Category Archives: ambivalence

If you wanted a friend in Vienna…

With the arrival of First Dog “Bo” at the White House this weekend, let’s celebrate the first dog that Sigmund Freud’s family owned: a “not undangerous” German Shepherd named “Wolf.” [This from 3 independent sources, available upon request.] The best anecdote about Wolf’s cleverness has it, that one day the dog got loose in Vienna. [So far, not so clever, since although Wolf was nominally daughter Anna’s dog, “Papa” Sigmund adored him so much, that in 1925 Anna wrote, “I always assert that he transferred his whole interest in me on to Wolf.” The Guardian, 23 March 2002] The family searched all day for Wolf, but in vain. That evening the dog arrived home in a taxi, having jumped in and sat there, until the driver thought to read the address on his ID tag, and drove him back to 19 Bergasse [The German Shepherd Dog, Howell Book House, 1995].

Anna was being only a little bit Poetic, concerning the true object of her father’s affections. Freud’s Vienna apartment was turned into a museum some time ago; and I have made 3 visits to it over the years [yeah, yeah, what a geek], where they just let you wander about the place unattended. I have, naturally, used Freud’s WC, which has little pink flowers painted right in the toilet bowl [a quaint Viennese fin de siecle lavatorial fashion]. On the wall of his office there is a photograph of Freud with his very own, beloved dog [a Chow called Jofi], who was his “inseparable companion” from 1930 until her death in 1937, as Freud was suffering with terminal cancer of the jaw. She sat in on every one of his psychotherapy sessions, letting analyst & analysand know that their time was up “with copious yawning and stretching” [The Guardian].

In the same frame as the photo is Freud’s handwritten letter, in German, posing the question [my approximate translation here], “Why am I able to love my dogs more dearly than I love any person in my family?” His answer recalls the old Washington aphorism: “Because they love me without judgment or conditions.”

Willkommen, Bo!

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Crazy Like a Fox

Remember the post called Hayfever? Let’s say you wanted to avoid the common symptoms of that “dreadful lurgy,” so you invested in the latest over-the-counter nostrum for it. I know this will sound like one of Stephen Colbert’s sotto voce adverse-side-effects-warnings for a bogus health product, but I’m quoting from the PDR: “Somnolence [needing a nap RIGHT NOW], fatigue, dry mouth, pharyngitis [sore throat], dizziness, headache, GI upset/pain, cough, diarrhea, epistaxis [nosebleed], brochospasm, irritability, insomnia.” Sort of like Mexican Swine Flu in a bottle, no?

Psychodynamic theory [the kid brother to Freudian psychoanalysis] posits that whenever an individual faces a choice between two courses of action, s/he is ambivalent [“on the one hand…on the other hand”], but ultimately, s/he chooses the one that seems like “the lesser of two evils.” It is, however, a matter of personal opinion, as to which would be worse–sniffles & sneezing, or the daunting list of side-effects listed above.

Same with the Four Horsemen of What Gets Up Your Nose & Makes You Angry. We humans, as well as Lili the dog, “do the math” in our heads, calculating which of two irritants will cause us less misery, and choose accordingly. Let’s put some meat on the bones of this theory. A young woman dreads the humiliation of being judged “less than Vogue model thin,” so she opts for the pain & suffering of an Eating Disorder. A teenager cannot abide the intrusion of parental limits, so s/he runs away, opting for the fear of “being on your own, with no direction home…like a rolling stone” and having to make a deal with the skeevy dude in the song, who’s “not offering any alibis.” In either case, the casual observer might say, “You’re crazy to ruin your health, just to be a Size 2,” or “to risk your life, just to play by your own rules.” The individual who has made the choice thinks, “Yeah, crazy like a fox.”

