For the Dogs, How to Help Yourself and Your Angry Owner

Chapter 12

You, the Golden Retrievers, German Shepherds, Black Labs, Poodles, Huskies, Pitbulls, Rottweilers, Terriers, Beagles, Shih Tzus, Pugs, Boxers, Afghan Hounds, Akitas, Alaskan Klee Kais, Foxhounds and on and on (I love you all)- it is for you that I write this chapter. You have had to carry a very heavy burden as a result of having an angry owner. In this chapter I am going to attempt (I may not succeed since I do not know exactly what it is like to be a dog) to address your needs, wants and desires as you try and live with an angry dog owner. I will also try and give some specific suggestions for how you can better handle his anger and how to help end the cycle of anger in your relationship- even if it means digging your way out of the backyard and leaving your angry owner altogether.

*Since the majority of angry dog owners are men, I will be using the personal pronouns he or his in this chapter. If you have an angry female dog owner, please just substitute she for he.

It’s Not Your Fault

Probably the first thing that every dog in a relationship with an angry dog owner should know is that his anger is not your fault. Most angry dog owners are reluctant to admit their flaws and shortcomings, so they will try and blame you for their problems. It seems as if they are getting angry at you because you are pulling on the leash, not sitting when told, going to the bathroom in the house, barking too much, digging holes, chewing up their personal belongings or playing too rough. But you know him better than anyone else and deep down he knows that you can see through his bullshit. You know that he is not getting angry because of the things you do but instead his anger is a result of things like: his unsatisfying job, his difficult relationship with his parents, the fact that he always has to lie about how much money he makes, his failed promotion, the problems with his erection, his failed expectations of himself, his difficulties with intimacy and so on. Because he knows that you know these things about him you may therefore be a threat to him, and he will feel less threatened if he can somehow shift the responsibility for his actions on to you. So you will become the reason for everything that goes wrong in his life. I know it seems unfair, but it is the way it is.

You are the one whom he abuses, verbally or physically, and this makes him feel guilty. It may sound strange to you, but at the same time that he feels guilty for all the terrible things that he does to you, the fact that he feels guilty only makes him angrier. Since you are the one that he feels guilty about, you are the one that is the focus of his anger. This is why he does not seem to care that he does not walk you for weeks on end and leaves you in the backyard all alone, all day and night. His anger is being directed at you and as a result he sees his abandonment of you as fair punishment for the “disobedient” things that you do.

Getting Angry Dog Owners To Move Beyond Blame

In my role as a psychotherapist, I encourage angry dog owners to look back and see why they became angry at their dogs. I ask them to be honest with themselves about how they felt when their parents mistreated them in both big and small ways. How did they feel when a parent humiliated or abused them or when they got in a lot of trouble for doing something that they did not know was wrong? This is an important part of the coping process, since so many angry dog owners have walled themselves off from their feelings and from their unpleasant memories that they truly do not understand why they are getting so angry at their dogs.

As the angry dog owner proceeds in his therapy process he begins to remember what it felt like as a young man to continually have one or both parents angry with him for doing nothing other than being himself. At this point in the therapeutic process I encourage the angry dog owner to move beyond blaming his dog for his anger. I help him to see that putting too much emphasis on blaming his anger on his dog is to put the emphasis in the wrong place.

You Can’t Fix Him

I know that you have nothing but unconditional love for your owner. I know that all you want to do is be with him and help to make him happy. That is what is so wonderful about dogs- your continual desire to please and to love your owner. But keep in mind that human beings have domesticated you through hundreds of years of trial and error. They have manipulated your DNA and trained you to nurture, comfort, heal, love, protect and make huge sacrifices for your owner. Your needs are supposed to come second, or third, after everyone else has been taken care of. The trouble with this ethic (for lack of a better word) is that your needs often never get seen or tended to. By the time everyone one else’s needs have been taken care of, your owner is tired and ready to go to bed or zone out in front of the television. This often leaves you hungry and alone in the backyard.

In particular, dogs are trained to realize that it is their job to be subordinate to their dog owners and to always put their owners needs in front of their own. Any time you attempt to get your own needs met you will almost always experience anger from your dog owner. A dog is supposed to be “loyal to their owner.” As a result most dogs are trained to believe that they have very few needs and it is their main job to “fix” their owners. Dogs come to define their role in life very narrowly. They come to see themselves as having little other purpose in life other than to provide obedience, comfort and happiness to their owners. Suddenly, their owner’s problems end up becoming their problems.

When the dog falls into the “fixer” role, his or her life becomes more and more constricted. The dog tries harder and harder to please its owner and stops doing all the other canine things that are important to him/her. He/She does not run around and play as much as he/she once did. He/She does not chase squirrels or birds with as much determination and excitement as he/she once did. He/She does not smell and lick other dogs as much as he/she once did. The dog becomes increasingly “de-selfed.” He/She gives up more and more of him or herself in order to try and please his or her owner. But the problem is that you cannot fix your owner. The sacrificing does not work! The more you sacrifice and try and please him, the more he continues along his angry way!!

The most important thing that I try and communicate to the dogs that I work with is- you have got to back off. You cannot fix your owner no matter how hard you try! It is futile for you to continue to try and mold yourself into what you think he wants you to be in a vain attempt to make him happy. I know you feel like it is in your nature to want to please him but remember- this has been domesticated and conditioned into you. It is not a natural part of who you are. Your work is to reconnect with what is natural to your canine being. To reconnect with the authentic self that has been conditioned out of you. As you might imagine, this is hard work. Are you up for the challenge?

What Can You Do for Yourself?

Your angry owner may be pulling you both down. It is important that you do not let him destroy your life. This may mean that you try and escape by any means necessary in order to save yourself. This is better than both of you being destroyed. Lets take a minute to talk about whether you should stay or go.

If your dog owner has physically abused you, chances are that it will happen again. Past violence is the best predictor of future violence. Even though it may not seem like such a big deal that your owner occasionally kicks you or forcefully throws you down on the ground and holds you there against your will, it is. According to the American Bar Association, “Domestic violence is an ongoing cycle producing increasingly severe injuries over time.” According to data that I have collected, almost half of the dogs that have been battered will be victimized again within six months. Remember: there is no excuse for kicking, forcefully holding or hitting you unless of course you are starting a fight with another dog or attacking a human being (I understand that usually the reason why you are attacking another human being or starting a fight with another dog is because you are expressing the anger that you have contracted from your owner but it is not the correct way to deal with your anger).

Other than attacking another human being or starting a fight with an innocent dog, there is nothing that you can do that justifies getting physically abused. It does not matter if you are barking too much, have dug holes in your backyard, have made the mistake of going to the bathroom in the house, continually pull on the leash when you are on a walk, do not come when called, do not sit when you are told or chew up things that belongs to your owner- as frustrating as these behaviors may be to humans, none of them justify having violence inflicted upon you by your owner.

With the majority of dogs that I work with who have been violently assaulted by their owners, I often recommend that they find a way to escape. As hard as this may be, I am sorry to say that unless your angry owner gets into serious psychotherapeutic treatment, the behavior is not likely to change. I recommend that you start digging a hole someplace in your backyard that is not easily noticeable to your owner so that you can get under a fence and run away. As drastic as this measure may seem, I recommend that you look at this measure as digging your way towards a better life.

Now if you decide that you can stay and that there is hope for change, well then- good for you! But you must take care of yourself. The first thing that you need to do is find out where he stops and you start. You have probably been too bound up in his business for long enough. Now it is time for you to start taking care of your business.

Even though you might be left alone in the backyard a lot and not taken on daily walks, there are things you can start doing. Get some exercise. You may find that aerobic exercise is a quick remedy for your depression and anger. You have a lot of time on your paws, so if you have the space, run around in circles as much as you can. Also rather than just sitting around all day with your head down, start doing deep breathing exercises (you can learn more about specific deep breathing exercises in the appendices of this book). This will not only help to revitalize your depressed and stressed out cells but it will also bring you more fully into the present moment. Even though you may be left outside alone on a cold night, use deep breathing to keep yourself warm and satisfied in the present moment. Often times I hear stories from dogs about how depressed they become when left alone outside on cold nights. I try to encourage them to empower themselves in these situations rather than becoming victims of the cold and the negative thoughts that can occur when a dog is left alone for too long. As I discuss in the appendices of this book, some ways to empower yourself are through deep breathing exercises and stretching (keeping yourself strong and fit).

Above all- make sure you stop letting your life completely revolve around your angry owner. It will be better for both of you in the long run if you can take care of yourself and work on your own insecurities and anger. Even though you are not able to communicate with your angry dog owner about the issues that you are dealing with, see if you can find a therapist that specializes in working with dogs who have angry owners. These trained specialists will be able to communicate with you in ways that you are not able to do with your angry dog owner. If you make the effort to take charge of your mental health, I promise you that the results will be worth it!

*This chapter was inspired by the work of Thomas J. Harbin, Ph.D. and his groundbreaking work with angry dog owners.

On Becoming Domesticated

imagesToday I need to clean under the dinning room table, vacuum the carpet in the living room, fix the grass borders in the backyard, clean the back windows and plant the cactus someplace in the backyard.

