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Good Fences...
Good faces make good neighbors. (Mouse Over)

Dear Kim:

It has been fascinating to try to solve the problem of care for Angie, the dog that belongs to the man for whom I am housesitting in Venice.

Much of the past week was spent trying to find appropriate care for her, should I need to leave suddenly for Chicago or New York, if my mother needs surgery.

The thing I have found most fascinating is how few resources Rod has. He has owned this house for 20 years and does not know or feel comfortable enough with his neighbors to ask for their help in case of an emergency. The only people he could recommend to help live in San Clemente, almost two hours away.

This is not about Rod. Nor about judging him or finding him lacking in some way. My heart goes out to him in his isolation even though with his rigidity, it is an isolation of his own making.

(Kim: We are going to have to talk about animals and how we create such intimate connections to them. We may more attention to television and pets than we do to other people.)

No, I am thinking more about how a lack of connectedness in one's most immediate place is a problem for many people.

Last spring when I was housesitting for my friend Lisa who has lived in her apartment building in New York for many, many years, I encountered a similar problem.

Lisa has a very beautiful and sensitive cat named Suruthi who needs companionship and special tending or he will be lonely and sad. He is just very frail and very old and very soulful. Like someone's aged uncle with fur.

Lisa's regular catsitter who was supposed to help out after I left, canceled at the fairly last minute.

So from Australia, Lisa tried to negotiate by email and phone to find someone who could help take care for Suruthi. Like Rod, Suruthi has a special place in her heart. He is her family.

She couldn't find anyone, including when she looked within her circle of intimate friends. Given the distance and timeframe, she became more freaked out by the day.

(Kim: My parents didn't care too much about pets, though one day my mom (the social worker) worked past a pet store and noticed that a monkey was scratching a dog. She was outraged and went into the store to complain. "Lady," the clerk said, "you'll have to buy the dog if you don't want it to get scratched." So she did.)

So I rescheduled some appointments, extended my stay in New York and set about talking with the super's wife and kids as well as some other neighbors to see what could be done. Eventually, with enough conversations, I was able to find back up for a while until Lisa came home so I could go home.

I think the conversations were key. I think if we don't have conversations with our neighbors, we cannot have a relationship.Some people will come through generously in the face of an emergency, especially if it is on a national level. That seems to call upon some hidden places in the collective psyche.

(Kim: Something happened today that made we realize that we have no idea of how someone might be responding to us. I went over to another building to speak to a office worker (because she wouldn't pick up her phone.) I thought I was being nice and non-argumentative. I found out later that she was furious because I had been short with her. It was a very interesting experience. I felt like I should be giving feedback forms everytime I interact to make sure that people are receiving me in a positive manner.)

But for the most part, it is our relationships, no matter how tangential that encourage us to step off the curb of the contemporary reserve on which so many of us live. To help out.

Lisa and Rod both have lots of conversations. Lisa may well be talking right now with fellow academics in London or Sydney. And Rod is in contact with fellow divers around the world.

But—and here is the key—these conversations are mostly taking place over email in virtual time.

And shouldn't one's first conversations be where they live?

(Kim: The whole idea of the world being flat is that our neighbors are everywhere. Which doesn't help Joan when she's trying to find a new petsitter.)

(Kim: Someone commented that my office has no windows and I tried to convince them that windows are in the mind, and I have more windows in the pictures that surround me than most have with glass. So it is with "where they live." Where does a person actually live? You know that expression about being lost in one's thoughts.)

Lisa was pretty freaked out when she couldn't find someone to help. She had recently separated from her partner of many years and told me it was a shock to realize that she not have a secure network of people to help support her life.

This in a city of what, 8 million people?

I am not sure what Rod realizes.

What I realize is that such occurrence is more than an immediate problem to be solved. More than the question of who can take care of Angie or Suthuthi for a few weeks here or there.

The problem is much deeper and endemic. It is a problem of modern life and a signpost for what is missing from their life and lives of so many.

And I am wondering what it means for my life as well.

(Kim: I regret that I haven't bonded at all with my neighbors (except at least one I've gotten to know somewhat...though never made it into their house. Most of our relationships seem to be business ones, not personal ones. And after being with people all day it isn't on the top of my list to be with more people.)

Later,

Joan

Tuesday, Jan 24, 2006

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