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The Discomfort Zone … choosing your life path

A few weeks ago, Handsome was talking with a friend about a tough situation they were in, and they said they knew they needed to get out of their “Comfort Zone” and fix it.  Then they took a pause, and said, “But wait, I’m not comfortable at all!” 

We often hear about “Comfort Zones.”  Situations that are easy to stay in, while we know we’d be better off if we made the difficult choice to get out of them.  For me, lots of my learning as a puppy fit this – it might be comfortable to lie on the forbidden couch or pee inside the house, but I was better off improving my behavior!  Humans might find a situation like staying in their parents’ home, staying in a go-nowhere job, or avoiding a difficult conversation to be Comfort Zones.

But what I see so often is what I’ll call DIScomfort Zones!  Situations one stays in that make them actively miserable. 

For example, if you have nice parents who treat you well, and it’s comfortable to live with them although you know you need to move out and start to live your own life, that’s a Comfort Zone.  But if you’re staying with parents who abuse, shame, and harass you… you’re in a Discomfort Zone. 

In dealing with my Pack members, where I see this most often is young relationships.  Whether friendships or romances, people will stay with others they might not think the best of or get the most out of, just because that’s the way things are.  And really, that’s fine, until something changes.  But it breaks my heart to see you guys stay with people who treat you badly.  Who ignore you, who put you down (not in fun ways), who cheat on you, who blame you, who make you feel horrible about yourself.

Either zone requires strength and hope to leave.  But with a Discomfort Zone, I also think it’s really important to look at the question of Why:  What has kept you there?  What do you get from it, and what’s so scary about being out of it that you’ve stayed?

In the relationship question, what is it that keeps you with those friends, or in that romance?  Is it love, or is it maybe a deep-seated fear that you’re not good enough for someone else?  That no one else is going to accept you?  That this crumminess is as good as you’ll ever get?

And if that’s the case, then I want to challenge you to do one thing for me.  I’m not telling you what decisions to make in your life, but I do just want you to look at that question anew.  Really ask yourself – Is This True?

If you’re thinking no one else could love you, ask yourself why you have that belief.  Who told you that?  What about you is so unlovable?

Now I need to take a little pause here:  If this is just that you’re feeling your relationship isn’t good enough because the other person doesn’t have a billion euros or look like Ana De Armas, that’s another story.  You might be correct to think you’re not that very rare individual who’ll land someone with gifts such as those.  But if you’re thinking no one worthy could love you, or even like you, please look over your past.  Have you had other friends?  Has someone else been interested in you?  And if so, doesn’t that prove that you don’t need to stay in your Discomfort?

You see, the superpower of Comfort Zones and Discomfort Zones is in their telling you “Don’t think too much about this!”  If you’re staying out of shape because it’s easier to sit around watching YouTube than to go for a run, that’ll work until the day you start wanting to be stronger and fitter so much you turn that iPad off.  And if you stay sedentary it so much that you start having back problems and can’t stand what you see in the mirror, then it’s even more so: Once you ask yourself about the choice you’re making, you’ll start making a different choice!

Now again, I’m never going to argue anyone out of a true, considered choice to stay in an uncomfortable situation.  The selflessness that leads one to a life of austere help to others, the nobility of defending your homeland against attackers, the deep love of taking care of ailing family members… these are virtues, not flaws.  I bow to you for them.

But even with those, it’s good to step back and look at your choices.  Because maybe doing so will help remind you of just how great you are!  (I’m happy to do it too, but can’t be there with you all the time!)

Life offers joys, comforts, discomforts, and horrors.  Everyone’s.  All I’m pushing on you this month is to do what I do when I’m sleeping somewhere and it gets a little too sunny – so I wake, get up, and move to a shadier spot and go back to sleep.

To get conscious just long enough to do what’s best for you.

And do it Often!

Shirelle

Sorry Not Sorry … the nature of regret

            Handsome recently told me about a fascinating movie he’d just seen.  Hard to describe, but in many ways, it was fundamentally about the nature of regret. 

            We dogs don’t deal a lot with regret.  Or rather, we don’t deal with it for long.  We’ll regret something we did because of its immediate consequences (whether that’s the punishment sort, like when I steal food off Handsome’s plate and he yells at me and makes me go outside, or the cause-effect sort, like where I stick my nose too far to sniff inside a hot oven and… OW!), but we don’t carry regrets on for days, or months, or years, the way you do.

            So I look on the whole concept in a different way than people would.  And what I see is… mixed.

            Okay, first let’s talk about the good.  A person does something thoughtless or awful, that has terrible consequences.  They drive drunk and cause an accident with permanent injuries, or they say something hurtful that someone never gets over.  And having realized the effects of their actions, they make a change.  They stop driving intoxicated (or maybe stop drinking altogether), and hold back on comments that might be taken in the worst ways. 

            Well that’s great!  They’ve grown, matured, learned… they make themselves into better people, more useful citizens of their community.  Regret has prodded them to self-improvement. Fantastic.

            And then there’s the bad.  A person does something they regret, and it damages them forever.  A breakup goes badly, and the instigator says “I hurt someone I cared about, and feel awful, so I never want to try romance again.  I’m too harmful.”  Or on a more general level, someone does something they regret and never feels good about themselves after that.  “I’m just not a good person.  I make mistakes that go bad.”  You know the type – the person who never stands up straight, only smiles with a nervousness, and can’t accept a compliment.  It’s not their breakup or mistake that’s ruined their life; it’s their regret that’s done it.

