For the three of you who regularly follow my blog, I want to let you know that I am Anxious (Please note the uppercase “A”. It was not a typo.)

You probably think it was pandemic anxiety. No. I have shoved aside the prospect of the pandemic. I’ve buried myself in work. In useless tasks. I don’t listen to the news. At best, I do a cursory review of the print edition of the local paper. Why? Because I cannot change the course of history. Best to bury my head in the sand, do what I can in my tiny ambit and hope for better days ahead. Oh, yes, I wake in the middle of the night, terrified about the health of those I know in the “high-risk group,” wonder if despite my spectacular triathlon performance last summer, I am in such group, worry about retirement funds, furloughed employees, mental health, and despair. But, at some point, I realize these are all out of my control. We are what we are. Buckle up.

So, why the anxiety? Otis. You remember him? The adorable cuddly, ball of fur that we brought home in November? Well, he is no more. He has morphed into Cujo.(Aside, I have an inability to remember what I deem trivial knowledge, so several years ago, in the days of movie “rentals” (how quaint), I counseled my spouse to rent the movie Cujo, telling him it was rumored to have beautiful photos of nature. Alas, I was thinking of White Fang.

I present the photos of Cujo and Whilte Fang:

Guess who is who?

(And, a further aside: I also confused Silver Streak, a comedy featuring RIchard Pryor, with Midnight Express, a very violent movie about drug smuggling. I wish you could see the faces of my coworkers when I told them I found Midnight Express very, very funny… But I digress.)

Back to Otis a/k/a Cujo.

Otis was purchased to be Lassie. I have put my heart and soul and money and time into him to alleviate all my loneliness, to make me feel important and loved and useful. He was destined to curl up at my feet, to serve as a comfort dog as I carried out my noble charitable work, weaving in among the very sick and very old, Otis and I were going to bring joy to the world. And he was to be my companion, through thick and thin.

But then he turned on me. He has become an adolescent terror. Not satisfied with ripping apart the bushes and digging holes in the yard, he has turned to systematically ripping out the landscape edging and trotting around the yard with his prize. I stride outside and sternly instruct him to COME. He looks at me, clearly thinking, “You must be kidding.” I close in and he goes on the attack. Jumping at me, biting at my sleeves, baring his teeth, growling. One day this scenario transpired when I was still in my robe. My lovely robe was streaked with muddy paw prints. I retreated into the house, dragging him by the collar. To say he didn’t seem to give a shit is a gross understatement.

Then there are the “walks.” We start out nicely enough, then Otis decides things are dull, so he pulls and tugs at the leash. I remind him, patiently, to come along and he does his leaping and nipping routine.

By the time I am home, I am capable of strangling him. But, at least to date, I have not.

I have, however, contacted a few trainers. The first pronounced his behavior “unacceptable” and “alarming,” advising me to clamp down. Think those hot boxes in Bridge Over the River Kwai.

NO, NO, NO my other consultant counsels. Yes, he is acting in an “alarming” and “dangerous” manner, but he needs counseling. Think of Otis on a couch, pouring out his grievances.

I am anxious. All right, downright panicked. I wake up in the middle of the night and read about aggressive dogs and conclude Otis will ultimately eat me. Think Lord of the Flies. After I mourn my ugly and untimely death at the paws of Otis, I lament the money, time, and effort spent on a lost cause. I remember everyone’s shock that I would purchase a puppy at my advanced age. “Yes, yes,” I scold myself. “They were all right. You are a dope, a fool, and if not dead soon, you will be at least maimed beyond recognition within a few days.”

I turn to a third advisor — the one who, I was told, was the end-all-and-be-all of dog aggression expertise. This time, I send a video. “This,” I explain, “is my own-fault Cujo that everyone under the sun warned my not to get. Can this marriage be saved???”

She responds quickly. She has watched the videos and opines that Otis seems “very frustrated, which is common when dogs are distracted and not getting reinforced.” She then adds, ” I don’t think he’s being aggressive, he’s adrenalized and frustrated. He’s still a baby and will need a lot of guidance and reinforcement for the behaviors we want.”

