Frankie: February 15, 2018 – February 13, 2021

Frankie—an intense, sweet, silly Persian cat that we loved through every minute of his life with us—pictured here on May 2020

In July 2018, my husband Ron and I adopted (more like, rescued) a five-month-old ginger Himalayan Persian cat named Frankie. We gave him his full name: Franklin Timothy Minchin XV, but over his time with us, he gained many nicknames: Doodle; Mowmie (which stands for Mini Orange Wooly Mammoth); Muffin; and my favorite, Grumble Bunny. He got that last one because of the unique grumbling/growl he made when he was happy. Frankie was not a high-energy cat from day one, and he didn’t care to play with toys. He had a strange breathing issue that made his sides move in and out, even when he was at rest, but which worsened when he felt stressed. He randomly peed and pooped all over the house—even after we got a second, huge litter box—up until his last day alive. Frankie had trauma-based issues, and lots of them.

For example, during the first several months of Frankie living in our home—which is a pretty chill place, I might add—he spent a lot of time hanging out in our bathtubs and sinks. He didn’t do much in the way of detailed preening like healthy Persian cats do, like clean his schmutzy little face. (We cleaned it for him every other day, and loved him through all the other challenges presented. And by the way, the doctors never found anything wrong with him during routine checkups and lab work.)

Six-month-old Frankie in our guest bathroom sink, August 7, 2018: Time to get a tissue!

We did all we could to keep Frankie out of these hard, sometimes wet, not-relaxing spaces. After about 10-12 months, he did give up the desire to isolate himself, and spent most of his time in all the best cat-friendly places in our home. Evenings, while I cleaned up after dinner, he enjoyed hanging out with Ron in the satellite office.

Frankie on the futon in Ron’s satellite office, November 2018: Please let me stay a while longer!

And nothing says “retreat” like mommy and daddy’s bed! All mine!

Frankie, at 10 months, on our bed, looking very fluffy a few days after kitty salon, just before Christmas 2018

Nilla, our older female Seal-Point Himalayan Persian, did persecute Frankie somewhat in the first year or so. She is extremely fastidious, and she also acts like the queen of the house (even though she knows that she is the princess, and mommy is the queen), which is how I think she justified treating Frankie like a dirty little boy. There wasn’t much Ron and I could do while we slept. But during the day—because I work from home—I was able to manage and slowly change the dynamic. Also, Frankie got really big, really fast, and his alpha-cat awesomeness started to shine through, despite his health problems. Of course, this doesn’t diminish Nilla’s own amazingness!

Frankie and Nilla after his first 11 months in our home: Beauty and the Beast?!

Frankie’s personality developed quickly as well, in many ways. He had several unique vocalizations. There was his “water song” that he sang, day or night, while pawing at the water dish. It sounded like a kitty dirge but with a sort of amazement quality, like he was saying, “Wow! Water! I love you! Please don’t leave me.” There was his morning appeal to Ron for brushies on his favorite pedestal (I could actually hear him say, “Ron! Ron! Come on!”). And there was my favorite Frankie sound—that of him purring— which was a gruff purr and a sweet song and a bit of gripe, all happening simultaneously and inspiring me to call him Grumble Bunny. Despite his physical and emotional challenges, Frankie was making a delightful transformation!

In the last year, Frankie very much limited his jumping to specific places. For example, Frankie used to sleep on our bed, at my feet. More specifically, at night, he would wait until I was ready to turn off the light and was laying on my back with legs spread so he could nestle in between my feet!

Frankie resting on my side of the bed while Nilla is on Ron’s side

In his last few days, Frankie didn’t sleep on the the bed, which made me feel very sad. And I noticed that during his last 4-5 months, he would still jump up on his pedestal for morning brushies, but for evening brushies, he often avoided hopping up and I had to pick him up and place him on the pedestal. He was still happy to have the loving attention, though!

Frankie, still a kitten, on the pedestal (look at his excited waving tail!)

Frankie’s personality came out in other ways. For example, Ron and I tore out the carpeting and linoleum in our entire house in order to stain and seal the concrete. Here is a photo of Frankie photo-bombing the photo of our living room floor that was stained, sealed, dry, and ready to sit overnight before returning the furniture. He did love to be the center of attention, and he was never pushy or aggressive but always a perfect blend of graceful and goofy!

Famous photo-bombing Frankie!

My personal favorite time with Frankie was any time he came to me or called out to me as I was traversing between one side of the house and the other. I would pet him and he would start walking around the living room. If I stopped petting him, he would look back at me and encourage me to keep petting. I called this “The Tour” because some of the sessions would go on for several minutes through the common area of the house. At some point—whenever Frankie decided it was time—he would flop down on the floor in the cutest, silliest way and demand that I scratch his chin. I called this part “Frankie’s Famous Flop-Down.” Sometimes, he would even let me rub his belly for five or six seconds. Every “tour” was a completely new adventure for us both.

I knew that tensions between Nilla and Frankie were easing when they started trading “special places” with each other. For example, Nilla likes to sleep in the in-box on my desk, and Frankie started making it clear that he was very interested in doing so.

Nilla’s “IN” and Frankie’s “OUT”

And then, one day, it just happened: I found Nilla on Frankie’s favorite pedestal, and Frankie in the in-box! I really wasn’t sure how he got his huge body in that little space, but clearly he made it work:

Sweet spot next to Mommy!

I was also fortunate to capture the rare “Ultimate Two-Persian-Cat Portrait Pose” in December 2020:

Me: OMG! Rare photo opp! Thank you, kitties! Them: Arguing over who gets to sleep under the piano bench.

Things took a sudden, wild turn in early February 2021 when Ron and I hosted “Kitty Salon,” an event during which we bathe the cats in our kitchen sink.

Needless to say, they hate Kitty Salon, but they love feeling clean and fluffing out after a day or two (no blow-dryers here). They were both accustomed to this process, since we bathed them every 6-8 weeks. Well, Frankie panicked for the first time and it took him a full night and day to recover. His little heart was pounding and he was panting for several hours. Even the next day, fully dry, he was lethargic and breathing heavily. Thankfully, after another day, he started eating and drinking again. He wanted brushies and treats.

Sadly, things got worse again. He stopped pooping. Then Nilla stopped pooping. Days went on. He acted normally but was dropping weight and barely eating (except for treats after brushies). Assuming that he was severely constipated, I tried several over-the-counter and natural orally administered products to assist with bowel movements. (Ron and I both agreed that Nilla was exhibiting “sympathy pains” and was likely fine.)

Saturday, February 13, while Ron was working, I took Frankie and Nilla to emergency service at the veterinary hospital because they weren’t still pooping and we thought they had impacted colons. The doctor called me 45 minutes after Frankie’s intake (because, as you know, medical practices are not allowing family inside the facility), telling me that Frankie had no stool in his colon and he was panting uncontrollably. She also said that there was fluid coming out of his nose. She wanted to give him a mild sedative before continuing the exam; I agreed, and she said she would call me again.

I walked outside to our mailbox. The sun popped out from behind a cloud as I stepped onto the street. I know now that this was Frankie. But I digress.

The doctor called fifteen minutes after her previous call. She said, “Frankie’s not doing well.” “What does that mean?” I asked. She said that Frankie had started open-mouth panting and they were unable to give him the sedative because he went physically out of control. “Okay, what then?” She said, “And then he stopped breathing.” I gasped. She continued, “And his heart stopped, so I immediately intubated him and he’s breathing again.” Tears spilled out of my eyes and I had to ask, even though I knew the answer, “So if you take the tube out, he won’t breathe on his own. He’s gone.” She said, “Yes.” I told her to remove the tube.

She had questions: “Do you want to cremate him?” and so on. I went numb. My Grumble Bunny was gone.

I hung up the phone and screamed for two minutes.

And then I called Ron.

(The doctor said she believes that, based on Ron’s and my observations and her medical experience, Frankie had some kind of congenital heart condition that was worsening. She said that these kind of conditions don’t typically show up in cats until very late stages, when it’s difficult to treat them.)

The rest of the vet story is that Nilla finally got her exam and, while she also had no stool in her colon and needs some probiotics to return to perfect health, she was fine, and I am very happy for my little Beanie Baby. As I create this post, she is back in her (my) in-box. The last two mornings, she greeted me from Frankie’s favorite pedestal.

And I know in my heart that the sun coming out Saturday on my trip to the mailbox was Frankie’s bright light shining on me as his powerful little spirit ascended to Source, the God Point, the Zeroth Dimension of Divine Consciousness and Love.

But Frankie died without me (and Ron) there with him in his final moments. Would our presence as Frankie’s people-parents have saved his life? Perhaps, but no one will know that after the fact. And regardless of anyone else’s beliefs about the pandemic, we feel that it is abjectly horrific and inhumane to separate loved ones from each other, especially at medical facilities, where the sheer amount of trauma is literally in the air, and where LOVE is needed more than ever. I’m not saying the staff at Atascadero Pet Hospital are not kind, because they are. I’m saying that I feel outraged at the fact that my fuzzy little Frankie died without us there to comfort him in the worst moments of his far-too-short life because of measures that are clearly leading to needless destruction, despair, desperation, and death. I’m not saying that my and Ron’s presence would have saved Frankie’s for certain, but we will never know, will we? I don’t want to make this political, but if you don’t yet know anyone who has been separated against their will from their loved ones in the past year, now you do, and it is horrible.

