The Privilege to Be Among Them

Dudleyblog2

Guest Post by Laura Allnutt

I suffered from insomnia as a child, lying awake for hours after my parents put me to bed and rising much earlier than everyone else. In those dark, lonely hours of sleeplessness, my childhood monsters didn’t hide under the bed or in the closet; they whispered my fears in the silence.

My dad found me one night sobbing into my pillow and asked what was wrong.
“I’m just thinking about you and Mommy dying!” I said.

“Why would you think something ridiculous like that?” he said. “Stop thinking about it and go to sleep.”

But I often thought about it and sometimes still do. I’ve spent the majority of my life trying to avoid loss.

Everything I own has a place—a drawer, a shelf, a closet, a space under the bed—so that I know where it is. If something is not in its place, it frustrates me because things are not supposed to disappear.

If you’re not careful, you’ll want to avoid love altogether.

But you can’t shelve and secure loved ones so that you’ll always know where to find them. The potential of loss makes love both wonderful and dangerous. Sometimes, if you’re not careful, you’ll want to avoid love altogether.

When Sarah started talking about getting a dog, I didn’t want one. If you’ve read any book or seen any movie about dogs, you know the heartbreak of owning a canine. Old Yeller, Where the Red Fern Grows, My Dog Skip, Marley and Me, Hachi. We’ve been warned: they will all die.

The average dog lives eight to fifteen years. Those years could be your childhood, college and grad school, the time it took to pay off your car. It sounds long in the moment, but when it’s over, it’s merely a snapshot of life, time quickly spent.

But Sarah was aching for a dachshund, and the puppy pictures online were irresistible, especially the brown-and-tan male. We even came up with a name we both loved. Soon we found ourselves on a two-hour journey to the deep Kentucky South, off the interstate and onto roads that rolled through fields of corn and tobacco.

I was mentally guarded against the cuteness to come.

As we wondered over hill and dale, I told myself, “After we look at the puppies, I’ll tell Sarah it’s a bad idea. We can’t get a dog.” I was firm in my resolution, prepared and mentally guarded against the cuteness to come.

My family had dogs before. I knew what it was like to meet the breeder and watch the litter fumble out of the kennel, rolling and flopping and licking at your feet. You pick the puppy that shows you the most attention, the one who looks up at you with longing in his eyes. It’s an egotistical problem that people the world over have fallen for, but not today.

Dudleyblog4When we finally found the breeders’ home, their granddaughter led us around back to the long row of kennels. The puppies were in the one on the far left, a black-and-tan female, a piebald male, and the brown-and-tan male we came for. The rest had already been sold. The female and piebald pushed to the front, fighting to be the first out of the pen, while our brown-and-tan waited from behind, wanting out but afraid of the kennel door. He got trapped behind it when the granddaughter pushed it open and sat there, sad and dejected as if he’d lost another chance to have a home.

The granddaughter pulled him out and handed him to Sarah. He pushed himself as far up under her neck as he could and nestled in, whimpering and moaning. She rocked him a moment and then handed him to me, where he also pushed up to nuzzle his nose into my neck. Only this time, he stopped crying.

It was dramatic and pathetic, and I almost fell for it, but I was still ready to hand him back.

“Come on inside,” the granddaughter said.

Dudleyblog3We followed, pup in hand, to the kitchen where the breeder was filling out the paperwork. He talked about feedings and vaccines, but I thought about Skip and Hachi. I tried to put the puppy down, but he cried again, so I settled him on my lap and lifted his long nose to look into his small green eyes. But with his breath on my hand, I thought of a scene from The Avengers: Age of Ultron, in which Ultron tells Vision that humans are doomed.

“Yes,” Vision says, “but a thing isn’t beautiful because it lasts. It’s a privilege to be among them.”

“You got a name picked out?” the breeder asked.

Sarah and I shared a glance, and I rubbed the puppy’s chin. “We do,” I said. “It’s Dudley.”

I still don’t like the idea of loss, but I’m learning to enjoy those I love while I’m able. After all, it is a privilege to be among them.

 

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CurlyOnce a month I hope to feature a post by a guest author, giving some of the lovely writers that I know a chance to add their voice to Goose Hill. Today’s post comes from Laura Allnutt, my best friend, apartment-mate, and fellow writer. Laura holds an MFA in fiction from Fairfield University and is currently working on a novel to submit to a contest in October. Read more about her in just about any of my posts. 

