Author Archives: K. C. Dockal

About K. C. Dockal

I'm a writer, Texan by transplantation, left-of-center moderate, in-flux Christian who borders on Creation Spiritualist.

[I present this, not in a bid for sympathy or mere cri de coeur, (okay, maybe a little of those) but an honest solicitation for advice. You don’t have to be a writer or artist of any kind, I think, to perhaps have valuable input here.]

I have forgotten how to create fiction. Not the mechanics, though surely those are rusty and weak, but the soul and flow of my creativity are lost. I’ve watched them wash away like sand castles.

There are myriad reasons why this is the case and most don’t really matter (in terms of fixing the problem, that is). It only matters that it has happened.

I have forgotten how to open myself to the world, to pain, to the darkest, dankest crevices of my mind and spirit. I’d even stopped reading fiction because it made those things more accessible and frightening. Reading fiction made me feel and think, so I shrank from it. I am, at least, reading again, if only in snippets, and taking care not to feel and think.

Even if I could allow that stuff in, I wouldn’t know how to let it coalesce into something creative. I’ve lost the ability to sit in a quiet room or in nature and allow life to bounce around me until a story finds its way through my pores or percolates up from my gut. Instead, those moments of potential reflection and processing are met with trepidation followed by a mad grasp for an electronic device or the television remote. Barring “screen time,” I allow my thoughts to wander only to the most basic concepts: survival, future concerns, chores, loss, loss, loss.

These things cloud my head (with my permission) like a perpetual flu. If I were an addict, I could blame drugs or booze, but my addictions are the 3 x 5 screen in my hand and the constant reexamination of pain and rage. Better to binge on pixels and past hurts than to leave the chasm in my brain agape because I simply can’t properly fill it. The ability to simply be and think: lost.

Standing in the bubble of another human’s existence, attempting to feed off and gauge their being and psyche, then pull it like wool into fine thread I can weave into a fabric of character: lost.

Voices are just noises. Faces, mere images. Fragrances and textures are just smells and surfaces. My senses that once served me as a creator: lost.

I could chalk much of this up to age, disease, grief. Be done with it. Move on. I’ve lost other things. Much harder losses. Things I will never get back. Suck it up, Buttercup. But it is exactly because my creativity has always sustained me in my life that I need it now in the face of those other losses. I have good things in my life, but I still need this. I need to be a whole me for my family and the whole me is the one that writes. If I can’t find my way back to KC the writer: lost.

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Depression and Suicide: Why we can’t say “Why.”

The Void. The Beast. The Black Dog. The Pit. Depression and Suicide are once again prominent in the news cycle. Once again, we swim through speculation and rumor in social media and the word “why” ricochets off Facebook walls and inside our heads.

When someone we perceive as successful, intelligent, wealthy, or otherwise gifted with all those things we think make people happy takes their own life, we ask, “Why him? He had it all?”

Here’s the short, sharp response: Why does cancer take one person and not another? When we ask that question we typically decide chance/a whim of Nature bestowed a bad illness on a good (successful/beautiful/wealthy/young) person. We should view depression no differently.

What? Yes. Please stop thinking of depression as “having a bad day/marriage/money problems/getting old.” Depression isn’t the devil. Nor is it some vague whine-fest because you haven’t gotten your way. It is a disorder and it is wrapped up in the way chemicals in our brain dictate our behavior. I am shorthanding here because it is complex and not fully understood, but depression is clinical, meaning it has a medical cause. The initial trigger may be situational (injury, stress, pregnancy, physical illness), but the result is a clinical illness.

Yet, when the celebrity takes his or her own life, we begin the fruitless and unsatisfying search for answers. When Robin Williams died, it was because he had a debilitating disease threatening his future. Kate Spade, according to so much pointless rumor, had marital issues. Kurt Cobain had everything to live for supposedly, so obviously Courtney did it. (Did you hear my eyes roll?).  Now Anthony Bourdain has died and we ask why? Why this outspoken, energetic man with so much success?

Because: chemicals in the human brain.

Because: Depression.

I truly hate that depression has been labeled a “mental illness”. Oh, it is an illness. But to call it a mental illness slides it into the realm of a) incurable (it isn’t) and b) unknowable (it isn’t). It leaves people with the impression that people with depression, with this mental illness, are crazy and need to be shunned, can’t be fixed, and their “mental problems” are just too hard to deal with so Run Away, Run Away.