Michel Eyquem de Montaigne, on of the most influential writers of the French Renaissance, wrote: “The man who is happy in his domestication, who sees his domestication as the good graces of the Gods being bestowed upon him, is no longer a threat to the world, to others and most importantly to himself.” But I didn’t see this one coming. Who could of imagined that by the almost middle age of 42 I would become happily domesticated? Ten years ago, not my mother, my father, my sister, my daily bartender, my palm reader, my marijuana dealer, my pharmacist or my psychotherapist could have seen this coming. To be domesticated basically means to feel comfortable at home. After a lifetime spent feeling terribly uncomfortable and anxious in the numerous places that I lived, its nothing short of a miracle that I not only have my own home but am comfortable in it. The comfort aspect of domestication is not what concerns me. I am grateful for it. If you look up domestication in the dictionary you will find several definitions. If you read through all of the definitions you will arrive at one, which says: To bring down to the level of the ordinary person. I suppose this is that part that concerns me.

At the moment I am writing by my kitchen window, which looks out into my expansive back yard. It is a cold Southern California morning. I am looking at my two German Shepherds pace around in the pea gravel that my wife and I recently purchased. One of my dogs, which is named Camus but lacks the intelligence of the author he is named after, is engaged in a long and steady urination, which is getting all over his front paws. The fact that he is peeing all over himself doesn’t seem to bother him in the least. I am reminded that, contrary to certain people’s opinion, I am nothing like my dog. If I was peeing all over my feet I would like to think that I am civilized enough to move my feet out of the way. My other dog is sniffing around in the pea gravel trying to find an adequate spot to relieve herself. And I get to observe these kind-of-wildlife undertakings from the heated comfort of my kitchen nook. It is this aspect of domestication that I am grateful for. I too spent many years out there in the cold looking for a place to pee.

However, I wrestle with this notion of being brought down to the level of the ordinary. Ordinary? Oh gosh. In my twenties and thirties, when I was still naive enough to think it was only a matter of time until I was recognized as a great American writer and painter, I disdained the idea of domestication. I had nothing but indignation for those who had embraced domestication and I looked upon these “masses” as having given up on their unique greatness (whatever that meant). I would walk by a man gardening or watering his front lawn and I would have to restrain myself from calling him a “sell out.” I would see families moving into beautiful middle and upper class homes and think of these people as mediocrities. Becoming domestic was a threat to my dreams of literary and artistic eccentricity. And as wrong and judgmental as I was about the motivations of those individuals who had embraced domestic comforts, I was not far from correct about domesticities effects upon creativity.

Today I need to clean out the garage, sweep up the pea gravel that has gotten all over the driveway, water my plants in the front yard, sweep the backyard deck and straighten up in the house. Maybe I will do some touch up painting on the walls which have been chipped and marked up. I also need to walk the dogs and unload the dishwasher. Due to my extensive studies in Eastern philosophy I am well aware of how ones outer environment is a direct reflection of their inner environment, and vice versa. I am also aware of how a person’s external environment interacts with their inner life. It is important for me to have everything in my home look curated, cared for, dusted and organized. It is one way that I attain inner peace. However, for those of us who can not afford a housekeeper, maintaining a home that is a direct reflection of an inner life that is balanced, calm, caring and refined requires a continual, almost athletic effort. It leaves little time for making art. Or I should say that being domesticated becomes the art.

I am sure there is extensive information out there on the historical and sociological aspects of human domestication. I wonder if there is as much information out there about what happens to artists, writers, musicians, etc., when they finally become domesticated. Off of the top of my head, I know of few artists, writers and musicians whose works have not become less interesting, potent and innovated after becoming domesticated. I wonder if this becoming comfortable at home business somehow reduces a persons suffering and as a result reduces the quality, ambition and quantity of their artistic output. Why make art once a person finds comfort? I wonder if many artists, writers and musicians who at some point in their life become domesticated are making a kind of Faustian bargain where in exchange for the comforts of home they agree that their art will become their hobby and they will become a bit more ordinary. After all the years of struggle and uncomfortably, for most artists. I would assume that this is probably a fair deal.

Today I also need to clean up my dogs poop, mop the hardwood floors, water some of the potted plants, pick up water for the fish tank, empty various trash cans and sweep the dirt away from the front patio. I may also need to take a trip to IKEA to buy some pillows for an older mid century couch that my wife and I purchased yesterday. I can’t help but think: Am I wasting valuable time? Shouldn’t I be more disciplined and working on a painting and/or writing? If I put as much time into my artistic interests as I do into maintaining my home maybe I would feel better about myself (not that I feel bad about myself)? Maybe I would feel more purposeful? Maybe. The truth is that when I spent almost two decades committed to my art (well committed to the idea of being an artist but not committed to the idea of doing the actual work) I was miserable. I struggled and got little in return for my efforts other than a vague notion that one day all of my toil and poverty would one day pay off. And it has, just not in a way I ever saw coming.

Instead of visiting a bookstore or spending my evenings sitting in a cafe reading, I now prefer to go to Home Depot or Lowes in order to find various things for my home. It is almost as if Home Depot has become my night club. Last night was Saturday evening and I was at Home Depot looking for a new water faucet for my kitchen sink (I like the ones that are steel and are in the shape of a candy cane). On Friday I was at IKEA looking at various linoleum floors to replace the current linoleum floors in my kitchen. Rather than spending hours and hours reading literature at my desk, I now enjoy sitting on my couch or my back deck looking on Craigslist or EBay for deals on Danish modern furniture for my home collection (I have developed a passions for chairs and want to collect as many strangely shaped modern chairs as possible so that one day I can open a chair museum). In my twenties and thirties I wanted to be one of the greatest living American painters and writers. Now in my forties, I am driven to one day open a chair museum. How things change.

I also need to shave today. I also need to go to the market and prepare a lunch for myself to take with me to work tomorrow. If I have time I would like to hook my stereo speakers to the television. I would also like to watch another episode of Breaking Bad. Has being domesticated made me more ordinary?  Has it made me what my twenty something self would of called a sell out or a mediocrity? From a particular perspective, probably so. In many ways there is probably not that much difference between myself and those thousands of other American who love their homes. We are all engaged in similar daily home maintenance routines. But in becoming domesticated I have found an extraordinary well-being and satisfaction that I never imagined I would experience. I have chosen to now spend my days designing, cleaning and maintaining a beloved home rather than pursuing what I now realize for me was a unobtainable dream. I have learned to find satisfaction in everyday, ordinary acts rather than the annoying and constant desire to become something that I am not. My marriage, my dogs and my home have become the canvas upon which I now work.

I will never be comfortable with this idea of being ordinary. However that might not even be true. Our views and belief systems are always changing as we age. Ten years ago I would of never, ever imagined that I would be forty two years of age and happily domesticated. I do know this- if becoming ordinary means feeling comfortable in one’s home, I welcome the ordinary (I think). Now when I go for walks around my neighborhood and I pass by someone gardening or watering in their front yard, I wave, smile and say hello.

My Mid-Life Crisis?

I woke up this morning thinking about the band The National. In particular I was thinking about the lead singer Matt Berninger and I was imagining the various events in his life. I saw him checking into his nice hotel room after a large concert in Hollywood, California. I saw him greeting various fans that had been waiting for him. I saw him hanging out in his room with a large smile on his face. I saw him thinking to himself “so this is what it feels like to reach this place.”

“This place” is what most people would call success. I do not think of this form of success so much in the financial sense all though financial reward often goes along with it. Instead I think of “this place” as the kind of success that most people long for in their lives. It is the success of being able to be seen by the world in a very similar way that you see your self. This may be a confusing explanation for some so let me try and simplify things a bit.

You see, I feel the reason why we idealize and idolize rock stars, actors, actresses and other artists and writers is because they get to do something that most of regular people do not get to do. They get to be exactly who they are and get paid for it. Matt Berninger, for example, does not have to go off to a job where he must play the role of a graphic designer or psychotherapist to the best of his ability so that he can make a living. He does not have to be something that he is not inorder to get paid. He does not have to be seen by other people as being a graphic designer or a psychotherapist even though who he feels like he really is on the inside is a musician and a poet. His success is that he gets to be seen by the world exactly as he sees himself. Maybe its not so perfectly black and white but you get my point. I am sure that there are few things that Matt Berninger would rather do for a job than make music and write poetry and have thousands of people acknowledge him and his work.

I got out of bed this morning and went to make some tea. I thought about what I need to do today and a slight depression came over me. I tried to remind myself to remain present and stay focused on the breath. To be with “what is” without judging it. The idea that I had to work for a few hours, take the dogs for a walk, read, eat, find something to do and spend time cleaning the house just did not seem as engaging or satisfying as I imagine Matt Berningers plans for the day would be.

