Rita is Back

How to Teach Your Dog to Come

Posted in Wordplay by ritaisback on December 20, 2009


I have a very special friend, to whom I will refer as “SM”  who inspired this post.  SM is lovable in so many ways, but what I most enjoy about him is his elegant sense of wordplay.  With his self-deprecating sense of humor, he has no trouble going into a health food store and asking where the “apples, fresh corn and orgasmic carrots” are kept.  Then there is his trip to clothing stores, where he will ask, straight-faced where the “socks, shirts and spermal underwear are.”  I think you get the point.

This is my recount of a story he told me, embellished with my “fly on the wall” take of events at a function to which I was not an attendee.

When SM and his then-fiancée took jobs at a very well-known and high-tech company, they had to go through two weeks of training with all of the new hires.  The culmination of the training sessions was that everybody had to stand up and give a speech to the other new hires to ensure that everybody was comfortable with public speaking.  As a teacher, I have never had a problem with getting up in front of a group of students and taking command of the room.  That is my job.  However, many people have trouble with the concept of public speaking.  It is not natural to them and to some it is anathema.

After SM and his lady gave their speeches (successfully, I would presume), a very non-assuming woman stood up to give her presentation which she had entitled “How to Teach Your Dog to Come.”  Once the title of the speech was announced, SM totally lost it.  Here he was in a room of technical gurus (read:  nerds) and all he needed was to hear the name of the speech before he was unable to burst out in uncontrollable laughter.  Few things tickle SM or myself more than the good old French term of the “double entendre.”

For those of you who might be unfamiliar with the term, or need a refresher course, http://www.dictionary.com defines it as -noun, plural

1. a double meaning.
2. a word or expression used in a given context so that it can be understood in two ways, esp. when one meaning is risqué.

The key word here, of course, is “risqué.”  SM can not hold himself back when a risqué term is suddenly uttered, particularly when meant in a different context.

Back to the story.  We now have a roomful of people who are desperately trying to encourage the speaker to continue her speech.  SM would have none of that.  He could not stop laughing.  As his lady kicked him, he tried to get a hold of himself.  Yet every time the speaker continued, his bursts of glee had the effect of taking the attention off of the speaker and onto himself.  There was a job at stake.  There was a marriage at stake.  Yet SM could not gain control of his emotions.  He thought that this was a hilarious situation and was not in a position to make any bones about it.

Public speaking is a lost art.  With the internet, we can now hide behind our identities and use any words we choose, safe in the knowledge that if we choose a wrong word, nobody will call us on it.  As a teacher, I have to stand up in front of a group of students and try to convey information that will be useful and meaningful to them in their academic careers.  One wrong slip and my job is at stake.  There is no margin for error in a classroom, where students look upon the teacher as “the final word.”  If a teacher tells a student something, the student will take it as fact and assimilate it into their breadth of knowledge.  Have I ever made a mistake in speaking to a class or student?  Of course.  I am human.  What has saved me on those occasions?  Careful planning.  If you walk into a classroom without a carefully crafted lesson plan you are doomed to err.  That is not acceptable.

Most people will eventually find themselves in a position to address a group of people for whatever reason.  Without careful planning one is doomed to lose their audience, or worse, embarrass themselves (or somebody else).  Lose your audience  and you’ve lost your point.  Engage your audience and they will listen with rapt attention.  That is the goal of public speaking in any capacity:  to be not only heard, but to be listened to. 

I am happy to report that SM did marry his fiancée and they both got the jobs, despite SM’s uncontrollable outbursts of laughter.  What became of the speaker, I do not know.  She made a critical error from the get-go:   she used a word in the title of her speech that was a double-edged sword.  Had she gone with “sit,” “give a paw” or “roll over” she would have had a more effective speech that captured her audience with no mistake for misunderstanding.

What was your most embarrassing moment in addressing an audience?  What word or phrase did you choose that mortified you because your point was lost from the beginning? 


Ode to Bianca

Posted in Bad Days by ritaisback on December 12, 2009

I was at my sickest.  Barely able to move from the excruciating pain of RSD, I was getting out of a taxicab at my house, unable to drive from my local doctor’s appointment.  As I entered the house, she came out of nowhere and walked right in.  She was the scrawniest little kitten and I might not have even noticed her had it not been from the loud squeals of “meow” uttering from her mouth.  As I looked down, barely 100 pounds myself on that August day in 1994, my first thought was “Great.  Just what I need now.”  I already had a cat – and two young children to whom I could barely tend at that time.  Yet she was insistent.  This was going to be her home.

