Friday, January 20, 2012

Who Knew?

Zoe Ghahremani

The glass doors of animal hospital close behind me, and I’m conscious of having left one of the best segments of my life behind. There, on the cart they so carelessly transferred him to, lies the gentlest being I know, our loving golden retriever. Who knew he would leave his soul inside of me and take a good portion of mine with him? Who knew I would not be able to let go of a beast that I had feared as a child?
His name is Pelé, the god of fire, the best a soccer ball ever saw, and my loyal companion of four-and-a-half years. When he came into my life, he was a small fur ball that could easily fit into my big pocket. It’s as if it was only days ago when he could hide under the kitchen cabinet. When did he grow to a size that the four of us could not lift his blood-covered body from the middle of the road to put him in my car?
As I sped way beyond the road’s limit, I knew no police car could stop me. “If they don’t like the way I drive, they can just follow me to the emergency room,” I said to myself as I pressed harder on the gas pedal.
Three paramedics in print scrubs rushed out and I heard his head hit the metal cart as they transferred him. Before I regained enough presence of mind to ask if I could stay with him, the doors had closed.
“You’ll need to sign here if you want the doctor to resuscitate him,” the young receptionist said. “And it will cost anywhere between $350 and $700 for that alone.”
“If?!” I asked her and took the pen while fighting tears to see the dotted line. “Just out of curiosity,” I said bitterly. “Would they not resuscitate him if I didn’t sign?”
Hours later, I sit in the corner we call “Place” and stare at his empty food bowl, scattered toys, and torn-up blanket. Other owners would take their dog on vacation, enter competitions, and run with him along sandy beaches. But I was raised to consider a dog just a dog, a guard for our home, indeed a creature that best be kept at a distance. When friends visited, we tied him up for fear he might want to touch them. Over the years, he finally learned that this family did not wish to have their faces licked. No, at our house it was always, “Pelé, no! Sit, boy. Stay there!”
He obeyed, but through his silence dug a deep tunnel to the heart of each every one of us, and it is in that tunnel that I wait now and hope against hope.
Please dear God, if you let him live I promise to go on long walks with him every single day. Please, help him to survive this and he can shed all the hair he wants over the furniture, I’ll never allow the groomer to shave his beautiful coat again. I’ll take him to the dog beach in Del Mar, where he can swim as much as he wants to and meet other dogs to play with. Who cares? I’ll even give him a real bone once in a while!
I check the phone to make sure it’s not off the hook. They will call me any minute to let me know he’s okay. Earlier, I took his favorite blanket to him and put it by his face, where he could smell it. That familiar touch is bound to make him happy, and I know soon he will want to open his soulful brown eyes. He will stand and wag his longhaired tail and the nurses will admit he’s the handsomest dog they have ever seen. I bet in a day or two they will send him home with another one of their “excellent patient” diplomas!
Who knew that a part of me would die with a dog? I had all sorts of images about the way my life might end. What I never pictured was that someday, I would see myself
dying on a small table, among strangers, and at the animal hospital.
Two weeks have gone by and each one of us has learned to accept a life without Pelé. There’s a birdbath in a far corner of our yard under which his ashes lay to rest. Sometimes I hear him bark at night, see his wagging bushy tail in a dream, or just wait for him to knock on the kitchen’s glass door the way he used to. Other times, I feel his warmth in my heart and am filled with gratitude for our short time together. But more than anything, I am a better person for the invaluable lesson he taught me, one that annuls the learning of a lifetime.
A writer, it had had been too easy to give words more worth than they deserved, not to mention let them rule. It took a gentle dog to teach me that, when it comes to expressing genuine love, words are absolutely immaterial.

Friday, January 13, 2012

On the Road with Annie Nakamura

Part II of a series

Noted in the last blog, Annie Nakamura’s last request was to be buried either on Hurricane Ridge, Olympic National Forest in Washington or at Anza Borrego Desert. Four intrepid road warriors took to the road on a crystal clear blue-sky Saturday morning, October 8, 2011, in our trusty Nissan Altima.