I encourage everyone reading this post to use this opportunity to let your BROKEN HEART heal as it fills with Frankie’s love and light, and to use your best Grumble Bunny voice to tell the world: It’s time to return to LOVE. We know what love is, and that’s not what is happening right now. Speak up and out in your own unique, creative way, because the heart of humanity needs YOU.

Frankie, cheek resting on his Dr. Suess-creature-like paw, looking cozy on our bed, December 2019

Franklin Timothy Minchin XV, “Frankie,” has transitioned to kitty heaven and returned to a state of pure consciousness, of love and light. Look for his unique energetic signature in bowls of water, on window pedestals, and on adventurous “tours” of love and “flop-downs” for freedom in your life.

Sharine.

NOTE: All written material and images contained herein are my own, except the photo “Frankie on Ron’s Lap,” which I am using with permission from the author, Ron Hagadone. If you want to use any of these photos, please create a proper attribution that includes: Sharine Borslien, Copyright 2018-2021, All Rights Reserved, OR in the case of Ron Hagadone’s photo, use his name and Copyright 2020. In your post, please include a link somewhere to this blog post. Thank you.

Teenage Rebels (Not)

On Wednesday this week, I did a substitute teaching job at my local high school. The class was an elective, or what some schools call a “preferred” class: mixed choir.

Things started out on a positive note with some laughs we all shared during roll call. I announced the regular teacher’s plan for the period and told the students what I expected from them during our time together. This all seemed fine. Then I drew their attention to a classmate who had been prepped by the regular teacher to play CDs of songs and medleys for possible future concert performances by the choir and to gauge their interest in the music. This required active attention.

Most of the students were listening and singing along (which I encouraged), and then the disruptions began. I was able to get things under control at each outburst, but by the last forty minutes of the period, I was exhausted, feeling frustrated at the students who were outright disrespecting not only me but their fellow classmates who genuinely wanted to listen and sing along. After the lead student played the last song, “Stairway to Heaven,” I redirected their focus with a discussion of the band who composed it, Led Zeppelin. This worked for a few minutes. I decided to have the choir sing two of their concert pieces for me — that worked well, and for all of ten minutes, they were like angels (and they sounded like angels, too!).

Apparently, though, I underestimated the desire for [some] students to waste their precious time in their favorite class, because the place practically erupted in chit-chat, loud laughter, listening to music on phones, and elopements to other parts of the classroom. I stood silently, hoping that they would “get it,” and the lead student implored his classmates to quiet down: all to no avail.

In the end, I marched close to the group, startling a few students and eventually getting them to pay attention to me. I told them that I am a musician, too, and that when I go to band practice, I listen to the band leader. I don’t waste time talking about inane topics or goofing off with bandmates while the leader tries to get us to make music. No. I pay attention, because that’s exactly where I want to be, doing the thing I love. I told them that I knew choir was a preferred class, and that they had chosen this class for the same reason I choose to be in a band: to learn songs and make music. “So,” I said, “if you aren’t here to listen to these songs and sing along, then you can excuse yourself now because you don’t belong here. You made the wrong choice.” No one left the room, and for the rest of the period, they were relatively respectful, aside from their sour faces. Oh, I know [my pretend pout]. The sting of being called on your childish bullshit, so harsh.

When I got home, I immediately starting making an elaborate lasagna-type casserole for dinner. I spent nearly three hours in the kitchen, prepping each layer and cooking the marinara. The whole time, my mind would not let go of my classroom experience from that day. In fact, I even sent the regular teacher an email message to share what had transpired; it felt important to me that she know how poorly most of her students behaved in her absence. I thought this action would relieve my mind of arguing against their disrespectful behavior, but it did not. I listened to thoughts bubbling to consciousness as my mind formulated a speech. That said, here is what I would like to say to those students — in particular, to the ones who were openly disruptive, but to them all in general. My claim is that they are not the rebels they pretend to be: they are merely immature, disrespectful, and apparently willing to dispense of their own professed values at any opportunity. My arguments follow.

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My elementary school building in Wisconsin, all closed up now.

Dear Children:

I know some of you might think that because I am a substitute teacher, it is “rebellious” of you as teenagers to flagrantly disrespect me. Maybe that’s because I am not your regular teacher, who you will see day in and day out and who likely does not tolerate such “rebellious” behavior; that is, you think you can get away with it. And on some puerile (that means childish) level, your repetitive disruption in class does indeed represent a form of rebellion, one against an authority figure who you don’t really know and therefore don’t want to offer respect. Perhaps you don’t know how to give people the benefit of the doubt. I can understand that sort of thinking because, after all, you are children. Specifically, you are children who have not learned to respect substitute teachers. Maybe you haven’t learned to respect any adults, or anyone for that matter. Maybe you are jaded because you’ve been burned too many times by your own parents and other adults, and now you don’t know when it is safe to trust. If this is true, I have genuine empathy for you. Because here’s the deal: in the real world, most adults are worthy of your trust and respect. Yeah, that’s right. Most of us get an automatic “pass” because we have earned it: we are mature and conscientious and we earnestly want to treat you right and help you do right. In other words, we really show up for you. Sure, some adults get an automatic “fail” because they are immature, they bail on you. And let’s be clear: that’s not me.

But let me get back to you. You likely believe yourselves to be “rebels” by being disruptive, but you’re not really rebelling; you’re simply acting like children. You lack self-control. True rebels, in the classic narrative sense, are committed to a cause that is much larger than themselves and petty, narcissistic whims of absolute power. A true rebel has self-control. A true rebel fights big stuff, like injustice, inequality, systemic racism and sexism, and tyrannical rulers, for a few examples. Think MLK, Susan B. Anthony, Ghandi, Malala. Think Tom Morello, Black Flag, Sex Pistols. See the difference? Their desires are to disrupt powerful systems of corruption, oppression, and human suppression. Your desire to disrupt the classroom has as its so-called “cause” the ill-conceived notion that your personal, individual, selfish wants to watch the latest videos and read the latest Twitter posts by some talentless music hack are larger than the fact that you are in school to learn, which requires focused work. But you are wrong. Your non-cause (that is, getting out of doing your school work) is pathetic. It presumes that you are more important than a true cause like, oh, I don’t know, rampant sexual assault in our country. But you are not more important than victims of sexual assault — you just aren’t. (Unless you are a victim, in which case I urge you to seek help.)

Here’s another example along that line. In the name of being a “bad-ass rebel-child,” you insult the wisdom, intelligence, dignity, and entire life experience of someone like myself, a 52-year-old woman who has been sexually assaulted and harassed multiple times and otherwise violated, oppressed, and dismissed as a rule by a rich-white-heterosexual-male hegemonic social construct that has been in place for some 10,000 years and has recently proven upon the election of popular-vote-losing Donald J. Trump that it is totally fine to vociferously hate women, even when they meet your arbitrary “hotness” goals, even if you claim you love them. Hence, if you insult my dignity as a woman, you and your fake rebel status are part of the problem.

You insult the fact that, despite all I endure, I am happily married to the man of my dreams and we own our home. You insult the hard decision I made to move far away from my midwest home to California, where I knew no one, to successfully become a singer-songwriter-musician who plays multiple instruments, has written and recorded numerous CDs and a few hundred songs, toured the nation, and continues to create and perform. You insult the fact that I had the initiative to write and publish a nonfiction book and three poetry books, write three full-length screenplays and produce a movie from one of them. You insult the fact that I teach music and do graphic design to make a living in addition to my efforts as a substitute teacher in the public school system. You insult the fact that I returned to college at the age of 43 to complete my BA in Communication Studies (which took eight grueling years of part-time study and incurred nearly $50,000 in student loan debt). During my studies, I created numerous lengthy works of scholarship, graduating with high honors and the respect of my teachers, fellow students, friends, and family. By the way, that degree allowed me to study further and pay even more to become certificated so that I could come to your classroom and [do my best to] have fun while we learn together. But there was no fun to be had, because you were too busy insulting me and my efforts.

And on that note about my effort, you actually insult the very nature of my being, which is to learn and then share that learning with the world at large, whether through singing and songwriting, performing, photo editing, teaching, or just about anything I do in my life — including writing this blog post. Simply put, you insult the very idea of human striving for betterment of self and society. So you not only insult me, you insult every single person trying to get better, advance, evolve, grow, whatever you want to call it, on a mind-body-soul level — people who want to improve their lives by improving other people’s lives. But that’s not you.

Yes, because of the mediated, vainglorious, self-serving image you hold of yourself as a kick-ass rebel, you fail to see anyone, like myself, who has worked diligently over decades, starting from humble beginnings but making difficult decisions and taking risks, sometimes falling down but always getting back up — smarter, stronger, and more humble — to forge a life worth living. Perhaps worse is that, in a terrible twist, you allow your childish ways to also obscure, obfuscate, and obstruct any glimpse of accurate self-reflection and self-correction, which are vital to becoming a real adult and a true rebel regardless of age. I know 12-year-old girls that have more maturity and rebelliousness in the pockets of their skinny jeans than you do in your whole being — at least the being you were willing to show me that day.

