Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Agility in Oregon Revisited

I'll avoid beginning this post with "Anne" but Anne did send me an email about an agility fun match that was held this past Sunday. The location was less than half an hour from here and I decided it was a reasonable way to spend an afternoon.

The woman hosting the match, Barb Turner, has a nice dirt-floored barn, about 75 x 100 feet, with concrete along one side for good crating space. The ring is well secured--always something I look for when I go to a new facility since the fox terriers are such wily escape artists. The barn is on her property. She hosts trials, fun matches, and teaches agility classes there.

I thought it would be a good idea to get Mimi out for some more practice. I was kind of hoping to find a place where we could practice once or twice a month and while Barb offers her barn for open practice, you have to be taking a class with her. My budget simply won't allow for classes for Mimi, and to be honest she is on the downward arc of her agility career. We are just playing around at this point. I will continue to enter her in trials, but only for a day or two (nearly all trials up here seem to be three or four days long, which is really surprising), only selecting trials that are an hour or less from my home, and only entering her for a couple of runs a day (not for every class or game that is offered). That keeps things pretty simple!

Anyway, the fun match was the perfect venue to let Mimi have some more practice on the contacts and a full set of weave poles (12). We got two runs, two minutes each, for $10 total. Not a bad deal. She and I had a lot of fun and I thought we really maximized our training time. Barb divided the day into big dogs (26-24-20 inch jumpers) for the morning and little dogs (16-12-8-4 inches) after lunch. The three hours I spent there were entirely in the company of people who had medium and small dogs like Mimi.

And here's the real meat of this story. I watched the other handlers and dogs, many of whom I recognized from the trial a couple of weekends ago, and decided to try again to approach a few people. My angle for a conversational opening: did they take classes from Barb and how was she as a trainer. Most agility handlers like to talk about training and their trainers. I figured it was as safe and as positive a topic as I could come up with.

Without the competition and stress of the trial, everyone was much more relaxed (we could have toys and treats in the ring to train) and I struck gold! I spent almost an hour chatting off and on with three women about terriers and problem dogs (not always the same thing, bless their little terrier hearts). In fact, the first two women I talked to dragged in the third specifically because she had a dog with a tremendous amount of fear aggression. They were quite vigorous in their admiration for how Barb helps them train such dogs. I asked a lot of questions but I listened more than I talked. The three women were pleasant and welcoming without being nosy (it probably helped that Mimi looked pretty darned good during our first run so I didn't come across as some weirdo). In fact, they all three suggested that I visit their class Wednesday night (tomorrow night) just to see how Barb operates. Isn't that funny, that the students proffer the invitation! I took that as a positive sign and will probably drop in (without Mimi, of course!).

As a result, I decided to put Azza on a waiting list for a beginner agility class with Barb. I'm still going to do the obedience class (at a somewhat grotty training facility in Corvallis) and I've still got low (reasonable) expectations for that. With respect to agility, I am not sure Azza will ever get on a teeter. But I have seen it with my own eyes, even helped other handlers achieve it: agility, if offered in a positive and supportive manner, can really help fearful dogs become more confident and focused.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Cleaning House

In a tip o'the fedora to my friend Penny in Dhahran, I have to tell you that I swabbed down my toilet for the third time since I moved into my little rental a month ago.

I already know what you are thinking. Why would I count, and announce, the occurrences of such an activity?

Even before I left KSA, Penny broached the subject of how I might feel about cleaning my own toilets. Upul had only been cleaning my house for a couple of years and he rarely touched the toilet, so it wasn't like this was an entirely forgotten task for me. But Penny has been in KSA for many years, and by her own admission hasn't touched a toilet brush in over a decade. The very idea makes her a bit twitchy.

The Dhahran hovel was so hateful and decrepit that I could hardly muster any desire to keep it up but I feel quite differently about my little rental here in Oregon.

I enjoy cleaning the toilet. And sweeping the floor. And dusting. And mowing the grass and digging up pernicious dandelions. There's some pride to be had in house cleaning as the end result is immediate and obvious. But there's also the emotional break with the stale routines I had in Dhahran.

