An Instrument of Danger?

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Vignette from the Smithsonian Woods: Last Saturday morning Chris & I were walking Emmy (on a leash) on the path to our usual cross-country trail, when a young woman in running gear approached us and asked breathlessly, “Is your dog friendly?” Thinking she might actually be wondering, “Is your dog dangerous?” we muttered vague assurances, which she interrupted with, “Because our dogs are loose in the woods, but they’re very friendly.” At which point 2 small dogs bounded up, the black & white Cocker Spaniel of the pair charging at me (not at our dog, mind) in full Baskerville cry, barking and snarling. Emmy, for the record, was unfazed. As we walked on by, I flung over my shoulder, “Friendly, eh?” To which she flung back, “Oh, he just likes to act big, but they’re both really friendly. You don’t have to be so aggressive!”

So, somehow, in her eyes, merely by owning & operating a 68-pound, mild-mannered German shepherd, we were the Bad Guys. At the time I put it down to the common “pot & kettle” cognitive distortion [“You think I’m bad, look at you!”], or to the semiotics of certain breeds [“all German shepherds, pit bulls, and their ilk are, by definition, dangerous animals”]. If that was where she was coming from, she has legal precedent on her side.

Today’s New York Times tells the sad story of a pit bull puppy and her owner, playing in their front yard, who were shot by 2 plainclothes police officers in pursuit of a drug suspect running into the building where the wounded owner & now dead dog lived. To muddy the waters, a neighbor’s adult pit bull, tethered to a fence, was also playing in the yard. The wounded owner was charged with several offenses, among them, “criminal possession of a weapon, namely, a pit bull dog.” The case law cited in the article dates back to 1956, when a 100-pound German shepherd named Prince “jumped on a pair of officers responding to a dispute.” The prosecutor in the case was quoted as saying, “This is an intelligent and well-trained animal that was ordered to attack the police by its master.” (A charge which the owner denied.) Prince was duly subpoenaed and “brought to court as evidence.” The owner was found guilty as charged.

Maybe it’s a blessing, that our Emmy has not fulfilled her biggest-of-the-litter potential (although her long fur coat does make her look kind of gangsta).  For the rest of our walk, I kept trying to formulate a cogent response to the often asked, always loaded question, “Is your dog friendly?”  Having rejected, “Compared to what?” or “Why do you ask?” as sounding evasive (and therefore defensive), I have decided on the truth: “She is. I’m not.”

Oh, I’ve “got wolf” for sure; but Emmy is not she.

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Filed under aggression happens, attribution theory, semiotics

“Road Dogs”

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“If anybody ever asks us well let’s just tell them that we met in jail.” Recovery by Frank Turner

Elmore Leonard, who wrote Road Dogs in 2009, and died last week, has been my metaphorical Road Dog since 1982, when I left the Navy & moved with my husband Chris back to his hometown, the ritzy [but claustrophobically non-coastal] suburban Detroit town of Birmingham, MI. Back then Leonard himself was still living a few miles East in humble Clawson, MI, and having his trademark “loveable rascal” characters conflate Birmingham & the even ritzier Bloomfield Hills, referring to their denizens as “Bloomingham pukes.” I used to do my grocery shopping over at the Clawson Farmer Jack, hoping to spot my spirit guide Leonard in the liquor aisle, stocking up on Jack Daniels. Never had a sighting, but I took comfort from the fact that of all the places he could afford to live, he chose to stay put: “Hey, my grandkids live here,” he used to say. If Oakland Country was cool enough for “Dutch,” then I could do better with my time spent there, than “just making do and muddling through” [to quote from another Frank Turner song, The Way I Tend to Be]. The young British singer/songwriter Frank Turner is another metaphorical Road Dog for me.

The original meaning of the term, as portrayed in Leonard’s novel, is two people who meet in jail and agree to protect each other from the predations of the other inmates. The social contract of “I got your back, forever, man, no matter what,” is only a Socratic ideal, impossible to keep in real life; and only one “partner” can be the alpha dog…at any given time. Part of the fun of the novel is tracking the shifts in the power subtext between Jack Foley & Cundo Rey. Won’t tell you who winds up top dog. Buy the book.

