Avery Monchito, aka Monkey the MonkI never was much for Bad Boys. I’ve always been attracted to the aloof chin-scratchers who fight with words and not fists or intimidation. But unwittingly, I fell for one, and I fell hard.

Avery Monchito, street name: “Monkey,” was a special kind of dog. And when I say special, I mean in all meanings of the word.

He was a beautiful dog – golden haired, soft to the touch who felt exactly like a premium Gund stuffed animal . . . the ones you pay top dollar for. He also had a feminine look about him. One of the reasons we adopted him in 2001 was because he reminded Brent of Seiko the Watchdog, a dog we rescued from the busy street behind our house when she escaped while her parents were away for the weekend. Brent fell in love with that dog in the very short time we had her and thought, “Well they look the same, they must be the same.”

He could not have been more wrong. A wolf in sheep’s clothing, Avery was trouble from the get-go.

The shelter told us that he had been adopted and returned four times that year. We said, “Bad pet owners.” The shelter told us that he was returned once because he growled at the lady who adopted him. We said, “Clearly an inexperienced dog owner.” The shelter told us that he didn’t really like other animals. We said, “He’ll get over it in our house.” So, it was really our fault when everything that the shelter said came to pass.

That first couple of weeks (indeed 3 or more years) was trying. He viciously snarled at Brent when Brent tried to move him off of the bed that very first night in our house (result: a life-long ban on furniture sitting). He chewed through 2 steel kennels out of panic, nervousness, or boredom (result: drugs, counseling, and lots of money spent on training books). He picked on (read: attacked) the other animals in the house (result: a life-long practice of getting everything last – food, attention, having the door opened for you when you need to go outside, etc.). By Day 3, Brent wanted to return him to the shelter. Over my dead body, I said. We were warned about this behavior, and we made a commitment to him. Animals are not disposable. So, over his enthusiastic objections, we kept Avery, thus starting an new life with a new set of expectations.

The Journey of Discovery

Avery, Lord of the ElvesLike most shelter animals, you never know their true history. Avery was no exception. One of my first memories of him was when we first brought him home and let him loose in our enormous backyard. He ran the most exuberant figure-8s around the yard that I had ever seen. It was not a tear, but more of a sustained Sunday-drive kind of a run. Like Pepe Le Pew chasing after the cat with love in his heart. Head up, chest out, eyes half closed, feet barely in motion yet gliding along the ground. It was so joyous.

I remember thinking that maybe we were giving this dog something he had never experienced before — freedom. For, you see, there were signs that at least part of Avery’s first 5 years without us were spent solely as a Yard Dog. While our other dogs scrambled to get out of the rain and snow, he would stand outside in the worst weather without a second thought. Especially in the first few years, he would not pass any dish of water without trying to drink the entire dish dry, whether that dish was a puddle on the ground or a gallon-sized container. This dog had been deprived of something or neglected, to be sure. But untangling those issues would both try our patience and teach us patience.

We discovered his unexplained fear of power tools. During the construction of our neighborhood, he would tremble at the sound of a nailgun a block away. When Brent worked in the garage, Avery would be curled around the backside of the toilet in the bathroom on the other side of the house. When he jumped off of the second-story balcony at my brother’s house many years ago, we thought he was just stupid, until we found out almost 5 years later that my brother was using a power drill on that same balcony with the door to the house closed. Avery jumped 2 stories off of the balcony to get away from the drill.

Some discoveries were fun, though. Like the time was I was dancing around the house and being goofy, clapping my hands and singing some made up song. For no reason at all, I jumped and yelled “SIENTASE!” Avery’s tush hit the floor. In all the time we had him, I often wondered why a 5-year-old dog didn’t know any basic commands, like Sit. But it never occurred to me that Avery spoke Spanish. So, we started learning some basic commands in Spanish (abajo, venga), and it felt like we were finally coming together as a family.

The Monkey is in Day Care

Avery, by any definition, was not a smart dog. He was like the teenager that every family loves to complain about who never seems to learn his lesson. Avery was our problem child.

But he was also, quintessentially, my dog. He followed me around the house. He pined in the entryway for my return when I was away (whether to the mailbox or on a week-long trip). And he listened to me when I corrected him, where he often gave Brent the middle claw and the cold shoulder.

