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Friday, December 31, 2010

Christmas Experiences and Outlook for the New Year

The end of the year is a time to look back. Project Bow has many supporters, some very vocal and others more hidden. We received cards and donations and good wishes and even reviews. I'm very grateful for all of that!

You probably are curious to know what Bow got for Christmas. From Lawrence, he got in one gift-wrapped package a pair of shoes about his size, a little toy tractor that makes sounds when you push the right buttons, a green hulk like little humanoid figurine with huge muscles that has arm action, and a green octopus like plastic mold. From me he got two new blankets, not for sleeping with, but to have during the day, as long as he is good. One is brown, and the other has an orange reddish brown pattern. (He calls the second blanket "the pretty one".) From his uncle, he got a fruit basket, full of apples, oranges and pears.

Bow enjoyed all his gifts, but sometimes being too happy makes him act up. So he got in trouble several times over the holiday. Sometimes he is very sarcastic when he answers my accusations. "Did you drip on purpose?" I ask.


"So this was your plan? You planned this?"


"It was your intention to get in trouble and ruin everything?"


Believe me, I'm not making him say "Yes." I would rather he said "no" and "I'm sorry", but he looks at me totally defiantly and intentionally spells "Yes." I guess I have another tween on my hands.

We hand him the computer, and he has sense enough and self control enough not to destroy it now. But if you ask him to say something, he spells "Why" and then promptly turns it off.

So what is my plan now? I have to find a way to motivate him to do something constructive. I'm also planning over the next few months to contact colleagues and try to arrange for them to share their grad students with me, so that I can have help with the project,  and Bow can have more friends, and my colleagues can have access to a chimpanzee who has language abilities. There are many ways that people can help each other achieve their common goals. One of the challenges that we face is finding creative ways to do so.

Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

"See Yours"

Bow and I got a Christmas present ready for Lawrence this Wednesday when he came. Before Lawrence came in, Bow spelled in Hebrew on the glass: "Give Uncle Lawrence the present." I guess he thought I might forget.

I didn't forget, so when I left Bow and Lawrence alone with the touchscreen computer, I had already given Lawrence the gift. It was in one of those gift bags covered with tissue paper, so it wasn't hard to see what it was.

When Bow got around to using the touchscreen, sometime later, he got the computer to say: "See yours." At first, Lawrence wasn't sure what Bow meant by that. Then he realized that Bow was indicating the present.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010


Lawrence was here yesterday, and he tried to encourage Bow to use the touchscreen. Bow was less "destructive" of the virtual screen, only reducing the keyboard in size a couple of times, but not closing the program. He didn't say much, though.

Once, he said "it." Lawrence wanted to  know: "It, what?" Bow hit a few random letters and numbers, and then a little later he spelled: "Take." When Lawrence asked him what he meant by that, Bow gestured at the computer, and then at the door to the pen.

"You want me to take it out?" Lawrence asked. "You want me to take the computer out?" Bow seemed to sanction that interpretation, so Lawrence acquiesced and took out the computer. Which means that now Bow is using the touchscreen to tell us that he doesn't want to use the touchscreen. How's that for progress?

Meanwhile, on a related topic, Simone at Hubpages has notified me that my "developmental delay" hub has been nominated for a contest. If you would like to go read it and vote, here is the link:

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Compulsive Behavior, Catching Mice, and Command Prompt

Yesterday, in the morning, there was a little mouse in the pens and Bow's attention was all riveted on the mouse. He alerted me to its presence by my making a low gentle, bilabial kind of sound that seems a little like "boo". This is a sound he makes when something unexpected emerges.

Just as I was trying to figure out how to catch the mouse without doing harm to it or letting it bite me, Lawrence arrived. He went through the usual routine of locking the glass doors behind him when he came in, and then unlocking one of the grated doors to go into the pen adjoining where Bow was, and just as he did so, the mouse scurried out, but it was trapped in the small anteroom between the glass doors and the pen. Lawrence did not notice the mouse till I drew his attention to it. Then he said he could kill it for me if I wanted. I said it would be better if he helped me to catch it, so I could release it away from the house. He trapped it under a miniature Folger's coffee can (made of red plastic), but he could not slide the black lid under that, so I gave him a laminating sheet which was a better fit. Then Lawrence turned the can over and instructed me to hold the laminating sheet down tight, because otherwise the mouse would escape. Under these conditions, I could not take the mouse far. I couldn't drive to the wildlife preserve and not accidentally release the mouse in the car.

So I walked in the freezing weather with no coat on, holding on to the can with one hand and the laminating sheet with the other, until I reached the barbed wire fence next to the road. But when I removed the laminating sheet, the tiny, tiny little grey mouse could not scamper up the steep walls of the coffee can by himself. I had to gently tip it the ground to help him escape. It was not an adult mouse. I thought it was a baby, but Lawrence said it must have been a juvenile. I wonder if it found its way right back to the house, or decided to find a new home.

When I got back to the pens, I set up Bow's computer so that it was plugged in on the inside of the pen adjoining Bow's, so Lawrence could take it in with him to play with Bow. Bow is less destructive than he used to be, so he can have direct access to the computer under close supervision. We were hoping that if Bow were allowed to have the touchscreen with him, and did not need to use the chopstick to touch it, he might be able to spell out words better.

But you know what he did when he had direct access to the computer? He closed the program with the talking keyboard, and he opened a window in Command Prompt.

"He made the screen go black again," Lawrence reported to me. This happened twice. Once in the morning, and a second time in the afternoon.

Whenever I set up Bow's program, I always open a Command Prompt window first and then type in the name of the executable. I wonder whether Bow is trying to imitate me.

Anyway, even when Bow has given up his compulsive physical attacks on objects, he still feels the need to destroy the setup electronically. He seems to have a compulsion for behavior that is not constructive, albeit the destruction at this point is only virtual. He doesn't smash the screen. He just closes the communication program. Maybe he'd be good at writing computer viruses.

Monday, December 13, 2010

"Thank you for giving grapes!"

This morning, as I was setting up breakfast in the pens, I was ranting to myself about an online discussion I had with someone. It was one of those things that had to do with a disagreement with one of my core beliefs, and so it touched a nerve. I was so upset about it that I was actually talking to myself out loud.

When I went in with Bow so he could tell me what he wanted for breakfast, he took my hand and spelled: "People don't understand that Mommy..." Then he stopped.

"What?" I asked.

He gave me a wise look, then spelled: "Thank you for giving grapes."

He doesn't usually thank me. He usually says: "Give me grapes." But I guess that was his idea of how to cheer me up.

"You're welcome, Bow," I said. There has been no more ranting on my part since then.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Snowed in

It snowed last night. We definitely can't go out and play. The glass doors that shut the pens out from the cold weather are iced shut and cannot even be opened. Bow and I were going to open them just so we could take pitctures of the outer pens, but even that could not be done. In the photo above, Bow sits in the corridor leading to the outside pens and looks out at the snow.

This is what the outside looks like through the steamed glass. It's not much snow, really, but it's the first snow we've had all year, and we cannot go out.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

"Everyone Tries Not To Die."

Early this morning I checked the mousetrap on the kitchen counter. Two tiny mice were trapped inside. When Lawrence comes later, I will drive them to a wild life preserve far away from here and release them.

Is that the right thing to do? I don't know. If everybody did this, then the preserve would be teeming with mice. The balance of nature might be affected. But not everybody does this. I have a chimpanzee to think of who can hear mice scream when they are dying, so I cannot afford to do anything else.

In case you are not familiar with Bow's history with mice, you can read about it here:

Anyway, there are two of them in our trap: one small and the other even smaller. I asked Bow what he thought about the fact that they were caught and that I'm planning to release them far away from here.

He spelled: "Everyone tries not to die."