The plan: Drive north to the Olympic National Forest, swing back down to San Francisco, return to San Diego via the coast.
Time frame: Olympic National Forest by Tuesday, October 11th; Hurricane Ridge on Wednesday; head south to reach San Francisco by Friday, October 14th. Reason for the rush? We needed to be in San Francisco for a burial and ceremony on Saturday, October 15th.

Day 1, Saturday, October 8th: After a round of picture-taking, we headed north on Interstate 395; first stop: Temecula for lunch. Back on 395, we drove through a stunningly beautiful upper-desert day to Randsburg and stopped for a quick tour of Manzanar, (site of the former World War II Japanese Internment camp) leaving a small paper crane in each spot. Our first night is Bishop.

Day 2, Sunday, October 9th: We stop at the Mammoth Loop, and amid snow covered ground, we take Annie’s urn for a round of pictures and leave a commemorative crane. Our intended stop is Mono Lake to see “tufas”—limestone columns created by the precipitation of carbonate minerals from the lake. Kawa is delighted to use her “senior” national park membership, and we trek down the walkway to the lake. It is a magnificent shade of blue, and the tufas jutting out from the water creates an almost other-worldly scene.
Another scheduled stop is Reno. In 1980, Don and I eloped in Reno at the “Heart of Reno” Chapel. Years earlier, Annie tried to convince us to take a “wedding party” back to the Heart of Reno to “renew our vows.” We go searching to find the chapel only to learn that it now a parking lot. Kawa and Janet doubt the authenticity of our marriage. Not to be deterred, we stand in the location with Annie in hand and take pictures and leave a crane.

Day 3, Monday, October 10th: Having spent the night in Alturus, one of our goals is to travel to Crater Lake. Along the way, we stop at Tule Lake, the largest World War II Japanese Internment camp. Little did we imagine that this road trip would also be a Japanese Internment Camp tour.

It is another beautiful day, but as we near Crater Lake, Kawa mentions that on previous road trips, Annie was only able to see the lake once. As we wend our way to the top, the fog rolls in, the ambient temperature drops to 41 degrees, snow is on the ground, the wind howls, and the rain begins to pour down. At the visitor’s center, we brave the elements to find the spot where Annie, Kawa, and another friend, Julie, had taken pictures so that we, too, can commemorate “another typical Annie Nakamura Crater Lake moment.” The wind is so fierce that Janet’s flimsy olive drab poncho billows wildly with each gust so much so that Don has to virtually carry her back to the car. With teeth chattering, we begin the descent. At Discovery Point, there is a momentary clearing; we pull over, and we can actually see some waves on the lake. We scatter a few ashes—our first, say a few words, and leave a crane.

Day 4, Tuesday, October 11th: We spend the night in Salem, outside of Eugene, and continue the journey. We stop at the Chehalis Tribe casino in Rochester. There we find a perfect basket for Annie’s ashes. Made by Cindy Andy, a Chehalis tribe weaver, it is a basket woven out of sweet grass with a whale design. As we leave with the basket, it begins raining, and the sky is filled with a beautiful rainbow—we take it as a positive omen.

That evening, we arrive at the Olympic Lodge in Point Angeles, gateway to the Olympic National Forest. It is a beautiful, four-star hotel with magnificent views of the area. That evening, we prepare the burial basket.

Day 5, Wednesday, October 12th: The skies have clouds, but patches of clear blue are visible—NO rain! At 7:30 AM, we commence our tip to Hurricane Ridge. Along the way, we stop to take pictures of the breathtaking views of pine trees, water, and skies filled with clouds; mists float amongst the pines. As we ascend, more and more snow is evident so much so that by the time we reach Hurricane Ridge Visitor’s Center, visibility is virtually nil, temperatures are a chilly 32 degrees, and we wonder if we can make it to the parking loop. As we crawl up the road, we make it to the loop, although two cars are parked, no one is in sight. We wander into the center cluster of trees; Don makes one attempt at digging amongst the pines but soon encounters too many roots to continue. We wander off to the left to discover a small meadow that has a view of the trails, water, and mountains. Don digs; Kawa assists. I set up the altar. It is so cold that Janet’s teeth are literally chattering. We place Annie in the grave; each of us throws a bit of dirt; say a few words. A sense of satisfaction prevails.

