Tag Archives: sophie

everything is new

graffiti with the text, "Don't be afraid of art / Don't be afraid your mind"This morning, Sophie and I dodged a bullet — on our way back home from our short walk, while she was being very good and heeling next to my right side (waiting for the next bunch of treats I’d offer her as a thank you), I heard a rustling in the blackberry brush beside us to my left. Sophie may have heard it, too, or she may have been more interested in the possibility of treats. In any case, she stayed right next to me, and as we walked past the rustling, I looked over to the left, and there was a whole family of skunks — two adults at least, and I thought I heard more rustling behind them. As much as part of me wanted to hang out for a moment and get a closer look, the louder and more adrenaline-y part of me hustled us on down the road. I fed Sophie my whole hand-full of treats, letting the shot of panic ease out of my muscles. Whew.

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Yesterday we went for a long hike, the whole family, and I thought about how all of this is new for Sophie. She’s just about 7 months now; if she were a human baby, of course, she’d barely be out of her parent’s arms! Here we were, exploring trails, eucalyptus groves, shrubby vistas — every inch of it brand new to her. She shows all of her interest and enthusiasm, puts her whole body into it, her nose to the ground, her tail up and wagging. She bounds over to and pounces on the things she wants to see, or she trots, more cautious, watching with intent and focus.

Just imagine what this must be like for her, I thought. It’s all new. It’s all first. Today she was dancing for the man collecting the recycling, because that truck, the noise, the rolling, the beeping: all interesting, overwhelming, fascinating, new.

What if we allowed ourselves that kind of presence and exuberance? Writers, especially, benefit from the ability to go (back) to that place of wide-open-innocent eyes, taking everything in, allowing it to be fresh.

I have two prompts, in response to this noticing (maybe take 10 minutes for these, just to start):

1) Do you remember a time when you walked through a new place, fascinated by everything because it was all new to you? What about your characters? How do they engage in or with someplace new?

2) What would it be like to go through the day, paying attention to everything as though it were the first time you were seeing it (because, of course, it is the first time — whatever you see today will be the first time you’ve seen it today; and, too, it will be slightly different from how it looked, what it was, yesterday)? What’s required of us to be that present?

3) (one more!) What would it be like to pay attention to your own body like it was the first time you were experiencing it? Think about writing that story of loving discovery (consider allowing that story to be loving, if you balk at that phrasing — just consider it.)

Thank you for your attentions — they matter. We are all new, every minute: that’s the other thing. Thanks for your every-present creation, your brilliance, your words.

small screech sounds, something full-moon related

graffiti -- a crescent moon smiling at the young child sitting at its pointTime for a 15 minute write — the dog is rolling around a toy that releases food when she turns it. this is helping her slow down when she eats. I could have used one of those at several different times in my life. We are working on sit-stay, working on heel, working on walking with a loose leash. We are testing and pushing each other. Yesterday was her first bath at a pet store up in Strawberry Village. Is this what I want to be writing about? Yesterday, on my self care day, everything was all about Sophie. Even the time that I took away from her, letting myself go to the cafe for some writing after her lunch (the first time I’d left her alone when I was by myself — the Mr and I together had left her alone, walked out of the house together, but this was the first time she and I said goodbye just the two of us, and the first time I walked back in to let her know I’d always come back), I spent writing about her or listening to a podcast about training your dog to walk on a loose leash. I guess that’s what new furry-baby-parenthood is like.

We had a couple of frustrating walks yesterday, she and I; she was too excited (how I hate using that phrase for a puppy — isn’t it her job to be excited?) and I wasn’t doing a good job of calming my own self down. I thought about how dogs can read and respond to emotions, and how, when I’m tense and anxious, she’s going to sense and react to that. And that stressed me out, too, given that I have spent the last 30 years feeling tense and anxious a good percentage of my everydays. So here’s another thing she’s going to get to help me work on — my quality of presence,  being actually all the way here, being solidly in this moment with her — calm and focused, clearly in charge. Since these are all things I’ve actively avoided being for a number of years, it makes sense, I guess, that I’m frustrated and in the midst of a serious learning curve.

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June’s Writing the Flood meets this Saturday! There’s still time to join us — we’ll be gathering in Berkeley this time around.