In agony, I scooped her up, fearful for what Patches, our hunter-gatherer might do to her.  Immediately I brought her upstairs and put her in my master bathroom and closed the door.  All I wanted to do was crawl into bed, but the incessant “meows” told me I had no choice.  I went into the kitchen and found a jar of baby food – turkey.  It was old, but I knew it would do the trick.  I grabbed it and went back to the bathroom, by now under guard by Patches on the other side.  She was desperate to get in, putting her paws and sharp claws under the door.  I scooted Patches away and entered the bathroom with the baby food and a shallow bowl of water.  Instantly, this tiny orange tabby ravenously licked the baby food off of my fingers as if it were the first food she had ever eaten.  As I sat on the floor feeding her, I just kept thinking “Great.  Just what I need right now.”  That’s when I named her Bianca.  I don’t know why.  Perhaps it was the first name that popped into my head, or maybe I knew that by naming her, she was now a permanent member of the family.  I got a low box, put a bit of cat litter into it and went back to the bathroom, carefully keeping Patches away and put the kitten in it.  Bianca was home.

As I crawled into bed to finally get some much-needed sleep, all I could hear was this loud voice from beyond the bathroom door.  This was coupled with Patches’ howling on the other side.  I fell asleep nonetheless.

When I awoke, I called my husband at work and told him the tale of Bianca’s appearance.  The first thing he said was “Great.  Just what we need right now.”  Knowing that there was no way Bianca was leaving, I gave him a short shopping list for her and asked him to make an appointment with the vet the next day.  He knew that it was going to be his responsibility to get her there, have her checked out and have her get her necessary shots and blood work.  One more responsibility was shouldered by a man whose shoulders were already overburdened at that time:  a sick wife, two young children, a job and all of his other roles that he assumed without complaint.

The girls arrived home and I immediately told them that we had a new member of the family.  As I made sure that Patches stayed away, the three of us crowded into the bathroom with Bianca.  Their excitement was not tempered by my explanation that Bianca had to be checked out by the vet to ensure that she posed no health risk to Patches.  They didn’t hear a word I said.  They had a new kitten and a bond was formed.  Bianca was here to stay.  Though I barely had enough strength that day, I tended to the children, Bianca and Patches as best I could, all the time thinking “Great, this is just what we need right now.”

Over the coming days, Bianca was finally introduced to Patches.  Patches took one look at her after four days of trying to break down that bathroom door.  We knew it had to be a slow introduction, so as I held Bianca in my lap, my husband opened the bathroom door.  Patches went over, sniffed the new baby and turned on her padded heels.  Her curiosity satisfied, it was time to let Bianca roam the house.  She was officially home.  Other than a barely detected heart murmur, she was healthy and took her place as second fiddle to the older Patches, who wanted nothing to do with her.

As kittens do, Bianca grew into a cat; a scrawny cat, yet one who meowed with the voice of someone twice her size.  As she explored the great outdoors, we could always tell when Bianca wanted to come in.  She told us so.  Each time she came in, she went immediately to her food bowl as if she hadn’t eaten in days.  Bianca had known hunger and had never forgotten it.

The following year, another new member joined our house:  a runt of a Bichon.  When the dog first came in, he looked like a little cotton ball.  Snowy white and also tiny, I wanted to name him Cujo.  My husband nixed that idea.  His name was going to be Theodore Oliver, or Teddy for short.  Teddy and Bianca became fast friends.  They had a common enemy, Patches, the queen of the domicile.  As Teddy grew, he and Bianca would groom each other on our bed each night.  First Bianca would put her paw over Teddy and lick him down as a mother cat would do for her baby.  When Bianca was done grooming Teddy, Teddy would throw his paw over Bianca and lick her clean.  We called these odd sessions “lick-fests.”  I now had the only dog around who would cough-up hairballs.

As the years went on and we all grew older, Bianca was always a sweetheart.  Her voice told us everything:  when she wanted to go out, come in, be fed or be stroked.  Her only demand was to be loved.  That was an easy demand to fulfill.  Life went on.