So, let me be forthright and let me talk about Mr. Bourdain for a moment as if he sort of relates to myself even though I know nothing about his particular situation.

I watched him only rarely. What I saw of him was, in outward appearances, the very opposite of me: loud, brash, opinionated.

Oops. Opinionated. So, not so opposite after all. As I read that character trait of his several times this morning, I realized something about all of us (humans) that is especially true of depressives; we have something to say and we need to be heard. Yet, we often feel as if we are screaming into a void.

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I’m not saying this is specifically a precipitant of suicide, I am saying that ultimately, in our crises, a depressive is not someone wallowing in self pity and pain, but someone who IS in pain and feeling utterly unheard. In a life that is extraordinary, rich, beautiful, fulfilling and filled with love—none of that matters if you are not heard when you are hurting. NONE OF IT.

This is why I write. Pure and simple. I don’t write to create art. I have told myself that I do, but that’s bullshit. I write because, while I am a mouse in public, shy and so soft-voiced it annoys people, on the page I can put exactly who I am and what hurts (and what brings me joy). I am one of the most opinionated people you will ever meet, but unless I know you well, you will likely only ever see that in these pages (or a Facebook post).

I have moments when the chemicals in my brain say, “Sure, you are much loved by your spouse. Sure, you live in a beautiful place. Sure, your daughter and her family are happy, healthy, and financially stable. Sure, you are not grossly unhealthy. BUT you are an abject FAILURE.” In those moments, I need desperately to be heard.

I can’t tell you exactly why Mr. Bourdain or anyone else takes their own life (beyond that the chemicals in their brains are betraying them). I am not telling you that circumstances don’t play a role in their depression. Our pain is often (usually) triggered by very real concerns. But I can tell you this—in that crisis moment, when you aren’t being heard, when you believe no amount of talking or writing can express your pain enough to bring even one person around to understanding you, the chemicals in your brain are winning. They can convince you that your loved ones really will be happier without you. (Because they won’t have to listen to you cry anymore. They won’t have to pay your medical bills or worry about the fact that you might off yourself.) They really will get over it. (Because you’re not much use to them as a depresso, so it’s like getting over a lost puppy, right?) They really will understand that your pain was too much to bear. (Because they saw that you were in abject misery like a dog that can’t eat or walk, right?)

I have been fortunate in that I have taught myself to flip the switch and shut out that screwy rationale through some mental gymnastics and meditative techniques. The ones who didn’t learn that, or learned it and lost their grip on it, they weren’t selfish or cowards. They simply couldn’t flip the switch and the chemicals won.

I ask again, with these latest celebrity deaths, rethink how you view depression. Perhaps do some reading. Talk to those who actually suffer with it and listen to them. The Pit is deep, but with more people understanding, perhaps those who struggle to flip the switch can be pulled out more often rather than succumbing.

https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/

https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/depression/index.shtml

More on neurochemicals and depression.

 

When my husband and I bought our first home, it was with the conviction that it was our last home. “This is where I will grow old with him and die,” I told myself.

When the economic growth of the area accelerated and he decided he wanted to sell and move, I was devastated. After a childhood of upheaval, I sought stability and needed to believe my home could remain an island of such in the madness growing around me. In time, I realized it could not and accepted the move.

Our new home, twenty miles south and three hundred square feet smaller, was just as house:  nice enough, comfortable, but not that space that said, “Forever.” It was, however, an island. It sat on one of the highest lots in the neighborhood and when Hurricane Harvey struck last fall, the water crept up to the curb but never truly threatened us.

It was quiet, as well. Despite being in a small city that is embedded in the Greater Houston area, in fall and spring, when the air conditioning doesn’t run, it’s almost too quiet to sleep. I often found myself listening anxiously to my heartbeat in the early morning hours.

It was a social island as well. If one has children in such a neighborhood, one socializes. If one is “older” and beyond child-bearing years (like we are), one just smiles and says hello or maybe occasionally shares a dog anecdote or two.

If one were to ask me to describe my dream home, it would not have been this little house near the bayou.