Now I realize envy is a trap and I am not envying the lifestyle of Matt Berninger over mine (who knows what it really feels like to be him). Well maybe there is a tinge of envy but what I am acknowledging is that life must feel very different on the inside when you get to be exactly who you are on the outside. When the world acknowledges (and pays) you for being exactly who you want to be. And is this not what a mid-life crisis really is? Reaching a certain point in your life and realizing that things have not turned out exactly how you imagined they would? Realizing that how everyone else sees you is not how you see yourself? I think it is. I think a mid-life crisis is born out of the cracks that occur when a person becomes fractured in their life. When they have to try as hard as they can to be something that they are not (in order to make a living).

Granted, such is life in the modern world. This is the fate of most men and women. We don’t have to contend with the massive poverty that exists in India or the political nightmares that exist in Palestine, Syria and Eypt but we do have to live with this feeling of a fracture inside of our souls. The nature of contemporary capitalist society is that the individual must be able to generate a moderate profit if they are going to have a decent quality of life. If they do not have the ability to generate profit than they are either homeless, a vagabond, a loser or even worse- a total failure who is dependent on others ability to generate profit. Most people are terrified of suffering these potential consequences of staying true to who you really are so somewhere along their lives journey they make compromises. They settle for second or third best. The degree to which a person settles determines the degree to which a person experiences a mid-life crisis. I suppose it even determines the degree to which you will envy the kind of life someone like Matt Berninger gets to live.

Am I experiencing a mid-life crisis? Probably not. Would I like it if my life was filled with more acknowledgment from others for being the person I imagined myself becoming in my twenties? Probably so. Would I be happier if my work life felt like it reflected my inner life more? Maybe so. What I do know for certain is that change is the fundamental nature of reality. All things are always in a process of continual change. Nothing stays the same- not even my ideas about who I am. So do I continue to hang on to a past that may not have worked out as I would have liked it to or can I move into the present moment of my life embracing the change that shapes everything? I suppose this is what Shakespeare may have meant when he wrote:

“To be, or not to be, that is the question:
Whether ’tis Nobler in the mind to suffer
The Slings and Arrows of outrageous Fortune,
Or to take Arms against a Sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them: to die, to sleep
No more; and by a sleep, to say we end
The Heart-ache, and the thousand Natural shocks
That Flesh is heir to?”

Thoughts that Cross my Mind While Procrastinating.

There is silence in the house and a white pleather couch stares at me. It sits there white and opened armed waiting for my embrace. My legs are crossed and I am wearing my new brown Converse All-Stars. In the other room my lover is working on a drawing in her black sketchbook. My small half-witted dog rests its undersized head on his front paws and looks longingly out the window, which is colored in by winter. Lunch is soon to be served someplace in the world. I feel as if I should have some sort of conversation with the white pleather couch. Maybe ask it how it manages to sit so still all the time. I feel as if I should take off my clothes and lay down on what looks like its very comforting white cushions. Then maybe I will feel safe and satisfied. My half-witted dog now growls at a bird ravaging around in the bird feeder. I am not annoyed or angry because the metallic hum of the heater quiets my mind. I am a bit impatient to do something, like throw myself into the womb of the white pleather couch or finally accept an old childhood challenge and see if I can go fit myself into the refrigerator. But it is almost evening and I have important things that I still need to avoid doing.

The Garage

Dust, dust and more dust. The inside of my garage is covered with dust. Small and large pieces of dust. Gray and tan tendrils of dust. There are also paint cans filled with VOC free and non VOC free paints. A potpourri of various colors- blues, greens, oranges, whites, yellows. All colors used to paint the various walls inside my home. Other things located in my garage: bicycles, tools, chairs, canvas, pieces of wood, a dog house (this is where my German Shepherd hangs out), dog hair, saw dust, buckets, boxes filled with things that I think I need but will never need, a wood table, door hinges, spiders, a television set that I have boycotted and pair of shoes that my dog ate. The garage has many potential uses (painting studio, relaxation room, office). None of these potential uses are in the process of being fully realized at the moment. Instead the garage sits there, a mess.

The garage is detached from the house. It looks like a one room house with a triangular roof sitting alone in my back yard. It is positioned beneath a large oak tree that is currently loosing all of its leaves. The leaves are creating a frustrating mess all over the roof of the garage and on the property all around it. Sometimes I become so frustrated with these leaves that I roll around in them. As much as I blow and sweep them away they keep coming. Dead leaves are like humans in this way- just when you think there was enough, there is more. When I roll around in the leaves I feel like I am crushing them. Crushing them. Crushing them. There is some kind of deep, psychic or supernatural pleasure that I take in doing this. Rolling in the leaves is very satisfying. But anyways back to the garage.

Garages fascinate me. In America they seem to be sanctuaries for the average working/married male. I often notice men, who are usually over the age of 45, hanging out in their garages. It seems to be the one place in the suburban house where they can hang out alone unperturbed by the domestic space that is taken up by all the other family members who live inside. These men often come up with projects for themselves in their garages. Whether it be working on old cars, putting together model airplanes, building machines, or conducting strange experiments- the garage seems like a space where the average American man can have some power over their world. They can be alone and free to do what they want.

I want my garage to be this for me. As I said- my garage has a lot of potential. It is filled with space and high triangular ceilings (I am six foot five in height and it is nice being in a space where there is room between the top of my head and the ceiling). The inside of my garage is lined with old red wood that acts as roof and wall beams. The floor is made of cement and covered in car detritus but this can be easily fixed. I have often thought that hardwood floors would look wonderful in the garage but my wife often raises a good question, “where would we get the money in this terrible American economy?” True. So for now my garage is what it is- storage room and doghouse. But I tried to turn it into something more. So far I have tried to turn it into a writing room and a meditation room. Since it is in the back of the house it is a quiet space- free from car and people sounds. This is what draws me to the garage. It is a place where I can feel as if I exist in solitude even if I am living in the middle of a city. Even if my house is located just a mile or so from a major highway. In my garage I am able to feel alone while knowing that I am not alone. As far as I am concerned- this is the best kind of solitude. Urban solitude.

As a writing room my garage was not a success. I loved listening to the birds that spent the mornings and afternoons singing songs in the oak tree, but after an hour of writing in the garage I would begin to feel dizzy. I did not know if this was a result of all of the dust or the toxic fumes that emanated from the paint cans that sat just behind my back. I tried to tolerate the dizziness because I loved where my writing desk was located. In the garage there is a small little window that looks out into my backyard. I put the desk just under the window so that I could look out into the garden. Green grass, pomegranate and lemon trees filled in the small square space of the window. I could also see the blue sky above. Problem is that I spent more time staring out the window than I did actually writing. You see to be honest, as much as I want to write, as much as I feel compelled to write- I do not like to write. Writing is often a painful process for me. I almost always want to get up and go do something else. As I write I have to force myself to stay put in my seat. “Lets go! Lets go!” my mind yells but I have to force it to stay. Maybe this is why I gave up the writing room and turned it into a meditation space instead. I realized I needed to get control over my own mind.

Let me just specify by saying that my garage is a rather large space. When I say that I turned my garage into a writing and meditation room, what I mean is that I only set up this kind of space in a small corner of the garage. My desk was facing the window and away from all the boxes and junk that filled up the majority of the garage.  It was like a small corner oasis amidst chaos. I don’t want to give the idea that I was able to turn the garage into any kind of organized space because this would be misleading. I only turned a very small section of the garage into an organized space. Is this not what all of us do? We take whatever space we can get and turn it into something that we can feel comfortable in while living in this very uncomfortable world? I think so.

You might be wondering about how I was able to get light in my garage. There are overhead florescent light fixtures hanging from the wood beams. Whenever the florescent lights are on there is this sludgy, bright, reddish, orange, rust color that seems to be oozing out from them. I have always thought that this cannot be a good thing so I don’t use the florescent overhead lights if I do not have to. Instead I plug lamps in to the few electrical sockets that are in the garage and those seem to work fine. As I get older my own eyes require more light to see, so on my writing desk I needed to have two or three lights for night writing. During the days the light from the window was sufficient (I should add that I never did get around to writing in my garage at night. In the evenings I am lazy and do not want to do anything that resembles work. Instead, I want to drink beer, watch movies, read, eat, have sex and/or just lounge around the house. After 5pm my worldly ambitions dwindle away into nothing.)

Once I converted the small section of my garage into a meditation room I began spending smaller amounts of time in the garage. The dizziness that I experienced while writing in my garage would dissipate once I went out and got some fresh air. I decided that if I did only twenty-minute meditation sessions there would be no problems in my head. I found a rug and laid it out. I then put my meditation cushion on top of that. I then found a table upon which I put an incense holder, a pack of incense and matches in front of a rather calming painting of Avalokiteshvara- the Buddha of compassion. My idea was that if I focused on this painting enough it would somehow help me to be more compassionate and forgiving in my life. Currently I carry grudges and can be rather judgmental so obviously the few weeks that I spent meditating in front of Avalokiteshvara did not do what I was hoping it would. But building compassion and forgiveness inside oneself is a process. It takes some longer than others and I am really in no hurry. The meditation space that I created in the garage was a step along a never ending path.

