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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7 Reasons You’ll Love this Cat Like I Did

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It’s Friday night and I am sitting down to dinner. I want to relax, delve into an episode of Breaking Bad and savor my meal in peace. My beloved cat Jontue is gone. The salmon on my plate is safe. The soft tissue interior of my nose is not in danger of being ripped by her ferocious forepaw. My cheek won’t be swatted at either. And no one is staring at me with the intensity that could move a mountain.

I miss that someone.

That “fur person” as May Sarton said.

I first spotted Jontue in a pet store, a small kitty in a huge enclosure all by her lonesome, crying out for my attention as I shopped for cat food. I already had four at home. But this one’s eyes were pleading take me; I need love. Those eyes also said, I can love you too.

Of course you can, little cat.

A strange looking thing, Jontue was six months old and resembled a prehistoric creature with her brindled coat, fangs, and wiry tail. Exotic or not, no one wanted her. I understood this all too well. So I paid an extraordinary amount of money for the pure breed Cornish Rex because she needed a home, someone to take care of her.

She entered my life when I was particularly vulnerable and lonely; she captured my heart and I like to think I captured hers. Over the years, I’d come to know Jontue so well. She was a cat driven by instinct and visibly affected by subtle shifts of energy. She was small and silky-haired and stuck close to me at all times. She was also needy and affable. She liked to hold my head in a firm grip with her paws and lick the tip of my nose.

Jontue was my last live connection to the desert, another planet called Tucson, the barren landscape where I lived a few difficult years in my early thirties in personal chaos. She was the fifth cat I adopted during those years when I was living by my lonesome and she was like all others in this one way: they were all abandoned and unwanted.

That is, until I came along and laid claim. I adored all five of my cats. Jontue held an especially beloved place in my heart.

She was my protector, my nurse and deeply in tune with how I was feeling. When I’d cry myself silly or stare off into space feeling blue, she’d whack my cheek as if I was in a diabetic stupor. Mama, snap out of it. Caring for her and the other cats gave me the reason to drag myself out of bed at times when I was overcome with illness and depression, those heavy burdens of being human. When these feelings took over Jontue knew and she came and offered all she could: her soft coat to pet, her warm body and a purr, her kind eyes holding mine for a moment before looking away.

I’ve met many irresponsible people in my life but never an irresponsible cat.
—Rita Mae Brown, author of Pawing Through the Past: A Mrs. Murphy Mystery

Jontue even made living in Tucson at times fun. She got frisky when she had a productive #2 and frolicked out of the litter box and across the kitchen tile floor like a filly with a belly full of bedsprings. A supreme hunter, she dismantled geckos in the apartment, danced about with flesh-colored scorpions, and swatted down flying insects with incredible precision (inside the apartment). Outside, she could leap six-foot fences in a single bound. Nimble, she was! Continue reading

Bun-Bonding Sweetness: The 2-Minute Vid You Can’t Miss!

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Awww, was just going through some blog archives and discovered I never published this little video of bun-bonding sweetness! We miss fostering our rescued house rabbits!

Some Info on Bunny Bonding: “Love Is in the Air – Sorta”

Introducing two new rabbits and trying to get them to live happily together or “bond” them can be a problematic process. A “quick” bond is two weeks. Three months is not unusual. Don’t get discouraged. Remember, YOU are the primate with higher brain function and opposable thumbs. Most rabbits can be bonded, given enough patience and effort on your part.

You may be advised to take the rabbits on a drive in the car. The general idea is to stress the rabbits so that they turn to each other for comfort and forget their territorial and dominance disputes. Using a car for this purpose is falling out of vogue for two reasons. First, it’s dangerous as the rabbits are harder to mange in a moving vehicle. Second, it requires two people, one to drive and the other to handle the rabbits. Finally, there are easier ways to do the same thing at home. If you have a cloths washer, you can put the rabbits in a basket on top of the washer during the spin cycle. Keep a towel handy to throw over the rabbits if they start to panic, and keep a tight grip on the basket.

