Friday, October 1, 2010

Contemplating A Dog's Life

Barbara: The post the other day about wee Bairn making her precious way into our lives made me contemplate the other side of a dog’s life. The side where things gets a bit harder. Well, I guess I also got to thinking about this other side because times are a bit … twisted at the moment, for me and pretty much all those around me. And when life gets twisted, we all get a bit dark and twisted with it, don’t we?

My dog, Chaplin, is my own dear, sweet pooch and, as much as I resisted getting a dog, I don’t regret finally making this decision. Not one bit. He, like Bairn, also started off with no fears in the world. Everything was exciting and wonderful. Every person. Every dog. Especially every dog. If you have one, you know that look dogs get when they spot each other—they’re out for their morning walk and suddenly a fellow-species member trots by and the world stops for both of them, like they’re the only two beings alive on this earth. You half-expect some sappy love-song strains to start up, say “Lady in Red”, as they strain to nuzzle and sniff each other. I always used to say, Chaplin is a people-dog, but he’s even more of a dog-dog.

But that all changed one day when I was walking Chaplin and we passed a large white (leashed) dog who, apropos of nothing, suddenly clamped its jaw around Chaplin’s neck. The master reacted in seconds and all finished okay. But Chaplin was a changed pooch. He was, well, gobsmacked seems the best word. It was like he’d just discovered his best friend was cheating on him.

Now he never looks at dogs the same way, with that innocent joy and heart-bursting love. No, now he growls or retreats shaking behind my legs, or sometimes he even lunges. For what purpose, I don’t know, I hardly see him as the jaws-around-a-neck type. And if the dog is large and white, all the more difficult to soothe him down.

Anyway, all this to say that it makes me wonder if we all aren’t a little doggy in our lives. We too start off sweet and innocent. But if one white dog clamps its steely jaw around our neck, life can change forever after. Yes, it teaches us a valuable lesson that some dogs bite, but it often just ruins dogs for us completely. Suddenly, for no better reason than something bad happened to us one day in the past, we now tend to cower or retreat or lunge out in angry self-defense at even the whiff of large-white-dog-breath.

But should one mean-spirited (or misguided) dog affect everything we try to do from now on? If one person or event or challenge or shock sideswipes us, should we lie in wait every day after for the same thing to happen again? Or can we somehow start fresh, reprogram our brains, and learn to not assume every dog will bite even if we know some certainly will? And in so doing, will we become more accepting, more courageous, and much more present in the moment?

All I know is that for me most, if not all, of my fears and anxieties grip me because of the sheer force of this habit. Ironically, there’s nothing more mundane than a habit, especially a bad one. And habit is a very difficult habit to break. Just ask Chaplin.

Deb: I guess that’s why when I am in a room full of people that love me, I will navigate to the one who doesn’t. Cause I have to sell them on me. Have to make them get the Deb.

I relate to Chaplin on this, but because my brain is bigger (YES, I AM SMARTER THAN THE DOG!), I have found my way around this one. I have really started to succeed in not letting the big dog bully me. I have found more and more that I am making small steps in that direction. My issue is the pendulum. I find myself struggling with the two extremes. I go from “Carpet Girl”––walk all over me––to FUCKYOUYAMEANSPIRITEDBULLYBETTYTHINKYOURPOODOESNTSTINK!

This is my issue. I need to find the middle ground and I am working on it. I can tell you this––and I stand by it 100%––if someone is not worthy of my love and friendship, I move on with no bitterness and no regret. My world and the world at large are too full of sweet pups to choose a bully. I am officially over them.

Chaplin, are you listening? Good dog. Smart Dog.


  1. Barbara -
    The trouble is that when over and over and over again you've gotten your neck bitten by monsters for a chunk of time, you start to live every hour wondering where the next sniper shot is coming from. Everytime you find yourself standing tall, you expect something's going to come along and take you off at the knees. You get hurt severely enough and often enough, there's no way you'll ever be stupid enough to risk bouncing up to greet another potential monster. There comes a point when daring just feels like a deathwish.

  2. Growing up in middle school and even in high school I was the person who would let the bigger dogs walk all over her. I was so afraid to speck out and tell the bigger dogs what I thought,now i'm not so afraid anymor. I was tired of being ran over so I decided to grow up a little bit and try to be the big dog. I have gotten a lot better at standing up for my self but I still have to work on it. Hopfully before I get out of college I can grow up all the way and be the big dog here.

  3. How, in the face of unpleasant realities, do we resist turning into cynics? How do we hold onto our ideals, our faith in the world, our hopes?
    Yet some of the most downtrodden, bullied, abused people manage to do it. It's a state of being worth striving for. If we don't shoot for those trustable stars, we're letting fear inhibit us.
    Easier said than done, I know, but as Churchill said, Never Never Never Never Never Give Up.

  4. By the way GELS, what are you reading these days? Finished the Karen Connolly (she is such a great writer) books yet? "Curious minds want to know," as they say on CBC.

  5. Rigel, that's exactly why I wonder how we can train ourselves to -- in Katrinka's words of Churchill's words -- never never never give up, even if the "monsters" are there. And in my world, "monsters" can be anything, not just people.