Did I mention the black, furry spiders that live in the garage? These critters can make meditation challenging. I would continually worry about a spider climbing on me or spindling its way down from the over head wood beams and onto my head or shoulders. No spiders that I know about ever did climb on me but I was continually concerned. Every morning I would wake up around ten am, put a blanket over my tired body and head out to the garage for my morning meditation session. I would light incense and sit in the lotus position on top of my meditation cushion. There is a small side door that leads into the garage and I would leave this open as I meditated. I would often look out this door as I sat on my meditation cushion. The garage would be freezing cold but I would tell myself to just let the cold be there without needing to react to it. Let it be, let it be. Slowly I would close my eyes and focus on my breath. Like leaves flowing down a river I would watch my thoughts go by. I would feel my feet falling asleep. I would feel cold. I could hear the birds singing in the trees providing a soundtrack to the plethora of thoughts that dragged around in my tired mind. Just before I was able to get myself into a blissed out state- I would think that I felt a spider.

After two weeks I dissembled the meditation space in the garage. It was getting too much. Every time I would sit to meditate, I would get close to a state of what Zen Buddhists call no self and then instantly think that I felt a spider crawling around on me. It was getting ridiculous. No matter how hard I tried I could not escape from myself and the spiders were there to remind me of this. So I closed up shop and let the garage turn into a space that I would not utilize. Instead my dog and all the junk I own would take over. I now meditate in another, more comfortable room of my house but we will get to this part of the tour later.

 

My Life In Dog Hair

5691085823_f868ea6dfbSo this is it. My life. Covered in dog hair. I have been doing a lot of work lately to learn how to accept myself and my life as it. Embrace it all rather than the fervent resistance that I often find myself putting in acceptances place. For most of my life I think I have resisted the things that I have no control over and accepted the things that I can control. It is a backwards kind of logic that has gotten me nowhere but stuck deep in the most negative parts of my own mind. But I am happy to announce that I am finding my way out of these synaptic penetralias. I am beginning to see the light that is way out there in the distance. The light gets closer with every step and breath that I take but then there is always a new challenge that seems to threaten falling back into old habits. I begin again to resist what is.

People warned me when I got a German shepherd that there would be hair. Lots of hair. I was told haunting stories about softball sized tendrils made out of dog hair tumbling across the family room floor, through hallways, under couches and tables and in-between the sheets. I was told about the endless sweeping and vacuuming and constant battle to attempt to outsmart the fallen dog hair. Yes, I was warned but I am the kind of backwards type that always likes to do the opposite of what people are warning me against. When I want something there is nothing that will stop me (if only I wanted more money I would be a very rich man by now but for some reason I am rather apathetic towards the accumulation of cash). When I saw this particular German shepherd with droopy eyes and head rested helplessly on paws while behind the bars of an animal shelter, I immediately wanted her. My original intention was not to get a dog. My wife and I were going just to look. But deep down I knew as well as she did that our resolve to just look was a lie that we were telling ourselves so that we could get ourselves to the animal shelter without any voices in our head convincing us to turn back or not to go in the first place. It was a way to outsmart our own minds.

The hair is everywhere. It even turns up when I am making love with my wife. When we kiss I always feel microscopic strands of thorny hair making its ways over my tongue. There is dog hair on my toothbrush, in my socks, in between the pages of the numerous books that I am reading (but will probably never finish), in my morning tea, on my records and even in-between the keys of this laptop that I am now typing upon. Dog hair is colonizing my life. It would not be an exaggeration to state that even parts of the hair on my head are no longer my own but are an annoying blend of dog and human hair. What has been the most challenging part of living with so much dog hair has been the way that my dog’s hair seems to cling to black. I have always enjoyed wearing all black, but since I have gotten my dog I can no longer wear black comfortably. Every time I look down at my shirt or pants there is multiple strands of dog hair curled up against my body. It is a battle that I cannot win. Like an obsessed lover that refuses to let go, the more I try and chase the dog hair away, the more it seems to grab onto the darker parts of me.

I talk about my frustration towards my dog’s habitual and continual surrender of her hair with everyone I come across. I talk about it with the checker at the market, the homeless guy who continually asks me for chump change, my clients in my psychotherapy practice, the sales people at the record store I like to visit and even with the mailman. I am searching for insight. Valuable information. I desperately want to know if anyone has found the holy grail of how to prevent dog shedding. I am looking for solutions everywhere I go. Like a person afflicted with an incurable disease, I want to know that there has to be some kind of solution that has been overlooked, some kind of possibility that has been missed. I realize that I am searching in the dark, but I am profoundly optimistic that one day I will talk to someone or put the right combination of words into a Google search and up will come what I have been looking for. I will find a way to stop my dog from shedding.

So far, all of my efforts in this direction have been rendered futile. My search has been in vain. I have been looking for gold in a river that has dried up and where there is nothing but dirt, pebbles and a few footprints. I am continually told that there is no cure for excessive dog shedding and that I need to learn to live with all the hair. I am often told that I have a German shepherd and that this is what German Shepherds do. They shed as much as we humans worry. There is nothing that can be done about it. “Get used to it,” is something that people often like to tell me when I question them about potential cures. Of course I do the opposite of what people tell me. I refuse to accept or get used to it. I am convinced that there must be a way to end this invasion of dog hair in my life. I search with the conviction of one who refuses to give up hope. No, I cannot learn to live with it. It is exactly because I have no control that I must resist.

In the meantime I spend more time with a broom and a vacuum cleaner than I do with any other person in my life. The broom and I are becoming very intimate. In my underwear and t-shirt the first thing that I do when I wake up in the morning is sweep the hardwood floors of my home. I then vacuum up the small mountains of hair that I have collected. By then it is noon. Even though I spend the remainder of my day pulling strands of fallen dog hair out from my mouth, hair, clothes, records, books, socks, food and wherever else the dog hair can find to hang out; I am impermanently relieved by the fact that I have removed the majority of dog hair from the floors of my home. There is something very satisfying about this small victory. To walk through the halls of my home and only see a few strand of wayward dog hair (as opposed to the full scale invasion that is there when I wake up in the morning) gives me peace of mind. I can feel a lightness of being once again. As much as I wish that I could learn how to live harmoniously with all the dog hair, it seems to be a psychological skill that I am so far incapable of.

Lately I have been meditating so that I can attempt to accept the fact that as long as I have my dog, there will be dog hair in my life. I breathe and tell myself to let go, to embrace things as they are. Accept the hair, accept the hair, accept the hair. But almost always in the middle of my meditation, I will open one eye and look around. I will see dog hair on my lotus-crossed knees, on my meditation cushion and in the corners of the room. I will begin to feel that familiar aggravation rise up in my chest and I tell myself to calm down and let the dog hair just be there. But of course I can’t. Of course I always need to get up, go grab the broom and the vacuum and clean up the dog hair.

The Prostitute and I

Two blocks from where I live there is a prostitute who spends her afternoons standing on a busy street corner. I noticed her when I first moved into my suburban neighborhood. I thought it was strange that a woman dressed in a tight mini skirt would stand in the same place, every day for an entire afternoon. Every time I drove past that street corner I would check and see if she was there. I was not doing this because I desired this woman and wanted to have a sexual experience with her. No, I was not attracted to her at all. From an objective perspective there was little to be attracted to. I was interested in this prostitute because I thought it was very odd that there would be a prostitute standing on a street corner in the middle of a middle class suburban neighborhood. I had lived in the ghetto of Oakland, California for a long time. Seeing prostitutes there was as familiar to me as seeing bullets flying in the sky. It was a daily occurrence. But in this Los Angeles suburb, she was the first and only prostitute I ever saw. She had my full attention.

A month after my wife and I moved into our new home we bought a German shepherd. I started walking my dog everyday past the street corner where the prostitute stood. Sometimes she would not be there but most of the time she was standing there, waiting. Toyota Priuses, Jettas, Ford mini vans and various other symbols of the middle class on wheels would drive past pretending not to notice that there was a prostitute standing on a middle class street corner. A block away was a school. Across the street was a Starbucks. Was I the only one that found it so strange that there was a prostitute hanging out there? I became obsessed. I started walking my dog twice a day. I would sit on a bench across the street from her and observe. Even my dog knew that something strange was going on across the street.

She would wave at cars with single men in them. Often times these men would look shocked. They were either young men driving there parents car who had yet to experience the sexual transgression of being with a prostitute or they were middle aged men who had been locked up in an office someplace and were utterly startled to notice that a middle aged woman on a street corner was waving at them. Rarely did any of these men stop and pick her up. She looked treacherous and scarred by an unfair life. There was something frightening about her. But occasionally a man would slam on his breaks and make a hand motion for her to get in the car.  She would run up to the passenger side car window, bend down to check the man out and then jump into the car with the fluidity of a gust of wind.

If it was raining out she would be standing on the street corner dressed in a shabby raincoat and holding a cheap umbrella. Her long grayish red strands of hair would stick out of what looked like a hand knitted ski hat with flower patterns. On the days that the sun would be out, her long hair would blow freely in the afternoon breeze created by all the passing middle class cars. She would wear a black min-skirt with some kind of shirt that would almost always reveal her aging stomach. I could see some sort of piercing on her belly button and I also noticed a tattoo that ran down the side of her legs and into the blue high heel shoes that she was always wearing.

