A brave new world

Last month, I quit my job at the library and dropped out of library school. I want to talk about what happened, and I want to talk about it honestly and fairly, without malice.

I’m not sure I can do that yet, because frankly what happened is shitty and unfair, and because I don’t want my words or actions to harm anyone who still works at the library. And I don’t want you, potential library-user, to feel any sort of weird bad feelings toward the library, because you should absolutely not (which reminds me that a few of my books are a day late…)

So instead of detailing the events that led up to me quitting my job, let me talk about what I’m doing now.

First, I am teaching fiction writing classes at the Community College of Allegheny County, in the community education (non-credit) program. I’ve always enjoyed teaching, but got scared away by endless adjunct tales of woe and the need for affordable health insurance. Thankfully, I’m in a position now where I don’t have to worry about health insurance quite as much, making part-time teaching a possibility.

And I have to say, it feels good to be sharing the thing I most love doing (writing fiction) with people who are excited to learn. My students range in age from around my age to retirees, from judges to hydro geologists, and I am learning as much from them as they are from me, I’m sure. I’m going to give teaching a trial run for a year, and if I find at the end of the year that I still love it, I’m probably going to apply for PhD programs (creative writing PhD in Hawaii? Yes, please) to up my chances of getting a “real” teaching job (and also because I want to write an ecofeminist dissertation on Star Wars, but that’s a tale for another time).

Second, I am working part-time at Riverstone Books, a new bookstore in the North Hills that will open later this week. In addition to working the floor, I’ll be working on the store’s social media as well. Right now the main focus is on getting the store up and running for the grand opening tomorrow, but I’ve got lots of content ideas percolating, and I’m really excited about the store and this opportunity.

Third, I am freelancing, which is something that had to fall by the wayside while I was working full-time and taking classes. So far I’ve had work published in The Millions, Health.com, and Next Pittsburgh. Where will my name pop up next? Who knows! I missed writing nonfiction, so it feels good to dip my toes back into the business of facts.

Journalism has always felt like an odd side appendage I don’t know what to do with—I know I’m not really interested in hardcore investigative reporting, but getting to write about topics I’m passionate about (food! writing! migraines!) for more than my blog is only a good thing.

Fourth, and most importantly, I’m writing more. My writing sessions don’t have to be limited to fifteen- or thirty-minute sprints before I head into the library. My mornings are open, so I can write for one hour. Two hours. Even three hours. I am still giddy with delight at this bounty of time. So I am shopping my short story collection, revising a small collection of flash fiction, and plotting a serial novel for NaNoWriMo next month.

What’s more, my partner’s fears that I would just play Pokemon Go for eight hours a day if I quit my job have not come true! I still only play for a very moderate average of one hour a day!

This is all still new, and still a little scary, but ultimately, I’m hopeful that good things will come of this brave new world.

Stop telling me to euthanize my dog

picture of Lexi

This is Lexi. She’s a 13-year-old Pembroke Welsh Corgi, and she’s been with me since she was six weeks old. We’ve done everything together, from climb mountains in Maine to just hanging out at coffee shops in Pittsburgh.

People keep telling me I should euthanize her, and this is not okay.

About a year ago Lexi was diagnosed with degenerative myelopathy, a progressive spinal cord disease that works similarly to ALS in people. She no longer has any function of her hind legs, and her bladder and bowl control continue to weaken.

As you can imagine, this is a frustrating and upsetting prospect. Watching your best friend deteriorate from an active, mobile, sprightly 11 to being forced to drag herself around at 13 is not fun or pleasant in any way. These days I clean up a lot of messes, and have to wipe Lexi down frequently to avoid urine scald. She doesn’t always make it through the night without having to go outside anymore, and since D.J. is a lighter sleeper than I am, he’s usually the one to take her out at 2 a.m.

This, apparently, is enough of a reason to end a dog’s life. And in some cases, yes, it probably is. But if you are not there, if you do not see what goes on, if you’ve never even met my dog, it is not appropriate for you to suggest end of life decisions.

Her body is failing her, but she’s still my Lexi. She still chomps merrily on elk antlers, viciously attacks the Chuck-it, tries to sneakily eat All the Food, barks at everything that moves and many things that do not, and nudges me when she wants my attention. She can’t jump up on the couch anymore, but that’s okay because I can just put her up there until she wants to get down. She whines to let me know she needs to go out or to tell me she’s thirsty. Most importantly, she’s not in pain, at least not beyond the normal old lady aches.