Maybe you want to argue that you are “really mature,” but fell temporarily into a never-happened-before group-think with all your cool pals. Nope, not buying it. True maturity, as with true rebel status, can be claimed only by those who stand alone when friends and family and community question the cause. Think Harriet Tubman and Joan of Arc. True rebels are willing to suffer the consequences of actively, nonviolently leading the fight for something much, much bigger than themselves. True rebels have no problem being alone, standing out from the crowd. In fact, many of them prefer solitude to — guess what? — the awful noise of social group insularity. Ever notice how some of the most “popular” people in every arena are usually the most insecure, thin-skinned, braying asses around? No, I didn’t think you noticed. Most of you are too busy further elevating these frightening — and frighteningly powerful — celebrities.

So let’s face it: you have no cause. If you did, you’d have come to me after class, asking me to sign a petition to fight for indigenous people’s rights in Ecuador; or asking me to donate to your fundraiser to fight back against the nomination of racists to the popular-vote-losing Trump’s staff; or getting my opinion on a song you are writing in support of ending rape culture and gendered violence; or inviting me to attend a school play you are acting in that advocates combatting climate change. Read the key words: fight, advocate, support: these are the the true rebel’s core verbs that speak to enacting their cause. So until you have a real cause, please, please stop thinking that you are acting like a rebel because, today, you showed me that you’re nothing but a fake — an insulting, childish fake.

When you’ve done some serious soul-searching, when you’ve patched together your inner mini-warrior from whatever wreckage you feel you’ve endured, and when you’ve found something bigger than your deluded, disrespectful, feckless, spoon-fed self, don’t come to me. Get going and get growing so you can save humanity from fake rebels like you used to be. It starts with you.

I wish for you a smooth process of maturing and becoming true rebels with worthy causes, but if you hit some rocky patches, please don’t give up.

Sincerely,

Sharine Borslien (a.k.a., Ms. Shari)

P.S. To those students who were participating in a respectful, appropriate manner, THANK YOU. I see in you hope for a better future.

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Scooter: July 20, 2003 – November 1, 2016

Why do we do it? Why do we have pets, knowing their life spans are typically shorter than ours, that our love for them is as for any family member or friend for whom we invest much time and great care? I hope this tribute will answer that question for any of you who don’t already know the answer. For those of you who know, please enjoy the abbreviated Story of Scootie.

Back Story on Scooter

Scooter (also nicknamed Scootie, Scoots, Munchie, Scootie Patootie, Punkin, and later, Little Grandpa) came into my husband Ron’s and my life after a sad accident. It was six days prior to our wedding day, and my sister and her husband were coming to stay with us the next night before we all drove to L.A. for the big four days of wedding activities. Ron and I needed to do some errands that Tuesday night to prepare for their arrival. It was dark when we returned, traveling on a narrow road that parallels the freeway with a fence to our left and a ditch and field to our right. Suddenly, a fluffy grey kitten bolted out onto the road from the right directly in front of the car, and there was no time, no way, to avoid her/him. We felt the horrible thump, stopped the car immediately, and Ron said he saw the injured kitten slink back into the ditch. We decided to move the car as far off the road as possible and have a moment of silence for the little life that we ostensibly took. I told Ron that I had never hit an animal with my car, and he said the same for him. We both cried. Drying our tears, we decided that we would open our lives up to a cat and that we would call him or her Scooter, in honor of the kitten that had scooted across the road.

Finding Scooter

I found Scootie, an adorable Black Smoke Persian, in a pet store in Arroyo Grande in late October. He had been born the day after Ron and I got married: the day we returned to our Atascadero home from our wedding in LA. The minute I saw this kitten, I knew I loved him. His fur was a bit thin so he looked kind of scraggly, and long tufts of fur were spouting from his tiny black ears. He fussed a bit when I held him, making this endearing “ack” sound. He was small, clearly the runt of the litter, and I saw the other kittens in the pen squeezing him out of the food dish and pushing away from the toys; but he didn’t want to fight. I recognized that Scootie needed a special home, a chill place like Ron and I have, in which to spend his beautiful life.

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Scooter (a.k.a., Scootie) just before his second birthday, July 5, 2005. Sadly, we lost earlier photos when a hard drive crashed and was irreparable.

Jazz

As it turned out, Scootie really was a sweet, loving cat with not a mean bone in his body. Our older cat Jazz was an intense, solid white, pedigreed Himalayan Persian with a fierceness that we think helped him live to be 15 1/2 years old. The two cats bonded on a level that Ron and I say was like Beatrix Kiddo and Pai Mei in Kill Bill: Scootie, of course, being the student with chops to cut, and Jazz being the master teacher. Jazz (also known as Bubba, Pharaoh, Grandpa, Mister, and The World’s Most Perfect Cat), was tough on Scoots, but their unique relationship bore countless moments of endearment. 

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This was a popular box for weeks! Scootie and Jazz in our apartment, February, 2006.

Both cats hated to pose, but we occasionally found them side by side. Scootie, being the younger, smaller cat, desperately wanted Jazz’s love and approval.

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Scootie and Jazz in our brand new house, December 19, 2006.

Jazz had spent many long hours during his final two years on planet Earth in the corner our closet, resting on a bunch of shoes in almost total darkness. When Bubba died in June 2008, Scootie showed his sweet, sentimental nature, wailing night and day for nearly five months in mourning for Jazz . . .  until we got him a companion, Nilla.

Nilla

Nilla (also Bean, Missy Bean, Missy Messy, and Miss Precious Perfect) is a Seal Point Himalayan Persian that fell in love with Ron upon sight and there was no way we were not taking her home. She likes to think she is the Queen, but I gently remind her that there can be only one Queen; she is the Princess. Nilla and Scootie did not appear to bond well, as Nilla was quite bossy to him. She frequently tipped over the food and water bowls in flagrant displays of either control or angry chaos, flung her stinky poop outside their litter box (Scootie, all the while, was fastidious), and cheated him out of his precious playtime by cutting in at every session. But they, like Jazz and Scootie, had plenty of cherishable times together.

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Scootie and Nilla, watching the rain fall on our back patio, January 20, 2010.

 

But most importantly, Nilla defended Scootie against the Ace of Spades.

Ace of Spades

Ace, or Beastie, as we grew to call him, adopted us in our back yard in August 2012. He simply hopped over our fence and wooed Ron into us getting him fixed and vaccinated for rapid move-in. Ace, a 22-lb miniature panther with a huge set of [scary] chompers, literally dominated life in our little castle. (I say dominated, past tense, because we had to bequeath Ace to another family.) He would rove about day and night, muscling himself into every peaceful situation that existed. But here’s the caveat: he was genuinely nice about it. No kidding. He would stroll into a room and in a flash, pounce on little Scootie, then whine when Scoots would high-tail it out of Ace’s sight. Scootie wanted peace, Ace wanted play, all the time, play, but he didn’t know his own strength . . . or recognize Scootie’s lack of interest in the Worst. Matchup. Ever.

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Beastie, 22 pounds, next to Scootie, 7.5 pounds, December 10, 2011.

Fortunately for little Scootie, Nilla holds grudges . . .  for a long, loooong time. Hours would pass after an Ace attack on her or Scootie, and Ace would be stretched out on the floor in the sun, clueless to the terror he had inflicted. Nilla would strike suddenly, causing him to cry and run until she had him quivering in a corner, terrified and mewling. While I don’t condone violence, it was satisfying to see Ace get his comeuppance by our teeny tiny 7.5-lb. Nilla.

Not all moments were torturous: the three kitties somehow found common ground aside from the feeding trough. Ron and I were happy — and perhaps a bit astonished — by these seemingly cuddly times. They seemed so . . .  content with each other. What were we missing? Because this looked like cat paradise:

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Scootie (in front) warms himself in a bit of sun with Nilla (upper left) and Ace of Spades “Beastie” (upper right) in a rare photo, December 2014.

Things changed immediately after Beastie moved to Grover Beach to live with our friend Nathan and his grandson. Our house became quiet again. See, I forgot to mention that Ace L-O-V-E-D me so much that he wanted my attention all the time. He vocalized almost constantly — and what a vocabulary! While annoying, it was also entertaining because we could hear distinct words and phrases. For example, when I would scold Ace, I could hear him say, “Awww, man!” No kidding. Regardless of his cartoon-like cuteness, we had to erect a barrier to the computer cables and stuff under my desk because he perpetually tried to get back there and muck around. While the barrier was effective, it didn’t keep Beastie from annoying me all day as I tried to work and study; Ron had to build a screen door of sorts that we could put up and take down easily. Again, the door kept him physically out of my space, but allowed him to terrorize Scootie and destroy furniture  elsewhere in the house until I could take the door down and stop him. Dealing with Ace was a thorn in my side. Hell, it was a rhino horn in my side. But he was so sweet! It was a hard decision at first because he loved Ron and me hugely, but in the end, we had to separate. I still miss him, but I am happy that for Scootie’s last six months of life, Beastie was not around to physically and psychologically abuse him. Nobody deserves that!