Ah—but the bayou.

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I do love it. It is called a creek, but it is a bayou. You can call it a creek and you can even call it by its official name, Clear Creek, to make you feel better about the breen, silty flow that eases and oozes its way ever so lazily around Brazoria and Galveston county—but it’s a bayou.

I love it, in all its bayouness, along with the rest of this sometimes perilous swampland that is Southeast Texas. I love the birds, bats, bugs, and plants that take refuge in it. I love the year-round greenery, the mild winters, the Gulf breezes that smell of salt cedar and seafoam on stormy days. I love the signs warning of alligators and other dangers in the parks.

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And yet we have left the bayou behind in recent weeks. We’ve said goodbye to that reliable little house where Harvey tried but failed to harm us.

We have moved to where the bayous knit together and trail into the sea. We have landed on another island, one of salt marsh and seagulls and “Oh my God! But what about Global Warming?!” Now, I sleep soundly in a house that I truly love, listening to wave susurrations. I truly hope this will be my last home, but I can accept that it may not because my life has simply never been about permanence.

The bayou remains within reach. In truth, there is a shadowy bayou is just up the road—just not “my” bayou. I am not far from Texas live oak, hackberry, chip-chipping cardinals, and complaining crows. There are new plants and birds to meet there as well. Perhaps I will leave this space here for a little “new bayou” chatter.

Nonetheless, watch this space for a new page link; this new island is just as chatty.

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Photo by Ali Taylor

A left-wing cartoonist, rightly pointing out the lack of outrage over war and health care abuses, stupidly minimizes assault by men in power as “ass grabbing.”  Far right Alabamians by the thousands justified voting for a pedophile by saying so many ridiculous things I can’t even repeat them here, so I’ll just refer you to any number of video interviews on the topic. Here’s the law though, 30+ year old adults can’t “date” 14 year old children. End of story. Move to one of those countries in the Middle East you on the right find so reprehensible if you really think that’s okay. I believe some of them still allow child brides, if only secretly.

Or go join the FLDS. But don’t pretend you are Christian Americans.

Let me talk to those who spew that bullshit line about “it was 30 (10, 20, 40, 50, 100) years ago, it shouldn’t matter.”  As if molesting children has an expiration date. Or “Why are they just now coming forward?”

I can’t believe I am saying this again. I can’t believe this has to be said at all. God help you if you are ever assaulted sexually so you get to learn for yourself what this is like. God help you if you ever wake up and realize your heroes are shit. Some of mine were, as well.

Upon hearing of one of Roy Moore’s accusers, someone said to me, “Why didn’t she come forward sooner? She could have helped others. Instead, she wanted to get on with her life.” I was too angry to respond in full. At the time I tight-lip responded with something sharp and brief.

Here is my full anger and truth. Here is what that person, and everyone else who asks that, needs to understand.

I was molested at the age of eleven. I never told anyone at the time. My parents both died in recent years never having known about it. I never told anyone in my family. I only told my second (current) husband. I never “came forward” and never will. That is, the perpetrator will never pay for his crime and in all likelihood he is dead. I will never tell anyone who he was. It’s done. It’s too late. I live with it. I never forget it. At times, the memory of it is so stark that it is sends a sickening jolt through my bowels. As has been said, the body remembers.

But telling “authorities,” then and now, was never an option. Telling meant ruining someone else’s happiness (at least in my eleven year old brain) and it meant being judged for not doing something to stop it (I was not hogtied. I could have screamed and tried to run). It meant, as the expression in my family went, upsetting the apple cart. My family always seemed under fire due to my siblings going through various teen angst crap. I didn’t want to add another burden to my parents. I didn’t want to anger a person with whom I already had a poor relationship. And I didn’t want to be accused of lying because of that poor relationship.

So I didn’t tell.

And yes, I too wanted to get on with my life. I was eleven. I wanted to stuff this horrible event into a dark corner and pretend it never happened. I wanted to play in a schoolyard and be with my friends and listen to my music and be a child. I did not want the pain of dealing with it any more than I wanted to place that burden on my family.

