Life Lessons From a Mouse

Life Lessons From a Mouse

Mice, really.

It’s been a good year for mice in the Twin Cities. Are the raptors in bad shape? Are mice fucking more than usual? It hasn’t been a particularly frigid winter (79th most cold, which hardly seems worth mentioning), so it doesn’t seem like their survival is under unusual threat, but many people we know in the area have had exceptional mouse problems this winter.

Ours has been a blessing.

You’d think we’d be a rodent nirvana, here. We are both messy and Buddhish. We are a philosophically and temperamentally no-kill family. Yes, we still eat fish (for the time being) and I honestly have no problem killing mosquitoes, or the wasps that have come after me that last 3 summers (because wasps are all-around fuckers and mosquitoes are humans’ most powerful enemy) but other than that, we remove insects from the home rather than kill them and try to protect the baby bunnies that their shitty mothers dump in our dog’s yard. Even the dog is exceptionally gentle. She observes and lightly bats at beetles, and tries not to drool when the bunnitos emerge. Mostly she squishes them. I think she likes the sound. ūüė¶

We have occasionally had A mouse over the last decade. They say you never have A mouse, but since we never saw more than one at a time, we could convince ourselves otherwise. But this year, we had to face up to it. Unless they were teleporting, we had mice. The good thing about being messy is that it was easy to know where to first address the issue: we cleaned. That is, we started cleaning. We (my partner mostly, far messier than I and afflicted with ADD) are still cleaning. Because of some dabbling with diffusers and lotion-making years ago, I already had plenty of clove & peppermint oil, which I scattered all over the house (peppermint in the living areas; clove in the sleeping areas). We cleaned areas we’d never cleaned before, we shoved steel wool in anything that looked like a hole, we started picking up the dog bowl when she wasn’t eating, sealing her food in a plastic bin, not leaving plates on the floor for her to lick for longer than a few minutes, sweeping regularly.

I knew this wouldn’t fix it – most of our friends with mouse problems were clean people – but it was a start, and it was a life improvement, regardless. We were also very lucky. The mice never got on a counter, never got to even the second from the bottom shelf of the pantry, never got into the dog food or any food container. (I started keeping all my bottom-shelf food in glass or ceramic jars ever since the first mouse appearance way back when.) so when people laughed at us when we said we weren’t going to put down poison (Big No) or even traps (death isn’t the worst, but having your face or leg scraped off is), we would explain that they weren’t more than an inconvenience. Then came the emailed articles on hantavirus and other hazards. We kept cleaning and hoped the critters would find the living situation unpleasant and leave … from wherever they came … which we still haven’t figured out.

They had made it upstairs (shiver) to the bedrooms (shiver), so I thoroughly cleaned out my tiny shoe closet for the first time since we moved in, jettisoning some heels I will never again wear in the process. For a month, I refreshed the water and dropped clove oil into my diffuser every night; folded my clothes and put them on a shelf, tossed them in the laundry, or draped them over the hamper for reuse. I did not leave an AlterEco truffle or peanut-butter filled pretzel on my bedside table in case I woke up in the middle of the night and needed a snack. I (sloppily) folded up my meditation cape and blanket after I sat every morning and placed them on the designated ottoman instead of leaving them on the rug.

The mouse has done wonders for us, honestly. It told us to get our shit together and we’ve done our best to comply. We are still not clean by many standards, and we will probably never be neat, but we are so much cleaner. I have been disciplined about my bedtime habits for the longest stretch of time ever. That’s right, I have never consistently put my clothing, etc. away in my life. Better still (and YES, I AM AFRAID TO SAY THIS BECAUSE DESPITE EVERYTHING I AM STILL STUPIDHUMAN SUPERSTITIOUS), with all of these changes, and perhaps with the help of the meditations I have devoted to asking them to leave, there have been only two mouse appearances in the past month, and none upstairs, even though we’ve had some very cold days. It seems almost unbelievable. I find it hard not to believe it is a combination of right effort and right thought and right intention and … I know it sounds ridiculous, y’all, but I have learned over the past few years that there are more things in heaven and earth […] than are dreamt of in your philosophy and that it is possible that the winning combo of changing our habits and asking the mice to leave so that we didn’t have to kill them to protect the health of our dog & ourselves may have sent something out into the universe that encouraged them to find another home. The mice told us to get our shit together and we’ve done our best to comply.

