The Dirty Road to Finding Writer’s Validation

The bliss in that first taste soothes my soul.

It’s six ounces of Ketel One vodka with a dribble of brine. Not the nasty liquid that comes out of an olive jar, but twice filtered brine from premium olives. This subtle saltiness takes the bite of the vodka down a notch to pleasurable, an inviting clean crispness that sterilizes my insides and satisfies the palette.

This drink and the art in making it is what symbolize the end of an arduous day, or not so arduous, a ritual nonetheless.

It’s a beautiful thing, the vodka martini. Even the word vodka sounds terribly exotic, so undeniably Russian. I’m wearing a sable hat, standing amid the tundra, my breath streaming before me in smoky condensation as I set my implements about—the cocktail shaker, ice, olives, pick, the 1.75-liter bottle that takes the support of my two hands to pour it.

I was introduced to “the dirty” when a high school girlfriend mixed one up for me during a girls’ weekend. The memory of its taste and influence to seduce my mind into peaceful waters remained dormant, however, until I hit a stretch of unbearable time, some four years later, when I had been writing long and hard without any validation or ounce of fruition.

I’d bleed all day long over the page, feel isolated having abandoned my corporate career, determined to make something of myself writing. What I found in my dear friend, the dirty, was a form of self-medication—a crutch, a reward—the delightful anesthesia that numbed the anxiety of feeling like a failure, the taking of a wrong turn.

Alcohol is the anesthesia by which we endure the operation of life. ~ George Bernard Shaw

The thing, too, that’s commendable about drinking the dirty is it gets you to where you’re going, fast. And instead of looking like a thirsty drunk, you can do the deed looking poised like Holly Golightly, long stem glass high in hand, three beautiful olives appearing larger than life through the condensation between the rim and where you’ve already sipped away.

The art, the sophistication, the ritual—its downright writerness.

I am a seasoned, one per night, quite functional vodka martini drinker. To some that may not sound bad, but I know what my physician would say and I’m staying clear of her exam room.

The margin, however, between quite functional and fully functional is a subject to be questioned. Especially since I’ve transitioned to drinking the dirty straight, aka “sans the dirt.”

Certainly, the “advantage” here is to be numbed from pain, some sort of intolerance for various fragments of life, the daily grind. The detriment, in the slightest incremental stages that’s widening the margin, is found in a loose tongue and the voracious appetite that follows in the martini’s wake; the inability to read before bed, remember little things in the morning.

The detriment, the slippery slope, is outweighing the advantage.

The latter is evidenced in my ever-expanding girth and my two arms, which now resemble loaves of bread. For the martini, the escape it brings, frees me to consume a serving fit for Pat’s defensive tackle Alan Branch. Sugar and salt begets more sugar and salt.

And chicken parm tastes best when complemented by what?

A robust red wine—two glasses worth.

But it’s stops there, right?

Nope.

With an overstuffed belly, a shot of Remy Martin in a handsome snifter comes afterward. I’ve had a love affair with food all my life, well-managed through biking my butt off, but throw in this consumption at my age, it’s gonna lead to the end of me.

Obese essayist dies of ever-consuming consumption: she drank and ate herself to death, despite what she’s thinks, not so artfully.

Shakti Gawain, a new age author, whose methods of creative visualization I practiced like a junky when I first began writing, says of validation, “When we consistently suppress and distrust our intuitive knowingness, looking instead for authority, validation, and approval from others, we give our personal power away.”

Sorry Shakti, I just can’t buy that.

I’m wired differently, tethered to the physical. I do not trust my intuition; I don’t even think I have any. I need validation to keep on.

When validation continued not to surface, I began taking in cute and furry animals until a person of well-intention adopted them. The vodka soothed my nerves, caring for the animals gave meaning to my life. I’d be hard-pressed to count the number of lagomorphs and tiny whiskered fur balls that have moved through our home.

Validation, alas, is crucial to my existence.

But, wait!

There’s a change blowing in the proverbial wind. Yes, siree! I no longer a need to anesthetize myself to endure the operation of life. I’m quitting the vodka—although I’m on the third bottle beyond the one that was to be my last.

I’m gearing up, you see.

Why, might you ask, am I “suddenly” willing to give up my dearest friend, the martini? The beautiful thing that took me away from reality; facing the endless number of untethered days ahead of me?

Because my essays are starting to get picked up. There’s the validation, the essence of what I’ve been striving for. No more crutch needed.

And you know what?

Getting published, I find, tastes as clean and pleasing to the palette as the vodka.

And, by God, it’s healthier!

It is the dawning of my intended existence.

Right now in fact I’m crafting a new essay on the writing life with Suzanne, my coach, an accomplished individual with street cred who validated my existence long before I was born and frightfully knows me better than myself.

We have a lot of things in common she and I. Except outside of writing, she’s not obsessed with the martini—she’s obsessed with yoga.

Yoga sounds so wholesome, doesn’t it?

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Lisa has been publishing essays for five years on the writing life, sex and relationships, and her love for horses, dogs and cowboy country. One of her essays appeared in the IPPY-award-winning anthology Unmasked: Women Write About Sex and Intimacy After Fifty, published in 2017. She lives near Boston, where she rides horses and commutes by bike to her job writing and editing technology blogs for Dell Technologies. She is currently pitching her memoir Calamity Becomes Her to literary agents and is at work on two sequels. You can contact her at lisa dot demasi at gmail dot com.