            But then there’s another sort.  Let’s call it “Dramatic Regret.”  The person who wears their regret, makes a show of it, lets it define them by choice.  You know them too.  The girl who is always telling her schoolmates she shouldn’t have broken up with that guy, the young man who’s always putting on a show about what a bad person he is for having punched his dad.  The regret might be real, but, again, these folk tend to make their regret into a new set of clothes for themselves! 

            Of course, what’s the very best is when regret leads one to simply act in a way that undoes it.  I know that’s not always possible, but when it can, I’m for it.  When Handsome accidentally steps on my toes, I yelp, and he collapses down, hugging me, apologizing, and kissing the tops of my feet to make them feel better… it works!  Sure I don’t want him stepping there again, but all the pain has gone away, and I’m fine!

            So, about this movie.  It was hard for Handsome to describe to me, and it’ll be even harder for me to relate, but it’s about a good woman with a bland husband, a rebellious daughter, and a distant father, trying to get through her difficult working day, while facing economic difficulties.  But suddenly she’s enabled to see all the different possibilities out there – of her past choices and her present.  It’s confusing, and surprisingly violent, as she confronts all these different realities.  But in doing so, she grows to learn more about who she is. 

            In other words, to grow, she is forced to face countless regrets.  Even for things she didn’t know were choices she’d made.

            If you’re able to see it, I recommend this movie.  It’s called Everything Everywhere All at Once, and while it’s being compared to superhero multiverse stories, it’s really more unique than that.

            But if you miss seeing it, or you think it’s not your type, that’s okay too.  It’s YOUR choice, and you don’t need to walk around in regret about it!

            What I want most is for you to look at yourself, at your own life, right now.  And see what regrets you have.  Are any of them fixable, like Handsome kissing my toes?  Or “growable,” like the driver changing their drinking habits?  Or if not, are any of them unfair, just pulling you down?  Maybe you can let those go.  (Or are any of them ones you choose to indulge, for attention-grabbing reason?  PLEASE let those go!)

            As a human, you have a huge brain that holds incredible amounts of memory and imagination.  You will never be able to live with no regrets.  But if you handle them right, and carry just the ones that you absolutely have to, then maybe, just maybe, you can live as happy and constantly-refreshingly-happy a life as a dog.

            And that’s something you will NEVER regret!

Because I Could … the danger of Entitlement

            A president, having lost an election, spreads lies about having actually won it, to the degree that hundreds of his supporters storm their own government in a failed attempt to take it over and undo the election – after which he denies any blame for it while many of them get arrested.

            A dictator bombards a neighboring country, arguing that they’re an urgent danger for having left his country and asking to join an opposing coalition – something they did a quarter-century ago.

            A popular successful actor, on the most honoring night of his life, hears a comedian make a dumb joke about his wife, storms onto the stage, strikes him, and yells obscenities at him before an international audience.

            What do these huge news stories have in common?

            I’ll answer in one word: Entitlement.  That’s the attitude one has when they think the rules that apply to others don’t apply to them, and, worse, that they deserve these special rights.

            You’ve likely known people like this, especially when you were growing up.  Some snotty kid in your school who thought they were “all that” and treated others with disdain or even cruelty.  (Maybe you were one of these yourself!)  But that’s childhood, when everyone’s supposed to go through bad phases and learn from them.  The problem is when we see these qualities in adults!

            But meanwhile, while it’s easy to despise spoiled brats, at any age, doesn’t our society also honor them?  That president and that dictator gained their powers by thrilling people with their senses of entitlement, creating a viewpoint of “If he can do it, and I’m on his side, I’ll be entitled too!  I won’t have to play by the boring rules I’ve had to before.  And even my country won’t have to!”

Now this brings up a question, though.  When a leader takes charge and directs their people through a difficult situation, making horribly risky decisions, is that also entitlement?

What about when someone sacrifices their own life for a cause, when none of their friends or family would have allowed them to do such a thing?

Or what about when a person walks up to a poor person on the street and insists on giving them their lunch?  Is that entitlement?

I will certainly argue that it’s not.  Rather, they show a viewpoint that they have the right to make choices for themselves, but each of these involves a thoughtfulness, a consideration of the greater good, that renders their action the opposite.

So let’s look at those examples I started with.  Imagine that president had said “I lost, but I think I can do a better job if they give me another chance.  I’ll run again, and spend the next four years giving people reasons to vote for me.”  Or if that dictator had said “I need to find ways to help that country, to encourage them to ally with us.”  Or if that actor had waited until later and publicly stated, “I thought that joke was stupid and even cruel.”

In each of those cases, the person would have still pursued their goal, but in a way that would have honored the rights and even lives of those around them.

            Now here’s another question: Is my writing this to you a sign of a sense entitlement?  I’m certainly believing my thoughts are worth your attention. 

But no, it’s not.  Because you have the right to click off this page, or shut down your computer, and walk away and grab a nice pastry any time you like.  If I barged into your home, jumped onto your bed, bared my fangs, growled while drooling onto your throat, and, keeping you terrified, demanded you listen to what I had to say about the Oscars Slap, then… yeah THAT would be Entitlement!

            So does that mean that nothing can undo the actions that these entitled men have done, or even some of the rotten things some people did as kids?  Maybe not.  But is there a way to undo entitlement itself?  To move on from it?