I see her get frustrated often, but she knows that D.J. and I will be there to help her with whatever she needs. Storms and loud noises make her anxious now when they never used to, but calms down if I hold her or sit with her on the couch. We’ve all adapted to this new normal, as crappy as it may be. We’re under no delusions that Lexi will get better or that she at least won’t get worse. We know she will. We see it, day to day. It’s a gradual process, but its effects are undeniable and heartbreaking.

But what’s worse than dealing with Lexi’s DM is the constant comments about euthanizing her. “Why don’t you just…?” or “Well she’s lived a full life, maybe it’s time?” or “Have you ever thought about putting her out of her misery?”

Yes, watching her struggle is frustrating and upsetting. But she is not miserable. It’s true that DM has given us a count down: We’ve got roughly a year before she can no longer move her front legs. At that point we’ll start running into health complications like bed sores and pneumonia.

This isn’t a matter of convenience to me. This is my dog, my companion, my best friend. I’m not going to euthanize her because I have to clean pee up every day, or even twice a day. When her quality of life deteriorates, when she can no longer drag herself around or switch positions, when she is no longer happy a majority of the time–that’s when we’ll have to make that decision.

That knowledge, the inevitability of it, looms large in my mind every day. We know the end is coming. I reckon with it nightly as I’m drifting off to sleep. But the end isn’t here, not yet. This corgi still has joie de vivre, and I will treasure every day we have together from now until the day I do have to make that decision.

So please, stop telling me I should euthanize my dog. It’s not helpful. It’s exactly the opposite of helpful. D.J. and I are here with her, every day, making sure her final years are as happy and joyful as they can be. You aren’t. You don’t get to decide.

On home and being homesick

Pittsburgh has been my adopted city for more than a decade now—for basically my entire adult life. I love the city’s geography, the number and quality of parks and cultural attractions, my job at the library, and the comfort that comes with extreme familiarity.

But I still get homesick.

My family is from Coatesville, a little steel town across the state from Pittsburgh, about 45 minutes outside of Philadelphia. Coatesville shares many similarities with Pittsburgh, and that’s probably why I’m so comfortable here. Both are steel towns that suffered greatly when the steel industry crashed. Both have pockets of poverty that stand in sharp contrast to wealthier areas. Both have a working class feel, even though Pittsburgh’s economy has moved to healthcare and tech.

A Wawa coffee mug

Nothing says “home” to me like Wawa.

Pittsburgh, however, doesn’t have an operating steel mill, though there’s one nearby in Braddock (I know it’s strange to feel nostalgic for a mill–and yet, I do). Pittsburgh does not have cream chipped beef or shoo-fly pie or Philly cheese steaks (don’t be fooled by the poor imitations you find at otherwise very good hoagie shops). Until fairly recently you couldn’t get Tasty Kakes in Pittsburgh food stores. Pittsburgh still doesn’t have a Wawa—think Sheetz, but so, so much better.

When I was kid, my family did a lot of day trips to air shows, NASCAR races, and gun ranges. Each of those trips began with a stop at Wawa, where we’d stock up on Gatorade, foot-long hoagies, and various kinds of Tasty Kakes for the day. My mom would often pick up Wawa hoagies on her way home from work if she didn’t feel like cooking or there just wasn’t time. (As I type this I’m drinking coffee from a Wawa mug in a bagel shop near my work.)

And while there are a few Dairy Queens around, they aren’t the old-fashioned kind where you order ice cream through a window and eat it on a picnic table outside. You have to go inside to order, and the only seating is also indoors. That always feels strange to me—eating ice cream in a heavily air-conditioned room instead of outside, where you have to eat fast, before it melts all over your hand.

In the summer we’d ride our bikes to DQ, get ice cream, and ride home. That same DQ was where my grandparents would take us after dinner when were little, and we’d sit by the train tracks to watch the SEPTA trains fly by.

Coatesville is right next to Lancaster, which has a large Amish population. My family itself is part Pennsylvania Dutch, and those foods are a large part of what home means to me: shoo-fly pie, pork and sauerkraut on New Year’s Day for luck, and creamed chipped beef over toast. Recently I’ve discovered a source of shoo-fly pie at a local farmer’s market, but it’s not quite the same.

But even if Pittsburgh did have all these things, it wouldn’t matter, because the biggest thing Pittsburgh is missing is my family. Lukens Steel, Wawa, Dairy Queen, Tasty Kakes—these all have meaning to me because I shared them with people I love, and who love me.

I love Pittsburgh and my life here, but I will always think of Coatesville as home.