Back in the day, I treated a young woman in Detroit who kept losing high-powered jobs because she was chronically late for work; and once there, stole money from her boss. How could this possibly be the lesser of two evils? [Even in the 90s, good jobs in Detroit did not grow on trees.] What could be worse? Well, submission to The Man was worse, in her book. She was willing to risk the financial pain & suffering of job loss, and the fear of her husband’s disapproval [that she had “screwed up again…what are you, crazy?”], rather than endure the humiliation of having to play by the same rules as everybody else. Once she grasped this, she was able to find less self-defeating ways to rebel [such as wearing a Che T-shirt under her corporate suit].

So, look at Lili and guess what trade-out of irritants she is making. Is some predator after her [causing fear]? Is there an intruder up the hill, whom she feels she must challenge? Was she told [by my husband, who took this picture] to stay put [“Zen-zen!”], and she cannot abide the humiliation of obeying his command? Actually, I am hiding behind a tree at the top of the hill, and she is rushing to join me, to avoid the pain & suffering of abandonment. [As if!]

Next time you’re faced with a Hobson’s choice of potentially risky actions, you do the math.

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Filed under aggression happens, ambivalence, lesser of two evils, understanding shenanigans

Give it some welly!

This idiom from the UK in the 70s means “Do your utmost!” In my youth, especially when my sister & I were sitting around, engrossed in a game of Cribbage or War [or some other frivilous activity], our father would ask us to fetch him a beer; and we would stall him, saying, “Aww, not now. When this game is over.” He would retort, “C’mon, how many Therbligs would it cost you?” The Therblig is a unit of effort, devised in 1908 by Frank Burke Gilbreth [inventor of Time & Motion analysis, and the author of Cheaper by the Dozen], to quantify units of work [such as search, find, select, grasp, hold, and so on]. It’s an anagram for “Gilbreth” (sort of). It’s definitely a metaphor.

Talk about “doing the math,” we all can make instant calculations of how many Therbligs it would cost us to do a task for a Loved One who asks us; and it is human nature to expect a quid pro quo. If we expend more Therbligs than we receive credit for [in praise, gratitude, success, financial recompense, or other forms of positive reinforcement], we experience the humiliation of having been “hoodwinked” [schmized] into doing something “for nothing.” Let’s say we use up a certain amount of Therbligs studying for a test, and then flunk it anyway. [Or training for an athletic event, and then lose.] For some individuals, the misery of having “put it all on the line” and still failed, is so mortifying that they write themselves a life-long, face-saving Note to Self: “Never Let Them See You Sweat.” In fact, the Note advises, “Make It Obvious That You Didn’t Try Very Hard, at All.” Then, if you don’t succeed, you have only the pain & suffering of your loss to cope with–not the mortification, as well.

It takes a certain amount of bravery, such as Lord Louis Montbatten urged, to risk the humiliation of defeat, by “giving it some welly”–going at your goal full-tilt boogie–knowing that the you may still be judged to have done the thing “badly.”

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"Ne Me Quitte Pas"

This song, from the musical review Jacques Brel Is Alive & Well & Living in Paris, was assigned to my flatmate & drama school classmate, Helen, to perform in our Off Off Broadway showcase production. Her boyfriend, Drew, found this hilarious: “You’re singing a Neil Diamond hit?” [It had been, under the title, “If You Go Away.”] We’ll get into what was lost in translation, anon. Macho Drew got “The Dove,” [a rather girly anti-war song]; and I got “Amsterdam” [in which I portrayed a drunken, jilted sailor–drawing upon my Navy childhood for verisimilitude]. We were all “playing against type.”

[Now, back to Sunday in the park with Lili.] Kids! No sooner have they firmly grasped that Mother is not a set of identical twins (a Good one & an Evil one)–but rather a woman of many moods (not all of them angelic)–than all you see is the back of them! [Thus, the French version of the Brel song: “Don’t leave me.”] My favorite New Yorker cartoonist, William Haefeli, who draws hatchet-faced urban sophisticates expressing interpersonal ambivalence, recently gave us 3 women @ Starbucks, one looking at her cellphone: “Let me see what my mother wants–aside from attention.”