            I think so, and can think of one excellent example.  A couple of decades ago, another U.S. President was caught having had, and lied about, an extramarital affair.  He denied it for a long time, and confessed to it only when undeniable evidence proved him guilty.  Years later, he wrote an autobiography, and in it said some amazing words.  He said that he’d had the affair “for the worst reason in the world.  I did it because I could.”

            It was no big deal for him to confess to the cheating yet again.  But instead, he confessed to entitlement.  Something so rare as to be truly beautiful.

            Have you been guilty of acting entitled?  Do you have it in you to admit it? 

            If so, you will have redeemed yourself.  And you can move on into a world of bravery, humility, and strength.

            But if not, you’ll be stuck in it.  And even those who think you were right to… oh, to contest some election results, or attempt a takeover of your neighboring country, or stand up for your wife to a comedian…  even they will see you as less than they did before.  

            Because you have proved your truth.  And the truth isn’t just bad; it’s entitled, which might be the most disgusting quality a person can have.

            Look, if I climb onto a couch I’m not supposed to, I know I’m breaking the rules.  But nothing I or any other dog does comes from that entitled place (our brains just don’t work that way). 

So I’m not asking you to be better than us. 

Just… don’t be worse.

            All my love,

            Shirelle

PS: And just to repeat my last newsletter’s complete text:  ALL. DOGS. HATE. WAR.

2 The King’s Nightmare … finding power in what you don’t want

            Over the past couple of months, it’s been a bit different living with Handsome.  He got all excited about this pair of books, and hardly talked about anything else.  Not only that, but they led him to constantly play music by this one guy, and while it’s all good, and often great, I developed a craving for Bach, Beethoven, Billie Eilish – anything but…  Okay, it’s not true – this has really been fun!

            I mean, you have heard of Elvis Presley, right?!

            The basics of Presley’s life story ought to be familiar to you – born into poverty in the Southern U.S., a shy, awkward boy, he paid a local studio so he could record a song for his mother, and later went back there with a guitarist and bass player to jam, recording music that changed history: his talent, sexy charm, and mixture of multiple styles he loved creating something unique and original, exploding him into the most popular performer of this new thing called Rock and Roll.  Breaking the world’s teenage hearts when he signed up to join the Army for two years, he returned an even bigger star, though becoming more bland and ‘safe,’ till his music and movies got so boring it seemed he was through.  Then, shocking the world, he “came back” and became the top live act in Las Vegas, till that destructive lifestyle pushed him into depression and drugs, killing him at 42.

            A glorious and tragic story, one we’ve seen variations on too many times – Judy Garland, Carmen Miranda, Michael Jackson… always leaving the same sad question: What Could Have Saved Them?

            So these giant biographies that Handsome dived into, Last Train to Memphis (about the exciting early years) and Careless Love (about the more complex later ones), both by Peter Guralnick, told him pretty much everything anyone could want to know about the man often referred to now as The King.  The obsessive work it took to create his singing style, the conflict between his deep religious faith and the irresistible fun that stardom offered, the girls girls girls, the drugs (which started, not in Hollywood or Vegas, but in the army, where soldiers were given all the amphetamines they wanted, to keep them alert and active), and the miserable loneliness he battled always – but did they answer that big question?  Not really.

            However, I wonder if a key was hinted at, one I want to share with you because I think it’s important, not just to this grandiose life, but maybe for you as well.

            Shortly before he died, Elvis told a friend about a nightmare he had suffered over and over, since he’d first hit it big:  “All his money was gone, the fans had abandoned him… he was alone.”

            Think about that.  For twenty years, close to every night, this most popular and successful of performers would dream of his life being the opposite.  His greatest fear.

            But dreams are funny things.  When I dream of fighting off mountain lions, is that a bad or good dream?  It’s scary, but also way more exciting than anything I experience shut in Handsome’s yard.  And maybe that dream is telling me that I’d be living my truest and happiest life in the wild – or that I could even save lots of lives by reducing the fierce mountain lion population!

            And here’s what I’m wondering – if Elvis had lost all his popularity and riches, if he’d been alone with his thoughts and memories, if no one wanted to hear him sing or see his show…  might he have lived? 

            Sure, he’d have been miserable.  He’d feel like a failure.  He’d be lonelier than ever.  But he’d know that anyone who came around was a true friend, and not after him for his fame or money.  He’d be able to live a healthier lifestyle than one gets touring or performing.  And maybe he’d even be unable to afford those drugs! 

            And then, over time, maybe he’d have pulled himself together.  Become clean and sober, been more of a father to his daughter, maybe even gotten a hound dog like he’d sung about!  And then, of course, anything would have been possible.

            The reason I’m bringing all this up isn’t to depress you about a death some 45 years ago.  But to point out that so often, what people are most afraid of losing is just what they need to experience, to move forward into a new stage of life.  I get so many beautiful heartbreaking letters from you guys, so afraid about losing a boyfriend or girlfriend who doesn’t want you anymore.  And every time, once I see you let go of them – you’re happier.  You realize that that person was keeping you down, keeping you feeling bad about yourself, keeping you from moving into where your life could go. 

A few years back, I watched Handsome hold on with terror to a career that wasn’t helping him; once he moved on to another life, he was so much cheerier (and I can’t tell you how much better company he was; Whew!). 

And for me, when I first moved in with Handsome, I was always trying to get away.  I liked him, but was annoyed by being locked up, so I’d try to dig under the fence, or climb over it.  Till I realized that this was exactly where I wanted to be most, to the point that if he accidentally leaves the gate unlocked, I don’t walk out.  I’d rather wait for him to come home and take me on a walk.

