My Dear Friend, the Dirty

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 publishes essays on the writing life, sex and relationships, and her love for horses. Her essays have appeared in Horse Network, Manifest-StationHuffPost, and the IPPY-award-winning anthology Unmasked: Women Write About Sex and Intimacy After Fifty. In August of 2018, she was awarded a one-month writer’s residency at Fairhope Center for the Writing Arts in Fairhope, AL. She lives near Boston, where she bikes, hikes, rides horses, and edits technology blogs for the CTO of Hitachi Vantara. She is pitching her memoir, “Calamity Becomes Her: Love, Loss and a Healthy Dose of Overcoming Adversity” to agents and at work on the sequel.

You can contact her at lisa.demasi@gmail.com and follow her on TwitterLinkedIn or via her website nurtureismynature.com.

 

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

Who Rescued Whom: How We’ve Made One Another Whole Again

An animal’s eyes have the power to speak a great language. ― Martin Buber

Lady’s ribs protruded from her coat and her belly was swollen with milk.

Thirteen frightened rescue Labs who’d just endured a straight 12½-hour drive from Muncie, IN, combined with the anticipation of the adopting families, made for a chaotic scene at the rest stop Union, CT, that crisp autumn day.

“Lady” the handler called out and we came forward to meet our new family member. She looked at us with her sad eyes and immediately dropped to ground, presenting her belly in submission and desire for loving human contact.

Ostensibly, she was about 2-1/2 years old and despite being clearly underweight and having recently delivered a litter, Lady was beautiful. We couldn’t help but look for comparisons with famous beauties — high cheek bones, gorgeous brown eyes. Audrey Hepburn, the original Sabrina. She took to her new name immediately and we raced to the park to feel the joy of freedom and play. Off-leash, she couldn’t get enough of fetching the ball or the stick. Soon, we learned that she was an incredible frisbee player.

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?  I’d grown up with animals and while we maintained a diverse entourage, the loss twenty years earlier of our beloved German Shepherd was still a bit raw. Dennis, my husband on the other hand, had grown up with allergies and never experienced life with the warmth and companionship of any four-legged, furry creatures. I surprised him announcing the planned adoption on the train returning from a business trip to Washington, D.C. His face actually lit up (a dog!)

In Sabrina’s case, she couldn’t know the variety of 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 unbothered, 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 2010, taking careful watch over all of us. The fear expressed in her eyes pre-adoption disappeared — the classic love-story.

But in the vein of “who rescued whom?” there’s more to this story.

Thirty years ago, as a passenger in a VW Rabbit that was broadsided in a January blizzard, my abdomen was driven into the steering wheel—blunt force trauma that necessitated re-plumbing and iterative repair to my digestive system. The all but miraculous recovery did leave me with irritable bowel syndrome and permanent damage to the nerves that signal my bladder is full.

Working from home for most of the eight years following Sabrina’s adoption, I suddenly noticed that when I’m busy working away, Sabrina will gently place her head in my lap every couple of hours, prompting me to get up and make a trip to the restroom. And, 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 individuals with digestive, bowel and bladder impairments that limit major life activities, calling for employers to make reasonable accommodations and if the individual elects, to allow certified task-oriented service animals (dog or miniature horse) to accompany them on-the-job.

Sabrina demonstrated that she met the requirements and serving in the capacity of a sensory/medical assist was certified by the National Service Animal Registry (NSTAR). She was welcomed enthusiastically in a temp role I held at Sun Life Financial in Wellesley in 2016.

Her competencies and understanding of language constantly astound us. For bystanders in public, the grocery store, pharmacy, gym, dentist, doctor, gazes from cell phones are broken, conversations fall short.

Then, come the smiles. A question. Praises. The feel-good moment.

Sabrina brings people together.

In 2017, being hired for a role at a snooty Cambridge brand-analytics firm, the HR Director responded to a detailed email explaining my condition and Sabrina’s certification with an “enlightened” “you can’t bring your dog to work.”

My reaction?

I walked out of the place.

Most recently, her behavior on-the-job at Dell Technologies is so well-mannered, coworkers never run out of compliments about her.

The other day I read a distressing post from a woman who said every time she looks into a service dog’s eyes, she sees sadness. Even Ingrid Newkirk, CEO and Co-Founder of PETA, has told me, “the life of a typical service dog is a terrible one.”

It’s true. Any canine enslaved to servitude is doomed a dog’s life unlived.

Service animals are working animals, not pets.

The ADA confirms it.

In Sabrina’s case though, everybody won, and life couldn’t be better. She thoroughly enjoys the hikes and playing and gets plenty of it. Sabrina teaches me to exist in the moment—just like she does. We enjoy the sight of the sun shimmering through the trees, the call of the birds, and the fragrance of wildflowers when I tread beside her when we’re on our hikes. But she’s always there, as my devoted helper.

What more could a dog do for a girl?

Sabrina is just like heaven.

To see all of Lisa’s published work, click here.

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Lisa publishes essays on the writing life, sex and relationships, and her love for horses. Her essays have appeared in Horse Network, Manifest-StationHuffPost, and the IPPY-award-winning anthology Unmasked: Women Write About Sex and Intimacy After Fifty. In August of 2018, she was awarded a one-month writer’s residency at Fairhope Center for the Writing Arts in Fairhope, AL. She lives near Boston, where she bikes, hikes, rides horses, and edits technology blogs for the CTO of Hitachi Vantara. She is pitching her memoir, “Calamity Becomes Her: Love, Loss and a Healthy Dose of Overcoming Adversity” to agents and at work on the sequel.

You can contact her at lisa.demasi@gmail.com and follow her on TwitterLinkedIn or via her website nurtureismynature.com.

 

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.