After a month of observing the prostitute I decided to confront her. I was so fascinated by the life that she seemed to be living. I made up all kinds of stories about her. Was she a middle class homeowner who had lost her home in the great recession? Did she have a family? What she was doing for work was so outside of the middle class norm that gradually ate away at the souls of almost everyone that I lived around. I have always had a certain fascination with deviants and those who decide to live way outside of the norm, I just never thought I would become fascinated with a prostitute that was working on a street corner two blocks down from where I lived.

The first time that I approached the prostitute I remember having the thought that it was life, not drugs that had worn her out. She did not have that familiar drug abused gauntness in her face that most aging drug addicts display. Her skin and eyes looked hydrated and unravished by any kind of drug addiction. There were no dilated pupils or bags under her eyes, just a sadness that tried to hide the fact that she had fallen upon difficult times. Before I could say anything to her she shouted, “please keep your dog away from me! I am terrified of dogs!” I apologized and told her that my dog did not have a mean bone in her body. “But she is a German shepherd. Those dogs are viscous,” she pleaded. “That is a huge misconception. They are trained to be viscous but naturally they are one of the sweetest breeds of dogs,” I said. She looked at my dog as if she was thinking about what she should do next. She was in a contemplative kind of deliberation. I heard a car horn. She looked up to wave and then looked back down at the dog. “Ok,” she said. “What the hell, but hold on to her tight.”

After the initial cautious greeting, the prostitute and my dog were like close friends. Before I even had a chance to introduce myself, the prostitute was crouching down hugging my dog and enjoying the disgusting privilege of being licked by a dog that is obsessive compulsive about cleaning her own private parts. She hugged my dog and rubbed her face in my dog’s furry neck. It was as if this was the first time in a long time that the prostitute had given or received love. I watched the prostitute and my dog exchange loving gestures in the same way that you may watch a person getting the help that they are in desperate need of. After a few minutes of this the prostitute stood up, looked at me and said, “so what is with the fascination, huh?”

I was surprised and caught off guard. What did she mean by fascination? I was silent and noticed myself stepping away from her. The prostitute then smiled and said, “what took you so long?” “What took me so long?” I replied. “Yeah, I have noticed you sitting over there across the street for more than a month now. Seems like you just sit there and watch me.” How could I be so inept to not think she would notice me sitting on the bench across the street? At first I thought about denying it but then I realized this would be like denying the obvious. Only unstable people do this sort of thing. And even though I had spent the past month obsessing about a prostitute on a street corner- I was not unstable. So I looked her in the eyes and said……….nothing.

“Look honey, you do not have to be shy. Wanting to get off is a natural human impulse. So what, you want to get off with no strings attached. Big deal. I know what it is like to be shy and all, but let me promise you that once you break through your shyness you will feel like you parted the waters of the Dead Sea.” The prostitute said this to me with a promiscuous smile that revealed a need for some dental work. I giggled a bit and to be honest, it took me a second to realize what was going on. The prostitute was thinking that I wanted to hire her for a sexual experience but could not get up the nerve, so I sat on the bench across the street too afraid to approach her! “And honey your dog, well you do not need to bring her for protection. I got all the protection you’ll need in my purse.” Then she laughed.

You know what they say about finding yourself stiff and unable to articulate words when you are in a moment of shock? Well that is what happened to me. Every nerve in my vocal cords wanted to tell her that I was not interested in her in that way but it was as if someone had put a tight sheet of plastic, saran wrap or wax paper over my face and I was desperately trying to break through. You got it all wrong lady, I kept thinking to myself but for some ridiculous reason (the answer of which can probably be found in my childhood), I was unable to talk. It was at that moment that a black Toyota Prius pulled up to the curb. A white balding man in a white collard shirt rolled down the window and said, “it is four o’clock baby.” The prostitute turned towards the man in the car and said, “I’ll be right there.” She then turned to me and said, “look I got to go honey, but come find me tomorrow and I’ll show you what all that shyness has been cheating you out of.” She then bent down and gave my dog another love starved hug and then disappeared into the black Prius.

I stood there on that corner with my dog sitting by my side. I watched the black Prius get smaller and smaller in the distance. I felt like a failure for not having had the courage to tell her that she was all wrong about what she was thinking about me. I did not want the prostitute to think that I wanted her services, because then I would never be able to come observe her again. I really wanted to ask her why she was standing on this particular street corner, day after day, but I was unable to get a single word out. My month long stretch of curiosity had resulted in nothing but shame and embarrassment. I stood on that corner until the sun fell behind the busy Starbucks across the street. My dog did not put up too much of a fuss about standing there with me. It was as if she knew that I needed some time to myself. I stood there on that corner and watched the cars pass by. I imagined what it would be like to be her standing in that very spot. I noticed all the men who were driving in their cars alone as they passed by. I felt the breeze created by the numerous passing cars blowing my hair.

When I finally returned home that evening my wife confronted me and said, “where have you been?” I took the dog off the leash and opened the back door for her to go run around in the yard. I looked at my wife and did not know what to say.

Interview With Myself #2

I am again sitting at my round breakfast table. The time is 10:42am and I am preparing for my second interview. Since I awoke at 6am this morning and then went back to sleep at around 7:30am I am getting a late start. My German shepherd is currently resting beside my ankle eating a biscuit of some sort. The morning is overcast and there is a breeze that is blowing leaves off the trees. I think my dog is impatient to go for walk but she will have to wait. There is dog hair all over my dark hardwood floors. My hair is a mess and I am still dressed  in my pajamas when this interview begins.

 

Interviewer: Good morning Randall.

Randall: Good morning.

Interviewer: Good morning.

Randall: Good morning.

Interviewer: Good morning.

Randall: Ok. Good morning. Let me make myself a cup of green tea real quick.

Interviewer: Take your time.

[Randall gets up to prepare his tea. Ofcourse his dog follows]

Randall: Ok lets begin this interview. I have a lot to get done today so let’s get going.

Interviewer: Yes it is already late.

Randall: It is.

Interviewer: Just out of curiosity what do you have to get done today?

Randall: Well I have to take my dog for a long walk. I need to water in the garden and possibly finish a drawing I have been working on. I want to do some reading and I need to spend six minutes doing my shake a weight. I also need to shower and get dressed, do a bit of meditation and check my bank balance. I am also driving into Pasadena with my wife today so that we can go to the art store and visit a vintage furniture store that we like. We will probably have dinner in Pasadena tonight.

Interviewer: Sounds nice.

Randall: Yes.

Interviewer: What are you reading at the moment?

Randall: I have actually had a difficult time finding things to sink my teeth into latly. I have an extensive book collection and have been picking books off the shelves trying to get myself into one of them. I have tried to read novels by Haruki Murakami, Tom Robbins and William Burroughs but I seem to have little interest in reading fiction right now. I have also tried to get interested in some non-fiction. I have started to read a book of John Cage’s essays called “Silence” and I have also tries to read Damien Echols memoir called “Life After Death” but I have not been able to get into either of these books. Last night I picked up a book by Gabor Mate called “In the Real of Hungry Ghosts” and like what I read so maybe I will be able to go deeper into it.

Interviewer: Why do you think you are having such a difficult time starting and finishing books right now?

Randall: I’m not sure. As you know, we have always had a really difficult time finishing things. I think that the reason why we enjoy reading literature so much is because we would often finish novels and that would give us that much needed sense of completion. But as you also know for every novel we have finished there have been two that have gone unfinished. I am not sure if as I have gotten older my attention span has shortened or if my use of the internet has caused me to develop ADD, which makes it much more difficult for me to be attentive enough to follow a narrative for hundreds of pages. I find that after ten pages of reading I am easily distracted and check my facebook or get up and do something else. Then I come back to reading. This makes it difficult for me to really sink into a narrative.

Interviewer: Have you finished a book recently?

Randall: I have. A few weeks ago I read Victor Frankel’s “Man’s Search for Meaning.”

Interviewer: If I remember correctly that is a rather short book is it not.

Randall: (looking a bit embarrassed) It is, yes.

Interviewer: Have you finished a longer book recently?

Randall: What do you mean by longer?

Interviewer: Say longer than two hundred pages.

Randall. Hmmm. Let me think. Yes in fact I did. About a month ago I finished a brilliant book of short stories called “Orientation” by Daniel Orozco.

Interviewer: How many pages was that?

Randall: (now looking a bit indignant) I believe that was around 160 pages.

Interviewer: Only 160 pages?

Randall: Yes.

Interviewer: And how long did that take you to read?

Randall: Probably a week.

Interviewer: A week to read 160 pages?

Randall: (silent)

Interviewer: Any books OVER two hundred pages?

Randall: A few months back I read Spalding Grey’s novel, “Impossible Vacations.” I believe that was just over two hundred pages and the print was small.

Interviewer: Is it safe to say that you have a difficult time reading books?

Randall: (some what rhetorically) What do you mean by this?

Interviewer: I know this may be a difficult question to answer since at one time you considered yourself to be a prolific reader. Now it seems as if you struggle through a two hundred-page book.

