Wednesday, October 31, 2018

With Eagle's Claws

Seen in Brooklyn

I saw Anne Lamott speak recently. I always tread a line with her. I love her writing and I take great comfort in a lot of the strategies she espouses, especially the ones from her experience with addiction recovery. I struggle with the amount of talk about Jesus.

To be fair, I don't disagree with or even dislike the vast majority of what she says about her religious practices. A lot of it is interwoven with the recovery strategies that I'm so drawn to. I'm on alert, though. "Is this going to cross my line?" "What about this?" "Where's my line again?" "I thought you knew!" "I'm not sure. I thought you knew!"

Being alert to someone's work can't be all bad, though, can it?

I was, fortunately, alert to an longtime friend's work recently. It was Kath's last year as the creator and organizer of The Great Pupkin. When she started it was just 10 or 20 families and their dogs walking in a small, weird parade around the park during the Halloween festivities organized by the Parks Department. This year, the 20th, there were over 100 participants and around 3,000 viewers. It's huge.

Leo, Kath, & Justine post-show
I've been teaching dog classes the last few years on the Saturdays before Halloween and haven't been able to even attend the Pupkin so I decided to take the day off from teaching in order to volunteer for Kath's last year as the fearless leader of this wacky, wonderful gathering. She gave me a plumb spot on the stage helping to usher contestants off in a timely manner. It's pretty amazing to be up there in front of 3,000 people and some folks need a little help being demagnetized from the thrill. I dressed in as much bright clothing as I could and was as happy and funny as I could be and I got to meet every single ding dang contestant. It's a job I wish I'd been doing for 20 years of this thing and Kath even mentioned to me afterwards that she wished they'd had an exit wrangler all this time. Turns out even after 20 years you learn something new every time you do something like this.

I'm reading the book Ann Lamott was in my neighborhood to promote, Almost Everything: Notes on Hope. Between the talk and the book there are many little tidbits I want to share with the world. So many that I'm really better off just sharing the book. It's a good book. I think you'd like it. Yes, even if you don't like that sort of thing.

The morsel that she shared in the talk that I cannot get out of my head is something that she and a friend, I think, often say, "Everything we've ever let go of has claw marks on it."

Wow.

Do you need a minute to think on that?

Go ahead and take it, it's worth it.

Gets right to the heart of the matter, doesn't it?

Available where books are sold.
I needed a minute when I heard it and now I can't stop hearing it and seeing the way she made a fully taloned gesture down toward the edge of the stage as she said it so you could really sense the value scraping itself out of her rigid grip and falling, exhausted, to the ground.

I've long been honest about the fact that letting go isn't my strong suit. It felt nice to have solidarity with Lamott and her friend about that. It was a revelation to me for someone to clarify that we don't have to let go of something easily for it to count as a successful letting go. We just have to let go. Which reminds me of a thing that my friend's dad always said after he'd attended a wedding.

"How was the wedding?"

"It was successful."

If the point was to get married then there's only one little thing that has to happen for it to count as a success!

Perhaps you've gleaned that I'm in the process of figuring out how to let some things go. They are, of course, not any things that I can talk about in public yet so no details will be forthcoming. But I needed to write down something about the process and I needed someone to read that information.

Thank you for reading.

We had a nor-easter deal a glancing blow to Brooklyn on Saturday so all the park Halloween festivities had to be moved to Sunday. We still got enormous turnout. It meant that I had to run right after the awarding of prizes at the Pupkin and head over to Sean Casey Animal Rescue's Howl-o-ween event where I was helping my PumpkinPups colleagues with our table there. I had asked The PP folks if they could do the set up without me and explained that it felt important to me to close the loop on my Pupkin experience. I might wind up back there as a spectator or volunteer but it may be a while. As I'm sure you all know, building a business is no joke and that's where much of my focus lies. It won't be the same without Kath, either. It'll be great, I'm sure, but different.

It's a quick 20 minute train ride from one place to the other. The G Train wasn't crowded. I had a book in my bag and a podcast loaded up on my phone but I didn't turn to either of them. I looked out the window and thought my thoughts like an A. A. Milne character.
The Honorable RBG

I'd had a great time at the Pupkin and getting to meet every contestant was an extra special treat. I was excited to go to Howl-o-ween, too. I couldn't wait to hear what my friends had seen before I got there and who they'd talked to and see what they needed next.

I was letting go but because I had something to move toward it was less like scratching something bloody and more like opening my reluctant paws and letting it fly away.

In the immortal words of T.S. Eliot

"And all shall be well and
All manner of thing shall be well
By the purification of the motive
In the ground of our beseeching."

And that, too, is true. So on we go...

Thursday, September 27, 2018

When


When should I quit my day job?

That might be the whole of this post, folks. It's such a huge question with so much baggage and I think about it every day. Is there even any point to saying more than that? How does anyone know when it's safe to do something so big?

They don't.

I know.

But...

What if my parents need help?

What if I get sick?

What if the pets get sick?

What if clients stop calling?

What if #45 gets re-elected?

I'm about to turn 50!

That's not a question.

When my mother turned 50 she was elated. A few months later she was diagnosed with breast cancer. For reasons that may or may not have to do with her illness she lost jobs, burned through savings, and struggled with her health outside of the cancer and its treatment. It was the turning point between being a woman who had changed careers and marital status and come out on top and being a woman who lost so much for complex and intertwined reasons and now, more than 2 decades later, is still working as hard as she ever did for much smaller returns.

Everyone tells me I look like my mom.

Most of my health issues mirror my dad's, though.

So making this decision on the brink of being 50, declaring 50 to be my own, a time when I can take risks because I am capable and confident and intelligent and thoughtful....

I think I blacked out for a second.

I don't want to think about all that.

My brain is full

and afraid.

I just got off the phone with someone who recently made some upgrades to her business and, after all that, has just been offered an opportunity to take the whole thing in a brand new direction.

Terrifying.

Thrilling.

I talked to her for 20 minutes and gave such good advice, if I do say so myself. We laid out pros and cons. We asked the basic questions. We let the worries breathe and show us where the light might shine in. It was all remarkably straightforward from where I stood.

Is this the way you want your business to go?

Your family is changing, does this serve them?

Can you keep going the way you are?

Do you want to?

It's never that way when it's your own decision to make.

Is it?

Well, not for me.

I mean...

My family is solely me (and the pets), so what does that matter?

