Saying Goodbye

To those of you who didn’t know her and don’t know (and that’s most of you) The Nix – our ten-year old female Manx cat – died a few weeks ago. She was suffering from a resurgence of bladder stones, a condition that had developed a year ago and been resolved with surgery. But the stones grew back, in large part due to our inability to correct her diet due to its cost. And before I could get her back in for surgery again, a relapse of some sort occurred. She died in the car racing to the mobile veterinary unit where the surgery scheduled for a few hours later would have once again saved her life.

the-nix-at-rest

Posing atop her beloved water tank

It’s a terrible burden to bear feeling partially responsible for the death of a loved one. I’ve borne it before over the death of my own father, believing that I should have done more to combat his addiction to smoking. It took years for me to reconcile emotionally with the simple phrase, “Never overestimate your ability to change others. Never underestimate your ability to change yourself.” I ultimately made peace with his death, and after a time I’m sure I’ll make peace with hers, too. But right now the wounds are fresh, the mistakes were honest, and the guilt is real.

For what it’s worth, the choices made that led to her passing were all made based on cost. We had spent over $1500 to have the initial stones removed. After that surgery, we were told she would have to live on a special diet for the rest of her life that was also expensive and way above our budget. I dragged my feet for a year, hoping the stones wouldn’t resurface, but they did. The veterinarian identified the stones in December, but didn’t feel they were life-threatening. We were given the option of electing for surgery or trying to shrink them with a one month new diet of special food. If the stones hadn’t shrunk by late January, we were prepared for the surgery. The Nix hated the new food and regularly raided the other cat’s dishes in the cover of darkness, which only aggravated her condition. When, two nights before her death, it became evident that something was definitely wrong beyond the norm, I called and arranged for the surgery, but didn’t race her there after hours, trying to avoid emergency fees. It was this final financial decision that was too much to endure for The Nix. She lay moaning under our Christmas tree with me by her side until 3 AM assuring her that she would have surgery in the morning. I went to bed and got up again at 7 AM, and she was nearing her death. I laid her in a towel and placed her on our bed, begged her to hang on, and grabbed a shower, since the vet didn’t open until 9 AM. By the time I returned to her, she was either going or gone, and the car chase to the vet seemed a study in futility. I presented a corpse to an astonished vet that just kept muttering, “I don’t understand.”

I hate the fact that I believe The Nix lost her life prematurely because I couldn’t afford to do what was necessary for her health in a timely way to take care of her. I hate the fact that her life was subject to our financial bottom line. I hate that in this country we put profit over the public health and general welfare of ALL our citizens. Some would say she was just an animal; to us, she was family, and I should’ve been able to care for her properly. But when you consider that we can’t even agree in this country that all humans deserve to have health coverage without putting a sticker price on their life and worth, it gives me a small measure of teeth-grinding comfort. People lose their human family members everyday because of greed. I suppose I can bear the death of our cat, but I don’t have to like either. But back to my little girl’s life.

img_2711

Nancy and The Nix

The Nix was a member of our family from the time she was six months old. Originally christened Abby, her first family found that their older male cat was regularly abusing her and sought my Mom out as a short term refuge for their little girl until she got bigger and better able to handle herself. As is often the case, short term solutions become long term life changes, and The Nix never left our family once she joined it. When Nancy and I moved to Virginia, she was one of four cats to make the journey: Ivan, ‘Saki, Scoutie, and The Nix. Now all four are gone. The Nix was the youngest of the last six cats my mother owned, and with her passing, an era in my life has also been left behind. In a weird way, her passing also marks the passing of my adolescence, my time spent home with my mother, my less responsible days.

There are many wonderful family stories about The Nix and not enough time to share. She was a skittish bat-eared baby who used to eat on my Mom’s bathroom floor keeping one eye out for food raiders. She used to go outside regularly, climb the wooden lattice of my Mom’s back patio, and sun herself for the afternoon on the roof. She would then cling to and cry at a second story window till I let her in as the sun went down. She was sung goodnight to every evening here in Virginia, a tradition she both grudgingly tolerated and actively looked forward to. That dichotomy of expression is all cat, and she was that: all cat, complete with cattitude.