Randall: (taking a deep breath) Well I suppose I do. I don’t quite understand it myself. When I sit down to read I just feel distracted- as if there is other things I should be doing. I have trouble sinking into a book as I once was so able to do so easily. I don’t know maybe as a man grows older he feels like he should be spending less time lost inside the pages of a book and more time in his life.

Interviewer: Or maybe you have developed ADD?

Randall: Look what is this interview about? Did you come here to criticize my reading abilities and to point out how I have developed a mental handicap in my older age?

Interviewer: First of all I did not “come here.” I am already here. I live with you on a moment to moment basis so I am well aware of the inner turmoil you experience. I know that lately you have really been struggling to immerse yourself in a work of literature and I thought I would use this interview as an opportunity to get to the bottom of it.

Randall: Ok. Ok. I am well aware of your good intentions and I appreciate you wanting to help us out but I suppose I am not in the mood to talk about it at the moment. It cuts to something very deep and personal for me.

Interviewer: And what might that be?

Randall: (silence)

Interviewer: We don’t have to talk about it if you do not want to.

Randall: (after a moments pause) I guess it is that I am changing. That I may not have the same interests as I once did. Maybe I am just not as interested in literature as I once was. Maybe I am not as interested in writing or needing to be an artist as I once was. It is strange and I am trying to figure it out for myself.

Interviewer: Or maybe you have developed ADD?

Randall: Look I don’t think that is it. I realize that I have a difficult time concentrating but that may have more to do with lack of interest and facebook than it does with ADD.

Interviewer: Lack of interest?

Randall: Yes.

Interviewer: What are you not interested in anymore.

Randall: It is not that I am not interested, I just have a more difficult time losing myself in a book now. A part of me prefers just being in my life: walking, listening, communicating with others, gardening, listening to music and just being. I often feel as if reading gets in the way of doing these things. Reading takes up a lot of time for someone like myself.

Interviewer: Because of ADD?

Randall: Look there are still few things that I love more than sitting down with a good book. I just need to find that book which will keep my interest and allow me to feel like I am not wasting time. This has nothing to do with ADD.

Interviewer: Ok, I will let you believe what you want. We will agree to disagree on this point.

Randall: Fine.

Interviewer: Well I think these are all the questions that I have for you today. Anything else you would like to add?

Randall: Nothing. I need to take the dog for a walk.

Interviewer: Ok well thanks for speaking with me today. I look forward to doing it again some time soon.

Randall: (silence)

Interview With Myself

My interview with myself is taking place on Monday morning at 8:43am in my kitchen. I am sitting at my round kitchen table, which looks out into my backyard where there is a large lawn and an even larger Mulberry tree. My German shepherd, who is obsessed with the frenetic squirrels running around in the trees, is currently hyper-focused upon one squirrel in particular and cannot stop chasing it around. I am feeling rather annoyed that my dog cannot just sit still, relax and enjoy the morning. There is an empty bowl of brown rice cereal on the kitchen table with the spoon still resting inside the bowl. There is also an empty mug, sitting besides the bowl, which earlier was filled with green tea. My hair is not brushed and I am still wearing the same clothes that I slept in.

 

Interviewer: Good morning Randall. Thank you for meeting with me at such an early time. I know that you are not a morning person.

Randall: Good morning. Not a problem. It is true that I am not much of a morning person but it is a pleasure to be here. I am sorry that I am not more dressed up for our interview but since it is taking place in our home I did not think you would mind.

Interviewer: No I do not mind at all. Is there anything that you need before we begin this interview?

Randall: Actually a little bit more green tea would be nice and if it is at all possible to get our dog to stop running around outside that would be helpful also.

Interviewer: Well let me see what I can do.

[Interviewer and Randall take a five-minute or so break to boil some more hot water and to try and get the dog to relax. Randall suggests that I feed the dog since Randall has not done that yet.]

Interviewer: Ok, so I have given our dog a raw hide to chew on which seems to have calmed her down. Is the green tea to your liking?

Randall: Yes it is is. Thanks for taking care of these things.

Interviewer: Not a problem. So should we begin the interview?

Randall: Why not.

Interviewer: I guess my first question for us is why did you want to conduct an interview with yourself? Some people might see this as a very strange, unstable and even selfish thing to do.

Randall: Well first off, if people chose to view my interviewing myself as strange, selfish, unstable or even ridiculous that is ok with me. I have always encouraged people to think for themselves and I welcome adversity or negative criticism. I think that divergent points of view are important for intelligent and interesting discourse. If I needed everyone to think like I do, or to agree with me- what a bore. As far as wanting to interview myself- why not? I have lived for 41 years now and have been waiting for someone to want to interview me. No one has come along wanting to do so, so I have decided to hell with it, why not just go ahead and interview myself. Plus I am tired of watching other people being interviewed. I wanted to see what it is like being the one being interviewed.

Interviewer: Well you make a good point. One can wait an entire lifetime for a person to come along who wants to interview them- for most people that person never comes. I think that every human on the planet should be interviewed at least once in his or her lifetime, since it is my belief that every person has a unique and captivating life story to tell. If you had to summarize what your unique and captivating life story would be what would you say?

Randall: Hmmmm. That is a good question Randall. I guess I would say that it would be how I developed into the man that I am today. As you know it has been a bizarre journey. We have been many different people in our lifetime and I find it interesting to have ended up where we have. I grew up in a rather economically privileged situation. I was raised in a country club where my worst fear was getting hit in the head with a golf ball. That is not actually true but I think it is funny to say. Even though I grew up in a seemingly safe and privileged home I feared many things. Probably more things than I should have. I wanted to be a professional tennis player but that did not work out. I almost did not graduate high school. I went to a very expensive private college where I was totally disinterred in school and obsessed with fitting in, women and partying. When I got out of college I was lost and managed to spend my graduation gift of $10,000 dollars in less than three or four months. Thus began a decade and a half of living in what I consider to be hand to mouth conditions and working at odd minimum wage jobs. I worked as a mortician’s assistant, a shoe salesman, a waiter, a bartender, a suitcase salesman, a supermarket checker, a physical therapists assistant and eventually a high school teacher. During this time I wanted to be an artist and a writer but the problem was that I spent more time reading and hanging out than I did making actual work (even though I did make a good deal of work). At one point I was obsessed with wanting to be my generations greatest writer and painter but now I think it is fair to state that I was very misguided, confused and often intoxicated.

Interviewer: Who do you blame for putting these strange and romantic literary and artistic ideals and expectations into our head?

Randall: I mainly blame Jack Kerouac, Henry Miller and Charles Burkowski.

Interviewer: How about Franz Kafka, Rimbaud and Artaud?

Randall: Yes them also.

Interview: So is it fair to say that our life story is one of from riches to rags?

Randall: Maybe not rags but definitely used clothes and cheap food (if you do not count the nice meals we ate with my parents and the occasional and generous shopping sprees that my father would take me on). I would also add that it is a story of from riches to rags but also back again to maybe not riches but a kind of comfortability and dignity.

Interviewer: I know this is not often discussed but is it true that when you were 28 and just a few months away from finishing your master’s degree in English Literature you dropped out?

Randall: It is true. I lost interest. Jane Austen, Virginia Woolf, Robert Browning, E.M. Forester and other English writers burned me out. Even though I excelled in the graduate program, when it was time for me to write my thesis I realized I did not want the degree anymore. I thought it was too pretentious for me to call myself a master of anything and as a young, idealistic man who had big dreams of worldwide literary recognition- a master’s degree seemed futile and too conventional.  So I just stopped working on my thesis and went on with my life.

Interviewer: Do you regret not finishing?

Randall: I do. I suppose that is the main reason why I went back to graduate school much later in life to get my masters degree in Psychology. I no longer consider myself to be much of an idealist and my dreams of worldwide literary recognition have faded away thus allowing me the room within which to pursue other things.

Interviewer: More normal, real world things?

Randall: I suppose so.

[The dog has finished her raw hide and is now pacing around on the deck. Randall seems to be a bit distracted by the dog]

Randall: I just do not understand why she cannot sit down and relax. I love our dog but she paces and paces around all day long. It drives me nuts.

Interviewer: You understand that she is not even a year old yet right?

Randall: I do but still it drives me nuts.

Interviewer: Why?

Randall: I don’t know.

Interviewer: Is it fair to say that you are a person who spends a lot of his time in a relaxed state, that you have figured out the art of relaxation and when others cannot relax it annoys you?

Randall: Are you suggesting that I get annoyed with others, dogs and humans, when they are not more like me?

Interviewer: I guess that is what I am getting at. If other people do not behave as you would want them to behave, or even behave like you behave then you are annoyed with them. They drive you nuts?

Randall: I am sure there is some truth to that. What you are suggesting is that I am not a tolerant person.

Interviewer: No, I think you are a very tolerant person- just a bit intolerant towards behavior that is different from your own.

Randall: Hmmmm. Well I would like to think that this is not true but I suppose that there is some truth to it.

Interviewer: Have you had people in your life who have not been tolerant of your behavior? Who have gotten annoyed or angry at you because you have behaved differently than they wanted you to behave?