Scootie’s Refuge

A smart cat, Scootie found a safe space at night sleeping on the pillow sham behind my head. Ron and I placed a “satellite water dish” on my night stand so he didn’t have to leave his refuge and risk being molested by Beastie at the regular kitty feeding station.

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Scootie looks up from his satellite water dish on my night stand. He is stretched out with back feet on the edge of our bed, December 20, 2015.

Also, Ron and I think that his yoga-like routine at the satellite water dish helped strengthen his muscles and distribute positive energy throughout his aging system. Scootie felt snuggly, safe, and secure in this space, and eventually this would become even more clear: we were looking out for him on all fronts. And isn’t this what we should all be doing for each other, especially for the most fragile, sensitive, and targeted in our world? We say a resounding YES. YES. YES.

Scootie’s Last Weeks

In August, I took Scootie to the vet for his senior checkup and had some blood work done, which indicated a possible blockage or other condition. The vet recommended an ultrasound, but we had heard from a good friend what that involves (a real life nightmare for pet, vet assistant, and pet parents), and no way were we going to put Scoots through any such procedures at his age. (This was a hard call for us, as it is for many pet parents, so please judge us with feathers instead of bricks.) With that decision made, I researched ways to make sure his #2s were moving nicely and regularly, and decided to feed him canned organic pure pumpkin daily. This worked out well since he lapped up a teaspoon a day in the first week and gradually ate about a heaping tablespoon daily in two servings.

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Scootie (“Punkin”) eating pumpkin, August 22, 2016.

I think the joy he experienced in eating this treat that he loved combined with being spoon-fed made him feel special at first, mostly because Nilla wouldn’t eat the pumpkin. And this process definitely changed the quality of his #2s for the better. By early October, Nilla expressed interest in the pumpkin, and I think this, in small part, turned him off to it. Another factor may have been his waning interest in food altogether, even when, on October 25, I brought him to the vet after he had not eaten solid food nor pooped for a few days. She recommended a special canned food that I purchased that day, and offered an appetite stimulant, which I bought the next day and gave to him immediately at home. No change. He continued to drink lots of water, but ate no solid food, refusing pumpkin, canned food, dry food with added water, and so on.

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Scootie, looking regal in front of our piano, October 26, 2016.

Ron and I administered a second dose of the appetite stimulant on the third day according to directions, but we saw no increase in his desire for food. He was not exhibiting signs of distress, anxiety, or fear. Love, however, was still his mainstay. We decided that a natural death for Scootie was in his best interest: he should pass in his home with his loved ones in the easiest, gentlest way possible. The challenge was, for both Ron and me, going through that process for the first time ever.

Final Days for Scootie

During the last seven days, Scootie parked himself under Ron’s desk, which was in the same small room behind my desk, so he was nearby. As days went by, he was spending more time deeper in his space. We placed another satellite water dish here for him, and set up the space heater to keep him warm and cozy. He occasionally came out for water and affection.

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Scootie hanging out amongst the cables under Ron’s desk, October 29, 2016.

He would also let me brush him on these outings, and allow Ron and I to hold him for a few minutes. Scootie never really cared to be held too long; it was his nature to be petted and groomed — but not confined. He was a true free spirit.

Final Day

Scootie’s last full day on Earth was Monday, October 31, 2016. It was one of the most difficult days of both Ron’s and my life, as Scootie peacefully declined hour by hour, all the while maintaining his dignity and loving nature. I was home all day with Scoots. Always fastidious, he tried to find his way to the bathroom with the litter box rather than piddle on the carpet, but instead, he twice made it only to the guest bathroom where he emptied his bladder of perhaps a couple of teaspoons of fluid. One of those times, I found him and when I petted him, he began mewling like a kitten. His breathing was becoming more labored over time, and he had difficulty walking more than ten steps at a time. He was still able to make it to the water dish in the kitchen throughout the morning and early afternoon.

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Scootie resting near the water dish (1), October 31, 2016.

Such a gorgeous little creature. Helpful websites offered information about what to expect from him physically throughout this process. One sign of his last hours is his lowered head and sleepy-looking eyes, which we started to see in his last day.

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Scootie resting near the water dish (2), October 31. 2016.

He eventually moved out from under Ron’s desk into our bedroom closet. I placed a dish of water next to him, and spread out his favorite blanket, a cream-colored afghan that my mother, long since passed, had crocheted for me more than twenty years ago (see photo above with Scootie, Nilla, and Ace on the afghan). During this time, I was checking on him every five to ten minutes, offering as much love as he seemed able to handle.

Ron came home from work, and we followed through on our plan to drive to San Luis Obispo for dinner while hundreds of trick-or-treaters descended on our neighborhood. Afterward, we pit-stopped at TJ’s for some provisions, all the while wondering what Scootie’s state would be when got home.

Final Hours

We found Scootie resting in our bedroom beneath a dining room chair, a favorite spot of his for the last few years, although up until October, he slept as much under as on top of the chair, which was covered in my mom’s afghan. Scootie moved out about four feet and rested in front of our dresser, which is across from the foot of our bed. After a moment, he rose and began walking toward the litter box. I picked him up and put him in it, but he had nothing to release. (I didn’t notice until the next morning that, while we were gone that night, he had tried to get into the litter box but obviously could not, and so he relieved his bladder on the linoleum floor next to it.) I asked Ron to get Scootie’s favorite bath-time towel, and I spread it out on the floor in front of the dresser, laying him on top of it and folding the towel over him for warmth. We petted him and spoke gently to him: “Good boy, Scootie. Relax. We love you, Punkin. We are here for you.”

Ron and I tried to maintain a sense of normalcy, putting on our typical “chill” clothes and then hanging out with him for a few minutes before putting away groceries. We continued to check on him every five to ten minutes. Around 11:00 PM, we walked in and Scootie, upon seeing us, stretched out almost the full length of his tiny body, turned partially on his side so that he could make eye contact with us. We stayed with him for a while, petting him slowly and gently, until Ron decided to go to bed, leaving our low-watt nightstand lights on. I still had a few things to tidy up in the kitchen and continued to check on Scootie every few minutes.

Final Minutes

I petted Scoots, who felt much cooler to the touch. I doused the bedroom lights and turned on the light in our shower room nearby to provide some filtered light. I crawled into bed a little after midnight, but Ron and I kept hearing Scootie vocalize now and then. I slipped out of bed and retrieved the afghan, laid down next to him and covered us both, tripling up the blanket over his body. As the minutes passed and I heard his breathing become very slow, I quietly said to Ron, “Honey, I think it’s really close.” Scootie and I were making constant eye contact. Suddenly his pupils became huge, so much so that I could barely see his harvest-moon-colored irises. I saw a shimmery greenish-yellow bean of light moving in his eyes, and then golden droplets of light-energy began slowly shooting from his eyes and face. Then, spectacularly, I saw a warm light rise up from his body, making the afghan glow for three or four seconds. I knew I had witnessed Scootie’s soul leaving his body. And yet he continued breathing and his heart was beating. He turned his head so that I could not see his eyes.

Just then, Ron asked if was going to stay there or come to bed, and after a few moments, I slipped back into bed. Within a minute, Ron rose and turned on the bedroom lights. I followed him to the floor next to Scootie. Ron said, “Maybe he needs water,”  so I asked him to get a medicine dropper. As soon as Ron sat down and I had some water in the dropper, Scootie’s head turned toward Ron and I placed a few drops in his mouth. I felt his body: it was cold and he let out a final breath. “I think it’s over, Honey,” I said. Suddenly, Scootie appeared to be looking at Ron and hissed, baring his teeth four or five times. Ron was taken aback, and said, “He’s mad at me.” Then I realized that Scootie’s physiological actions were caused by the final chemicals pumping through his system as designed by animal DNA, and that what we witnessed is quite common. I tried to calm Ron: “No, Honey, this is part of the process. He’s gone. Feel his body. There is no breathing, no heartbeat. Even if he was in a coma, he would have vital signs.” Ron put his hand on Scootie’s body to confirm.

We sat there for a few minutes, tears running down our faces. Ron said, “Would you like some tea?” I said, “I need a glass of wine after all this. [pause] No, I’ll have tea with you.” We sat at our dining table, talking until we were ready to go to bed. We tried snuggling, but neither of us slept much, if at all. A couple of hours in, I saw the same shimmery, glimmery greenish-yellow light bean from Scootie’s eyes in my mind’s eye, spiraling around behind my closed eyelids. I smiled. It was Scootie. Not a doubt in my own soul.

Quirks, Kinks, and Idiosyncracies

Scootie displayed some remarkable traits and mannerisms throughout his adorable life. He was rather small with those huge harvest moon eyes and tiny nose on his precious little flat face. His tail had a funky curve at the very end, and it was noticeable as he loved to flick and flaunt that tail.

