Archive for the ‘Changing Patterns’ Category

We got a dog.  A puppy to be exact.  fugee2Not a teeny tiny puppy.  Not the pee all over the house kind of puppy, but the occasional pee and poop in the house kind of puppy.  I have always considered myself a cat person, and I will admit it, I used to have some disdain for dogs and dog people.  In my mind, they wanted the submissive instant love of a dog.  The undying devotion.  The creature that would only see them as good, no matter how badly they behaved.  And to me that was a cop-out.  Life is not like that!  Cats to me were more self-contained and dignified.  You usually had to work to get their attention and affection.  That felt more honest and real to me.  Part of me felt obliged to choose the harder path (the German part?), even though in ways cats are easier because you can ignore them and that doesn’t really work with most dogs.

Since our cat died about 8 years ago, I steadfastly said, No more pets!  I didn’t want another creature with a shorter life expectancy than me.  And I felt that two boys and a husband were more than enough to fill my plate.  And I wanted freedom.    But over the past year, I have started to wonder about adding a pet to the family.  My kids (16 & 12) are a lot less demanding and I can feel more room in my life.  I began spending a lot of time thinking about the idea of pets.  What are people looking for when they get a pet?  I didn’t want to fall to my kids’ pleadings alone.  They have always said they wanted a pet, but I knew they weren’t ready to truly be part of that until recently.  Being the mother and generally the holder-together-of-all-things-emotional, I knew I needed to wrap my head around the idea of a pet before going forward.  I unofficially, and party unconsciously, began a year of research.

The first thing that struck me when I talked with many people about their pets was what a pain they were.  Our friends cat who loves to eat wool (especially cashmere), another friend’s dog who is scared of men and pees inside sometimes, another cat that lost all the fur around its butt (apparently quite a site to behold) and has feline HIV, as well as the cost of hiring dog walkers and finding suitable places to board said pet when you go away.  And then there is the shit-factor.  Call me prissy, but whether it’s having to pick dog shit up outside, or scoop it out of a litter box, I am not a fan.  Add to all that the intrinsic needs of another creature.  I am such an empath, that it literally causes me distress not meeting the needs (or perceived needs) of others.  In short, why get a needy pet???

I kept coming to the same conclusion.  Keep life simple and clean.  Don’t complicate things.  But the thought kept coming back and kept coming back, and I finally started to look more closely at what is/could be positive about having a pet…and even the inner knowledge that this time a dog (a dog!) might be the right choice.  Over time I have come to see the value of that undying, no-questions-asked love.  I know it has the potential to bring out the best in people…the humanity, ironically.  To be met with undying devotion is an opportunity to step up, and I wanted that for my kids and in the vibe in our house in general.  As they get older and in some ways more self-absorbed (natural!), I wanted this for them.  Someone to take care of.  And for my husband, I told him he deserved someone who loved him unconditionally.  And I really meant it.  Of course, I love him unconditionally on a deep and important level.  But if he leaves his underwear on the floor, I am not going to lick his face.  If he is late to pick up the kids, I am not going to wag my tail when he gets home.  I am too cat-like to do that.

After a false start and some drama (not going in to that here), we took the plunge.  We met Fugee (then JoJo) at a Rocket Dog Rescue event in December.  She had been turned in by two people…probably drug addicts who realized they couldn’t care for her.  We all agreed she was the one and took her home the same day.  As my father-in-law would say, “She landed her ass in the butter.”  She now has four people who love her and dote on her. Here are just a few of the moments that make me happy we took the plunge.

  • All agreeing on a name.  From The Fugees (a music group that chose the name from “refugee”).
  • Watching my older son take care of Fugee after she got spayed.  He felt so bad about putting the cone on her head at night so she wouldn’t lick the wound, but he did it because he knew it was necessary.
  • Having my younger son put Fugee into his afternoon schedule (yes, he creates one every day) each day after school.
  • Seeing both boys have more fun together with Fugee as the thing that unites them.
  • Witnessing my husband’s pure delight at having this creature love him and loving her back.
  • Doing puppy training as a family.  Not easy, but so interesting to see how we all react and what comes naturally or not to each of us (possibly another blog post!).
  • Knowing that I listened to my gut and let it win this time.
  • Focusing on the good and not the poop I had to pick up on the floor this morning because it is raining and somebody doesn’t like rain!