An even easier trick is to put them in a cold dryer.  No, you won’t be turning it on. You’ll just out them in the dryer, and if they start to make a fuss, turn rotate the drum slowly by hand. This will be enough to keep the rabbits on an uneven footing and will allow you significant control over the situation. As a bonus, the steel drum of the average dryer will be easy to clean in the event of territorial wetting or pelleting. Side loading washers are generally too damp for this purpose, and rabbit claws can catch, bend or break in the drainage holes that line a washer’s drum. Simply putting the rabbits in a clean, dry bathtub will also provide a slippery footing and neutral territory.

“Bunny Bonding, Love Is in the Air – Sorta” is sourced from House Rabbit Network’s blog.

Please visit House Rabbit Network’s blog or Facebook Page for more information on house rabbit adoption, fostering or rabbit care. You can tell ’em Lisa sent you!

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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Even Rabbits Have a Christmas Wish List

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Even Rabbits Have a Christmas Wish List

A great holiday story! Rudy here, posing with Santa, is a former foster bun of mine that was rescued from a horrible situation by Sue W., a great lover of all animals. Sue surrendered him to House Rabbit Network thinking she could live without him. End of the story? She couldn’t live without him and adopted him today!

Hopscotch: Small Bun, Big Personality

Our newest foster, Hopscotch insists on speaking for herself and I wouldn’t dream of preventing her from doing so. Here’s her pitch…

“I like to think of myself as low in maintenance and high in entertainment.”

I’m an adorable lion head house rabbit, a very special breed that came into being in Belgium. This means I speak English with a Dutch accent.

Far from Belgium and anything Dutch, I ended up for sale as an 8-week old baby and was bought by a young boy who feared for my life at a New England fair. He could not keep me.

Since then, more than a year later, I have been moved around a lot and grown wary about being picked up and even touched, so I would do best in an experienced home. Experienced means you are seasoned in caring for a rabbit like me, have patience, and don’t expect me jump on your lap and shower you with kisses. At least not right away. Don’t get me wrong I want to trust you–I just need time. I’ve been with my new foster mom and dad for nearly three weeks now and already taking treats from their fingers—bits of banana and their slow movements have enticed me to do so. Banana also happens to be my  favorite thing next to Stella Artois, Guylian’s Chocolate Seashells, and Ridley’s “The Liz,” a road bike. (My foster mom is budding in here saying never give any type of beer or chocolate to a ‘bunny.’ She also says she’s never seen a ‘bunny’ ride a bike no matter how fantastically engineered it is).

Most rabbits, even Belgian ones like me use a litter box and I’m quite tidy—I like to think of myself as low in maintenance and high in entertainment. I am “a petite” at just 3½ pounds, but I’m a spry girl and prefer being kept in a pen so I can run its perimeter as fast as my little feet will carry me and do binkies. What’s a binky, you ask? In the language of a lagomorph, it’s when rabbits become so overwhelmed in glee, we jump into the air and twist our head and body in opposing directions—to a first time observer, it looks like we’re having some kind of convulsion. In reality, it’s actually a conniption, a form of hysterical frenzy.

Talking about binkies, do you know that cats can bink too? My foster mom sometimes straightens out my pen so I have access to most of the first floor. The only bit of mischief I get into is sneaking up on and startling the cat that often shares my pen—she binks straight up into the air!

After a great while of exploring the place, I begin to feel tired and climb up on my cardboard box tunnel. Like the bun diva that I am, I survey the room feeling secure and confident until I grow so sleepy that my eyes close and I fall asleep sitting up. How I love to have room to exercise, feel safe and be cared for. And, I find, I have developed a certain affinity for cats.

Won’t you consider adopting me as one of your companions—developing a bond with me, have me trust you? I’m so much fun to have around, I just need a permanent loving home in which to blossom. 

Please contact House Rabbit Network to inquire about adopting me, the little caramel-colored rabbit with a Dutch accent and a lion’s mane.

Consider fostering too!

Hopscotch brings out the highlights in my hair nicely.

Lisa Mae DeMasi lives in Natick, Massachusetts with her boyfriend Dennis and a fluctuating number of animal companions–some live with them full time, some are fostered, some board. This animal husbandry is a compulsion, saving just one more neglected cute and furry creature warms her heart. Dennis loves them too; the landlord is exceedingly tolerant. Her mother thinks she’s nuts. Lisa is also a blogger and avid writer, her work has been published in Shark Reef Literary Magazine, HuffPost and Elephant Journal. She considers Massachusetts her home, but has lived in Connecticut, Vermont, New York State and two other planets called Wyoming and Arizona. She earned a B.A. from Regis College and an MBA from Babson College, and possesses over 25 years working in administrative support roles in small Boston consultancies. She also holds a Master certificate in Reiki and practice this form of holistic healing on the animals in which she cares for.