    Lyndsie, so glad you're finding your strength! Keep growing!

    Katrinka, you totally hit the nail on the head. It's about not becoming that old cynic. But about marching steadily forward.

    Oh, and as for books! Keep meaning to post new books to our bookmarked: The Outlander by Gil Adamson!!!! So amazing. This is what a book reads like when the author has taken 10 years to write it. Not to EDIT it, but to write it. Sublime. And Marrying George Clooney is Amy Ferris's autobiography of her experience with menopause. Really funny and ballsy (in a feminine kind of way)

  6. Barbara-

    I used to be a Don Quixote. Any cause, nonprofit, need - I was on a mission. Successfully, too. I could tell you warm stories and show you clippings and city council citations. Every class an A. Every person a potential friend. Every quest an adventure. I was smart and passionate. The only thing I've always been dodgy on is boy-girl stuff. I have dear guy friends/pseudobrothers. (OK, I landed my ex-husband, but he turned out to be a pathology fuck-up, so what does that say?) But, I've never mastered seduction, dating, romance, and relationships. (Maybe if I were skinny and pretty.) I'm destined to be alone. But, otherwise, I was kicking ass and taking names.

    But, then came a stretch when the monsters knocked me to the ground, tore my throat out with their fangs, and kicked my teeth and ribs in repeatedly and with increasing cruelty to the point where I just couldn't claw myself back up to standing anymore. My dearest friends nursed me through that long, dark time even to the point of making sure I ate something every couple of days and letting themselves into my house if I had bunkered down without communication for too long.

    By 2 years ago, on the outside I appeared to be functioning again. But, inside I would have long, intricate daydreams about watching rivulets of blood stream down my arms and over my hands with the droplets dripping off my fingertips. I would fantasize in exquisite detail about scenarios in which I would be found too late to live but soon enough that my organs could be harvested for transplant so I could help people with my death. The daydreams were detailed to the point of knowing when a friend of mine who's an ER doc would be on shift so I'd know it would be him working on me. Sealing the notes in ziploc bags to protect them from bodily fluids and taping them to the table so none would be lost in the flurry of a trauma code. I worked at the hospital and had keypad codes to secured areas, scalpels, etc. I got so close to the brink that I had begun to think that my son would be better off without a failure like me as his mom. And, I thought myself out of theological tangles by simply pleading for God's mercy and forgiveness if I offed myself.

    But, my friend A's mom killed herself when A was 15, and, even now in her early 30's, A's still screwed up in 20 different ways by that. No way was I going to do that to my son.

    So, I never would or could do anything because I'm kiddo's mom. I had no choice but to cowgirl up. My son is my #1 priority.

    I noticed the turning of the corner when the broken engagement happened (another pathology fuck-up - if I weren't in my pit, I'd've never been stupid enough to be involved with the asshat). It didn't kill me. Instead of falling irretrievably into despair and sadness, I got REALLY angry and started making fierce demands on myself for establishing a better life, living instead of merely existing. I wasn't blindly fumbling down a dark tunnel anymore.

    I finally climbed out of my deep, deep pit, but to this day, my energy reserves (I guess you could say my fortitude) are so ravaged and depleted that I'm a husk of who I once was. I have 2 reasons for being: 1. my son 2. taking care of those I love. Over the past year, I've begun experimenting with allowing myself indulgences in the form of creativity (arts and crafts, writing, photography). I have found that by allowing myself that creativity, I have more strength for #1 and #2.

    I love my Beloveds with all my might. But, the sad truth is, my might just isn't what it used to be. And, anything outside of #1 & 2 that comes onto my radar, I can't seem to draw deep enough breaths to act on. I am a sacked, pillaged village.

    Yes, I'm a coward about allowing another monster access to my throat. So, accuse me of becoming an old cynic. I've earned it honestly. But, I simply accuse myself of becoming an old survivor.

  7. Barb and Deb: I'm past the middle ages! but love to read you. Keep it up.

  8. First of all, Ginette! Welcome! Thrilled you're here.

    And second of all, Rigel -- I would never accuse you of being an old cynic (I know you don't think I did, but just sayin'). In fact, your difficulties aside, you might be one of the most nurturing people I've ever met, so you are obviously finding some way to fight the beast. And after my own most difficult years of shock and trauma where I too underwent a massive change, I don't feel at all a shell of my former self (although I, too, worried for a long time about being such). In fact, now I realize that I would never have found a way to grab my own survival preservers (writing, friendship, yoga) without the "permission" granted from those years. I think you are a million times stronger already. If still healing. Lots of love xo

  9. We adopted our poor pooch when he was about a year old--he'd been dumped at the Humane Society on Christmas eve because some mean rotten people couldn't handle him.

    He is a Corgi mix, and will grown if you scold him, bite if you try to take something from him--TERRIFIED of strangers (human or dog)--we suspect he was abused.

    It took patience and a lot of love but we've figured out all the paths AROUND his trouble--a lot of reassurance, a little space, a ton of love... and he his happy and loves all of us like crazy.