And guess what? I didn’t have Mariska Hargitay (Law & Order: SVU) at my side saying, “You need to come forward. Think of all the other little girls he might be doing this to. Think of how many others he might hurt in the future.” In my eleven year old brain, for all I knew, I was the only victim. The other girls around him all seemed happy and were much older than I was. You know—15,16–Roy Moore would have liked them.

So, no, I didn’t come forward. And every time I watch some dumb procedural wherein some poor girl or woman is fighting the turmoil of reporting or not reporting, of being believed or not being believed, I wonder not that I didn’t come forward but that if I had, what a fat lot of good would it have done? No doubt he would have bullshitted his way out of it and the person I was not getting on with would have hated me all the more for ruining things further by taking that man out of the picture. Life would have been not one bit better and a pedophile would have gone on doing what pedophiles do.

Maybe not. But given the gutless response to the assault strategy of (and credible accusations against) our current White House resident and the astoundingly asinine response to Roy Moore’s “dating” habits (pedophilia), I don’t believe I’m wrong there.

So, ask me again why I did not come forward. Ask me again why that little girl and her mother did not come forward. Ask them what power they had with a leering lawyer standing over them when life is so much easier at 14 or 11 or even 30 or 50 if you just hide from the pain. When your options for telling look as hellish as the time in his filthy presence.

But look out! The tide that has finally come in. This isn’t a bandwagon, people. This is the ocean of women and men who, after decades of stuffing down our pain and rage, have found strength in numbers and are roaring in and saying ENOUGH! DAMN YOU! ENOUGH! You aren’t “ass grabbers” or funny guys “just talking locker room talk.” You are perpetrators and you MUST suffer the consequences. Lose an election. Lose your supporters in Congress or Hollywood. Lose your confident swagger as you walk the halls and sweat bullets and wait for the women you harmed to come forward.

 

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It began as slower walks around the block and clumsier hops onto the couch. When the crisis occurred, we had no idea what we were dealing with and I was completely off the mark.

Some history: Blind from birth, our Shar Pei cross has hip dysplasia and at 83 pounds fighting weight, has always been a lumbering boy rather than an athlete. When he was about eighteen months old, he tore his cranial cruciate ligament (similar to a human athlete’s ACL tear). Because of his blindness, he learns lessons only once and what he learned from the sudden pivot that tore his ligament was that he would not do that again (outside, but inside was okay). From the pain of walking on the injured knee, he learned that he would simply not put full weight on it. So, despite high quality surgery, the result was a flimsy right hip muscle and an overused left hip joint and increasingly dysplastic hips over what he might have had due to genetics alone.

So, when he began to slow down at just shy of twelve years old this late summer, we put the lumber-now-more-of-a-shuffle off to the hip pain.

Likewise, when he put on about four pounds, we blamed the reduced exercise. He struggled more to get on the couch and opted to lie on the tile more often instead. At our beach house, some days he cruised up the steps, others he took them carefully and allowed us to help him.

Then, about two weeks prior to turning twelve, he started dragging his hind feet. He also began to cough occasionally and pant heavily after minor effort such as getting excited when one of us came home after having been out for some time. He snored louder. He grumbled louder as he curled up at bedtime. He fell off his hind legs a couple of times. His walks were now glacially slow. All these things we put off to aging and the dysplasia/arthritis.

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A tired old dog on November 14, 2017.

A few days after he turned twelve, he began to cough and wretch several times a day. Now something new was in the mix, but what? A friend suggested perhaps the hacking cough, the wretching, the failing back limbs, were all in line with “GOLPP”or Geriatric Onset Laryngeal Paralysis Polyneuropathy. It was true he had many of the symptoms. I even compared his bark of November to his bark earlier in the year and he clearly was straining and had a higher pitch.

However, I didn’t bring up GOLPP with his vet when I took him in. I did show her the video of him hacking and wretching. On that day, November 15th, 2017, he had gained still several more pounds since she had last seen him in late September. Again, we knew he’d been inactive, so while we noted the weight gain, that was the extent of it. As had always been the case, his bloodwork was “unremarkable” and the doctor had always presumed relative health because of his record of utterly normal bloodwork all of his twelve years.