Randall: I have.

Interview: Well maybe that is where you have learned not to not be tolerant of other people’s behavior that is different from your own.

Randall: You are probably right. Did you come here to interview me or to psychoanalyze me?

Interviewer: I am sorry. I suppose that I am just interested in the kind of person that we are.

Randall: I think that to find out “who we are” is biting off much too much of a subject matter for this short interview.

Interviewer: I suppose you are correct. Lets move on. I know that recently you moved to LA, moved into a new home, got married and began your internship working as a therapist in private practice. How do you feel about all of these big life transitions?

Randall: Well to be honest I am someone who has struggled for a long time. I have had a few really difficult relationships in my life, had serious financial concerns and have suffered from a chronic anxiety condition. For the first time in as long as I can remember, maybe even the first time in my life I can actually say with a firm conviction that my life is blessed. Things are really, really good. My relationships all feel healthy, my marriage is remarkable in every way and moving to LA feels like what it must feel like for someone who has been in jail for 41 years to finally get released. As you know, I moved from the area in which we grew up. I really did not think I was ever going to get out.

Interviewer: Well that is great. I am really happy for us that things are going so well.

Randall: They are and I am happy for us to. I am aware that the flip side of the coin is always there. Things can go horribly wrong horribly at any moment. This is why I am enjoying my life right now, drinking it in so to speak since for most of my life I feel like I was on the other side of the coin. I imagine that one of the greatest feelings in life is to end up in a place that you always wanted to be, but never imagined was possible. I’m enjoying this feeling at the moment.

Interviewer: How is our health holding up?

Randall: Well I must say that it is better than it has been in a long time. Years of struggle and anxiety have certainly weakened me but my Zen meditation practice and the love and support that I receive from my wife has without a doubt saved my life. She waters me with so much love that my roots have become stronger. My anxiety and worry is much less than it has ever been and all in all I feel good. I still struggle with breathing difficulties, restless leg syndrome and occasional obsessive frightening thoughts but things are not nearly as bad as when I lived up north.

Interviewer: I agree with you. I have noticed this as well. I think our wife is some kind of divine intervention. A miracle.

Randall: True. I am grateful for her existence in our life. Where would we be without her?

Interviewer: In a very different place. Probably still anxious and stuck up north.

Randall: Yeah.

Interviewer: Well I suppose that it is probably time for us to wrap up this interview. We need to take a shower, get dressed and get on with our day. I have a few final question for you before I go.

Randall: Ask away.

Interviewer: Do you have any big projects in the works? Anything that you are working on for the future?

Randall: You know for so many years I worked on things for the sake of bettering my future. I painted and wrote with future hopes, dreams and expectations in mind. Day after day I worried about how I was going to survive economically and what I was going to do with my life. It was torture. Now I am at a place in my life where I am really taking it one day at a time. I am not as driven to be a successful writer and/or painter as I was two or three years ago. I am now just taking it one day at a time. Today I want to read, work in my garden and go for a walk with my dog. Tomorrow I may decide to write an essay, work on a novel or make a painting. Or maybe not. I am no longer as tortured by the expectations of others and my own expectations. I don’t worry about what I am going to do with my life because I am doing my life right now.

Interviewer: Are you still as worried about money as you once were?

Randall: Maybe a bit but not as much. I may run out of money tomorrow. Ten years ago I would have had tremendous anxiety about this. Now I try to budget my money the best I can and leave the rest up to fate. I am doing my part to create a situation for myself where I have the potential to make a good income. I am just not worrying about the future as much as I used to because I am much more in the moment of my life and for the first time in a long time- I feel that it is the place I deserve to be.

Interviewer: Do you still suffer from feeling like a failure, as you once did?

Randall: Not so much. It is really interesting to me how life evolves, how we change as human beings. Sure I wish that today I was an accomplished writer and artists who was able to pay his bills and be economically comfortable as a result of his art. But I no longer feel like a failure because I have not attained this status. Sometimes when I watch a musician or artist being interviewed I get jealous. I feel envious that they have been able to create a life for themselves, which is a result of doing their art. Just the other day I was watching an interview with my generation’s most successful writer and I felt envious. It must be nice owning a home and eating food that you earned from doing your art. But this is not how my life has worked out and I think I am in the process of making peace with this. It is a tough one though.

Interviewer: Do you still think about writing and making art as much as you used to?

Randall: I thought you said that you only had a few more questions?

Interviewer: I did but as you know we can be very impulsive and when things come up in our mind we usually have to go with it.

Randall: This is true. Yes I think about art and painting all the time. If ideas for stories and paintings were dollar bills I would be a very rich man. Fortunately I have no shortage of ideas. I suppose what I lack most is the motivation to turn these ideas into things. Most days I would rather hang out with my wife, work in the garden, play with my dog, meditate and/or read a book.

Interviewer: I think you give yourself a tough time. You have created a lot of great things and it is ok that you may not be as motivated to make art or write at the moment. You may become motivated again at some point but now is your time to enjoy things as they are in your life and cultivate your next chapter. I actually much prefer your life now to when you were continually worried about what you were going to do with your life.

Randall: I like how you think.

Interviewer: Thank you Randall. I like how you think also.

Randall: Well I suppose we should put away the pen and paper and go get dressed now.

Interviewer: Sounds good.

In a Puddle of Mud

‎”The key to the mind is in my hand and I can turn it in any direction” — Maharajji

I have been going through quite a tempestuous time in my life. This morning I awoke early to take the dog for a walk. The negative ions hovering in the morning air rushed into my nose the moment I stepped out the front door. The dog and I walked, both of us unfolding into life like lotus buds that had been wilted all night. There were puddles all over the ground from the week’s rain but my dog and I made our way through them. As I walked I felt my mind go numb, my left leg was sore and my will weak. I walked slowly, almost hobbling, with my dog looking back at me wondering why I would not go faster. As we walked across a grass field I came upon a large puddle that looked more like a bath tub filled with mud. As I got closer to its lip, without hesitation, I let the dog’s leash go and allowed my body to fall forward into the unknown.

When I came through I was resting face first in a puddle of mud. I floated on the surface of the puddle like an infant in amniotic fluid. My ears were beneath the mud so I could only make out the muted sounds of my dog’s concerned bark. I floated there for a moment, feeling still and at ease. I kept my eyes closed and imaged that I was levitating, hovering just above everything that had become my life. When I could no longer hold my breath any longer, I got up onto my knees and wiped the mud from my face. Particles of dirt caused my eyes to tear and as I got up onto my feet, for a moment I had a difficult time finding balance. My dog was smiling, jumping around, hopping up and down as if he was seeing me for the first time. It was not yet nine in the morning and I was already covered in mud. After a search that took a minute or so, I found my dogs leash and the two of us continued on with our walk.

Why Women Talk To Cats

I have always wondered why women talk to cats? Ever since I was a child I have took note of this strange phenomena. My grandmother would sing in Yiddish to every cat she passed by and often formed relationships with certain ones that she would invite over to her house on Sundays. Both my mother and my sister always talked to cats and I remember growing up with the both of them more preoccupied with talking to our two cats then they were with talking to me. I became annoyed with my sister and mother at a young age because whenever they would begin a conversation with cats it would be in a whiny childish high pitched tone that even as a young man I found concerning. But as I grew into the man I know seem to be today, I noticed more and more women who talked to cats.

Maybe there is a closer connection between the feline constitution and the feminine constitution? Maybe women are more tapped into the sensitive and delicate world of the cat? I have always thought of cats as very emotional creatures, and if it is true that the female is the most emotional species on the earth than this would provide an interesting connection between cats and women. I often wonder why it is that women have always talked more to my cats then they have to me, and I am just starting to learn that the answer to this may be less mystical than I have always imagined.

I have had girlfriends, wives and mistresses all of whom talk in strange childish tones to cats. They stop everything that they are doing and talk delicately with the cat as if it is their baby. They ask the cat the same questions that they would ask a human being. “How are you doing today Lilly?” or “Do you like the way the tree smells?” my wife always asks our cats. I think to myself, “does she expect that the cat is going to say I am fine thank you, and yourself?” or could this be a sign that my wife may be loosing touch with reality (since Alzheimer’s does run in her family). However, I try not to judge and I just presume that she feels good communicating with cats, just like all the women I have ever known.

Today I was walking home from the bookstore when I happened upon a rather attractive women dressed in a tight black skirt who was talking to a cat. The cat rubbed its feline fur all over her ankles as I heard the lady saying, “why are you such a nice cat…why are you such a nice cat? How come you are so beautiful and smart?” I waited for a moment to see if I could not hear some kind of response from the cat, but I heard nothing. My curiosity got the best of me and as I passed her I stopped and said “Excuse me, do you mind if I ask you a question?” “No not at all,” she kindly replied. “Why are you talking to a cat?” I said. She seemed surprised for a moment and then provided me with a vague answer, “because I love cats.” I thanked her for her vague response and continued on. As I got a few feet away from her she added, “don’t you know that cats are a woman’s best friend?” And then everything made sense to me.