 

Snoopy Come Home

“Are you upset little friend? Have you been lying awake worrying? Well, don’t worry…I’m here. The floodwaters will recede, the famine will end, the sun will shine tomorrow, and I will always be here to take care of you.” −Charlie Brown to Snoopy

He’d been dumped at a dentist’s office sometime during the night. It’s hard to believe, he’s terribly irresistible this darling little bunny, a Holland Lop-Eared. He’s mostly white, has dark brown ears and spots running down his back. He came to me as Mickey but my brother soon renamed him to Snoopy. Very fitting for the “bun,” he even presents me with his food bowl between his teeth, a paw-printed metallic dog dish.

Snoopy. The sweet little guy that greets me in his cage every morning for days now seeking a handful of pellets and hay; set him free from confinement to the expanse of the non-rabbit-proof living room and random passing cat. How adventurous he is.

Snoopy. The bun who in the evening jumps into our laps, displaces a cat or two or three, nuzzles our faces with his whiskers, unearths a kernel of popcorn from in between the cushions. How playful he is.

Snoopy. I am his “foster mom”—I foster buns until they’re adopted, a rewarding task when it comes to a happy newfound bond involving children or adults like me who haven’t outgrown caring for small and furry creatures. I am not paid to foster; the sweetness of caring for them pays me in bushels. How sweet he is.

Snoopy. I grow to loathe the day he’ll leave me, get adopted into a forever loving home. It’s okay, I tell myself, this is what it’s all about. This is the process, it makes room for one more to come into my life, be cared for. How tender he makes my heart.

Snoopy, the puppy dog rabbit. Precious thing. Until my work schedule changes and his late afternoon salad of organic kale, dandelion greens, Swiss chard and romaine is delayed two hours and he begins body slamming me out of his pen. At first I think, okay, he’s upset, his routine has changed. I send him Reiki energy, surround his body in light, think he’ll adapt, it is but a mere adjustment. How quirky he is.

Snoopy, you’re a sweet thing, I think as I reach into his pen the following afternoon to give him a scratch on the ear and set his bowl of salad down. Never bite the hand that feeds you. This is my next thought because Snoop-Dog is upset, taken a chunk out of my knuckle, his salad is late again—it’s got my blood in it. How surprising his behavior is.

Snoop-Dog, oh, Snoop-Dog, I think a day later as I shield myself from his snapping incisors with the gate of his pen. I’d rather drown in the saliva from your kisses than be bit and bruised and have to give you back to the rabbit-whisperer for aggressive buns in which you came to me post rescuing from the dental office. How it breaks my heart.

Snoop-Dog, oh, Snoop-Dog, back to rabbit rehab for you. I always wanted to be here to care for you, recede the floodwaters, end your famine, shine the sun on you but I am petrified. Petrified of you, an adorable Holland Lop that bites into my flesh as if I’ve wronged you. Really wronged you. Oh, my dear lagomorph, what’s got into you? 

Snoop-Dog, oh, Snoop-Dog, I hope Terry the rabbit-whisperer can bring you around. She tells me she is going to change your routine every day, not one hour will mimic the one before. Topsy-turvy, Snoops, your whole world is going to be turned upside-down. This is intended to tame you into adapting to change so someday you can be adopted and not bite the hand that feeds you. How saddened am I to let you go this way. 

Snoop-Dog, oh, Snoop-Dog, I bet in Northern Central Mass. you are not getting organic greens, so many pats on the head, the freedom to wedge yourself behind the dryer for hours on end. I kinda enjoyed the bun body slamming but given the chance, would you have not bitten me, particularly the last bout when you lunged through the air like an acrobat to plant your teeth into my shin?

How I miss ya, Snoops. Wish you could come back to me. You have been cheated by love and trust, but too quick to form misunderstanding of all I am capable of giving.