Archive for December, 2011

A Guidedog’s Night Before Christmas

Greetings, crazy Christmas humans. Zeus the magnificent yellow guidedog back again, playing on Mom’s computer while she’s off preparing Christmas Eve dinner. There’s not much I’m allowed to do right now since I’m supposed to be recovering from surgery, but I thought surfing the internet wouldn’t be too strenuous. Don’t tell Mom though–she might not like it.

I came across this while pawing around on Google. If it’s true, then I’ll really see Santa tonight.

‘Twas the night before Christmas and the kennels were still,
with most dogs now asleep having eaten their fill.
The Labradors sprawled out, quite snug in their beds,
while visions of ANYTHING edible danced in their heads.
And the Goldens and Shepherds curled up on the floor,
some twitched in their sleep and some even did snore.
The dog food was stacked in the feed room with care,
in hopes that a trainer soon would be there.
On the window ledge, one of the kennel cats lay,
surveying the lawn at the end of this day.
Something was different, that little cat knew.
Tonight something would happen, it had to be true.
For that day as the workers had left to go home,
They’d wished Merry Christmas! before starting to roam.
The dogs had noticed it to during this past week’s walks,
the trainers seemed just that much happier and eager to talk.
In the mall where they worked through the maze of people and stores,
there were decoration and music and distractions galore!
Most dogs pranced along without worry or fear,
but some balked at the man on the sleigh and those fake looking deer.
The cat was almost asleep too when he first heard the sound,
a whoosh through the air and a jingle around.
It reminded him of a dog’s collar when the animal shook,
but this sound kept on growing so he’d better go look.
From the ceiling there came a faint sort of thunk,
as the kennel cat climbed to the highest pile of junk.
Once before people had worked on the roof,
and come down through the trap door to a chorus of “Woooof!”
But the dogs still were quiet, all sleeping so sound,
as this man dressed in red made his way right on down.
He patted the cat as he climbed past his spot,
then made his way right to the trainers’ coffee pot.
A shepherd sat up, not fully awake,
then a Golden followed her with a mighty loud shake.
That did it! All the dogs sprang to life with loud noise.
In spite of the din, the old man kept his poise.
He filled the pot full and it started to brew,
then he pulled up a chair and took in the view.
Dogs all around him, so carefully bred,
he knew well their jobs, the blind people they led.
Some had stopped barking and looked at him now,
while others delighted in their own deafening howl.
Laying a finger in front of his lips,
the jolly old man silenced the excitable yips.
“You all may not know me, but I’m Santa Claus,”
the old man smiled and took a short pause.
While he filled up his mug with hot liquid and cream,
“I’ve always wanted to stop here. It’s been one of my dreams.”
The cat had climbed down and was exploring Santa’s sack.
“Yes, little kitty, that’s an empty pack.”
Santa smiled as he drank and looked at those eyes,
deep brown ones and gold ones held wide in surprise.
Some of these dogs, he’d seen just last year,
in their puppy homes, cute and full of holiday cheer.
He’d seen the effects of a pup on the tree,
but now they were here at the school, just waiting to be.
“I didn’t bring you presents or bones just to chew.
I’ll tell you something better, what you are going to do.”
“You all will work hard and the trainers will share,
both praise and correction, gentle and fair.”
“You’ll go lots of places and face big scary things.
You’ll ride buses and subways and hear fire sirens ring.”
“Cars will drive at you but you will stand strong,
not moving into danger, not moving toward wrong.”
“And then just when you think that this trainer’s the best,
the kindest, and funnest person, toss away all the rest,”
“That trainer will begin to ignore you and give you away,
handing your leash over despite your dismay.”
“Now the person who pets you and feeds you will be
a blind person. That’s a person who can’t see.”
” This man or this woman may see just a tad,
but their view’s missing parts or the focus is bad.”
“So you, well trained dogs, will act as their eyes.
You will work as a team and discover the size”
“Of this great world we live in, because you will go
a million new places with this person, you know.”
Santa sipped at his coffee and looked over the brood,
knowing what he had to say next might sound kind of rude.
“Not all of you will make it and become canine guides.
Your time here isn’t wasted though. You won’t be cast aside.”
“Some of you will be drug dogs and some will find bombs.
Some will become pets in a home with a dad and a mom.”
“All these things are important. People wait on long lists,
to receive such good dogs as you, the school folks insist.”
The last drop of coffee had gone into his cup
as Santa turned, smiling at each wide eyed pup.
“The best gift of all is to give something back.
That’s why there’s nothing for you all inside of my pack.”
Draining his mug, Santa went to each pen,
and petted and scratched each dog again and again.
“Now next year and many more years after that,
you all will give gifts wherever you’re at.”
“You might lick a hand that’s had a bad day,
Or notice a car and step out of the way.”
“You might help catch a crook or discover some loot,
Or just bring some joy to a tired old man in a funny red suit.”
“Your master will love you and treat you with care.
In return, your training and trust will always be there.”
After the last dog had been petted and soothed,
Santa put away the coffee pot and made ready to move.
Up the ladder he rose to the door high above,
with a smile and a wave as he slipped on his gloves.
And all the dog ears were pricked as he disappeared out of sight.
“Merry Christmas to all, and to all a Good Night!”