And that’s the social contract between me & Elmore Leonard [and me & Frank Turner]. Their upbeat, offbeat take(s) on life keep(s) my morale up; and my big-upping them to friends [& readers of this blog] keeps their sales numbers up. What my two Road Dogs have in common is an unflinching, sarcastically funny acknowledgement of aggressive impulses: Leonard through his fictional characters, and Turner though his autobiographical songs. They own the wolf.  They make you want to invite it in and try to tame it.  One of Leonard’s recent books, for children, A Coyote’s in the House, is so popular that it is out-of-stock @ Amazon.

Just when we finally got out of Birmingham to move back East in 2000, Elmore Leonard moved across the street from our neighborhood, into Bloomfield Township [not to be confused with Bloomfield Hills, settle down]. His funeral was held at the Holy Family Catholic Church in Birmingham; but his wake was at a funeral home in Clawson. Just in case anyone thought he had sold out and become a “Bloomingham puke.”

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Here’s our coyote-looking one-year-old Emmy, with her new Road Dog, 8-month-old Bentley. They meet in our yard most afternoons, to sort out who’s alpha.

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Filed under aggression happens, power subtext, sharks and jets

Somebody’s Baby

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This post is a companion piece to two from early 2011: “Big Love & Other Oxytocin Myths” and “Just looking for some touch.” Whereas the “Big Love” post pictured my elder daughter walking with me through the Muir Woods outside San Francisco, here she is at our Maryland breeder’s farm, holding Emmy @ about 5 weeks old. IMG_1412

And, whereas in the earlier post our younger daughter was pictured currying favor with one of our horses, back in Michigan, here she is, several Yuletides ago, cradling Zanzibar, the cool cat she had adopted from the prison town of Chino, California, but then brought him home to live with us, realizing that he deserved more degrees of freedom than a college dorm room would afford him.

Aside from showing off my beloved babies in Madonna-like poses with two of our furry babies, there is a topical psychological point to this post.

Have you, perhaps, been as infuriated as I am, at the mother of the 2 alleged Boston Marathon bombers, who, even in the teeth of her younger son’s admission of guilt, continues mulishly to proclaim his “angelic” innocence? “What’s that all about?” as they say in Boston.

It’s about that pesky neuro-peptide, Oxytocin, folks. As the astute Dutchman, Carsten De Dreu [et al.] demonstrated, the more you perform nurturing acts for your “baby,” [human or furry], the more Oxytocin your brain produces; and the more you experience “in-group love” and “out-group hate.” Black & white thinking ensues. Her baby boys could do no wrong. Ever! The nefarious “out-group” is conspiring against them.

It’s an easy cognitive error to make, if you have expended many Therbligs in the loving care of a vulnerable creature. I spent last night rushing the gastro-intestially tormented Emmy outside every 30 minutes, from dusk until dawn. Not only am I punchy, I’m love-drunk. How nobly she bears her suffering! How hard she is trying to “do the right thing, in the right place” [not altogether successfully]. At the moment, she is too weak to be naughty; but when she does eventually recover and put a paw out of line, I’m likely to spin it as someone else’s fault.

Probably, that feisty clown, Zanzibar, who loves to provoke her.

Sound familiar?

 

 

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Filed under attribution theory, black and white thinking, therbligs, what's it all about?

My Ducks Are All in a Row

IMG_7102When I began this post, around 2 pm on 15 April 13, I was going to reminisce about this ironic lyric from James Taylor’s 1992 song, “Sun on the Moon,” which I used to play on repeat as I drove to work @ the “Laughing Academy” [Irish slang for Mental Health treatment center] in the early 2000s, as an actor’s preparation for an Improv scene, in which one’s Intention is so robust that it can withstand the onslaught of the opposing Intentions of all the other players in the scene. Sometimes I would also hum “Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right…” as I mounted the stairs to my belfry office. Alas, rarely did my Intention prevail; but my belief that I might someday get [and keep] my ducks all in a row for an entire [typically, 10-hour] day never wavered…until the morning of 9/11/01. I did not entirely abandon my striving for Internal Locus of Control; but, like every other sentient being on that day, I reluctantly acknowledged that I was not the Director of my own Improv Scene. Further, I joined the ranks of those who gave up believing that the Director [if present at all] was a Mensch. Nemesis might not be in charge, but his cousin Chaos seemed to be.

