The Philisophical Life of a Toy Poodle

I’m not sure why we decided to start putting the dog on the kitchen counter, but I think it had something to do with wine.

Shirley ponders the nature of reality.

Shirley ponders the nature of reality.

But it turns out that an exercise in bored self-amusement once again reminded me of the superior spiritual life of my pup (or again, maybe this was the wine).

For Shirley, I think being hoisted up to the counter is like being one of Plato’s newly unshackled cave-dwellers; she’s suddenly faced with the origins of the reality she’s always assumed existed ad infinitum (by this I mean the crumb-laden floor, and the realization that there are cookie jars and bags of flour that create these crumbs).

Watching her sniff the surface and examine this new territory with a bold curiosity–not fear–I felt moved. And because I harbor a strangely deep admiration for my dog, I started to think, as I often do, how can I be more like her?

DSCN3055Shirley is an adaptive creature who knows when to let her guard down. She enters new experiences with a strange bow-legged hesitation, skittering backwards and forwards like a spider, and when her gut gives her the all-clear sign, she relaxes into the present like it’s the only thing that has ever existed. She lets go of grudges–when I step on her foot during our morning walk, she squawks and forgives me. In fact, she’s already forgotten about it five paces later.

Me, on the other hand–it’s like I’ve got molasses goop all over my heart and my hands, and this goop connects me to all the times that anyone has hurt me and loved me and all the places I’ve ever been. And when I step on my dog’s foot and hear her mousey little squeak, let’s just say I don’t immediately rush into self-forgiveness mode.

When we moved into our new house this month, I felt waves of what the internet tells me is very typical transitional anxiety: trouble sleeping, little appetite, a gnawing fear that the spontaneity and spice of life was gone and replaced by the red brick of permanence, of settling. Also, where in the heck were my trusted routines? My toilet that never flushed right, the reliable way I made awkward small-talk with my neuroscientist neighbor as we waited for the bus?

Our first night in the new place, Shirley gave the house a good sniffing and then went to bed and slept the transcendent sleep of a worry-free poodle. She accepted the change by creating new routines, like waking up at 6:15 and playing with her tennis ball instead of sleeping all day.

We even took her back to the old apartment after a week to see if she harbored any old nostalgia for the place, but she took a lap and came back into the living room, like Guys? I am so over this place already.

To which I was like, You, dog, are so unbelievably cool, I can’t even believe you’re my friend.

DSCN3047(Right now she is sleeping on the couch beside me, the tuft of curly hair on her head so overgrown that I can see it vibrating slightly in time with her tiny heartbeat.)

In the end, yeah, I’m probably anthropomorphizing to a degree. It’s hard not to when this animal communicates so effectively and whose love bears such striking resemblance to the love humans share. And I’m probably also overestimating her adaptivity–the impressive splash of diarrhea I found in the backyard snow serves as evidence that Shirley’s body, too, felt the strange groundlessness of transition, at least for an evening.

Or, could have been the wine.

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Mornings

ImageImageThe more I think about it, the less it makes sense to believe in any kind of permanent anything.

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The Rapidly Ageing Young Adult Celebrates New Year’s Eve

I’m moving into a new phase in which the most mundane details of life excite me terribly. Homeowners’ insurance, self-employment taxes, upholstery, eyeglass prescriptions, fabric store coupons. The clean way you can slice the stem off Swiss chard by making a v-shape with your knife.

The author at age 32.

Computer simulation allows us to view what the author will look like at age 32.

In fact, this is the first New Year’s Eve that I plan to enjoy from the comfort of my own couch: sweatpants, electric blanket, $2.99 streamed movie from Amazon. And I’m excited about it.  This is normal for thirty, right? I mean, I was delighted to be called “mature” by my second-grade teacher over two decades ago, but that word takes on a new meaning as the years pass, and now it has vague ties to gray hair and a growling disposition.

Anyway. It’s exhausting to be so old & wise.

Minnesota is cold again, so cold that the dog sleeps for 14 hours a day, buried in her pop-up tent, and the draft our landlord promised to fix 2 years ago winds merrily around the living room, knocking Christmas cards off the refrigerator.

That’s cool, though, because we bought a freaking house and are moving soon. No big deal.

Life has been very good to us.