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Last night, under the full moon, there were three, and then four, big fat birds out on the hill behind the house — owls? They, their silhouettes, were giving off these smallish screech sounds, somehow smaller than their bodies would seem to allow for. One took off flying while I sat on the concrete stairs and watched, a huge wingspan, slow, steady downbeats, pushing air away, heading for another grove. It looked like a small convention, something full-moon related.

More wild animal news: we walked, Sophie and me, within spitting distance of a young male deer yesterday (his antlers just barely poking up and fuzzing around his forehead) (‘spitting distance’ is kind of  an awful phrase, isn’t it? and so imprecise — in reality, we were on one side of an asphalt road, and the deer was on the other). Sophie didn’t notice the deer — not only were we working on heel, but she was paying close attention to me while we were in the midst of the lesson, for a miracle. the deer, of course, noticed us. I’d stopped at the bottom of the hill when I first saw him, a ways away, and tried to encourage him to go ahead and cross the road. My deer(-speak) is rusty, though, and he didn’t get what I was saying, just stood there and watched me, us. Wanted to see what we were going to do. So I had Sophie keep on heeling, we crossed to the far side of the road, and she ended up being more concerned with the storm drain that we had to go by (these totally freak her out) than the fact that there was a huge animal just 10 feet from her. The deer watched us with his big eyes; I made eye contact with him several times, said Thanks the last time. And as soon as we were a short ways up the road past him, he went ahead and long-0legged it across the street and into the neighbor’s backyard.

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Today’s write: Give me something from your natural world, the nature pushing its way into and around your life, even (especially) if you’re living in the city. Take 10 or 15 minutes, and show me the trees growing through fencing or wires, the daises pushing up through sidewalk cracks, the bird dances on fence posts, whatever nature you notice and that wakes up up this morning.

Thanks for all the patient, persistent wildness that lives in you. Thanks for your creative brilliance, and, always, for your words.

a relationship with home again


Yesterday we hiked up a mountain — a small mountain, Tiburon mountain, sure, but when we came to the top, we could see the full body of that orange Golden Gate Bridge, hugged thick by fog, nearly weighted down. We could see the whole fog-heavy morning laid out in front of us.

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This week, the workshops begin again — tonight I’ll be meeting with a full Write Whole workshop, and throughout the day, I’ll be communicating with folks who’ve signed up for the online Reclaiming Our Erotic Story class. I’m making my first videos ever for the online workshop — I feel like we get closer to the ‘in person’ experience if folks can hear the prompt, rather than read it. We’ll see how that goes.

I rarely watch or listen to recordings of myself — this is good practice in releasing self-judgment. Yesterday I felt like I joined the modern age: I took a shower and fixed my hair and got dressed up, all so I could create a youtube video. Then I changed into my regular clothes again.

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It’s getting close to shower-time. The puppy is tearing up a toy and having a great time. This morning we walked up the hill to the old church that sits above our apartment building, and I missed my mom, who walked up there with us the first time last weekend.

I have been homesick for a long time, and I’m not at all sure what that means. How to feel homesick when you don’t have a singular or solid sense of home? And yet, this longing is true in my body, a welling in my belly, filling the whole front of me, chest, shoulders, pelvis, with ache and want. Is it a honing toward a sense of place, a desire to know the people who my blood would call family, a wanting the deep damp and heat of midwest summer?

What does home mean for you? What about homesick?

I realized yesterday that I’ve been away from the place I was born for a generation. My cousins all have babies, some of them grown, and I barely know any of these people. Do I have a right to still call that place, these people, mine?  What is this desire to go back, or to go forward into that land that for so long I couldn’t even imagine being able to escape?

The land itself wasn’t my prison, and those places hold history for me, they hold stories I barely remember, they hold the rest of my stories, the ones that don’t live all the way in my body. And the truth is that I need those stories, those connections, that place that holds me like something right fitting around my shoulders. People who talk like I do, even when I don’t always agree with what they have to say. Could it be that I’ve moved far enough away from my desire for ideological perfection that I could have a relationship with ‘home’ again?

Anyway — a prompt for today: What’s home mean? Let’s start with this phrase: This is what home means for me (or him, or her, or you…) Take 10 minutes, write down every free association, every image or voice or feeling that arises. Let it all come, in its wild and complicated, painful and gorgeous and frustrating mix.

Thank you for the ways you let home come into you, the ways you let yourself become home, for different parts of yourself and for others around you. Thank you for the ways you write yourself home, for your words.

zone of peace

graffiti: lotus blossom silhouetteHappy Friday! Good morning good morning — how were your sleeps?