I didn’t see any mention of beef wellington in this story, but I hope he remembers it.

I thought I’d share it with all the humans and spread some holiday cheer. I hope you enjoy it, and Merry Christmas!

Licks and wags to all my human friends.
Zeus

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A Canine Christmas List

Dear Santa,
Hello! Zeus the magnificent yellow guidedog here. I know, I know, I’m technically an adult now, and I ought to have stopped believing in you a few months ago, but it’s important to keep the magic alive. Humans don’t appreciate that.

Truthfully though, I need a favor, and I thought seriously about bypassing you and pleading my case with the man upstairs because it’s such a rush order, being Christmas Eve and all, but since it’s his Birthday tomorrow, I figure he deserves a weekend off to have a few martinis and forget about trying to save the world. It must be tough being Jesus.

So here’s the deal, Santa. I know it’s a bit of a rush job, but I’d really love some beef wellington for Christmas. I was going to ask for a deer antler, but I realize that’s a sensitive request, and Rudolph and I are great pals, so I wouldn’t want to be on the outs with him because he’s promised to hook me up with a glow-in-the-dark navigation nose just like his, which will be useful for guiding mom in the dark.

Anywags, Santa, I know I haven’t been very nice this year, swallowing foreign non-digestible objects and such, but I was only a puppy at the time, and puppies have a hard time distinguishing eatable from non-eatable substances. I really didn’t think it was necessary for mom to leave me in the hands of strangers who proceeded to do something called an endoscopy—which is really just shoving a camera down my esophagus, but they call it an endoscopy because giving it a fancy name means they can charge $1200 for it. Then when they determined that whatever foreign object I ingested was too large to retrieve with the Edward Scissor hands camera-thing, they actually cut my stomach open! They called it surgery, but again, the harder it is to pronounce, the more money you can charge for it. I’ve got these crazy humans’ numbers. I felt like the wolf in Little Red Riding-hood, except for the fact that I don’t eat small children, though admittedly that was a fairly large object they pulled out of my stomach. Mom still doesn’t know what it is, and I’m not going to tell her, but between you and me, Santa, rumor has it she needs a new pair of running shoes. I can’t tell you how I know this. It’s classified information, but I know she hasn’t been able to find them recently.

Anywags, after two days, Mom finally came to pick me up from the hospital, and Santa, let me tell you, if that was Mom’s idea of sending me to a hotel for all the hard work I’ve done this year, I demand a refund. There were pointy objects, and strange rough hands that didn’t feel at all like Mom’s. If I thought my troubles were at an end when I got home, I was sadly mistaken. Mom proceeded to fit something over my head called an e-collar, which is supposed to stop me licking my stitches. It looks a bit like a lampshade, and Mom’s taken to calling me lampshade head. As if that weren’t humiliating enough, she and Grandma kept trying to photograph me in my misery, because they think I look cute.

Santa, please! I know it’s down to the wire, but give a guy a break. I hope you haven’t forgotten that car I saved Mom from a few months ago—doesn’t that niceness counteract the naughtiness? If you can’t pull off the beef wellington, can you at least send a message to amnesty international? Because I’m being tortured.