I think (or at least I hope) this was because I understood him better than most. Monkey was tough, but when you broke through the crap, you found that he wanted what we all want – someone to lean on and who would be there for him no matter what. He learned not to trust, but he trusted me (and eventually Brent, though that took longer). That trust was earned, to be sure, and it was a great badge of honor. 5 homes in 1 year would take a toll on any foster kid, and who knows how many before that. But once he found that we weren’t going to give him away for his bad behavior, he loosened up, if only a little.

After a long battle with unconfirmed and undiagnosed illnesses (not for lack of trying, mind you), we had to let our Monkey go tonight. It was as painful a decision as anything you could ever imagine. And it was made all the more painful by the fact that we spent gobs and gobs of money on specialists that told us, yes, there is something wrong with him, but, no, we don’t know what it is. Finally, in the end, it came down to tumors in his liver, but we know that wasn’t what has been causing him so many neurological problems all these years. It doesn’t really matter why, though, does it. The tumors and the infection were enough. He felt like crap and there was nothing more we could do for him. I held him and kissed him and apologized to him and told him that I loved him. He was a rotten scoundrel of a dog, but oh God am I going to miss him . . .

In the Beginning

That Funky MonkeyI’m not the first to say it, but it is true that when you come to the end, you think about the beginning. The first day I met him, the first day we laid eyes on each other, I was sitting on the Petsmart floor after I reluctantly agreed to see this dog. He walked right over to me, turned around, planted his butt in my lap, and growled at the neighboring dog at the mobile adoption. This, in a nutshell, is Avery. The street-punk Momma’s Boy. Brent was the one who initially just had to have him, but in the end it was me who had to have him. And letting him go is a kind of sadness that I cannot begin to describe.

My husband, the Early-Adopter-Apple-enthusiast, has been drooling over an iPhone ever since word spread about its development several years ago. However, we live in a large city in a small state where Verizon rules and AT&T has little or no presence. It didn’t make sense to get an iPhone and never be able to use the “phone” part.

But, with this new 3G iPhone just being released, he simply couldn’t contain himself any longer and reserved two of them for us to pick up when they are released this week. With the buzz increasing around these phones, he started to get e-mails from his company’s informal Mac User’s Group (MUG) – people questioning how others who have previous-gen iPhones like them, the service coverage in these parts, etc. Most of the responses were tepid at best, but this one really woke me up:

I’ve read a few of the many, many emails on the subject over the past few days. My wife’s iPhone started becoming a problem a few weeks ago. AT&T sent her one of the “you’re using roaming for data too often” letter and set her phone to show when it was roaming. Like everyone else it shows that it’s off the AT&T network frequently. In particular, it’s roaming now at our home where it used to be on AT&T’s network. We think that someone else boosted their signal or AT&T’s signal has weakened. That’s what pushed her phone into the excessive roaming world. I called to talk to AT&T a couple of times. They eventually agreed to give her pass for now, but warned if she didn’t start doing more none [sic] roaming they’d send another letter and then disable her roaming capability. They lied. Roaming was turned off a few days ago. Her phone is now useless. She can make a call if she is bound to an AT&T tower, but it will disconnect if the signal from someone else’s tower becomes stronger. That’s happening all over the place. Around Santa Fe. In Albuquerque. In Phoenix. Everywhere she goes. I suppose that it would work if she stood under an AT&T tower. She’s about to get a Blackberry from Verizon (and maybe an iPod Touch for fun.)

I’m sorry. But this is one of the most ridiculous things I have ever heard. First, she pays a monthly fee for service that she doesn’t get from the company she is paying money to. Second, she has no control over when she is roaming or not roaming, but gets punished for (God forbid) using her phone in a location where the company that she is paying money to sucks. Third, she gets her roaming capability turned off, in an area where she is paying money to a company that is providing her with no service. Fourth, they blame her for it all in the form of a form letter and the cancellation of the only thing that was making her iPhone operational in the first place.

Wow. No thanks.

Steve Jobs really blew this one. Creating a very innovative gadget that loads of people could find useful, yet entering into an exclusive agreement with a service provider that does this to its customers. For a company that prides itself on usability, Apple should have thought this one through.