I have become quite a homebody in the past few years (ironic since I wasn't actually in anything like a home for a good part of that) and now I have a reasonable place to look after. And that includes wiping the toilet down every now and then.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Azza and the Jump

Anne loaned me a PVC jump and six stick-in-the-ground weave poles. There's plenty of room in the backyard for them. I raked and mowed earlier today so the yard is at its best (not saying much, it's lumpy and weedy and the grass is patchy but it's still looks halfway okay after being tidied up).

I had introduced Azza to a jump months ago in my hovel in Dhahran but there was never any room to do much with her there. She displayed a lot of fear of the jump then, particularly if the bar was set to any height.

So I worked her on sends and recalls and front crosses with the bar on the ground to get her used to the idea of interacting with me and this scary thing. She was off lead and while her attention did wander a tiny bit, she stuck with me and gave it all a try. I've also been asking her for more nose touches in other contexts, a behavior she eschewed a few months ago, and she is getting the idea that coming to my hand is highly rewarded.

Then I brought Mimi out to work on weave entries. I left Azza out to see what she would do. Turns out she was very interested in the idea of Mimi getting treats for doing things with that jump. She watched us closely and whenever I lined Mimi up, Azza kept trying to get into the act by getting into her heel position too. I didn't exactly reward this nor did I ignore it or inhibit it. I let Azza do what she felt comfortable doing, and if that involved lining up beside me to face that scary jump, well, that was just a fine thing.

The bar was set at 12 inches, a height that Azza would have never attempted previously (she looks at the bar, drops her head and shoulders, and slinks around the jump). When I finished with Mimi, I had a few treats left so I asked Azza to approach and jump. Mimi of course followed my motion and jumped...and Azza followed her! They even jumped it side by side going back the other way.

I've never had the luxury of doing this experiment with Azza, letting the green, anxious dog observe and even mimic the more experienced one. I've not had a training space where I could let Azza choose to go over or go around. This was a very positive experience for her. It was hard to make myself stop but it was best to end on that happy note.

I managed to get her enrolled in a beginning obedience class that starts in a couple of weeks. She already has most of the behaviors--what she lacks is any focus or calmness when other people and dogs are around. If the only thing she does by the end of six weeks is manage to take a treat in class and sit quietly with me, I'll consider it a success.

Being able to reward her for doing more playful things at home, such as running and jumping, should also help build her confidence.

Nesting 2

Anne asked me how I spend my days since I am not working and classes won't start until mid-June.

Embarrassingly I fumbled to give her an answer. I feel like I get things done every day but they are a collection of small activities, mostly related to settling in, that seem to fill each day. I've been spending time in the yard almost every day, weeding, mowing, tidying. I didn't realize how much I missed doing those that.

The weather has been glorious for over a week--blue sky, clear and sunny. It reached 80F two days ago! Anne assures me this is entirely anomalous for this time of year.

The morning sun floods into the front room of my little rental house. It is so bright that I've been tempted to wear sunglasses. Soaking up the sun has become a firm part of our morning routine.

After I walk the dogs, which usually takes 45 minutes to an hour, I make myself a bit of breakfast then sit on my couchlet in the front room reading. The dogs, being part plant, gravitate to the sunny spots and the strategically arranged dog beds and engage in some heavy napping. It takes almost two hours for the sun to move past the windows.

You can just see Harry on the bed below the couchlet. Princess Mimi of course takes the best spot next to me. I brought the dog beds and blankets with me when I flew from KSA, sucked into space bags then crammed into a dish pack box.

Yes, I know, decorating the living room with dog crates won't put us in Architectural Digest but it works for us.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Happy Birthday 2

Here's the video of our Open Preferred Standard run. We didn't Q because we got a refusal at the tunnel and another at the weaves and you are only allowed one refusal in this class.

But consider that Mimi and I haven't been in an agility ring since August 2009. She hasn't been on contact obstacles since then either--and neither of our errors were on the contacts!

I did run her over the contacts in Anne's backyard a couple of weekends ago but that was in the backyard, not the ring, and it was just three or four times each and that was it.

I am so incredibly pleased with her performance. She hit all of her contacts (a bit slow but the performance was good), we got the weaves on the second try, and she read that rear cross on the jump before the Aframe perfectly.

Today I felt so much better going into the ring. Without any need to collect titles or ribbons, my only goal was to have a good time with Mimi. And we managed to do that all day today!

Here's the link to the video. I'm not going to bother to try to embed it in the post.