I’m not suggesting you shouldn’t have dreams or ambitions.  Sure, pursue that romantic ideal, and if it works out, I’ll be your biggest cheerleader.  After all, heaven knows the world is a better, happier place because Elvis worked so hard to be a success. 

But when things go wrong, I also urge you to take the chance that perhaps the Universe is telling you something.  That the fear that’s propelled you this far has done its job, and it’s time to let it go.  That you can be happier and more productive if you give up on that girl, or quit that job, or… leave Vegas, move back home to Memphis, and spend your days in the meditation garden you built at Graceland while letting some other singers enjoy the successes you once knew.

It’s funny how you humans constantly think that if you fail at something, no matter how well you’ve done with it before, that makes your life and you worthless.  But you’d never say that to one of us pups when we don’t catch a squirrel or get a trick right.  Maybe because we don’t see them that way; we’re really good at letting those failures go, and trying to learn from them so we can do better later on. 

I urge you to do the same.  Maybe it’ll make a few months better for you, or maybe it’ll give you decades more of life.

Either way, you’re all kings and queens to me.  And your lives, whether you’re succeeding or falling short of your goals, are my happiest dream.

2 Acts of Contrition – the importance of apology

In a popular movie of 1970, a famous actress tells her boyfriend Ryan O’Neal, “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.”  A couple of years later, he was in another hit movie, where another famed actress tells him the same line, and he responds “That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard.”

I agree more with the second one.

People say they’re sorry all the time, and even though they may not truly mean it at a deep level, it’s usually appreciated.  You interrupt a conversation with, “Sorry to bother you, but…” and it’s accepted.  Or you bump into someone accidentally, and say “Oh, sorry!”  Now do you truly, in these situations, feel deep sorrow about your action?  Of course not.  It’s not that big a deal.  It’s just nice to say.

But with bigger deals, it’s often far more important – and more difficult – to express sorrow and remorse.  To feel and relay it to a degree that changes how others look at you.

This issue got on my mind recently, due to some international political scandals I heard about. On May 20, 2020, a world leader attended a party while making rules that people should stay in and not go to parties.  In November of that year, another leader did just the same thing.  And both then lied when they were caught!  And both got in trouble for their hypocrisy.  But today, one of them is hugely popular, while the other might well be dumped by his own party.  What’s the difference? 

I’d argue it’s all about apology.

In May of 2020, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Boris Johnson, attended a party at his home, while pushing the people of his nation to, in caution against the Coronavirus, not even attend funerals, much less parties just for fun.  When asked about the party, he said he hadn’t even known about it.  Then he was forced to admit he’d actually been there.

Then six months later, the governor of California, Gavin Newsom, attended a dinner at a fancy restaurant, while he was pushing the people of his state to stay home and not go to restaurants.  When asked about it, he admitted going, but said that everyone had safely stayed outdoors.  Then when press photos of him showed that he was sitting under an indoor chandelier, he had to admit he’d been inside.

Two lying politicians, hypocritical about the rules they expected others to follow.  So what’s the difference?

Mr. Newsom began apologizing at once.  And then, for the next year, he constantly kept doing so, saying what he’d done was stupid, and made a strong point of not making a mistake like that again.

Meanwhile, Mr. Johnson continued to avoid talking about that party, and has been caught at others, including a celebratory one the night before his nation’s Prince’s funeral!  Finally this week he apologized for the 2020 party to Parliament, and for the recent one to their Queen. 

Both politicians have faced public fury, and attempts from their opposition parties to replace them in office.  In Mr. Newsom’s case, it even led to a special election.  But by that time, he’d apologized enough, and shown his better qualities in contrast to his opponent’s ideas, and won a greater percentage of the vote than in the election that had originally given him the job.

While, in Mr. Johnson’s case, many members of his own party are calling for him to resign immediately.

Again, I’m not trying to say either one is a total hero or total villain here.  Both showed stupidity and arrogance in the first place.  But one eventually handled it right, and the other didn’t.  And as Mr. Newsom approaches his originally-scheduled battle for re-election, no member of his opposition party has even yet publicly announced they want to run!

What’s the difference between the two?  Mr. Newsom might just be saying and doing the things he ought to, but he appears to be legitimately sorry he went to that party, and to see how hurtful it was to the people of his state.  While Mr. Johnson appears to only be admitting his fault to get out of trouble, nearly two years later, in a way that no one believes.

Now I’ll give another couple of examples of what I’m talking about, a bit closer to home: These are about me!

For the first few years I lived with Handsome, I tore up, chewed, or broke more things in his home than I can count – from windows to album covers to plumbing to furniture.  And, young and headstrong, I could see that he was upset about them but didn’t really care all that much.  Sure I wanted him to be happy with me, but that was about it.

But as I got older, I wanted to be more careful.  To stop disappointing him.  To be more of a partner.

But things happen. And sure enough, one day I was near a window when a neighbor I loved to bark at walked by.  I jumped up to let him know I saw him and wasn’t going to take that lying down – and knocked over a large potted plant, that shattered onto the floor, spilling dirt everywhere. 

Handsome heard the noise and ran into the room, and stopped when he saw it, “oh NO!” he yelled at the mess.

Now, again, I’d done things far worse, but not at this stage in my life.  I felt just awful!  I bowed my head into the floor, my eyes squeezed shut, full of remorse and pain. 