He ate his solid food, which we called “crunchies,”  by scooping a few pieces onto the floor and using his right front paw to feed himself; he always left several whole crunchies on the floor while scooping more from the dish. He was generally a good groomer except when it came to that feeding paw: he let it get crusty, and I had to regularly clean it. Ron and I called it his “skanky paw.”

Speaking of food, Scootie was always first to stand by the cabinet door where we keep the crunchies and let me know it was time to fill his dish. We called this “top o’ the mornin’ top-up” or “top o’ the evenin’ top-up”, and he was always on time for both sessions. He liked to crawl inside the crunchies cabinet and chew on plastic zip bags. In fact, he loved chewing on plastic bags in general: he would swarm around us and beg to chew on them. He would even try to get inside the refrigerator when the door was open and find the nearest bag before we had to shoo him out.

Ron had invented a game with the crunchies back when Bubba was still with us. He would position a single crunchy on the carpet and “kick” it with a finger to send it flying across the room, and then Jazz would chase it and eat it. Scootie learned this game immediately, of course: it was play time with an instant edible reward! He still played the game until the week before he died.

Because of Scootie’s nearly concave facial structure, and just being a Persian cat, his sinuses were extremely short. Whenever he lowered his head to eat or drink or groom, he would always sneeze in the cutest way: we called his sneezes “the oofies”!

Unlike some cats, Scootie did not often vocalize (apart from those four months of wailing after Jazz died). When he did speak, he had a favorite word, “ack,” which he would utter when wanting food or attention, leaving his mouth open for dramatic effect. Other vocalizations were screeches when brushing sessions went too long (he would time out at 45 seconds!) or when I spent too much time (according to him) grooming him by hand and working out knots in his fur.

Playtime was interesting as the years went on. In Scootie’s first couple of years, he would jump straight into the air to catch toys — we had never seen such a tiny creature leap so high, it was amazing! By the time he was five or six years old, the crazy jumping stopped, and he would only chase strings ‘n’ things along the floor, preferably on carpet. We would hold a piece of twine, for example, and spin really fast as he chased the end around and around and around until either he caught the thing, or we got too dizzy!

Lastly, Scootie not only loved being petted, his particular favie was having his ears rubbed; both at the same time was best. Even better was having both ears rubbed while being scratched on both sides of his chin. That was heaven on earth for little Scoots.

Epilogue

Ron and I chose to have Scootie’s remains cremated at Eden Pet Crematory. His ashes will be spread on a private property in Paso Robles, but he will live forever in our cherished memories of the The Biggest Little Kitty in the County.

Nilla is still in mourning on the fourth full day after Scootie passed. This initially came as somewhat of a surprise, given her bossy, competitive nature with Scootie. But upon further reflection, Nilla has strong maternal instincts: she was always trying to groom Scootie, which he wouldn’t allow. We know now how deeply affected she was by losing her older “brother from another mother.”

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Scootie on our bar, ready for some adoration, preferably involving a lot of petting, October 22, 2016.

Gratitude

Ron and I are grateful for all the love and support we have received not only during Scootie’s last days, but throughout his life. In no particular order, our thanks and deep affection goes out to all of you equally, and if we missed someone, we are very sorry.

Kahle A-B., for being a Keeper of All Things Scootness, for being the daughter we never had, and because we will never forget you saying that when you met Scootie, you wanted to “hold him and squeeze him ’til he pops.” The best. We felt the same way: Scootie was Just. Too. Precious. We all (including Mahrs!) wanted him to explode and be one with us, be all around us and in us, and perhaps now he is. His everythingness was truly amazing. That you saw Scootie just days before he passed meant the world-of-our-best-dreams to us all. Your epic love continues to nurture, bolster, and cast light and love on us. Crooookieees, forever.

Sandy M., for being present even when you’re not physically close enough to schedule last-minute lunches, let’s-drink-bubbles-dates, and extreme crying jags that probably require strong netting and intermittent hugs. Quote from Sharine: “If I hadn’t called Sandra after my first meltdown following Scootie’s death, and she hadn’t taken my call, I might be wandering through the Mojave Desert right now, wondering why drinking my tears isn’t quenching my thirst, and why that big cactus is sidling up to me for a look-see.” No, I’m not going to re-make “Under the Sea” with a Scooter-based desert theme. But, nice try. You always know how to keep my creative juices flowing, even in emotional rollercoaster times.

Maria K., for being the sweet friend who lost your furry family member who was much, much larger than Scootie, but you also know that size, in this instance, does not matter. As one of his best caretakers and not-so-secret admirers, we appreciate your up-close and distant love for your little “Scootie-Bear.” Your consistent presence in Scootie’s last half of life and in his final days meant multiple universes to us all. After his death, everything you shared — your own experiences and personal wisdom — was a big, warm, fuzzy blanket, just when we lost the little black one we already had. The card you sent came at just the right time, reminding us again of Scootie’s far-reaching affect on all who knew him.

Denny H., for being a steadfast brother who was “right there” with us, all the way from Michigan, during the last weeks and days.

Sherrie H., for being the compassionate friend who, still a bit raw from losing your dog Roxy this year, has a big enough heart to listen to me talk — during our lunch date — about Scootie’s passing. Conversations about death during mealtime can only happen with a family member or a really special friend.

Teresa J., for being the sweet little lemon drop that you are, bringing a card and gift to the house on Scootie’s last day. Even though you hadn’t met him until then, I was so moved that you took time out of your busy day off to shop for gifts and make a visit.

Band Mates Phil, Wave, Okie, and Bam, for being the cool friends you all are and suffering through rehearsal, the day after Scootie passed, during which I was rather despondent and could hardly smile. Even “performing” was so difficult that I when I made eye contact with anyone, it increased my pain. All I could do was try to play and sing. My saving grace was watching and listening to Ron’s stellar guitar work.

Joseph F., for being my favie (former) guitar student, good friend, and perfect pal for Scootie while we traveled this last August. Scootie always felt good with you because of your chill nature. I know he appreciated every moment of petting, playing, brushies, and just your presence while here in our home, whether you were here for lessons, just dropping by for a visit, or taking care of him.

Felicia, for being one more of my favorite people on the planet and for helping Joseph care for Scootie, especially hand-feeding him pumpkin.

Nathan S., for being a spiritually in-tune friend who totally understood my experience in Scootie’s final moments of life. Your phone call came at just the right time, and your gentle nature was comforting during our conversation.

Mahry A-B., for being the precious little animal-lover that you are. Even though Scootie freaked out upon meeting you, it was absolute pleasure to watch you scream joyously when you first saw him, and then cry in abject agony when you realized you couldn’t hold him and squeeze him until he pops. We all feel that way, my little Mahrzipan, we all do.

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Scootie in our dining room, looking wistful as he often did, February 24, 2015.

 

 

 

(All photographs in this post by Ron Hagadone and Sharine Borslien. Please do not reproduce them or use them in any way without our express permission. Requests can be made to Sharine on this blog’s contact page.)

 

 

 

Look to science to learn the truth about the most important thing we do: EAT

Food: it’s a touchy issue for humans. Our bodies require nutrition, and food is where we get it. We know specifically what nutrients we need and how much of them because of science, and yet most people eschew that science and eat what tastes “good.” I put “good” in quotes because our palates have learned to enjoy rich tasting food: we call it “good.” The problem is that food that tastes rich is often the least rich in nutrients.

Rich tasting foods are animal flesh, animal milk and cheese, white flour, whole eggs, pressed oils, fried food, and any salted and/or highly processed foods such as you would find in the refrigerated or frozen section of your grocery store. These kinds of foods taste so good that we end up consuming excess calories, and then our (potentially) overweight bodies lack proper nutrition. Science tells us that without proper nutrition, nutrient-deficient bodies both fat and thin become grounds for disease and degradation of muscle, bones, ligaments, neural tissue, skin, internal organs, and other physiological components, including the brain.

So when I read an article like this one on Medium.com, You are the problem with fat people, I feel the impulse to write and reply: No, I am not the problem. In fact, I will be so bold as to say that I offer the solution.

I am not the problem, because I am empathetic toward Ms. Toal, the author.

I am aware that many people have injuries or congenital conditions that keep them from exercising; some may never be able to walk or use their upper body for exercise. It is always heartbreaking to hear these folks’ stories. (As a matter of fact, as I edit this story, I am recovering from a bad fall that has left me unable to jog for nearly two months.) Furthermore, before I embraced a sound, scientific approach to nutrition, I was afraid to learn the hardest truths about what I was ingesting. I previously had made small dietary changes that, as it turns out, are relatively unimportant when it comes to nutrition. What I was afraid of was doing a major overhaul in my eating regime: giving up rich tasting food for the stuff my body really craves: nutrient-dense, plant-based whole food.

I am not the problem, because I acknowledge that Ms. Toal was able to recover to a point where she can exercise and is doing so.

Part of her challenge, as she writes about it, is the people who ridicule her for being fat — while she is working out in the gym. I find that this all-too-common practice of fat-shaming is immature and lacking in both human empathy and education, and thus is unacceptable. Instead of these shamers applauding her for her effort to make healthy change, they belittle her, and that’s just wrong. This is a problem with our divisive culture of trolling and rushing to judgment: “othering” is a facile cop-out in our society.