I also gave up playing James Taylor’s song, even ironically. Instead, I embraced the [mostly humorless] philosophy of the Stoics, who opined that You are not in charge of your fate, only of your reaction to it. As lamented in “Sun on the Moon,” your pets, your children, and your mortal enemies have Intentions of their own, even though they sometimes impersonate biddable “ducks in a row,” just to lull you into a false sense of command & control.

Around 3 pm my Boston [actually, Cambridge] daughter called, to say that she was “okay, but very freaked out” about the “one-two punch” of explosions near the finish line of the Boston Marathon. She reported that the city was on “virtual lockdown.” All the bridges across the Charles were closed, and public transport had stopped running. She was most concerned about her aunt [Chris’ sister] who had probably gone into work, and whose office was the site of the first blast. As Chaos would have it, there was no reaching her by cellphone to check her status. To spare you the suspense that our family endured all afternoon, we learned that evening that she happened to be in the bathroom during the blast, after which all the occupants of the building were fiercely herded outside [with no opportunity to grab purses, laptops, or cellphones] and ordered to “Clear the area! Go home!” So, without funds or means of communication, she walked the many miles back to her home in suburban Boston, found her “just-in-case” hidden house key, and emailed her most cyber-linked-in brother, who passed the word to the rest of us.

Rather than succumbing to Post-Traumatic Stress, she opted to take her Vizsla dog for a romp in the woods, during which he found a “disgusting smelling” dead creature to roll on, and had to be bustled home for a bath, thus fulfilling his function of providing much-needed Comic Relief. Indeed, that may be one of the most important functions of unbiddable pets & children:  to provide moments of Comic Relief when we are facing the intentional cruelty of our mortal enemies.

Sometimes [often, in my case], a good laugh is as cathartic as a good cry.

 

 

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Filed under catharsis, comic relief, locus of control, post-traumatic stress, Uncategorized

Seize the Disc [Not the Hand]

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Unlike her predecessor, Lili [whose motto was “Quit trying to make ‘fetch’ happen.”], Emmy’s enthusiasm & talent for catching thrown round  objects was evident early on. We have found that extra-large Kong tennis balls work best inside [since they don’t always end up under the furniture]; but outside it’s definitely the floppy disc [“Flying Saucer”], which she usually catches before it hits the ground, even in high & variable winds. Our one day of serious & unseasonable snow last month made the footing a little tricky; but she was still able to get under it & launch herself a couple of feet off the ground for the midair pick & roll.

As much as she loves to catch things, though, she is still a puppy; and she loves to chew things more. Valuable playtime & owner patience are wasted, while she savagely gnaws her beloved toy, finally yielding to the command “Bring!” then, reluctantly, to “Drop!” and, less reliably, “Sagare” [“Back up”] & “Zin-zin.” [“Stay”]. A test of nerve & will [not to mention, reflex time] then ensues. Will her desire to continue the game override her instinct to seize the disc before I pick it up? Woe betide her, if she inadvertently grabs my hand. [That hasn’t happened in months, luckily.] Even if she grabs the disc, it’s “game over.”  I fold my arms, utter a discouraging word, “Baca!” [“Fool!”], and stalk off back towards the house in high dudgeon. If she manages to get ahead of me and drop the disc at my feet before I’ve gone too far, and then backs off, the game resumes.

My power subtext: “It’s my way or the highway, Little Grasshopper!”

Even with all the adrenaline the game produces, she always comes back in from it a better-mannered dog.

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Many Therbligs expended. Ready for a little nap.