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This morning, Sophie and I met a man during our walk. She was calm when he first saw her, and then she got more excited as we approached him — she was full of puppy energy, jumping up a little and mouthing his hand.

He asked, They don’t use choke chains on dogs anymore, huh?

What? I thought. Who are you to want to choke-chain my dog?

I said, Oh, they still have them. She wasn’t trained well-enough for him. Then later he said, Your mom, your step-mom, she’s going to teach you how to sit, stay, and come, isn’t she? She’s going to enroll you in obedience school. All while he’s petting her, and even though he’s seen her sit calmly. I both wanted Sophie to be ‘better behaved’ (so that I could look better in this guy’s eyes? Why?) and wanted to tell him to shut the hell up, and felt judged all over the place. We walked away, Sophie practicing her heeling, me practicing my deep breathing. Yes, people have their judgments — yes, I can’t stop them. All we can do is keep practicing.

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Speaking of centering, I read this out loud last night (isn’t it good to read the pup a story at bedtime?) in The Wise Heart: A Guide to the Universal Teachings of Buddhist Psychology by Jack Kornfield (thanks to my mom for sharing this book with me):

Even  during the most turbulent years, when he was dismantling the British Empire’s control of India, Gandhi spent one day a week in silence. He meditated so that he could act from the principles of interdependence, not bringing harm to himself nor another. No matter how pressing and urgent the political situation, the day he spent in silence allowed him to quiet his mind and listen to the purest intentions of his heart. (p. 357)

How often does it seem like there’s no time to slow down? Everything is too important, there’s too much to do, I can’t stop. Definitely no time for meditating, yoga, relaxation. (Notice, though, how there’s always time for anxiety and worry.)

I don’t like to set up these kinds of self-judging situations, where I say to myself, “God, Jen, if Ghandhi could do it while he was transforming a country, what excuse do you have, with your little life, for not meditating?” Let’s not go there — more blame, shame and guilt isn’t what I’m going for.

Still, it’s a powerful story, and one to think about. Being centered was a part of his comittment, a part of his practice and process, integrated into how he did his work. What about that as a model — centering, meditation, self-care practice as integral, not outside of or adjunct to, our work?

Take a deep breath and just feel the possibility. I work not to get stressed about ‘finding the time,’ but rather notice what time is already available, could be redirected from anxious spinning, say, or maybe Facebook.

The next section in Wise Heart reads:

If you want to live a life of balance, start now. Turn off the news, meditate, turn on Mozart, walk through the trees or the mountains, and begin to make yourself a zone of peace. When I return from a long retreat or from traveling for months, I’m amazed that the news is pretty much the same as when I left. We already know the plot, we know the problems. Let go of the latest current story. Listen more deeply. (p 357)

A zone of peace. I love that phrase.

What would it look like (maybe let this be your write today) to ‘make yourself a zone of peace’, whether for you or one of the characters you’re working with in your writing? Take 10 minutes this morning, or maybe over your lunch break, open your notebook, and write down that phrase, then dive into what it could feel like, what it could mean.

Thank you for the ways you hold space for others, for the ways you are a safe place for the varying parts within you as well, even the anxious and overwhelmed ones. Thank you for your practice, and for your words.

puppy energy

This is what this morning looks like: deer on the road, a puppy learning heel and gentle, jays at the new bird feeder. Nettle-mint-skullcap tea. A Jen learning to run up and down long flights of stairs, in order to exercise puppy.

We all have puppy energy sometimes.

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There’s still time to sign up for either the 8-week in-person workshops (Write Whole or Declaring Our Erotic) or the  online erotic writing workshop! They begin next week — I’d love to write with you!

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How would you define puppy energy? I think of it as exuberant, bouncy, a little clumsy, too many limbs, a little bull-in-a-china-shop energy — that space where I’m bumping into everything, even in an empty room, where I say things I mean but hadn’t intended to say out loud, when I’m wildly visible, excited about everything, slightly ridiculous, a bit anxious, overly myself.

During our walks, Sophie will sometimes fling herself into the air, pulling at the leash, wanting to run after all the ghosts and smells around her. She stops and the teethes the leash, yanking at what restrains her. I understand this feeling in my bones, and both want to let her run all over this little peninsula until she gets her fill and want to teach her when to run and when to walk calm (like a nice girl, right? Ugh — it gets complicated!)