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Picking up the seeds

This morning I served Bow a new type of grapes for breakfast. The Town & Country supermarket had them displayed so nicely and priced so reasonably, that  I couldn't resist, even though I know new things are risky. New things are risky, because Bow doesn't always like new things. He might refuse to eat them. After all, we all remember the incident a while back with the Concord grapes. It took me forever to convince him to eat them, on account of the seeds.

Today's new grapes were not Concord grapes, but they did have seeds. They are red grapes, but larger than usual. I think maybe some people call them "globe grapes". I served Bow, had my own breakfast, and then went to work on my CreateSpace blog, not paying much attention to Bow, who was still eating on the other side of the glass.
He was eating very loudly, with smacking sounds, but as long as he was happy, I was happy. (Sword was still asleep, as it is a weekend, and we had a late night.)

When I came in to take away the metal colander in which I served the grapes to Bow, Bow started busily picking up seeds from the floor and putting them into the colander. I didn't have to tell him! I might not even have noticed the seeds on the floor, because there were only a few of them. The majority of the seeds were already neatly piled up with the stems inside the colander. When he had finished picking up the seeds, Bow picked up the colander by its two handles and gave it to me.

"Thank you, Bow!" I said. He is such a help.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Playing with Links

Does Bow play with toys? Yes, of course he does. He owns a lot of toys, but he can be very destructive, so he gets to ask for toys one at a time, and he plays with them until he is tired of them. Among his toys is this set of magnetic links that he played with this morning. As you can see in the following video clip, Bow's way of playing with the links and my way of playing with them are different.
While Bow is aware that the links are magnetic, he prefers to play with them as if they were hockey pucks rather than building blocks. Is it because he's a boy and I'm a girl? Is it because he's a child and I'm a grown up? Or is it just because he's more athletic than I will ever be? Either way, he does eventually discover they can be linked.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The Bottom Wiper is Still Intact

One of my readers emailed to ask me what the status of Bow's "bottom wiper" might be. Well, I am happy to report that the bottom wiper is still intact. This in itself is a sign of progress. Bow has mouthed it on occasion, and he takes every opportunity to play with it, when I am distracted, but he has not destroyed it! He could so easily do so, but he has chosen not to. While this may not seem like a very big deal to outsiders, to me it is a sign of growing self-control and self-discipline on Bow's part.

Of course, the "bottom wiper" is just a rubber lint brush, such as you see in the advertisement here. It is not advertised as something to use to clean bottoms, but every tool has many uses. Bow has not started using it for that purpose himself, but he allows me to do it.

"Bow, would you like to use the bottom wiper yourself?" I asked him this morning when bottom wiping was called for. He silently picked it up and handed it to me, as if to say: "No. You do it."

While on the surface potty training may seem to be all about hygiene, it's really more than that. It's taking responsibility for yourself, it's not being a burden on others, and it means self-discipline and self-control.

I am encouraged by Bow's growing level of self-control around material objects, because it is my hope that one day soon he will be able to have direct access to his computer as well. It will be so much easier for him to write if he's allowed to use his fingers on the screen, rather than a chopstick through the grid.

We may be taking small baby steps, but we are making progress.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Thanksgiving: "Yes, I see [a] party!"

Lawrence was here the day before Thanksgiving, to sit with Bow while my mother and I prepared things for the feast. They could both see the kitchen, from inside the pens, and Bow likes to watch. He was feeling very talkative that day, and Lawrence reports that he even used his touchscreen. At one point, Bow poked  the computer with his chopstick until he got it to say: "Yes, I see party."

"I see party?" I repeated when Lawrence told me.

"Yeah. That's what it sounded like. I didn't actually see what he spelled."

Bow contrives to spell things on the computer when Lawrence is not looking. So, it is entirely possible that the "see" was spelled "C". But the "yes" and the "party" would be hard to achieve any other way than spelling them out. And let's face it "I" and the letter "I" are already a shortcut in normal spelling.

Now, people who claim chimps do not have syntax could make a really big deal of how there was no article in front of the word "party". I assure you, however, that Bow left that out because of difficulty with typing, and not because he doesn't know grammar. For that matter, having articles in front of nouns is not a universal of human language. Lots of language don't have them at all. Hebrew has a definite article and not an indefinite one. One might have supposed it was a question of fluency with English. But those of us who know Bow really well know his English is better than that. Using the touchscreen is hard. I sometimes leave out articles when I type, too.

As for the semantics of what he said, you kind of have to understand the context, too.We so seldom have people over, even just family, that to Bow seeing me and my mother and Sword talking, and laughing and working in the kitchen preparing a Thanksgiving feast seemed like a "party".

Thanksgiving day was just family: Sword, Bow, my mother and me. Bow and Sword each got a turkey leg, so that neither could claim I was favoring the other. The other favorite thing among the younger generation was cranberry sauce. Here are some candid shots I took with my laptop's built in camera:

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Grandma's Here

My mother arrived last night, while Sword was at her musical event. Bow waited up for her until almost past his bedtime. He was very happy to see her and greeted her with gentle pants.

This morning, it rained. To say that it rained would be an understatement. There was a deluge. In this kind of downpour, Sword would have gotten a complete soaking, waiting for the school bus at the side of the road. My mother volunteered to stay with Bow, on the other side of the glass, while I drove Sword down my long driveway to the end of the property, and she waited for the bus to arrive before she got out.

Meanwhile, back at the pens, Bow used the potty and did not get off it till there was no more dripping! He was good for grandma!
Now grandma is in the kitchen working on Thanksgiving preparations, and all is right with the world.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Monday, November 22, 2010

"Let Sword Read It, Too."

This morning, I picked up the proof of When Sword Met Bow from the P.O. box, while Lawrence stayed with Bow. After lunch, I read the book to Bow, and then I let him proof it himself. 
Bow seemed to like the book. He took a good long time to go over it. Then, later, when we were on the other side of the glass, he spelled: "Let Sword read it, too."
"Okay, Bow," I said. "I will. I'll let her read it as soon as she gets home from school."

Saturday, November 20, 2010

New Spring Internship Available

Today, Sword had a gymnastics meet, and she got to ride to the event with a friend. This means that even though it is a Saturday, Bow and I are all alone. Around eleven or so this morning, a vehicle drove up onto our property, and Bow, who had been napping on his blanket,  got up and stood to attention on his tippy-toes to see who it was.

It was Mark, the Schwan's delivery guy. We weren't expecting him at all. He comes every other Thursday. Today is not a Thursday.

"Didn't I tell you last time that I would come on a Saturday this week? Do you remember?"

"I don't remember that," I said.

He shook his head. "Nobody remembers. It's on account of Thanksgiving." Next Thursday is Thanksgiving, and it would be odd to receive a frozen food delivery on that day.

Mark usually comes right in so he can talk to Bow, but he had the feeling that we wouldn't remember, and we would be frightened by an unexpected person just walking in, so he stood at the door. "Come on in," I said. "Come talk to Bow."

"Hi, there, buddy, were you surprised to see me?" Mark asked Bow, and Bow vocalized excitedly back.

So, we are now set with frozen food for after Thanksgiving, as well as having everything we need for the holiday.

Another thing I did today was post another ad for an intern on Primate Jobs. It's unusual to get applicants for a Spring Internship, but you never know until you try!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Started Heating

I finally broke down and started heating, despite my Scrooge-like disposition.  I also installed a new heating lamp in the chicken coop. My  mother is coming in for Thanksgiving next week, and I hope that she will find everything nice and cozy. Sword has a musical performance to attend at her school the evening that my mother arrives, and I  have arranged for her to ride with her music teacher, while I stay at home to greet my mother. Bow heard us discussing all  of this at dinner last night, and before bed time he took me to the glass and spelled: "Call  Grandma. Tell her about problem with music."