Happy Birthday To Me

Mimi earned a Q today in our Open Preferred JWW run. Preferred means she jumps at 12 inches instead of her measured 16.

I never really thought that I'd use the "agility" tag on a post again.

If you turn up the volume, you can hear my friend Anne's commentary!

Today also happens to be my birthday. Happy birthday to me!

If the embedded video doesn't work, try this.

YouTube Video

Friday, April 19, 2013

Agility in Oregon

Mimi and I are here at an agility trial after over four years absence from the ring. Money (the lack of it, to be precise) and injury and personal crisis (a loudspeaker feedback incident at a USDAA trial set Mimi back almost a year) prevented Mimi from showing a lot before we went to KSA.

Distance gives perspective, as they say. Now that we are back, I realize that while this is fun, there are many more important things in life. I hope that Mimi has a good time during our single run today. We are only doing Jumpers, which has weaves but no contacts.

If she doesn't enjoy herself, if she tells me that this competition thing is too much, then that's okay too.

It's always hard moving into a new area and going to a trial. There are established cliques and local norms of behavior that can be difficult to negotiate. I helped unload equipment at the arena yesterday for an hour. Not a single person greeted or thanked me even though I was clearly a new face.

Today I've tried to start casual conversations with a few people but was rebuffed every time. Wrong clique? Not a thing that's done here? Who knows what will happen if I ask someone to film us today. Hamdallilah, my friend Anne from Portland will be here all day tomorrow.

I did volunteer to work the timer for two classes this morning so perhaps that will help as an intro.

I will NEVER criticize a handler's handling or their dog--we all take different paths to this weird game. Unless we own that dog and live that handler's life, we are in no position to say a thing. Still, even with the strange rules, there are still some constants, the stereotypical types that you can see at any agility trial.

There are the owners who bring every dog and puppy they own with them, taking up tons of space in a very small arena. There are the clinically obsessed who live in mobile homes and do nothing but drive around from trial to trial. There are the lesbian couples, the handful of male handlers, the elderly, the obese, the damaged/bandaged/braced (I'm wearing my knee brace of course). There is a preponderance of shelties and BCs, and the smattering of unusual breed owners who act like they are the only people on the planet who have ever run a fucking Norwich terrier or a Rhodesian.

No matter where you do agility, you'll always see these folks.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Update on the Old Man

Harry is much improved today (Thursday). His head tilt is still quite pronounced but he's walking better. We went for our normal walk this morning v-e-r-y s-l-o-w-l-y but we did the entire route. He still managed to pee eleventy million times although he never was able to pee on a slope. He doesn't seem quite as agitated as he was yesterday. His right eye is jerking around a bit but I hope that subsides. I'll continue to keep a close eye on him and give him lots of extra love but thankfully this isn't getting worse.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013


CircusK9 is online once again!

Wait! What the heck have we been doing for the past couple of weeks? I've been limping along on my iPad and an expensive wireless ATT connection. With the blogging and GPS and camera apps, we've gotten a lot accomplished. But now I have internet for the entire house, including my desktop computer and phone. No more counting precious ones and zeros with every click. No more visiting the public library to print or send attachments to emails.

Of course, I don't have a real desk yet, just a small folding table. And my printer, purchased in Saudi Arabia, takes printer cartridges that aren't available here. The devil is in details such as these but these are solvable problems.

Old Dog

We had quite a scare at CircusK9 yesterday. The dogs were enjoying a midmorning nap in the sunny front room. I came bustling in getting ready to run some errands and the dogs got up to see what I was up to--except for Harry. He staggered around in large, looping circles, repeatedly falling over as his right leg gave way beneath him. He could't stand back up without assistance. "Drunken sailor" came to mind.

My first thought was that something neurological had happened, perhaps a stroke. I shooed Azza outside to keep her from bumping him then I made Harry walk up and down the hallway, and gave him numerous treats. His tail was up, his ears were alert, his eyes were tracking me and the treats. He ate plenty of treats and drank some water. I carried him outside (he couldn't negotiate the steps) and when I set him on the ground, he peed. The only problem that I could observe was that he couldn't stand up for long or walk very well. It was clear that the weakness was isolated to his right side and focused mainly in his hindquarters.

