From my Instagram
Walking the Dogs For Anxiety
Theirs, not mine.
They are Italian Greyhounds. It is a fairly anxious breed.
There’s a way that becoming a father and devoted wife guy smooths out the bumps in difficult men. It’s too easy, and still is, for men who were once openly misogynistic or who objectified women as a hobby, or worse, to be made virtuous by the love of one good woman and the offspring they create together. Kanye benefited from this law of the universe.
5 Things He Does That He Probably Thinks I Don’t Notice
Seeks my favour. When driving together, always leaves the front coffee holder in the car for me to put my take-away coffee in. When we are driving apart, regularly pays for my coffee at our local coffee shop on his way to work, so on my way I get a free coffee.
Chases. Always gives me the prettiest plate of food when he plates up after cooking. Learns how to fix and build things to impress me.
Protects. If I see a mosquito, fly or cockroach from our bed - hey we live in the subtropics, it’s an unfortunate fact of life - he will get out of bed, naked, and chase it down. Even if he is asleep and I wake him to tell him about it. This can also make him a bit prickly with my children, because kids be kids and are frequently rude to their mothers.
Gives. Always offers me first shower when we wake in the morning. (But I am slow to get up, so I offer it back to him and he takes it).
Notices. Sees the type of wine I like at the moment and always buys that one. Observes that I am suddenly drinking kombucha and so, picks up a bottle of that for me instead on his way home.
My Twelve Year Old Son Wrote Me a Poem Because Anxiety Gives Me Insomnia1
In the morning we wake
and there it lays
It’s eyes, forever opaque
my cat does not sleep
It watches over me when we cannot speak
It says there are monsters out there
that I just could not bear to have stare back
I reply, Oh silly cat
we face our monsters
week after week
it’s a cycle you and I constantly repeat
The Role of Awe
I was reminded of this when I read this article, “The joy of magic mushrooms” in UnHerd.
Psychedelics, like psilocybin (the active ingredient in magic mushrooms) and lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), are strange drugs. They don’t automatically make you happier, like MDMA, or more confident, like alcohol. Instead they do … something. They make the world seem unfamiliar. You can see this in any depiction of them in popular media: the spaced-out teenager staring at her hand for hours. “Have you ever really, like, looked at your hand, man?” It’s like an artificial dose of deep-and-meaningfulness.
A few days ago, there was some excitement over a study that found that psilocybin was as effective as escitalopram — the joint-best-performing antidepressant — in the treatment of depression. What’s interesting about the way it is theorised to work is, in fact, in the exact way that it makes the spaced-out teenager look at her hand: it removes the familiarity from our surroundings. And that mechanism can tell us something profound about how our brains interact with the world.
In a nutshell, psychedelics allow you ‘to be in the moment’ and find the wonder in that, and by doing this you are able to unlock a lost capacity for awe, and maybe, experiencing awe can help push through depression. There are lots of caveats to this study, but it is still very interesting and made me revisit my appreciation for the role of awe in our lives. Also, psychedelics. Weren’t the 90s fun?
P.S. Yes, yes I read UnHerd sometimes. Like everyone, I saw The Social Dilemma and so I am actively pushing myself to read widely from sources on the Left and Right with which I do not have a natural affinity.
The Importance of Ordinary Beauty
This article from The New York Times - which speaks of savouring and celebrating small things and achieving that through the practice of mindful photography and walking, being generous and alert to spontaneous moments of community and connection, and not limiting oneself to living only in the margins where one has achieved mastery - confirms all my personal philosophies, that these days manifest as Instagram hashtags on my photos.
It’s too easy to mock a phrase like ‘awe walking’, but there is something genuinely rich in here. I really do recommend walking for awe, or at least, skimming the NYT article.
Moments in Dog Walking
When I stop to take a photograph of the dogs running on ahead and the bigger one, the naughtier one, stops to look back and check on me. He is actually so devoted.
Watching the joy of running. As the years go by, when you don’t have sporty children you don’t see a lot of that running and running.
The dogs chase each other in patterns like flight.
The speed at which the little dog runs when he must double back to catch up to me as he took the wrong path.
The calm presence in the little dog when he walks over to introduce himself to a big, overbearing dog who would like to meet him and see if he is real.
When a cyclist is approaching us or a nervous dog owner I tell my dogs, who are off-leash, to ‘wait’. It is an alternative word for the command ‘stay’, which my son and husband chose as a substitute when they were doing dog obedience class with our dogs. But it also strikes me as quite a reassuring word for someone troubled about coming upon others on their walk. We will hold back, we indicate our patience, and we are paused, so you go on undisturbed. Sighthounds do not seem to relish the command, ‘come’. Or at least, ours don’t. Their recall is strong, or I would not let them off leash on our walks, but their perception of what it is to return to you is different to that of most other dogs. Either springing at a gallop into your unprepared arms or returning to within a three metre radius of you and simply stopping at a stand or a sit near you but not particularly by your side, is considered by our dogs to be meeting the expectations. The bigger of our dogs has a bad association with the word ‘come’ which must, at times, in his previous home have meant that he was in trouble, and to be fair he has a natural tendency towards naughtiness so his previous home may have had reason to be calling him in irritation. Because of this, my husband uses the word ‘andiamo’ instead, which means ‘let’s go’ in Italian. There’s a slight distinction between ‘come’ and ‘let’s go’ and it speaks to the nature of Italian Greyhounds. It is not ‘return to me, the one who is calling you back from an important task to receive your next important task from me, which may simply be to go back on a lead’. Instead, it is ‘let’s go, as I am tired of waiting for you, you who is the one lost in whatever distraction you are currently pursuing far behind me, I don’t have all day’. So, because Italian Greyhounds are like this, I no longer try to ask them to ‘come’ when an apprehensive cyclist of dog owner is nearing us. Rather, I ask them wherever they are to ‘wait’. And we all wait, in our various locations, until the nervous ones have passed by. The dogs are now expert at the command. I get a lot of compliments for their manners on these occasions. If in doubt, people would like us all to be doing a lot more waiting.