But here is where I must take another step regarding Ms. Toal’s experience: she didn’t even discuss her diet in the article I read.

Based on my experience and education, exercise alone is not always enough to shed excess weight. It all goes to the science of human nutrition, a formula that Dr. Joel Fuhrman reduced to H=N/C; that is, Health equals the ratio of food Nutrient density to Calories. So, if we eat the nutrient-rich foods that our bodies need rather than stuff that only tastes rich, we will achieve optimal health. AND we will receive the benefit of dropping extra pounds of fat. Yay!

Dr. Fuhrman’s plan is called Eat to Live, and it’s based on the most comprehensive, long-term study about food and nutrition. The China Study is so thorough, and Fuhrman’s vernacular translation so digestible (pun intended!), that meat-and-dairy proponents try to debunk it in a variety of ways. Yet the science is sound, as long as we take into account some minor achievements in scientific understanding of cholesterol, for example, that have occurred since the study was conducted, analyzed, and interpreted. One wonders, as I do, if the animal food industry and related corporate behemoths are behind people’s uninformed questioning of the study — and of the choice to be vegetarian or vegan. If you wonder, too, please keep reading.

Disclosure:

I live the whole plant-based, vegan, nutrarian Eat to Live lifestyle about 90% of the time. While I would love to be a purist, I find it limiting to my social life, so I will eat a slice of homemade cherry pie (my favie!) that a friend baked just for me, or dribble some store-bought ketchup on grilled potatoes, or eat a 3 oz. lamb burger a few times a year, or sample a goat cheese appetizer at a party. I also think it is healthy to indulge (again, about 10% of my entire diet) in my cravings for air-popped popcorn with a bit of real butter, processed vegan cheeses, and seafood, including a passion for sushi, so add white rice to my list. But these examples are the exception, not the rule: I do not consume rich food every day. I do, however, drink wine every day, so I am no longer at my ideal weight of 102 lbs; I weigh closer to 110. Alcohol consumption is not recommended in Eat to Live, it’s just one of my pleasures that I choose to not feel guilty about. Even with the extra 8 pounds on my frame, my blood pressure today was 97 over 61 . . . at the dentist’s office! Also, I don’t work for Dr. Fuhrman or sponsor his ads, and I don’t make any money or receive any other benefits from talking about Eat to Live, except that I hope to inspire readers to buy his book and take the 6-week challenge.

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Typical weekly menu at our house. Add a night of salmon or swordfish, and we’re loaded with nutrients, AND leftovers, without excess calories! Side note: The lasagna dish uses vegetables in place of the pasta, because, white flour👎. The “meatballs” were made with soy crumbles.

My intention is not to shame Ms. Toal or anyone trying to lose weight.

I simply want to say that a lot of people have not been taught proper human nutrition, and therefore succumb to eating a nutrient-deficient diet of rich-tasting food as their mainstay. Why is that? I argue that in the US there is little profit in telling people that eating animal flesh, olive oil, pasta, and cheese is not required for superior health (nor is it recommended by scientists). Corporate America is all about profit over people, winner-takes-all competition, and even miseducation if necessary to achieve those two conditions.

(For some background, please read my paper “Is ChooseMyPlate a Good Choice? How Private Industry Drives the U.S. Government to Mediate a Nutritionally Poor Diet”. ChooseMyPlate is the updated version of the USDA Food Pyramid. In the paper, I argue that Big Ag, by way of the USDA, contributes to nutritional and health poverty in our nation. I cite numerous reputable sources.)

Another challenge is that people all over the world claim they know proper nutrition — information they have been taught by their government/school/parents — and they say, look, we aren’t fat or sick like Americans! But as other countries adopt the American Standard Diet (ASD) of fast food, processed food, salt, white flour, sugar, and meat/poultry/dairy, with too little of nutritionally excellent legumes, leafy greens, other vegetables, fresh fruits, and moderate amounts of whole grains, they, too, gain weight and decline in overall health.

Skinny-bitch-shaming vegans and vegetarians as “too thin.”

This “too thin” claim has nothing to do with the thin person’s health; in fact, a plant-based whole food diet of proper nutrition is what the body wants us to eat so that we maintain optimal health and do not carry around excess body fat. But this is a scary notion to ASD consumers, most of whom are addicted to salt, sugar, bread and pasta, processed meals, animal products, and other rich-tasting food. It is easier for people to point a finger at thin vegetarians than to give up eating “tasty” stuff even though that tasty stuff is bad stuff. ASD consumers wonder out loud that if I don’t eat animal flesh or dairy products, where I get my “protein” — but they probably don’t know that protein is a not a food group, as the USDA would have us believe. Protein is a micronutrient necessary for a healthy human diet; it can be found in in beans, legumes, nuts, and seeds. Even broccoli, pound for pound, has more protein than cow meat. Science AND grandma tell us pretty much the same thing: eat your vegetables!

In 2008, my husband and I began the Eat to Live lifestyle after reading Dr. Fuhrman’s book of the same name. We decided together that we did not want to die of cancer or heart disease if we could prevent that. We didn’t want the food we eat to increase the chance of contracting Type II Diabetes, or rheumatoid arthritis, or arteriosclerosis. We chose to eat food that optimizes our health. We had great success during the initial six-week period. My husband lost 42 pounds — it was totally dramatic! I shed 27 pounds off my 5’2″ body! Yet I have had people tell me that I am “too skinny” after losing all that weight, while I exude a healthy glow, and feel lighter and stronger than ever before in my life (even better than when I was jogging every day while continuing to eat animal products and processed, fatty, salty foods).

This kind of skinny-bitch-shaming is equally as disgracing as the gym folks fat-shaming Ms. Toal. Skinny-bitch-shaming overlooks all the health benefits of my eating lifestyle and implies the false claim that all thin people are malnourished and therefore “doing it wrong.” This is the complete opposite of my reality. After the six-week Eat to Live nutrarian diet challenge, my lab results came in and my doctor said I was in optimal health.

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Lasagna Style Main Dish with Zucchini Crust. Loaded with vegetables, seasoned well, and so delicious!

“But my 99-year-old grandmother ate eggs, meat, cheese, white bread, and butter at every meal for her entire life!”

Further energizing the argument against a nutrarian lifestyle, every person in the western world probably knows at least one other person who ate red meat, salt, fat, eggs, dairy, white bread, fried foods, and sugary desserts at every meal, drank coffee with cream and sugar, imbibed on hard liquor and soft drinks, and smoked two packs of cigarettes a day, yet lived to be 100 years old. To which I counter: There are four reasons such people thrive:

1) they engage in physical activity for most of the day and/or

2) they really do just have good DNA and/or

3) they eat tiny portions, keeping their caloric intake to around 1,200 calories or less per day, and/or

4) they are not eating processed food or only in extremely small quantities.

These people are the exception, not the rule. (Read Eat to Live!)

Besides the questions of protein and exceptional grandmothers, people wonder, as did I before learning about and choosing to Eat to Live, whether plants are enough to make me feel full for hours at a time. I mean, I don’t eat pasta or bread for carbs; I get most of my carbohydrates from beans. Yes, occasionally I have a whole wheat pita or lavash or a few baby potatoes. But the truth is that when I eat the proper amounts of fruits and vegetables, I get full — REALLY, REALLY FULL! Seriously, I can go 7-8 hours between lunch and dinner without feeling the need to snack, and I often did so on school days when I ate lunch at 10:30 AM before leaving for campus for the rest of the day. I would always carry a piece of fruit and/or raw nuts with me but I rarely felt the desire to eat them, because I was full-filled with the proper nutrition. It is comforting to know this.

“I’m fat and that’s just fine with me.”

If a person is fat, even if they exercise now and then, they may have convinced themselves and others that they accept being fat as their natural “body type,” and that self-love is important for well-being. Is this an excuse for continuing to eat rich-tasting food? Same goes for often damaging quick-fix rich-food diets like Paleo and Adkins, among others. In my evaluation, none of these arguments are valid because they don’t follow science. Because there are universally accepted laws and principles comprising realities like gravity, the life cycle of centipedes, and why you don’t have to remember to breathe while you sleep (which is especially convenient and comforting).

GOOD NEWS!

For Ms. Toal and everyone interested in enjoying optimal health, I highly recommend doing the 6-week nutrarian Eat to Live program and then sticking as close to it as possible afterward. First, a plant-based eating lifestyle going to assist you in rapidly achieving your ideal weight. Second, fruits, vegetables, beans, greens, mushrooms, nuts, and seeds are wicked good at flushing toxins out of the body, killing cancer, and obliterating artery plaque, not to mention numerous other conditions. Third, these foods actually help prevent nasty things like cancer cells from ever finding a home in your body! How crazy cool is that?!

