing is I started this book in 2002 - six years before Liz Gilbert started writing hers. So no one can call me a copy cat. Just a woman who spends seven years revising her books. It’s rather inconvenient.

Plus, my agent said “no one would want to read a book like that.” Now everyone I know is writing memoirs about their spiritual journeys into yoga, gurus, etc.

My agent also said no one would want to read a memoir about dogs. This was a few years before Marley and Me. Another interesting topic…

But what I find uncanny is how similar my life story is to Liz’s. I too left an unhappy marriage and decided to go on a spiritual retreat on a whim. Basically, I was so unhappy with my abusive mate that I became suicidal and had to get myself out of New York City before I jumped from the window of my office at Zoetrope. So i went to the Buddhist retreat and learned about Buddhism and meditation and it saved my life. But I’ll save this all for the book. This blog is already too long as it is.
So that memoir is next on the list. And I am also getting ready to shop the Frenchman manuscript around for film rights. They say my chances are good, and I was very clever in that I wrote in parts for Orlando Bloom, Viggo Mortensen, and Ian McKellan. And no, the story is not set in Middle Earth. It’s set in the South of France.

I met Viggo years ago, fell in love, and was heartbroken when the feelings weren’t reciprocated. He did kiss my dog a few times, so right now that is my best claim to fame. Orlando loves dogs, too, so we’ll see if my dog Chloe can make out with him as well. Another notch in the collar.

On the music front, I am still working on assembling an all-female Who tribute band. Things are going slowly b/c I am not in NYC at the moment, and b/c I can’t find a female drummer who can play like Keith Moon. I have met a lot of technically skilled, ass-kicking drummers, but the band needs someone who is slightly insane. Keith always pushed his playing to the very limit of ‘out of control.” Yet he kept it in control and was a master timekeeper. We need that. If you know of anyone, please send an email.

I miss NYC so much I ache, but I love being on the beach in Charleston. I love the sunrises and the smell of salt marshes and the soft breezes and the sounds of sea birds. I am definitely an Aquarius and an Atlantean.

Although all my psychic friends in Woodstock feel I am one of the Pleiadians. I am open to anything that might explain why I am the way I am.

So that’s all for now. I return to NY in May, start teaching in June, start gigging in July. Oh, I can’t wait!