Character Development–Hoarding

Got sick this weekend.  It was a mild case of food poisoning (so the butler has to try another method of doing away with me, heh, heh), but I spent a few days in bed.  Amazing what you can still do in bed, what you can learn.  For instance, while engaging with an old pot, and sitting on another, I have decided that this is as close to Ebola as I could ever want to get. Final stop.

On the other hand, I also noticed that my pets, who both normally would bug me for getting outside or come-feed-me’s on a regular basis, simply took a sniff at me, and then stoically settled in for the duration. Prophet circled and went to sleep on the floor in my bedroom.  Nalla took up a spot next to me on my bed. They didn’t move unless I did, and skipped meals until I was well enough to go take care of that. They seemed to understand and were patient, even for them. Amazing.

That patience, that understanding of another creature showed as well in a television series I watched on my tablet–Hoarders.  Oh my goodness!

Hoarding is described as a mental illness affecting as many as three million people in the United States.  It has five levels according to a group of professionals who developed a hoarding scale in the 1990’s, and the show tends to focus on the level fives (eew, eew, double-eew!). I was gripped by that same “rubbernecking” phenomena found in traffic accident watchers–too gruesome to believe, too compelling to look away.

At the level five, a hoarder is likely to have an abundance of “pets.”  These poor creatures  become feral, live in walls, under bathtubs, inside cushions and mattresses, and without proper sanitation, many of the inevitable babies and young die right there, and their carcasses are found as we watch. Yet, the animals do not leave or run away. They stay in an environment obviously unhealthy for them. They are the defendants of the hoarders. I am in awe of these animals. How did us unworthy humans earn such loyalty?

Yet, let’s not be too outraged by the hoarders themselves. Many of these people, apparently, start out with the best of intentions.  Several of the shows were about people who considered themselves creative, or artistic. They sew, or cook, or “make stuff, fix stuff, buy the best deals.”  But, just like in Criminal Minds, hoarders seem to have a “trigger event”–death of a loved one, a divorce, a debilitating accident–that pushes an annoying habit out of control.

In the midst of the gore, I came to the realization, that I am possibly one emotional trauma away from becoming a hoarder myself. Yikes!  As a kid, my bedroom was a “pigsty.” I didn’t have the organizational skills to keep it clean, and I had an emotional attachment to things that had siblings calling me one of my mom’s favorite condemnations–“packrat.”

I’ve outgrown a lot of that need to keep, but as I look around my desktop there are things that could or even should be thrown away, put away, given away. Hmm. This makes me wonder if we all have a certain level of psychological disfunction in all of us.  Perhaps this “oddity of personality” is what makes us interesting both as people and as characters in a book.

As a person who enjoys writing, this magnetism of the dysfunctional creates a wonderful opportunity for developing characters.  I can watch a television show, like Hoarding, and wonder what that house would be like if the person within hoarded, say, human skulls?  What trigger event might have started that collection? Ooh! Shades of  Alfred Hitchcock and Rod Serling.

Think I’ll go check out the collections in my house and see what stories lie within. Heh, heh, heh!

After note: Okay, friends.  What collections do you have?  What would happen if those collections went to the extreme? What if they were socially unacceptable? What kind of personality would you develop?  Can you see yourself as an art collector or as a John Wayne Gacy Jr?  Why not take these thoughts a little further and develop a character sketch about a person like you, only out of control?  Happy writing!

Dance–Creativity in Another Direction

My good guy and I have worked hard most of our lives.  He has taken care of software clients for decades, and I’ve been right there to support those efforts with marketing, bookkeeping, and even a little human resource work along the way.  We also raised a family and continue to support our daughter’s efforts to succeed as a dentist.  We’ve done a little low-pay or no-pay work in support of our communities, and have generally followed the recipe for “That Good Life.”

But now, we’re indulging a bit.  We play a little golf and have steeped ourselves in ballroom dance for the past six or seven years.  There have been a lot of practices, a few competitions, and all sorts of forays into movements and costumes completely foreign to us.  In short, it’s been a blast.