Puppy energy feels related to new relationship energy, just-in-love energy. It’s “everything’s exciting” energy, “everything’s possible” energy.

I love it when I feel a surge of puppy energy: I feel new, renewed, possible, powerful, competent, joyfully up to all the tasks. These surges last a few hours, maybe a day or so, sometimes a bit longer, and I have learned not to question them, not to undermine them with the knowledge that they are cyclical-temporary (meaning I won’t be feeling this way every second for the rest of my life), not to hound this lovely en-lightening with “when’s it going to end?” wonderings.

I get puppy energy over new friends, new work, new puppies — I get it depending on what’s happening with the hormones in my body. It’s the feeling of a crush on a new author or idea, and I wonder about its relationship to jouissance, the French term used in/around psychoanalysis that has to do with a pleasure that’s just about too much, that fine, fierce, terrible, tremendous line between ecstasy and suffering.

Sometimes it’s nice (nice? what a word) to be overfull, up to the brim with excitement and joy. And then, too, the body needs to rest, to release, so that it can fill again.

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A write for today: when was the last time you or your character felt puppy energy or that “new relationship energy”? How or where did you/they feel it in the body? How did you/they relate to other people (or maybe one particular person)? What did the world look like?

Thanks for the ways and times you allow yourself to expand into your joy and possibility, even when it’s scary. Thanks for your articulations, your words, your words.

in the now and also in the Then

graffiti: red heart and the words (faint): the way is in the heart

"the way is in the heart"

(A bit of this morning’s post gets into some specific details around sexual trauma — just be easy with yourselves as you read, ok? xox, -Jen)

It’s a wet Saturday morning here in NorCal — puppy is learning to handle wet feet.

There are things I want to say today about a deep kind of patience, a hollow place called faith that opens in the body and hurts like hell, present and ready to be filled with successes and joys.

There are some stories that feel the most terrible, that ride in us like nausea and hunger, that carry our guilt and shame in stony lodgings all over our body. There is a story I want to tell you. I have told you a little about my first dog, how do I tell this story, I have been trying to understand the overwhelming anxiety I’ve been feeling since first falling in love with our Sophie at the shelter two weeks ago (has it really only been two weeks?). It’s been thick and constant in me, totally out of place for this situation — too much — clearly older than now. Do you know that feeling, the dual-body feeling that happens when you’re triggered, when you’re in the now and also very much in the Then?

My first dog, back in secondary school, she was not my best friend or companion, she was the only one. We would take endless walks around the neighborhood together: It was my escape from the house with my mother and stepfather. I would walk as long as I thought I could get away with, would talk to Katja, and would talk to the air. This was about trying to be free, about getting free, about taking the air back into my lungs — as soon as I walked into the house again, the air got removed, this is no time for the passive voice, he, my mother’s husband, took the air back from my lungs for himself. I’m not sure if that’s a metaphor.  Katja was a solid black lab-husky mix who scared every boyfriend that walked through our front door with her barking. She was barely trained and unspayed, eventually getting pregnant — my mother’s husband said he took the puppies to a farm, and I allow myself to continue to believe that was true. (Every one of these sentences is its own story.) Her coat held most of my tears and many of my wishes, dreams — the ones I would let myself say out loud, I would say to her. I’d wanted a dog my whole life, and now here she was, my heart’s only companion. I distinctly remember a time (when I was home from college, it must have been, maybe freshman year) that he wanted to rape/have sex, and I couldn’t talk my way out of it and Katja was in the room. We were all on the floor. At this time, the room that had been my bedroom through high school was now the business office for our family company — the one that ostensibly paid our way through college — the girls’ bedroom was by then down in the basement, far from where my mother slept. The carpet was light colored, there was computer equipment all around. Katja whined and growled at him — she wanted him off me, like I wanted him off me. I don’t think I told her to stop. I hope I didn’t. My heartbeat didn’t tell her No, like it isn’t now. I want to say that he got up and shut her out of the room, but there’s a good chance he made me do that. What I hold on to is how she held on to my breath, was the growl that I couldn’t make, was part of the body of my resistance.