There isn't actually a problem, but it's nice that Bow is concerned.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

But what about proof?

But what about proof? Am I really trying to prove that Bow can use language? Why have I spent so much time on proofing books for children, and so little time on trying to prove that Bow can read? What is more important here?

What's most important, of course, is for all of us to survive. And in order to do that, I have to start generating an income stream. We have to eat.

I set up an experiment, the goal has been achieved, but proof is hard to come by. And it's not just hard for me. It's hard for every animal language experimenter. Sue Savage-Rumbaugh is still publicizing that Kanzi has English comprehension at the level of a two and half year old, when Kanzi is a very intelligent thirty year old. But knowing what he knows and being able to prove it are two different things. Irene Pepperberg worked with the late Alex, an African Grey parrot. He didn't need to point at lexigrams or words, he could vocalize comprehensible English. But in order for her work to be accepted, she had to make cognitive, not linguistic claims. Linguists who are receptive to her work like to point out that Alex's production and comprehension of English wasn't "language". He was just manipulating "auditory symbols". I ask you: when somebody says "green" to refer to a green object, and that person is a human, is the word "green" just an auditory symbol? Or is it a word? But when a parrot does the same thing, do we have to use different terminology to label it? And this goes on without having the problem that we're having: that Bow won't point at letters without using our hands.

Lawrence came back from his trip very eager to make progress with Bow. He has a really positive attitude, and he's trying to think of ways to get Bow less dependent on physical contact with us when he writes. He's thinking of things like taking letter boards outside with Bow, so that he can spell outdoors as well as in. (Of course, we did do that, but he tore them up, and it's just much better when he can't directly harm the letters he is pointing at, because they are behind the glass or beyond the grid.)

"Yeah, so you tried that," Lawrence said to me yesterday. "But maybe he can do things now, that he couldn't do before. Maybe he's maturing."

Lawrence may be right. We can try these things again. We can write letters in chalk on the concrete, we can wear T-shirts that are letter boards, we can re-try a lot of things we've tried before.  But... while we're trying all that, we still have to eat.

I'm hoping to start filming again in the coming year on a regular basis, and I hope that I'll be able to capture more footage of Bow spontaneously spelling, whether on the glass or on his touch screen.

"How many videos of him doing that will be enough to prove that he can?" Lawrence asked me yesterday.

I laughed. The truth is that I could have a million such videos, and it still wouldn't be enough. Doubters would want any possibility of "cuing" to be eliminated. They would want to see him doing this with no one in the room. They would want to see him doing it with people he doesn't know. They would want him to talk to complete strangers. They would want him to answer multiple choice questions, over and over again, till he was bored to tears, so everything could be "replicable" and "objective." And even if he did all these things, it might still not be enough, because he would be accused of doing it by rote, and the utterances would not be spontaneous.  So, while I'm never going to give up, I'm also not holding my breath.

The difference between me and Herbert Terrace is that I have a real relationship with Bow, and I don't see him as just a means to an end. Even if we never prove anything, Bow and I are still going to be together, and we still have to eat.

Which is why at the end of this year, I am putting more energy into proofing books, and less into trying to come up with proof. The next book I plan to publish, When Sword Met Bow, is going to come out sometime in December. If you buy it, please be sure to review it on Amazon. It might help us buy more bananas and grapes and apples.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

"Because I'm a Chimp"

Lawrence came back to see Bow yesterday, after an absence of a week. Bow was glad to see him, and even said he had missed him.

They played together outside, and around three thirty Bow asked to have an apple for a snack. Lawrence brought in two apples, one big and green, and one small and red. Bow asked for the red one.

Lawrence wanted to make sure that Bow really wanted the smaller apple. "Do you want the big apple or the small one?" he asked.

Bow took his hand and spelled: "The small one."

Lawrence went and  got it, but before he gave it to Bow, he asked: "Bow, why do you need my hand? Why can't you spell without my hand?"

Bow took his hand and spelled: "Because I'm a chimp."

Lawrence laughed and gave him the apple.

This is not the first time Bow has made that excuse, but it was the first time he'd said that to Lawrence.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Everyone wants to eat.

Yesterday, I was hard at work on hub about dominance. Dominance is not my favorite topic, because I am still struggling with it, but it certainly comes up a lot when dealing with a chimpanzee. The truth of the matter is that it's a tricky thing, and that all is not as it appears. I do have to stand up to Bow and not let him walk all over me, but at the same time, he lets me know in all sorts of subtle and not so subtle ways that when he does cooperate with me, it's because he chooses to, and not because he has to.

Even when Bow gets in trouble and has to be disciplined, the only reason I can stick to my plan of discipline is that Bow allows it. He respects me, and he demands that I respect him, and it's just not that easy to explain to outsiders. People who pick up on it and instinctively understand this concept, like Lawrence, get to have a fine relationship with Bow. But others, some who are too soft and others who are too harsh, just don't make it in the program.

Meanwhile, on Hubpages, all sorts of people have been sounding out about dominance. Some of the things they said were so bizarre! For instance, that one person can "give" dominance to another person. So I went and wrote a hub about it. And in  the process of writing the hub, I watched a video clip from Capra's Meet John Doe. In that scene, Gary Cooper is an unemployed, homeless man on the verge of starvation, and Barbara Stanwyck, a savvy newspaperwoman, hires him to perpetrate a fraud on the public, in order to sell newspapers. Watching the scene, I wondered: "Who is dominant?" After all, Gary Cooper is bigger and stronger than Barabara Stanwyck, and he could just take what he wanted from her, rather than making a deal. But somehow he doesn't. He defers to her power and her position. Does he do this because he has to or because he wants to?

Bow watched the scene with me. So I asked him: "Bow, who is dominant in that scene?"

He spelled: "Everyone wants to eat."

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

When It's Cold, It's nice to Snuggle

It's getting colder now, but I'm not heating yet. This is the best time of the year to snuggle together and share a blanket. It's very cozy, if a little boring. Bow yawns.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Reviewing Books and Other Things

My book, In Case There's a Fox, is now available for sale on If you buy it, please consider reviewing it on Amazon, as every review can potentially help. The next book I plan to publish is called When Sword Met Bow, and it will recount their earliest experiences together, mostly from Sword's point of view.

I've been focused on children's books and how they are reviewed, and that's why this weekend I pulled out one of my very favorite children's books in the English language, Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings' The Secret River. It's been years since the last time I read it to Sword and Bow, but yesterday, Bow and I read it again.

It's really an excellent book, and not many are like it. It ties the cycle of life in with the business cycle in a way that no other book does, and without being at all preachy. There is such a light touch, and the prose flows like poetry. Bow leafed through it, and then he settled down on a blanket and let me read to him.

In the evening, I was intent on cleaning up and getting back to my review, but Bow spelled: "We should call grandma." So I did. He really has his priorities straight!

Thursday, November 4, 2010

"I want you to go!"

Yesterday, Bow had a very big lunch. We have lunch at noon. We have dinner at five o'clock. If Bow feels a little hungry, sometime around three-thirty, he can ask for a snack. But yesterday's lunch was so satisfying, that Bow did not ask for a snack. However, he started to feel hungry about a quarter to five. And when Bow gets hungry, he also gets a little testy with people. He kept leading Lawrence toward the door.

"What do you want, Bow?" Lawrence asked, encouraging him to use his words.

Bow went to the glass and using Lawrence's hand as a pointer, he spelled: "I want you to go."

"Why do you want me to go?"

"So I can eat," Bow spelled.

"Bow, just because I leave, that doesn't mean you're going to eat," Lawrence said.