Cleaning House: 7 Tips for De-Cluttering Your Life

“Don’t own so much clutter that you will be relieved to see your house catch fire.”—Wendell Berry

yard saleLast fall, the living room started closing in on me. The knickknacks leered from the book shelf, coffee table, mantel, and TV stand. I shuddered to think of my storage closet where  junk lurked in the obscene darkness, breeding like vicious rabbits.

Not long after, we started getting rid of everything.

Four months later, after combing every inch of our house for things to trash, sell, or otherwise evict, and after spending hours of meeting people to buy our stuff from Facebook Yardsale pages (some as far away as South Carolina!), we’re fairly satisfied with our trimmed-down apartment—everything in its place and with a purpose.

Through the months of purging, I collected some principles for cleaning house. See if they’ll inspire you to do some de-cluttering of your own.

  • Look at your stuff suspiciously.

    When Laura and I started this process, we eyed every item in our house like Joe McCarthy looking for a communist. Pick things up, appraise their value, and if they aren’t worth keeping, then don’t. Surround yourself with meaningful things. Look at your house like someone else would look at your house, room by room. What does your stuff say about you?

  • When you get something new, get rid of something old.

    Don’t stick it in the storage closet—be purposeful about recycling it. Recently, we bought a new kitchen utensil holder at IKEA. So I put my old crock on Facebook Marketplace and sold it two days later for $5. This rotation rule is a great way to get rid of unnecessary items—and make some cash.

  • Think ahead—but not for every scenario.

    Some people are noble pack rats: they’re resourceful and prudent because somewhere in their past they got rid of something that they ended up needing the next week. But there comes a time when you have to ask yourself if needing the item in a possible futuristic scenario outweighs the need to de-clutter now.

  • If it hasn’t been used/thought of in the past year, don’t feel guilty for letting it go.

    This applies to gifts. Laura hoards mugs like Smaug hoards gold—or at least she used to. Through the years I’ve talked her out of keeping mugs simply because they had been given to her by family or friends. I encouraged her when she got a new mug to get rid of an old one. (If ever you wanted to buy her a present, please, whatever you do, no mugs!) At the risk of impalement, I also want to point out that this applies to books. I often hear people gasp at the idea of getting rid of books, as if it says something of our intellect or the purity of our souls. But books can become clutter just like anything else—especially if you don’t intend to read them. We were blessed to find a Half-Price Books up the street from our house. They pay for used books, games, or DVDs. And let me tell you, I dread my next move less now that I’ve thinned out about half of my book collection.

  • Don’t keep stuff just because, but don’t get rid of stuff just because.

    Find that happy balance between prudence and pack-rattery. It’s one thing to keep something truly special because of an emotional connection, but another thing to become emotionally connected to stuff just because it’s yours.

  • Avoid shifting your clutter to other pack rats.

    I’m guilty of this by heredity. I come from a family of junk swappers. I think it helps us feel better to keep our junk close by—so we can go visit it. I’m slowly getting better about giving my stuff to strangers rather than to my mom or sister, unless it’s something I know they need.

  • Find creative ways to de-clutter.

    • Regift. Our de-cluttering process didn’t end with our own storage closet—we pulled our junk from our parents’ attics and garages as well. Almost all of the gifts that Laura gave this Christmas (at least to her nieces and nephew) were stuffed animals and books that she found among her childhood hoard. If it’s in good condition, why not save it to give to a friend or loved one? A regift of something that you once loved might mean more than a new item.
    • Set goals. Last year, my sister set a goal to get rid of 100 things in a month. Anything was fair game—toys and clothes, furniture and decorations. It seemed like a goal I could get behind, and although I didn’t keep count, I’m pretty sure I hit that mark. Maybe set a goal of 10 things per room. Or 50 things from the basement and 50 from the attic.
    • Use Amazon. In the grand history of ways to get rid of stuff, this is one of the yard sale stuffscoolest. If for some reason you don’t have a Goodwill nearby, Amazon will take your items and ship them to Goodwill for free! All you have to do is fill a box—any box—with clothes and other items that you no longer need, print a shipping label from Give Back Box website, and take it to a post office! Not only are you getting your unwanted stuff out of your hair, you’re also donating to an organization that this year alone opened over 70,000 positions for people who otherwise might not have had employment opportunities. It’s a total win!
    • Host a joint yard sale. Of course this isn’t terribly creative, but it is an awful lot of fun. Laura and I don’t have a yard at our apartment complex, so we borrowed a friend’s driveway. An added bonus is spending time lounging around with friends and perfect strangers.