As they say in the City (when you’re kvetching about your age), “Consider the alternative.” [The alternative, in this discussion, to the Empty Nest Syndrome, let me clarify, Metalingually.] In these grim economic times, some kids never get to check out of Mom’s Place, or they check back in, after an Existential Smack in the Snout [aka job loss], as “Boomerang” kids. [Research topic: “Do more ‘Kangaroos’ end up as Boomerang kids, than ‘Clydesdales’ do?” Too soon to tell. They’ve only just been identified as a demographic.]

Although countless songs have been written about longing for the absent Loved One [the kid, the partner, the pet…”Had an old dog and his name was ‘Blue.'”], we students of musical theatre learned some obscure but nifty ditties about the other half of the ambivalence–the Too Close for Comfort genre–one of the best being, “This Plum Is Too Ripe” from The Fantasticks. [You could look it up.]

Remember the post “The Lone Wolf,” which posed the conundrum, “Would you rather be smothered by your mother’s micro-management, or Erased from the Blackboard of Her Heart (and her will)? ” [Talk about obscure ditties, a college friend and I used to kill time in long choir rehearsals by inventing Country & Western song titles, and fobbing them off as real on supposed aficionados, who would brag, “Yep. Got that one on my shelf back home.” Our most successful offering was “Ah’m’o ‘Rase You from thuh Blackboard of Mah Heart.”] What most people crave is neither extreme [In-your-face-ness or Never-darken-my-door-ness], but a Tango, a dance number, a mutually-agreed-upon to-ing & fro-ing between intimacy & space. [As in “I just need my…”] How ironic [Poetic?], that a wildly successful social networking site–designed to bring people together–is called MySpace. [Picture another Haefeli scenario, in which the re-clothing lady reassures the still-unclothed gent in the bed: “If I were sleeping with other men, would I waste my time sleeping with you?”]

In NYC [at least, back in the day], these “dance routines” were hammered out in coffeeshops throughout the city, using the opening gambit, “So, whadda we got here?” [As in Woody Allen movies, if fellow diners can overhear the conversation, they are permitted (expected) to kibitz.] In my ‘hood, the West 70s, actual dance routines for actual musicals were hammered out in the dairy aisle of the pre-Fairway grocery store in the Ansonia Hotel. [Talk about tap-dancing around a tricky topic! The Ansonia’s downstairs venue, The Continental Baths, was the original social networking site. Bette Midler got her start there. Look it up, already.]

So, here’s the point. Although he was Belgian, Jacques Brel wrote & sang in French, where the subjunctive mood is considered cowardly: “If you (were to) go away…(then I would be so sad).” Non! Be brave! Nothing ventured, nothing gained. Just blurt out how you really feel: “Don’t go away!” Risk humiliation, already!

The other party still might go away, of course. Back in the day, they would offer you the parting valediction, “Gotta split.”

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Filed under ambivalence, object relations theory

Trademark Bandanna

The week the of the Challenger disaster, in late January ’86, was made more horrific for the students & staff @ the College of the Holy Cross (in Worcester, MA)–where I was, improbably, a Visiting Professor–by 3 factors. The female teacher-astronaut on board was considered a beloved local girl, so the loss felt intensely personal to many. That weekend, my most promising student in Intro Psych died in a freak skiing accident; and the next day the head coach of a varsity team hanged himself. All of us on the staff, being familiar with the phenomenon of The Contagion of Suicide in Institutional Settings, held many impromptu class teach-ins, as well as individual crisis interventions; and, miraculously, the loss of life stopped with the coach.

I thought about that long-ago, macabre week at ‘Da Cross, on 12 September ’08, when the death by hanging of David Foster Wallace (whom his Claremont students, among others, referred to as DFW) was reported. Our daughter didn’t have a class with him, but some of her friends did–sitting in an empty classroom, wondering where on earth he was…whom to ask…when to bag it, and just go on to “the next destination on their maps,” as DFW would have put it…not knowing that he had decided to “eliminate [his] own map for keeps,” as he euphemizes suicide in his mammoth [1079-page] 1996 novel, Infinite Jest.