When I was a sophomore in college, home again on vacation, he demanded that I take her to the pound. She was 8 years old. After my sister and I were both gone from the home, my dog spent nearly her whole life down in the basement, away from any natural light, away from people. He was mad because she was pissing and shitting in the house, mad that she barked, mad that she was a dog and that I loved her.  I lived in the dorms and couldn’t bring her back to school with me. My sister drove me to the animal shelter because at 19 or 20, I still hadn’t been allowed to get my driver’s license yet. The woman at the pound was honest with me, forthright, she’ll have a week here to get adopted. I was trying to keep a straight face, to kill the thing in me that was screaming, that looked at my dog’s face and had to leave her in that fenced concrete horror. I said I understood. I understood. I asked if she thought it was possible that Katja could be adopted. She tried to be kind and clear with me at the same time. In the concrete parking lot, bright sun blaring off ever car and window, I fell apart. My sister tried to comfort me, but there wasn’t any way to comfort the place in me that broke. I’m still wailing there in that place. Just a few months later — fewer than 6, I think — I moved out of the dorms and into an apartment. I repeated to myself and to friends: she could have come with me. I could have brought her here.

There are reasons I haven’t wanted to love another dog, reasons that I’m terrified, reasons to want to do it right. I breathe deep into those ancient aches, that horror of shame that craws still up the inside of my skin, I take her muzzle in my face and apologize and ask forgiveness and ask for help now.

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There are the old stories that ache to be written and shared, and are terrible to write and share. Is there one you are thinking of now? You can take it in small pieces. 10 minutes, let the words and tears and/or rage come out onto the page, breathe it true, and then let yourself do something completely different — make an amazingly delicious breakfast, take a good hot bath, go for a run, watch a fantastically-terrible movie. This is about positive reinforcement: we can do the hard work, and get rewarded for it.

I am grateful for the ways you carry your history, your old and true loves,  in and on and under your skin, even and especially those you, we, have betrayed. Thank you for their stories, for all of your words.

be with not knowing

graffiti on stairs: I love you / every step / of the way

it says, "I love you / every step / of the way" -- perfect

Good Thursday morning! Today it’s achy legs from walking and achy shoulders from teaching a dog not to pull at the leash (just because I’m standing still doesn’t mean my arm isn’t getting yanked!) — and, also,  it’s woodpeckers on the telephone poles, jays hopping around in the middle of the street, and hawks waking up over the hills.

Today’s tea is nettle-tulsi-skullcap-cardamom-anise. What scent or taste is bringing you some peace in these early hours?

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We’re in the last few days of  regular registration for the Summer ’11 writing workshops: Write Whole (for all women survivors of sexual trauma) and Declaring Our Erotic (open to queer folks of all genders)! After June 5, there’s a late registration fee — please register soon if you’re going to join us!

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Here’s what my therapist said to me last week, when I was both thrilled and terrified about having brought this new pup into my/our lives: it’s hard to be in the unknown. I was rambling through all the what ifs: what if she’s not the right dog for us, what if this changes things for us in a bad way, what if I picked the wrong dog, what if I can’t train her, what if what if what if… She said, it’s always easier to be with what could go wrong, to be present with that, than to be really clear about being in the unknown. The truth is, even now, a week-and-a-half in to this new relationship (who makes any decisions based on a week-and-a-half??), we still don’t know what’s going to happen for the three of us. That doesn’t mean something bad is going to happen — it just means that we don’t know.

Humans don’t like to not know: we prefer clear answers. Maybe not all humans: maybe westerners are especially un-adept with the unknown. Maybe it’s just me. But I prefer to have some answers. I like to know what I’m doing. I like to hold on to this idea that I’m in control.

The fact is, I never actually know what’s going to happen in my day — but with enough repetition and routine, I get lulled into a sense of complacency, a sense of comfort, a sense of control, a sense that I know. Bringing big change into my routine reminds me of the reality: I’m living in the unknown every second I spend trying to decide what’s going to come next. All I can really know is right now. Right here.

So Sophie and I are doing some walking meditations. And watching, too, as we change and grow together, through our not-knowing-but-practicing-anyway. Talk about radical self care. This is work!

I spent a long time wanting to know what was going to happen with my healing process: I wanted to know when it was going to get better, when I was going to get better. I still want that, sometimes, but much more rarely now: better is always relative — by definition, of course. Better shifts and changes, as I shift and change; it’s a moving target, always, moment to moment. When I stay present with what’s happening, pay attention, story it, write it, better comes into the now. This is practice (and has also involved lots of crying, laughing at terrible movies, eating too much popcorn or cake, walking endless loops around endless neighborhoods). Being present isn’t always pretty, but it helps — it helps me ease out of the thick anxiety, the panics that well up and around what if. I don’t know what if. I only know what is.

