Dark Spaces

More quote talk from the book I’m reading:

They were the people you called with news: I met a guy. I’m engaged. I got a new job. To share the highs and the lows. But friends to call for the deep things, the things that live in the dark spaces of our hearts? Those people didn’t exist for me any longer. Not since I’d left Cooley Ridge.”

I think I’ve had the opposite experience. I’m not sure those people existed for me until more recently, and I think I’m still struggling with how to actually maintain those kinds of friendships, let alone allow them to exist at all. Yet, in all honesty, that’s all I’ve ever wanted, and definitely what I need now. Yet I fight them; push them back; keep them at a safe distance. Battle both for and against what I most want and need. And I do so in particular against the human beings I most want and need them with.

It’s no wonder that romantic relationships don’t progress past a certain point with me. I tend to keep those at an even safer distance. I’m not sure if it’s to protect others from me, or me from others, or some sad combination of both.

The things that live in the dark spaces of this heart don’t typically get shared. Sometimes not even really admitted to within any other spaces of my heart or mind. Or acknowledged. I think that’s more accurate than admitted.

I think speaking with my therapist helps. My first one, and my current one, anyway. There were others in between, but they were not the same at all. I don’t choose to whom I wish to reveal certain things, exactly. It’s more a matter of how safe and confident I feel with them. But I am definitely picky when it comes to who I actually open up those darker spaces to.

That was a terrible sentence, I realize. However…moving on.

It needs to be a perfect storm, pretty much. There are those I wish to be more open with, there are those who wish for me to be more open with them. But the rare combination of locating both qualities within the same individual is almost unheard of in my world. Even with therapists. I’ve been lucky, in that two of the four I’ve worked with so far have been those amazing rare people for me.

Now I just have to find one of those that don’t require me to pay them. The trick with those people, however, is that not only are they so difficult to find, but they’re also easier to lose.

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Living In Fear

I guess I pretty much live in some state of fear or anxiety most of the time. I suppose I always have. Some part of my brain is always on alert; listening, watching, trying to stay one step ahead of the world in an effort to see things coming, and plan a way to avoid or survive them.

It’s kind of exhausting, and occasionally somewhat crippling to boot.

As a kid, I would do routine inspections of the border of my bedroom to ensure nothing was close enough to the heaters to catch fire in the night. In the event of fire, I had an escape plan in place, and a mental list of the things I would try to take with me or toss out the window, along with saving the animals and family members in the house, too, of course. Somehow, in my head, that was all up to me. In the event of tornado, I also had survival plans in place. We didn’t have a basement, so I had to get creative. I wasn’t too worried about a tidal wave, being land-locked and all, though I did still have nightmares about them from time to time. But then again, zombies or alien invasions were also not out of the question, so I had to have plans for those, too.

As I got older, I started packing more on instead of less. Concerns about walking alone at night, having things stolen…I mean, stuff actually happens, and while there’s no way to be fully prepared, per se, it is possible to just be afraid and alert all the time as a way of lessening the chances it’ll happen to you.

Then I got Kate, and suddenly a whole other life depended solely on me. Keeping a roof over our heads and food in our bellies got added to the concerns, along with general financial worries that go along with unexpected expenses popping up suddenly. As unexpected things do.

It’s hard to expect everything, after all.

When we no longer had roommates and it was just the two of us, I started worrying that something would happen while I was at work; when I wasn’t home to take care of us. Every morning before I left the apartment, I would give the same little speech to her, and that became a superstitious kind of mantra. If anything bad had happened while I was out, a part of me would have blamed myself for not doing enough to prevent it, even if simple words do nothing specific at all.

As it turned out, what happened to Kate wasn’t while I was at work, but rather when I went away on vacation. I figured out pretty quickly after I got home that she was sick, and I hadn’t been around for her to let me know any earlier. She was euthanized within a few days of my return, and part of me will never forgive myself for giving up so many of those last precious days I could have spent with her, let alone the 5 months I’d left her in Colorado without me. Part of me will always believe it’s my fault she got sick to begin with, too, though.