Even cooler is that people who are unable to exercise for some medical reason will still lose excess weight and keep it off while doing the Eat to Live lifestyle. And continuing the nutrarian lifestyle is easy when you remember that you are preventing heart disease, cancer, obesity, and other life-threatening physical conditions from ruining what ought to be an amazing experience as a human being on planet Earth. To boot, you will help reduce the raising of animals for human consumption, which is extremely costly to the environment in numerous ways — water use, waste water, methane production, and so on — and far more costly than growing plants for food.

See? I am not the problem with fat people, I’m part of the solution: Eat to live in optimal health and disease prevention! If only I was perfect and dumped out the glass of red wine I am sipping 😉

Ode to Sculpterra: “Mega Focus”

Bees.
Flies.
Fuckin’ food chain…
Glorious food chain
Flicking off a fly and
Ting! The sound
of my fingernail
grazing the rim
of my almost-empty
glass of red wine
Green grass and orange-tipped yellow roses
now visible
through that cupped emptiness
Beauty and tragedy
together again for the very next time
See it, taste it
in two more long, slow sips
Lick your lips
Life is rich and full
Words exist
to describe it perfectly
(“If you speak French!”
Haha, funny,
Tu et amusante)
Bugs, like pin-pricks
in size but not in pain,
except as my mind makes them so
(Go! Away!)

No. Stay.
My last sip
Clock ticks, time flies, fly time is over
I rise to go
Time stands still
(As the memory will:
I was a grape,
must be Syrah, ah,
made into wine, flown in
by flies from France
that dance now
around my glass
and on my page.
I fling them away
with another ting
but they can’t stop
prancing!)

Screeeeeech! Nope. I am
in California
El Paso de Robles
and the flies are local
like the ruby Rhône varietals
once swirling in my now-empty glass
It is clear: a grape I have become
We are one
in DNA
The moment has arrived
to take my double-helixes
back home
to the piano,
and play

# # #

-Sharine. (May 2016)

How the Mainstream Media Helped Me to Formulate My Personal Ideology

When I was just a child, I watched footage of the Vietnam war and, later, the killing of protestors at Kent State in Ohio — on network television. Viewing these atrocities bolstered my stance of “diplomacy first, war never.”

A rhetorical context for these televised horrors was the technological advancement of journalistic equipment for filming such truly newsworthy events. At the time, the media was not in a position to turn away this content.

At the same time, the western world was experiencing counterculture: call them “hippies,” “drop-outs,” “bra-burners,” truth-seekers, or whatever; our world was suddenly teeming with people whose ideas, activism, and conversations bucked the hegemonic system. These folks were creating vocal and visible backlash to the rapid modernism taking over our culture and our planet, while fighting the forces of oppression, whether racism, sexism, or other forms of discrimination against non-white, non-male persons.

Of course, the filming and televising of utterly horrific exterminations of Vietnamese people and American college students was not the beginning of the counterculture, which had its roots in 1950s during McCarthyism. Poets, musicians, artists, actors, and other peace-not-war minded people, along with people of color (or Blacks, or African Americans, whichever you prefer), were already speaking and acting out against McCarthy’s “House Un-American Activities” initiative and other witch-hunt policies, in addition to the overt “Whites Only” / “Blacks Only” segregation tactics. Then, in the 1960s, our nation was moved into the Civil Rights Era; and in the early 1970s, into the Women’s Movement, otherwise known as first wave feminism.

But I digress. Television footage of these Vietnam and Kent State events brought reality into our homes. People saw not only the scale and shocking violence of the war, but the magnitude of the protests against it — and the degree to which the powers-that-be would push to try to stop those protests. Yet after millions of viewers saw it all, there was no way to make them un-see it, and the political tides turned quickly to end the Vietnam war.

Calcareous_Purple_Green
Pretty clouds — Not mushroom clouds. What kind of world do you want to create?

Today, the media — specifically, the mainstream media (MSM) — is for all practical purposes incapable of broadcasting such truth, and so it is difficult to change public sentiment about the numerous wars, atrocities, and military occupations perpetrated by power moguls in our nation, and beyond. Soundbites, newswire stories, and happy-human-interest bits round out what most networks call “news,” and viewers have become accustomed to the routine: it’s familiar, it requires no critical thinking, and it usually ends with jokes and joyful fluff. All of these qualities are comforting to the average viewer, who becomes shielded from the realities of the world while being entertained — and Americans are very good at staying entertained.

In fact, when we see snippets about war and violence on tv, it appears as entertainment simply because it is on tv. This a topic which Neil Postman wrote about in his book, Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business. (It’s a great read, and I highly recommend buying a copy now!) Basically, Postman says that television is a medium designed for human amusement, and so anything we see on it, including “the news,” becomes entertainment.

Now, we see new terms entering our vocabulary, like “tragedy porn,” which involves photographs, film clips, or gifs of people, places, and things that have been ravaged by human caused violence or natural calamity. Most recently, it is the Syrian “boy in the ambulance” who, adding insult to injury, will likely become another victim of tragedy porn, his image forgotten in tomorrow’s “news.”

Unlike tragedy porn, the vast majority of viewers did not forget the horrific televised images of the Vietnamese massacre and Kent State protestors being gunned down. In a similar manner, viewers in 2001 saw footage of the Twin Towers free-falling on 9/11, as television, satellite, and cable stations broadcast the destruction 24/7 for several days. Although the reasoning behind televising both events, roughly 40 years apart, was completely different, these were two unique times when tv became more than just an amusement screen while never succumbing to the current trend of tragedy porn.

As I see it, a significant difference between the Vietnam/Kent State and the 9/11 broadcasts is the two distinct cultural contexts: the earlier including a large, organized activist counterculture that focused on a single issue at a time (the war, in this case); the latter being made up of a scattered, sociopolitical disconnect in which there are SO MANY ISSUES do deal with, many people feel powerless to effect change and thus blindly follow the dictates of leaders (“go shopping,” for instance, was then-president George W. Bush’s urging to the American people). In other words, I argue that the counterculture revolution of the 1960s/70s actively resisted the fear-based messages of the hegemonic forces, while the majority of Americans in 2001 embraced fear and accepted the messages.

For myself, viewing the Vietnam/Kent State footage anchored me in my ideas of creating peace and resisting the call to violence. As a Communication Studies scholar, I wholeheartedly advocate for diplomacy first and war never: this goes to my vision for a planet and all of its inhabitants living in harmony and evolving in love. I know, we have a long way to go, but we can start now.

-Sharine.

On Shaming Victims of Sexual Violation

I am angered to my soul’s core that anyone, let alone a presidential candidate [Trump], would have the audacity to publicly vilify Gretchen Carlson and other women at Fox Corporation who have come forward with allegations of sexual harassment by Roger Ailes. Not only that, but Trump praised Ailes in an attempt to discredit the brave women who have come forward with their stories of disgusting, systematic sexual abuse — just to get and/or keep a job in Ailes’ creepy corporation.

As a survivor of sexual trauma at the hands of falsely empowered, narcissistic white males, I can say that I never asked to be violated by these barbaric individuals. My experiences with sexual violation include verbal and nonverbal sexual harassment that are both personal, like cat-calls, obscene hand gestures, and facial expressions directed at me, and impersonal, the kind that are around me constantly in the media like in tv commercials for hamburgers, magazine ads for perfume and clothing, and films that portray women/girls as second-class, sideline characters who are either voiceless vixens or shrill shrews who, again, deserve punishment and silencing from the male characters.

Even music (no! say it isn’t so!) contains lyrics that openly degrade, dishonor, defile, and disown females as if we are all mere f**k-holes who deserve to be beaten, raped, and killed just for existing. It is downright unethical to claim that such music can be produced and marketed as “entertainment.” If the authors of such violent are simply recounting a personal experience, their production should be classified as “educational” — and by that I mean “a story that we as humanity want to learn from and do not EVER want to recreate.”

But are we learning? It appears that the answer is no, we are not learning. The power moguls in our culture prefer to keep females under thumb. Now, Donald Trump publicly said that Ailes’ sexual assault victims are lying, and that if they are not lying, they should quit complaining and appreciate having such great careers. As Judd Legg wrote,

…Trump has altered our sense of morality. Conduct that previously would constitute a cataclysmic event — a presidential candidate defending and justifying sexual harassment — does not even register. . . . He has successfully created cultural space to argue that women should be grateful to be treated as sexual objects in the workplace.

This “normalization of white male supremacy,” as Legg calls it, has a flip side: it’s called “cooptation of feminism and normalization of hyper-sexualization of females.” It is a double-edged sword that simultaneously defends a culture in which males dominate females while threatening their very existence. (I will write more about this topic in future posts.)

My own experiences with sexual violation include sexually charged physical, psychological, and emotional abuse, and rape regardless of what the perpetrator used to violate my body and especially my sexual organs. And I am done, DONE standing back and not speaking up about American rape culture, cooptation of feminism, and the normalization of hyper-sexualization of females. Every human being that is victimized by a sexual predator needs every victim and advocate to speak out. This is the step that I am taking today.