Merry Christmas!
Yours respectfully,
Zeus, the magnificent yellow guidedog

P.S: I’d like to register my astonishment at the inequality of refreshment being left for you and your team of magical reindeer; you get the cookies, and quite frankly, I don’t know how you can make it down the chimney with all that extra weight, and all Rudolph gets is a friggin carrot stick? That’s just wrong, man. When Mrs. Clause is in the kitchen wippin’ up my beef wellington, have her make up one for Rudolph too. After all, if not for him to guide your sleigh, you’d be blinder than my mom.

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A Grammatically Correct Grudge: Arguing with an English Teacher

Oh there’s no place like home for the holidays, except when your charming and elegantly-behaved guidedog decides that regurgitating his breakfast on a brand-new carpet is a good way to impress your parents with his impressive houseguest manners. (When I have children, I sincerely hope God decides to take pity on me and give me the colic-free model, because I think I’ve done my time, and then some).

Needless to say, Dad was not amused, and I felt somewhat unnecessarily guilty. I say somewhat unnecessarily, for while dogs are no more capable of controlling their gag reflex than humans, he’s still my dog and my responsibility. (Not that I can control his gag reflex any more than I can control my own, but I’ve been genetically programmed for guilt, like all good Catholics). After I’d finished apologizing profusely, my father insisted, “I’m angry, but I’m not angry with you.”
“That’s right, you’re not angry *with* me,” I thought as I walked away from the situation in an attempt to let it diffuse before I said something I’d regret for eternity. “The use of that particular preposition implies that you and I are angry together. I am not angry, therefore you cannot be angry with me. You are angry, and that anger is directed at me, or at the situation in which my dog and I have been implicated. In sum: you are angry at me, not with me.”

Count on an English teacher to demand that any grudge held against her be grammatically correct.

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Pay no Attention to that Man in the Red Suit: or, the Not-so-Secret Santa

Chimney: noun- a brick-like attachment to the roof of a dwelling that communicates with the home’s interior for the express purpose of providing Santa with an access point through which to deliver Christmas presents under cover of darkness.

If you’d asked me when I was 5what function a chimney performed, this would have been my response. All houses had chimneys, end-of-story. I was never perplexed by the fact that a chimney was not visible protruding from the rooftop of my family’s house. It never occurred to me that the visible lack of said chimney had to do with the fact that our house didn’t have a fireplace, because a chimney’s utility had nothing to do with filtering smoke from inside the house into the open air. It never occurred to me that Santa had more inventive ways of breaking and entering than slipping down a sooty slide. I didn’t know how he did it; I only knew that every Christmas morning, without fail, a pile of brightly wrapped gifts that certainly hadn’t been there the day before appeared beneath the tree. Only logical explanation: Santa had a portable, detachable chimney that he carried around in the trunk of his sled, because there was no way he was ever going to allow someone else’s lack of architectural foresight to come between him and a child’s fondest Christmas wish.

When, shortly before my 6th birthday, my family moved from New York to South Florida—where I need hardly point out that chimneys were about as common as decent drivers—I never gave a thought to Santa’s access issues, because they weren’t a problem. But things began to look slightly suspicious when, one year, a distant relative presented me with a gift claiming it was from Santa and left at her house by mistake. Problem 1: Santa doesn’t make mistakes. Even in an age before Google Maps, GPS devices, and Iphones, Santa pretty much new his way around the world. Problem 2: Santa had given me a book with print the size of sugar ants, or so it looked to me. If Santa’s espionage skills were superb enough to track my every naughty and nice move, why didn’t he spot the problem in giving a legally blind child a book she couldn’t read?

Well, finally, my dreams of portable chimneys crumbled in a cloud of smoke and soot one Christmas Eve when I was about 9. My family had just finished our traditional Italian Christmas Eve feast—an exhibition of SeaWorld’s finest. As the adults settled around the tree for cocktails and conversation, we heard a distinctive tap at the door. As my younger brother was closest to it, Mom told him to answer the knock. (Without saying “Who is it first?” Either mom knew who was on the other side, or she didn’t believe in child kidnappers). As it turned out, the mysterious visitor on the other side of the door turned out to be none other than the big man himself, red suit, white beard and all. Mother, grandmother, and aunt expressed delight over this surprise; I wondered if still being out of bed would cost me last-minute points in the naughty-or-nice game.