The Nix was only ten when she passed and she will never be forgotten. She was, in every sense of the word, our baby, and I cannot express how much we miss her, her empty perch, her endless front paw climbing, her gorgeous face, her dancing hind legs, her chirpy meow, her occasionally imperious demeanor. Nancy still has something of an aversion to going into the back room where The Nix spent most of her days perched upon either a cat Christmas afghan or upon the water tank, because it’s too empty. And every time she does, she still instinctively checks the perch to say hello, but no one’s there. Many dear friends contributed funds to her first round of operations that ultimately gave The Nix one extra year of life, and I can’t thank them enough for their generosity. I only wish it had been longer lived. As of this writing, The Nix has been cremated and her ashes have been returned to us. My baby girl has returned home, albeit in a different, sadder form, and has taken her place of honor on our mantle with her other siblings that have crossed over the Rainbow Bridge.

A few days ago, John Adams awoke in his bed and the subject of his cats was foremost on his mind. “I gotta see ‘Seyde and Duke” he said. “Yes,” I replied. “But not The Nix. She died,” he added quietly.  “Yes,” I said again cautiously. “She went to heaven, Daddy.” Then after a thoughtful moment he added, “Maybe someday heaven will send her back to us.” Through tears I smiled, “I think it just did.”

Rest in Peace The Nix (2006-2017)

Namaste,

Jason

picture-103a

The Nix at 6 months old.

Advertisements

Children’s Book Announcement – Mommy Made a Beastie (But I Love Her Anyway)

Today, our new children’s book, Mommy Made a Beastie (But I Love Her Anyway), is available on Amazon. Two years ago, after the success of our first children’s book, Daddy Doesn’t Purr (But I Love Him Anyway), I set about working on the sequel. After several months of brainstorming with Kisaki – the elder cat authoress of the book that became Beastie – we hit upon the idea of telling the story of John Adams’s birth from her point of view. ‘Saki was the first person to know that Nancy was pregnant. She climbed upon Nancy’s belly while she slept (something she never normally would do) and scowled disapprovingly at her mommy with this look of, “What the hell have you done to us?” That sentiment lingered long after John Adams was born.

beastie-cover

Cover art by Michelle McNally, cover design by Maryann Brown

The events of the book are all true. Kisaki loathed her baby brother at first and went out of her way to muscle him off Nancy’s lap, take focus from him and put it back on herself where she felt it belonged. When John Adams moved and then talked, hers was one of the first faces he saw (due to her constant proximity to Nancy), and he instantly fell in love with her. She did not return the sentiment. He would see her and light up, giggle, smile, wriggle, and all manner of verbal and non-verbal gestures to get her approval. She was not amused.

When nothing that ‘Saki tried gained her exclusive access to Nancy, she became visibly irritable and despondent for a time. Like so many children, she just didn’t want to share her favored parent’s affections with any other child. Finally, in either desperation or conciliation, Kisaki sidled up to her brother, plopped her butt against him and claimed him for her own. It seemed that if she couldn’t have exclusive access to Mommy, the next best thing was to make peace with the Beastie who had her attention. From that point forward, grudging acceptance turned to icy affection, and with a little help from her overly zealous brother, that affection turned into love. Until the end of her life, the two became inseparable.

Yes, I did drop that bomb here: Kisaki has since passed away. She died two years ago due to complications of mouth cancer. Despite his age (he was only fifteen months old when she passed), John Adams has not forgotten about her. It would seem he imbued a little stuffed black and white cat that rests on his bed with his best memories of his sister. The cat was given to him by a friend of ours, “so that he would always remember his sister”, and it seems to have worked. He refers to the stuffed animal as ‘Saki, and we often talk about her joy-riding in Daddy’s White Car, my car that broke down a few months ago. Daddy’s White Car has become the “Farm Upstate” metaphor of the Michael Family. It includes ‘Saki, Snaky, Annie and Dorothy (two goldfish), and a particularly favored and contentious piece of orange cake Nancy threw out. But I digress.

saki-and-her-cover

‘Saki in her ‘Cover pose.’

Mommy Made a Beastie is now the second book in a planned three book ‘Love Anyway’ series. In Daddy Doesn’t Purr, Duke is shown to love me despite our differences. In Beastie, ‘Saki learns to love and accept John Adams despite her jealousy. In the planned third and final (?) book, The Nix, our Manx cat born genetically without a tail, learns to love herself despite being born different from the norm. In all three, embracing love as your primary motivational guide is the key to a happier existence. Love anyway, despite differences, emotional insecurities, and unexpected life changes; despite self-doubt and outward ridicule from others. Out of this notion the happy accident of the ‘Love Anyway’ series was born.