Whatever it is, I hope it all continues. Not only the absence of the little guys, but my discipline, our increased cleanliness, the commitment to close up potential house holes in the spring, our squishy no-kill policy, and my spiritual concern and attention to the little guys. All of that is good, and more than that I am so happy that the path of compassion appears to have won out over the path of fear or aggression or convenience. I don’t begrudge those folks the killing of their invaders – we all have our stuff, and mice can be scary – but for us, it looks like it’s working. And I’m honestly a little astounded that I have kept up the new habits for so long. Really, I’m pleasantly surprised that I have adopted any new habit, at my age. Folks used to think that the we were far less flexible as we age, but studies of meditators, in particular, have shown remarkable plasticity. I’m not an example of a great meditator and this isn’t an example of an exceptional change, but I have to say I’m really enjoying it.

How Winter Kills*

winterWoman & Guy go out for dinner & a movie at the art museum. Pleasant conversation follows – good film, bad audience; good food, bad waiter – as they join the line of cars waiting to exit the parking lot. Woman, sitting in the passenger seat due to her low tolerance for alcohol, looks at her sideview mirror and remembers she got the car – finally, right?! – washed today. Did the mirror get moved? She asks the man if he can see out of her mirror. He doesn’t answer. She waits. She calls his name. He responds with mild defensiveness. She sighs, “it’s just … exhausting!” She presses her palms against her face, hard, and wills herself not to cry.

And just like that – winter depression makes its grand entrance! Continue reading “How Winter Kills*”

Ritual (Christmas)

openThe sky was fucking gorgeous this morning – ice blue with a smattering of fluffy white clouds, stained golden yellow where the light of the rising sun illuminated them from below. Sub-zero, though. The coldest Minnesota winter in decades, they say, and I had forgotten V’s coat, with the sudden 20 degree drop, so we weren’t out long.

This year is forcing me out of my Christmas rituals. For a decade now, I have made the longish trek to one of the handful of restaurants in the Twin Cities open during the day, luckily one of my favorites, and indulged in a long breakfast with lots of coffee and a good book. But the Jewish owner has betrayed the chosen people and the ritualistic weirdos (I’m somewhere in there), and is no longer honoring his sacred responsibility. Even if it were open, it would border on dangerous to walk there in this weather, especially since I recently moved several miles further away than I had been for the duration of this ritual.

Why, anyway? I have no religion, no contiguous family songs or habits or food passed down from generation to generation. I am almost a cartoon of the American Individualist, if not by choice. And Xmas has never meant much to me, for those reasons and others. I decided to stop coming home for the holidays my Sophomore year of college, in which I spent my first Xmas on the cold beach in Southern California. I liked it. It was crisp and quiet and empty, and what life there was was friendly and respectful. I tried to make that into a ritual, but it didn’t always work out. When I was married, we decided that we were not going to either family’s houses during the latter-year holidays, and we announced as much to both, so there wouldn’t be any expectations. We spent Xmas in a very Jewishy manner, except for the presents and, typically, a tree, with a slow morning, dinner out, and a movie. It was a ritual of sorts, a nice one, and one I wanted to wipe clean once we divorced.

Once alone, I spent a few years traveling to see friends during the holidays, then settled into what seemed an important pattern: spending the opening scene of the day alone, and part in the company of unknown others. I can explain the meaning, though I’m sure it’s fairly obvious. I wanted to reinforce to myself that I didn’t need a partner to make the day special, to be content, or to feel at home in the world. I don’t doubt this often, but nonetheless it seemed important to act it out on this day, every year.

I still could, of course. There are a few (I think my hundreds of facebook friends have come up with 3) restaurants in the Twitties¬© open on Xmas day. But they’re far, and I can make some good French Toast with a loaf of brioche I bought yesterday, and we’ve got some delicious fake bacon that I hoarded when it was on sale a few weeks ago. I ‘m mid-way through an excellent novel and have plenty of time to be alone – the bf wakes up 4-6 hours after I do – and the world is there for me if I want it.