No matter how Existentially live-and-let-die we Mental Health Providers think we are, most of us see suicide as a Bad Outcome, a Postponable but Irrevocable Solution to a Temporary Problem, and often a Provocation to Others to Follow Suit. [The caps are in honor of DFW’s writing style, since I deplore his untimely end, but find myself enthralled by his big ol’ book.] On the last day of our visit to Claremont this week, we were trolling around bookstores, in search of the latest Pynchon novel, and Dorsey’s Atomic Lobster, and similar light fare, when our kid hefted DFW’s two-and-a-half-pound tome onto the pile, and said, “It’s time.”

Back in our hotel room, while she crashed out for a power nap, I did my let-the-fairies-pick-the-page method of literary sampling (used to great effect in my college days, by all us cognitive ‘Roos, who had no hope of reading the assigned “book a night” from front to back). DFW’s iconic read was just crying out for this method, often having been referenced in other Hipster Lit, as in “Let’s get totally stoned and see if we can get past page 70 of Infinite Jest.” So the fairies chose page 348, and I dove in, and woke our kid up with my raucous laughter. (We had to go by me my own copy that night, for reading on the plane.)

If you know someone who is (or should be) in a 12-step recovery program, this part of the book is the most accurate (yet hilarious) depiction of the ambivalence People in The Program feel about The Program, that I have ever read. I may, eventually, circle back to page 1; but for now I’m just pressing on, towards page 1079. In a 1996 Salon interview, right after the book’s original publication, DFW said he had tried to write “a sad book,” since he had already tried funny and ironic. Asked about the inclusion of so many AA scenes, he said he meant for them to “stand for the lostness and what you do when the things you thought were going to make you OK, don’t.”

In the many postmortum articles since his suicide, much is made of the fact that he had taken an arcane, hardly-ever-used-anymore anti-depressant for 20 years, until the toxic side-effects got too bad. Reportedly, when he stopped, his depressive symptoms returned with a vengeance; but reinstating the drug did not help. How prophetic, then, his phrase, from 12 years earlier: “what you do when the things you thought were going to make you OK, don’t.”

Before dipping into his book, I speculated that ol’ DFW had suffered the consequences of a “Stifled Wolf.” That his unacknowledged anger got turned in against himself, and took him out. Tell you what, though, his fictional characters are All Wolf, All the Time, especially in the AA scenes (which is what makes them the most hilarious part of the story). Twelve years is a long time between “howlings,” though, if–as everyone who knew him says–he was Meek As a Lamb in person. He would give various explanations for the wearing of his ubiquitous, trademark bandanna, including “to keep my head from exploding.” If only, if only, he had allowed himself to channel some of his raging AA characters into his real life persona, to risk offending others, to unwrap his huge head and let some steam escape…

Well, let’s not make that fatal mistake, ourselves. Let’s acknowledge our inner wolf, and every now and then (when we’re where it’s safe, as safe as an AA meeting, where they can’t kick you out for what you say, no matter how outrageous), let’s untie the bandanna, and howl at the moon like a wolf, and realize, with relief, that our head didn’t actually explode, after all.

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Filed under ambivalence, comic relief, stifled wolf, understanding shenanigans

"I’m wild again, beguiled again…"

Lorenz Hart’s original lyrics to the hit song of the 1940 musical Pal Joey, “Bewitched, Bothered & Bewildered,” were so risque that Bowdlerized [watered-down, Disney-fied] phrases are usually substituted, to mollify modern, Tipper Gorean sensibilities. Even if you are familiar with the song, bet you haven’t heard this opening gambit, sung by a girl, already: “After one whole quart of brandy, like a daisy I awake, with no Bromo Seltzer handy…” [Talk about “Tried to make me go to rehab, but I said ‘no, no, no.'”]