Both books retail for under $12 on Amazon and can be bought both there and on CreateSpace where we receive a better share of the royalties. As added incentive, roughly 1/3 of the sales price of each book is donated to either animal charities in Virginia, or to another as of yet un-chosen animal charity in the U.S. If you’re looking for a Christmas or Holiday present that also benefits animals in a small way, please consider checking out our books. If you’ve read Daddy Doesn’t Purr and you enjoyed it, please consider leaving us a review on Amazon. These books have been labors of love for me, Francie and Michelle McNally, Nancy, Maryann Brown, and, of course, Duke and ‘Saki. Please check them out if you have a moment. And remember: when all else fails…

Love Anyway,

Jason

Here’s the Amazon link to the book: Mommy Made a Beastie

Here’s a link to my Amazon Author page: Jason on Amazon

bup-and-saki-cropped

‘Saki and John Adams – BFFs

When the Dead Awaken…and Teach! (The Continuing Legacy of Dr. Wayne Dyer)

Today, August 29, 2016, marks the one year anniversary of the passing of Dr. Wayne Dyer, the “Father of Motivation,” and my self-appointed guru for fourteen years. One year ago today, Wayne succumbed to a heart attack and crossed over. He was seventy-five years old, and the author of more than forty books in the fields of self-help, positive thinking, and spirituality. Though he had been diagnosed with leukemia in 2009, an autopsy completed shortly after his death revealed the impossible: no trace of leukemia found anywhere in his body. Wayne had claimed without supportive medical evidence for several years prior to his death that he was in “perfect health,” and that through his lifestyle and positive outlook he was clean of disease. The autopsy validated his oft-claimed assertion that “our thoughts create our reality.” In death he was still teaching, and those of us willing to listen were still hearing. It seems in the year since his death, his voice has still not gone silent.

Wayne Dyer, Photo Credit: www.hayhouse.com

Wayne Dyer, Photo Credit: http://www.hayhouse.com

In June of this year, in Elevated Existence magazine, Tammy Mastroberte interviewed two of Wayne’s daughters – Saje and Serena – focusing on the family’s life since Wayne’s passing, their claim that he continues to speak through medium Karen Noe, and that his teaching is ongoing, if from the other side. Numerous anecdotes are recounted through the article, including the possibility of Wayne bi-locating while alive and in Australia, and a postmortem visit to daughter Saje in New York, to name just two. The article also reveals that he uncharacteristically insisted on paying in full daughter Saje’s last year of graduate school (ahead of his normal schedule), and that he felt driven to complete his autobiographical I Can See Clearly Now (his last published book while alive), indicating that he may have had some sense that his time on Earth was drawing to a close. In fact, the family now sees his last published book, Memories of Heaven – about children’s recollections of the other side – as something of a prescient extension of his sense of humor, given that it was published after he would have arrived there to verify the recollections. The family claims (in part through Noe) that Wayne has shifted his teaching of “I Am” to “We Are,” that he is available to anyone that calls upon him for guidance, and that he has summed up to them his philosophy of living somewhat simplistically as “always come from a place of love.”

Whatever the truth of the claims, the article is more than a welcome reminder of the profound teachings that this man offered the world starting with his landmark bestseller Your Erroneous Zones in 1975, and ending with the aforementioned Memories of Heaven. For myself, I know that I owe Wayne a debt that can never be repaid. I have written of my personal journey through Wayne’s work before in the posts “Dr. Wayne Dyer – In Memoriam,” and “Dr. Wayne Dyer – An Addendum,” as well as in an upcoming guest blog post for www.businessinrhyme.com to be released on September 12th called “The Healing Power of Haiku,” so there’s no need for me to dwell here on that debt; suffice it to say, without Dr. Wayne Dyer I don’t know if I would still be around to love my wife, my son, and the new outlook on life he gifted me by his beautiful words and timeless wisdom. Thanks are more than a little in order.