If dogs are a man’s best friend than why not assume that women should also have a four legged creature to call their own? Cats are not only independent and patient but they also embody some of the finest qualities of the female species. They are not only graceful in their movements but cats carry themselves with a kind of confidence that seems to be a familiar trademark of most if not all women. Cats are proud and seem to embody a certain warmth that I have only found before in the womb and women. If cats share certain qualities in common with women that define their relationship than what may this say about man and his best friend- the four legged beast?

So women talk to cats because they have something in common. They share a spiritual alliance with the feline species that no scientist could ever understand. Both cats and women get something from one another that no other source can provide. What this is I am uncertain, but I am willing to admit that it may have something to do with love and respect. When I returned home from my walk to the bookstore I found myself greeted by my two cats, Lilly and Monk. Before I realized what was going on I found myself asking them both how they were doing and what they were up to. Suddenly I realized that I too was talking to cats!! For a moment I contemplated what this realization could mean- but I sat down with both cats upon my lap and they both began to tell me about how men and women have more in common then I might think.

Living In A Police State?

photo.jpg Lately I am feeling surrounded by the police. Every place I go there they appear. Like looming premonitions or predictions, they hang around awaiting the citizen who falls out of line. Some of these officers wave at me with a cynical smile as I pass by them wide eyed and with one hand on my internal eject button. There are other officers who stare at me or point with a look upon their face that seems to say, “just one false move, and your ass is mine.” The older I get the more I notice these strange exchanges between myself and officers of the law. Even though these exchanges may not be taking place in reality but rather are projections of my paranoid mind, I can not help but wonder- am I living in a police state?

As I was walking my invisible dog through downtown Oakland the other day I noticed a sign that was hanging over the entrance to the police station. It read “Join The Police Force, Officer’s Starting Pay, $67,000 a year.” This recognition stopped me dead in my tracks and caused me to stand still in a state of muted anxiety for over ten minutes. My invisible dog was restless to walk on but my feet refused to move. “They pay these men in blue studded uniforms with weapons of mass destruction hanging around their waist and brains filled with citations, violations and obstructions close to $67,000 a year while a high school Teacher who teaches restless and abused souls how to find the way to personal liberation through education is paid a starting salary of $35,000 a year????” I was perplexed. A good amount of my life I have dedicated to education and my bank account is empty as proof of this. The contradiction in what I call society was staring me straight in the face- I live in a country that values imprisoning minds more so than educating them.

I often refer to police officers as disturbers of the peace. Some people laugh and agree when they hear this while others take offense (because they still believe that an officers purpose is to protect and serve). My perspective is shaped by the fact that I am yet to have an interaction with a police officer that has left me feeling protected or served. Rather I am left feeling a form of personal violation and nervous system over-excitation. Usually I am either handcuffed, given citations that I could never afford or questioned about driving drunk (which I never do), kidnapping(also something I have not done) or suspected of being a possible pervert (something I am guilty of). Ever since high school when I was first arrested for driving without a license (simply because I was yet to reach my twelfth birthday) my relationship with the police has been built upon a bedrock of suspicion, the end of which seems to always turn in their favor.

Maybe it is representational of my neurosis, but I swear that I am living in a police state. I ask others if they believe this to be true and the typical response is “yeah sure,” as if we have all been entrained as citizens to think a constant police presence is normal. Now when I head out into the video taped world I feel as if my breathing is restricted and my chest constricted by the freedom that seems to be slowly dissipating with each passing day. Police officers seem to be duplicating themselves faster than any stem cell could conceive (nature or science can not compete with $67,000 a year). A perpetuation of the species of police (police officers are indeed a separate species of humanoid) seems to suggest that America is under siege. However, it is my belief that the threat is not external as seems to be the popular belief but rather the threat is individual freedom or what is more commonly known as Democracy. The more police on the street, the less Democracy you have to enjoy….and this is the way those in power need it to be.

Maybe I am neurotic and reading into this police boom to heavily. Yes, I believe that Fascism has entered the American arena but I try not to think about it much. Sure if I detract my attention from the police presence I may think about this situation less. I will not be as disturbed by these disruptions of my peace, because I will simply accept the situation as “the way it is.”. But it is difficult to do so when these very police officers taunt me with their loud sirens, scream out my name as I am riding my bike or point at me and make strange faces as I am walking my invisible dog (which ironically I have named Democracy). The police presence is like lice in my hair which creates a perpetual itch. How is one to leave a burning scalp alone? Possibly in time the mist will settle and more controlled citizens will realize the abduction of their freedom that seems to be the case. Maybe some will revolt by painting peace signs on police cars or by sticking Kafka novels in police mufflers. Others may take to writing blogs and standing in front of police stations with protest signs. Who knows when this non-violent revolution will arise. In the mean time I will continue to ask one simple question to my invisible dog- Democracy, “say, are we living in a police state?”

Sitting On Buddhas Head.

gwt134020.jpgThe palest ink is better than the best memory. This quote was written upon a small paper tab that was attached to my tea bag. I had awoken in a fog unable to remember where I had eaten dinner the night before. I remembered my wife waking in the middle of the night in a slight panic but other than this my past was as illusive to me as notions of god. While lying in bed I tried to recall a few things from my past. I was able to remember the faces of a few women I had slept with many years ago. I remembered the first car that I received upon turning the driving age (but I was unable to recall the color) and I also was able to remember a small park in Berkeley that I enjoy sitting in. Other than these few superficial details of my life I was having difficulty recalling the events of the previous day. I arose from bed, made some tea and found that relevant quote dangling from the tip of my tea cup. I am always startled by the way forces collude to create coincidences.

After eating an egg I was somehow able to recall a very large steel Buddha that a local artist constructed in a park around the corner from my home. I dressed quickly, feeling a strong inclination to go visit the Buddha. I had no understandable motive- other than seeking out a wisdom that may shed some light upon my lethargic situation. I put on mittens, a heavy jacket, and a cotton cap and walked the block or two to where the steel Buddha sat still upon the grass. A few dog owners were out throwing disturbing objects to salivating fur balls to chase after. I admired the contentment from which these dog owners watched their dogs run. I could not remember how long it had been since I felt that kind of contentment.

I stood beside the Buddha and looked up at it’s over-sized features. It’s height was no more than twenty feet. The artist created the Buddha sitting in the lotus posture, with hands coming together in the center- I assume to portray a state of nirvana. The Buddha’s eyes were shut and there was an expression of quiet rectitude upon his face. I stood in front of him and observed a very slight inhalation and exhalation coming from the statues belly. This did not surprise me since I was well aware of the scientific finding that within all inert matter there is moving energy. While breathing in the damp morning air I felt a strange desire to climb to the top of the Buddha. Like all my desires which I am seldomly able to control, I began my ascent.

After stepping on the hands, pulling at the nipple, hanging onto the nose and dragging my way up onto the crown of the Buddha’s head I had reached the summit with a rapidly beating heart and a feeling of being short of breath. I sat so that my long legs fell over the Buddha’s face and I looked straight out into a pasture of green grass. The sun had fully risen to its place in the sky and my mind was slowly becoming more relaxed. I breathed deeply and tried to find a place in me that spiritual aspirants refer to as a center. I slowed the erratic quality of my thoughts by listening to the squirrels chew walnuts in the trees. I could feel an intense vibrating energy coming from the Buddha’s face. It was such a strong energy that my legs and butt were quickly warmed up. The dog owners noticed this strange apparition sitting on the Buddha’s head and glanced at me with suspicious eyes. All I could do was smile and enjoy the morning sun.

Gradually I remembered various images that I had taken in the day before. I remembered the salad, orange and chicken that I had eaten for dinner with a few glasses of red wine. I remembered the bike ride that I had taken all around Berkeley and Oakland the day before. Fragments of my life started to come back to me the more I relaxed and quited my mind. Slowly I was re-introduced to a self I had forgotten. I was inspired to stand up tall on the Buddhas head and reach out towards the heavens. I was filled with an exhilarating feeling that wanted to touch the sun, the stars, all things divine. As soon as I stood up, I noticed my left foot loosing connection with the Buddha’s head. Soon after that my right foot lost its connection and before I knew it any sense of mindfulness that I had achieved was gone. I was falling twenty feet towards the dewy grass and all I could think on my descent down was this is going to hurt.

I was awoken by a feeling of wet sandpaper sliding its way along my face. When I opened my eyes I noticed two dogs gathering above me. They were licking the remnants of enlightenment from my face as their owners asked me if I needed them to call an ambulance. One owner told me not to move because I may have broken my neck. I felt bruised and battered but not in enough pain to feel as if I had been badly damaged. I landed in soft grass upon my back. I took the liberty to ask one of the dog owners to help me up, and then I dusted my self off. I was sore and my back felt like shards of broken glass. I will be okay, I told them as they watched me with carefully eyes. I am just going to slowly walk home and makes some tea. I slowly limped back towards my home- which I was having some difficulty finding. After a few moments it occurred to me that I was lost. I decided to sit down on the side of the road. My back refused to sit straight so I lied down on the ground. Looking up at the morning sun I decided- I would wait for as long as it took for the past to return to me so that I could slowly find my way back home.