On a grand level, our nation, our world, needs to see through the oppressive rhetoric that targets anyone for oppression and violence or enslaves people in repressive, vulgar institutions. We need to see that people like Trump, Ailes, and those who defend sexual harassment or any kind of disgusting manipulation and violence while condemning the victims, they are dangerously regressive. People and the planet need more love, less hate; more peace, less fear. Communication is the answer. Let us put aside our differences and talk with open hearts and open minds. This is the only way that we can achieve harmony. Anyone who chooses to fight to keep females down, I believe, is on the wrong side of human evolution, for we will prevail.

Thank you for reading and for posting your thoughtful comments.

-Sharine.

 

 

Music Industry Post #1: The Tip of a Very Big Iceberg

Yesterday proved to be another busy day in the world of politics, culture, and postmodern living in general. I sipped my morning decaf almond milk mocha while reading headlines about everything from more of Donald Trump’s xenophobic, racist, sexist, violent spewings, to a female rape victim (of a convicted serial killer) being thrown in jail for thirty days because she broke down in court while testifying and fled the room. I know that I am not alone in my feelings of anger at the constant barrage of stories and pictures and videos of human divisiveness leading to violence and, at the very least, bad decisions that adversely affect humans, animals, and the planet.

Meanwhile, our culture remains addicted to entertaining ourselves in order to drown out the noisy inhumanity. While I make every attempt at using my free time to be creative rather than consumptive, I find myself binge watching Tim Minchin. With Tim, I get (mostly) enlightened messages and (some) logic cradled in his virtuosic compositions and performing abilities, so I can count my viewing as not merely mindless entertainment!

Back to yesterday. I went online to our local CraigsList postings. The “Musicians” category is usually rather amusing, with posts about “lame bands” next to “book my band” posts and calls for “metal drummer” or “old school blues guitarist.” This morning, I saw an intriguing post titled “Where are all the female musicians?” As you can read for yourself, the author is Howard Sterling, owner of Musician’s Contact service. Sterling writes that in 1975, he predicted “by the year 2000 there would be just as many females as males in bands, and there would be just as many all female bands as all male bands” and he invites readers to offer their ideas why his prediction was way, way off. I could not resist the temptation to reply, and here is what I wrote:

Guitar_Lyrics_Frame_Small
Nothing like a Strat and poetic lyrics to jumpstart songwriting … and Photoshopping.

Dear Mr. Sterling,
Thank you for your thought-provoking post on CraigsList.
As a female musician (not just a lead vocalist, but that, too), I have over 15 years of experience living in Los Angeles and working hard to “make it” in the music business. After leaving the area in 2003, I can see that the situation has not improved and has actually gotten worse.
While there are “token” female musicians in professional posts, such as Felicia Collins of the CBS Orchestra (1993-2015), most female artists are offered a narrow role by Hollywood. This, of course, involves hyper-sexualization and what Kristin Lieb, author of Gender, Branding, and the Modern Music Industry: The Social Construction of Female Popular Music Stars, calls the “short-term person-brand.” This model is based on the notion that female music performers don’t have much of a shot at stardom; that if they do achieve celebrity status, chances are they won’t stay there for long; and that if they do last, it’s because they and their handlers learned to successfully manage their person-brand. Tragically absent from the organizing principles of short-term person-brands: requirement of significant musical talent. Perhaps even more disturbing is that women music performers (ostensibly) knowingly trade their hyper-sexualized bodies as a productized money-making person-brand in order to maintain their status within the music business, which largely benefits a patriarchal system that stifles women while exalting, and excessively rewarding, mostly males and a few token female performers such as Nicki Minaj, Beyoncé, and Miley Cyrus.

I recently returned to Cal Poly San Luis Obispo to earn my BA in Communication Studies, where I wrote extensively about such topics (see my research paper attached). Since I am a trained singer, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist, all of my friends and family assumed (erroneously) that I would get my degree in music. Certainly, there would be some benefits to being able to teach “band” in junior high and high school, but having a BA in Music would not confer any clout on me in the music industry—not that I am at all interested in being part of an industry that would surely productize me and my work. During my time in Hollywood, I had my share of “casting couch” opportunities with degrading male A&R execs, club owners, and others, not to mention auditions with probably 200 male musicians who made it quite clear that being in a band or songwriting partnership with them meant I was consenting to sexual relations with them, and when I did not consent, the music making opportunity vanished. Being female, I learned quickly that it is an unwritten contract in our entertainment culture to accept that my talent alone is not enough, that I would have to sex it up to get in and hope to stay in. After so many years of living in that stifling, self-destructive environment of power play and whimsy, I had to get out. Wisely, I had done the actual hard work of music along the way, and I continue to write, produce, perform, and record.

As I began to wrap up this message, I started to apologize to you for putting a feminist spin on my reply to your ad—but I am not sorry. What I am is saddened and, yes, even angered, by the twisted social construction of female musicians at the hands of industry power mongers who have coopted the second wave feminism upon which your prediction was made. In other words, you probably would have been right (or at least close!) if some brilliantly (/snark) oppressive industry insiders hadn’t seen Madonna’s early—and beautiful—assumption of power and turned it immediately into the hyper-sexualized model for all female music artists. Of course, they knew that if they didn’t do it, someone else would. Way to go, guys (and their blindly following girlfriends, wives, mothers, daughters, and sisters): way to keep women down at the expense of not only a diverse, thriving music industry, but a better world, period.
Mr. Howard, I respect the business that you have built and kept running for over 45 years (as is posted on your website), and I respect that you would be so bold as to post what you did on CraigsList. Even though your post was also an advertisement for your business, I appreciate your taking the time to think and write critically about this cultural problem and to ask for comments from your readers.
/end quoted message
I also attached for him my December 2015 research paper, “On Coopted Feminism and The Normalization of Hyper-Sexualized Female Music Artists.” Not only am I proud of the work I did under the tutelage of Dr. Lauren (Archer) Kolodziejski, who is a brilliant rhetorical critic, I believe it is vital for people to understand how sexism in the music industry is overt but it is also disguised as third wave feminism or “female empowerment.” This goes to my argument that the music industry has successfully coopted feminism and normalized the hyper-sexualization of its productized female artists and in the way male artists depict women. (I will publish my paper in subsequent posts, but for a teaser, the paragraph in my letter to Mr. Sterling that begins “While there are ‘token’ female musicians in professional posts…” is taken verbatim from that paper.)
I love being a musician, and I had many, many positive experiences while living in L.A. and doing the Hollywood thing, trying to obtain that elusive major label recording deal with all its fame and fortune. But I cannot ignore the dark underbelly of an industry that remains a microcosm of female oppression throughout society. And, as I told Mr. Sterling in my letter, I will not apologize for shining a light on that darkness.
Thank you for reading and for posting thoughtful reflections! Please come back and keep the conversation going.
-Sharine.

Welcome to “Sharine Wonders”

THE BEGINNING

Recently, I graduated from Cal Poly SLO (California Polytechnic University in San Luis Obispo) with a B.A. in Communication Studies (COMS). Being a research-and-writing junkie, my initial plans upon graduating included grad school starting in fall 2017. The ultimate goal was to earn my PhD in the same field and teach at Cal Poly.

After much research, finding the perfect school for my MA, and meeting with many of my favorite COMS professors and best friends for advice, I woke up on a Monday morning with the realization that I do not want to leave my home and family for several days each week over the course of 2-3 years. And this commitment would just get me through the Master’s program; the Doctorate would require another 3 years minimum, and I hadn’t even thought about where I would complete that part of the plan.

Did you hear my heart break?

So, I reached down and lovingly picked up my academic dream, which laid on the floor like a nearly complete thesis torn into thousands of bits. I put it all in sheet protectors in a 1″ three-ring binder, and went for a walk in my neighborhood park.


Clock_in_Culvert_DreamyThe image just above is an amalgamation of two photographs that I took on different days. The first is a clock that hung on the wall of a California Central Coast wine tasting room, and I Photoshopped it into the image of a culvert in a desiccated drainage field in my  Atascadero neighborhood.  The time reads 3:15. I wonder what that could mean? In light of California’s drought (and perhaps our ailing planet in general), I say this is “the 11th hour.” It is time to change our use of water in commercial agriculture, especially, and even to stop the privatization of water for sale. Who owns water? What does the image mean to you? Feel free to leave inspired comments.


As the days went by, I realized that my need for cerebral exercise is greater than I had imagined. While eating lunch, I was struck with the idea of blogging about social and cultural issues that urge me to wonder, to ask difficult questions, to seek answers from those who have gone before me as well as divine my own interpretations, arguments, and evaluations, and to connect with people who are interested in my same quest for knowledge, truth, and justice, for a world with more love and less divisiveness.

I selected a particularly broad category because I have diverse interests that I intend to explore in this blog: music and the entertainment industry; race issues; environmental issues; rape culture; education; power structures; and more. I love rhetorical criticism, and this world abounds with incidents, topics, and personas to shred! Please join me in looking critically at culture and social issues and ideas, and exploring ways to create change in ourselves, our communities, and the world at large. I promise to engage with respect, honesty, fairness, and a bit of humor in the conversation, and I hope that you will, too.

Oh. And one more thing. Sometimes I use swear words, so consider yourself warned.

Thank you for reading, and please come back again!

-Sharine.