    I think most of those mean people out there are similar--they had personality quirks that made people mistreat them, and now they seem mean... if you give them unconditional acceptance, kindness--most are worthwhile people... the rest you just avoid... or so I see it. (I am usually at the party talking to the person off to the side that isn't 'part of things' Some of it is that I am a little socially awkward too, and don't do well in GROUPS of people--prefer the one-on-one.

    I have an award for you ladies today!

  10. Hart, I often find myself wondering how meanies got that way, so I hear ya.

    And so glad you're making progress with your rescue-Corgi mix. Love when people have the patience for this kind of rehabilitation.

    And thanks for our award!!! We are honoured and thrilled! xo B

  11. I too have a couple of dogs I rescued from abuse. It takes a lot to get through to them, but now they would give their life to protect me or Jack. It takes a lot of love and patients to get over the fear of being hurt for all of us, dog or man.

    Rigel I have been there with you. I don't have children so that is not what stopped me. I just knew I would fuck it up and wind up worse off, that stopped me. I built walls so thick around me, I couldn't find away out, much less anyone finding away in. A friend of mine was the opposite, she let everyone in to keep from being alone. But with a lot of patients and work on our part as well as the men who really loved us we are both finally happy and loved. It takes a lot of courage to say yes to someone but sometimes it takes more to say NO. Say yes to yourself. You deserve to be happy and loved. Say no to anyone who does not understand that. You don't need them in your life, and they don't deserve the special person you are.

    Barb and Deb I am so glad you both have come through and into the sunshine of believing in yourselves. You are an inspiration to us all. And thank you for giving us a place to vent and find help in friendship.

  12. TJL -- well said! So well said.

    And Deb and I also want to thank all of you for being here while we vent, listening and supporting us. And we're thrilled you guys feel safe enough to vent and share your own stories.

  13. Hart & Barbara,

    I realize there're reasons the monsters have become monsters. I acknowledge the harm that baggage can do and am not lacking in compassion. However, there comes a point when that's not a good enough excuse. If there's anything I learned from enduring my ex-husband coming unglued and taking it out on me, it's that there comes a point when each monster has to take responsbility for him/herself and his/her behavior. What was done to the monster in childhood, previous relationships, regrettable mistakes in the past, whatever is valid, but baggage isn't a free pass to do harm to others. Hiding in the excuse of having baggage (and refusing to get help) doesn't excuse causing others agony. A monster has his/her own brain, soul, free will. Giving over to being a monster (much less the truly evil ones who relish the power of their monstrousness, celebrate it - I've been dealt a couple of those, and, I state for the record, my ex-husband is NOT one of those and, also for the record, he has become a good father) because they've got baggage is an abdication of adult responsibility. Whatever the case may be. I'm sorry your mom abused you. I'm sorry your mom was a slut. I'm sorry you were an idiot and got a woman pregnant as a teenager. Whatever each monster's formative excuse. That doesn't give you the right to take it out on others. You are not exempt from morality and ethics. And, especially, when there are resources lined up to help people conquer that kind of baggage. Once you reach a point in adulthood and cognitive development, regardless of the actions of others, it is your job to stand up and become your own person. If you take the easy way out and give over to your baggage and become a monster, that is ultimately your fault, not that of those who came before you. Baggage is not a free pass.

    I'm not just spouting angry nonsense and throwing people into the dirt, either. I believe in redemption from the past. I've worked overnights on a suicide hotline. I've participated in prison ministry. I teach adult literacy. I've done rural healthcare outreach. I've helped get people into necessary referals. I've helped with a battered women's shelter. I've called police, called ambulances, called preachers, held hands, gotten my shoulders snotted up, and my hands bloodied up. I have stood between a bleeding woman and the man whose fist just made her bleed. But, what my ex-husband brought home to me is that no amount of patience, compassion, and love will help if the person won't take responsibility for him/herself. And, any evil he/she does is solely his/her own. As a fully cognitively functional adult, you reach a point of maturity where your choices, your actions, your good, your evil are your responsibility, and no excuses will wipe away the harm you do.

    I do acknowledge that there are extenuating circumstances. Some adults endured childhoods so horrific that they are, literally, in some ways, well the simplest, but still not accurate, description would be brain damaged. I exclude these poor souls from the category of fully cognitively functional, mature adults. They are broken beyond their own power to repair.

    But, those who have done me the most severe harm in life, those who came critically close to destroying me, are not in this category. Furthermore, some of them fully enjoyed, relished, savored, delighted in the evil they were practicing. I am a weak human and a poor Christian because I cannot bring myself to feel compassion for them. I do apologize for that, but it is the truth. I will not strike at them. I will not pay evil for evil. And, I am morally obligated to forgive them, a brutal task at which, to my shame, I continue to struggle. But, I cannot and will not nor should I have to excuse them. They are old enough, smart enough, and wordly enough to choose whether or not to be monsters, and they have made their choices. May God have mercy on their souls.

  14. Rigel, I totally agree with you -- people should take responsibility for their actions.

    I think the other side of that is that because we can't take responsibility for other people's actions, good or bad, we have to find ways of finding our own peace (or acceptance or growth, etc). Even if it is really really hard. And I think it is possible to let go, it just takes (a really long!) time and (lots of) love and nurturing.



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