Now we’re prepping for our annual “showcase.”  This is nothing more than a dance recital for family and friends, but for any student at Colorado DanceSport, this is the event of the year.  People are signing up for extra lessons, spending even more time at the studio, ordering “costumes” on-line and more.  Me?  I’m into props.

Not quite sure how this got started, but last year I danced to the theme from “The Godfather” and constructed a car that blew up.  Amazing what foam board and an over-sized rubber band can do.

This year, my instructor, Mitch, said, “You know, Liesa, people are going to look for how you top yourself.”  Ahh, the gauntlet thrown.

I don’t know if it’s my ADD or my stubbornness and pride, but when I’m met with this kind of challenge, my eyes light up.  I LOVE CREATIVE PROBLEM SOLVING!  I also love trips to Home Depot with Prophet (he always gets treated like a movie star), playing with electric drills, Dremel saws, glue, glitter, paint and all the things we used as kids–only with the grown up twist of real danger if we’re not careful.  I started sketching.

My dance with my teacher this year is “Bare Necessities.”  It fits into the studio’s 2015 theme of Dancing with Disney.  Now, you may be thinking I would play with the idea of “bare” for this, but just like my character, Daisy, I like to lead a G-rated lifestyle. We decided to stick with the youtube version and see what we could do.

I’m trying to make my props cartoon-like, so I’m using brilliant greens, grey, and simple looking designs.  However, I am also adding in coconuts that fall from a tree, a snake named Kaa, and palm trees that Mitch, studio owner Robert, and I can uproot and use as scratching tools.  The challenge is three-fold.

  • All props have to fit in my car for getting to and from Cleo Parker Robinson Hall.
  • All props will be used a second time, so I can’t have “throw aways.”
  • I have to do most the “heavy lifting,” so nothing can weigh too much (I’m the proverbial 90-pound weakling, only I weigh quite a bit more than 90)

STEP ONE: PLANNING

photo of Treasures from the bookstore

Treasures from the bookstore

First stop in this adventure was–you guessed it–the bookstore.  I don’t know anything about engineering except that my dad was one.  I picked up what I could on simple machines and probably played for a week in those books.  Life is good when you start with a book.  Using some of the concepts there, I was able to think up a few ways to get the job done.  My sweet man told me I am an inventor, and this thought has kept me going throughout my building process.

STEP TWO: FIELD TRIP!

photo of Constructing ants from tubes

They will be ants, they really will.

Yippee! On to Home Depot.  I picked the brains of several HD experts over several weeks.  I bought “stuff” that might come in handy–insulation tubes from plumbing, dryer vent tubes, and wood dowels, pvc pipe, and I even did the “dumpster dive” into their scrap bins.

photo of Pulley released trap door

Coconuts will fall from this? You betcha!

On to the cloth store where I bought tons of felt, a little glue and more.  The young girls there got into my project and helped me with coupons and bolt remainders. How cool is that?

STEP THREE: CONSTRUCTION IN AND OF THE JUNGLE

Did I tell you that I planned to clean the storage room in our basement as my January house project? Oops!  I managed to haul out a ton of stuff, and make mountains of things to give away, throw away and put away, but my deadline for dance was looming, so my basement is a disaster area right now.  Did I ever tell you how patient my sweet guy is when I get into creative projects?  We once had a time machine that ate up my kitchen . . . but that’s a story for another time.

photo of Palm tree jungle props

Hard to see the trees for the jungle, but they really work!

Anyway, several attempts and lots of words your mother shouldn’t hear later (forgot about that G-rated thing), I have three palm trees and a snake complete.  I have the mechanics of the dropping coconuts complete, just waiting for a major palm make-over, and the skeleton for a rock that Baloo will pick up, only to find ants running underneath.

photo of snake sock-puppet

Kaa-ha-ha

There are only about two weeks left to finishing all this work, but I’m very excited. I’ve learned my steps, built some fun toys, and am looking forward to making it all come together in a three or four minute dance.

Creativity, whether in dance steps, construction of silly props, or jotted down in story, is a good, fun, thing.  How do you let loose?  What’s your creative outlet?

