Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Because He Can

         You know the old joke; “why does a dog lick……………..?”

         It’s more than just that he can. I’m sure there are humans out there who have achieved the necessary flexibility, but you just don’t see them casually reaching down to satisfy themselves while the rest of the household is trying to have a family meal.

Dogs might be on to something.

As far as I can tell, Conventional Dog Wisdom goes something like this:
-      Uninhibited equals Happy Dog  (see: scrotum licking, garbage eating, squirrel chasing, sniffing)
-      Inhibited equals Sad Dog (see: tail between the legs, it wasn’t me really, the cat made me do it)

I’m not advocating that we all become so uninhibited that we are free enough to put our hands down our pants before passing the rolls across the dinner table. I have a close relative who does this and I can assure you that it is not a pretty sight. We have to consider our impact upon others and measure our behavior in terms of that impact.  Never the less, I think letting your inner DAWG out might not be such a bad idea.

I say this with a nagging thought in mind. I spend a lot of time apologizing for the way I am built, tail between my legs. The world tends to beat down the dog, when all he is doing is being what nature has made him. AND there is so much potential to be a “bad” dog if you spend your entire day in a room with flowery wallpaper, paisley upholstered couches, and an Oriental Rug just begging to be marked.  How would I, and my figurative dog, feel if we where to reside in a more natural habitat? Would we even recognize it?

No wonder the dog finds solace in his ability to lick.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Ruby Slippers

When I first started blogging I used an analogy of a free fall to describe my journey into a new career or at least a new stage in my career. I’m still there.

I’ve made some progress. Tomorrow I start training to become a certified motorcycle instructor. It won’t pay the bills, but it will help. And of course, I’ve been writing a bit. Nothing spectacular, but at least the writing has been consistent. The things that have not made it into The Chalk have been really dogmatic. There is a lot of Dogma in my notebook and it is difficult to edit all of it out. You see, I have a strong inclination towards arrogance. I’m working on that and being dogmatic doesn’t really help things out.

With that said, I can’t help sharing an idea that has resonated with me for the last couple of weeks.

It came from my wife. We have started going to a yoga class together. As we drive to class she often reads quotes from Pema Chodron, just to get us into the spirit of things. The last one she read talked about how we all have this kind of internal jewel, which I interpreted as an innate goodness, that doesn’t ever lose it’s luster or brilliance. Our defense mechanisms, our shame, and our life experiences hide it, but it’s still there underneath those layers of yuck- undiminished. As I write this, that statement sounds very earthly crunchy. Just tap your heels three times and you will be a luminous creature. Maybe not, but it is a comfort to me to imagine that if I can do the hard work of becoming vulnerable and open-hearted than I might tap into my better self. It’s not a leap of imagination to say that when I am reacting to things from a defensive posture, I am surely not at my best. For the moment, I’m going to try and make that leap of faith that people have an innate goodness. It’s folly, I know, but the alternative is that humanity has no internal potential for compassion. That kind of thinking certainly makes me want to reach for my ruby slippers.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Does this question make my ass look big?

      I’m writing this with the sincere hope that my mother never reads this. She doesn’t know it, but she is a Jewish mother. Maybe not the kind you see in sitcoms, but underneath the Santa Fe, new age, sunset watching, pot smoking, sakki drinking, hippy skin lies the heart of a Jewish mother from Merrick, Long Island.

       Last week she crashed my party with Grandma Jane. When she heard I was heading out to Arizona to visit the family matriarch, she bought tickets and said she would try to coordinate her arrival with mine so we could share a cab. “You don’t mind waiting an hour or two for your mother- why spend money on two taxis” (do you see any question marks in those quotes?).[1] Once she arrived, she asked me if she had intruded upon my weekend with Grandma. If you ever hear a Jewish person say “OY”, now you know from whence it came.

       “Mom, I’m a nice Jewish boy from New York, there is only one answer to that question: of course not, you’re my mother, and Grandma is you’re mother. The doors to our family should always be wide open to each other”

I knew once I said the word “mother” what was coming next. It amounted to ‘was I a good mother?’. It comes up almost every time I see her, especially if she is feeling blue. We were in the car, going on an obligatory shopping trip in search of that nice shirt she saw in a Gap add. For the first time in ages I did not want to follow the script.

“Mom, you’re asking what my wife calls “do these make  my ass look fat” questions. There is no right answer. Say yes, and your calling her fat. Say no, and you are not being honest.  It’s just not fair to put anyone in that position. I’m not going there any more”


“You really like shopping with me, though, right?”

“Mom, does this question make my ass look big?” [2]

[1] Just for the record, she arrived a day after me, and I was able to spend almost twenty-four hours with Grandma Jane (see my last post Jane’s Choice). In fairness to Mig, these are not direct quotes- I am taking liberties here to make a point (and making footnotes to cover my ass in case she learns how to use a computer). 
[2] In fairness to me, this is a direct quote.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Jane's Choice

Last week I was in Scottsdale, Arizona, visiting my Grandmother. I still had something of a fire in the belly about the nature of resiliency, so I asked her about times in her life when she was faced with a crisis that she thought that she would not overcome. Mind you, this is a woman born in 1916. She has been THERE and chances are, she has done THAT. Without hesitation she recalled her early years of marriage. Her daughter had just turned two and her husband was gravely ill.

“I was told that Herb would not survive the year. Facing that, I made a decision to have another baby. I don’t think it was resilient, stupid maybe, because I had no idea how it would turn out. I believed Herb was going to die within six months. The decision was made on my own.”

Against all odds, Herb lived a long life, and their son is beloved. Jane thinks of it as the best decision of her life. She might not call it courageous, but it certainly looks like courage from where I am standing. It was something that she knew she had to do. No job, one young child, one dying husband, and Jane decides to have another baby. It seems uncharacteristic of this measured and deliberate woman that in her most trying moments she leaned on her emotional intuition. I’m not entirely sure she felt that it was even a choice. It was something she had to do to keep herself whole.

I’m on the cusp of that kind of moment in my own life. One that feels annihilating. My life as a teacher is coming to an abrupt end. But something is missing. Where did Jane find such clarity and sense of purpose? I don’t know about you, but when I try to pin down just what it is that would make me whole again I come up empty.

Jane’s resilient, almost defiant, act of self-preservation had an element of “calling” to it. Where does that come from? There was a piece of the impossible in Jane’s decision.

Resilience is a mystery to me, although I think I have some resources to call upon. One thing I can take away from Jane’s choice is that you don’t achieve the impossible by thinking about it. Courage, resilience, inspiration, these are unencumbered by the thought process.