My head is spinning. What am I not reinforcing? How can I de-adrenalize him? (Note to self: Remove speed from his kibble starting tomorrow.) Why is he frustrated? He isn’t trying to train himself.

But, despite my questions, I find her response reassuring. Perhaps he is rehab-able. Perhaos he will become Lassie. Perhaps everyone will say, “Gosh, we were wrong. Nancy is the perfect dog owner and Otis, the perfect dog.” I am hopeful. Tonight I plan to sleep the entire night without once googling. “Can a 6 1/2 month golden retriever kill me.”

Tomorrow is our virtual training/meeting/assessment. I will keep you posted. Or, I will be torn to pieces and eaten.

Cremation and Creativity

I have been woefully negligent in sharing my musings with my vast audience of under a dozen. I believe the trendy thing to say is that I have been, “creatively blocked.” And of all things to spur the unblocking? Cremation.

I get at least 3-4 proposals per month suggesting my cremation. Seriously. Not just funeral planning, but specifically, cremation. Makes me wonder what I’ve done to signal my intense interest in having myself cremated.

However, the growing interest in my cremation has caused me to think about retirement. So much so, that I joined a group of friends to talk about how we’d like to see our later years play out, which led to my astute observation that if I didn’t fire up my creativity, I’d bore myself to death. While the cremationists would be delighted, it seems a sad way to go. And the group challenged me to sign up for a class.

So, I signed up for a class on unblocking one’s creativity. Here I am. Now instead of boring myself to death, I can bore you to death (and send you a coupon for cremation if you like). All the talk of creativity caused me to reflect on my lifetime of artistic endeavors, so I am sharing a special memory…

I desperately wanted to perform well in art class in grade school. I always got good grades, the two notable exceptions being religion and art. The whole concept of creating something enthused–but befuddled me. I had two things working against me.

  1. My impatience
  2. The wretched condition of the Burke home art supplies

No need to elaborate on my impatience. And I hesitate to even call what I had at home “art supplies.” I always had access to a scissors–could paw through drawers and find at least one, always dull. We used the one pair to cut paper, pizza, twine. We never had fabric in the home so that wasn’t an issue (and, as I’ve pointed out, never splurged on a pizza cutter either. Why? We had the dull scissors.) We were not a home of sparkles or doilies, making my own Valentine cards was unthinkable.

Art class was the ONLY place I could shine. I couldn’t draw to save my soul, so imagine my excitement when the art teacher assigned a paper mache project. We could make anything. My mind raced ahead, and I heard, but ignored the “add a layer of newspaper, LET IT DRY, add another layer” admonition. I “knew better” (as my Dad was fond of saying).

So, I waited until after dinner the night before the project was due and began construction of a turtle. I soaked newspaper strips in flour and water and layered and layered and layered them until I had a nice plump turtle. But the hour was growing late, and I had to paint it, so consulted my Mother–a grave error as she was no artist, much less a paper mache-ist. However, she was smart and aptly observed that the considerable mound of wet newspaper would not dry in time for a coat of green paint, so she advised putting the turtle in the oven. I did. Now I had a warm mound of wet newspaper and the whole house smelled.

Panic was setting in. My Dad then got into the action. He at least painted pictures so there was some artistic something in his genes. He suggested starting over with a base so I would only need one or two layers of newspaper. A round pink styrofoam bowl was produced. I added one layer of newspaper strips, barely wet. Things were looking up but I panicked again when I realized I just had a round mound which didn’t suggest a turtle with a head. I could not submit a headless turtle.

Again, my creative parents suggested I modify to a lady bug. Sure lady bugs have heads but they are so small they run into the body. I was thinking of this, minus the legs:

Excellent. I then applied a layer of red paint and in the morning, added some black dots. And my Dad drove me to school.

The lady bug was still dampish, leaching a bit of red paint, but was much improved from the headless unpainted sopping wet turtle. But when the art teacher saw it, she accused me of cheating. Apparently no honest paper-mache-ist starts with a pink styrofoam base.

Does anyone wonder how my creativity became blocked?