How the Loss of this Small Creature Hit Me Big

I am looking at Sabrina. Her head is hanging out the window and the air is moving beneath her floppy ears, giving rise to them in a way that suggests her body is capable of flight. She makes my heart feel lighter, her being so free, finding joy in simple things.

The fruity fragrance from the pine trees that pass in my periphery along the road departing from the Weston Reservoir penetrates the air. A grand estate appears. David Gilmore’s voice fills the car; he’s singing “Poles Apart,” accompanied by his faithful guitar. His words are deeply personal and introspective and each line advances me to the next moment. I can see his fingers strumming each chord.

I had left the house an hour and change before, worrying about the chilly temperature, the state of the ground. If I’d be able to dig into the soil. The Reservoir, one of our favorite haunts, is where I intended to bury one of our beloved “girls” after visiting the vet.

The last three weeks had been difficult, watching her struggle, losing the ability to groom herself and topple over; her body emaciated. I knew the day was coming—when it was up to me to play God and snuff out her remaining life. It had eaten away at me, causing me to dream images of her body’s decay from the inside out. She, “Bobbin,” is a favorite among our rescued menagerie; rides atop my shoulder as I do chores around the house, a pet rat that shows me affection like any dog or cat might.

Let me interject a matter of opinion here: I am not some weird lab geek or a questionable hermit with a strange fetish. I hold an advanced degree and am attractive athlete, very feminine, hail from an affluent area, and here to tell you, rats make great pets.

Especially those rescued from a hoarding debacle.

I had arrived at the vet around 9:00, having made a shaky-voiced call, indicating my decision to put her down imminently only twenty-five minutes before, checked in and sat down on the bench in the reception area. The clinic was busy, chaotic. Sabrina put her head on my knee, a gesture that indicated, I’m here for you, Mama. Cradling Bobbin in my hands I envisioned golden light surrounding her and tried to help myself feel better by taking deep belly breathes and blinking away my tears.

Bobbin

And we all know little compares to the emotionally-charged vibe when sharing a vet’s reception area with someone who is sitting there, tears streaming down his or her face, holding their beloved pet, waiting to be called into a room where it will be euthanized.

The cat and dog people around me didn’t understand that I happen to be that person during this particular visit. “What’ve you got there?” An elderly man asked, a Yorkshire Terrier at his feet, yapping. Four other people, wanting to satisfy their own curiosity, looked my way. “A rat,” I whispered, “she’s dying.”

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The Dog Difference: How We’ve Made One Another Whole Again

At two years old, Lady’s ribs protruded from her coat and her belly was swollen with milk.

Like the other thirteen Labs that had arrived at a rest stop in Union, CT after the straight 12½-hour drive from Muncie, IN, she was presented to us on a crisp autumn day amid the chaos of respective adopters.

My fiance Dennis had never experienced the warmth and companionship of having a dog and well, I surprised him with Lady, who we quickly renamed to Sabrina. The very afternoon we picked her up, we raced to the park, wanting her to feel the joy of freedom and play. Dennis’s face lit up and while I was thrilled at the opportunity to befriend and care for Sabrina; it meant closing the 20-year gap since our beloved German Shepard from my childhood passed away.

Until laying my eyes on Sabrina’s profile, my heart couldn’t entertain loving another dog.

And what canine isn’t after the same love?

In Sabrina’s case, she couldn’t know of the family members that awaited to embrace her presence. Within days of the initial hair-raising excitement, the cat sought out occasions to groom her ears. Our pet rat was free to waddle the kitchen floor un-bothered, and the pair of bonded bunnies in want of company stretched out beside her on the living room floor.

Dog, cat, rat, rabbit?

You bet.

And Dennis and me?

Like kids again.

Sabrina settled into the folds of our lives, well-nourished and exercised in Boston’s epic snowfall in the winter of 2009-2010, taking careful watch over all of us. The fear expressed in her eyes pre-adoption disappeared.

Nine years later, she watches over me in particular. Thirty years ago, I was struck and thrown from the passenger side of a car until my abdomen collided with the steering wheel—blunt force that called for iterative repair to my digestive system and caused IBD and permanent damage to the nerves that signal my bladder is full.

Today when I’m busy working away, Sabrina will alert me to get up every couple of hours to make a trip to the restroom by gently placing her head in my lap.

When I suffer acute intestinal cramping, Crohns-like symptoms, she’ll sit at my side and lean her body against mine. Her calm and steady source of nurturing, helps me to relax and mitigates the cramps.

In 2008, the Department of Justice amended the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) to include digestive, bowel and bladder impairments that limit major life activities as the disabled, calling for employers to make reasonable accommodations and if the individual elects, to allow task-oriented service animals [dog or miniature horse] to accompany them on the job.

Sabrina, serving in the capacity of a sensory/medical assist – alerting me to get up and take care of myself – qualifies.

Three winters ago, the HR Director, Debra Susler of Reputation Institute in Cambridge, MA would not allow Sabrina to accompany me on-the-job. I sent her an elaborate email explaining my condition and Sabrina’s service dog certification. She replied “no,” not to me, but to my supervisor.

My response?

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