We begin our journey south.

Day 6, Thursday, October 13th: After spending the night in Eugene, one of our designated stops is Bandon, Oregon where Annie raved about the cranberry candy she once had. We find the store, and our homage is to purchase the cranberry jells, leave a crane, and head for Port Orford and Redwood.

Day 7: Friday, October 14th: Driving through the Avenue of the Giants, we decide to leave some of Annie in the magnificent redwood forest. We find a hollowed out tree, set up an altar, scatter ashes, and revel in the beauty of the majestic trees.

On our way to Fort Bragg, we meet a fellow sojourner at a scenic view, who is also on a journey of memory. VR lost his wife and after scattering her ashes off Wind ‘N Sea in La Jolla, he decided to journey north to leave her wedding ring among the sequoias. We relate our tale of friendship and fulfilling final requests. A crane is left.

We arrive in San Francisco.

To be continued.

Judith Liu
January 13, 2012

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Revising. Again. And Then Again.

Kathleen B. Jones

A few months ago I spent some time in the archives of Elzbieta Ettinger, author of Hannah Arendt and Martin Heidegger, a book about the intimate relationship between Arendt, a Jewish woman who write about totalitarianism and the Holocaust, and Heidegger, who had once been her teacher and who later became a member of the Nazi party. When it was published, Ettinger’s book caused a scandal in the world of Arendt scholars and set off a debate almost as heated as the affair itself had created when it first became publicly known. How could Arendt have become involved with such a man? More to the point, how could she have rekindled a friendship with him long after the war had ended?

Since I have been working on a memoir (Diving for Pearls: A Thinking Journey with Hannah Arendt) that tracks Arendt’s influence in my own life and thinking, taking up, among other subjects, the meaning this affair had in Arendt’s life, and what it has made me think about my own life, I was familiar with, and critical of, Ettinger’s interpretation of the event. I also knew that Ettinger had intended to write a fuller biography of Arendt. But, for various reasons, she had separated out the Arendt/Heidegger story, publishing it in a short book. She never completed the longer biography. So when I learned of the availability of Ettinger’s archives I wondered whether anything else she might have discovered in her research would prove valuable for the book on which I was still working.

It turns out that the trip I made this past fall to the Schlesinger Library of Harvard University, where the Ettinger archives are housed, was both a boon and a burden. What I uncovered in the archives is invaluable to my work. Interviews, letters, and other materials Ettinger gathered from those who knew Arendt will help me craft a more fully realized portrait of the person Hannah Arendt, who assumes the role of interlocutor in my memoir. But such bounty also proves a burden.

A few months earlier, thinking I was near the end of the revision process, I had determined to pursue self-publishing the manuscript in its then current form. But the wealth of materials I have just added to my ever-expanding research files has forced me to confront the difficult question of how these new documents might reshape my manuscript.

Part of the joy of writing is what you discover about what you really want to say in the process of revision. Searching for exactly the right phrase and precisely the correct shape for a paragraph you begin to uncover what you have been trying to say all along. My immersion of the Ettinger archives has brought me face to face with this process in the work of another. Reading through several drafts of her unpublished work, and comparing these drafts with the research materials she used to create her work, I could literally see the author’s formation of her subject, watch her confront her resistance to an interpretation of her subject at odds with her own, and discover the places where she resolved to draw her own conclusions.

So, I am taking a deep breath and diving back into my manuscript again, convinced that the changes I will make will add depth to my story without fundamentally altering its shape. And since the story I am trying to tell is about the thinking relationship I have had for nearly thirty years now with Hannah Arendt, a woman long dead but one who has become even more alive to me now as a provocative, yet irksome, companion, whose life and work continue to make me think and rethink, write and revise my own, revising my manuscript one more time seems fitting. I do hope, though, it will be the last!

For more about my work visit my web site.