My family is everyone and they all need everything, how can I support that?

I can't keep going the way that I am.

Can I stop?

I want to stop.

I don't want to stop.

I don't want to sit around worrying.

I don't want to be running around working all the time and worrying.

I'll probably be worrying no matter what!

That's not a question.

The last thing I offered my colleague was an exercise that my life coach used to have us do. We were asked to write out our perfect day. Then we shared it with her to see what steps we could take in our current wildly imperfect lives to move us toward the vision.

Dogs.

Art.

Theatre.

Friends.

Naps.

Reading.

Writing.

Sleep.

Binge watching.

Binge performing.

Blessed sleep.

Snuggling my cat.

Drinking wine.

Snuggling my dog.

Eating chocolate.

Watching the sun set.

Going somewhere warm.

I feel too jumbled to properly narrate my perfect day right now. I miss my dog! I have so many tiny steps already laid out in front of me that the whole exercise makes me fear it would put more on my list. I miss my cat! And my couch!

How will I do all of the things on the list?

You don't have to do them all.

But they're all there and they're all important!

Pick one.

Which one?

Any one!

Like what?

Like...quit your day job?

Quit my day job?

Maybe....

Are you sure?

I might be...

Ugh. I don't know. Ask me again later.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

The Magic of Change

This morning I was flipping past some photos of a Christmas Eve a few years ago and suddenly asked myself, "How did I feel about last Christmas Eve?" I came to the conclusion that I felt pretty good about it.

Let me back up.

For my whole life we celebrated Christmas Eve at my paternal grandfather's home, the one we called Roundabout House, because December 24th was his birthday. Even when we headed to the maternal grandparents home directly afterward, arriving in the wee hours of Christmas Day, we still stayed there for the Eve. I do remember that we occasionally had a stint at someone else's home but mostly it was at Robbie & Biddy's.

When they were gone there was a little shifting until we moved to the cottage that Biddy (and her first husband, Herb) built a little further north. That was good, too. It was weird not to go to Roundabout at first but many of the Roundabout things were there and the people, barring Robbie & Biddy, were the same and we'd had a chance to say goodbye. We've had a lot of practice at goodbyes.

This last year when I called to see what time to be there and what I could bring someone said, "We're going to Tim's!" Logistically my cousin Tim's home made the whole event about a million times easier for me, personally, even though it's not about me. It's also an absolutely gorgeous home and I had a wonderful time and felt quite fortunate.

Traditionally, though, I am terrible at changes. If you know me at all you'd think that any change, especially around Christmas and especially as a last minute surprise, would send me into a bottomless spiral. But it didn't. I'm not entirely sure why.

Earlier this week I took a super quick trip to Maine. Let me define super quick: I traveled 20 hours in the space of about 38 hours. I wouldn't do that for just anyone, of course. Anyone who has ever tried to get me to have dinner in Bushwick, Brooklyn will tell you that. For my 5th grade teacher, Barbara Martin, though, I would do that. And more. So my long time friend, Sara, picked me up in Boston and drove us up to Winterport and we had a sleepover in an airbnb-approved church basement and the following morning we visited Barbara  and her partner, Margaret, before reversing the whole trip.

5th grade was magical.

Even with 10 hours in the car to discuss it Sara and I couldn't figure out why but we kept finding those starry moments. Sara remembered that a friend in another class brought his pet snake to school and our whole class was invited to watch the snake be fed his mouse. I am terrified of snakes. I have no memory of this event but near as I can tell Barbara let me opt out of that event.

The year before, on Friday afternoons we were herded into a nearby classroom to watch educational movies. Sara remembers some fun nature-focused films. I remember terrifying ecological horror movies with dire predictions of our imminent demise. I cowered in the dim classroom and tried to send my mind elsewhere, frantically braiding bits of my hair to pull my focus off the fear, as the screen showed children with swollen bellies, dying sea life, and jammed highways belching exhaust. A couple of years ago Sara's mother asked me why I hadn't told anyone I was so scared and asked not to go. I replied quickly, "No one would have listened to me." I didn't ask so we'll never know but that was certainly what I believed then and I'm pretty sure I was right.

In 5th grade we were heard.

Barbara played classical music. She gave us that test on following directions where the 2nd direction is not to take the test. On field day in the tug of war contest she upped her offer of ice cream sandwiches to motivate us to keep tugging! At 5 sandwiches each we triumphed! We learned the state capitals and we learned to say what we meant. We learned that she loved us and that was, somehow, most magical of all.

Barbara has dementia. Margaret had warned us and solicited photos and emails so she could use them to keep Barbara engaged and for months Sara and I have been working on this plan to get up to visit. We didn't know what to expect. Margaret hadn't described anything specifically but she had a sense of urgency to all her requests. So we went in a little blind, with the best of intentions, and not a little fear. "As long as she's happy to see us this is a good idea." "It's as much a visit to lend Margaret our support as anything." "It's the right thing to do." We're good little girls and highly motivated by the right thing to do.

Barbara didn't know us but she knew us, you know? She has some aphasia so often you can see that she's clear about what she's telling you but the words she's saying aren't the words coming out of her mouth. Other times she's quite clear. She asked questions that we could answer and some we couldn't. In it all, though, we could tell that she was, truly, happy to see us. Whether she knew precisely who we are is unclear but she was able to sort us into the right category. She knew we were to do with school even when it came out schooner. She knew she loved us and that we loved her.

Barbara is magical.

So is Margaret. We had so much fun sitting and talking with them, playing with their sweet little dog, and watching the guinea hens from next door peck along the back lawn. Barbara brought out photos she'd taken before the dementia took the camera out of her hands and insisted that we each take a few. She toured us around the art hanging in their home and what she couldn't identify Margaret filled in. Their home is bright and sunny and beautiful and we heard stories we hadn't heard before and, being who we are, hoarded them away in our memories.

Again, being who we are, I suspect that Sara and I will try to visit another time. We don't know how long it will take us to manage it, though. We're also clear that when you visit people in their 80s there are no guarantees. Those memories may be all we go away with. I guess I shouldn't speak for Sara but in this case I think she wouldn't mind. If those memories are all we have we are grateful. We are full.

There's a procedure we use in animal training called Counter Conditioning. You pair something that upsets your learner with something they love until they become less upset about the first thing and, ideally, learn to love it. So if my dog is afraid of big black dogs I feed him chicken every time he safely sees a big black dog and eventually he thinks that big black dogs bring chicken so big black dogs are A-ok.