The bigger of our dogs is the naughtier one because he is the more anxious one. (We can draw a few parallels from this about people, no?) His anxiety made him a little prone to nervous aggression when we first got him. I’ve mostly trained that out of him now. I try to remember that at the heart of his flaws, his pugnacity and distrust, is actually a sense of insecurity. When he is trusting me I pat him under his jaw so that I may lift his inevitably slightly crestfallen head up. “Proud boys,” I say, before I catch myself and remember its horrible current meaning.
What If You Could Have the ‘Meditation of Dog Walking’ Feeling in Films, Loosely, About Dog Walking?
Honestly, I might start a film club for this niche. The very best of these films that I have come across, so far - why limit oneself in exploring this specialised corner of film - are Heart of a Dog and The Truffle Hunters (which I have mentioned before). Dog walking films are never just about dog walking, just as dog walking is never just about dog walking.
This little New Zealand documentary, Old Dog is a nice addition to the genre. I don’t think the trailer does it justice, so maybe skip that and just take a leap of faith if you’re at all interested. In essence, it’s the story of a champion sheep dog trial farmer who has dedicated the rest of his life to educating farmers about understanding their dogs so he can prevent cruelty towards working dogs.
But those big, extraordinary farming landscapes, and then, watching these dogs work and the magic of having their language deciphered? These are the kinds of nice things I like to get lost in.
On Parenting a Teenager
Also, on Parenting a Teenager
This is so tender, isn’t it?
My sixteen year old daughter was choosing songs on our little road trip recently and surprised me by including this song. How do you know this one, I asked. I heard you play it and liked it and so, looked up the song and added it to some of my playlists, she replied breezily.
But I could see the bid for connection and I welcomed it. You see, I think it is likely she overheard me playing it on an evening when I was feeling quite wounded after one of our most unpleasant arguments. And I am humbled to realise that through her slammed door and hostility, which can feel like a fortress wall at times, she was listening for me downstairs, and what she heard was me quietly playing this song to myself, and that what it brought forth in her was a feeling so loving2.
leave your armour on the doorstep
you won’t need your wall of silence
all the sleepless nights we spent
in the comfort of my arms
your tangled legs your warm sweet scent
my pillows dent
And here is Deborah Conway3 talking about the significance of her song, Serpent’s Tooth which borrows its name from Shakespeare’s King Lear:
No one dies in our song “Serpent’s Tooth” but all these decades later and now as a parent of 3 daughters, that magnificent quote “how sharper than a serpent’s tooth it is to have a thankless child” rings bells of recognition and deepest empathy that at my first encounter I didn’t feel. Becoming a parent was a kind of alchemy for my deepest being, it exposed the tenderest layers of feeling I had no idea I could have, the deep wells of worry and the tidal waves of love that have no equal; I went from fortress to cupcake and of course on the same continuum, a lion, if they were in any kind of danger. And then comes the teenage years. Lear’s daughters are most likely teenagers, it is certainly a portrait of the kind of carnality that chimes with the teenage experience. Cruel, vain, seeking to stamp their authority by not just stepping out of the nest but kicking it out of the tree, what parent of teenagers hasn’t been at the end of a sharp tongue, suffering under a torrent of abuse or enduring days or more of stoney silence? It’s perplexing and of course the hurt is so much more intense when the stranger before you is your own flesh & blood. King Lear is excessive in its body count but Shakespeare is dealing in the rawest of human relationships and maybe only a pile of corpses can attest to how sharp that pain is. So in view of my changed circumstance, I felt compelled to revisit this great work of art in a modern context - I present you my shattered emotional corpse.
Isn’t King Lear fascinating for its examination of legacy, as one’s parenting relationship transitions to that new stage of separation required for having functional adult children? There’s lots written about it but in my mind, none better than Anna Kamaralli in this piece, which also explores the encounter with the abusive parent.
Parents are not supposed to have their behaviour corrected by children, yet are expected to chastise their offspring. This asymmetrical dynamic does not function as smoothly when carried on into adulthood.
At what point is the child permitted to reprimand the parent? Is it when father comes stomping into his daughter’s home yelling “Dinner, ho, dinner!” as Lear does, or when he goes on to hit a man in her employ?
What is the adult son or daughter to do when faced with a parent with no respect for boundaries in their interactions?
A family counsellor would attempt to keep family members focused on discussing behaviours and responses, in preference to name-calling and abuse. Lear is one of those parents who is unable to separate their anger at what is happening from finding a fault inherent in the child.
I think I am the cat in this poem.
I am also glad she did not misread it for self-pity or retaliation. I am not manipulative by nature and it horrifies me to be misunderstood.
I was never really into Deborah Conway in a big way, but woman was way ahead of her time with lyrics in 1993 (Alive and Brilliant) like, “Turn around; And be polite; I'm so sick of listening to your crap about the breasts you like; Look at me; I am restrained; I'm not screaming like some jealous adolescent here in vain”.