And the sun is shining! You can’t bask in it for fear of frostbite, but you can see it and maybe feel it melt some of the icy winter depression, even through the storm windows. It is breathtakingly beautiful.

Loving Autumn is a Buddhist Act

mono-no-aware“I’m loving autumn this year.”

“I thought you didn’t like autumn.”

“Yeah, that’s what I’m saying. I’M GETTING BETTER.”

Global warming helps. We haven’t had a really bad winter since 2013-14, in which a handful of terrifying commutes left me in tears more than once. Cold-induced death doesn’t feel as imminent now as it was then, but it was never logical anyway. The odds of me dying in an icy car crash in the winter are no greater than the odds of me dying of heatstroke in the summer. (I’m not going to reference that; just go with me.)

Driving was only one road of terror. I think there were some times as a kid when I was not allowed to dress as warmly as I wanted to, and I know there were times when I was outside and cold against my will, so there’s some lingering emotional memory there. And then there was the winter of 2009-10 when I worked as a door-to-door canvasser. I had regular afternoon panic attacks as I tried to will myself out the door to face another night of begging in the freezing cold. It wasn’t just the temperature (walking around in winter at night isn’t so bad if you’re dressed right – and we fuckin knew how to dress right), but being repeatedly rebuked by strangers as I interrupted their evenings to resiliently pitch environmental causes and ask for money iced over my core, and the windchill dropped with the added pressure of having to hit a financial quota every week or lose my job, leaving me so bone-cold that I couldn’t get warm enough to sleep at night, no matter how thick the down comforter.

I’ve never loved fall because I fear winter. And I fear winter, clearly, not for the cold. What I really fear is being out of control in the cold, as if I weren’t out of control year-round. And when you carry that fear, fall is just an opening act for winter. Literally the calm before the storm. But fucking A, autumn is gorgeous. Such beauty in the transition of death and dormancy. I learned the concept of Mono No Aware while doing a play about Japanese art. That’s what those characters in the headline image above stand for. (Supposedly. I don’t read Japanese. The internet could trick me into promoting elephant tusks as an anti-depressant for all I know.) You can look it up yourself for an accurate definition, but to my understanding it is the ambivalent appreciation of the inevitability of transience, the wistful recognition of the passing of everything, the idea that all things are more valuable because they do not last, which is artistically expressed in the trope that things are most beautiful as they are dying. Nothing exemplifies that more perfectly than autumn.

I’ll throw in Jason Isbell here, too. I don’t know what it is about that guy, but I have fallen in love with no less with three of his songs on first listen, which almost never happens to me. I don’t know if I’ll love those songs forever, but that kind of brings me back to the point. In his most recent single (on The Current anyway), which had me tearing up on the way to work, he sings that “it’s not” (referent poetically absent) all the amazing things about “you,” but the inevitable end of their time together that makes it special:

If we were vampires and death was a joke
We’d go out on the sidewalk and smoke
Laugh at all the lovers and their plans
I wouldn’t feel the need to hold your hand

When I’ve locked in on the coming cold and dark, I’ve missed the inconceivable colors, the smells, the softening air on my ever decreasing spans of exposed skin, holding hands without gloves or discomfort. I’ll dig out my thigh-high socks, add another cowl to the collection, and gather new soup recipes for the long months ahead, but I’m lucky enough to be here now this season. I can’t promise another day of black ice won’t pull me back, but it’s¬†really, really nice¬†to love fall.

The Weather

zoe-v-snowwoman

Just kidding! I wouldn’t blog about the weather. Seriously, how shallow do you think I am?

I will blog about talking¬†about the weather. It’s stupid, right? It’s stupid and meaningless and shallow and ohmygod was it bizarre to move from L.A. to MN and hear people talking about the weather. A lot. Interviews with not just meteorologists, but climatologists on an almost daily basis on public radio. Civilians with bizarrely esoteric knowledge of weather history and patterns and barometric pressure.¬†Weather is a THING. Continue reading “The Weather”