And what did Handsome do?  Oh you can guess.  His heart just melted.  He came and hugged me and murmured, “Oh sweetie, it was only a plant.  I can clean it up.  It’s fine.” 

And it was.

A year or two later, a friend of his, one of my favorites, was at our place.  I’d brought her a stuffed toy, and she was playing tug-of-war with me with it, both having a great time.  But then I took a deeper bite to get more of it into my mouth, and accidentally bit her hand.  “OWW!” she yelled, and pulled her hand back. 

All over again, my heart just broke.  I loved this lady (still do).  The last thing I’d ever want would be to hurt her, or to make her not want to play with me.  So again, my head bowed, my chest hitting the floor, my eyes wanting to shut this truth out completely.

And again, she saw it and knew it was true.  She petted me and said “It’s okay, you knucklehead.  You just have to be more careful.”  And gave me a hug.

Boy did I lick her face clean that day!

The point I’m making in all this is about sincerity.  To say you’re sorry is a nice gesture, but to truly feel sorrow over something you’ve done to someone – that means the world.

In an old movie Handsome loves, a character says that apologizing is a sign of weakness.  Well, maybe that’s true.  Maybe a true apology is telling someone “I’m weakening myself to you, because I feel so bad about what I did.”

I certainly showed weakness about that plant and that toy.  And I’m not ashamed of it – I’m proud!

You see, Handsome and his friend both gained respect for me when I did that.  And Mr. Newsom gained respect from the people of his state when he came clean about that stupid party.  Maybe Mr. Johnson can gain some respect from this too – althought it might be too late for that.

So my doggy advice, if you find yourself in a situation where you should apologize?

  1. Apologize as soon as you can.  Right away is best.
  2. Don’t say anything you don’t mean.  Just tell your heart’s truth.
  3. Don’t make excuses.  (Mr. Johnson, in his speech to Parliament, said he’d only been at that party for “25 minutes.”  So?  Who cares whether he broke his own rule for five minutes or five hours?  It just made him sound insincere.)
  4. Don’t ask for forgiveness, at least not yet.  That’s immediately asking the person you hurt to do something for you!  If they don’t forgive you, you can ask later, but don’t make that part of the apology.
  5. And for crying out loud, don’t just go back and do the same thing again!

If you can master these, your apology has a great chance of being accepted.  And with that, your life will be able to move on from whatever it was you did.

Because in truth, love often IS saying you’re sorry.  And meaning it!

6 Your Special Resolution! … a way to better enter 2022

            Where you live, do people make New Year’s Resolutions? 

I like them.  I think they’re a pretty healthy addition to all the other year-end rituals of parties and gifts and food we have here. 

It’s a pretty simple concept – each person looks at their lives at that moment and says “Okay, what changes do I resolve so that I’m a better person in this next year?”

            Most of them tend to be just what you’d guess, “I’ll lose weight,” “I’ll get stronger,” “I’ll eat less sugar,” “I’ll read more books.”  And as you can also guess, these tend to fall apart as the year goes on (though they do wonders for the financial accounts of gyms in January!).

            Then some get more interesting.  “I’m going to break up with my hyper-critical boyfriend,” “I’ll get my drivers license,” “I’ll get a new job.”  What I like about these is that they’re one-off ideas.  Keeping weight off for a year is possible but requires huge commitment, while quitting a relationship or taking a driving test can be done all at once.

            But I’ve been thinking about a different difference between resolutions.  Is the person focused on the past or the future?

            We dogs live in the present about 99% of the time.  From the most obedient German Shepherd to the most disobedient Poodle Mix (yes I’m looking at you, Ginger!).  While most humans live in some sort of split between the past, present, and future.  If I smell a piece of yummy cheese, I focus on it, with no thoughts of anything else.  But I see all the time – someone sees a pretty girl and their brain just races, “Wow she’s beautiful.  She reminds me of that girl I had that crush on when I was twelve.  I wonder what she’d be like to marry.”  They’ve gone from present to past to future in seconds!

            And I find that most resolutions focus on the past.  “I’ll drink less than I have lately,” “I’ll spend more time studying and less time on TicToc,” “I’ll be kinder to my mother.” 

            Now I’m all for self-improvement, and think that those past-focused resolutions are just fine.  And I hope every one of you who makes them can keep at least most of them in 2022!

            But I want to urge each of you to also make at least one New Year’s Resolution that has nothing to do with improving the past, and just points to the future.  “I’m going to travel to Italy!”  “I’m going to give a tenth of my money to the needy!”  “I’m going to go on twenty dates, and I don’t care with whom!”

            Do you see the difference?  The past-centered ones are about regret, a feeling of being “not good enough.”  But the future ones are about Hope.  About what you Want.  About what would make you Feel Good.

            We have been through ENOUGH these past two years!  And I see all these people out there who’ve been disappointed or crushed so much by this pandemic that they’ve stopped planning for hope.  But that’s the only fun part about having your future-oriented brains!  (If you don’t put some hopes into that future part, it’ll just fill up with fears and worries, won’t it?!).

            So while we all hope that the virus will truly abate in a few months, see if you can start training your brain to hope bigger, too.  But not just for something wonderful to happen to you (“I hope I win the lottery,” “I hope someone wonderful asks me out,” “I hope my son gives me a grandchild!”), but something for you to DO. 

