#PhotoFriday: Happy 14th Birthday, Lexi!

Lexi was born on April 4, 2004. She’s my lucky 04/04/04 dog. On Wednesday, she turned 14. Maybe I’m being superstitious, but that, too, seems lucky.

My family adopted Lexi shortly after my childhood dog Maverick passed away. She was six weeks old, a little young but already weaned and spunky as anything. I’d taken Maverick’s death the hardest, I think, and was angry at my parents for not doing more to help him (as an adult I realize my anger was misplaced and that my parents did every reasonable thing they could and ultimately made the right decision). We had two young German shepherds, but my mom decided we’d adopt a Welsh corgi puppy for me–even though I’d be heading off to college soon.

Me holding Lexi as a puppy.

Me and Lexi in 2004, the summer before my senior year of high school. I demanded she be in my official photos.

Lexi has always been an adventurous dog. We went on lots of walks together, and when I did go off to college my mom took her to agility classes. When I graduated I found a place that would let me have pets, and Lexi moved to Pittsburgh with me.

Lexi, Kelly, D.J., and Ruby

Lexi and Ruby were ring bearers at my handfasting ceremony in 2010.

We’ve hiked and climbed mountains together in National Parks, gone on long road trips, and done a fair bit of just hanging out at various coffee shops in Pittsburgh. She knows me better than anyone—she can sense my moods before I even know what I’m feeling. She’s quick to draw my attention to her with a “grr” or a nudge when she knows I’m sad or distressed. I can (and do) set my clock by her.

Lexi

Lexi a few days before her 14th birthday.

Our time left together is getting short, but we’re celebrating every moment of it. Lexi is my girl, and I love her to the ends of the earth and back.

Why don’t you get a real/better/higher-paying job?

“Mini pens” by Valerie Everett, used under a Creative Commons license.

Coming out of a writing retreat or conference is always difficult. The transition from being surrounded by writers who understand the struggle (of writing, of creating a life conducive to writing, of getting published) to people who don’t feels like an extreme version of jet lag. (It’s the same when I come home from a Star Wars convention and have to get back into the swing of interacting with people who won’t get my references to Thracken Sal-Solo.)

This transition is made more difficult by the fact that I often feel like it’s impossible to communicate my experiences in these spheres to the people I’m closest to. Namely, my family. To be clear, I am NOT blaming my family for this communication barrier. I’m not mad or upset at anyone I’m related to (at the moment… ;p). It’s just difficult to express certain writing things to non-writers. I could try harder. And maybe I should try harder, but I never seem to have the energy.

I can’t tell you when I first knew I wanted to be a writer. Of course at various times in my childhood I wanted to be a veterinarian, a country music star, a NASCAR driver, and the first woman to land on the moon, but I was always writing. I don’t remember ever not wanting to write.

As I grew up, the desire to have a career as a writer solidified in my soul, and it’s not going anywhere any time soon. I’ve built my life around writing. I have two degrees in creative writing, and I’ve been careful to find writing-adjacent jobs to keep me sane. Unfortunately writing and writing-adjacent jobs like being a bookseller do not generally make one rich.

I’m okay with that. Success to me doesn’t equal a nice house in a flashy neighborhood or a brand new BMW 678i (am a yuppy)*. Success to me is being able to write. Success is every single time someone tells me one of my stories touched them. Success is making the world a better place through art.

No one in my family really understands this, and that’s not a criticism or complaint. Everyone in my family is creative in some way, and my parents always encouraged my creative pursuits. The disconnect comes in me wanting to make writing a career and not just a hobby. Really, I can’t blame them.

I’m the first person in my family to graduate from a four-year university. I’m the first person in my family to earn a master’s degree. And my parents worked really really hard to give me the opportunity to go to college. They paid for most of my undergraduate degree, leaving me with only moderately crushing debt instead of overwhelmingly crushing debt. I was always the smart one in the family, the one who would become a doctor or a scientist or something.

But in this as in everything, I am my father’s daughter, and I didn’t follow the plan. Instead of becoming a chemist or a linguist (two potential career options I explored early on), I majored in creative writing and then proceeded to work a series of low paying jobs ranging from AmeriCorps volunteer to a glorified customer service rep at a library while I pounded away at first one book and then another on my quest for literary stardom (or something).

Maybe publications should come with certificates of achievement. Certificate of achievement template | designed by Vexels

“Why don’t you look for a higher paying job?” my mom asks me frequently. Or, “When are you going to look for a better job?” It’s not that she thinks I’m lazy or unmotivated, it’s that she thinks I can do better. And yes, I can, but that might mean taking time away from writing, and I’m not willing to do that. I’d rather be an artist scraping by than have a fancy house and cars and not have time or energy to write.