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Filed under ambivalence, leading a pack, power subtext

A New Life Anchor

IMG_3594So here she is: Emmy (as in the television award).  Born on 17 August 2013, she was completely overlooked by us when we started schlepping the 90 minutes to her breeder’s in late August, fixated as were were on the pups of a black “dam” (bitch, to those in the biz).  Although we had paid lip service to wanting a confident & friendly dog this time, we were clearly trying to replace Lili with a black, long-haired clone. Our wise (or possibly manipulative, we have yet to decide) breeder redirected us to the litter next door, saying, “Pat, the puppy I have in mind for you is going to choose you.”photo-60Looking at least 2 weeks older than her litter-mates and already so fuzzy that her kennel name was “Bear,” this young charmer licked my hand, stole my heart, and–in late October–made the tedious but uneventful car journey to our home. All the puppy books with an opinion on traveling music suggest Classical; but little Emmy howled until we found an R & B station, and promptly let Seal serenade her to sleep.

However, this is a blog about the dark side of human and canine nature, of which much will be recounted and analyzed, in terms of what got up various noses. Having gotten Lili @ 4 months, we were unprepared for the exhausting intrusion of a 9-week-old puppy’s physical & emotional demands. For one thing, the relentlessly cold & rainy weather didn’t make the 2-hourly benjo [“bathroom”] trips much fun. Then there was a seemingly endless series of medical issues [none of them show stoppers, as in Return the Pup to Breeder for a “Replacement,” as specified in the useless purchase contract], each requiring the daunting & painful insertion of expensive prescription drugs past her razor-sharp teeth into her gullet. Although they mostly stayed down, they played havoc with her guts. [Think “Carnival cruise” squalor.]

Poor little Emmy, none of that was her fault.  Nor was my initial inability to forgive her for not being Lili.  The more I owned up to my wolfish ambivalence, though, the less power it had over me. By the time we enrolled in Dog Class with our old trainer, I had fallen deeply in love with Emmy [even if I sometimes call her Lili by mistake. After all, like all Irish mothers, I constantly call my 2 human daughters by the other’s name.]. The turning point was an actual fall [to which I am prone, as we all know]. She & I were walking in a park with paved paths on a rainy day, and had just successfully negotiated the second of 2 slippery wooden bridges, when my foot caught on a slight unevenness in the path & I went crashing to the ground, wrenching my wrist & losing hold of the leash in the process. As I lay helpless on the inconveniently deserted path, wondering if I could even walk, much less retrieve my free-range puppy, she rushed over to lick me and whimper her concern & encouragement, just like Rin-Tin-Tin!

On our weekly constitutional up & down the hilly streets of Colonial Annapolis [where the dockside photo was taken], this friendly, well-mannered little girl has many admirers, especially among cops, sailors and delivery men. [She loves UPS!] But an elderly lady made my day when she bent down to hug Emmy [who seems to enjoy that], wheezing.”It’s Rinny! It’s Rin-Tin-Tin! Just like on TV!”

Hence the name.

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Filed under ambivalence, gets right up my nose, transitional objects

The Avatar Is Gone Away…

 

…but “The Wolf” lives on in all of us.

 

 

LILI  (25 April 04 – 9 October 12)

Thanks for 8 years of love & inspiration.

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Filed under catharsis

“Oh, What’s Occurring?”

I am indebted to BBC Radio 1’s Scott Mills, for inventing this game, based on Nessa’s catchphrase from the beloved BBC sitcom, Gavin & Stacey.

In Scott’s game, a current event or star-du-jour that ought to be known to most Britons, is formulated as a question, which is then put to a “random sample” of 10 people on “Stupid Street” [a street right outside the London radio studio] by a BBC staffer. Let’s say, for instance, “Who’s Andy Murray?” The point of the game is not to guess the truth [the right answer]; but to guess the most frequent answer given by the 10-person sample on Stupid Street: also known as popular opinion.

Ponder the epistemological implications of this innocent little game for a moment. Since the truth about such objective, scientific matters as the human role in the rapidly melting polar ice caps [or whether Lili’s crippling condition, degenerative myelopathy, can be definitively diagnosed by a DNA test] is still being debated among the researchers themselves, it is tempting to default to the “received wisdom” of vox populi. Except we try to hedge our bets by avoiding the populi on Stupid Street. Our sources [we believe & hope] are reliable. They know whereof they speak. Nar’mean?