Sportsfans, I tell ya, simply pretending that you have no wolf [no temptation to behave recklessly and regrettably] doesn’t stop your wolf from going wild. Beguiled, we’ll get to in a moment.

When, in another part of the forest, I used to interview young people whose misuse of alcohol had come to the attention of the authorities, I encouraged them to recapture their [pre-bust] enthusiasm for their beverage of choice. [See the post, “Crazy Like a Fox.”] To cut to the chase I would ask a young man, “Tell me what’s better about an evening spent with Ethyl.” [Young ladies were asked about an evening with Fred. As in Mertz. Nar’mean?] Protestations of “Nothing! Nothing was good about it! It was stupid! I was led astray by my so-called friends,” were dismissed as unhelpful stonewalling. Until any of us can look back on our shenanigans from the Crazy Fox’s point of view, as “seeming like a good idea, at the time,” we are none the wiser about what makes us tick, and no less likely to try it again.

Even when granted amnesty [or confidentiality], though, most of my “drunken sailors” were initially reluctant to “go there”: to let the Crazy Fox explain what it was trying to accomplish. The heroine of the Rogers & Hart song goes there. She tells us she is wildly, hopelessly attracted to an off-limits guy, so she spent the night with Fred [a quart of brandy]. Her Crazy Fox beguiled her into believing that Fred would take her mind off Mr. Wrong, at least temporarily. The song is a morning-after lament: “Well, ‘going wild’ didn’t work. I’m still bewitched, bothered & bewildered by this guy, only now I have a hangover, too.” I’ll let you look up the original lyrics, to find out if she ever wises up, or comes to a bad end.

Trouble is, insight into the Crazy Fox’s motive comes at a cost: humiliation. [Sometimes, also pain & suffering.] Not everyone is prepared to pay that price, until all other options have been exhausted. How ’bout a bit of denial? “I’m just not like that.” Or rationalization? “I don’t have to try to understand this, because it’s a one-time-deal, not a pattern.” Or projection? “I didn’t start this. S/he did provoke [beguile] me.”

Recommended reading: the mid-section of DFW’s Infinite Jest, featuring the AA meetings.

Imagine what Lili & Zanzibar are saying in this picture. Actually, there were no shenanigans going on here, for once. Peaceable kingdom. But doesn’t Lili look guilty of something?

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Filed under ambivalence, understanding shenanigans

The Holy Ground

True, full-time Hibernians [not youse who are bein’ Irish just for today, to honor St. Padraig] will know that the so-called “Holy Ground” of the old song [also referenced in a second song on Mary Black’s album of de same name] is not a religious place at all [like, God-save-us-all, East Jerusalem, or Mecca], but the red-light district in the port town of Cobh, in County Cork, from whence set sail many of our immigrant forebears, from the land of green fields and not enough food, to the land of green beer and food galore.

It is, thus, an ironic [Poetic] figure of speech, capturing both halves of the ambivalence which the Irish diaspora feel for their country of origin. For centuries, Eire was [as Dr. Samuel Johnson said of Scotland], “a grand place to be from.” In Mary Black’s song, “The Loving Time,” [the first line of which is, “Reads like a fairytale, cuz that’s what it was.”] it connotes the power of sentimental, romantic love to [temporarily] blind a couple to their [possibly irreconcilable] differences: “…and the Holy Ground took care of everything.” Spoiler alert. The last verse of this bravely wolf-acknowledging song begins, “It didn’t come true in the end. They went their separate ways.” Rather like Old Mother Ireland and Her then desperately hungry, later desperately nostalgic, children.

Suggested reading: Tom Hayden’s [yes, that Tom Hayden] historical and autobiographical book, Irish On the Inside.

