Saturday, September 20, 2014

For years now, I've wanted a dog. I don't know how many years, exactly. I don't know when it started. The farther I got from love and my former relationship, the more my desire for a dog grew. Or maybe it was because I am getting older. Or maybe it was because I'd visited home a lot and my mom & dad's puppy had grown into a more well behaved dog who I enjoyed spending time with. Or maybe it was because suddenly everyone I knew had dogs, and their dogs were so cute and so fun to play with and to pet and I felt like my life would be complete if I had a dog of my own.

I started actively looking for dogs to adopt in mid-August because I'd finally come back to LA for the new school year. This is my third year in my PhD program, which means this year I am reading for exams. Anyone who knows me knows what a wanderer I am, how I am always gone, always busy. But I can't be that so much this year because I need to keep my butt grounded in some kind of chair as much as possible. And I even have a fenced in front yard, which is something I've never had before. So I figured now is the best time for a dog. Not just a dog, a puppy. Because I want a dog that I raised, who will be good and well behaved and predictable and bonded to me. I wanted an Australian Shepherd puppy because I had one growing up and she was the sweetest, prettiest dog. And Aussies are smart, can be trained easily, can do so many things, and are very active, which means a solid hiking/camping buddy. And since I usually hike and camp alone, it'd be nice to have a companion.

I looked everywhere for Aussies and Aussie mixes in Los Angeles. I went to a shelter, to at least 4 rescues, to an adoption event. I was registered on Pet Finder and Adopt a Pet. I checked at least 10 different websites a day, including craigslist, at least 15 times each.  Each time I'd find what I was looking for, which only happened a couple times, I'd call the place and they'd tell me the dog was already undergoing the adoption process with another family. So I pretty much gave up. But then last Friday, I was about to leave the house to have my car's A/C fixed, and I decided I'd just check one more time. I saw a little black and gray and white fluffy Aussie mix who was on Pet Finder, but she was all the way in Riverside. I assumed she would already have been claimed, but when I called, they said she'd just become available that morning. I asked them to hold her for me since I'm an hour and a half away from Riverside, but they said they couldn't do that. I told them I was on my way, and I raced out into the desert.

When I got to Mary S. Roberts Adoption Center, the little girl Aussie I wanted was still available. I was shocked. I'd been certain someone would have come in during that hour and a half and claimed her. But they hadn't. When I met her, her name was Ilsa. She was 8 weeks old. She was wrapped in a blanket to avoid the transmission of germs that might be on the staff's clothing from handling animal control animals. She was so tiny. And fluffy. And calm. They told me she and her siblings were found in the middle of the desert in Riverside on a 115 degree day. There was no human or dog parent in sight. One of the puppies was already dead. Ilsa was the only girl. My dog, born in the place I am forever running to to find myself. I knew she was mine.

When I finalized the adoption process, bought some food and a leash and collar and a couple toys for the car ride home, they brought her back out to me wrapped in a blanket. I named her Malta. They handed her to me. Someone rang this bell thing. Everyone clapped. I smiled and waved. It all felt so strange. We walked out the door and into my car. We drove home an hour and a half with unreliable air conditioning on a hundred degree day. She fell asleep in my lap immediately. The second I could see the DTLA skyline, she woke up.

Here's her first week at home:
Navidson & Malta meet
She is obsessed with the water bowl
Navidson is curious but skeptical
We are all exhausted

As adorable as she is, none of this has been easy. The first night I got her, she cried in her crate and I was so terrified she'd bother the neighbors. My less than lucid nighttime brain became convinced I'd be evicted for this. She pooped in her crate twice. I had to clean the whole thing out each time so she wouldn't get comfortable being in her own poop, thus defeating the purpose of crate training. She peed, too. She cried and peed and pooped and had diarrhea. Navidson just kept looking at me like, well, we've got this thing making a ton of noise, so there's that. I longed for the night before when he and I lazily fell asleep together in my bed in the cool air conditioning and slept till 11am. But that first night [and still every night] I had to take her out every two hours. I am a sleeper, and suddenly I was not being allowed any sleep. I think I slept a total of one hour. By morning, I was going to bring her back to Riverside, embarrassed and horrified and regretful and and was going to say, I just couldn't do it, I don't know what I was thinking, I am so sorry.