As my brother and I posed for pictures with Santa, I observed something distinctly unusual: Dad was missing. How could he fail to be present during this picture-perfect moment of magic? But wait, I thought. He had to be somewhere in the house. I could smell his cologne. And…wait. The smell of Dad’s cologne was strongest…right beside me. Hmm, OK, maybe Mrs. Clause bought Santa a bottle of Royal Copenhagen last Christmas. (Or maybe, beneath the fragrance of fried fish and mens cologne, I smelled a rat). Very stealthily I slid my hand beneath the sleeve of Santa’s coat and discovered on his hand a ring that I didn’t need to see to identify, given the number of times I’d trailed my fingers over its carvings. Right, so not only did Santa favor the same brand of cologne as my father, he had also, according to his class ring, attended Fordham University. A brattier child would’ve yanked off Santa’s beard and declared Christmas officially ruined for the remainder of human existence. However, in a last desperate attempt to keep my childhood safely preserved in that protective membrane of magic and fantasy, I decided to play along, but it was a bit like the way Dorothy must have felt when she finally laid eyes on the great-and-powerful wizard. “Pay no attention to that man in the red suit, OK?” And so ended the great story of Santa clause and the credulous chapter of my childhood.

Did you believe in Santa as a child? How many years did it take you to follow the trail of cookie crumbs to the truth about the man in the red suit?

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It is a truth universally acknowledged that I am channeling Jane Austen

Yesterday, in full-fledged literary geek mode, I wrote this post in tribute to Jane Austen on the day of her birth. I therefore found it surprisingly appropriate that this morning, when I stumbled across the I Write Like analyzer, that according to the sample I submitted,

I write like
Jane Austen

I Write Like
by Mémoires, journal software. Analyze
your writing!

At the tender age of 12, when my classmates were immersed in Choose your Own Adventure Stories and the Baby-Sitters club books, I fed my mind on a steady diet of Austen and the Bronte sisters. (Admittedly I did read a few of the Baby-Sitters Club stories). In any case, this was also roughly the period when I began to produce my own “Juvenilia”, dabbling in poetry, fiction, and, I confess, fanfiction. It shouldn’t therefore surprise anyone that my voice echoes that of the writers I was reading at the time. Still, because I’m nothing if not inquisitive, I wondered just how versatile my writing is. A page of my dissertation run through the analyzer claimed that

I write like
H. P. Lovecraft

I Write
Like
by Mémoires, journal software. Analyze your writing!

and another blog sample apparently indicates that

I write like
Margaret Atwood

I Write
Like
by Mémoires, journal software. Analyze your writing!

A sample of the Sherlock Holmes article I’m working on at present compares me with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, though my minimal powers of deductive reasoning conclude that this has little to do with my own way with words; rather I think the analyzer detected a few direct quotations from /A Study in Scarlet/. I’m surprised the analyzer didn’t begin flashing red and accusing me of being a plagiarizing fraud.

As randomly generated as the results are, it’s interesting and a bit entertaining to see how well they do—or don’t—compare with how we describe our own writing voices. I always tell my students that the best writers are good readers, and just as we learn to speak by listening to our parents, we learn to write by emulating other writers. The Austen result was predictable but gratifying; the Atwood pleasantly surprising, the Lovecraft, slightly off-putting, and I’m somewhat disconcerted about the future of my dissertation. It could have been far worse though, I suppose; I could write like Danielle Steel.

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December 16, 1775- For Unto us was Born this day: an Austen Addict’s Tribute

On this day in 1775, was born in Hampshire one of the most captivating and enduring novelists of English Literature: the one and only Jane Austen. Austen was one of eight children born to George and Cassandra Austen; of her siblings, Cassandra was most notably the closest to Jane, and her brother Henry served as her literary agent.

Among Austen scholars and biographers, she is well-known for rarely straying outside the boundaries of home and family life. Her education was completed largely at home after a brief stint under the care of Mrs. Ann Cawley, during which period she and her sister Cassandra caught typhus and returned home. the sisters briefly attended a boarding-school between 1785 and 1786, returning home when the family could no longer afford to keep both girls in school.

Austen began writing in 1787—a series of poems and short-stories later collected into what is referred to as “The Juvenilia”. During her lifetime, Austen published four novels:/Sense and Sensibility/ (1811), /Pride and Prejudice (originally written in 1795 under the title /First Impressions/), Mansfield Park (1814), and Emma (1815). /Persuasion/ and /Northanger Abby/ were published posthumously by Henry and Cassandra in 1887. She died on July 18. 1817 after a prolonged illness, and aside from a twelve-year period between 1820 and 1832, her novels have never been out of print.