There is a right time and a wrong time to negotiate with yourself.  It seems pretty obvious, but I am amazed at how often people pick the wrong time.  When you pick the wrong time, you always lose (or win, depending on if you’re answering to the proverbial angel or devil on your shoulder).  Here is the rule I use:

Only negotiate when your best self is present:  the one that sees the future, has faith in you, wants you to succeed and is a step removed from the thing you are negotiating.  For example, you can negotiate an exercise plan when you are warm and relaxed, feeling good and can see your fitness goal/s clearly.  You can’t do that when it’s still dark outside, windy and cold and you are trying to force yourself out the door.  Those negotiations almost always break down.  If you open the door to negotiation, how can you possibly make a good case for leaving the comfort of home and head into the cold, cruel world of exercise?   This is the wrong time to negotiate.  It’s exhausting for one.  And based on my own experience, you usually end up feeling worse because  you give in to your less-than-optimal self.

If you negotiate with your best self and make clear decisions, it is very freeing.  You don’t even open the door to the possibility of staying home on that cold, dark and windy morning.  You use your energy to get dressed and out the door and when that voice says, “just stay in bed” or “you’ll go tomorrow” you shut it down and go on automatic pilot, knowing that this is what your best self wants.

I exercise on certain days at certain times.  It is non-negotiable unless I’m sick.  I know I feel better when I do it…both physically and mentally.  The thought of negotiating that on a day to day basis exhausts me.  I am a good negotiator and can run circles around myself if I want, so when I start to hear the “oh, you don’t really  have to go out today, give yourself a break” I shut it down and stay focused.

Negotiation check list:

  • ask yourself who you are negotiating with.  If it’s not your best self, wait until that self can show up.
  • remember you can always renegotiate.
  • for on-going things, like exercise, diet, job-search, create your plan and agree to stick with it for a certain period of time…a week, a month…so you can see what it feels like.
  • remember what your longer term vision is.  remembering why you are dieting, exercising, looking for a better job helps make the hard work feel worth it.

When do you negotiate with yourself?  Who wins?

I am taking a woodworking class called Zen and the Art of Joinery.  To be clear there is nothing Zen or Artful about what I have done so far.  And, in case you don’t know, joinery is what it sounds like:  getting different pieces of wood to stay together without nails or screws.)  I am finding it truly challenging on a number of levels that fascinate me.  And honestly, it’s watching all this play out that is keeping me going back each Tuesday evening despite the gravitational pull to stay home and the dread of feeling lame again.

Last week we were going to learn how to use a chisel.  The teacher was looking to use someone’s piece of wood with the  proper cuts and lines already in place.  He took mine.  Looked at it.  Raised his eyebrows.  And looked for  a different one.  My cuts were crooked and of various depths and I was missing a crucial line that should have been drawn.  I felt a bit like an idiot.  Not because I can’t take a little ribbing, but more because I realized that this type of work doesn’t come naturally to me.  A lot of things come naturally to me and I’m used to picking things up easily.  Not woodworking.

So the teacher demonstrated how to use a chisel (on someone else’s piece of wood!) to create the space to make a joint.  (I should know what the joint we were making is called, but I don’t.)  I watched his demo carefully and was ready to try my hand on my piece of wood.  I picked up the chisel and immediately felt confused.  How was I supposed to hold it?  Where was I supposed to start?  I asked the teacher for help and he immediately got the “No Stop!” look on his face when I put the chisel on the wood.  He asked, “Does that feel comfortable?  Does it feel good?”  No, it didn’t.  He said it was like I was fighting my own body.  He showed me again what to do, but again, when I picked up the chisel I got in an awkward position.  I was making it much harder and more painful than it had to be.  Not because I wanted to do that…I didn’t.  But my body wanted to contort.

Using my fullest concentration and awareness, I was able to get in the right, most “natural” position and I did a passable job on the joint.  But I couldn’t stop thinking about how hard I had made it for myself.  And that made me think about how hard we can make other things for ourselves.  How maybe some things don’t need to be so painful if only we could shift our position.  For example, exercising regularly could be really hard and painful, but is there a position/way of thinking/strategy that would make it flow?  Or, looking for a job.  Is there literally a way to adjust how you do it so you’re not battling yourself.