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Read: Colm Tóibín’s Brooklyn

Reading: Alice Munro’s Dear Life

Watched: Anna Karenina

Hoping to get Lovie to agree to watch: The Hobbit

The Spiritual Life of the 30-Year-Old (or: House-hunting is Suffering)

Now that I’m 30, everything around me seems to be oozing with spiritual significance. I’m assuming this is a normal part of approaching the age when your mind and body briefly meet in the middle, as the mind grows deeper and wiser but the body hits its peak and starts to get–like, more tired? Not as eager to stay up past 10 o’clock? And kind of sore in the ankles and wrists? Etc.

But I love getting older and feeling like every experience I have is some kind of teacher. An example: we’re house-hunting. Which, I’m learning, is a bizarre paradox of life–you spend months or longer doing painstaking research and analysis of neighborhoods and combing through every inch of your finances, knowing the final result of all that work is a go-with-your-gut quick decision in which you and your partner look at each other, give the OMG This Is It look, and say, “Let’s make an offer.”

At which point, your sweet suburban realtor will make a fast and frowning phone call, where she learns that the owners have actually already accepted an offer. And it was just a few hours ago. And maybe this happens twice in one week.

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That Which We Cannot Have

Yeah. So there’s patience in all this, and non-attachment. This could be a real downer, but it’s actually a good experience to have if you consider all of life to be one great spiritual journey–which you do, because I already told you that you’re 30 and life is different now. (Sleeping more, ankles, etc.) And when life chucks you some curve balls, you almost feel grateful for the chance to practice catching them. (You also feel very self-conscious now about using Feel-Good phrases like that, but let’s not kid anyone–in twenty years you’ll be the old hippie handing out dreamcatchers on Halloween, so you might as well OWN IT now.)

I also just read The Hobbit for the first time, and am working on Lord of the Rings, and it’s blowing my mind that I didn’t read these books when I was a kid. Because didn’t you see me, skulking around in my parents’ backyard with a blanket wrapped around my shoulders, dragging a Radio Flyer full of canned goods and flashlights, muttering to myself about Going on a Pilgrimage? That kid would have loved the shit out of Tolkien.

 

 

 

Post-election Thoughts (and Feeeeeeeelings)

Another four years of this man? Thank you, don’t mind if I do.

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But here’s the truth, the real, raw honesty of it: election night was one of the most anxious nights of my life, and I spent it huddled under a blanket on the couch, shrieking at Lovie to TURN THE CHANNEL BACK TO SCOTT PELLEY any time a commercial break came on during our recorded episode of 30 Rock (because Lovie, being the smart one in the family, thought it would be more relaxing to spend the evening with Tina Fey than Karl Rove).

After Ohio’s results began to reveal Obama’s lead, I did relax a little. I opened a beer, checked Facebook and Twitter and CNN and the Huffington Post, and suddenly I was hit with such a wave of sadness that the first beer magically disappeared and I had to open a second.

Divided Minnesota (image found on Google)

Here’s what bums me out: seeing the graphics and numbers on the screen, I realized that being divided is the only way our country knows how to exist. It’s our modus operandi: the country is neatly split in ideological halves. So is each state, and each city and county. The marriage amendment in Minnesota was knocked down only by the slimmest of margins (thanks to the tremendous efforts of a hard-working, compassionate group of people who tirelessly fought for my civil rights these past few months), which means that 48% of the voters in my own state turned up at their polling places Tuesday morning and filled in a circle indicating their preference that I never marry. Forty-eight percent!

This divide keeps going, so that if you reduce our country to its most basic form, you get this: two people who hate each other.

No, I think it goes even further than that, actually. It’s one person, having an argument in her head with another imaginary person and feeling helpless and oppressed by this fictional interaction (this just happened to me an hour ago as I was toweling off from the shower). Every problem in our country and in our world is already a problem in our own minds.

Shirley asks that you please be kind to one another.

When the post-victory buzz wore off and I was solemnly eating toast and watching my Facebook friend count drop Wednesday morning (apparently not everyone is a fan of picture of Obama without his shirt on), I realized that the only way to begin moving in the direction of unity is for every person to begin with himself. Stop that nasty chatter in your mind about the miserable day you had yesterday, and what you could have said to that Republican Evangelical from your home town who claimed that Obamacare requires all Christians to have microchips implanted in their bodies, and stop hating on Donald Trump, and Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan and that other Evangelical on Facebook who said the country’s in the toilet because Obama prays to Allah every day.*

Because that half of the country is just like the restless half of your mind that refuses to stop ruminating and worrying and being anxious: it needs love, and the gentlest touch of kindness.