Bow was confusing sequence of events with causation. On days when Lawrence is here, he usually stays till five. Then I relieve him, and Sword and Bow and I have dinner. We don't have dinner because Lawrence leaves, we have dinner because it is five o'clock. And Lawrence doesn't leave because we're about to have dinner. He leaves, because it's five o'clock. If he left earlier, we would still have dinner at five o'clock. But it was a natural mistake on Bow's part to think that if Lawrence just left, it would be dinner time sooner.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010


Yesterday Bow used his chopstick to make his computer say "miles."

"Miles? What do you mean by that, Bow?" Lawrence asked.

At first Bow refused to answer. Then when he did, he took Lawrence to the glass and spelled: "You are going far away." It's true. Lawrence and his family have a cross-country trip to California planned next week. I guess Lawrence must have told Bow about it, to prepare him for the fact he won't be sitting with him at all next week.

Last  night when we were alone, I asked Bow: "Is that really what you meant when you said 'miles'? That Lawrence is going away?"

In Hebrew, Bow spelled: "Bow tried to talk on the machine, but it didn't work."

It's really hard to use that touchscreen. Even I can't always get it to say what I want it to.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Bow Likes his New Swing

Yesterday, Lawrence could not come to sit with Bow, even though it was a Monday. But he came in today, which gave me a chance to vote. I also picked up my third proof of In Case There's a Fox from the post office box. The missing illustrations were restored. The colors were not quite as vivid as before, though. I debated with myself back and forth and decided to approve for publication. It is now available to purchase here:

 In Case There's a Fox

When I got home for lunch, Lawrence told me that he asked Bow if he liked his swing. Bow spelled: "I like my new swing." He seemed to want to make a big point that the swing is new.

"Why do you like it?" Lawrence asked him.

Bow spelled: "Because I can hang." He likes to hang upside down from the swing. And so they went outside and Bow proceeded to "hang".  All is well with the world.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Halloween Pumpkin Pie

Bow no longer dresses up for Halloween. When he was little, he once wore a cute little pumpkin costume. Clothes in general are something he outgrew. He was never that into clothes when he was little, and eventually I had to give in and agree that he did not in fact need to wear any.

Sword dressed up as a sorceress this Halloween, and she and I went trick or treating after Bow went to bed for the night. But the holiday did not go unmarked even for Bow. We had a special treat for dinner: pumpkin pie topped with Halloween themed edible decorations. Bow liked it! He even asked for seconds. Sword was happy with a single piece of pie. Bow and I each allowed ourselves two!

Saturday, October 30, 2010

More Swinging

Even though the weather has turned cold, Bow and I have been going outside more lately, because Bow has been asking to go outside specifically, repeatedly and adamantly. I end up pacing a lot, because it's too cold to sit down and stay still. But Bow seems especially energized. He plays chase. He tries to incite the dogs. And he swings. He especially likes to play tag and use the swing as the protected zone, where he is out of reach and untouchable.

I managed to capture better shots of him on his swing this morning than the ones I posted last time.

Once Bow has had his fill of swinging and running around, he retires to the human chair, not his metal bench. I think he believes the bench is more for exercising.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Swinging Outside: Going Out on a Limb

This morning Bow and I went outside. I was hoping that he would enjoy playing on his new swing. Actually, it's an old swing, but he hasn't had the opportunity to use in a while. Yesterday, Rex the welder came by to reinforce one of our inner doors, and he also installed two iron rings in the outer pen so we could hang a swing. It was one of the swings Bow used to use regularly, before the sun room was converted into part of the pen system. It used to hang from the beam that is now inaccessible to those of us inside the pen.

Yesterday, Lawrence installed the swing for Bow after Rex left, and Bow had a good time with it. But this morning it was cold, and Bow didn't want to swing. He lay on the outer chair that is not intended for him, so much as for the human with him, and he wrapped himself up in his own body heat.
He did make a few cursory attempts at swinging to appease me, but he really wasn't into it.

Eventually, we went back inside, and soon thereafter Mark, the Schwan's delivery guy, came by to take our order. Bow and Mark are well acquainted, and Mark greeted Bow the usual way: "Hi, there buddy, how you doin'?"

"Could you keep talking to Bow while I get my purse?" I asked Mark. (Actually, my fanny pack was right there in the pen, but it was covered up, and I couldn't see it.) Mark dutifully kept up the chit-chat with Bow, but when I came back, he told me: "I think I said something that made him mad."

"What did you say?" I asked, going back in to get my wallet.

"I asked him wouldn't you like to go outside and swing from one of those trees?"

Apparently, this set Bow off and canceled all the good will that Mark had built up with him.

After Mark left, I asked Bow why he got mad. Bow spelled: "He's trying to kill Bow."

"You mean because he was trying to tempt you to leave the pen?"

"Yes," Bow spelled. "It's dangerous."

Bow is aware of what happens to chimpanzees who venture outside their homes. He has heard about recent events, and he wants nothing to do with it. He even objected to this line from one of my Debt Collector songs: "I would rather be free than live trapped in a cage." The cage is safer.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Weather Prediction

Yesterday, when he was out with Lawrence in the outer pens, Bow asked to come in. He took Lawrence to the glass and spelled: "I think it's going to rain." Then he asked to go back out again. Apparently, the only reason for going in was in order to share the insight. (Bow has no letters and no computer outside, so if something occurs to him out there, he has to go in to spell it out.)

Well, it didn't rain. The weather was blustery, and the tree limbs swayed and the leaves fell, but there was no rain. Later in the day, when they were next to the computer, Lawrence asked Bow: "Why do you think it's going to rain?"

Bow took the chopstick, pressed a few letters and the computer said: "Why is..." But the question was never finished. Lawrence speculated that Bow was trying to say something like: "Why is the wind blowing?" But that's just one guess out of many.

All day, there were gusts of wind, and you could even hear it blow, but there was no rain. It did rain a little in the middle of the night.

This morning I mentioned this to Bow, and he spelled: "Yes. Bow is smart."

Monday, October 25, 2010

The Mystery of the Missing Scissors

Yesterday afternoon I made a mad dash for the kitchen to put the chicken in the oven as usual. I had Bow's permission to do this, but he knows exactly how long it should take me to do it, and I was very dismayed when the scissors for removing the shrink wrapped plastic off the thawed hen was not anywhere near the sink, where it should be. I usually keep these scissors in a crystal vase intended for a single long stemmed flower. The vase is right next to the sink, but it was empty. I started to panic. Where could the scissors have gone?

Sometimes Sword borrows those scissors when she has a new sack of chicken feed to open, and sometimes she fails to return them. I checked the garage near the chicken feed area. Nothing!  So then I made a dash for my bedroom and brought out a different pair of scissors, appropriate for sewing and paper work, but not very good for kitchen tasks. I prepared the chicken, placed it in the oven, and was on my way back to the pen when I ran into Sword in the hall. "Have you seen my scissors?" I asked her.

"Which scissors?"

"The ones that go in the kitchen."

She popped into the kitchen and came out sporting the scissors I had just used, the ones that came from the bedroom. "These scissors?"

"No. Never mind."

I hurried back to the pen and Bow. I was half expecting to find a puddle on the floor, in punishment for having taken so long. But no, Bow was good. He was patiently waiting for me at the door. He had been watching the exchange between me and Sword.

"I don't know who took my scissors," I told Bow, not really expecting him to answer.

Bow took my hand, led me to the glass and spelled: "Bow doesn't think Sword took them." This was very nice of him, since he often says things that are not so complimentary about her. (Sibling rivalry.)

"Then who?" I asked.

"Mommy," he spelled.

"Me? What did I do with the scissors?"

"You opened something," he spelled.

It was true! When he said that, I suddenly remembered that I had used them to open a package around lunch time. Mystery solved. They were on the dining room table, next to the package.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Sometimes there's not much to report. It's fall. The leaves are turning. The weather outside is perfect. Cool, but not too cold. Bow and I went outside and snapped some pictures, using the built in  camera of my computer. He loves to stick out his tongue for the camera. Sword was out in the yard, playing with the dogs.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Who brought the food?