Until the iPhone is available on Verizon, I guess we will have to make do with the Blackberry and Pinkberry he and I (respectively) got this weekend. Ah, Progress. It is a wonderful thing.

I have neglected my blog for a while now amidst many changes in my world – job hunting/finding, weddings, dog drama. However, there are certain things in one’s sphere that cannot go unnoticed. Wednesday night, President Barack Obama was the first sitting US President in history to give a commencement speech to a graduation class. This passage would be notable unto itself, but it was made more amazing by the response of the Arizona State University chairs who decided that President Obama’s body of work was not yet complete, and was therefore undeserving at this time to be presented with an honorary degree as is the university’s custom for noted speakers. I’m not going to go into the idiocy of a response like that — I think the Daily Show did a beautiful job of making ASU look like asses (which I provide to you here in case you missed it).

One of the things I really like about Obama, though, is his unyielding ability to make lemonade out of lemons. The way he turned the controversy into a larger speech about our individual responsibilities to not rest on our laurels throughout our entire life is a lesson for everyone on navigating sticky, potentially explosive situations. He is a diplomat, first and foremost, and we all need to take a queue from this guy, whether it be in dealing with family members, in business situations, complaining about the food at a restaurant, blogging, whatever. A line in one of my favorite movies comes to mind: You may not like him, Minister. But you can’t deny it – Dumbledore’s got style.”

I just read that the Dow closed below 7000 points today. Ouch. What makes it worse? That I am not in a position to add to my 401(k) anymore since I have been self-employed since Fall, 08. Dang it. All that missed opportunity . . .

I woke up this morning like I did on Christmas morning when I was a child – early, excited, full of anticipation, yet having to wait for Mom and Dad to wake up to start ripping open the goodies under the tree.

Christmas morning came with a massive excitement hangover at about 11 AM, though, when all of the presents were open, torn wrapping paper filled the space around the tree, and reality set in.  The long 365-day wait for Christmas morning next year had just begun.

As I aged, Christmas became less and less important and the possibilities of New Year’s Eve and Day held more magic.  The idea that, as the calendar year flipped, we could each resolve to start over in some way – to change the way we have acted, or thought, or treated others, or treated ourselves.  As we know, most resolutions end up losing steam and falling by the wayside.  But the high is still there, the excitement and anticipation are still there, and the hangover takes much longer to realize.

This morning is not Christmas morning, or even New Year’s morning.  No, it’s Inauguration Day.  And it’s better than Christmas or New Years.  Today is my new New Year’s Eve 2009.  Midnight is 10 AM EST (8 AM MST), and the countdown has begun.  In place of drunken champagne toasts and Dick Clark New York countdowns, I and my loved one will be curled up on the couch, likely drinking herbal tea and eating Cheerios, watching the MSNBC feed of Barack Obama’s swearing in as the new President of the United States of America.  Ahhh.  Just writing that gives me butterflies.  Get the tissues ready.

I know so many people in this country are excited that we are electing the first African-American President, and so many people are filling Capitol Mall to watch history in the making.  I am also proud of that.  Moreover, though, I am excited that we have elected an intellectual and a visionary.  Someone that I actually trust will keep the promise to America that started over 200 years ago — that the leader of this country be a servant to the people.

Americans chose hope and optimism over fear and xenophobia.  We chose measured intelligence over folksy charm.  We chose to act and be treated like adults rather than petulant children who needed a temporary pacifier shoved in our mouths to shut us up.  We chose to choose over having the choice made for us.  Our collective consciousness has been awakened — maybe there is hope for us yet. . .

I wish, this new New Year’s Day, peace, happiness, patience, tolerance, and hope for you, your’s, and our global community.  For me, I feel one step closer to breathing more freely and sleeping more soundly for the next 4 years.

Ever since I left California, I’ve been trying to figure out how to move back.  But over the course of the last 10 years, the state I love has endured some hard times.  With the astronomical growth in the cost of living, industry moving out of the state to places that are more hospitable to business (and the desert Southwest being a great recipient of that movement), high taxes, high energy costs, high crime rates, and high commute times, there are many reasons why it is foolish to move back.