Because I’m a curmudgeon, I enjoy trolling the pages of the Science sections of the NYTimes & WaPost, not to mention my favorite discredited source BBC online news, for their uncritical, wildly-extrapolated-beyond-the-data, later retracted, proclamations on [not to put too fine a point on it] How To Avoid Death. Regular readers of this blog will know I prefer the wisdom of Epictetus & Marcus Aurelius on this subject: accept that you are going to die of something, sometime; and live each day as if it were your last on earth. This is not to be confused with fatalism or Nihilism. Nor is it a simple-minded call to Acceptance [an overhyped new form of psychotherapy]. It’s a call to Do Your Best and nil desperandum [pace Horace].

The non-Classical, dog-Latin variant of this last phrase, “nil desperandum illegitimi” [Don’t let the bastards get you down.”] is the take home message of the “Oh, What’s Occurring” game. Are others humiliating you with their ill-informed opinions about what’s wrong with you/your dog? Do they tell you “It’s a Judgement” [handed down by their otherwise loving God]? I have several patients coping with health issues, which their “God-fearing” co-workers blithely attribute to Retribution. I urge them [my patients, not their persecutors] to play “Oh, What’s Occurring?” by assuming their insensitive critics live on Stupid Street. I suggest that on the way to work, they try to predict what prejudiced opinions these quidnuncs are likely to voice. When they guess right, they can award themselves 100 Scott Mills points. Hurrah! It is actually quite an effective cortisol-buster, to predict correctly what slings & arrows will come your way today.

This week on Lili’s walks the denizens of Stupid Street have opined that she has hip dysplasia and needs aspirin [whereas increasing numbness is actually the problem]; that I am over-exerting her [whereas the recommended treatment is a daily long walk]; and that they saw on YouTube that you can fit a paralyzed dog with wheels [oh, Zeus, give me patience]. To which I hum the theme song to “Oh, What’s Occurring?” Right out loud.

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Filed under attribution theory, comic relief, Epictetus said..., stress and cortisol

Applied Stoicism (Or, Marky Mark Aurelius Was The Man, Man!)

In casting around for ways to cope with Lili’s heartbreaking Degenerative Myelopathy, both emotionally & practically, I recently reread the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius [written ca. 170-180 AD], which are timeless, or very timely. To quote him: “There is nothing new; all things are both familiar and short-lived.”

Inasmuch as Lili’s motto, in the face of rapidly progressing back-leg numbness, ataxia (drunken-sailor gait) & frequent collapses, seems to be: “Keep Calm & Carry On,” I would say she is more Aurelian than I am, at the moment.

For instance, she is my role model for this bit of advice: “Remember, too, on every occasion that leads thee to vexation to apply this principle:  not that this is a misfortune, but to bear it nobly is good fortune.”  I texted that one to my daughter at work, who immediately “got it,” and wrote back, “So, life is how you react.”

He’s very into noticing when humiliation gets up “thy” nose, and challenging it with Cognitive Reframing concerning Locus of Control: “But death certainly, and life, honour & dishonour, pain & pleasure, all these things equally happen to good men & bad, being things which make us neither better or worse.”  You’ve been dealt a rotten hand? Who cares if you deserved it, or if it was just random bad luck? Play the hand you’re dealt, and let the Greek chorus of kibitzers tend to their knitting (to mix a metaphor): “So much more respect have we to what our neighbor shall think of us than to what we shall think of ourselves,” observed the Philosopher King. And, yes, I agree with those who quibble, “Easy for you to say, Your Majesty. Noblesse oblige, and all that; but for us hoi-poloi, in high-density living situations, ‘one man’s ceiling is another man’s floor’ [as Rhymin’ Simon says].”

Speaking of the neighbors, we have gone out of our way [and comfort zone], to explain to ours, what’s up with Lili [not contagious, not painful, “not anyone’s fault”…unless you count her breeders, but let’s not dwell on that]. They have been, without exception, sympathetic and supportive…and grateful that their dogs have been spared Lili’s fate.

But, as Marky Mark would remind us, we’re all on Lili’s journey, even if we’re not as close to the other “shore,” as she is. Therefore, he counseled, “Thou will give thyself relief, if thou doest every act of thy life as if it were thy last.” Be like Lili: “Keep calm & carry on.”