Last Monday, when Lawrence was sitting with Bow, Bow asked him if he could have an apple. I was out with Sword at the time, so Lawrence went to look for an appropriate apple to give to Bow. Now, I keep apples handy out on the dining table, in big bowls right next to the bananas. And I keep other apples, the ones that are in reserve, in case the first apples run out, in the refrigerator. But it was around three-thirty, and Lawrence knew that we eat dinner at five, and he didn't want to spoil Bow's appetite, but he did want to comply with the request. The apples on the table were big, red apples and big yellow apples. The red apples had come in a large bag, and we were down to the last couple of them. Lawrence felt the apples in the bowl, both yellow and red, were too large for just a snack. So he went looking for smaller apples in the refrigerator. He found an unopened bag full of yellowish/red apples, and he took one and gave it to Bow.

Lawrence told me that he'd taken an apple from the refrigerator to give to Bow before he left that day. It was not a problem. So when I served dinner, I decided to give Bow one of the big red apples. And the next day at lunch, I gave him the last of the big red apples, while I took one of the smaller yellowish/red apples for myself.

Bow threw a fit! He would not finish eating his red apple. I came and looked at it, to make sure it wasn't rotten. It wasn't. It was fine. "Bow, why won't you eat your red apple?" I asked.

He gestured at my tray and then spelled: "Uncle Lawrence gave you those apples to give to me!"

I was shocked. "No, Bow, he didn't. Those are my apples. I bought them at the store with my own money. Lawrence let you have one of them as a snack, but he didn't bring them, and they don't all belong to you!"

It took quite a while to convince him. Because Bow had never seen any of those apples until Lawrence gave him one, he assumed Lawrence had brought them. He thought he knew all my apples and that those were not mine. However, I did convince him, and he did eventually finish eating his big red apple.

It's true that many times people do bring by food just for Bow. Once Rex the welder and his wife brought shiny red apples that had grown on their own trees just for Bow, and only Bow got to eat them. Lawrence does sometimes bring special snacks just for Bow. Tracey brought sweet potatoes he had grown himself just for Bow, and only Bow got to eat them. Bow received a shipment of pears a few times as a present, and we were so anxious to honor Bow's property rights, that when he refused to eat them, we let them rot. But the second time that happened, we decided that if Bow refused to eat the pears when they were overripe, then others could do so, because it is really very wasteful.

As a firm believer in property rights, I have raised Bow to be aware of what is his and to claim it. However, it was really disconcerting to be mistakenly accused by my little boy of stealing what he believed to be his apples!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Bow Proofs my book "In Case There's A Fox"

Today the proof of my CreateSpace Book In Case There's a Fox arrived, and Bow is helping me to proof it. If a book is Bow-proof, then it has to be a good book, don't you think?

Tuesday, October 12, 2010


Bow is not always that cooperative, so the word "yes" is not often on his lips. Or on his keyboard. Or one that he spells on the glass. He is usually not a "yes-man". But yesterday the word for the day was "yes".

After lunch, Tracey, our computer consultant, came by with my old Gateway laptop that recently lost its hard drive. He had saved as many of my data files as he could, and had backed them up on the new hard drive. The old operating system with all my installed programs could not be saved, and so we were in the process of trying to replicate it, when Lawrence came back from lunch.

Bow greeted Lawrence very  noisily, with lots of chimp vocalizations, and rattled the door, and tried to display how very big and strong he was. It was quite a bit more of a display than Lawrence would have gotten, if Tracey were not there.

Tracey and I kept working on the computer, while Bow and Lawrence played in the adjoining pen. Then Bow took Lawrence to the glass and spelled out that  he wanted to go outside. Lawrence escorted him  out, but Bow made a big point of rattling the door right behind where Tracey was sitting, working on my  Gateway.

Tracey turned around and asked: "Bow, are you going outside now?" And Bow said "Yes." After which, Lawrence opened the next door, and the two of them went outside to  play.

What do I mean, he said "Yes"? Well, it really was more like "eh", but I just know he meant to say "yes". The consonants weren't there, because he can't make them. All he can make is the vowel, and the intonational contour, and let me tell you, those were perfect! Lawrence and I both thought he was saying yes.

Am I completely deluded? Well, no, I'm not making a scientific claim here. I realize that this would carry no weight with the scientific community. But here are some of the reasons that it makes sense to us:

  • It wasn't a chimpanzee vocalization. Bow's chimp cries express emotions more than specific thoughts, and as such they tend to be repetitions of the same vocal patterns over and over again.
  • This was a single syllable he uttered, very crisp, with the correct vowel, and with no repetition.
  • In the context of the short exchange with Tracey, it sounded as if he said yes.
After that, Tracey and I started talking about how hard it is for humans to express themselves in writing in real time, when their larynx is injured, and how hard it is for Bow to use his touch screen computer to spell out words.

Meanwhile, Bow and Lawrence wrestled outside, and Lawrence told me afterwards that Bow had been working really hard to beat him, probably because he wanted to impress Tracey. Finally, Lawrence gave in. "You win," he told Bow, and Bow, feeling satisfied, decided to go  in  to use the potty.

Afterwards, when Lawrence was emptying out the potty, Bow picked up the chopstick he uses for his touchscreen. Lawrence, who was already in the corridor, said to Bow: "Now don't you  be playing with that. You either put it down or use it to say something." (I can't tell you how many chopsticks we've lost as a result of other uses that Bow has put them to.)

In response to  Lawrence's admonition, Bow picked up the chopstick, poked at the computer about three times, and the computer said: "Yes."

I was stunned. "It sounded like yes! Did it sound like yes to you?"

Lawrence and Tracey both agreed. "It didn't sound like anything else besides yes," Lawrence said.

"That was good, Bow!" I said.

Bow clapped.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Bow's Tooth Fairy Money

This morning I am still preoccupied by my discovery, while editing The Debt Collector, that the going rate for milk teeth has quadrupled since 1985. I try to interest my children in the discovery, but they are non-plussed. "Did you know that in 1985 when I first wrote this play, a milk tooth went for twenty-five cents," I say to Sword.

"Yeah. So?'

"So this means that a quarter is worth a lot less today than it was back then."

Sword is not impressed. "The bank just gives people more money now, so the things in the store also cost more, so it's all the same." No big deal, she implies.

"But what about all the people who saved their money for twenty-five years and now can't buy anything with it?"

"Nobody does that," she says. "They would die."

"I do."

"No, you don't," she replies.

"I don't?"

"You mean to say that you haven't bought groceries for the past twenty-five years?" she asks, with a knowing tone of voice.

"Well, no... I've bought groceries..."

"So you lied..."

Well, okay, but I am trying to curtail my reliance on store bought groceries. I turn to Bow and ask him: "Well, what do you think about inflation?"

He refuses to answer that question. He invites me to play chase instead.

Here's another thing Bow refuses to do: spend his tooth fairy money. There it sits in his piggy bank, and there it will remain. He won't tell me what to buy with it. I think if it were up to Bow, the price of everything would go down, because there wouldn't be any demand.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Bow is so Good!

This morning was a little tough. I took Sword to the theater last night, and we had a great time, but we got home close to midnight, which in turn made us oversleep and caused a lot of little chaotic things to  happen. Sword missed her bus. Bow acted up. I had to drive Sword to school. I had no sitter, and Bow was not very cooperative.

