My Life as a Dog

As I was walking Winston today, happily wandering the rugged trails of Chino Hills, a vexing question came to mind. Is it possible that I am unconsciously projecting my own worries, fears, and anxieties on my Dog?

I hold the general belief that I am well-adjusted, healthy, hopeful, and even filled with a cheerful holiday spirit.  And I can find reliable evidence to back up these assertions.

But for some reason, I seem to be worrying a lot about my dog. It happens in many ways: in my private thoughts, in my one-on-one “conversations” with Winston, and even as I discuss him with others.

I have been alone with him for the last week. I find myself  thinking …  poor Winston, he’s so lonely. He misses his Daddy (Steve). He misses Johnny and Grace – they need to hurry home for Christmas, because he gets so sad without them. He doesn’t like the house so quiet. I turn on some Christmas carols to soothe him.

I cuddle and caress his coarse curly back. “Poor Winston. Don’t worry, we-re gonna have a great Christmas. You wait and see.” I brush him head to toe – his favorite form of massage. “Don’t you worry at all poor baby, cuz it will be special – we’ll watch It’s a Wonderful Life” I stroke his golden velvet ears. “Good doggie. Such a good doggie. Your mommy loves you … you’re the best doggie in the whole world.”

When people inquire about me, I assure them, “Oh, I don’t mind Steve traveling. I love time to myself. And as far as the ‘empty nest’? Now it’s actually clean, and I have so much time to do what I want. I read more, I write more, I see friends and have fun! This may be one of the best times of life.”

But poor, poor Winston. That doggie; he just gets so sad. He nuzzles up to me, and nearly breaks my heart with his old soul brown eyes.

Here’s where I need to rely on my psychologist friends. Tell me truly, is this some form of neurosis? Denial? Repression? Is it serious, or even pathological? What is your professional opinion?

I admit – there’s more. You see … I also worry about Winston’s health. I want him to have a long life, free of knee problems or heart disease. That’s why I worry about how much he weighs.  But me? No, I am strong and fit. My diet and weight? Now that’s nothing to be concerned about. (Except for the sad fact that avoiding weight gain is my second religion, sometimes my first).

Yet, Winnie, now he is entirely too focused on food – its his obsession! He’s looking rather thick around the middle lately. He can’t seem to curtail his ferocious appetite, and love for all types of food that cross his path. It’s not his fault though. He runs and walks everyday. Getting fat is in his genes. I explain this to people, wanting to be sure they understand. “Labs have a genetic risk of obesity. They are quite naturally, a stout breed. And their instinct to continually eat dates back to the old days, when they lived in cold climates, and worked all day. They just can’t help it.”

So, Labs tend to get a little on the chubby side. As a responsible owner, I must be vigilant so he doesn’t become overweight. Poor, Poor Doggie!

Winston’s so hungry all the time. So I put him on the “weight control” food. We have to be disciplined about this – no cheating! He gets a full bowl every morning and night, but I guess because its lower fat, he is never satiated. He always wants more! It’s so hard when you’re always wanting more. Poor doggie.

And then, I admit, I have some concerns about his overall lifestyle. Does he have enough time for play? Maybe he has too much time alone at home. Could he even be getting too sedentary, or even, God forbid, lazy? Lately he would rather scarf down a treat, than chase rabbits through the field– that’s a bad sign.  Poor Doggie!

What about his social life? Is he too isolated? Maybe he is spending excessive time sitting around the house, when he should be out romping with the other dogs and making new friends! What about play dates and the doggie park? He would probably be happier if he got off the porch, and ran with the big dogs. But here he sits. Poor, tired doggie.

As his owner, I’m simply concerned for his well-being. A dog is a big responsibility. MY responsibility! He is one of God’s precious creatures. He deserves a good life. He deserves to be happy, healthy, and loved. His life could pass him by, and what would he have to show for it?  Was each day lived to its fullest? Did he give and receive every possible ounce of joy? You never know how many dog years you will have – and then suddenly, bam, its all over.

That’s it.  For New Years, I will have to make some resolutions for Winston. Poor doggie!
Winston

Winston

 

Breakfast in Bed, by Mary CassattI have not been in the mood lately.  First a little down, then a bit flat, then vaguely emotional. Certainly not flowing with creativity. Nothing serious. Just a stale discontent which gets in the way of doing what I want to do. So, I have missed several weeks of posting on my blog. This has disappointed me.

I have also found myself surprised by tears this week. A Taylor Swift song actually made me cry the other day. Could that be a clinical condition? “Why You Gotta Be So Mean” brought up images of the woman I had just had a counseling session with, who struggled with her children to survive years of domestic violence. Then I cried at the Huntington Library upon viewing the Mary Cassatt painting “Breakfast in Bed.” In the mother’s gaze, Cassatt precisely conveys the anticipated loss as the child looks out to the world. I am that mother years later – children off to college, concurrently relieved and sad.

It seems fitting that the post I have been unable to get going on for the last couple weeks is entitled “Not in the Mood.” How can I write about the state of being unable to write, when the condition itself logically prevents it? Virginia Woolf said, “Nothing is experienced until it is described.” So, Maybe I am only now experiencing it … because I am finally describing it. Such an unnerving enigma.

What stands in my way?

Is it distraction? There are so many other things to do. Things that are important that I don’t enjoy doing. Keeping up my house and running hills. Things that I do enjoy doing but that are not important.  Following Facebook and watching Colbert Report. Yet my soul knows it is essential to keep writing.  It is a thing that is important and a thing that I do enjoy doing. It helps me know myself and share myself with others. It allows me to metabolize my experience. But, I need to show up to the page.

Is it fear? The questions pass through me like they do anyone who struggles to create. In writing I am making myself vulnerable. Do I have anything to say? Will it be any good? Will people read it? What if people read it and it is no good? What if people don’t read it and it is good? Damn double binds! Risk looms on both sides.

Is it stress? So much is changing in my work. My job is being re-fashioned as the agency converts to electronic health records. Computer proficiency is not at the top of my resume! And now a position that I have felt confident and energized in for eight years feels simultaneously difficult and mundane. I am not shining these days; rather I feel like the special ed. kid in the back row struggling to keep up. I am tired, frustrated, and self-doubting.

Is it loss? My children have both been away at college for a year now, and I think I have handled it well. Yet, there is a quiet grieving taking place. It seeps out at unsuspecting moments. This grief has a capricious quality: rather puzzling because the empty nest has brought considerable gains – for me, for my marriage, and my ability to pursue other interests. But there is a subtle vacancy that comes and goes. It invades my dreams – lately dreams of babies born, babies lost, babies found, babies growing up only to regress again … bizarre but enticing. Dreams of becoming some mythic marsupial mother – my young stepping out of my pouch and having their walkabout, then tucking safely back in. Amid the soothing rhythm of my heartbeat, their appetites become wet again for foreign lands beyond my reach. They happily trot off, not looking back. I wait. I wonder. I worry. I turn to God, a shameless beggar …

Having now written about these moods preventing me from writing, I discover, that like many things in life, one does not have to be in the mood to write. And I received a delightful surprise: now that I have done it, I am in the mood. Writing about one mood was a stepping-stone to a better mood.

And not just to write. I am approaching something. I am not sure yet what it is. But, yes, I feel a stirring. On a gut level I know it. It is earthy and rich and good and will lift me up and stretch me. As I move through these many colored moods I discover a new and pleasant place. I sense opportunity. I am open.