Only five weeks ago, my husband was so proud that he was able to catch BOTH cats for their annual check-ups.   He had out-witted them both for the first time and got them into their carriers.  He was so proud at how clever he was.  For once, it was easy.  Patches and Bianca were both checked by the vet.  The call that came next was not terribly unexpected, but I was told that Bianca’s heart murmer had worsened and that her white blood cells weren’t right.  Bianca was ill.  We were advised to have her gain 2 pounds, and to give her fresh turkey each day.  We cleverly disguised her medication in a ball of turkey.  Oh, how proud we were of ourselves.  Bianca was going to be fine if she took her medication, and we were going to make her better.

This past Thursday when I took the dog out and gave him his little piece of turkey, Bianca was not interested in turkey.  Usually, when Teddy went out, Bianca knew that was a call for fresh turkey and would meow until she got her share.  But not this past Thursday.  Something was different.  Bianca came for her share and when I handed it to her, she wouldn’t eat it.  Alarmed, I called my husband at work.  He was busy.  He didn’t have time to talk.  I knew it then.  As I got dressed to go to teach, Bianca was lying downstairs in her own waste.  I quickly cleaned it up, stroked her and told her I’d be back soon.  At work, I couldn’t focus.  My lesson plans went out the window.  My wonderful students got little from me, as my mind was on getting home to Bianca.  As I drove home, I was afraid to enter the house.  What would I find?  But there was Bianca.  Sleeping peacefully. 

When my husband got home from work, his mood was off.  He didn’t want to hear about the cat that we never needed in the first place.  We barely spoke.  Something was wrong in the home and we both knew it.  We side-stepped each other all evening and I finally gave in and went to bed.  When I awoke on Friday morning, there was Bianca, lying at the foot of our bed.  I went to stroke her.  And got no response.  Our beautiful, lovely Bianca was gone.  As I moaned and wept, my husband came into the room and took Bianca.  He gently placed her in her carrier for the last time.  He then got down on his knees to clean the spot where Bianca had chosen to breathe her last breath.  As I watched him cleaning the carpet, my wonderful, strong husband burst into tears.  We held each other and wept like babies.  Our elegant Bianca was gone.  What hurt us the most is that we realized, upon her death, Bianca was just what we had needed.  We had needed her all along.

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Posted in Bad Days by ritaisback on December 12, 2009


Posted in Coping by ritaisback on December 5, 2009

When I find myself feeling down, I tend to shut out the world for as long as I need until I get back in the groove of things.  Those who know me well know that I will be back as soon as I am ready.  This can go on for a day, a week, a month or sometimes longer.  It is my way of healing myself without any outside interferences.  I will emerge when I am damn ready to do so, and not a moment sooner.  I call this process “turtling.”  I fold up into my shell and stay there.

For some reason, I don’t come out in full force.  I do it slowly.  First I will poke my head out and see how that feels.  If it doesn’t feel right, I go back into my shell.  Eventually the day will come when I poke my head out and know that I am beginning the process of healing.   Very slowly, I let an arm out to see if that feels good.  If not, the arm goes back inside the shell.  Once again, I know when the proper time will arrive when I am ready to let the arm re-emerge.   It always happens so I wait, folded up into my shell.

Slowly, at my own pace, each part of me will repeat the process.  I want to be at my best when it is once again time to go public.  When I finally feel better and am ready to halt the “turtling,”  I cast off my shell and am once again ready to face the world. 

Almost everybody has times when they are down for the count.  As many reasons as there are for that feeling, so are there are as many coping mechanisms that people use to get themselves back to feeling better.  Some are natural-born optimists.  Unfortunately, I am not one of them.  I like to call myself a realist.  Reality tells me that I don’t care to share my problems with the world.  Working through my own issues seems to suit me best,  so that is what I do to regain my strength.

I am thrilled to report that I haven’t needed to turtle in quite a long time.  Life has been good as of late.

What coping mechanisms do you use to get through the tough times?  Do you manage to throw yourself into your work and keep yourself extra busy?  Do you beat yourself up and go on to fight the pain?  Do you find a good friend and cry to him or her?  Do you crawl into bed, pull up the covers and await better days?  Am I the only “turtler” around?

What suits YOU best?

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