But Bow is really not such a bad guy. I was checking my email and Hubpages comments a couple of minutes ago, when, in my peripheral vision, I saw that Bow was playing with something. I just naturally assumed it was the bottom wiper, and so I used my deepest and most authoritative voice to say: "Put it back where it belongs!" I didn't even look up, but I saw Bow respond to my request, go over to the potty, pick up the bottom wiper, place something in the bottom wiper's spot on the potty seat very carefully, and then put the bottom wiper over whatever it was.  All this I could see with my side vision. (My peripheral vision seems to be expanding, the more time I spend with Bow and the computer at the same time.)

Wait, a minute, I thought to myself. That wasn't the bottom wiper he was playing with. What was it then?

It turned out that it was a piece of  vine from the grapes I gave him this morning. I hadn't cleared it away. I'm getting sloppy. Wasn't it nice of Bow to decide that it belonged under the bottom wiper? He's such a big help.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

News About Kanzi

Bow and I live in isolation in a protected zone inside our pens. We have an internet connection, and we subscribe to a couple of magazines, but we don't watch TV, and we don't get any newspapers, except the ones that arrive for free and are used to line the bottom of Sword's bird cages. However, when something that affects us happens in the outer world, the news eventually filters down even to us.

Yesterday, as usual, Lawrence was trying to get Bow to use his computer. Bow spelled something on the glass. (I don't remember what it was.) And Lawrence said to him: "Why don't you say that on your computer?"

Bow took the chopstick from Lawrence, strode purposefully toward the computer, poked at it once, and the computer said, in its robot voice: "Why?" Lawrence didn't see what key Bow hit, but he figures it must have been the letter Y. Nevertheless, "why" is what Bow seems to have meant. Why should I spell it on the computer when you can understand me perfectly well when I spell it on the glass?

Well, the answer might have been: so you can go on Oprah. When Lawrence was leaving, he turned to me and said: "My family tells me they saw some chimp on the Oprah Winfrey Show, and he wasn't just an ordinary chimp; he used symbols to communicate. And also, he could blow up balloons."

I raised an eyebrow. "Are you sure it was a chimp? It sounds like a bonobo. What was his name?"

"I don't know. I didn't see the show. My wife and kids saw it."

"Well, it sounds like Kanzi," I said.

"Oh, so you've heard about him?" Lawrence asked.

I smiled. "I've met him."

When Lawrence had gone, Bow said to me: "Bow is trying not to be mad that Kanzi is important."

This made me laugh. Jealousy doesn't have to be all bad. It could be a very good motivator for Bow. Then I called my mother, to see if she had caught that Oprah show. She said she hadn't. So then I googled it. It's not very hard to find. Just google "Oprah Kanzi" and immediately you'll find evidence that Oprah had a segment about Kanzi recently.

One of the articles this search led me to had a very nice picture of Kanzi, and underneath, it said: "Kanzi has English comprehension on the same level as a two and a half year old human child." That's based on a study conducted decades ago. I shared this with Bow and asked him what he thought about that. "Those people are stupid," he said.

Kanzi's comprehension is not limited to the weird novel sentences that were used to prove his understanding of English syntax. His English production ability is not limited to the lexigrams at his disposal. Anyone would sound like a two year old if limited to lexigrams and not allowed to spell out words. What primatologists manage to "prove" and what they actually know about the primates they work with are two different things.

This morning Bow was still thinking about that. Before breakfast, when I was expecting him to tell me what he wanted to eat, he spelled out: "Kanzi is not a baby. Kanzi is big. Everyone knows Kanzi is not stupid."

"Yes, you're right, Bow," I said.

Kanzi is thirty years old. And, no, he's not stupid. Neither is Sue.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Bow's Involvement in Every Aspect of My Life

I've ordered my first proof of the CreateSpace book In Case There's a Fox, and so now I don't have to work on that for a while until the proof arrives. Meanwhile, there's the first act of The Debt Collector to finish revising. I wrote the first act in 1985 and the third act in 2009/2010, and I need to make sure they go well together. Bow, for his part, has only one concern:  whatever it is I am doing, he should be involved. He acted up a little this morning, but as soon as I allowed him to sit on my lap, he was happy. The picture above is of the two of us peering into the screen, while I hold the old Debt Collector manuscript.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Can versus Will

Yesterday afternoon, while Lawrence was watching Bow, I baked a cake. No, I didn't bake it from scratch. It was from a lemon-poppy seed muffin mix, but I baked it like a cake, and I used three eggs instead of two, because of the surplus of eggs that we have. I haven't baked anything in ages, because the oven is in the kitchen, and I need a sitter just to be able to get there.

Well, that's not completely accurate. I bake chicken and sweet potatoes practically every day, but I have that down as a routine, and I don't spend one extra minute in the kitchen. I just stick them in the oven as fast as I can. Cakes, though, even when they come in a mix, require a little more time.

Bow can see the kitchen from the pens. That's one of the nice things about the house layout. The pens open up into the living room, so Bow can see anything that goes on in the living room with no extra effort. In order to see the kitchen, he has to stand in a certain spot and peer at an angle.

I could see Bow and Lawrence standing there, watching me as I prepared the mix. Then, when the cake was in the oven, I called Sword to the kitchen so she could lick the bowl. I glanced in the direction of the pens. Bow was standing on his tippy-toes watching all this intently.

Sword is not a very efficient bowl licker, so there was plenty left when she was done. I brought the bowl into the entry way of the pens. "Would you like to lick the bowl, Bow?" I asked. "Tell Lawrence on the computer."

We are still trying to coax Bow to use the touchscreen computer rather than the letters on the glass. We do not use food as a reward. But licking the bowl isn't really about food. It's almost like a recreational activity.

Bow didn't answer me, so I left the bowl there and went to check my email. When I was gone, Bow took Lawrence to the glass and spelled: "I want to lick the bowl."

"Can you say that on the computer?" Lawrence asked.

"Yes," Bow spelled. Then he went over to the computer, but didn't spell anything. After that, he took Lawrence back to the letters on the glass.

"Okay, Bow, I know you can spell it on the computer," Lawrence said. "But will you spell it on the computer?"

Bow spelled: "No."

"Why not?"

"It's hard."

Monday, October 4, 2010

Pushy Visitors

When I came back at noon from running errands today, Lawrence had to tell me that Bow had misbehaved while I was gone. Bow was making a lot of raspberry sounds, so it was hard for me to hear what Lawrence was saying. "It's because ... came by," was all I could hear.

"Who came by?"

"Jehovah's Witnesses. ... You've heard of Jehovah's Witnesses?"

Well, who hasn't heard of Jehovah's Witnesses? Of course, I had. In fact, Bow and I have met a lot of Jehovah's Witnesses. There was a time when Bow was riding on my back all day, and the only kind of rest I could get was to sit with him on the front porch for a while. It was before he was confined to the pens. Before there were any pens. But it was after I could no longer allow him to move freely through the house. As long as I held him, or he was riding on my back, Bow behaved well. But if I put him down, he would run around like a madman, leaving destruction and chaos in his wake.

At first, I told myself that I would get things done while we sat there on the porch. I brought out a canvas and paints, but Bow would not let me concentrate even on that. The moment I had my back turned, he'd snatch a tube of paint, and before I knew it, he had swallowed all of its contents.

So it was that when the Jehovah's Witnesses dropped by, they always found me sitting on the porch with Bow, doing nothing. They would come by, and they were polite but persistent, and they would not leave unless I  accepted a pamphlet. I tried not to argue with them so as not to prolong the visit, and also because Bow can sense even the slightest animosity between people, and it can set him off. But as soon as the Jehovah's Witnesses had driven away, I would turn to Bow and ask: "Do you want to read this book?" He was always very interested, but as soon as he had finished reading it, he would start chewing on the edges. This would happen every time the Jehovah's Witnesses came by, until one day they caught Bow with one of their pamphlets. "These are very valuable, and they cost a lot of money to print," they told me. "If that's what you're going to do with them, we're not going to bring you any more."