So to that end I want to close this post by recounting some of my favorite Wayne Wisdom, his 10 Secrets for Success and Inner Peace; enumerated in the book of the same name, and used as the template for Wayne’s third to last book, the co-written Don’t Die With Your Music Still in You, in which daughter Serena recounts what it was like to be a child growing up under the influence of such an “enlightened” father. The Second Secret holds deep significance for me as a musician, child of musicians, and artist in general, but I have tried to live by all of them in turn with varying degrees of success. For a life plan one could hardly do better.

 Dr. Wayne Dyer’s 10 Secrets for Success and Inner Peace

  1. Have a mind that is open to everything and attached to nothing.
  2. Don’t die with your music still in you.
  3. You can’t give away what you don’t have.
  4. Embrace silence.
  5. Give up your personal history.
  6. You can’t solve a problem with the same mind that created it.
  7. There are no justified resentments.
  8. Treat yourself as if you already are what you’d like to be.
  9. Treasure your divinity.
  10. Wisdom is avoiding all thoughts which weaken you.

Thank you, Dr. Dyer, Wayne, for the last fifteen years; for the love, wisdom, outlook, and mentor-ship. You are neither gone nor forgotten.  Keep it coming. We’re listening. Namaste.

Love,

Jason

P.S. For those of you who want to explore Elevated Existence magazine, here is a link to their website: Elevated Existence

Dr.-Wayne-Dryer-520

Dr. Wayne W. Dyer (1940 – 2015) Photo credit:: http://www.awaken.com

 

Slugging It Out At Susquehanna

“A person’s a person, no matter how small. ” – Dr. Seuss

            At some point of the fall of 1990, in the moonlight at Susquehanna University, outside the front steps of Degenstein Dining Hall, I was bent down over the sidewalk watching a newfound friend make his way across the concrete. I had been watching him for more than fifteen minutes as he slowly, laboriously, bravely made his way from one patch of manicured lawn to the other divided by the exposed, cold, gray expanse of man-made construction, and was utterly fascinated by his journey. As he proceeded on his little odyssey of exploration he left a well-defined, glisteningly beautiful breadcrumb trail…of slime. Yes, I am talking about a slug that measured all of four inches in length, who happened to cross a three-foot stretch of sidewalk on a cool fall night. And, yes, it was magical.

The moonlight caught the little trail of slime and lit it up not unlike the lunar runic alphabet hidden in Thorin’s map that can only be viewed on Durin’s Day by the same light…you get the idea. Point is, the slime trail glowed and glistened on the sidewalk behind this little fellow. It was his artistic legacy, and it was magical, personal, and ephemeral. My “newish” girlfriend, L, stood hunched over me as I sat transfixed watching this little miracle of creation break new ground for all slug kind. She was skeptical and a wee bit squeamish, but also gracious as she could see how captivated I was.  Truth be told, I think she thought  I was a little bit crazy laying down on the ground to watch a slug crawl across a sidewalk when there were other things we could be doing. But we hadn’t been dating that long, she was inclined to give me the benefit of the doubt, and I was in Theatre. And “theatre people” just do crazy things, right?

After watching this little miracle for about ten minutes, my freshman year roommate of a few weeks staggered up to us to see what all the fuss was. I don’t even remember his name. He had been assigned to be my roommate when we arrived at Susquehanna, but had moved out after only a few days, deciding instead to seek lodging with one of the fraternities on campus that he was later planning to pledge. Now in our mutual sophomore year, he was a recent brother of his fraternity of choice, more than a little cocky from his new association, and buzzed more often than sober. Such was social frat life at SU on the weekends (and some weekdays) in the 1990s. Ah, well.

SU 2

After a few moments of asking us what we were doing, scoffing at the answers, and squinting at the sidewalk through his booze haze, my former roommate did the unthinkable: he stepped forward and with one harsh motion of one foot deliberately and maliciously smashed the little trailblazer into the sidewalk, spreading his exposed guts everywhere and branding the sidewalk with the luminous blotch of a murder scene that I’ve never been fully able to get out of my head. My girlfriend L yelped abruptly, I lay on the grass next to the sidewalk in stunned silence and, after muttering something about the shit guts on his shoe, my ex-roommate started…to laugh. Whether he laughed due to the power he felt from taking a life that did him no harm, or whether it was because I looked about to cry I’ll never know. I suspect it was both. He looked to her and me for some measure of appreciation or admiration for his kill and finding none gutturally resorted to the classic American teenage rebuke: “You’re weird,” and unfulfilled and unrepentant stumbled off into the darkness. In the remainder of my time at Susquehanna University he and I never spoke again.