Humans are animals. We learn the same way even though we often make it more complicated. Perhaps I've paired enough change with enough lovely things that I'm starting to tolerate it. Maybe, finally, I'm learning.

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Split Screen

As things have ramped up with my dog training business I've learned a lot about my own anxiety. I knew that I'd be afraid of failing, afraid of not making enough money, afraid of embarrassing myself, afraid of doing the job poorly. I didn't realize how my anxiety would help me.

In college when we ran up against an obstacle in creating a performance piece my mentor would tell us, "Make the problem your solution." It sounds like double speak until you break it down. A few months ago I heard Henry Winkler interviewed and he talked about getting the part of The Fonz. Going into it he really didn't want to have a hair combing habit as part of his character. The creative team really needed him to be overly concerned with his hair and they provided a comb and the motivation most often used on starving, eager actors - a job. Problem. So the first time it came up in the script he got out his comb approached the mirror and, "Aaayyyyyy." The Fonz was too perfect for his hair to ever be out of place. BAM! Solution.

I have known for decades, maybe all my life, that my anxiety gives me split screen brain. (If I were more tech savvy this is the point at which I'd cleverly split my post into two columns to be read simultaneously.). One screen is always showing what I'm concentrating on - reading a book, watching a show, typing these words, listening to a conversation, etc. - and the other screen is playing The All Anxiety Variety Hour(s) [TAAVH] - everything that could possibly go wrong, has ever gone wrong, is going wrong right this very minute. With a choice like that the 2nd screen is always going to get more viewership. It's like a Breaking News Update in your head all the time. It pre-empts all other programming.

When I was 8 or 10 I began to understand how the split screen worked. I loved to read - still do! - and TAAVH was keeping me from doing it. I could read paragraphs, pages, chapters and not absorb any of the content and I could experience it as it happened. TAAVH had small segments on how I was clearly, beautifully reading the words in front of me and none of them were sinking in and what did that make me? I got really sick of those segments.

I don't know how I developed the coping mechanism but I started to "count out" the pages of the book. While I read I would slowly leaf through each page of the book with my hands, starting at the beginning with my left hand until I got to where I was reading then switching to my right hand to finish out the volume. If that didn't work on its own then I would add rules. I had to leaf through the whole book before it was time to turn the page or else I would have to start over. Alternatively I would moderate my leafing so that I did not finish my leaf-through until I got to the end of a page or chapter or something. There were other rules, I'm sure, but fortunately I don't remember them because I don't need them much any more. (Also, it's a bitch to implement this on an e-reader.)

This opened up a whole new way of handling my life. Long walk giving me too much time to think? Make up stories. I still tell myself stories. If I'm especially amped I'll tell myself stories while listening to a podcast or music. There are a lot of karaoke machines in my stories. Having trouble buckling down to a writing assignment? Turn on the TV, find a show that you know well enough to follow with one ear, and voila! Your masterpiece is churned out easily. Some people call it drowning out the voices in their head. For me it's more like distracting a toddler. "Give you the cleaver? I don't know. Wouldn't you prefer this shiny ball of tinfoil to bat around the room?"

Long story short, I'm good at multi-tasking is what I'm saying. In fact for many things I'm better when I'm multi-tasking. "How did you remember that?" a colleague will ask. I shrug and smile but I remember that because holding on to that piece of information was a great task for TAAVH so that I could get everything else done. Noticing the kid having a questionable interaction with a dog at the side of class is possible for me because I'm nervous about teaching class so TAAVH is monitoring the room for threats as I teach the lesson. From the outside it looks like I'm helping a child tie an apron while I outline how to ask a dog for a behavior while I'm occupying a dog who likes to bark. From the inside it just feels like all cylinders are finally firing properly. To some extent it feels like I can finally relax.

That "monitoring for threats" thing is, surprisingly, a huge help. In a dog I'd call them hyper vigilant, heck in a person I'd probably call them that, but in me I call it normal. I have a pretty good memory. I would have called it OK, frankly, until I met the folks I work with now. Now it seems what I do is different than most people. Something about that monitoring for threats records pictures in my mind so I can usually see what was happening or a picture of something associated with the dog/person/lesson/material/etc. that needs remembering and connect the dots pretty easily. Remembering things is good exercise for TAAVH.

I now picture everyone reading this thinking, "Good Christ woman, we have a lot of wonderful medications out there for this. Look into it, for fuck's sake!"

You're not wrong. I know you aren't. I am absolutely not ruling medication out. I'm not quite ready yet, though. On the serious side, I don't want to start medication too early and build up a tolerance when I need it most. More lightly, if I start to medicate who's going to remember that it was the small white dog with a name that ended in I and people who were interested in learning grooming techniques that had the esophageal damage before they came to class. Who? I ask!

For now, it'll be me. Remembering that will be my medication. Down the line....who knows?

Thursday, June 14, 2018

An Open Letter to Chris Pratt in His Capacity as Representative of the Jurassic World Creative Team

Dear Mr. Pratt;

I want to thank you for your strong support of clicker training. It's not often that someone in a mainstream movie champions our cause. When Companion Animal Psychology put out a call for posts about training changes we'd love to see I knew immediately that your movie was what I wanted to highlight.

It's especially nice to have you use clickers with big, reactive, dangerous animals like velociraptors. In my work as a pet trainer I often come across people who think their dogs are too big or too aggressive to be taught with science-based methods. In reality, as you may know, clicker training was developed for work with marine animals. As long as your dog isn't bigger than an Orca we can probably make some progress.

I am writing to ask for your help. I understand that you didn't write Jurassic World and you didn't direct it so you may not have been able to make changes or wield influence in some areas. However, since you are the face of the franchise right now, maybe you'd be willing to bend someone's ear on behalf of marker trainers everywhere. We'd be as grateful as a velociraptor being air lifted off an active volcano!

Here's what I'd like the Jurassic World team to know -  a clicker marks a behavior. In fact, back in the early marine animal days it was known as a "bridge."  That sound forms a bridge in the animal's mind between the behavior they perform and the food they receive for performing it. These days I tell my clients that the marker is like taking a picture of the behavior you've asked for.

