Gero-Punk Practice: A Happy Story

happy stay happy

A bright red envelope arrived in yesterday’s mail. While the envelope was hand-addressed to me, the contents of the envelope weren’t intended for me. Inside the envelope was a get-well-soon card for Happy-the-dog. The card was handmade by Julia, my best friend’s daughter. Julia is 10 years-of-age and we are friends, too. On the outside of the card, Julia wrote: “Happy Stay Happy!” (I wonder if the double play on words was intentional? Knowing Julia – she’s such a smarty! — it likely was.) As for what she wrote inside the card, that is private – from Julia, to Happy. But given that I was the one to read the card to Happy, I can assure you the sentiments inscribed inside were thoughtful and cheery.

Happy had major surgery last Thursday, thus the card from Julia entreating him to get well soon.

Happy is almost 12 years-of-age. He’s considered an “older dog,” a dog with some special aging-related needs, though he still gets mistaken for a puppy almost on a daily basis because of the style with which he moves through the world. I, of course, do not believe that curiosity and vim are the exclusive purview of the young, but Happy’s energy seems almost universally read as youthful, even now.

According to a special mathematical formula which takes into account the size and weight as well as chronological age of a dog, Happy is approximately 69 in human years. My mom is 69 (for a few more days). This past December, Simeon turned 59 and I turned 49. Isobel is 19 (until February 14th). I don’t know why, but I think it is so totally cool that each of us at the same time has a “9” as the second digit of our chronological age! This is particularly cool given that Happy, being that he is a dog and not a human, is traveling at a different rate of speed than we are. When Happy and I first met, he was younger than I was; he and Isobel were actually around the same age. Then for a chunk of time, Happy and I were experiencing the same life-course stage as full-on adults. And then – it felt sudden – Happy picked up speed and passed me on the imaginary number line, leaving me in mid-life as he entered into his later years.

I imagine that despite the fact that we are moving at different speeds, for now we are all riding together on a bright red arrow that’s flying through space and time.

Happy’s surgery was to remove a kind of tumor that older dogs of certain breeds tend to get. The tumor showed up some time ago and his doctor had advised us to just keep an eye on it since the results of all of Happy’s lab tests and physical exams had consistently demonstrated that he is a remarkably healthy mister dog. But a couple of months ago, the tumor starting growing more rapidly and changing in shape, signs that it was time for us to intervene.

I’ve been mostly housebound since Thursday taking care of Happy as he recuperates (with a lot of help from Simeon, from whom Happy willingly, almost cheerfully, takes his medications, and for whom Happy actually sits without being asked when it is time for his treat!). My shoulders and arms have been sore the past couple of days and it occurs to me only now as I write this that perhaps it is in part because until yesterday I had been picking up Happy to carry him down the back stoop steps so he could go potty in the yard. I’d put my right arm under his belly and my left arm under his chest, so as to avoid his very large and deep incision, which is on the upper part of his right back leg. It isn’t that he’s a terribly big dog – I think the most he has ever weighed it 46 pounds – but he is a four-legged, sovereign creature who isn’t accustomed to being picked up and moved around, nor am I accustomed to doing so. I think my shoulders may hurt also because even though Happy is doing remarkably well post-operation, I’m holding some concern, some mild anxiety, in my body. And I don’t sleep well unless he sleeps well.

I am Happy’s human and Happy is my dog. We are kin. When Happy is puny, I can’t help but feel a bit puny myself. And it happens the other way, too – Happy grows quite concerned when he detects any turbulence in me. We are strangely connected. We really love each other, and this is how it is with true love.


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Gero-Punk News

Thinking together about our ends

No commentary, no explanation, and certainly don’t over-think it. Just notice.

When you hear the word “dying,” what short phrase or word comes to your mind?

For the past few months I’ve had the honor of being part of the Oregon Humanities statewide program Talking About Dying.