Prophet’s Tears at the Vet

It’s been a while since ol’ Proph has had an adventure–knock on wood.  Oops! Forgot that knock before we went to the vet this week. He was due for a Bordetella vaccine. This is the medicine you should give your dog if he or she plays in doggie day camp, goes to dog parks, or otherwise comes in contact with lots of canine friends.

photo of Prophet gets Bordetella Vaccine

“This won’t hurt a bit.”

Bordetella vaccine, in fancy terms, is something given in either a shot at the scruff of the neck or a squeeze of medicine up your dog’s nose to prevent infectious tracheobronchitis, or kennel cough.  I think the vaccine is like the flu shot, only for dogs and cats. No biggie, right?

Well, just as with any doctor visit, our first stop was the scales. Whoops!  Prophet–given his restriction on exercise last spring and my subsequent recognition of time savings and gas conservation in not going to Chatfield daily–had gained a little weight. Make that gained A LOT of weight. Nine pounds!  He’s up to 118 pounds of joy for him and guilt for me. Yuck!  No wonder I’ve been hearing so many “he sure is a big dog” comments lately.  I thought people were saying he’s generally tall, dark, and handsome.

photo of Dr. Weber with Prophet

“Okay, I’ve been a good dog–now where are the treats?” Prophet chats with Dr. Weber

Then there is the scardy-cat syndrome (sorry Nalla).  Prophet cried and cried–like a baby!  We were shown into the examination room.  Cried and scratched at the door to get out (smart dog). Then Katie, who’s training to be a vet tech, came in to generally get the low-down on “what’s wrong.” Prophet whined a little, but licked a lot. Luckily, Katie has a St. Bernard and knows what slobbery kisses are all about.

photo of Katie gets a dog kiss--eew!

“I’ll get even–I’ll give you a kiss!” – Katie & Prophet

I told Katie about a little lump that hasn’t gone away on Prophet’s side. She looked, and there it was. Prophet cried.

Then Dr. Weber came in.  Have I told you how much I like the doctors at my vet?  Dr. Weber is sweet with the pets, clear with instructions and information, and level-headed with the don’t hit the panic button kind of attitude.  She took a look at Prophet and found the weight a problem (“but as he ages, his metabolism will slow down”), the lump, and a build-up of wax in his right ear. Lucky me, I got to see the wax she pulled out–let’s leave the description for now, right?

photo of Katie examines Prophet

“You have my heart, but I’m still going to cry.” Katie checks Prophet’s heartbeat.

Throughout the examination, Prophet cried. Temperature taken? Cry. Check. Pelvic check? Good. Cry. Ear wax excavation? Cry. Done.

Surprisingly, when they withdrew a sample from the lump, Proph didn’t seem bothered at all. Dr. Weber took the “goodies”–the ear wax sample and goop from the lump back to examine for problems.

Prophet and I were left alone in the room.  Then it hit me. He cried for everything else, but not the lump.  Was that a good sign or a really bad sign?  Dr. Weber had said that lumps can mean any number of things–infections, benign cysts, or the big C–cancer.  Was the anomaly of Prophet’s stoicism in the withdrawal of lump goop a warning sign?  Was his ear infected? Was the weight gain going to cause a heart attack while we sat in the examination room, smelling of dog? I made a show of brushing off the mounds of dog shedding on my pants, just so that I’d have something to do while I worried.

photo of Prophet hiding from the vet

“Think they’ll see me? I am so small..I am so small…”

Luckily, in a very short time, Dr. Weber came back in with the all-clear sign, instructions to wash out Prophet’s ears a couple of times a week, and some additional vitamins for Nalla. Whew!

Seems with Prophet, there’s never a dull moment.

And I’ll keep Dr. Weber’s advice in mind. If your pet develops a lump, come in and get it checked out.  Save yourself some worry. If the lump is big, bothersome or infected, your vet can let you know to either watch it or have them cut off. Same goes for skin tags – elongated, wart-like skin protrusions. Dogs. You gotta love them–and take care of them.

I’m off to go hide the treats!