These are some decluttering principles I learned during our great purge this year. But how about you? What are some tips that you have found to keep your inner pack rat at bay? Let me know in the comments.

Laughing at Fear with Toucan Sam

Do you have irrational fears? I sure do. Octopuses coming up through the bathtub drain (megalohydrothalassophobia); razor blades cutting my toes (xyrophobia); too many little things or holes in one place (trypophobia); and cooking for other people (mageirocophobia).

I’ll admit to any number of fears that I can’t even remember developing. However, this week I experienced the genesis of a brand-new irrational fear.

Plague Mask
A photo of the plague doctor mask, but not the one from Beauty and the Beast.

For about three seconds in the new Beauty and the Beast movie, I caught a glimpse of a plague doctor’s mask—the kind worn back when people were dropping left and right from the Black Death. The mask covers the nose and mouth and extends into a point like a hooked bird beak. Instantly I was seized with a horror that stuck with me through the rest of the movie, on our walk to the car, and when closed my eyes to sleep that night.

In the morning it haunted me still. Even in the bright sunlight, I couldn’t chase the creepy image from my mind. When I walked Dudley out later that evening, in the corner of my eye, I spotted a figure wearing the unnaturally hideous beak-like mask.

By that afternoon, even surrounded by people at work, I felt threatened by the menacing image.

Certainly the people of 14th century Europe feared these masks as much as I do now. Apparently plague doctors filled the beaks with aromatic herbs and spices such as mint, cloves, and myrrh, to “protect” themselves from the putrid air caused by rotting corpses and plague related symptoms.(1)

Plague_doctor_costume-1

I tried to reason my way through the fear by figuring out why I was so afraid. I briefly considered that in a previous life I lived during the time of the Black Death. But tantalizing as that fantastic theory was, realistically, of course, it didn’t explain my instant and abiding terror of my brief glimpse of the mask in the film. Maybe I was exposed to the sight as a young child and suppressed my horror until now. Maybe the mask, combined with the idea of plague, death, and unsuccessful medical practices, was just too much to absorb. Who can explain the complex dealings in the dark recesses of our brains?

I finally confessed the unreasonable depths of my fear to Laura that night.

That night I slept like a narcoleptic sloth.

“Well, Buddy, you just need to find a way to make it funny,” she suggested, channeling her inner Professor Lupin from the Harry Potter series.

Then, like working on Riddikulus-charm homework, we cobbled together a hilarious scenario of Toucan Sam in a gas mask visiting Darkwing Duck who has eaten too much broccoli and has a bad case of farts. We rolled laughing, and that night I slept like a narcoleptic sloth.

toucan sam“God has not given us the spirit of fear but of power and of love and of a sound mind” (2 Timothy 1:7). This situation reminded me of the necessity to rob fear of its power to rob us of our peace.

Sometimes that might mean praying, might mean staying busy, might mean exposing yourself to that fear, might mean seeing a therapist—but sometimes it just means laughing.

Like Professor Lupin said, “It helps. It really helps.”

I’d LOVE to hear about your irrational fear and how you deal with it in the comments below.

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  1. Before the understanding of germs and such, people assumed that plague could be caught from foul odors. This was known as the miasma theory. They also thought that obesity could come from smelling food. I am ever so glad they were wrong.
  2. Apparently not every one finds these masks repulsive. If the internet is any indication, it seems the steampunk and cosplay movement have recognized the horrific possibilities in the artistry of the mask. Dozens of depictions are available for purchase. And in 2005, a figure in a plague-doctor mask sent a menacing video to government officials. Creepy stuff!

Why My Hogwarts Letter Never Came

“Words are, in my not so humble opinion, our most inexhaustible source of magic, capable of both inflicting injury and remedying it.”—Albus Dumbledore, former Headmaster of Hogwarts

I was 30 when I first walked through the Leaky Caldron Inn and entered the world of Harry Potter. My delayed experience with the books was less because my conservative parents wouldn’t let me read them (though they wouldn’t have even if I had been interested) and more because my young-teenage self didn’t have the attention span to read an 800-page book.

And I’m glad that I didn’t because I had be old enough to appreciate fairy tales again.(1)

Last year it took me four months to read from “Mr. and Mrs. Dursley of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal,” to “All was well.”And now I would fight to the death anyone who claimed that J. K. Rowling’s seven gripping novels aren’t literature—and good literature.