Between September 2015 and January 2016, I facilitated conversations in eight different communities, from Newberg, to The Dalles, to Baker City. No matter where I was, no matter how many folks showed up (anywhere from 8 to 40), our warm-up to talking about dying was the same. Assembled in a circle, I’d invite each participant to state their first name and the word or short phrase that came to mind upon hearing the word “dying.” I offered that this exercise was voluntary and that at any time one could opt out of participating. No one ever opted out of the warm-up.

I’d always go first, to demonstrate.

My name is Jenny. And the word that comes to my mind when I hear the word “dying” is “Yikes!”

Here are some of the other words and phrases participants shared:

Pain; peace; the inevitable; the great equalizer; long and short; release; sadness; fear; hope; reality; the end; the beginning; home; questions; curious; the unknown; mystery; transformation.

At the end of each program, as a closing ritual, I would recite Stanley Kunitz’s poem  The Long Boat.

As for what happened in between how we began and how we ended our conversations about our hopes for our own ends, take a listen: Think Out Loud.


Well, it’s a new year! And an auspicious time to get the Gero-Punk Salon series up-and-running once again, don’t you think?

Please join me and my co-host Dana-Rae Parker for the first Gero-Punk Salon of 2016!

Sunday, February 21st, 2:30-4:30 p.m.

Sellwood-Moreland Library

Our theme: Gero-Punk Self-Care.

What is “gero-punk self-care”? Well, one hint is that it focuses on walks, naps, and baths, in any order that suits you. It also involves beautiful food. And sometimes hula-hooping and jumping rope. And deep belly laughs.

What else?

Will you join us?

(For more information, contact me:

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Gero-Punk Adventures: A lot can happen in 15 seconds!


Except for a quick trip to the post office at lunchtime, I’ve been cooped up inside all day, waking up to a big writing project that has been mostly slumbering the past few months. But around 4:00 or so this afternoon Happy-dog decided it was time for our walk, so I put on my green rain boots, red raincoat, and gray stocking cap. At the last minute, as Happy was yanking me out the front door, I decided to grab my binoculars just in case any special birds whom I might want to spy on were out splashing in the rain.

We had just crossed the street at the end of the block, making our way toward the park, when Happy decided to stop and sniff one of his favorite trees. I was in a relaxed state, waiting for him.  I was looking around out from under my green umbrella. Right then, a red truck drove by and I noticed the person in the passenger seat and they noticed me. I suck at the age guessing game, but I’d say she was probably in middle school, maybe 13 years of age or so? She had light brown braids and an open, curious face. She looked right at me, turning her head as the truck drove away so she could continue to look at me. I stood planted under the tree, rotating my head so I could continue to look at her.

I wondered about her, and who the driver of the truck might be. Her father picking her up from an after-school activity? Her grandfather? I thought of the many rides I took in my father’s truck when I was her age, sitting next to him and staring out the window, hoping to see something interesting, to make a connection to the outside world. I remembered how desperately I wished to escape, to be a girl of the world, how as a girl this lonely longing  often left me feeling a confusing mixture of fear and wonderment.

I wondered if perhaps the unapologetic intensity of her gaze upon me was because of my rainy walking outfit, my bright boots and jacket and hat and umbrella. Or maybe she spotted my binoculars, perhaps she’s secretly a birdwatcher and recognized me as a fellow bird-girl. I wondered what she’d think of the owl tattoo on the inside of my right wrist (I wonder what she’d say if I told her about how I recently got it, right after my 49th birthday, to commemorate my Gramma Jewell’s death and celebrate the start of my 50th year.).

I wondered if she, like me, had heard the news of the British actor Alan Rickman’s death and was missing him and Severus Snape.  I wondered if she, like me, might make a nest on the couch tonight from which to watch Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone in tribute to both the real and imagined man.

I wondered if I was attracted to her because she was an echo of my far away past girlhood self. I wondered if she was attracted to me because I was an echo of her far away future woman self.

As the pickup rounded right at the corner, she was still watching me and I was still watching her. Neither of us smiled nor waved but our connection was strong and I felt like something warm and sweet was happening. And then, as quickly as our relationship started, it came to an end. If the entire relationship lasted for more than 15 seconds, I’d be surprised.


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