Anyway, that’s how it was with one cat. Now I have three and a dog depending on me to take care of them. Depending on me and no one else, at least in day to day life. So now when I leave the apartment, the anxiety is the same, but multiplied by four. Some of them (I won’t name names because it’s not important) are less self-sufficient than Kate was, in that they need more care and attention from whoever is looking after them. So it’s harder for me to decide to leave, even when it’s just for the day. So many things can go wrong, even when I am there, but when I am not, the worry – the fear – is almost overwhelming sometimes. Usually before I leave and in the moments right before and after I get back home, but yeah. It’s always there, to some degree or other.

I guess it’s good we don’t really realize how out of control things are. We’d all go mad, I think. We’re on a rock, spinning in space, with plates shifting and mountains moving and the oxygen around us all we have to breathe with. At any time, another much smaller rock, hurtling through space, could slam into us and end it all in an instant (or in a slow, agonizing way, but I’ll be hoping for the instant, personally), yet here we are; all of us trying to bend, twist and force order into the chaos. Trying to assign it all meaning, and leave our mark to prove we were ever here at all.

Making plans can feel stifling sometimes, but not nearly so much as realizing that there can never be enough preparation. There will always be something we can’t predict; something we can’t avoid with forethought.

Sometimes we have to let go and see what happens. It’s really the start to living.

But it’s also really freaking hard.

I was watching an episode of a TV show wherein an artificial intelligence had taken on the voice of a human who had passed away. Hearing that voice again was hard for those humans left behind; those who mourned. And yet, at the same time, it’s a comfort. I thought of all the voices I’d give anything to hear again; voices from the past. Voices of those who helped shape who I am. A laugh, a curse, a playful tease, a story told just once more, even though it’s already been told a hundred times. What wouldn’t any of us give for the 101st?

A lot of a person is contained in their voice; certainly as much as in their appearance. That we communicate without voice so often now is a bit of a detriment – we text, we email, we comment on Facebook and Twitter. But it’s not really as much of a connection as when an individual’s voice is included. Even with Hudson the polar bear, the last time I saw him was also the first time I’d really heard his voice, and I was almost in tears when I made the realization. I know each of the cats voices; how they differ from one another and from other cats in the world.

Yet I really hate using the phone. Maybe it’s just easier to stay hidden behind a keyboard. As though taking our faces and bodies out of the mix isn’t quite enough most of the time, we also feel the need to remove our voices from the world at large. It just feels safer that way, somehow.

Safer, even as we cling to life and everything around us is shifting and spinning, spinning, spinning through space – until the day comes when we decide to sound our barbaric yawps over the rooftops of the world – and make our voices heard for all time.

What the hell am I even talking about? I think it’s time to eat lunch.

On Cats & Dogs

My horoscope says I should spend a quiet night in with my beloved this evening.

I hope that doesn’t mean I can’t at least take him out for walks.

The Brody part of my beloved, at least. The cats are all good with staying inside.

It’s possible Miss Flynn is developing another urinary tract infection from the stress and anxiety caused by the construction outside. I’m hoping to head it off for her this time by closing the window and curtains in my bedroom and leaving the fan running to drown out some of the noise. They introduced a new machine to the mix this morning, which is I think what stressed her out today in particular. When I was leaving to come to work, she was under the bed cleaning herself, so hopefully the “safe room” I created for her will do the trick. My poor anxious girl. So much like me in that way.

Piper has a sensitive tummy, but it seems to be mostly diet related now. She threw up a lot while she was in the shelter, too, which delayed her being spayed and coming home with me for a good month or so, but since then it’s any change in diet, including eating stuff she’s just not supposed to. Jack Bear and Flynn both have bellies like a steel trap, really. They can eat pretty much anything, so long as it’s actual food. They almost never throw up. But where Flynn is emotionally sensitive, Jack is pretty chill. Except when he’s being a little jerk, but that’s usually just for attention, so it’s more likely my fault for not giving him enough in the moments when he’s just relaxed and hanging out.

And then there is Brody. The loud noises outside don’t seem to bother him, and now that he has his own couch from his first family, he is happier than ever. I keep hoping some of that confidence will rub off on the kitten girls, especially Flynn, but so far it’s not working very well. She and Brody do try to groom one another on occasion, but as far as relieving anxiety goes, the presence of a chill doggie is not really helping her out, from what I can tell.