I’m sad, not that so many people took a moral stand against Harry Potter for all those early years, but that they took such an uneducated stand, with acerbic criticisms as, “Sure, the books are getting kids to read—but look at the quality. It’s horrible writing.” This without cracking open the books (2).

The story is a treat, but the language is a feast.

The story and characters are a treat, but the language creating the story is a feast. Laura and I marveled to discover the word play throughout the novels. (Our wonder was further enhanced by Laura’s knowledge of Latin.) In fact, the entire story is about words—the abstract and the literal, the spoken and the figurative.

Through all the books, Rowling incorporates literary, historical, and mythical allusions and creative wordplay. Take, for example, the name Newt Scamander. It sounds like a cross between newt and salamander—perfect for a character who loves fantastic beasts and knows where to find them. Take also Harry’s godfather, Sirius Black, an animagus (for you Muggles, that’s a person who can shape shift into an animal). Sirius’s animagous is a big black dog. Sirius is the name of the brightest star in the Canis Major constellation. And Canis, if you don’t recognize it, is where we get our word caninedog. (See what Rowling did there?)

Have you noticed how all of the Weasley children’s names are characters from medieval history or the legend of Arthur? Did you know the name Hedwig means female warrior and that there was a Hedwig patron saint of orphans? (I mean, how did Rowling know that?)

But in addition to the fantastic writing, throughout the series, readers experience inspiring character attributes such as

  • Harry’s courage and passion for truth
  • Hermione’s voracity for learning
  • Ron’s loyalty
  • Dumbledore’s wisdom
  • Hagrid’s tenderheartedness
  • Snape’s sacrifice

Certainly, along with the good there is plenty to learn from the characters’ flaws:

  • Voldemort’s self-sufficiency
  • Draco’s deceitful theatrics
  • Ron’s jealousy
  • Hermione’s sometimes self-serving ambition
  • Neville’s fear and timidity
  • Harry’s far-too-frequent rebellion against the rules
  • Siruius’ recklessness
  • Lupin’s self-doubt
  • Snape’s insecurity and bitterness
  • Dumbledore’s prideful youth and idealism

Readers also learn that the most despicable evil in the world is not the satanic Voldemort type of evil, but the Delores Umbridge and Dursley kind that we recognize in hypocritical smiles and overt nastiness—the kind of evil we are most likely to commit.

None of the abundant themes or lessons speak to me more than that of the power of words. This resonates with me probably because I’ve always wanted the superpower of words—to speak and see results, command and be obeyed.

I’ve always wanted the superpower of words.

Beyond the actual wordsmithery creating the story, the world of Harry Potter is built upon commands (spells), verbal cause and effect. Don’t you love it when Hermoine points her wand at Harry’s broken glasses, utters, “Reparo,” and the glasses mend? And when faced with a boggart (again, Muggles, that’s basically a boogeyman who can transform to look like your greatest fear), isn’t it relieving that the students could speak the word Riddikulus to transform it into something hilariously non-scary?

But when we learn that Bellatrix used the cruciatus (torture) curse to drive Neville’s parents mad, didn’t you cringe from horror? Isn’t it awful to learn that Stanley Shunpike was doing Voldemorte’s bidding beneath the imperio (manipulation) curse? And don’t we all hold our breaths when, in the movie, Bellatrix Lestrange points her wand at Sirius and gleefully screams Avada Kedavra—the dreaded death spell?

In that scene, you realize that Bellatrix didn’t pull a trigger or thrust a knife. She spoke, forever altering the life of another. She used not physical violence or force but the tongue—this is the deadly weapon in the world of Harry Potter.

“Death and life are in the power of the tongue.”

This concept is a biblical one, repeated in Scripture several times, and encapsulated poignantly in Proverbs 18:21: “Death and life are in the power of the tongue.”

Maybe that’s why my Hogwarts letter never came.(3) Maybe the Ministry knew I couldn’t handle it, that my critical, judgemental, or angry words combined with my power of the wand would wield unspeakable damage.

I’m thankful that in our world I do not have the power to speak a word, flick a wand, and effect change—for good or evil. And yet I do—how I do! Not with a wand but with my tongue, with my tone, with my superfluous words and even my unspoken words.