I did some poking around on the internet and it looks like Harry was hit by an episode of idiopathic vestibular disease, also known as "old dog" vestibular disease. Some forms of this can be congenital but the "old dog" form appears out of nowhere in old dogs with no clear trigger, which is what idiopathic means. (Edited to add that "vestibule" means small passage or entry way to a larger room; in this case it refers to a space inside the inner ear).

It is related to a misfiring or other problem with a nerve in the inner and middle ears, which of course are the organs that dogs, and we, use for balance.

Of course a stroke is always possible but Harry's symptoms fit the idiopathic vestibular description well. His head tilt is quite pronounced today and the right hind leg weakness is still there. He falls over when he tries to shake but I figured out that if I gently hold his hips, he can get a reasonable head and shoulder shake going without hitting the floor.

Thankfully he doesn't have any eye rolling, which is probably what leads to motion sickness and the vomiting and diarrhea reported by others. He is eating and drinking like normal. This morning he made it outside on his own for a poop and a pee.

He is not in pain.

While not an official symptom, anecdotally it seems that many dogs get confused or worried about their bodies' failure to respond normally. Harry is certainly agitated, following me everywhere, slowly crashing into walls and objects as he goes, and takes quite a long time to settle down.

And based on comments on several websites, this disease can be much, much worse. Harry can at least walk (we went for a very short walk this morning and I made sure that all of the interesting pee spots were on his right side so he could lift his right leg and put weight on the more reliable left one). He even negotiated a couple of curbs although I tried to make the dogs use the handicapped access ramps when I could. He had a lot of problems walking uphill so I stuck to a relatively flat section.

Many times the symptoms of idiopathic vestibular disease disappear (mixed info on the interwebs about this, some sources say they disappear as quickly as they showed up, others say they fade over several days). But they should noticeably abate by Thursday so until then, I am keeping a very close eye on my little old man.

Monday, April 15, 2013

The First Step

This summer, June 24 to be precise, I will begin taking undergrad courses again. It will take me a couple of years to get ready to apply to vet school. The only course that I will be taking this summer is the Organic Chemistry sequence. It's a full year's worth of instruction crammed into a little over two months. The compressed schedule means that realistically I can take no other courses at the same time.

The first two parts, lecture only, will take up 15 hours a week. The lab, the third course in the sequence which I'll take in August, has a lecture that is 12 hours per week plus the lab itself which is 8 hours per week. The schedule is grueling and you have to admire the stamina of the instructors.

Organic chemistry is chemistry based on carbon. Hydrogen often comes along for the ride; I'm nominally fluent in that subdiscipline because those molecules are what hydrocarbons are made of. But living things (organisms) do lots of complex things with carbon, made even more complex when they throw oxygen in there, and I don't know much about that.

I'm looking forward to the new challenges.


My friend Anne in Portland gets credit for the title of this post.

After the initial frenzy of buying things like cars and beds and lawnmowers, the pace has slowed quite a bit. CircusK9 is settling in, working out new routines and schedules, spending time at home arranging my few bits of furniture and clothes ... all of which are best described as nesting.

Not to be one who is happy with too much sloth, I started my backyard project today. I'm going to get decent grass going out there, but I first have to remove the voracious weeds that have taken up residence. With my spiffy new mud boots, my city-supplied organic waste trash can, and my new weed poker, I spent almost two hours digging up dandelions and the like. It took me almost all afternoon because I was interrupted by a couple of rain showers, but those were simply an opportunity to curl up on my couchlet and take a nap with the terriers.

One of the daily tasks is sweeping the house. It is entirely floored with laminate. Durable and easy to clean. It is so fun to finish the living room and ... what's this? another room! Just the thought of having this much space makes me giddy.

The dogs have at last gotten over their jet lag. They were waking me up at midnight, ready to play or eat or walk or something, for days. The cats are back to their usual dysfunction, with HellBeast whaling away on Tsingy whenever he can get away with it.

All of the animals are learning the sunny window schedule. I've strategically arranged blankets and beds to accommodate them.

Slowly our little space is feeling more like a home. We may only be here a couple of years but at least we will be comfortable.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Avert Your Eyes

Making eye contact with people in Saudi can be problematic. A woman certainly shouldn't do so when walking around the streets, shops, or malls. Saudi men of all ages, and unfortunately many of the "guest workers" as well, interpret this as a thinly veiled invitation for sex (veiled, ha!).