The one issue I am having with young Mister Brodykins is his aggressive reactions to the attention of some dogs. At first, he loved saying hello to every dog and person he met, and even got just as excited 30 seconds later upon meeting them again on the sidewalk going the other way. He was always very patient with those smaller than him, and with the enthusiasm displayed by exuberant puppies. I loved how he was the always the calm one; the friendly one. Everyone else seemed to love him, too.

Well, except that one doggie, but apparently she set every dog in the neighbourhood off when she was on leash, so Brody reacted just the same as all the others. She was a rescue and no one knows her history, but she was giving off some vibe when on leash that other dogs picked up on and did not like. Cute and calm little Brody would lose his mind and strain to get at her even just seeing her down the street.

Now, however, he seems to be far less tolerant of attention from other dogs, and he unleashes the Hulk more often than he used to. He did it twice this morning, the first time at a dog he’d done it to before, but who didn’t even get close to us before Brody snarled and leaped at him. And the second time a few minutes later, with a puppy at whom he’s also snapped, but who managed to get a few sniffs in this time before Brody launched.

I can usually sense it coming now; he gets really still for a second or two before unleashing. I just don’t know how much of it is coming from him, and how much is from him sensing me tense up in anticipation. Both suck; I just don’t know how to resolve either one. I’m not even sure what specifically sets him off, nor whether or not he actually tries to bite the other dog, versus fire several warning shots off their bow. My gut tells me he doesn’t actually make contact, for the simple reason that not one single dog has retaliated yet. Which…thank goodness, because he’s liable to get himself killed one of these days as it is. If he was doing it before, it’s likely the reason why Sophie almost killed him a couple of times. No way would she put up with that behaviour, from him or anyone else.

As near as I can tell, he seems to take issue with any form of attempted domination, however remote it appears to me. He doesn’t like to be humped, nor stood over – which I can totally get. He hates being pawed at or stepped on, even in play, because that’s not how he plays. Totally get that, too. He doesn’t like when other dogs get all up in his face instead of giving him space while sniffing politely – I also totally get that. I don’t like those things, either, but I’m not the one lashing out at everyone who doesn’t behave the way I want them too. I mean, who has the time for that?

I am not sure why it seems to be happening more often lately, unless it’s because I’m worried about it and watching for it and he’s picking up on that and reacting in kind. He’s also possibly a bit more possessive of me recently, which doesn’t seem to really be a factor in encounters with other dogs, per se (it’s the people who might have treats, and therefore earn his greater interest, after all), but I kind of feel like…and this will come out wrong because I’ve never put words to it before…it’s almost like he’s concerned with saving face, or looking tough…for me. Not that he needs to protect me, but that he wants me to know he can, if it comes down to it. He doesn’t want to let any other dogs get the upper hand, so he snarks them down if he senses anyone trying to get the better of him.

Maybe. Maybe not. I don’t really know. I was just thinking about it more today because it happened twice this morning – and with really cute doggies I wanted to pet!

It’s usually okay because the dogs’ people seem to understand, for the most part. Some even let their dogs know that Brody has a right to warn them to back down, and help settle the situation so the dogs can just sniff one another and be on their ways. Some people I am always apologizing to, but without chastising Brody too much because, in the end, I want him to feel safe and like he has the right to defend himself from unwanted attention. Which he does. I would just prefer he choose a less violent warning before prematurely escalating to a snarling fit of rage!

The thing is, he’s one of the gentlest, sweetest souls I’ve ever met in this world, and it hurts my heart for anyone else to get the impression that he’s one of those schitzo, frothing little dogs that walk around with a chip on their wee shoulders simply because they are tiny and angry. Brody is so not that dog. He just gives off that impression sometimes, and while the dogs – I think – learn the difference, I don’t think most people do. They know what they see, and what they see is a tiny black and blond Tasmanian Devil taking shots at their sweet dogs.

It bothers me.