When you are homesick, though, none of that stuff matters.  I miss the land, the rolling green hills that turn gold in early summer, the Live Oak and Eucalyptus trees, the rows of freshly growing produce and orchards that go on for miles.  I miss the water – the sounds and smell of the ocean, the rivers and streams that run through nearly every town, the morning and afternoon fog that envelops you like a cozy blanket, the rain that lasts for 3 days at a time and leaves everything fresh and clean when it moves out.  And I miss the way that I could take a weekend trip, never leave the state, and go to a completely different place than where I came from.  Sun/Snow, ocean/mountains, desert/forest, liberal/conservative, planned and manufactured/free spirited and natural.  Something for everyone.  Everything to keep your mind stimulated.  Everything for me.

In many ways, with its monotonous colors, monotonous landscape, monotonous weather, monotonous thought, I feel like New Mexico has made me lazy – zapped me of all of my creative energy and motivation to achieve that which is important to me.  Many people find inspiration and “enchantment” in the high desert landscape of Santa Fe.  I find the opposite – a Dead Zone.  Everything is the same, top to bottom, left to right, up and down.  48 shades of brown, incessant sun shining through 19 degree days, nothing to take your mind off of the bleakness of the place.  Boring.  Conformist.  Draining.

So on this very cold, very sunny, very oppressive Southwestern day, I eat grapefruit and oranges picked fresh from my mother’s Arizona trees and I dream of the day that I move back home.

Jan. 2007, I made the New Year’s Resolution to be brave.  For 34ish years, my nature and nurture conspired together to help me live in a life where my decisions were made because they were safe, but not exactly soul-satisfying.  So I compiled a list in my head of all of the things that I caught myself saying “I could never do that” to, and I started doing them.  Many of the items were so benign that I have basically forgotten them, but two that stick in my mind are “get a massage” and “sing in public.”

The massage thing had to do with strange people touching my naked body (body issues). It turns out, though, that not only was getting a naked massage not a big deal (there is draping involved), but I found out that I really don’t like massages – too much pushing and kneading on my muscles hurt, and not in a good way.  I’ll take a facial any day.  But, I got to check it off of the list and move on with life afraid of one less thing.

Also borne from this list was my decision to go to law school.  History will be the judge of whether that was ultimately a good move or not, but all in all, 2007 was a year for growth and stepping out.

Still, 2008 came and I felt that I needed to renew my resolution.  “Be Brave” became “Be Fearless”.  I don’t know if there is a real difference between these two, but it feels like there is a difference.  Bravery, to me, is standing up to demons that scare you.  Fearlessness is actively looking for those demons and confronting them, whether they want to be confronted or not.  My new commitment made me a Bounty Hunter of my fear, but also left me wandering the woods like Harry Potter in Book 7 – searching for what to do next. Like a huge tsunami crashing into a beachside resort, my date with destiny came in the form of the month of September.

If you haven’t noticed by now, I write from a place of anxiety.  When I am angry or worried, I write to sort things out and help me bring order and reason to the unexplainable.  Writing is my catharsis.  The problem with this, however, is that I fail to write when things are going really well.  If I’m not feeling anxious, or more than that – I actually feel good, then I like to bask in the moments and lock them away as memories rather than as words on a page.  The problem is that when I later get worried about decisions that I have made that came from a place of strength and power, I have nothing to go back to that reminds me that I really did think all this through before I jumped off of the ledge.  Ultimately, I end up second-guessing all of these “reckless” decisions and end up right back in my anxious place again.

So, I am making it up to September.  We must capture these feelings of bravery and bravado before the demons eat me whole.

September 8: I Let Go

After months of knowing but hesitating to pull the plug, I officially submitted my resignation to law school.  I thought it would feel liberating or a little scary, but it ended up being a “check the box” move.  I felt completely neutral afterward, which means that I waited too long to do it.  Still, the process of coming to terms with my experiences with law school was not an easy one.  Soon, I will write a series of posts explaining my thought process and research which hopefully will help others with their decisions to stay or go as others in the blogosphere have helped me.

Never underestimate the power of letting go, however.  Once I hit Send on the letter, I felt like I was clearing out some clutter that was keeping me from moving on, and new possibilities made themselves known.