I have not reacted normally to adopting a puppy. Yes, they are hard and messy. But I have reached a whole new level of meltdown since Malta has come into my life. That feeling of panic I had that first night must have triggered my body to remember the other times I've felt that level of panic. Suddenly I was in the middle of my break up all over again. I woke up in pain for the next three days, longing for the person I'd lost, feeling like I'd never be whole again. This was so weird to feel. I have no desire to be with or even see this person ever again. I overcame that sinking break up feeling long ago. But here I was, losing my shit, panicked, miserable. I felt like I would never be able to do anything for the rest of my life. What if I want to move to Paris for a semester?, I thought. I hate Europe. I would never do this. But suddenly I couldn't do it and so I needed to do it or I'd be missing out and my life would be over. It didn't help that the night I adopted Malta, I had to miss my friend's film screening at the Kickstarter Film Festival, an event I'd been looking forward to for weeks. And I had to turn down an invitation from my best friend to go dancing at the bar across the street the next night. I had planned to go to Southeast Asia next summer for six weeks if I could afford it. I had just been granted two scholarships for two weeks worth of incredible classes at the Digital Humanities Summer Institute in Victoria, Canada for June 2015. What the fuck am I going to do??? is all I could ask myself. I cried to my mom on the phone every day for 4 days. My friends M & C came to visit from Utah on Sunday. They stayed with me, played with my dog, loved her, and all I felt was... nothing. I felt nothing for her. She was ruining my very carefully scheduled and coordinated and organized life. Not to mention I couldn't imagine how I'd ever make it through PhD exams with this needy creature in my house. But then M & C both said at the same time [because that's a thing people in love sometimes do], it's always better to do two hard things at once. And that really hit me. And made me feel strong. And gave me courage. It will come, M said. You will love her. You will get there.
How to spend a Saturday
A very soggy puppy.
And she was right. A couple days ago, I looked at Malta and her eyes were so sweet and so loving, and she was just this fluffy ball of blood and beating heart born in the desert and she was mine, and I was hers. And now I am happy to wake up every two hours and stand in the middle of the night silence while she pees and I cheer and give her a treat, over and over and over again. And she's actually the smartest, most well behaved dog a person could ask for. She's basically already potty trained, which only took a week. She isn't destructive. She only whines for a few minutes when she first goes into her crate now, and even then only sometimes. She loves her toys and she's very friendly and curious. She loves all the neighbors and today she even got to play with the neighbor's dog in my yard. Now when I leave the house, I worry about her instead of feeling free from her. I want to be home with her instead of wanting to be anywhere else. My panic was so awful in the beginning that I had multiple friends over, put out pleas on facebook, and my mom was even going to fly out here at the end of the month to help me. But one week in, I am back to normal. And I am totally in love. Not to mention that since I got Malta, I've met all my neighbors and learned how incredibly kind and compassionate people can be. Like M & C, who sent me this package upon their return to Salt Lake City from Los Angeles:

Sunday, September 7, 2014

This #12

1. The last class I'll ever take as a student is a class I'm taking this semester called Tangible Computing in the Media Arts + Practice program at USC. After this class, I'll be finished with coursework forever, I'll have a graduate certificate in Media Arts + Practice, and I'll be one major step closer to finishing my PhD. But that's not what's important. This is what's important:

This is a fictional prototype of an answering machine that beautifully and gracefully merges the analog with the digital. I am someone who is obsessed with this concept of analog/digital in all areas of study. I once curated and moderated a panel on this subject as it pertains to the writing of fiction for an experimental lit/media conference called &Now. I've written essays about this subject. I've bookmarked endless articles that tackle these ideas, and I intend to create a dissertation that is both physically tangible and digitally accessible. So this project from all the way back in the 90's appeals to my main academic and design interests.