As Robert Urvine writes in his introduction to /Pride and Prejudice/, “Austen is one of few nineteenth-century novelists who have entered popular consciousness as genre screenwriters”. Her work captures, for her contemporary readership and modern audiences alike, a “fantasy of Englishness,” particularly in her depiction of pre-industrial England. Such literary escapism is clearly evident in novels like /Pride and Prejudice/ which, though originally penned in the midst of French-revolutionary turmoil, deals not with the social and political issues at the forefront of social consciousness, but offers a comical and satirical treatment of “polite society”. Austen’s novels have been the subject of numerous adaptations, from Emma Thompson’s “Sense and Sensibility” and the now legendary BBC/A&E “Pride and Prejudice” to the modernized version of Emma in “Clueless” and Helen Fielding’s Bridget Jones novels (/Bridget Jones’ Diary and /The Edge of Reason/, also adapted into film). Not to mention Seth Grahame’s horrifyingly humorous /Pride and Prejudice and Zombies/: “It is a truth universally acknowledged that a zombie in possession of brains must be in want of more brains.” If not for the fact that Jane Austen is well-known among her adoring readers for her sense of humor, the earth might have felt the tremors emanating from Winchester Cemetery as she turned in her grave.

I adore Austen for her quick wit and satirical sense of humor; for her comical yet thoughtful treatment of issues of social mobility, gender politics, and sexuality; for creating a rich cast of characters as familiar to readers as our own families and friends. I can never resist—rascal though I know him to be—falling in love with Frank Churchill, and witnessing Darcy’s reformation is as rewarding to me now as when I first read /Pride and Prejudice/. As a graduate school professor of mine so rightly put it, we don’t read Austen novels to find out what happens; we know already who’s going to wind up together. The magic of Austen isn’t finding out what happens in the end. It’s discovering how we get there.

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Don’t Look Now, but I Think it Just Moved: Welcome to the Wax Museum, Part 2

Back in October, I wrote in “Don’t Look Now, but I Think it Just Moved: Welcome to the Wax Museum about the report that Madame Tussauds was in the process of completing a wax-work of none other than Colin Firth, and the fierce internal dialogue that raged in my brain over this news, given my irrational fear of wax-works in general: “I’m terrified of wax-works.”
“But it’s Colin Firth. You’ve loved his work for years. You should be thrilled he’s being given such an honor…immortalized in effigy forever.”
“But they look so uncanny. You expect they’re going to move, or become suddenly animated in the manner of a zombie and go off on a brain-eating rampage in the dead of night.”
“OH well, if you can’t get over your fears, take comfort in the fact that you won’t ever have to look at it. One of the few benefits of being blind.”

At the time, the statue was unfinished, and so to avoid traumatic dreams about being set upon in the dead of night by a headless zombie in Mark Darcy’s reindeer jumper, I mentally shelved the news…until this morning, when The Telegraph reported that Madame Tussauds had unveiled the completed Colin this morning. (Side note: to the writer of the above article, that would be King George VI, not King George IV; inadvertent Roman numeral reversal=historical inaccuracy, just FYI). According to the lovely Livia Firth, wife of Colin, the result is “cool”. I suppose, given that she has the pleasure of viewing the live specimen in all his glory, that she would be the best judge, and if she’s given it her approval, I suppose that ought to be good enough for the rest of us—especially someone who isn’t really in a position to make an assessment of its accuracy and esthetic elegance.

This article includes a few images of wax-and-real Colin respectively for convenient comparison. The idea of “robot real Colin” it suggests is a bit much—even for me, though admittedly I’m now contemplating the benefits of the remote-control operated boyfriend.
Finally, according to a reliable source (translation: a friend with properly functioning eyeballs) they did in fact get the dimples right, so as far as I’m concerned, we’re getting the legitimate, full Firthian effect. Phobia notwithstanding, I almost wish I could actually see it (almost).

Side note: my spell-checker refuses to acknowledge that Firthian is in fact a word. I have seen it used. I have used it myself. It is a legitimate adjective in academic discourse, so note to spell-checker, don’t argue with me about this when my temper has already been tried today by sloppy student errors.
And with that charming thought, I leave you.

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