That being said, though, we have FAR more positive interactions than negative, so it’s not like this Hulk-ness has taken over his sweet personality. Far from it, in fact. He’s still one of the very best guys I know, and continues to far and away be the puppy I love most in the whole world.

Which he knows, because I tell him that several times a day. Usually whilst rubbing his belly.

Brody.jpg

The Lying Wall

I once dated a person who was, for all intents and purposes, a chronic liar. And when I say ‘dated’, I mean moved in with and tried to forge a relationship. I knew about 2 weeks in about the constant lying; about how very little of what she shared about herself and her life was untrue, yet I slipped easily into the role of placating and enabling. There was much more there, to my mind, so to me it was worth it. At least I went in with eyes wide open, I figured, and the lies were mostly unimportant, in that I didn’t care if a particular event happened or didn’t happen in her past – I was dealing with the person in front of me, instead. I felt at the very least it was a good exercise in learning compassion, empathy and patience. I tried to be supportive of the person standing in front of me, even as I took everything said with a grain of salt. Or a silo of salt, depending on the circumstance.

Anyway, this isn’t really about trying to defend either one of us. We all make choices, and we all live with them. Whatever.

The interesting thing is how the whole experience bled over into the rest of my life, even to this day, though to a much, much lesser degree.

I spent just over a year in that relationship, and apparently that was enough to form certain habits in my relations with other people. Friends, mostly, because I only had one actual relationship after that, but really, it’s affected everything in some form or another.

I didn’t notice it until that next relationship, but that’s likely because that was the first person I allowed myself to really get closer to, and be vulnerable with. It’s an odd experience, to remain vulnerable and honest when you don’t really believe what the other person is presenting to you. When you see mostly a façade, yet allow yourself to be open and real…it’s peculiar. One would think, looking at it from the outside, that it would be difficult to just be yourself, and not put your own guard up, as well. But I think it’s actually easier that way. Like how actors often feel more free on stage than in one-on-one scenarios. There’s something liberating about being able to just put yourself out there and not be too concerned with what will get reflected back to you. When you talk to a brick wall, you don’t worry about what it thinks of you; you just talk. And when it goes a step further to reflect only acceptance and love as a reward for opening up, it actually feels pretty good. You’re still aware that it’s a façade and only partly true, but part-real love is better than all-real hate any day.

When you are open to accept any amount of positivity, it’s amazing where you can find it, and how far even a little bit can go.

There are, of course, downsides. One is that eventually the lies will be about you, so if you’re not at least a little confident, that can be destructive. I lucked out somehow, because while most of my confidence was shattered by my own mind, at the time, where this liar chose to strike was in a ridiculous area that didn’t really affect me at all. The insinuation that I had removed a small amount of cash from a place where I didn’t even know there was any – after I’d just “loaned” her $1500 (which I also knew would never be paid back) – was pretty ludicrous. I think I actually laughed at the accusation, but I can’t really remember. It affected me that little.

No, the lies that turned on me were not very severe, and far too familiar to what had been said about her ex when they broke up. They were a non-issue, and nowhere near what I’d been expecting.

Weird to be in a relationship and just waiting for both shoes to drop and the lies to become more personal.

Another downside is the one that has stayed with me, and that is in the distance I create between myself and other people in my life now, and ever since. Whatever barrier I’d put up between her and I has basically stayed up. I guess it was more around me than it was between us, and I sometimes still catch myself questioning things more than I’ve been given reason to. Questioning or doubting…the assumption that no one is being completely honest with me is a tricky path to navigate sometimes. It doesn’t stop me from being open with other people, but it does stop me from accepting any kind of real affection or other positive emotion.

I just don’t believe anyone.

I mean, I can’t blame that all on this one person, of course. I know the sensation existed long before that; for as long as I can remember. But it was such an easy mindset to slide into, and not even notice it until more than a decade later. As well, it’s one thing to notice, but another to dismantle and re-create something else. My therapist has given me crap for that more times than I can count; for not looking at her during a session, for not allowing an actual connection to be established, for denying myself the ability to see for myself how someone else feels about me, and how in the moment they are. Even with her, part of my brain knows I’m paying her to listen to me, and thus doesn’t completely receive anything more personal from her.