 

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Filed under Epictetus said..., gets right up my nose, locus of control

Musta Bin Slipped a Mickey, So

As readers of the Oxford English Dictionary [or Google, even] will know, a “Mickey Finn” was a knock-you-for-a-loop potion, made by the addition of chloral hydrate to your already alcohol-based drink at the South Chicago saloon of one Michael [Mickey to his friends] Finn, more than a century ago. The better to bundle you off to the back room and relieve you of your valuables. When you came to in the ally, still dazed & confused, you were likely to be wondering, “Whatever was in that last drink I had?” To which your long-suffering Loved Ones, once they had scooped you up from the Drunk Tank at your local Cop Shop, would reply, “Only a guess, here; but I’m thinking it would have been alcohol.”

 

At which, your inner wolf would begin to howl: “Oh, the humiliation (of their false accusations)!” Not to mention, the pain & suffering of the drug’s after-effects, the intrusion of being man-handled by both barroom thieves & contemptuous cops. Worse still, if you really hadn’t drunk enough alcohol to account for the nausea & dizziness, and the amnesia for the night’s events, the fear that you were losing your marbles (not just your money) would have you raging.

Luckily for Chicagoans & [more commonly] out-of-town visitors, said Mickey Finn was arrested, convicted & jailed in 1903, leaving behind an eponymous, external locus of control, oft-invoked exculpatory explanation for apparent shenanigans. I like it much better than “The Devil made me do it,” as long-time readers of this blog will know. These days, the Mickey tends to range from (nefariously slipped) Rohypnol, to (self-administered) prescription sleep aids, such as Ambien. As in Old Chicago, though, skeptical First Responders’ first response is often, “So, how much did you have to drink?” [Then, as they are taught to do in First Responders’ class, they double the amount stipulated.]

But what if, like me, you are stone, cold sober; but you still feel like someone slipped you the Proverbial? Back in early June I placed my order for a replacement car for “Foxtrot,” my beloved [but increasingly unreliable, expensive-to-repair] Jeep turbo-diesel. With Lili in mind, I wanted something with ample head [ear] room, lower to the ground [for when she can’t leap anymore], but with enough traction to handle our Alpine road in foul weather. I chose a MINI Countryman All4, in Oxford Green with a black roof, which was going to take 8 weeks to build & ship down the Danube & across the Atlantic. I named it “Mickey,” because it was bigger than MINI & green [like the Emerald Isle, so].

I loved it on sight; and configured the back seat area as Pope-mobile for Lili [who still prefers to scramble into the trunk of our old Grand Cherokee & splay her ears like Yoda, since there is less headroom for her back there]. However, every time I drove it, even for a 15-minute run to the Safeway, I emerged like a drunken sailor, hardly more steady on my pins than poor Lili is these days! Highly motivated to understand, and manage, this situation-specific, inner-ear-on-the-Fritz problem, I began with my default setting: “Must be psychological.” Was this me vicariously “suffering” the early-stage symptoms of degenerative myelopathy [which my mother had & Lili has]? If so, why did the symptoms clear up so fast, after the ride? Was this the return of the bane on my youth, severe car-sickness? Then why did it only happen in the MINI [not in our wallow-y old Grand Cherokee, or in Chris’ sporty little Benz sedan]?  Aha! Maybe it was that obnoxious “new car smell,” I speculated; and thoroughly swabbed down the whole interior with boiling water. No joy. Then, 3 days in to my ambivalent ownership, I awoke with a vivid memory of Sean [our salesman] opening the “bonnet” to show me the battery and fluid reservoirs, and muttering under his breath, “It’s so slimy! I don’t know why they spray it with that protectant. It’s under the hood, after all.” So at 5 am that morning, there I was, swabbing the engine block with boiling water, until the sheen [and neuro-toxic goo] had disappeared.  As did my symptoms.

Hurrah! Not “all in my head.” Not “losing my marbles.” I had just been Slipped a Mickey by the MINI dealership. I wonder what’s in that spray.

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Filed under attribution theory, locus of control, vicarious trauma