At the time, even in the mid-1960’s in Chicago, we burned some trash in our backyard (In fact, one time, our cleaning lady, Delores, set her hair on fire while tending to the fire, but I digress.) I mention this because I am quite sure that my paper mache turtle turned faux lady bug was cremated.


On Thursday, I awoke to a 5-alarm fire of phones ringing. The house phone, my cell phone, the house phone — I knew, without question, that someone had died. My husband ran frantically, phone to phone, missed the call, missed the call, then hit pay dirt. Found Marilee on the line on the very last ring, then promptly handed over the phone to me, still semi-comatose in bed. Although I am generally up at 7:40 a.m. on a Thursday, I had indulged myself by staying up to watch the end of the Cubs baseball game. Marilee was unhappy.

First, an aside. Although I presume Marilee spells her name Marilee, henceforth I will refer to her as “Merrily” because her name is incongruous with her chosen profession. Dental hygienist.

Merrily sounded anything but merry. Stern, annoyed, grumpy. Any of those adjectives would do. And because I was just stirring from sleep, her voice sounded so very loud.

She started off by saying, “This is Merrily from Dr. X’s office,” then pointing out the time. Having  just awakened, I had no idea of the time, so that was somewhat helpful, but my gratitude was quickly replaced with dread.

“Oooh. Sorry. I totally forgot, just blanked it out, I knew I had an appointment, but then forgot…” I could have gone on for hours with my mea culpas, but Merrily was having none of it.

“You confirmed the 7:30 appointment,” she pointed out stonily.

“Yes, yes, I know. I did. I just forgot, you know, just forgot.”

She didn’t know. Clearly Merrily has never forgotten one single thing in her entire orderly life.

After a stone cold silence, “Can you be here by 9:40?”

“No, no, I have to go to work. Have meetings.” Frankly I couldn’t remember if I had a meeting or not, but I was petrified to face Merrily in less than two hours. Best to wait until her memory of my grotesque inadequacy had dulled.

For a moment, I considered offering an explanation, but it was clear from Merrily’s tone, that telling her I overslept because I stayed up until midnight watched a baseball game would never do. So, I pivoted quickly to my stock of white lies — stomach flu is always reliable. But before I spat it out, I realized if I had stomach flu, I could not be going to a meeting. Should I offer a death in the family? No, no, too big a lie. Car trouble? No, because she can tell from my voice that I am still in the sack. My panicked review of possible excuses was interrupted by her next question:

“Do you want to reschedule now?” But it came out like, “You lazy good-for-nothing, when ARE you coming in?”

I faltered. I couldn’t face a reschedule. I hate the dentist’s office and all the worse, when I know they hate me. “No, no, I can’t. I am still in bed.”

There it was. Out. Admitted. A longer, stonier silence. “So you’ll call later?” Translation: Any self-respecting individual would have leapt out of bed and had calendar in hand by now.

“Yes.” I almost said, “Yes, certainly” for good measure, but I was feeling anything but certain.

And here’s the worst part. I didn’t call later Thursday or even Friday. I remembered, but didn’t call. Her chastisement laid me low. It is on my calendar to call tomorrow. God, give me courage.



I should be doing the exercises the physical therapist assigned me to rehab my shoulder after slipping on the ice. I should be walking the dog so he gets some exercise. I should be cleaning out my email inbox, getting it sorted. I should try to figure out the tangle of blogs I have started and stopped and then figure out how to give this one an email feed. I should be sending out networking inquiries.

But I really want to have a glass of pinot grigio, perhaps a few, and sit listening to music and write and move from “shoulds” to “wishes.”

I wish someone would pay me to do what I want to do. Instead I spent today doing contract work that is “beneath my station” – more simply put – I could have done it years ago. Sure the work is easier given my editing efforts over the years and the other work could only be done by someone with legal training, but a whole slew of it could be done by a trained monkey.

In an effort to ditch the relentless list of shoulds that I allow to guide my life, I have decided to take risks. Not like unprotected sex with a street person or anything, I mean in the sense of what I do every day. Quit getting up and going in to a workplace that depresses me or bores me. Find what I love and do it. The problem is that I am not sure I know what I love to do.