Usually when she says something nice to her, I tell her she must be drunk. It’s our little joke; one that she only puts up with to a point.

I remember describing how my first therapist was kind of like a hologram to me; that she didn’t exist outside her office space. That she was just there for me to vent, and when I left the room, she ceased to exist. She broke the barrier one day by touching my arm out of genuine concern, and the realization that she was an actual human being crashed in on my consciousness with more force than I ever would have believed possible. Had anyone asked me before that moment if she was real, I would have said, “yes, of course she is” and thought the other person was a tad loony. But I didn’t really feel it – didn’t know it with my full being – until that day.

It’s a weird barrier. It allows me to feel safe enough to be open and express myself more than I did before the liar came into my life and I constructed this particular wall in response. But it doesn’t allow me to receive anything real from anyone else. As an added bonus, it also allows me to blow perceived negativity way out of proportion if I think there is any directed at me. It basically skews my reality, even as it allows me to express myself more.

In other news, I’m looking into possibly working with some cool writing prompts, just for fun. I maaay even post the results of some of those exercises here! Stay tuned!

A Question Of Memory

I’m still thinking back on parts of the conversation Tim and I had with the lovely ladies of Dark Matter the other day. This morning I found myself wondering more about the extent to which we are defined by our pasts, and what it would be like to suddenly forget it all; to have to define ourselves anew. Much of the show’s first season was spent with each character trying to get at the truth of who they were, of their own backstories. They woke up not even remembering their own names, let alone anything that had happened in their pasts and what led them to being where they were. Now, as the second season premiere grows ever closer (and they wrap shooting for the season on set today), I’m looking forward to watching them move forward to define who they are now.

I was wondering what that would be like, to not remember anything of my life before now. What kind of person would I be? What would I like, or dislike? How would I relate to the world around me, and how much would I understand? How would I define myself, what would be important to me, and how much of who I am is innate, as compared to the amount which has been shaped by my past experiences?

Would I still love bears?!

If I couldn’t remember meeting Hudson, would I still have some sense of familiarity when I saw him? Or would I just wonder why the f*ck I have a polar bear tattooed on my arm?

Memories are of course a huge part of who we are, even – in some cases – when past memories have been repressed. They fuel our passions, they propel our fears, they add colour new experiences even as new memories are being made. Our cells have memory, our bodies have memory, and of course our minds hold the most overt memories of all. I know why I don’t like being tickled – and am pretty sure I still wouldn’t like it even if I had no past memories of the experience. I remember eating chocolate ice cream pretty much every day when I was young, but would I realize I like it if I couldn’t remember eating it before? Would eating it without those memories be kind of like trying it for the first time all over again?

If I encountered people, places or things I loved but couldn’t remember loving them, would they still feel the same to me? Would they feel safe and warm and comfortable to me? Or would I pass them by without giving them a second glance? Would I have the same fears, or abilities? Would my dreams remember and give me clues to things I’d forgotten? Would my heart still know who I was at my core, even if my mind could not remember?

Are any of us actually anything in particular at our cores? I mean, I guess it’s the Nature vs Nurture debate, really. Just with part of a life lived with one set of experiences shaping it, and then another part of the same life with no real recollection of the first part. It’s interesting, though. There is already such a huge disconnect between how the world sees us and how we see ourselves. What if we couldn’t see the same selves we saw before, anymore? How much of our former selves would be retained, and how much would change?

How hard would we try to get back to our former selves? How much would we rely on others who knew us to tell us who we were? Would we eventually let that person go, and choose to define our new selves, at some point?

How much of our memory is real, reliable and accurate to begin with?

On Why Zoos Matter

I think there needs to either be a new category of zoos – with a new definition – or some of them need to have a new name created for them all together. There is a negative connotation attached to the term “zoo” that manifested a long time ago, but no longer applies to the accredited and regulated zoos of today. And that irritates the hell out of me, because once again, people base their opinions on things that aren’t true, and then apply them across the board, instead of taking each situation or establishment into account. It’s an ignorant way to go through life, regardless, but even more so when those uneducated opinions actually affect the things they think they are against in an adverse way.

Did that sentence even make sense? I am extra fatigued today.