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Want to write? What about your not-knowing — what do you what to know, what does your character want to know, that you or they can’t know right now? What’s it like to just not know? Give me, give you, these 10 minutes — go (like Natalie Goldberg says).

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Thanks for not knowing with me today. Thanks for writing, always.

this is about patience

graffiti: "breathe, you are alive"(written at 6.15)

This morning is about patience and slow work, it’s about new learning and what feels like endless change. This is about we just got started, and expecting to be further along already. It’s about stress and deep breathing, counting to 10, trying again. We don’t get it right the first time, me and Sophie–she pulls at the leash, and I say No instead of telling her what I’d rather she be doing. I think she should already know how I expect her to behave, I take it personally when she doesn’t act that way. I slow down, squeeze new tears of frustration, stop, start again.

Now the wireless isn’t working and so I’m blogging from the phone.

This morning is about faith and work, about willpower and how positive reinforcement is slower and deeper than aversive training– not that dogs don’t learn from aversive training, they do, but they don’t learn what we want them to learn, what I want her to be able to learn. They learn fear and resentment. I am teaching myself a new way to think. And sometimes I’m jealous or envious: I had to learn through fear, not with treats and strokes... And if I learned that way, so can you. Deep breath. Start again. It’s about letting go of the old ways of getting respect, about trying something different. About being afraid that if I set boundaries, she’ll hate me, and then where will I be?

I guess I want to be out front with the work, the difficulties. I get so frustrated with the online peer pressure that exists to just talk about the good stuff: look how happy and blessed and easy my life is!–there’s this side, too.

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This is the prompt: to to take 10 mins, and tell the truth about how you’re feeling in this exact moment. All if it. Tear it up, after, if you want to, but let yourself write it.

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There are gorgeous thick full white clouds outside my window. They help. And maybe some puppy pets before breakfast.

Thank you for your deep breaths, how you are staying true to your decisions and dreams, even and especially when they seem to have been terrible ideas. Thank you for your words.

re-training power

graffiti of the outline of a woman's face, eyes closed, with the word Power above her -- the O is a woman's symbolGood good morning — it’s Memorial Day. Who are you remembering today? How are you remembering them?

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I had so much fun in Sacramento on Saturday at the second Reclaiming Our Erotic Story workshop! Thanks so much to John Crandall and the Sutterwriters for organizing a beautiful write — we writers all got to do so much laughing together, and got deep into powerful, important, erotic/body/sensual story. I continue to hold images and lines from each writer’s work with me, and I’m so grateful.

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This morning in Puppy Land we are thinking about power and control: the leader of the pack. Sophie is showing some dominant tendencies, especially with other dogs, and this is making me look at how I’m treating her, whether or not she sees me as the alpha or leader.

I have a lot of resistance to this Alpha/Leader of the Pack thing, because I have a lot of issues with control. I feel like crying this morning, because I’m afraid that being Leader of the Pack means that I can’t be affectionate with my dog anymore. This is not true, and my head knows this, but my heart is resistant to change. I want to be the friend, the good mommy, the one who says Good Dog! and gives out treats. I don’t want to ignore her when she acts inappropriately or have to start setting and holding strict guidelines, even though I absolutely understand that this is best for her. I told the Mr this morning, I don’t want to break her puppy energy.

Let’s be honest: This is my own stuff. She’s not a child, she’s a puppy. When she has boundaries and guidelines and is clear about her place in the pack, she will be a happier puppy.

It’s long work, recalibrating my relationship with power.

My old issues with the misuse of power and control don’t have a place here — or rather, my old coping mechanisms don’t: this is when we step up into the triggers and move around and through them. My whole body is tense this morning, my neck and shoulders aching, with this movement, this change. Is it power and control to set boundaries? Is having power and control in a situation necessarily or always a bad thing, or an abusive thing? Intellectually, don’t we know that the answer is “Of course not”? — and still, here’s me, struggling with taking and holding power conscientiously, clearly, unabusively. So I take deep breaths, read over and over about why it’s a good idea to be a leader of your pack, and set my own boundaries (no alpha rolls, no choke collars). I remind myself that it’s ok that I don’t know how to do all of this yet — it’s ok that I don’t already know how to train my dog. We haven’t had to do this before; it’s ok to have to look to experts.

