How to approach a pet:
It is a living being.
They are good practice for us
To remember how to be in relation
To the non-human world.
Down the street where I live
is a lady with white poofy hair and a tiny Yorkie dog
that never leaves her side... it is an extension of her, or she is an extension of the dog.
People and their pets-- why do we feel such a draw
toward caring for something non-human, having such an intimate relationship
that we pick up poop, pay for vets, feed and house and sweep after them
just to have their love?
This is a photo of me and my dog, when I was 11 or 12... around 1988. I am sitting on the basement stairs, big pink plastic eyeglasses, oversize T-shirt, and a banana. I was a nerd. I blamed it on the glasses. Manic mood swings, from super-hyper to quiet and depressed. Muffy, my dog, was my best friend. I was nuts about her. We adopted her the Christmas after my 7th birthday, and from then until 9th grade, when she was put to sleep, we were inseparable. My earliest attempts at drawing were portraits of her. My dream was to become a naturalist, and draw pictures of animals all the time. During this time I was equally nuts about nature. I thought I had a special connection to wild things, and could communicate to creatures differently than adults did.
I was born and raised in Bloomington, Minnesota, a second-ring suburb of Minneapolis. My parents lived in the same house for 33 years... a 1950's "starter home" in a neighborhood with other young families and kids my age.
This was "Barb"-- I was Barbara Burkhart until 9th grade, when my dog died, I started high school, got contact lenses, braces, a perm, and changed my name to Malia-- my middle name. In a way, I buried her -- Barb -- as I've buried so many things I didn't like about my past. I wanted to be from someplace else. "Malia" felt more exotic, suggested that I was more interesting than I actually was. It made me feel less "white", less ordinary, less bumbly and certainly less nerdy. "B" is a silly letter. It makes your lips bump out. It belongs to floppy awkward things like bananas, boobs, ballerinas. (Ballerinas, in that they make me feel floppy and awkward)
In so many ways I had the "American Dream" childhood. And yet, like so many other now-grown kids who were raised in the 'burbs, I had it all but felt something important was missing. Something "real", that I pictured kids who were raised tough in the inner city, or the freedom and wildness I imagined country kids had. My parents were lower-to-middle middle class. Plenty of classmates had the latest toy or Guess jeans that my family couldn't afford. My mom was constantly bargain-hunting, and we saved money whenever we could, for our college education. And so much of what I was taught, how I was raised, was how I could go out and get a suburban house of my own someday-- to gain the education that would provide a job, which would earn enough to pay a mortgage on, raise 2 kids, and save for their college. To invest in a retirement fund, for some security in my old age. To me, the suburbs have never felt like a "place" unto themselves... and the soul-sacrifice involved with attaining it has never seemed worth the cost. Maybe I'll regret it, when I'm 65 and retired, or barely scraping by in my middle age-- but somehow I've always known this was not the life I wanted.
I've been skipping around the question ever since graduating from college-- where to settle? I lived in a small town, Northfield, for 4 years... I lived in the inner city of Chicago for 6 months, then in Osaka, Japan-- one of the biggest cities in the world-- for a year. I kept Minneapolis as a home-base, and took off on world travels for months at a time. Now I'm honing in on strategies to make a move out to the country, and begin a rural arts center. To live in a community where I can raise a kid to run free and wild. My retirement plan is to live where I know my food comes from my neighbors, my water is from that well, and I can finally slow down enough to listen. Instead of dating on short camping trips, we could move in together, nature and I, and grow old --
Is it a crazy dream?
I don't know, but I feel I have to at least try,
to find out what dream may be on the other side...
(And yes, I know
all these dreams
so much of who I've been and
who I've become
is a gift
who worked hard
to send my parents
so they could work hard, too,
and I could have this choice.
I appreciate the gift,
I am also working hard
to pass it along)