Lying on the grass next to the remains of my little friend I was a stir of emotions: shock, sadness, and rage. I wanted my ex-roommate to pay for what he had done. I wanted someone to smash him for no reason the way he had smashed my friend. I wanted to mourn my friend and give him a proper burial, but there was nothing left of him but luminous sludge. I wanted him alive again creating glow-in-the dark art on the sidewalks by moonlight on a fine fall night, but that was not meant to be. Instead, I did the only thing that I could do at the moment: I walked L home to her dorm sullenly and silently, and then went home myself, quietly mourning my friend and lamenting the random cruelty of the world.

It’s been 26 years since my little friend’s death. I feel certain that the event made no lasting impression on my former roommate; he may not even have remembered doing it the next day. But I remember the event vividly and it did change me for the better. Not to say that my parents didn’t instill a love of animals in me, for they most certainly did, but that random, cruel death for sport triggered an instinct in me that has never abated. I made a vow that night to never stand by again and watch as one of Creation’s “Lesser” Creatures is tortured or snuffed out for pleasure and, to the best of my ability I have kept that vow for twenty-six years. And I am a better person for it.

Today, I value all life and only kill bugs, vermin, or what have you when absolutely necessary, and only when I can’t safely remove them from my house or they threaten the safety of my wife or son. Nancy can attest to this of course as I have names for most of the Daddy Long Legs that inhabit our home and have on more than a few occasions rescued mice, lizards and spiders from the clutches of our disappointed and puzzled cats. I am not a zealot, I do eat meat, and I do freely acknowledge that there are times when the killing of bugs, pests, and vermin is a necessity in the maintenance of a healthy and clean home or society. But killing for pleasure, killing for sport rather than for food, is out for me, and in many ways it all stems back to a harmless, little, slimy, artist that made the wrong choice to paint a sidewalk by moonlight and paid the price of his art with his life at the hands of a sadistic sophomore that had been taught that killing is cool or “makes you a man.” I learned the lesson he gave his life for and plan on instilling in my son John Adams the same “All life is precious” point of view. He is in a phase right now where stepping on ants is fun, so there’s no time like the present to begin the lesson. And maybe, just maybe, by writing this blog, and sharing my values with you and my boy, I can bring some meaning to my little friend’s senseless death twenty-six years ago. He, like all of us, was created with purpose. Perhaps his purpose was to die that night so that others would learn a better way to live, a way of kindness, and tolerance, and respect for all life.

Well, it’s a start.

Namaste,

Jason

SU Logo

The Night My Dad Released Me

For seven years, in Philadelphia, I worked as what is known as a Barrymore Nominator.  Nominators were sent to see area theatre by the now defunct Theatre Alliance of Greater Philadelphia. If we saw something in a show that we found outstanding we were to nominate that show for further scrutiny. If enough nominators independently voted for the same things in a show the show would proceed to the next round up. That next round of judges would see the nominated shows and ultimately decide who would win the coveted Barrymore Award, Philly’s answer to the Tony Awards. All of that is totally irrelevant to my story, but it does explain why on a spring night in March of 2003 I was sitting in the audience at the Arden Theatre Co., watching a performance of Northeast Local by playwright Tom Donaghy when I got an unexpected visitation, and my life slowly started to improve.

My dad, James F. Michael, had been dead for the better part of two and a half years by the time I found myself at the Arden. He had died on September 3, 2000 from a combination of emphysema, congestive heart failure, and lung cancer. He had smoked himself to death, and despite a triple bypass at age fifty, a bout with throat cancer, and a loving family desperate to see him quit, he just didn’t have the willpower to kick a habit that was ingrained in him as a teenager. He had died at age seventy at Reading Hospital and Medical Center. My mother and I were by his side when his heart stopped for the last time. Those are the facts, but that wasn’t necessarily how I viewed the situation in 2000.