Conservative Saudis, which comprises a good part of them, hold the same beliefs that many christian fundamentalists do, that women are to blame for men not being able to control themselves, for acting like feral animals whenever they are around women. Thus women shouldn't be seen or heard in public or private if at all possible (and thus the shrouding abaya). The laboring expats take their cues from their overlords (shit always rolls downhill).

Of course, the bad behavior of the Saudi men is fundamentally a matter of cultural/religious indoctrination (they are the same thing in Saudi Arabia). They too take cues from their parents, their imams, their peers. You see this dismissive, aggressive attitude towards women, including their mothers, manifesting even in boys of four and five years.

To avoid the unpleasantness, I found it best to cultivate a tool used and refined by the Japanese that I was introduced to over 20 years ago when I traveled there for a scientific conference and holiday. When you get good at it, you can even be in a room with others and simply not see or hear them. It's a defensive mechanism but also one that smooths public interactions. It isn't a matter of ignoring others. Once you fall into this zone, the other people in the room really don't exist for you. In that way, the illusion of privacy for everyone is maintained.

I got pretty good at this while living in Saudi. As a result, it was always a bit of a shock to me when I left the Magic Kingdom to go anywhere else--people talk to each other in the shops and streets. Women are everywhere, conducting their business without harassment (for the most part; this post isn't going to take on all dragons). It takes a few days to relax the habit.

It's a strange feeling to realize that I don't have to continue mentally averting my eyes.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Our First Sunny Afternoon

My delicate Saudi flowers...

Tuesday, April 09, 2013


I'm sitting here on my tiny patio in the evening sunshine after days of rain. It's cool enough that long pants and a sweatshirt feel just about right.

It's been quite a week. Well, not even a week as I officially arrived in Oregon at 10pm last Wednesday.

In the past six days, I bought a car, a lawnmower, a bed, a used couch, curtains for all of the rooms, dog towels (absolutely necessary here), two dressers, two used lamps, a pair of mud boots, and some used dishes (excellent score at Goodwill on those). I emptied my PODS storage unit and it will disappear from my driveway this weekend. My ebox arrived today (precious computer but sadly no internet for it until next week, and some kitchen stuff) and it has been emptied. I also spent a good two days just cleaning the place. The house is starting to feel a little more comfortable for us all.

I mowed the grass in between rain storms. The yard looks pretty horrendous--the previous tenants were more interested in tending their multiple garden plots than in tending grass. The dogs probably won't help matters much. But it is our yard now--and Azza loves it.

Quite a few of you have asked me how Azza is adapting. I'd say that she has exceeded all of my expectations. The trip over here is hopefully just a bad dream for us all. She is not showing any more or less anxiety than normal for her, and if anything, she wants to play much more often. She also likes to hang out in the yard by herself. She doesn't do much, just noses around and chews up sticks, but she'll ask to go out there regularly.

We've found a really lovely morning walking route up and around a nearby hill that takes us about 45 minutes at Harry pace. Our walks are a bit slower than I would like but I let the old man set the pace. I've been walking the dogs even in the rain so I'm sure they will be thrilled when their new coats arrive next week.

HellBeast was a bit of a concern. He didn't eat for about four days. I was worried that perhaps a bit of flipflop was stuck in his gut; this would have been quite painful with all of the airplane travel he was doing. But a couple of days ago, he bounced back, dragging the strainer out of the kitchen sink onto the floor, chasing Tsingy around the house, and loudly begging for his breakfast.

Here's a funny picture I took a few minutes ago of HB watching us through the back door. The reflection is weird because the door is double-paned.

Here's a video of the girls playing. Azza is not running at her top speed because she wants to make sure that Mimi keeps up with her.

YouTube Video

Friday, April 05, 2013

The Long Process of Settling In

We are here in Corvallis and have begun the long process of settling in.

My friend Anne loaned me two folding camp chairs and an airbed. Besides the dog crates and suitcases, that's the sum total of our belongings at this point.

The Saudi shipment won't be here until June (inshallah). I was hoping my eBox was here already but I haven't gotten an email about it. My pots, pans, silverware, and good knives are in there and having those would go a long way to making this place feel like home.

The cats are not settling in too quickly. HellBeast won't eat. However, Tsingy seems to be doing a bit better. She's camped out on a blanket on top of a dog crate staring out of the front windows at this new green world.