            I can’t guarantee you’ll make it to Italy any more than I can that you’ll lose those inches around your waist.  But I do know that focusing on hope is the best way to help it happen.

            And that makes it so much easier for me to believe in my big hope right now – that every one of you has a joyous, healthy, successful, loving, and HAPPY New Year!

            Cheers!

            Shirelle

2 Even Though – a guide to gratitude in 2021

            In the United States, where I live, we have a lovely holiday.  Lovely for two reasons.  One is that its only major ritual is cooking and eating a huge meal – huge enough that we pet-pups are pretty much guaranteed leftovers!

            But the other loveliness is the meaning of it.  It’s a day all about gratitude. 

            The legend (and the more historical discoveries that come out, the more it seems to be… yeah… a legend!) is that when a group of religious refugees came here from England in the 1600s, the local people helped teach them how to survive in this harsh new environment.  And to show their appreciation, the English pilgrims set up a great feast, sharing all they’d grown and caught with those who taught them how to do so.

            Now I’m not going to go into the details of what of that is true, or the horrors of what the Europeans later did to those local residents.  But I do love that it eventually resulted in a day of gratitude.  A holiday for everyone.

            Some time back, when The Pawprint was new, I put out a list every year at this time, of what I was grateful for that year.  It might be something exciting and hopeful in international relations, or some music that Handsome played a lot and I liked the sound of, or maybe just something tasty I’d had the day before.  Whatever came to my mind.

            But as optimistic and cheerful a pup as I am, creating such a list would be hard this year!  Everything I can think of to be thankful for has a darker underside, a “Yeah But.”  Happy about a beautiful day?  Yeah, but climate change is taking those away.  Happy about a dear friend?  Yeah, but what about the ones you’ve lost to this awful pandemic?

            But I refuse to sit in resentment and misery!  That’s just not what dogs are about!

            So instead, this year I’m going to offer an “Even Though” list of Thanksgiving.  Not denying what’s wrong, but focusing on what I’m thankful for. 

            You see, I find that, when we do that, it makes us see yet more to be thankful for, and helps us create a world more worthy of that gratitude.

            And that creates hope.  The most powerful force I know, next to love.

            Here Goes:

            EVEN THOUGH the Glasgow Climate Change Conference didn’t come up with nearly enough solutions to our problems, more was agreed upon than ever before, and directions were set for future improvements.

EVEN THOUGH variants and fear have kept the stupid Coronavirus raging for another year, medical discoveries, international assistance, and growing awareness and knowledge keep us moving toward a new day of embracing and enjoying each other fearlessly again.

EVEN THOUGH the political system in my country is rife with forces keeping improvements at bay, the horrific top-down corruption and murderous neglect of the past four years has ended, and good people are able to at least try to make things better.

            EVEN THOUGH Handsome’s work keeps him away too much, he still gives me treats every time he leaves, which eases my heartache.

            EVEN THOUGH the stupid virus has still reduced attendance at plays, movies, concerts, and sports events, they’re all coming back, spitting in the face of the disease that tried to destroy them.

            EVEN THOUGH, on that note, most people aren’t able to see it on the big screen, In the Heights is a really fun movie that makes pretty much everyone who sees it happy and want to dance.

            EVEN THOUGH it’s still hard for young people to meet up freely, love continues to bloom and offer hope to all.

            EVEN THOUGH it’s still hard for anyone to meet up freely, technology has allowed for virtual face-to-face meetings that have kept humans at least somewhat connected (though we dogs miss smelling everyone SO MUCH).

            EVEN THOUGH international trade is blocked up in so many ways, most of us can still find something to eat, or ways to help feed those who can’t.

            EVEN THOUGH everyone is living in fear, and many get sick or even die every day from this awfulness, people still find joy and reasons to love life every second.

            And toughest of all to say, EVEN THOUGH we have lost beings we love and will always feel the pain of that loss, that pain comes because of the beautiful memories and the profound ways those now-angels have affected and changed us forever. 

            And maybe that last one is the greatest gratitude of all.

            Happy Thanksgiving, wherever you are.  And may next year bring countless reasons for gratitude that don’t require “Even Though”s!

            Like my gratitude for you!

            Love and Thanks as always,

            Shirelle

4 Number 100! – the relevance of math today

It’s my 100th Pawprint!  Isn’t that exciting!

Actually it means nothing.  No more than #97 or #102.  I’m very proud to have kept it going this long, but the big deal about the number 100 is just that humans have ten fingers!  If you don’t count the dew-claw higher up our legs, we have four toes on each foot, so we look at eight on our forelegs.  So should I have gone all celebratory when The Pawprint had its 64th issue?!

But this all leads me to thinking about something important. 

I’ve been thinking about the meaning of 100.  And the main thing I come to is…  geez I’m a dog and don’t even quite understand what a hundred is!  I just keep doing what I like and Handsome tells me that’s how many it is, but… that it!

You see, dogs can’t do math, but people can.  And mathematics (and its higher forms like Algebra and Calculus) have enabled the human race to all sorts of technological achievements, from movies and television, where you can watch that actor William Shatner pretend like he’s been sent into space, to rocket science, which just last week sent… um… that actor William Shatner into space!

But even so, with all your splendid achievements, I so often see humans not grasp the basics of math, the stuff you’re supposed to learn before you’re thirteen.