For instance, if I ask my parasaurolophus to give me a High Five I click the moment I feel her "paw" hit my offered hand. As soon as possible after the click I reward her with food. I reward her every time because that click is a promise. If I don't reward her every time then the clarity of the message - "This sound predicts that food is on the way." - gets weakened and my training will slow down. (Don't worry, there are ways to fade the food rewards over time but I'm not sure we have time for that in this letter. Feel free to contact me for more information!)

In Jurassic World the script seems to have called for your character to use the clicker as an attention getting device. It may even have indicated that the pattern of your clicks was asking the dinosaurs for specific behaviors. I admit that last bit was unclear to me. That's kind of the point, though! Clicking to get attention, or clicking to cue behavior, isn't very clear to someone who is learning to communicate with humans.

You might not have noticed any of this. If you hadn't used a clicker before and the team presented you with this information why wouldn't you believe them?

Could you stop believing now, please? Clicker trainers everywhere would be as excited to hear it as, well, as excited as I am for Jurassic World 3! You could even show them this order of operations:

Cue behavior (ex. say "Sit")
Behavior occurs (animal sits)
CLICK! (only once!)
Reinforce (deliver a reward, usually food)

It works. It really, really works! If you don't believe me, just ask my parasaurolophus.

Best wishes,
A Fan

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Please Vote in Every Election

Someone said, "They should have taught us better."

On the night before the last day of the month I hadn't written anything for my May entry yet. So I planned to sit down and write for a bit. Maybe revise it the next day, that last day, and let it be. Very on the fly, which is fine sometimes, right? Old school blogging.

Then the phone rang.

It wasn't something bad for me directly. It's not remotely my story to tell. It was, though, the kind of story that takes up all the space in your brain.

As a result, this entry is going to be short. Not sweet, but short.

Rape culture is real.

Our votes are important.

Local elections are as important as national ones.

Consider trying to meet candidates for sheriff and judgeships in person. Look them in the eye and get a feeling for whether you can trust them. This is important everywhere but perhaps especially important in suburban and rural areas where candidates tend to be less progressive.

Because rape culture is real.

Because women aren't valued or believed when they speak out on rape culture and all it's far-reaching tentacles.

Someone said, "They should have taught us better."

I replied, "We're 50 years old. We are they now."

Thursday, April 26, 2018

The Power of Persistence

One of my biggest turn offs is people who are too sure of themselves. This may seem hilariously misguided coming from someone who, at the age of 17 said, as her father parked the car on the ivy league campus we were slated to tour, "I'm not going here."

Please don't read that in a defiant voice or a petulant one because I wasn't. I have no idea if that's how I came across but it wasn't how it felt on the inside. I was just sure. It had nothing to do with whether I was going to get in or not it was just not a place where my body was going to be for the next 4 years. We toured the campus and it had facilities up the wazoo. Nothing changed my name.

"Why?" my father asked.

"Too many patterned turtlenecks and dickies," I replied in a fashion some of you may recognize. It seems superficial but what I was going for was that it looked too much like home. It felt like home. It acted like home. All the people were like home. I, on the other hand, did not feel like home. I was sinking at home. If I stayed home, any version of home, I was going to drown.

The only other time in my whole life that I've been that sure of something was when Pony Express brought Emily home. As I've surely told you countless times before, I looked at that beautiful, scared dog and a voice in my head said, "Her name is Emily." And so she was.

The rest of my life is characterized by hanging on too long. I touched on it when I wrote about Sleep No More. For me to give up in the middle of something I'm supposed to do is hard. I am always the person who stays too long and leaves when all the fun is sucked out of something.

I suspect there's a middle ground.

I'm not here today to find it, though!

I'm here to cheer for the persistent, the "if at first you don't succeed," the "walk the walk," and every other cliche about just showing up....more than once.

We have apprentices at the studio where I teach classes. We have 2 in particular who have been coming in, helping, and observing for a while now. They are all in. Last night they were there helping us set up and the founder of the studio came down and we'd all done our work so we started to chat about clients and protocols and ideas. And they got to hear all of it.

I don't mean to imply that we were showering them with pearls of wisdom or anything. We were, though, going through the process. We were sharing ideas and supporting each other and making sure we were all up to date. In dog training in particular that's not something you get to see very much. So often trainers work on their own and don't have a community that tha

I was reminded that a giant portion of my own learning has come that way, too.

How many of you out there are writers? Do you ever write a bunch of stuff and suddenly discover that the first giant chunk of it doesn't matter at all or has rendered your argument invalid? Yeah, me too. I even read once that you should just start writing and when you're done go ahead and delete the first paragraph (at least) because it was just warming you up to your subject and no one else needs it.

Regarding the deleted junk above, while I do heartily endorse The Power of Showing Up I also recognize that one of my deeply ingrained flaws is Sticking Around Too Long. That leads the list by a tiny margin over Deciding Not To Even Try.

Here's my process:
  • See an opportunity
  • Decide if it's worth it to leave my couch/house/neighborhood/brain
  • 90% of the time decide no
  • 8% of the time decide it's good for me so yes
  • 2% of the time decide I'd like to so yes
If I decide to say yes to an opportunity I'm all in because I don't believe that I will be able to decide about something during the first encounter. I don't trust myself.

There's a quip, "I'll try anything twice." that I used to use until I realized that was for people who were adventurous. They'd try something once and, even if it went poorly, they'd go again because anything can happen and they always expect anything to equal something good.

Not me. I expect that I will be so nervous, inept, and freaked out the first time that I will be unable to give something a chance or even to notice the experience much beyond how it makes me feel. ME ME ME ALL ABOUT ME! And that's usually not useful analysis.

A short list of things in which I've stayed too long:
  • That relationship
  • That friendship (x5)
  • That other relationship (oy)
  • That job
  • That casual dating situation
  • That class
  • That phone contract
  • That volunteer position
I have tried all my life to get more comfortable in those first moments. I want to be able to experience something and decide if it's worth trying again. I'd like to be among the folks for whom "should" is verboten because they know what they like and what they don't like (and why!) so they can make quick, informed decisions.

Results so far are....less successful than management had hoped.

The other day I finally checked Ta-Nehisi Coates book Between the World and Me out of the library and started reading it. I was struck one morning as I read on the train by the assignments that his mother would give him after he'd acted out in school. He gives examples of the questions she asked him to write about:
  • Why did I feel the need to talk at the same time as my teacher?
  • Why did I not believe that my teacher was entitled to respect?
  • How would I want someone to behave while I was talking?
  • What would I do the next time I felt the urge to talk to my friends during a lesson?
This is the mother of all home schooling tactics, right? She was using it in conjunction with a school-based education but there's no doubt that class was in session.