Years ago, as an icebreaker in a parenting group, we were asked to tell the group what “makes your heart sing.” The request sent me into an immediate panic because I wasn’t sure how to answer and God knows the worst thing ever would be to give an inaccurate answer to a bunch of people who likely could have cared less. But I digress… I am trapped into thinking about tasks I like to do and am beginning to realize that what I love to do must encompass more.

Yeah, I like to write, but I love to write what I want more than 800 words about car insurance. And I like to edit but to do it all day every day with no interaction with others would be deadening.

I like to think. Seriously. I like to use my brain to strategize, categorize, find solutions, design processes.

All this brings me to another realization I made on vacation. We just returned from a long weekend in Florida. I was very happy sitting in the shade and reading, paddling around the pool with my bum shoulder, sleeping, eating. A nature preserve was located nearby and I felt that I SHOULD want to go there. I read about it online. The first “excellent” reviewer gushed about touring the preserve and spotting a spoonbill. My eyes stopped dead. I have absolutely no interest in spoonbills or any other bird for that matter. I know some people like to bird watch. My sister-in-law likes to go on nature hikes. Some admire plants. I wish I did but I don’t. I’m all for a walk in a nice surrounding but I am never looking for nature. Because I don’t care and I am ashamed to admit my disinterest.

There are whole subject areas that I care nothing about. Pro sports. Birds. Car types. I could fill up the whole paragraph, maybe two. So why am I not content to do something boring or tedious as long as I get paid?

Sometimes I think I will make an ideal nursing home resident. I like to nap and read and I love throws and have a nice collection for various needs — one for the car, one when I am really cold, one to ward off a chill… Rocking chairs are comfortable and beds that go up and down intrigue me, not to mention the call button when I have an unmet need.

Alas I am not going to a nursing home or bird watching. No one is thinking, “This is a thorny problem. We need to get [me] on the line.” But then few of us are in that position. Most like me, just wake up every day and put one foot in front of the other. And I must learn to do this with more grace.




lurching the dog

I just returned from a lurch with the dog. The icy sidewalks made me feel so old that when I lurched passed the neighborhood church and saw a funeral it looked good. By that I mean I thought to myself, “How nice to lie quietly in a casket while others murmur nice things about me.” I’ve always liked the idea that funerals interrupt peoples’ schedules. I don’t like when families put them off to be more convenient. If you can’t inconvenience your loved ones when you die, when can you?

But back to my lurch. Despite intense concentration on the sidewalk, the lurch allowed me to ponder my status as a freelance writer and what I am writing. Because I am me, I focused on what I didn’t do well instead of my flashes of brilliance. Got me thinking about what I really should be writing.

My Christmas letter has gained notoriety because it is the anti-Christmas letter. Perhaps my blog should be the anti-freelance writer blog. I have lots of material.

  • There was the time I went to a networking lunch and ended up sitting next to someone who had a brain injury. After several minutes of my best networking she confessed that she had no short term memory.
  • Then there was the project where I spend nearly half a lifetime trying to format a newsletter that my spouse thought resembled a ransom note when I was done.
  • How about when I got a job proofreading a manuscript. When I was done, the author emailed the publisher a diatribe, listing all the shortcomings of my work. She summed things up: “At this point, I would be embarrassed to show it to my friends.”

Okay, that’s enough to get my blog started in the right direction. Here is where I will dump it all, all the mistakes and miscues, my brain detours. Maybe there’s a market for them?


Shit I Write – the Inaugural Post

I sort of like my tag line “Shit I Write.” And I am proud if I actually spelled Inaugural correctly without looking it up.

Just so you know… in keeping with the theme of this blog, I will do precious little editing, not worry about images or grammar or spelling or format. This is just a brain dump. When I die, doctors can study it to determine the vagaries of the human brain. I often think that thoughts occur to me that don’t occur to others — not brilliant thoughts — not bizarre thoughts (as that implies insanity) — but more like odd wanderings. Like the relative without a filter.

For example, from time to time I think about stopping at a 4-way stop and waving the other driver to go first. When he drives through the intersection, I could accelerate and hit him. Not to hurt him, just to see his reaction.

Candid Camera was the best show ever. It got me started on thinking about these things. I owe it all to Alan Funt.