People are against zoos for archaic reasons that are no longer reality, and espose these untrue “facts” to anyone who will listen, thereby affecting the good work that is being done, rather than support it and encourage it to grow and continue. You see, zoos are one of the only “businesses” on the planet that actually work toward their own extinction. They are a necessary facility trying to combat the damage humanity has inflicted on the planet and its non-human residents, while also having the end-goal of a day when they are no longer required. It’s actually one of the most un-selfish acts anyone could perform, and they do it every day, as best they can, by growing, sharing and learning as they go.  Most zoos have grown and changed over the decades – but for some reason, the public perception of them has not.

Contrary to some beliefs, they are not actually here for our entertainment, nor are the animals in their care. Their function and purpose is far, far more important and essential than that.

I’m sure one could argue that, if they aren’t here to put animals on display for the masses to gawk at, then why not close their doors and not let the public in? Why involve the public at all? Well, for starters, some places actually are like that. Not zoos, but most sanctuaries, farms, and even some wildlife reserves either allow limited or sometimes no public interaction with the animals in their care. Those are all different types of facility, however, with different mandates and goals.

I’m going to use the Toronto Zoo as my example for this whole post, as it’s the such one place I know best. One of the Toronto Zoo’s goals is to educate the public – about what they’re doing, and trying to do, about the animals in their care, about those species’ counterparts in the wild, about their efforts to keep various species from going extinct, about the ways in which they are able to re-introduce some species (like the black-footed ferret, for example) back into the wild! What?! Whoever heard of a zoo putting animals BACK into the wild?!

It happens all the time, guys. They are just careful about doing it, and try to do so in a way that will give the indivdual animals the best chance of survival once they get out there on their own. Because that’s what it’s all about. Survival. And not just of the fittest. In an ideal situation, the zoo wants not only for the vast majority of those released individuals to survive, but also for them to thrive. To reproduce. To build communities (if that’s what they’re into) and continue to grow into the important and in fact essential part of an ecosystem they were once a part of – before humans ruined everything.

Because we did this. Our species. We have made an enormous mess over the centuries, and facilities like the Toronto Zoo are working very hard every day to try and clean up our mess, and ensure we don’t make such a one again. Education is a huge part of that process, and it is the most direct route to something humans in general seem to lack – empathy.

Sure, there are pictures and videos and webcams and all kinds of neat technology these days. Why don’t they just use those to educate the public?

I’ll tell you: because it is not even remotely the same experience. I’d seen photos and video clips of Hudson the polar bear cub before I met him in person at the zoo. They were super cute and I was really excited to see him, but they had nowhere near the same effect on me as the moment I saw him with my own eyes. My heart skipped a beat, and from then on, I was completely in love with the little guy. Every time my big blue eyes met his so-dark-brown-they’re-practically-black, diamond-shaped eyes, I think I stopped breathing. We connected on a level photos and videos can’t touch. We knew one another. I never would have gotten him tattooed on my arm were it not for the experience of being allowed the chance to know him, either. That’s how much he affected me. He became a part of who I am, part of my core.

If you’re not yet convinced, because maybe I am just a crazy polar bear lady, go have a look at a photo of a human child. Then watch a video clip or two of the kid. Now go hold that child in your arms, look into its eyes, and tell me the experience is the same as when you were looking at the pictures and watching the videos. Tell me that connection you felt didn’t suddenly get a lot more personal and almost overwhelmingly real.

Not that I got to touch Hudson (I WISH!), but I am certain that would have made me even more of a crazy polar bear lady than I already am. 100%.

Another thing I learned from the Toronto Zoo is about the importance of enrichment for the animals, to help prevent boredom and depression. They are not out in the wild struggling every day just to survive, after all, and they have moods and emotions and thoughts, just as we do. It is important to note, however, that they don’t feel things the same way we do. Just because you don’t think you’d like napping all day in the warm sunshine, for example, doesn’t mean that African lions don’t freaking LOVE IT. They’re cats. Not exactly the same as house cats, but they have more in common with them than they do with you. Guaranteed. And not all of them are the same, either. Just because you read something about one lion doesn’t mean that same quality applies to every lion on the planet. They are individuals, just like you and me.