The night he crossed over my mother and I had gone to visit him in the hospital. He was alert, but weak, and a bit chatty. He told me he loved me and told the nurse that my mother was a good cook. He looked at my mother and said something to her that haunted her for years until her memory started to fade. Holding her hand he said to her, “I think I love you,” and then went on about how much he missed her cooking. He was a complicated man. My mother and I were hungry, so we told him we were going to get something to eat at the West Reading Tavern but we would be back before visiting hours ended.

While at the tavern she got a call that he had slipped into a coma and was only being kept alive by life support. I had argued with his doctors who had tried vigorously to pressure my mother into signing a DNR (Do Not Resuscitate) and had prevailed. They didn’t want to spend the money trying to save a man they never thought would leave the hospital again. I wanted them to spare no expense in trying to save my father’s life. I had won out, but the decision would have lasting consequences for me.

We arrived back at the hospital to the bedside of a brain dead man whose heart and lungs were still functioning if supported. We tried to gather family members to our side to say goodbye before his heart stopped, but thunderstorms had knocked out some phone lines, and I couldn’t reach my brother Jeff. The moment came for him to be removed from the machine and my mother choked. “I can’t do it,” she cried. “You have to do it,” and she refused to take further action. I was twenty-nine, and had had a loving if tumultuous relationship with him for most of our life – in many ways due to the smoking – and now it was left to me (from my point of view) to kill him.

I lay across his stomach and talked to him awhile. I held his hand, told him I loved him, and cried a lot. Finally, I nodded and the machine was shut off. I was shocked that his heart and lung functions continued for sometime thereafter. I felt the pulse in his hand get weaker, but remain steady to the end. I remarked wryly how even in death this musician’s musician knew how to keep a beat. And then it stopped. And it was over. And he was dead. And I had killed him.

Dad Mom and Me by the Shore0001

Mom, Pop, and me at the beach, circa mid-1970s

The next year was a blur of sleeping, depression, and working when necessary, but nothing more. I did shows, directed, and music directed, but couldn’t compose. He had been my musical muse. With him gone, the music inside me ceased. A year after his death – literally to the day, September 3, 2001 – I started my first day as Director of Choral Activities at La Salle College High School outside Philadelphia, now in a full-time teaching position, the kind of which he had always wanted for me. The date was creepy and poignant. I felt guided by him to the position, and I stayed in it, in his dream for my life, for three academic years. At La Salle I met two men named Dennis and Joe who introduced me to TAGP and encouraged me to apply to be a Barrymore nominator. By fall of 2002 I was one, and that leads me back to Northeast Local at the Arden.

Midway through the Second Act while sitting in the darkened theatre my father’s voice rang through my head. “I release you,” he said. I was shocked. I could hear my father clear as anything. Couldn’t anyone else hear that? “I release you,” he said again. “Don’t mourn me anymore and move on with your life.” He was louder than the actors. “Goodbye.” The voice dissipated. I sat there stunned and tingling and warm. I had thought about him every day since his death, guilt-ridden by the fact that I had been the one to “pull the plug.” I had blamed myself, I had considered suicide, I had written healing haiku, I had isolated myself from friends and family, I had stopped composing. No matter what I did I considered him while I did it. Now he had released me, come to me, given me absolution and farewell. I didn’t know what to think, but somehow, in some way I felt lighter.

The show ended (it was good, but I was preoccupied thereafter) and I strolled down 2nd St. and made a right turn onto Market St. to head back to Market East Station and an outbound train toward home in Lansdale. There was a warm breeze in the air and I strolled buoyantly almost to the point of dancing. I talked to him in the air and thanked him for coming back to release me, to let me know that I should choose my life over a preoccupation with his death. I thanked him, told him I loved him, and said goodbye again and again. I knew at that moment two and a half years after his death that my period of mourning was ending and that my healing and moving on was about to start. I was right.

He visits me every so often, but has never spoken to me since. A room will suddenly smell of his signature cigar and I’ll know he’s about. Nancy has smelled it too on occasion, so I know it’s not just me. I know my son will never get to know his grandfather the way I knew him as a son. But it’s nice to know that every so often, especially when times are really good or really bad, he will make his presence felt, fill the room with smoke, and let me know that he is watching over me, and that he loves me.

 Happy Belated Father’s Day, Dad

And I love you too,

Jason

Dad with Max and Snoopy at the Pagoda

Pop with Max and Snoopy outside the Pagoda