X-rays showed nothing remarkable. His heart was perhaps slightly enlarged but not greatly. He is a large, geriatric dog, so it isn’t unusual for him to have some slight enlargement. His lungs were clear. There were no obvious spots in his belly. His bowels, etc. looked normal. While he looked a bit heavier than normal, he still had a waist. He didn’t look unhealthy, just fatigued, and clearly he was struggling to breathe comfortably. There was some possibility he had a “dense” area on his trachea that might have indicated infection or abnormal cell growth. The doctor prescribed antibiotics to see if this would calm down the cough. If after a few days he had no relief, we would go from there. Ming was cleared for travel to Dallas, approx. 250 miles away, for a 24-hr. stay.

When we left Saturday morning, Ming was reluctant to get into our truck. There have been times when he has hesitated in the past. This was different. He just sat on the driveway and refused. This should have been a giant red flag waving, but again, we assumed his hips were hurting. We lifted him in and I gave him his pain meds. He had a coughing fit halfway to Dallas, but calmed down after a short time.

We had only been in Dallas about seven hours when I saw something odd about Ming. His stomach looked unusually swollen and when he stood, he arched his back slightly.

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Potbelly caused by ascites.

He continued to pant heavily with activity. I panicked and thought, “Bloat!” We helped him into a family member’s sedan and rushed him to a nearby 24-hour emergency vet where he was taken back immediately for x-rays.

 

Thankfully, he was not suffering from bloat. Unfortunately, we had only a vague understanding of what was happening. His heart rate was elevated and the distension of his stomach was caused by ascites, or fluid in his abdomen. (We can only guess the fluid “hid” in his tissues for some weeks before filling his abdomen). Once again, x-ray showed that his heart was slightly enlarged but not excessively. X-ray also showed the same slightly dense area of the trachea and some dense areas in the abdomen. More tests would have to be run to determine what was happening in those areas and what was causing the elevated heart rate.

Fast forward through some major worry and heavy decision making to Monday and a trip to first his regular vet where 850 ccs of fluid were drained from his abdomen (leaving still many behind) while we gave him oxygen and got him an appointment with an internist in Houston. The internist did the necessary tests to discover that Ming has a bad mitral valve and atrial fibrillation. It remains true that his heart is not grossly enlarged but only slightly. It also remains true that we are uncertain as to what, if anything, the dense area on his trachea means, if the fluid in his abdomen is solely caused by the heart disease, and how well medication will control his problem.

He hasn’t coughed since he came home Tuesday. He breathes normally for the most part. He is back to sleeping and snoring normally and, while still somewhat weak, is trying more often to get on the couch and is more stable on his feet. He is nine pounds lighter than he was on Sunday. We have a somewhat guarded prognosis at the moment and he sees the cardiologist in a few days.

There are a few suggestions we want to pass on from this experience:

  1. Don’t make assumptions about your pet’s (or a family member’s) health based on given/expected circumstances. I based all my initial decisions regarding Ming’s health on my belief that his behaviors were in response to his hip problems and his age and did not consider he might be otherwise ill until it was almost too late.
  2. Pay attention to their emotional and behavioral changes. Ming was behaving differently in sometimes subtle ways that I saw as quirky when in fact they were signs of distress.
  3. Pay close attention to physical changes even if they seem harmless. When they suddenly gain weight, lose hair, or start breathing/barking/snoring/walking differently, consider that it might be something worth checking into. I could have saved Ming at least two weeks of discomfort, and possibly more, had I realized these things were not “just aging.” I am, however, thankful that I saw the expanding belly when I did.

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    Comparison photos of Ming’s tummy.

  4. My Momma once told me, when I was going through a particularly horrid time in my life, “Make the most you can of the time you have with the ones you love.” Needless to say, we are holding our little, old man close. We are thankful we have him for a little while longer.

Happy Thanksgiving to those of you who celebrate the holiday.

My 99-Cent Novel. How I Feel About Seeing my Book on the Discount Rack.

Bless you for your wisdom, Chacón.

Seeing the Elephants

My first novel can be bought on Amazon for 99 cents.

That’s quite a deal, less than a buck.

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One time I ordered three of them, just to give to friends.

You quickly learn that when booksellers on Amazon say 99 cents, they really mean four dollars and 98 cents, because shipping and handling is $3.99.

That’s where the booksellers are making what little money they do from my 99-cent books.