The idea that you could hold a message is so compelling to me. I am someone who needs to hold things to feel their reality. When my former significant other and I spent excessive time apart, which was always, I would fall asleep hugging the stuffed owl he bought me for just this purpose. When I was having a hard time last summer, dealing with grief and unwanted change, my friend gave me her 24 hour AA chip and I held that in my hand constantly. I held it in my hand as I walked around the various cities I visited. I held it in my hand while I slept. During a particularly inspiring road trip through the desert one summer, at the bottom of a ditch in the Michael Heizer's landart work "Double Negative," I found a black stone. I held that stone in my hand throughout the rest of my drive, through thousands of miles across the American Southwest. When I turned 23, my babysitter who had recently been diagnosed with kidney cancer called me and left me a birthday message that included information about the fact that all her scans came back negative for cancer on that day, a day she chose for her scans because she loved me and I was her good luck charm. She died a few months later, but I saved that message on my phone. When I got a new iPhone in April of last year, all my messages were erased. There were messages from multiple now dead people I'd loved on that phone. Fortunately I'd had the forethought to play her message from my phone on speaker into my computer while it was recording, so I do have a copy of that message, but my heart would somehow feel lighter if I were able to carry around a little marble that I knew contained her voice. Even if I couldn't listen to it without the machine it was designed to play on, just knowing that I was holding a thing that held her memory inside it would put me at ease. I'd save the message from my mom where she quickly and quietly sings me happy birthday from her work phone, the low volume so she wouldn't disturb the office. I'd save the message from KT telling me I'd been accepted to USC's PhD program. I'd save messages from my far away friends telling me they love me. I would carry around a sack of physical evidence of the people who are important to me. I would buy Bishop's answering machine in a heartbeat. But it was never actually put into production.

2. This this is similar to the one above in that my discovering it is, too, a result of my Tangible Computing class. We were instructed to investigate a site called to see if there were any parts we'd like to have ordered so we can play with them and build stuff. I immediately found this
It's a project created using pieces from Little Bits that can be programed in such a way that Darth Vader raises the little cocktail umbrella when it's going to rain and lowers it when it's clear skies. I realized I can't really use this here in SoCal, land of little to no rain, but it's been raining a lot where my parents live in Colorado, and I like the idea of having this little guy sitting on my desk with his umbrella up to tell me that my mom and dad are probably cozy in their house tucked away in the foothills. I mentioned this to my tang. comp. prof. and she told me that other things like this already exist. Which leads me to this...

3. The Goodnight Lamp. It's a little house that comes with another smaller house [or multiple smaller houses]. You press the button on your large house to light it up, and this then lights up the smaller house, which is placed in the house of someone who isn't you. For instance, my parents could have the big one, and I could have the small one, and anytime they come home, the could press their house button and my tiny house would light up, indicating to me that they were home safely. 
As someone who obsessively worries about the well being of her loved ones, this product makes me feel so relieved. It's not available yet, but when it is, you bet I'm buying one. I know my mom would feel a lot better if she could just look over and see a tiny house glowing at 3am when she wakes up and wonders whether or not I got home safely from any of my ridiculous shenanigans. 

4. Ok, this is unrelated to tangible computing, but I'm obsessed with it anyway. My dancer friend sent it to me because she thinks I look like the girl in the video, which I agree with. I think I look so much like the girl in the video that I feel like I'm watching myself when I watch this. And I like that because I have never moved in this way, and I think this is beautiful, and I when I watch this girl who looks like me move like this, I feel like I have moved like this, and I feel happy. Also I like this version of the song they're moving to.

5. This book. THIS book. This book is everything.
This book is all the stuff I'm always trying to say to the people who won't listen, but said better, stronger, smarter, more beautifully. This book is everything that matters to me in life, as a woman, as someone fighting constantly for a world without the structural impediments that keep the majority of people in a completely unacceptable position. If I could make all my students read this book, I would. In fact, I told them on day one of class this semester that I can't assign this book due to course requirements/restrictions, but that they should all buy and read this book if they actually want to participate in the intellectual community they're now entering, if they want to be good, or at least better, or at least less shitty members of the society that raised them up to reinforce all the bullshit this book tries to take down, at least addresses. If I had the money right now, I would send this book to my mom. To my grandma. To my brother. To all my friends who don't already own it, which is hardly anyone. I would buy this book for my students myself if I could. So just do it. Just buy this book. And read it. For god's sake. Actually for your sake. And for my sake. For woman's sake. For people's sake. For goodness' sakes. Bad Feminist. Roxane Gay. Do it.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

365 Photos: One photo per day for the entire year of 2014

Part of what I love about doing this is captioning the photos, but I also like how they look all in a row, uncaptioned and without context. So on my blog they'll be uncpationed, but if you want to follow along as I go, I'm posting on instagram [@alirachelpearl] and facebook. I also recently started an instagram that is just devoted to this project, so if you want the reader's digest version of my life or just want to follow along with the 365 Challenge, you can find me at @_threesixtyfive_. That may be the most narcissistic sentence I've written this year.