My grandmother was palpably disappointed when I quit my full-time library job and dropped out of library school (though she was less disappointed when she realized I had several jobs already lined up and wasn’t just going to be a stay-at-home bum).

Again, no one is asking me these questions because they think I’m lazy or stupid or can’t get my shit together (though yeah, sometimes I cannot get my shit together). It’s because they just don’t understand why I don’t want a normal job with a normal (i.e. above poverty level) salary where I can get my two weeks of vacation and have a 401k and just, you know, write on the weekends or something.

This also means that it’s sometimes difficult to share accomplishments from my writing life, because no one in my family knows what they mean or why they matter. Again, that’s not a criticism or complaint, it’s a communication barrier. Sometimes I feel like I’m on a different planet, and the commute back to Earth is a killer.

I love my family, and I recognize how lucky I am to have them. Not just my parents, but my brother,** my grandparents, and my in-laws are wonderful people whom I know I can count on when the shit hits the fan. My parents never discouraged me from writing, they just encouraged me to maybe think about doing something else to make money while I write (which is good advice, it really is, I’m just too stubborn to follow it).

Most of the time, I don’t care that my mom doesn’t know what the Pushcart Prize is. Most of the time, I can deal with the writing life grind no problem. But every now and then, it feels a little bit lonely not being able to talk about these things with my family. It’s hard to explain writer’s block to someone who’s never experienced it. Even if they’re sympathetic, they can’t quite get it the way other writers can. It’s like we’re speaking different languages, and even though we can communicate the basics, some things get lost in translation.

Again, I really want to reiterate that I’m not complaining or upset by this. It is what it is. I still love my family, and they still love me. That’s far more important than them knowing the latest small press trends.


*This is an inside joke my dad and I have about BMW drivers being various levels of yuppy.

**DON’T LET THAT GO TO YOUR HEAD, KYLE.

Death planning for your dog

My dog Lexi is 13. She’ll be 14 in about 6 weeks. She has a progressive degenerative disease that will render her completely immobile sooner rather than later.

Lexi walking in the dog park with her harness.

Right now, she can still go for walks with the assistance of a sling. She’s still happy, though I fear she’s growing increasingly uncomfortable as the months wear on and she cannot readjust herself. The time I have left with her is limited. I’m guessing we’ll have to say goodbye sometime in the summer. I hate this. I wish it weren’t that way. But it is.

I’ve been thinking about and planning for this since she was diagnosed about two years ago. It’s not a morbid fascination or fatalism on my part. With this disease, her chances of dying peacefully in her sleep are slim. Her quality of life is going to deteriorate, and it’s almost guaranteed that I will need to make the decision to end her life when that quality dips too low. That sucks. But it’s part of the deal with owning a pet.

In many ways, this foreknowledge is a gift. Seven years ago, when I had to suddenly euthanize my dog Ruby, I wasn’t prepared. Her end of life experience wasn’t great, and we didn’t think about having her cremated so we could keep her ashes. I don’t even have a clay paw print, just her collar hanging on my mirror.

With Lexi, I’ve had time to think, and reflect, and decide what will make her the most comfortable. Because of her increased anxiety about going to the vet office, I plan to have one come to my house. I want her last memories to be at home, surrounded by her people and her little sister Jaina (who is actually three times as large as she is). I don’t want her to be stressed or upset. I want Jaina to be able to see and smell that Lexi is gone. And I want a clay paw print, and I want to keep her ashes in a nice urn. But above all, I want her to be peaceful. I want her to be comfortable.

Lexi with one of her (current) favorite toys (a worm with cat ears because it was a Halloween toy).

(Yes, I’m weeping as I write this. This reality sucks. This disease sucks. I can’t change it. I can only deal with it in the best way I know how.)

Because I know the time approaches, I can find a vet who’ll make a house call. I can figure out what I need to do to get Lexi cremated. I can pre-purchase an urn. I can make a clay paw print with her while she’s still here, still my girl. I can make an ink impression, too, in case I decide to get a tattoo (I’m sure I will).

And I can spend extra time with her each day, just petting her until she gets tired of it and shakes me off. I can take her for a short walk and let her smell the other dogs in our neighborhood, the cats and raccoons and groundhogs. I can take her with me to Home Depot and Wagsburgh or just out for a car trip so she can smell the air. These are things I’d do anyway–things I’ve done. But they take on extra poignancy now.

Still, none of this easy. But it’s easier now than at the very end, when I know the grief will settle in strong and fierce. Even if you don’t have this “gift” of foresight when your pet will die, you may want to take a few moments to think about how you will handle end of life care and what mementos you want of your pet. It’s not comfortable, or easy, but you’ll feel better when the time comes and the decisions have already been made.