Sometimes I feel like getting really worked up with anger is the best thing that could happen to me, because it gives me the chance to take a good, clear look at my own reactive patterns. It gets violent up in there, in my mind, so it’s no wonder that our country, which is simply a telescoped version of our inner lives, is so messed up. Since the only thing I have control over is how I choose to react to all the crap that I encounter, I may as well spend my time practicing how to manage that control. And watching 30 Rock.

*Just kidding. It was the same Evangelical.

Thinking about thinking: also, a poodle and her tennis ball

I’m a bad blogger, it’s true. I don’t have a good excuse. I’m just busy with life being very good–a topic for another entry, another day.

So I finally listened to the Radiolab podcast episode called “Voices in Your Head.” I’ve been carrying this around on my iPod for awhile now, afraid to listen because I thought this might be the episode that confirms I’m completely nuts, but I finally got up the courage (sunny morning, hot cup of tea) to hit play on the bus ride to work yesterday.

So meta: Lev Vygotsky, thinking about thinking about thoughts.

They discuss a concept first introduced by a psychologist named Lev Vygotsky, a man who may only be 88% consonants but is ALL Russian. Vygotky posited that perhaps the reason we “hear” voices in our surface-level, narrative thoughts is because we’ve absorbed the dialogues we had with our parents when we were just diaper-wearing kiddos, arguing with Mom about how it’s none of her business why our hand is in our pants again. In essence, then, none of our thoughts are intrinsically ours.

This episode was a nice complement to the incredible weekend I just spent at a retreat with Dr. Richard Davidson and Matthieu Ricard (Google them!–they’re the scientist and the monk behind the new neuroplasticity*/science of meditation craze), where Matthieu spoke at some length about the Buddhist concept of emptiness. (There is no nutshell, but in a nutshell, nothing exists inherently on its own; everything is dependent on the causes and conditions of other things).

Davidson & Ricard

Made me think that if he were still alive, Lev Vygotky might have been an interesting third party to the excellent team that Dr. Davidson and Matthieu comprise. I know he would have loved all the gadgets they’ve got up in the lab.

Also, I got Pema Chodron’s new book and, as usual, she’s fresh and fly and full of the choicest wisdom. If you order it from Shambhala Publications, you get a free gift with it, too–The Pocket Pema Chodron, which is good to consult when you’re having trouble practicing loving-kindness because your poodle keeps pushing the tennis ball under the couch and won’t stop crying until you get flat on your belly and stick your arm into the dust-bunny circus beneath to retrieve it. Over and over and over and over again.

*When Microsoft Word stops putting a red line under the word “neuroplasticity,” then we’ll know it’s real.

Breaking Bad(ass)

Life is so delicate in those first days and weeks of watching Breaking Bad on Netflix. You have to be careful at all times, diligent at every turn, to avoid encountering spoilers IRL. This means: slamming the laptop shut when Brian Cranston’s picture slides up in your Facebook feed; covering your eyes and singing loud, tone-deaf melodies of your own creation whenever clips of the current season are played on the Emmys; and, of course, getting into a cold shower whenever the urge to look at Aaron Paul’s Wikipedia page arises in your chest. (Of course, you simply want to know if he has a girlfriend, where he grew up, when his birthday is so you can send him a card–but you must accept the fact that while you are still living in Season 3, the rest of the world is far, far ahead of you, and Wikipedia has no doubt been infiltrated by these future-dwellers.) The internet is now my enemy.

This image brought to you by the most perilous of Google searches.

And for some reason, we’re having a hard time getting through this show quickly. Don’t get me wrong–we freaking love it, like the rest of the human race–but it’s not like Mad Men, the first five seasons of which we were able to watch, with only a modicum of shame, in less than a month.

But you can’t really do the binge-watching thing with Breaking Bad, or at least I can’t. It’s way too grim. The suspense is so masterful that I feel very near the brink of an anxiety attack when Vince Gilligan’s name come s up at the end–I have to pad the time between episodes with meditation, herbal tea, spontaneous weeping. My dear lovie was actually unable to sleep at night for awhile when we were watching the show before bedtime, so we had to shift our schedule around so that BB consumption only occurs before 4:00 p.m.

Which is hard, now that we’re both gainfully employed–the whole process of moving through the series has slowed down so considerably that I wonder if I’ll ever reach that golden Wikipedia page. Will I ever know the true Aaron Paul [as depicted by fans and internet users]? Or will he forever be shrouded in mystery, our destinies never touching because I am terrified of the spoilers that might lie in wait at every dark turn of The Google?

Yeah, this one I just had saved on my desktop.