(Now for what it’s worth, I, like many smarter dogs, have actually achieved some mathematical calculations.  Stepping out of my house and seeing a squirrel, I used to run straight at it – while it would run to a tree and get away from me.  I figured out over time that if I run for the tree instead, I have a better chance of catching him, since he’s going to run there by instinct even though I’m headed that direction.  Cool, huh?  Handsome tells me this is because I innately understand something called the Pythagorean Theorem, but I prefer to argue that we dogs invented the field called Tree-gonometry!)

So let’s start with one of my pet peeves.  Ever since we were in a bad car accident some years back, Handsome has insisted on putting me in a harness whenever we drive on a freeway.  I hate it – it’s hard for me to move around, it’s uncomfortable, and… okay, yeah, it saved my life in that accident.

            But that’s just me not going through a window.  What about you guys?  Well, safety organizations say that, in crashes, seat belts save lives about 50% of the time.  Now I can see you saying “Well that’s not that much.  And car crashes that bad are pretty rare.  And I hate putting that belt on.  So I don’t think I will.”

            Wrong!  See, that annoying belt doesn’t just save your life.  It can keep you from getting injured too.  Or getting thrown out of your seat, which could make a crash way worse.

            And when that awful crash occurs – when that big truck is bearing down on you, or your driver falls asleep at the wheel, or when your car suddenly spins out across a highway (which is what happened to us!)… I’ll bet you’ll be glad you took a 50% improvement in survival chances!

            But one question I hear a lot – what about when seat belts kill?  Isn’t it true that someone trapped in a burning car, or whose car has fallen into a lake, might make it out more easily if they didn’t have a belt on? 

            Well yes.  And about a half of one percent of crashes involve fire or water.  But your odds of keeping conscious in such an accident are far better if you are wearing a seat belt.  And nobody unconscious figures out how to get out of a burning or flooding car!

            “But,” I hear one of you yell, “What about air bags?  Don’t they keep us safe when they inflate?”  Actually, no.  Air bags are set at a certain height assuming the passenger will be in a seat belt!  If you’re not belted in, that inflation might actually break your neck!  (That’s also a good reason to remember to keep your dog in the back seat, always.  You might like the feel of the pup being up front with you, but in a crash, their chances are awful up there).

            So did you see my math?  50% survival, .5% fire and water?  Cool, huh?

            Okay, here’s another.  In 2016, in the U.S., alcohol-impaired driving figured in 28% of traffic deaths, and 17% of those involving a child.  Now that’s more interesting.  “So you’re saying that 72% of traffic deaths, and 83% of those involving a child, had only sober drivers?!  Well those are sizable majorities!  So doesn’t that mean we’re better off drinking and driving, rather than not?!”  No, and that’s why I’m saying you need to use better math!

            The vast majority of drivers aren’t drunk.  About 18% of drivers admit to having driven “buzzed” in the past year, and obviously most of them drive most of the time not in that state.  So let’s guess some people lie and some people drink and drive a lot, and so let’s say that at any time 5% of drivers are over the limit (I’m making this part up; I imagine the actual number is far smaller).  Then that means an impaired driver is about six times more likely to be in a fatal car accident (5×6 = 30, close to 28) than a sober one. 

            I’m too goofy all the time to say that a person doesn’t have the right to enjoy a drink that makes them feel as good as me.  But math tells you – be careful when you do.  I’d hate for you to be arrested for it, but even more for you to hurt someone and feel horrible the rest of your life about it. 

            Math can’t prevent mistakes, but it sure can reduce them if you use it correctly.

            All right, another math question I get asked about often:  When is a good age to start dating, or marry?  Well, the first one has two answers.  A legal one and an emotional one.

            The legal one depends on where you live.  Find out what the laws are – what can teenagers do and not do?  And are there laws about the difference in ages (such as if an 18-year-old dates a 15-year-old)?  Getting in trouble for these can be horrible for the rest of your life, even labeling you a child molester just for dating someone who looks older than they are!  So be super careful about that one!

            But emotionally?  I’m a big fan of holding on to childhood and its innocence for a long time.  And that when the joys and excitements of romance begin, taking things S L O O O O W !   Why?  Because you’re only young once!  There are so many delightful “stops along the way,” as the old song says, so enjoy each one.  And let yourself mature at your own rate; don’t let someone push you into something before you’re ready.  I’m not anti-romance in any way; rather I’m saying to savor it as it comes.  You’ll be amazed at how many old married couples, who have had the ability to do anything they felt like for decades, really treasure a walk holding hands.  Why not learn what they know?

            But marriage?  Oh now I get to go mathematical on you!  In the U.S. (which mostly doesn’t have arranged marriages), 48% of those who marry before the age of 18 will divorce within ten years.  While only half that many divorce if they marry after age 25.  Now maybe you say you don’t care about divorce.  Well you’ll care when the lawyer bills come.  And if you have to split custody of children with someone who disliked you enough to break up with you! 

But maybe you say “Oh but that won’t be us; we’re truly in love and know we’ll stay together like those other 52%.”  And all I can say to that is that every single one of the 48% who divorced believed they were in it forever too.  (And some of that 52% didn’t divorce because one of them died!  Ouch!)

            Okay, then here’s another one that I think is really important.  An adult German shepherd runs about 30 miles per hour, and an adult human runs, on average, between five and seven mph.  The fastest man ever measured just over 23 mph.  So when considering doing something like climbing into a yard or sneaking into a home with a dog, DO THE MATH!  Unless it’s a Maltese, you can’t outrun that pooch, so do the Algebra:  How long will it take you to run the distance you need to, and how long will it take the dog to catch you?  If the answer to the first isn’t well shorter than the second… it’s a very very bad idea!