Here’s this voice inside me: I want to do this all correctly — I want her to be ok. I want us to be ok. It’s these moments when I’m working with the pup in the now, and with the teenage girl in me from Then, from when we didn’t have any say in pet training. It takes work to be the adult, and that’s my job. Deep breaths, step forward anyway into this unknown. It’s ok to ask questions, and, too, it’s ok to be in charge.

We’re both, all, training and being trained through this process, about where we fit in our systems, and how to step up into that place.

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What’s your, or your character’s, relationship with power and control, both positive/generative and negative/abusive? Let yourself write about that a bit. You could begin with, “When I’m in charge, I…” or some variation. Notice what situations or feelings arise just when you read that line, and let that inform where your writing starts. Follow your writing wherever it seems to want to go — let yourself learn more about how you think and feel about power.

Thanks for your bravery, for how you step up to what scares you. Thanks, every day, for your words.

focus on what’s working

graffiti around a window: sky-blue painted brick, and a few white-painted cloudsThis is what I want to say on this good morning with the crescent moon — once upon a time, when I was going to write, I had very specific needs or I couldn’t write at all: I required at least two hours of uninterrupted time, and preferably an hour or more after that, so that I shouldn’t feel rushed, and headphones, and specific music in my tape player, and a particular cafe, and a particular cup of coffee, and a particular pen in my particular notebook.

Now I’m actively writing while Miss Sophie bounds around me in the living room, squeaking the new super-loud toy that the Mr found for her, which she loves. (It sounds like an out-of-tune harmonica that someone attached to an erratic breathing machine.) Talk about gratitude for practice, persistence, and change.

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I need to be on the road in a little over an hour, to head up to Sacramento for today’s Reclaiming Our Erotic Story workshop. Last time, back in January, I had so much fun with this group; I’m looking forward to being back with them today!

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In my dream, an early morning dream, there were stuffed, like taxidermied animals floating away on the ocean. Something had happened to the places where they were being stored. A friend looked like she had a slug next to her nose, but when I got closer, I saw that it was a tiny duckling, dark pinfeathers shimmering in the changing light — it was saving itself there against her body, on her face.

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Earlier this week, talking with an AWA friend and collaborator, I talked about what a pleasure it is to get to give my dog positive reinforcement, to train her by telling her what she’s doing right.  In the past, with my last two dogs, certainly with the first one back in jr high, what I told her was everything she did wrong: wasn’t that how you learned? So she was punished for peeing in the house, punished for getting on the couch, punished for chewing on things, punished punished punished. We had a few dog treats — I remember the box of Milk Bones, but what did we even use those for? Not for training, that I recall. We had the rolled up newspaper, we pushed her nose in the poop when she went in the wrong place. All this brings tears to my eyes now; I hated it, then, and sometimes, too, it gave me a sense of power. This was how I knew, how I understood, to teach her. Didn’t most of our teachers focus on what we did wrong, rather than spending a lot of time on what we did right? If you did that, the dog would get spoiled, the kid would get a big head.

Is it easier now, since I found AWA (and, too, know lots of people who train their dogs well using positive reinforcement)? With AWA, we focus on what’s going well, what folks are doing right, what’s strong already — and we teach each other that way. We reinforce the excellent, and gently encourage around the stuff that might improve. In a roomful of people writing their guts out, wanting to be true to their own stories, we use positive reinforcement to teach one another: when we say to one writer, “I really appreciated that metaphor, when the narrator described themselves as driving into the moon” — the whole group pays attention, listens, grows. And it’s a pleasure.

It’s a pleasure to get to be kind to one another. It’s a pleasure to get to be kind to my pup. It means I, too, want to do it more, want to be more clear with our guidelines, more consistent with our training, because then I get to praise her, and she praises me back. A gift.

This is an open-prompt Saturday: If you could have the two hours I described at the top of the post to write about anything, what would that be? Leave a comment, if you want to! And then, consider giving yourself 15 minutes, or 20, at least, to write about that, to step in, to give your own writing some positive reinforcement. Then, too, give yourself some good praise: a tasty cup of coffee, maybe, or a long walk.

Well done! I’m grateful for you. Thanks for your words.