September 11: I Faced Fear in Knee-High Stiletto Boots

One of the things that bugged me is that I never completed Item #1 on my Chicken Shit List — to sing in public.  So, what started out as a plan to practice a song I was comfortable with and sing it in some karaoke bar turned into fronting four hours of music in a band of Brent’s making and performing live at Evangelo’s on Thursday, September 11th.  An ominous date, to be sure.  All my day-of preparation was wrong.  I went to work all day which made me tired for a 9PM – 1AM gig.  I skipped dinner.  I wore my stiletto boots which made me feel like a rock star, but which nearly hobbled me after 2 hours.  I went into “dancer mode” and held my nerves in my core, which is bad for a singer who needs to take deeps breaths all night.  I only realized on Sunday that I hadn’t taken a deep breath since Wednesday (no wonder my voice was completely shot at the end of the night).

For all the bad that happened, apparently we were good enough for the crowd of friends to stay and to drag in about 25 people from the street – a feat for a Thursday night in Santa Fe.  I wouldn’t say I’m any less scared of singing in public, but I feel proud that I had the ovaries to get up on stage and play American Idol for a night.  Plus, I’m still in the band.  I think being fearless takes practice.

September 19: I Asked for What I Wanted

For two years-minus-law school, I have been searching for a new job.  And on September 16th, I was extended an offer from a group at the Lab that I had interviewed with twice.  Government jobs are predictable – there is no guessing on what the position should be paid because they advertise a Minimum-Median-Maximum range for every job they publish.  I was expecting the job offer, and I was expecting it to come in low.  What I wasn’t expecting was for it to be insultingly low.  $10K lower than Median.  85% of Median.    It wasn’t the manager’s fault, really.  The Human Resources department is its own rogue agency.  They put all of my information into a super-secret formula that spits out what I should be offered based on my years of experience, education, previous salary history, etc.  It’s not personal, it’s just business.

The problem for me, though, is that it is personal.  I work very hard for the people that I work for, and no matter what the job is, I give it my all, including my loyalty.  It is who I am.  Extending a fair offer says to me that you have faith in my ability to perform.  A low offer says that you aren’t quite sure, so you don’t want to stick your neck out too far. Plus, there are limitations with working for the government, which include not being able to ask for interim pay raises based on performance and not being able to get a new job in your same pay grade with a raise.  You must maximize your starting salary for greater success down the line – that’s the game.

Therefore, I take being low-balled very personally, and this wasn’t right.  So I called the person who would be my manager.  I explained to her that the offer came in much lower that I expected and asked if we could do better.  After much discussion, she asked how much I wanted.  I said, “Well, I want six-figures, of course.  But I’m a bargain at Median.”

I recently read that one of the problems with the salary inequity between men and women is that men ask for more.  Women don’t.  So, I stepped out of my comfort zone and I asked.

September 22: I Said No

The manager came back from HR with $2K more. I knew that she wanted me over the others that she interviewed (for various reasons I won’t go into here), but I got the impression that she had never had anyone ask for more money before.  $8K below Median was not much of an improvement.  It didn’t even break the 90% of Median threshold.

So I sat with it for awhile.  I thought about how I would feel on the first day on the job, knowing that I was doing work that I was underpaid for.  I thought about the interviews and how the interviewers impressed upon me that this job was not for wusses – “There is not a week that goes by that Debi isn’t insulted by one of the guys on the crew” and “You will be forcing people to comply with policies that are not always in their best interest to follow.”  The job is thankless in many ways.  I calculated how many years it would take (given averages raises) to get to today’s Median mark – 4.2 years.  Then I thought about my Plan B – starting my own business – and how that felt empowering.  Destructive work vs. Constructive work.  The more I thought about it, the bigger the pit in my stomach grew at the prospect of taking the offer.  So I declined it.  And it felt good.  I felt strong and I had no regrets.

Flash Forward to Today

My contract at the Lab ran out, so as of Oct. 29th, I have officially been “self-employed.”  And I am freaking out.  No paycheck, paying for my own health insurance, and being a kept woman.  In a crumbling economy.  None of it feels very good.  These are the times I look back on September and think “Where in the hell did I get all of the optimism and guts to turn down a job offer?” and “Maybe I should have taken that offer and just sucked it up?”  The reality is, though, that I would have hated that job and it would have kept me small.  Better paid, but small.  And somewhere, at some point in the not-so-distant past and for the briefest of moments, I felt like I was better than that.  For a girl who is admittedly glass-half-empty, that is what Fearless looks like.