So, here’s the point of this post. Any piece of real estate which holds powerful intimations [both sweet and bitter] of actual or legendary happenings, can become “the holy ground” for an individual, a couple, a family, or a tribe. In the Fall of 1957 my father drove through Gate 3 of his alma mater, the Naval Academy, and parked [illegally] in front of the Chapel for long enough to run into the Admin building and report for duty. My usually Stoic mother burst into tears. Was she afraid the Jimmy Legs [the Yard police] were going to ticket our car? Or was she overcome by the sight of the Chapel, where she & Rosie were married in a tiny, wartime service? Turns out the Chapel was a mere synecdoche for the whole USNA mystique, which, to one degree or another, our whole family [along with many others] have come to regard as “the holy ground.” In 1958 my mother dramatically fell ill with MS while walking on the Academy grounds; yet I found myself inexorably drawn back to live and work there, in 1976 and in 2000. And it’s not because of all the rollicking fun to be had there [especially, this last time round]. It’s because of the memories of the good and bad times I had there with The Now Departed [my parents], whose presence [I believed] would feel more palpable there, than anywhere else on earth.

It was, do you see, a Transitional Object [like a Teddy bear, or Alfred the dog, or Ciotogach the cat], that helps one to feel closer to “the ones that we love true,” to paraphrase the song.

How randomly can a place become “the holy ground”! Not for its intrinsic beauty, or bounty, or balmy weather, or enlightened folkways; but because it is the repository of memories, of Us interacting with [ambivalently] loved Others. When you’re in it [as I learned early, in my peripatetic Navy childhood] it’s often hard to believe that you’re going to look back on a place with nostalgia. I spent my first two months in England [now, the holiest of my “holy grounds”] squinting at ViewMaster reels of the Naval Academy and weeping for what was lost. Who could have imagined that, one day, I would be using Google Maps to take virtual rambles round my beloved English “home place” [as the Irish say] of Stoke D’Abernon, where Ying Tong the cat was regarded with such ambivalence [mostly, negative] by all the neighbors.

Speaking of rambles, I am wise enough to know that the South River woods [in which Lili once again warned me of a suddenly-falling-but-this-time-without-audible-warning, 30-foot tree trunk, not 20 yards ahead of us, on today’s walk] will be added to my list of “holy grounds” [if I am not struck down by falling lumber first].

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Filed under ambivalence, pragmatics, semiotics, transitional objects

That "Frenemies" Thing

Well, stone the crows, all these years I have been attributing this zero-sum-gaming motto to Gore Vidal; but now I find it, in a 1966 TIME magazine article, falling out of the gob of the hugely successful Broadway producer, David Merrick: “It is not enough for me to succeed; all others must also fail.” How humiliating, to have gotten it wrong! (Although I’m not alone. Others have credited Attila the Hun or Genghis Khan. Do I hear a nomination for Machiavelli?) The article, incidentally, in that halcyon, less in-your-face-snarky era of journalism, was called “The Be(a)st of Broadway,” geddit? Cuz, Mr. Merrick was (ahem) ambivalently regarded by the theatrical community.

Now, a short diatribe on the clinical meaning of “ambivalence” (as opposed to the “street” meaning, of “I hate his guts!”): “simultaneous conflicting feelings toward a person or thing, as love and hate” [Webster’s, 1988 ed.] Not, “as fear and loathing,” nar’mean? To illustrate this point in therapy sessions, I hold out my hands in the “supplicant palms” position, and intone, “On the one hand, ya-dah-ya-dah. On the other hand, la-di-dah.” I then say, “There are very few things or individuals in our lives, about which we humans are not ambivalent.”

Oh, but how we hate to admit it! Even to ourselves. So, hurrah for the new portmanteau word, “frenemy,” which captures the both-hands [simultaneously positive & negative] feelings which we can sense in others [but only bald-faced truth-tellers, like Merrick & Vidal, will acknowledge in themselves]. We’ll know that this brave willingness to admit to ambivalent feelings, about even our Nearest & Dearest, has made it into mainstream consciousness, when “to frenemy” someone becomes a transitive verb in Facebook parlance.