Anyway, I have cats living in captivity in my apartment. I keep them fed and watered, and pet them and cuddle with them and play with them, and they seem pretty happy. What I learned at the zoo is that it’s healthy for them to change things up every now and then; keep them on their adorable bean-shaped toes. It could be the introduction of a new toy or a new box, maybe break out some catnip on occasion, or even just move a piece of furniture over a few feet for awhile. It doesn’t have to be a huge change, just little things can make all the difference. My cats love the scent of mint, so I got them a box of peppermint teabags, and every once in awhile I’ll throw a couple of them on the floor and watch the cats start playing with them instantly. There’s a bit of a mess to clean up after, of course, but totally worth it. Same with bubbles. Sometimes they like those more than chasing the red dot!

For anyone who believes that housepets are not captive animals, you can go ahead and check your specist hypocrisy at the door. They are. The difference is that we believe we’re doing those animals a favour by rescuing them from the wild. We save them from having to hunt to survive and probably either starve to death or get killed by a vehicle or other animal, and instead give them a warm happy home to live out their years with their loving fur-ever family. That’s why no one is staging protests to Free The Housepets.

I, too, believe I’m giving the cats and dog in my care a better life than they’d have out on the cold city streets. It’s a responsibilty that I don’t take lightly. To me, it is my duty to do everything I can to give them the best lives possible while they are in my care. And that is an every day job, one I do gladly, and one upon which I am always looking to improve. For that’s how the keepers at the zoo feel about the individuals in their care. Each baby born is like one of their own, with the difference being that the parents, and families and other members of the species of each baby are also like their own. They care that much. They spend the night during particularly bad storms to make sure that the animals who depend on them for their lives – and for the quality of those lives – are safe and content. They work overtime, they work every day of the year – whether the public is there or not – and they want nothing more than for their jobs to not be necessary anymore.

To the better dead than captive bred camp, I can’t really pretend to understand where you are coming from at all. How is it even remotely humane to let a baby starve to death (one of the slowest and most painful ways to go, I hear) in the wild, versus giving it a home where it can grow up safe and cared for and live out the rest of its natural life in a not-quite-ideal setting, but at least be allowed to have a life? Is it really the better option for your high moral ground? Or maybe it would be better to kill the infant outright, so that it’s at least spared the agony of starvation. Brilliant. Except that should be applied to all non-humans, not just the ones you see on TV or the internet. Show of hands: how many people stop when they’ve hit an animal with their car to a) make sure it’s dead, b) ensure it wasn’t a lactating female with little ones waiting for her to come home, and if it is, then c) go out and find said babies to spare them the agony of a slow death?

Yeah, that’s what I thought.

There are, of course, exceptions to every rule, and that’s actually my point. You have to take each example on a case by case basis. Stop treating every lion like he or she is the exact same as every other lion. Definitely stop assuming that they are the same as you or I. The animals we eat are more intelligent than the average human toddler, and yet they are living in unimaginably horrid conditions from birth to tortuous death – but that’s a post for another time. #factoryfarmsarethedevil

From what I can tell, the word “zoo” does not do the Toronto Zoo – and most places like it – any justice whatsoever. It’s not an accurate representation of what the zoo actually is. The Toronto Zoo is part Ark for species survival and renewal, part Sanctuary for animals in need, part Retirement Home for aging animals, part Orphanage for youngsters who lose their mothers in the wild, part Education and Research Facility to find new ways to do all of those things better – and all love.

More Than Routine

I suppose I’ve always been a creature of habit; of routine.  Like many – maybe even most – I have specific things I do when I get up in the morning, and before I go to bed at night.  I travel the same route to and from work most of the time, and usually go for the same spots on the subway and streetcar.  I  have a favourite area to sit in the movie theatre.  I even buy pretty much the same things at the grocery store.

Many of those routines and rituals are born of convenience and logic.  They are things I need to get done before I leave for work, or it’s the quickest way from Point A to Point B.  Things I do every day because they need to be done, and usually on a schedule that is also the same each day.

I’d be super easy to stalk, really.  I rarely deviate except out of necessity.