Azza has taken to the new backyard quickly. She's been in backyards before because it was one of our usual habits to let our dogs play in the yards of empty houses in Dhahran. However, this is HER backyard and she can eat sticks and grass and run around as she chooses. The terriers are a bit more regimented about their exploration of the yard but they seem to be happy in it.

I took them for a walk in the pre-dawn dark this morning. We are all waking up at odd hours because of the jet lag. It is very quiet in this neighborhood.

One thing I discovered (I suspected it before the actual experiment) is that Azza's paws, adapted for running on loose sand, act as extremely efficient water scoops, so that her belly quickly gets soaking wet. She has no hair to speak of on her lower half so I ordered her a raincoat with a "chest shield"!

Here's a nice picture of the dogs napping that I took while I was writing this update.

I took this one of Tsingy at the back door yesterday. This was just after I had finished sweeping and mopping the floor and cleaning the glass door.

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

Making Another Leap Off Another Cliff

Making the decision to leave Saudi Arabia felt a lot like leaping off a cliff. But I'm getting ready to make some other changes that are taking me over the edge of yet another one.

On Wednesday, CircusK9 will board another plane and head to Portland, OR. That's close to but not yet our final destination. We will drive to Corvallis that night and start to settle into our small rented house (with a securely fenced yard).

I will start taking classes at Oregon State in June. Yeah, I know, many of you are thinking, doesn't this woman already have college degrees (I have two); why does she need more?

I will spend about two years taking catch-up classes in biology and chemistry. I may acquire another BS degree in the process although that may not be necessary. Then I will apply to at least five veterinarian schools with a goal of getting a DVM degree.

I've of course got some ideas of what kind of vet I want to be but I don't want to go into those now (not being coy, it's just far too soon to be writing about things like that).

Obviously a plan like this doesn't form overnight. I've been working on it for almost two years.

And a plan like this doesn't come without plenty of risk. It will be expensive and will take years to execute. Vet school is extremely competitive, harder to get into than med school (fewer schools, fewer slots, as many or more applicants). There is no guarantee that I can pull this off.

Why would I do such a hare-brained thing? Being at Aramco accelerated a dissatisfaction I've had with my career path as a geologist for some years. But being at Aramco gave me the opportunity to make this kind of dramatic shift, mainly because of the money but also because of the fact that living in Saudi Arabia gave me a perspective on life and career that I would not have gained if I had stayed in the US.

I won't go into the long list of pros and cons that I've been chewing on for so long. Suffice to say that I may be making a really dumb decision but at least I totally own that decision.

There's going to be lots of hard work ahead. But there will be plenty of adventures too, and no doubt one or two of them will be blog-worthy. Life certainly won't stop being absurd just because I am not living in KSA anymore.


Monday, April 01, 2013

Extraction 10: The End

I've written this post on the flight from Amsterdam to Washington. I am hoping that by the time we all get to our hotel north of Dulles that the dogs will want to do nothing but play and get hugs, that the cats will be chilling somewhere other than under the bed, and I will be busy with more important things than typing into this iPad.

Update: after some food and lots of walking around outside, there hasn't been much playing!

I got a little teary when the flight purser told me that the animals had all been loaded. Couldn't help it. All I could think was, we escaped.

This somewhat overly dramatic sentiment ties in with an interesting comment a friend made at my last book club meeting. My friend, as well as several other members of the book club, has been in KSA for 20 plus years. She's raised several children here. So when someone she recently met at a professional meeting taking place outside of the kingdom, upon learning about this, said to her, why would you waste so much of your life there, it came as quite a shock to her.

It's a fine line we escapees have to walk. All expats have to leave KSA eventually. The mandatory retirement age for Aramco employees, Saudi and expat alike, is 60 (although it is possible, and common, for skilled expats to get extensions for a couple of years). Lots of people choose to come here, choose to stay, choose to raise their families here. They most certainly don't feel that they "wasted" their lives.

But I made a different choice: to leave. I don't think that I wasted my time but my experience has been enormously different than that of someone here with their family.

I can see clearly both sides of this fence. I only made it a few years and gladly, willingly left. Yet there are seductions to living in this weird place that I recognize even if I didn't succumb to them.

I would not insult my friends by telling them that they wasted their lives here. We all walk different paths in life.

But...hell yes, we escaped!