The next post will deal with the ways people avoid Owning their Inner Wolf [as in, acknowledging that another’s success can stir feelings of humiliation that they got the “prize” we wanted, and even fear that there won’t be enough “prizes” to go around].

Meanwhile, here are Seamus & Finn, locked in some sort of close contact. Is it a hug or combat? That’s easy. It’s both.

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Filed under ambivalence, zero-sum-gaming

No Teddy Bears’ Picnic

If you’re familiar with Harry Hall’s 1932 recording of “The Teddy Bears’ Picnic, ” you’re in distinguished company. For more than 30 years, BBC sound engineers used it to check frequency cycles before broadcasts, because of the fidelity of the recording and the wide-ranging pitches of the little ditty. Tell you something else that was wide-ranging: Irish lyricist Jimmy Kennedy’s various attributions of the danger posed by Teddy Bears in the woods. For a supposedly light-hearted children’s song, it’s as full of dark foreboding as a Twilight flick. “If you go into the woods today, you’d better go in disguise…you’d better not go alone. It’s lovely out in the woods today, but safer to stay at home.” And why all the angst? “Today’s the day the Teddy Bears have their picnic.”

I’m not a big fan, never was, of sending mixed messages to children about safety hazards. Seems to me there are enough truly scary things and situations out there “in the woods” to worry about, without setting up “straw men” like picnicking Teddy Bears, nar’mean? But that’s me being literal-minded, rather than Poetic, about it. I’ve read [and recommended] Bruno Bettelheim’s book, The Uses of Enchantment, the point of which is, that Grimm fairy tales [and zombie films, and their ilk] afford a less amygdala-setting-off, more reassuringly metaphorical way of facing our fears.

About 2 months ago, as Chris & I were walking Lili into the thick of the woods, a middle-aged woman [I should talk!], clad in a brown velour track suit which the 80s wanted back, jogged up to us and said, “Better be careful! There are police in the woods!” Intrigued, Chris & Lili forged ahead, while I stumbled behind them [my ankles suddenly turning to jelly from anxiety]. “A dead body? An armed & dangerous felon?” I wondered. What did their presence betoken, that had so freaked out the Lady in Velour? When Chris saw them, he asked “What’s up?” They said, “We’re looking for hunters.” They were U.S. Federal Special Police Officers, from the Smithsonian Institution Office of Protection Services [Did I mentions that “our” woods are a Smithsonian nature preserve?], acting on a tip that hunters had been spotted in the area. So we regaled them with anecdotes of our many encounters with [apparently illegal] hunters in the woods over the years, and they admired Lili, and gave me a business card with their phone & fax numbers, asking that Lili & I be their “eyes & ears” on our daily rounds. “Our office is just around the corner, and we’ll be waiting to hear from you.”

Talk about an official seal of approval! It was as if Lili had been transformed from a ravening beast, to a Deputy Dawg! I may continue to experience fear, intrusion, and even pain & suffering when I trip over a hidden tree root; but I think my days of humiliation in the woods are over.

But what, we wondered, was Brown Jogging Lady so spooked about? Was she a superannuated Hippie, who still regarded the Fuzz as the foe? [This was before OWS, mind.] Had they advised her not to wear deer-colored clothing in the woods during hunting season, or she could get shot?

Like Jimmy Kennedy, she manifested ambivalence about the threat level in the woods that day. I do, too, of course, always dreading my next encounter with Skipper the Unleashed and his insouciant owner. As it happened, the very next day Chris, Lili & I were once again menaced by the appalling pair; and I just happened to drop the name of the Smithsonian Police.

Haven’t seen them since. Still, with other free-range dogs about, newly fallen lumber every day, and muddy footing, it’s no picnic.

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Filed under ambivalence, attribution theory, limbic system

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