Coates goes on to talk about how these assignments didn't change his behavior but they taught him to think, to examine his own behavior, and to examine the world in which his behavior was occurring. I immediately thought, "I need these questions in my life!" I don't talk over my teachers so much, that is not usually my particular form of rebellion, but I do get quickly emotional and dismissive, I do shut down conversations when I feel insecure, I do use biting humor and not always when it's appropriate. I can be a mean old badger when you corner me.

The beauty of this idea is that I already overthink most interactions so it wouldn't be a change in my routine to go over an experience again. It would, however, be a change to go over it with care and direction, with an eye toward examining my part in it and both if I did my best and if the experience was worth repeating. So, I'm wondering if I can adapt these assignments to fit myself and my stumblings in new (or middle or old) experiences.

Which made me remember the 4 agreements. Let's see if those apply:
  • Be impeccable with your word. 
  • Don't take anything personally. 
  • Don't make assumptions. 
  • Always do your best.
They're nice but they  aren't questions, right? As a prompt in this kind of situation questions are more evocative. They could be turned into questions, I suppose.
  • Did I do my best? Is there anything I could have done better?
  • Did I make any assumptions? What were they and why did I make them?
  • Was I open and honest? (Did it need to be said? Did it need to be said by me? Did it need to be said by me now?)
  • How do I feel about the experience? How much of that feeling is about me and how much is about the experience itself or the other people involved? 
Not bad. That last set there could maybe use some work. The category of "don't take anything personally" is hard to pin down, in my experience.

I concede that every situation doesn't necessarily need this much depth. Maybe the challenging ones or the ones that leave one feeling unsettled get this much but most experiences will hold up fine under those first two questions, "Did I do my best? Was there anything I could have done better?"

Every week I teach between 4 & 6 classes. Sometimes I team teach with someone and sometimes I don't but even when I'm technically the solo lead teacher there are usually supervisors, apprentices, and observers with me. We often discuss approaches and clients and plans and reviews before and after class but not in any organized way. Lately we've been toying with the idea of being more organized about this kind of thing but none of us is sure we need it. That means, though, that there's room to ask these sorts of questions or answer them out loud. One of the great things about our group is that we're pretty open to someone trying something new. Perhaps after a class soon I'll ask my colleagues to hear if I think I did my best and if I think there's anything I could have done better and then open that option up to the floor.

***********

The beauty of writing one post a month is that I can put this experiment into motion and report back all in the same post.

I like it! One of my colleagues adopted it, too! It's been helping me.

The other day we each taught a portion of an hour long lesson in a program that's new to us. It was an audition for someone who has never seen us teach before and we were teaching material that we know in general but that we're unfamiliar with in this specific context. Someone else wrote the curriculum and laid out the plan. Someone else is leading this group and we've never taught with her before. We're stepping in for little sections.

I was so nervous I wrote bullet points in sharpie on my arm just in case.

When we were done and helping the students gather their things and get on their way my colleague came up to me and started to answer the questions! I hadn't even begun to think about my answers, I was still just feeling the feelings of doing this new, scary thing that I'm pretty sure I want very much to do again. So we used the questions and parsed our experience and when it was time to write a thank you note it was easy to feel genuinely enthusiastic and hopeful.

I decided to try.

I showed up.

I hope I get to stick around too long.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Disoriented

Kiku & Cola
"You're not detail oriented. I think it's because you're always looking at the bigger picture but, still, not detail oriented."

It's not a direct quote it's a hybrid. There's a lot to contribute to the hybrid because it's the same feedback I've been getting for at least three years, probably more, at my desk job. The review was in December and it's almost April and I'm still thinking about it.

If you think that's a long time to dwell on something, when I was a kid we had report cards that are probably outlawed now. You could get grades in subjects (though we had weird grades like S for Satisfactory and U for Unsatisfactory instead of the usual top of the alphabet) and then there was a giant list of scenarios in which you also got evaluated. I don't really remember all of them but it was things like participating in discussions, being on time, helping to clean up. The one I remember is "Performs well in new situations."

I was a good student. I was the child of teachers, the grandchild of teachers, the product of a community of teachers. I knew how to school. I was never great at it. I was a solid B- at it, though. In fact, my GPA for 4 years of high school and 4 years of college was 3.33333333333333333333 ad infinitum.

Still, I couldn't conquer that "Performs well in new situations" category. I'd have a string of S for satisfactory and then, blip, NI for Needs Improvement.

Kimchi

Now, at age 49, I can be more cavalier about it. I mean, guess what, I'm still crappy in new situations. I don't like 'em and sometimes I panic and handle them poorly. I try, though. I always try not to panic.

I can also be more angry, though. Nobody ever gave me a grade that reflected how I was running that race against myself. They could have told me if I was better than I was the last quarter or the last semester or at the beginning of the year.

I mean, that's just a basic animal training thing. I don't reward a dog for sitting still for 3 minutes and grade them poorly if they fail. I figure out how long a dog can sit still and I reward them for doing their best and [insert explanation about variable reward schedules] over time they can sit longer. Eventually they'll probably be able to sit still for 3 minutes. Some dogs will be able to sit still for 30 minutes. Some dogs will work their asses off to get to that 3 minutes and we'll celebrate the shit out of that because they did their very best and that's the longest sitting of which they are capable. Reaching one's personal best is worth a celebration.

Why is this feedback just now setting me off?

Lola (front), Biscuits (back)
To be honest I'm not exactly sure. I suspect it is about moving more strongly toward not having a desk job anymore and wanting to do that intelligently and relatively safely while simultaneously wanting to just fucking do it. I think I'm at a point where a braver person might make the move. In this world right now, though, leaving a job that provides health insurance while your parents are getting older, and so are you, seems profligate. Being within sight of the move, though? Makes it harder to gloss over the challenges of the old job.

I got a tooth implant. (Stick with me, I'll tie this together in a minute.)

If you know how much a tooth implant costs you'll see the tie easily. I had a second-from-the-back molar crack clean across and right down to the root. There was no saving it. Leaving a blank spot would imperil that back tooth. The rest of my mouth is pretty healthy. So, despite the cost, the implant seemed like the right path for long term success.