In this very unmagical world, there is an almost supernatural power in the ethereal quality of words. And each day I must examine the words and lines I utter.(4)

  • Am I speaking the truth in love—or am I just blurting out the raw truth?
  • Am I seasoning my words with salt—or is my speech just salty?
  • Is the law of kindness in my mouth or the law of judgement?
  • Am I praising others and the Creator or praising myself?
  • Am I witnessing or bearing false witness?
  • Am I turning away wrath or inciting and indulging in it?
  • Am I caring or careless with what I say?
  • Are the wounds I make faithful and helpful or vicious and devastating?

Instead of speaking harm, manipulation, and death—crucio, imperio, avada kedavera—let’s find the words to bring light, kindness, joy—lumos, reparo, riddikulus—

And love.

Always.

(For you Muggles that’s—oh, just read the books.)

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Notes

(1) C. S. Lewis penned this in the dedication of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.

(2) I respect my parents—and any parents—for being wary of Harry Potter. I strongly feel that in the realm of fantasy individual conscience must be applied. (I’ve known people so sensitive that they wouldn’t read even The Chronicles of Narnia. Bravo to them for sticking with what they believe is right.)

However, in these polarizing pop-culture battles, I think it’s wise to know the “enemy” you’re fighting before you engage in a full-scale war; in other words, we should research or read a book or watch a movie before forming our opinion or conscience about it. Or find a reliable full summary and perhaps read differing reviews.

As someone who was initially leery of the Harry Potter books, after giving them a try, I did not find in them anything to offend my conscience and make me stop reading them. They did not incite in me a surge of interest in the occult (though more than once I have wished to accio [summon] a TV remote or cell phone from across the room), but they have only encouraged me toward being a better and braver person while thoroughly entertaining me.  Children, often, are not as discriminant, and therefore might need more supervision or interference.

Perhaps on a different note (but perhaps not), I like this quote by Holly Ordway: “Healthy children and adults recognize the difference between fantasy stories and the occult: it is the difference between fresh and spoiled food” (“Once Upon a Time: The Enduring Appeal of Fairy Tales,” Christian Research Journal 38, no. 5 [2015]: 51.) Of course we must make sure that we don’t simply enjoy consuming trash.

(3) Realistically, I would have received an Ilvermorny letter, being from North America. But Hogwarts is much cooler. And I didn’t get a letter anyway, so it doesn’t really matter, now does it?

(4) Scripture references alluded to here are as follows: Ephesians 4:15, Colossians 4:6, Proverbs 31:26, Proverbs 27:2, Exodus 20:16, Proverbs 15:1, Matthew 12:36, and Proverbs 27:6.

Finding North: A Year at Goose Hill

It was probably just an ordinary Tuesday for you, but today marked a year since I wrote my first post on The View from Goose Hill blog. (Well, actually, I wrote my first post on Leap Day, but close enough.) I was scared on that day I published the first post—scared of being one more echo in the Internet’s noisy chasm.

Blogging is lonely work. You sit down on the Internet, surrounded by millions or billions of other voices (because everyone has a blog), and you start typing, start talking like a street preacher in Times Square. And no one is stopping to listen—or at least that’s how you feel when you look at your blog stats. There are so many other things for people to hear. And it gets discouraging fast!

This year, writing on Goose Hill has helped me define my purpose for writing, to find my north. The needle is still a bit wobbly, but I think I’m closing in on the right direction.

We’ve been watching through the Rocky movies recently, and one way that I identify with the Italian Stallion is his need to fight. There’s no explaining it. It just is. When he’s not fighting, his fists are clinching; and when he’s fighting, he’s giving it all he’s got.

I write until someone listens.

I don’t write because someone is listening. I write until someone listens. I write because I’m a writer, and, whether anyone hears me or not, I’ve got to keep my fingers going.

I want to write like Rocky fights (actually I want to marry Rocky, but that’s beside the point). I want to create with passion and abandon, knowing other people are stronger or bigger or faster, but none of them have my heart. I might not go down as the best writer or the most skilled hand-letterer or the finest photographer, but no one will be able to say anything against my effort to create and improve.

I’d love to be racking up hundreds and even thousands of readers and likes on my blog and Facebook author page, to trade my passion for glory, as Rocky’s song goes. But I’m thankful—so thankful—for every friend and follower who takes time to read my posts or look at my lettering projects.

I’m thankful for you!

In my first blog post I quoted the incomparable Mary Oliver who asked, “What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

I don’t know what you plan to do, but for now I don’t know of anything else I’d rather be doing than sending out echoes into a chasm from a little blog on Goose Hill.