As you know, when writers run out of the free copies they get from the publisher, they can buy their own book at a 40 percent discount. Many writers earn what little wages can from publishing by ordering their books wth this discount and selling them at readings they do in the community.

Michele Serros talks about how she had the trunk of her car filled with copies of her book, and she went from town to town setting…

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Thirty-nine-year-old leaf

Thirty-nine-year-old leaf.

Hurricane Harvey has come and gone leaving the Flood from Hell in his wake. I feel not one bit qualified to write about, “the Experience of Harvey.” I will say, in a nutshell, we were fortunate and had almost no damage from the storm. Certainly, nothing worth mentioning. There was anxiety and sleeplessness, but honestly, I have that every night. It’s built into my genetic code. I was more worried about my daughter worrying too much about us than I was worried about us. Sort out that mental spaghetti, if you can.

We were on the periphery of this storm and in almost all respects, despite the fact that almost fifty inches of rain fell on our home. I feel lucky, relieved, and guilty as hell.

In the middle of the storm, there was little to do but listen to wind and rain and hope for the best. We had no boat and no special capabilities, so, we just stayed put. I tried to write, but my mind wandered constantly, taking me to my phone to check radar or to the window to check the water level in the street. If I wasn’t checking the road or the phone, I was watching the news for the latest predictions and hoping for a change for the better. Any kind of focus on creative thinking became impossible.

Finally, after the rain abated and the temperature dropped, I went to our garage where I sorted through boxes my husband had pulled down from the attic months before in an effort to prepare for a retirement move. As the wind buffeted the garage door (and made me fear for our trees now sitting in soaked earth), I looked through memories that went back over forty years.

Most were newer: junior high school pictures of my daughter, a copy of a short story my brother wrote about fifteen years ago, and anniversary cards from my husband. Many were much older: My Girl Guides journal and lapel pin from England (ca. 1973), a tiny, white New Testament from about 1970, and a large maple leaf I’d picked up somewhere around 1978.

I kept a leaf. Actually, two. Not beautiful flowers or stunning butterflies. Leaves.

Now, I love trees. If trees were animated creatures, I’d say they were my spirit animals. But, to keep a leaf in a book for forty years?

It struck me, looking at that leaf as the storm raged around us and knowing, all around me in the huge Houston metropolitan area, thousands of people were losing their homes, cars, livelihoods, perhaps family members: what a lot of crap we keep for no damn good reason.

Leaves.

You hear it a lot at these times, as people wait to find out if their house is safe from rising waters or as they swim away from their inundated home: “They’re just things.”

They are and they aren’t. They’re things we spent years clinging to for some reason. They’re things we’ve invested with emotion, meaning, connection to the past. They should be “just things,” but we will still feel an ache when we think about them floating down a street into a bayou and into the Gulf of Mexico.

If they’re just things, at what point do we stop collecting them? At what point do we admit that it was absurd to lose, let’s say, three thousand dollars worth of cat toys to a hurricane, so we should probably not replace them in full. (Thank you, Steve Martin)

I’m not saying cat toys (or shoes, or purses, or fountain pens, or electronics, or even forty-year-old leaves) are bad. I just wonder if, in saving all these things, this stuff, we need to spend more time on ourselves, our souls, if you will. Some people can balance the two, stuff and soul, beautifully. Speaking for myself, I have spent far too much time in life not taking care of my soul, but taking care of what I thought others expected of me. When I couldn’t do that very well at all, I sank into despair and simply did nothing. Often times, I bought stuff to fill the void. That stuff eventually found its way to boxes that ended up in the attic. Often, I picked up things, or kept bits of my past, as if they were somehow parts of my empty soul, and they too found their way into the boxes in the attic.

I kept leaves.

I haven’t answered my own questions. When do we stop collecting? When do we stop clinging? Does it take a flood to remind us every time we start getting too attached?

If life is cyclic, and it seems to be so for me, then maybe this is one of those cycles. When we next move, if we do as planned, it will be roughly the same number of years in this home as in our last home. We will be downsizing again and much will be thrown out, donated, or sold. Time, not Harvey, will have cleansed our home. I hope, however, that I will have learned by then not to restock the new home with stuff. There will be a time when I am too old to sort through boxes. When I’m gone, I don’t want my daughter sorting through leaves.

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