A tooth implant costs around $5,000 when all is said and done. One tooth. It's around $2500 for the removal of the old tooth and jamming the post in your jaw then about the same to clean you up and make a new fake tooth and grind it into the right shape for your chewing pleasure.

Piper
Back to the dog training for a minute.

It's been going well. I know I keep telling you that but let me elaborate. By well I mean 6-12 sessions and classes each week in addition to my desk job. Most of those 6-12 sessions require scheduling time and follow up, just so you don't think it's only 6-12 hours per week. These 6-12 sessions per week are, over the course of a year, making me a decent chunk of change. It's not enough to cover my nut (if you'll pardon the expression) but it's getting there. Getting there much more quickly than I expected.

I'm tired and heavily scheduled, is what I'm saying. I'd gotten soft with just the office job. I liked to have at least one full day off per week with nothing in it. Sometimes now I don't have a full day off a month.

Not being a novitiate in the Cult of Busy I am starting to get resentful of this transition time. A bad review at the job that I'm trying so hard to slide out of graciously makes it so much easier to envision flouncing out in a huff.

It wasn't a bad review, though. That was the one unpleasant thing in it. I've given reviews. I know you're supposed to give a person something to work on. (I also know you're supposed to sandwich it between two thick slabs of praise but that's a different essay.) This is my thing to work on. It's been the only thing to work on for at least three years so, in fact, it was a pretty good review. However, I thought I was working on it. Perhaps I am but there's no way to know because I'm getting it as a repeating note not as a comparison to previous years. In previous years I think I did work on it and I think that by March I probably wasn't thinking about it that much.

Maggie
This year I'm still thinking about it.

It's fair to say I'm stewing. I'm still looking at all my actions and seeing where I'm hunting down a detail ("See?! I am too!" says my resentment.) and where I'm failing ("Oh, yeah, I totally did not see that. Fuck." says my humanity.) All this mindfulness is pissing me off. (I know it shouldn't, I'm bettering myself, why be mad about that, but I have to be honest here.) I was so mad I thought, "Maybe this is it. Maybe I make the leap. Maybe this is how other people do it. They just get so sick of not being accepted for who they are that they...."

And then I went for a dentist appointment and charged $2400 to my credit card and I went back to the office and checked my notes to make sure I hadn't forgotten any details.

Which is all to say that it looks like I'm going to be a reluctant worshipper at The Temple of The Busy for at least another year and probably two, maybe more. This is how small businesses are made, I get that. It is a high class problem indeed to be a start up business who is getting so much work that it feels like a burden. Being able to do all these jobs well in parallel can only bode well for how well I'll be able to work when I'm concentrating more closely on one career.

At least I think that's the case. Maybe I'm overlooking some details.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Maybe Sleep Just A Little More

For my birthday last month I took myself out to a show. It's a site specific version of Macbeth called Sleep No More. It's been running for several years and from the moment it opened people have told me I should go and that I would love it.

I believed them! I kept meaning to go but it's interactive and didn't that mean that I should get a group to go with me but something so expensive who would I ask and organizing it and it's really better for me to go on nights where I don't have to get up in the morning...

It felt like a lot of decisions.

My boss had given me 2 theatre tickets of my own choosing for my Christmas present in 2016. I saw Natasha and Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812 during my annual July staycation and meant to see another show lickety split but dog training ramped way up right around then and things got nutty and again what an embarrassment of riches to be able to choose any show in NYC to go see. Any show at all. Which one?

Which means that finally late in December I convinced myself to take a leap and bought 1 ticket in the mid-range for Sleep No More for a Monday night in January, the night before I turned 49. It felt great from the moment I decided to go.

The holiday season always feels fraught with so many decisions. I tend to feel like I'm the one steering the ship. Mind you, I'm actually only steering my own ship but the harbor is crowded that time of year so any one person's routing decisions have that famous, fabled ripple effect.

Chem E and I spent a few months mulling and guessing and supposing and finally deciding how we might do things differently when we traveled north this year based on the minimal rocking of other boats. We planned to stay in MA together. She'd meet me there. I'd do much of the driving. It would have me well-placed to do some driving for my parents, too. We got it all in place and then I finally told my parents and there was uproar.

They'd heard that Christmas Eve was going to be in MA instead of ME. I hadn't heard. Who was right? What to do? So we tracked down all that info and it turned out my plan suddenly included a lot less driving. So while I never love change this change worked out pretty damn nicely for me.

The night before I was to travel Chem E called completely done in. Her flight was delayed and delayed and then canceled and the change options were terrible and what to do? She couldn't decide and every time she chose something that path would suddenly be closed, too. I threw out some possible solutions, maybe cracked open the idea box a little, but I was working that day so I had to leave her to it. By the time I finished with clients she had managed to implement our plan of last resort (which will likely become our plan of first resort in years to come).

The next morning my sainted neighbor drove me to the car rental place and parked around the corner, hiding my dog from the rental people. Once I transferred luggage and dog into my car I drove across the street to the airport and picked up Chem E from her flight and together north we rode. It couldn't have been better if we'd planned it that way!

The weather was bad that day but we got where we were going and we were together. The weather was great the next day and all our celebrations were divine. The weather was horrendous on Christmas Day and we adjusted and I drove alone (plus Ed) in some of the worst conditions I've navigated in many years to get to NH and hang with Mama Kizz. It all worked! All of those decisions made for a successful trip.

Every year as the calendar flips over I hit the skids a little. There's a lot of mental and emotional labor to the holidays and the travel. Then it's time for back to work but my birthday is right around the corner and I always feel a bit like I get a pass until I'm another year older. I get up and I do the things I need to do - walk the dog, see the clients, write the emails, go to the office, check in with the friends - but any sort of forward motion is gone. The dishes go undone, the floors unwashed, the meals are ordered not made. Bare minimum maintenance is observed.

Going to see Sleep No More was a micro version of that skid, in a way. I called a pass for that night into the next day for my birthday. I got showered and dressed and I treated myself to a cab when transportation decisions started to mount. Then on to a ridiculously expensive cocktail at a silly lumberjack-themed speakeasy under the same management as the show's venue. I had a slightly fancy ticket which allowed me free coat check for the show and a reserved table in the lounge. I was treated like royalty. A VIP concierge seated me and talked me through how the evening would go and told me I could jump ahead of the line.