"Okay," I said as meekly as I could. And that's how I got the Jehovah's Witnesses to stop coming by. And they haven't been here for years!

But today they dropped by again, and they wouldn't take no for an answer, even though Lawrence told them that he had his own beliefs, and that he doesn't live here, and that he was working, and that he had to get back to Bow. Nothing could convince them not to leave their booklet. So finally in desperation Lawrence said: "Fine, give me the booklet."

When he got back to Bow, Bow had peed in several different places in protest.

"Why were you bad?" I asked Bow at lunch.

"Because a bad man came to bother us."

Friday, October 1, 2010

Bow's Concern for My Image

I've been working hard on trying to master the CreateSpace publication path. I have various manuscripts in memory in each of my old laptops, and the hard disk can fail at any moment. Yes, I have hard copies, too, and some things are backed up on CD and DVD, but it all seems very risky, and I want to stop sitting on old manuscripts and just get them out there to the public. The best way to preserve a document is to continuously make copies of it, and CreateSpace offers to do this for free. So even if I don't look at it as a potential revenue stream, it's a great system for archiving.

However, I do have to learn a few technical skills before I can make use of this service, and Bow doesn't like it when I concentrate for long periods of time on any one thing. Just as I try to influence Bow to focus his attention, Bow tries to influence me to scatter mine. Because we have no choice but to spend twelve hours a day together, this is give and take goes on all day.

"You never finish," he spells. Then he tickles the bottoms of my feet, and we play chase. I jump up and down with him, or we play music and dance to it. But just as he can't stand to concentrate on a task for long, I can't stand to stop working until I have finished. So I go back to the computer, and he goes back to fidgeting.

Finally, I finish a hub in which I share my frustrated efforts to put together a CreateSpace book cover. I go over to the other side of the glass to play with Bow. He spells: "Mommy, don't tell them it's hard for you."

Bow is concerned about my reputation! He wants people to think I am smart.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Bow's Fame

A reader of this blog emailed this morning to ask whether Bow is aware that he is a little bit famous. She suggested that while this might not make up for the fact that he has no girl friend, it might be some consolation. The answer is yes, he knows about his fame, and in fact he has an exaggerated awareness of his own importance in the world at large. He often asks me not to write about certain things that he has done, because he doesn't want people to think that he is "bad." Right after doing something not so nice, he will spell: "Mommy, don't tell them that I did that."

I am now reaching an uncomfortable point in chronicling my family's life, because both my kids have become aware, painfully aware, that I write about them, and I have to exercise a little more caution about what I say. I myself up until recently thought that I was writing for an audience of strangers, only to find local people to be among my readers. I have to watch what I say more now, so as not to hurt the feelings of my children or of the people they interact with.

In Bow's case, his awareness of his public image can sometimes grow way out of proportion. He knows that many people do not believe he can write, and he is not planning to enlighten them. He'd rather they continue to think that, because someone once told him that his life would be in danger if the truth came out. This has created a sort of paranoia that puts him at center stage, even when what is going on is not about him at all.

Once, somebody knocked at our door by mistake.   He was trying to find one of our neighbors, but  these country roads can get confusing, and he was lost. I gave him directions, and off he went. All this time, Bow was watching the front door from  the pens. When I went back in with him, Bow spelled. "That man lied. He's not lost. He came to see me."

"Bow you're not the center of the universe," I tried to tell him. "Not everything is about you." But he was not convinced.

The best thing in the world for all of us is if Bow stopped worrying about other people and their opinions and started thinking of his life in a more down to earth context. He needs a social life a lot more than he needs fans. And he needs to start doing something productive for his own support, rather than expecting everyone to provide for him.

We do get donations, and we are grateful for them. But the best thing would be if we could also contribute something to the community we are a part of and trade value for value. Bow is so smart! It would be a shame if he didn't eventually find something constructive to do with all that intelligence.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Two Things

I've been busy writing on Hubpages, while Bow has been making rasberry sounds all day. Every once in a while I go in to deal with potty issues, and I always ask him if he wants anything. "Bow, do you want anything?"

Finally, after the umpteenth time, Bow spells: "Two things."

"What two things?"

"I want not to hear about locks."

"Okay." I've been writing about locks all day. "And what else?"

"I'm bored."

I guess it's time to stop writing, and time to start jumping around. So I'll make this post brief.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

A Visitor for Bow: Friendship and Sharing

Yesterday Bow had a special visitor. Linda, the daughter of our computer consultant, Tracey,  had a day off from school, and she came by with her dad just to see Bow. She was shy at first, but Bow did his best to show her his friendly side. He knew in advance that she was coming, and he was on his best behavior.

Bow can be quite intimidating when he chooses to be, flinging himself at the pen doors and displaying his strength to anyone who doubts it. But with Linda, who is eight going on nine, just like him, Bow was friendly, jumping up and down and trying to engage her in a two way interaction. He restrained himself admirably and did not start showing off his strength until she was more comfortable in his presence.

"Does he ever laugh?" Linda asked.

"Yes, he does, but he does it without using his voice." I demonstrated by doing a voiceless "ha, ha, ha", which is more like panting, and less like talking. As soon as I started, Bow joined in with his voiceless "ha, ha, ha", just to demonstrate. Then I tickled him, and he laughed louder, and this time for real. It's hard to tickle a chimpanzee, because they are all muscle. You have to apply a lot more force than with a human. But the laughter is the same, only without vibrating the vocal cords.

When Linda felt really secure with Bow, she let him have some cherry/lime soda that she had brought in a styrofoam cup. Though Tracey and Linda could not go in with us, they could share the soda with Bow through a straw that fit into the holes in the grid. Bow finished the drink, but there were still a cherry and a slice of lime deep within the styrofoam cup. To get those, I would have to bring the cup into the pen for Bow.

"How about you thank Linda for the soda," I suggested to Bow.

He spelled: "No," in Hebrew.

"I think you should," I insisted.

Bow switched to English. "T-H-A-N," he spelled, but there was a huge pause at this point.

"K-Y-O-U," Linda suggested.

Bow spelled: "K-S", opting for the shorter version.

He ate the cherry rather quickly, but the lime piece took a lot longer to consume. First he sucked all the juice out of it, slowly, puckering his lips at the sourness. Then he ate all the pulpy part. And after that, he kept chewing on the peel as if it were the greatest of delicacies.

"You make that look so good, Bow," Tracey said, "that after I get home I'm going to get me some, too, and try it."

No sooner had Tracey said this, then out came the lime peel from Bow's mouth, what was left of it, and Bow tried to stuff it into a hole in the grid so Tracey could have some. And they say chimpanzees don't like to share!

"No, no, that's okay," said Tracey, who didn't really want to share Bow's treasure. But Bow kept trying for a very long time to get that slice through the grid.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Accepting the Things We Can't Change-- and Fighting Tooth and Nail to Change the Things We Can

I have a friend who is in her late eighties. She and I speak on the phone about once a week, because we  live in different states and cannot meet in person. She is about thirty-seven years older than I am, and we met when I was in my late twenties. My friend is vibrant and alive and healthy for her age, and she is a happy person with an active social life. In fact, her social life is a lot more active than mine. As we were about to hang up the other day, she said: "You shouldn't let your animals run your life."

She meant Bow, but she could not remember his name. She can't seem to remember that he is a chimpanzee, anymore, either. But she knows that I have to stay home all day with him, and she doesn't really understand how I could let that happen.

"If I were you," she tells me, "I would not let my animals run my life. I would go out whenever I wanted to, and if I found they had misbehaved when I was gone, I would punish them with such dire consequences that they would not dare repeat it! I would beat them within an inch of their life."