The challenge, as I found out in my woodworking adventure is that often the new posture/position feels weird and unnatural.  As painful as the way we’re doing something feels, it’s what we know.  And it can be difficult to distinguish between one form of pain and another.  The thing to remember is that with practice, the better position/approach will become easier.  But the one in which you’re working against yourself will just continue to be hard.  If I keep practicing using the chisel in the correct way, I might someday be good at it.  If I keep doing it my instinctive way, I’m sure to quit woodworking as soon as this class is over.

Where do you fight yourself and possibly make things harder than they need to be?

A couple months ago, a friend sent me a link to a TED talk about vulnerability.  I was traveling and didn’t get around to watching it until a couple days ago.  I realized right away that I had already seen the talk, and although I couldn’t remember any specifics, I remember liking it so I kept watching.  I liked it again.  And then I watched a follow-up talk the speaker, Brene Brown, did, also at TED.  This time it was about shame.

Main messages:

vulnerability = good

shame = bad

I figured I must have already written about vulnerability, but I couldn’t find anything on my blog specifically about that, so I thought I’d do it.  I definitely haven’t touched shame.

(Aside #1:  I just finished an article in The New Yorker about the phenomenon of TED talks, and had a pang of feeling cliche to be writing about another TED talk on my site!  The article is very interesting and points out what you kind of know after watching a TED talk:  they are skillfully produced.  And produced to pull you in and make you emotional.  I had to ask myself if I’m just another tool who drank the kool-aid.  But I decided, screw it…produced or not, these two talks bring up a lot of important things and if they give people something to think about and examine about their lives, then so be it.)

(Aside #2:  I watched the videos up in Bolinas, where I was providing moral support for my younger son who was going to a camp up there with a friend.  I was only supposed to stay for two days and then leave him for the rest of the week.  But my son was struggling.  He’s very attached to home and family and he has a hard time stepping out of his comfort zone.  He doesn’t like to feel vulnerable.  Every time I talked with him about staying alone, he would tell me to speak more quietly.  He didn’t want his friend to know he was nervous.  He was embarrassed.  And then I realized I was also feeling vulnerable because I know that some people feel I am too soft with my son.  And I know I am sometimes, but I honestly don’t see the point in pushing him too far too fast.  But at the same time I know he needs to become independent and learn to cope in uncomfortable situations.  What was the “right” thing to do?

After I dropped my son and his friend at camp yesterday morning, I drove away.  Headed back to S.F.  I was struggling with my own fear that it would be hard for him, and knowing it was time for me to get back.  I felt like I should rush home and start working, but then I saw the sign for Stinson Beach and thought there was absolutely nothing so pressing that I shouldn’t take a little time to unwind.

I walked and thought, and thought and walked.  I thought about vulnerability and shame and how closed off so many people are.  I felt glad that my son could recognize his vulnerability and I, mine.  And we could still move forward.

He’s coming home this evening and I will hear all about it.  I did get a text at 6:30 a.m. this morning.  Nothing wrong, just reaching out.)

My asides aside, I think both TED talks are worth watching and hearing.  It’s a good reminder that as uncomfortable as being vulnerable is, it’s what gets people closer together and what brings us to new places.  And, we all have shame.  Don’t let it rule your world.

I am working with a client (she has given me permission to write about this) who noticed that her heart felt tight…like a little ball.  I asked her what it looked like in there…was there a color, a texture, a shape.  Nothing came to mind immediately, but when we next met she told me that she had seen what it was.  It was a flower in bud form.  Tightly closed.  She said that she then began visualizing that flower opening, right there in her chest until it was in full bloom.  Multi-layered, open, flexible…and beautiful.  She said every time she feels that familiar tightness, she sees the flower and imagines it opening.  That visualization prompts her to breathe and feel a little better.  Instead of having to think about what is making her heart tight, she just goes right to the flower.

My client’s experience made me think about something that is bugging me.  Kind of present, kind of not.  Not really something I have control over.  I asked myself what this thing would look like if it separated from me and I got a clear vision of a butterfly.  I wondered whether it might be a big strong bird, but no, it was definitely a butterfly.  So, I decided to let it go in our garden.  I know it will be there when/if I need it, but for now it’s flitting from flower to flower and taking care of itself.  And I’m a little freer.