The show takes place over a four story building and audience members are free to roam the entire space for the entire evening. No one tells you where to go, you choose. No one tells you what might be happening where. There's no map or posted timeline. It's all your instinct, your decision, your adventure. They give you a speech to explain this before you're unleashed into the performance space and the final direction is, "Fortune favors the bold."

It's thrilling to have all that freedom. It's also a little alarming to a completionist like myself. How would I possibly see it all? I wouldn't. What would I miss? There's no way to tell!

It's a lot like being an adult.

This year I hit the aforementioned skids pretty hard. I had so much work, which is exciting and delightful. The co-op is replacing our windows so I had to prepare for that which meant moving all my furniture and making a huge mess. My end of year experience at the office was...not ideal. I was still mulling it over and thinking about what choices I might make for that job. Now that I'm, at least partially, self-employed I should really get my taxes together sooner. There was so much to do, so many things that needed to be decided.

I could just wait until after my birthday, though, couldn't I?

The floors got filthier. I ordered in food and did not even bother to get groceries. Friends asked to get together and I put them off by a week, then a month. Clothes got washed but sheets did not. The floors got even filthier. I knew it was happening and I knew that it was time to turn the ship around just maybe next week. Not right now. I'd made enough decisions for right now.

At the beginning of the show I was energized. I roared up 3 flights of stairs in my clunky winter boots and prowled each floor. I stayed for some moments of performance. I even stayed after a couple of them. I tried to get the lay of the visual land. (In retrospect I think that getting the lay of the aural land would have been more informative.)

Once I'd been through it all one time I tried to go back and find places that I'd enjoyed. I found myself oddly wrapping around several times to rooms I hadn't enjoyed. Weird floor textures and too much stage fog got to me. At any moment something could happen. Anything could happen. But where? I didn't want to miss it!

About 90 minutes in according to my Fitbit I gave myself the luxury of a break. I knowingly risked missing something in order to go to the bathroom. I even considered stopping at my reserved table for a drink. My own personal intermission. If you know me you know that even considering these things was revolutionary.

As I bombed through the lounge to the restroom I saw a couple of other patrons making that choice. They were checking their phones and resting their bones. Once I'd peed, though, I didn't want to miss any more. I definitely didn't want to check my phone in the middle of this experience.

Back in I plunged! I saw some more amazing things. I saw characters I hadn't seen before. I saw evidence of scenes that had happened without me. I made peace with it over and over. I kept moving. Things were getting crowded and, whereas in the beginning it felt right to move away from the crowd, now I felt like they might know something I didn't. I made middle of the road decisions trying not to stay stuck in a clump of people but to follow before or behind them to see what attracted their attention and decide from there.

My Fitbit, which I use as a watch, ran out of juice so I had no idea how much time was left.

I couldn't pay attention to anything too long. Any time I stood still I felt like I should be somewhere else. I wanted to go sit and have a drink. I never leave before the end of a show, though. As I rolled from room to room and floor to floor I debated the relative merits of staying and going rather than really taking in what I was seeing.

Eventually I wound up in what I think is the Macbeths' bedroom. It's huge. Even when the crowd showed up, trailing a couple of nurses, there was plenty of room. I could be on the outskirts of the group and still not be jostled. The nurses cleaned up the room. They folded letters and stacked them. They straightened up towels. They made the bed. Then they sat quietly for a minute or two. And we stood with them. I didn't feel compelled, or perhaps not able, to choose to go elsewhere.

Then the nurses stood up. As the younger one passed me, where I was leaning against a column, she took my hand. I tried to return the exact pressure and emotion she was giving me. She swept me away with her. She gently and firmly moved people out of our way. She knew where to go and she took me there. I wondered when she'd leave me and concentrated on matching her pace.

She led me to a balcony above a giant room. She carefully directed a couple of other patrons out of our way and we stood in a perfect spot to view the scene below.

I didn't let go of her hand.

She didn't let go of mine.

When the climactic scene was finished she led me again. She cleared our path again. She took me out to the lobby, removed my mask, looked me in the eye, and said goodnight. And I thanked her. I did it quietly but I wanted to say it louder and about 12 more times. I was so relieved by her taking charge. I had decision fatigue. I needed help and she found me. Once she'd found me she kept me until everything was safely finished. She made sure I didn't miss the most important part.

It was exactly the birthday present I needed.

I'm off the skids now. I didn't go home from that show and hop off them and get back to doing the things that adults are supposed to do, of course. That's not how it works. I think that was a turning point, though.

That actress probably has no idea.


Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Taking Aim for 2018

Women's March 2018
The big world is different and my little world is different. Some of the differences are related, plenty are not.

I basically abandoned the Photo Challenges. Sorry. Though, let me elaborate, I'm not so much sorry it's over as wish I had made the final curtain come down more gracefully.

Let's talk about 2017.

My dog training business is going really well! Remarkably well. Better than I thought I had any right to expect in the first full year of being boots on the ground with it. I still have my office job 3 days a week with check ins on the other 2 business days. Listen To Your Mother NYC took its final bow in 2017. I found a program I loved volunteering in and devoted regular time to that. The political climate in the US demanded that all caring people take regular action.

Whereas I used to have a lot of time to ponder and plan and think and write and, frankly, dither 2017 was a year of streamlining and letting go and channeling a shark. Never stop moving, you guys, that's when you drown.

Sidebar: I don't glorify the cult of BUSY. I do, though, see how saying yes whenever a client shows up is a smart way to grow a young business. I have more dues to pay before I can be comfortable enough to turn clients away on the basis of wanting to keep Thursdays free for Must See TV or whatever.

I don't know if you know this but it turns out that dog training involves a lot of writing. I did not know this. Even as I was being taught how to write the things that need to be written I didn't put together just how much writing that meant on a regular basis. In one of my classes I wrote a treatment plan that had all three of my teachers commenting basically, "Dude, that's too much detail." and I still didn't remotely understand where this was headed.

You've got your introductory emails/texts/calls, your scheduling emails, your document distribution, all before you go meet the client. After that you have recap emails (which may or may not include handouts that you wrote) and, in the case of classes, homework emails. Oh, and those classes involve writing syllabi - usually with collaborators - and registration emails and consults with colleagues and scheduling discussions, too. At which point in private sessions or classes you're ready to take questions. Those can come at you at any time of the day or night in emails or texts or voice mails. My phone autocorrects to a remarkable number of scientific terms now.