Bow is sitting there right next to me, and he hears every word she says. It used to make him very angry when she said such things, and he would act up, and spell "she is bad" on the glass, and I used to have to caution her to stop, but now Bow sits placidly by and tolerates this. He's long since stopped trying to correct her when  she refers to him as a dog. "She is not okay," he will tell me later. "She doesn't remember anything."

My friend suffers from short term memory loss. She is still the same person she was before. Her personality hasn't changed, and her wit can be quite sharp. She remembers the great depression very clearly and can tell you how to grind wheat into flour by hand. But she's not good at remembering what I told her last week, or the week before, or a month ago, and she doesn't remember things that she knew about me nine years ago.

Now, normally, I am very critical of people for not remembering things. If I have an acquaintance who doesn't remember anything I tell him, I figure this acquaintance has not been paying attention, and I ease up on the contact. But this friend can't help it. This is something that has happened to her recently, and I know that it can't be helped. So Bow and I forgive her for saying what she says.

There are other friends, more distant ones, who voice similar concerns, or who fail to voice them, but give off that kind of vibe. There are friends who do not understand why I can't go visit them but insist that they come see me. Or who, when they do come to see me, don't understand why I have to stay  in the pens all day, unless Lawrence relieves me. They have animals: dogs, cats, horses, and they love their animals, but their animals do not run their lives.

For people, especially rural people, who have never dealt with a chimpanzee, but who have plenty of experience with other animals, it may seem as if I have failed to discipline Bow, and I have ceded my life over to him. But among the chimpanzee activists, I have critics who voice the opposite complaint. I once had a volunteer who chided me for hosing Bow down for a potty violation. As far as that volunteer was concerned, Bow could do no wrong, and I should let him get away with anything he wished to do, because after all, he is just a chimpanzee.

I don't punish Bow for things he can't help, but I do hold him to the highest standards in matters that are within his ability to control. I do not force him to talk. He talks because he wants to. But I do require him to abide by certain minimal rules of hygiene and respect for others. The fact that he does abide by those rules is proof that he can. To the extent that I am not able to enforce other rules, it is because he can't seem to control himself. But I am forever testing to see if perhaps he has acquired more self control.

Bow and I are in the pens, because he can't be trusted outside the pens to abide by the rules of the society we live in. I've received angry messages from some readers, along these lines: "Shame on you for putting Bow in a cage. You're the one who should be in a cage!"

Well, I am in a cage. I'm in the same cage with Bow, and I will continue to  be in the cage with him, until he is able to have more freedom. This may happen in one of two ways: either Bow will develop the self control that will allow him to live in our world outside the cage, or I can get him a much bigger cage -- like that island we dream of-- that can be like a world of its own, a self-sustaining ecosystem that will support him, even as he lives apart from human beings.

I believe in discipline. I believe that whatever freedom we have is due to our own self-discipline. I'm doing my best to foster that in Bow. But it makes no sense to punish someone for what he cannot help. I apply exactly the same standards to human beings.

And this is why Bow and I no longer try to correct my  friend when she urges me to beat him within an inch of his life. We understand that she can't help it, and that we can't change her. We accept her the way she is, and we don't walk out on her. We don't cut her out of our lives. Just the way I don't walk out on Bow.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Stormy Weather

Bow hates stormy weather. Last night, around dinner time, we had a gale blow through. The sky grew dark quite suddenly, and the trees bent in the wind, and the rain came down as though it meant to flood the whole world. Bow started to rock back and forth, concerned. He always takes the weather much more seriously than I do. He almost refused to eat, but I told him that the storm was not putting us off our schedule, so he ate and rocked simultaneously for a while, until it died down. When the storm was over, he completely relaxed.

I wonder, sometimes, how Bow would do if he were on an island of his own. How would he deal with the weather? We used to go  outside a lot, on my property, on some other property that we have access to and even in the Missouri park system. Whenever there was dew on the ground, early in the morning, Bow refused to tread on it. He insisted on sitting on my shoulders or riding on my back. Of course, he was still a little one back then. If he had others, younger than he is, who were counting on him, would he take care of them? Would he put them first?

Leadership, ultimately, is more than bullying others into doing what you want. It is also taking responsibility for your decisions on behalf of others. I hope that Bow will be able to handle that challenge when it comes.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

In the Land of Plenty: Lost in Toyland

Yesterday I got an email from a person who works in a sanctuary offering to send Bow a case full of troll dolls. She had read about Bow's fascination with the "bottom wiper" and my stance on not letting him destroy it, and she got the impression that Bow was a poor underprivileged chimpanzee who simply didn't have enough toys. I wrote her back and thanked her, and I told that actually Bow has tons of toys, but what he values above material objects is companionship: both of the human and the chimpanzee kind. It would be great if instead of offering to send us dolls, the sanctuary people allowed Bow to talk to other chimps on Skype. It would be even better, if they allowed him to have contact with a female chimpanzee of appropriate age and habits.

Re-reading my post, I realize that maybe I gave the wrong impression, so I'll try to correct it here. My stance about not destroying the bottom wiper is not all about money. If I gave the impression that all I was lacking was Federal funding, and then I'd act like all the other researchers, I'm sorry.  I didn't mean it that way. The reason I even mentioned the Federal funding is because I think it corrupts researchers as well as chimpanzees. It's not really all that different from what welfare money can do to some families. And in the same way, it's a little like what well meaning grandmothers sometimes do to a parent's attempts at teaching a growing child values that will enable him to live in the real world.

What should you do when a child destroys a toy? Should you immediately reward him with another toy?  Or should you let the natural consequences sink in? Ultimately, which response is better for the child?

Bow has had a wealth of toys since I adopted him when he was a month old. At first he had free run of the house, and he even sometimes played with Sword's toys as well as his own. He had a brown teddy bear that he took everywhere in the house with him, and a pink easter bunny that rode in the car with him, so that he would not feel all alone in his car seat, while I was driving. So long as he needed these security objects, he took really good care of them, so that while he destroyed every other toy he was given, these two remained intact. But with time, Bow outgrew the need for security objects, and as soon as he didn't need them anymore, he tore them up.

Bow is now eight and a half years old. He has toys, but he prefers people. He constantly asks me when I am going to get him a girl friend. He loves playing and tickling and posturing and wrestling, and Lawrence and I oblige him. He can ask for any of his toys, and as long as he is playing nicely, he can keep them. But the  moment he starts getting destructive, the toy is put away. Nevertheless, every birthday and every Christmas he gets new toys, which he keeps with him for a while, before he destroys them completely and fills the pen with their debris. There is always an opportunity not to do so, and it's not as if he doesn't get plenty of second and third chances.

The fascination with the bottom wiper is not so much that is a rubber toy, as that it is a forbidden object. Bow gets a real kick out of out-smarting me and getting to play with the wiper for a while until I notice. If it were not forbidden, it wouldn't be any fun. And the moment it stopped being fun, he'd destroy it. When Bow plays this game with the bottom wiper, he's really playing a mind-game with me. He's practicing his politics. He's honing his leadership skills. He's showing his mind-reading abilities. It's not the physical object that has this allure. It's my attitude toward the object.

Nevertheless, I do see the fact that he agrees to put the bottom wiper back when I ask him to as a great improvement in Bow's self discipline. I find it an optimistic sign that Bow is capable of self-control, and that he can learn to conserve objects in his environment. When he grows up, he may have a peach orchard that he needs to protect. If he learns not to destroy the trees, but only to pick the fruit, this will a great stride toward self-reliance.

The lady from the sanctuary tells me that she knows a female chimp who is very kind to her troll dolls, and who cares for one of them as if it were a baby, carrying it on her back everywhere with her. I don't know how old that female is, but I imagine that when the time comes, she would much rather carry her own, real live baby on her back than a plastic toy. Bow is just dying to make that  dream come true for her!

Let's hope that we can cut through all the red tape and make this happen some day soon.