But there are so many more things I do that most people don’t know about, and that I barely catch myself doing, in part because they are habit and in part because they make no sense.

I breathe a certain way if I feel there are germs in the vicinity, because inside I feel like it helps keep me from getting sick.  It doesn’t but I feel like it does.  I say certain things to the animals before I leave the apartment, because I feel like it will keep them safe.  Maybe they also have a better understanding of what’s happening because they hear the same words at certain times, but while that’s a best case scenario, I mostly do it because I feel it’s like a protection spell to last until my return.  It’s not, but I feel like it is.  I try to make sure my right hand is the last one to touch them before we part, instead of my left.  I like things to be in odd numbers instead of even, from the time my clock displays when I turn off a light, to the number of seconds I count in my head when rinsing with mouthwash, to the number of treats I give Brody after a walk.

All of these things are so small, they are barely noticeable even to me.  They are not quite superstition, but their power exists in my inability to shake the certainty that something terrible will happen if I don’t do them.  And what’s worse is that the terrible thing will actually be all my fault.

On a logic level, I know that’s ludicrous.  But the feeling is so powerful that I’d honestly rather be safe than sorry.  I’d rather leave a bit late while I wait for the minute display on the clock to be an odd number than return home to find my apartment burned to the ground.  Logically I know that the odd-numbered minute does nothing to prevent or cause such a thing, but inside me, there is actual panic freezing me in place.  And while the physical manifestation of these little habits has changed over the years, the certainty that I would be to blame if something terrible happened if I didn’t do them has, I think, always been there.

Does that kind of pressure – having to remember to do all of these things in order to prevent something much worse from happening – cause much of my anxiety?  Or is it the anxiety of knowing so much of what happens in life is out of my control the reason that I started trying to invent small ways of retaining some sense of control?

Chicken or egg?  Either way, they are for certain related to one another.

For the most part, I see no reason to be concerned.  These little habits don’t hurt anyone, and so far they at least haven’t taken over my life to the point of being frozen inside of my own mind, and only able to move about the world in tiny increments.  I still live a pretty normal life from the outside. The panic has not yet crippled me.  There’s always the chance that it will, but I think – if it does – it’ll be a slow build and I will be able to see it coming.

Of course, whether or not I actually do anything to rein it back in is a different matter.

I remember as little kids, my brother and I would always get a hamburger happy meal when we went to McDonald’s.  It was a treat to go there, because there wasn’t one closer than a half hour’s drive away.  One time, our babysitters took us to what was then a new-ish drive-thru option, and we ordered hamburgers while they ordered cheeseburgers.  Naturally, the order got messed up but no one noticed until we’d pulled away.  We only got cheeseburgers.

With mild trepidation, my brother and I took a bite of the hamburger with cheese, then immediately realized the genius of having cheese included on a burger.  After that, we always ordered cheeseburgers.  Those kinds of habits are different, of course.  We just didn’t know yet how much we loved cheese.  Nothing bad was going to happen if I didn’t eat my regular hamburger, other than perhaps not loving what I ended up eating instead.  But it feels much the same inside.  There’s the same kind of uncertainty, but added to it is, like, actual fear.

Incidentally, remember how awesome happy meal toys used to be?  I’d totally go for much of that stuff even now!  They should offer retro/classic happy meals for adults, with toys from Tron and The Black Hole and the like.  I’d be all over that.  I remember getting a plastic “watch” that had a secret compartment where the watch face was. Of course, it wasn’t that secret because it was freaking huge, but still cool.  Made me feel like a spy, or something.

I took a course in, like, first or second year university- I can’t even remember what it was now – and the prof taught us the various stages of conflict that each of us must go through in order to grow as a person.  The first one happens before you are born – Trust vs Mistrust.  You have to feel safe enough to enter the world in a healthy and confident way, apparently. Something occurred to me that day, which has stayed with me and been reflected upon several times since.

On an emotional level, it’s entirely possible that I’m still inside the womb.

Edited to add:  It was9:13am when I pushed the “Publish” button on this post, but it switched to 9:14am as it was posting.  I’m going to try to be okay with that, because hitting the button was the only part within my control.