Anna & Ed after the Post-Thanksgiving Open House
Don't get me wrong, communicating with a lot of clients is a great "problem" to have but it needs to be clear that my rates should be interpreted in light of all the admin work I do as well as the hours I spend in the presence of actual dogs and their people. As an hourly rate those seemingly fancy numbers get much more mundane.

So I let go of some things.

Starting in late January 2017 I decided to keep a nightly "Feelings Journal." Every night (I missed about 5 and made those up the next day) I opened a little notebook and wrote:

See:
Hear:
Smell:
Taste:
Touch:
Feel:

along one side of the page. Then I wrote a line about something I'd experienced that day in that category. For Feel I usually wrote more than one line but generally not more than about five.

I finished 365 days of that project Wednesday January 24th. I was glad I did it and glad it was over. I liked how it focused me but didn't feel like continuing it.

Here in 2018 my training is still going well but not so well that I can leave it to rise on its own. My volunteer gig dissolved for reasons that make me sad. Our political climate is making us no safer in the world. I'm sort of, kind of, a little bit getting used to the categories of busy that I need to be and am slowly streamlining my approach to make it all possible without powering that success solely on anxiety.

In the final days of the Feelings Journal I thought often of this blog. I missed it. I'd long held a vague notion that I'd like to write more thoughtful pieces here on a more occasional basis. I tossed around the idea of a once a week entry that I revised and revised a la vintage Tomato Nation posts. I briefly, very briefly, thought of the tiny gems of Smacksy and wondered if I belonged in that realm. I constantly want to be funnier so considered a theme, flexing my funny bone, just to have a goal and to strive to be more like the radiantly hilarious Wendi Aarons.

Somewhere along the line I decided that I can commit to most things about once a month. I can write and mull and revise without pressure if I aim for 12 entries here in 2018. It seemed like nothing when I first thought about it 31 days ago and now, as the end of January draws nigh, it seems like it could be too much. Well, not too much but a lot. My life is filled with a lot these days. I want to find room for this, though.

So I will.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

A Year Post Life.

I'm big on marking occasions. Even terrible occasions. I guess that's something Facebook and I have in common. I actually waited to write this until I got my Facebook memories for the day so I could see what the final pics posted were and download them.

One year ago this morning I fed the pets and Elvis wouldn't eat. I don't remember if he even tried. I suspect not. I could have waited until evening to see if he rallied but given his chronic wound and how difficult eating was for him on a good day...

Which is not to say that I didn't think about it. In fact I got myself ready for work and got on the train. By the time I got off the train in Manhattan I had come to terms with the feeling that now was the time.

I called the home vet, thinking she wouldn't be able to come until the following day. She made time for that evening.

I called Pony Express to make sure she knew.

I went to work and stayed a short time. I knew I wasn't going to come in the next day.

The vet was lovely. She was interested in all the pets. She was kind but not too much. She had everything she needed to make the whole thing go smoothly but not be rushed. I have recommended her several times in the past year.

It's sad. It was sad a year ago and it's sad today. I am sad. I miss him. There was a lot of him to miss. He had a big personality and giant needs and he set the tone for the room without a doubt.

It's also been a relief. He had giant needs and he set the tone for a room without anyone else's input. So many vet visits, such careful feeding, endless re-balancing of meds and supplements...

When he was 4 years old a vet diagnosed him with a heart murmur and told me that, with medication, he would live a couple of years.

When he was, I don't know, maybe as much as 12 another vet suggested I check his thyroid because there was no detectable murmur which, given the original diagnosis, was either highly suspect or a miracle. Shortly thereafter he was diagnosed with hyperthyroid and basically from then on everyone pointed me toward what we needed to do rather than projecting on what might happen next.

A month shy of his 16th birthday he died of cancer. Of a fucking tumor in his mouth. The mouth he used to scream at me for more food that he could eat...with his mouth. Now that I think of it I wonder if the hyperthyroid actually sped that process along so it wasn't so slow and painful as it could have been.

He is missed.

We are doing ok.

Wednesday, May 03, 2017

Photo Challenge: OBSERVE

I'm rolling along these days. Any forward motion is worth celebrating.

Photo challenges? Always worth celebrating!



Our Cindy is a professional observer and a damn fine one! Go science!



On my way to listen to some poetry I observed this hippo getting some tourist love as she observed/surveyed the sidewalk outside Lincoln Center.

This Saturday is the Grand Finale show of Listen To Your Mother NYC. I'm sad to see it go and grateful to have been a part of it all this time. In celebration of that the next prompt you can either use GRAND or FINALE

Please enter by 9am Tuesday May 16th for posting on Wednesday May 17th. Tag your photos with PHOTO CHALLENGE and GRAND or FINALE. Check out the wonderful work in our Flickr Pool for inspiration. Also, let me know if you have any questions. The  appropriate email for that is Kizzbeth117 at gmail dot com.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Photo Challenge: ABSORB

My two words for the year are observe and absorb. I'm somehow unable to caption the photos for this challenge. They feel like absorb. Here, you'll see.














While we're at it let's use my other word for the next prompt. OBSERVE. Go forth and OBSERVE.

Please enter by 9am Tuesday May 2nd for posting on Wednesday May 3rd. Tag your photos with PHOTO CHALLENGE and OBSERVE. Check out the wonderful work in our Flickr Pool for inspiration. Also, let me know if you have any questions. The  appropriate email for that is Kizzbeth117 at gmail dot com.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Photo Challenge: WORK/WERK

Funnily enough I just got to join this challenge because I've been working so much! Lucky me. I really am relieved when I have plenty of work. Building a business is scary stuff.



Our Cindy is everything that is light and good about being a scientist. I love that she shared this view of her many facets with us. See also her recent blog post about trusting scientists.


This is what a hard day's work looks like for me now. A dog, her family, plenty of questions, plenty of hands on practice and at the end of it a dog who only wants more!

Off the cuff, let's have the next prompt be ABSORB. Run with it!

Please enter by 9am Tuesday April 4th for posting on Wednesday April 5th. Tag your photos with PHOTO CHALLENGE and ABSORB. Check out the wonderful work in our Flickr Pool for inspiration. Also, let me know if you have any questions. The  appropriate email for that is Kizzbeth117 at gmail dot com.