            And last but by no means least… the area where I’ve seen the most bad math ever is in  dealing with this insufferable virus!  Every day I hear people say that because someone who wore a mask died, masks don’t work, or because someone who’d been vaccinated got sick, they’re fake medicine.

            The statistics are so simple, though.  Here’s the deal: if ANYTHING was 100% effective against Covid, we’d know about it and someone would be getting very very rich off of it.  But just as with colds and cancer, humans have not found a perfect preventative or cure (Yet!). 

            In the meantime, here’s what we know.  The vaccines out there reduce a person’s chances of picking the virus up from someone else by 50-95% (depending on age, health, and the particular vaccine).  And if a person gets it, vaccines reduce their chance of passing it on by about 50% — and reduces their chance of hospitalization by 64%, and dying of it by 70-90% (depending on their age). 

            Does that mean a vaccine is 100% effective?  No of course not, no more than seat belts or driving sober.  But it improves your chances, and those of people around you, incredibly.

            Now you may have health reasons why you don’t want to take a vaccine.  That’s fine.  But if you don’t – what else are you doing to stop this thing’s ridiculous spread?  Staying distant?  Keeping yourself as healthy as possible?  Or maybe wearing a mask, which reduces your chance of spreading by 70%!

            In other words, my dear friends, here’s the bad news: this whole thing has been preventable!  Sure, it began with lots of confusion and mistakes, but if everyone had masked and distanced a year and a half ago, you would have had it almost completely under control, and then the vaccines would have eradicated it at once. 

            Just think about that.

            If people had just done the math… SO MUCH would have been different!

            But it’s not too late.  You, just you, that 1/7,000,000,000th of people today, can make a difference.  As with so many of the gifts that your humanity gives you, math enables you to make great decisions that help everyone, and dumb decisions that make the world worse.  At no time in history has the human race been more prepared and able to handle a new disease than in this past year.  And while much of what you’ve done has been astounding, you could have done so much better.

Because in the end, all the math ever discovered isn’t as important as the most basic number: One.  The one person you love who gets sick.  The one person left alone by a loss.  And the one person most important to me right now:  You. 

You see, here’s what is amazing about this situation: What you do for yourself in this regard helps everyone else.  And what you do for others helps you.

And that’s more true, and more frightening, and more beautiful, than any math equation ever discovered.

Take it from an expert tree-gonometrist!

Beauty and The Best … remembering my friend Dilla

            I hate loss.  All dogs do.  We don’t even like it when our humans leave home for a few hours, locking us in.  But that’s because we’re so afraid you’re not going to come back!  Ever!

            And what we hate worst is when someone doesn’t come back.  When we lose someone we love, never to see them again.

            In some cases, that includes missing the music of their laughter, or even the charm and beauty of their face.  But not always.  Sometimes we can lose someone who made the worst sounds, and looked, well, kinda ugly.  And that loss can hurt just as much, if not more, because in those cases all we felt for them was love.  Pure love. 

            That was my wonderful friend Dilla.

            I met Dilla when he was left to stay “for just a little while” at my neighbors’ home.  Their son and his girlfriend had adopted this little pup, but then broke up, so neither had a place to keep him anymore.  The son knew his parents were great dog lovers (And oh they are!  Handsome sometimes worries I love them even more than him!  I don’t, but I am crazy about them, and just adore making him worry about it!), and figured they’d take good care of him till he was able to get a place of his own that would accept dogs.

            Well, you’ve probably heard that old line about “Be careful what you wish for; you just might get it!”?

            That young man’s parents fell so hard in love with Dilla – and he with them – that, by the time he had an appropriate home, it was too late.  Dilla was theirs and they were his, and he would only be able to see his pup on visits from then on!

            Now all this sounds pretty normal, right?  We dogs attach easily, and our hearts are big enough to hold more than just one person or household inside. 

            What wasn’t normal was Dilla.

            This was a family that had always had, and loved, big beautiful dogs.  Labrador Retrievers and such – noble beasts who can protect you, hunt with you, and wrestle with you with joy and gusto.  Dilla was maybe a sixth their size, with tiny delicate feet at the end of his spindly legs, so everyone had to be extra-careful in petting him.  His body wasn’t a long lean runner’s figure like mine; his was more… well, his people usually referred to it as a “lima bean.”

            And his face?  Well, that’s where things get more serious.  To most people’s eyes, Dilla’s was as ugly a mug as exists.  Big eyes bugging diagonally, a shoved-in nose, and a mouth all full of fleshiness, with a tongue that stuck out the side.  Handsome described his look as “Like someone ripped the wings off of a bat!”  Could anyone love such a face?

            Everyone did.  At first sight.

            Why was that?  Sure he was a sweet, playful pup, but there was more to it.  Dilla’s homeliness brought out a squeeze in the hearts of everyone who met him.  While a Maltese or Pekinese might look more pretty, it was Dilla who everyone always wanted to pick up and hug.  As if, maybe, just the right hug could bring out the beauty in the beast.  (But no, none ever did!)

            Now, there’s a lot people can learn from Dilla.  Sure, all humans love beauty.  But they love the beautiful in a mixture of awe, respect, and desire.  Beauty isn’t endearing.  (You don’t look at a photo of Selena Gomez or the Hemsworths and feel “awwwwwww.”  But you might at a shriveled little old man with a walker!).  What made Dilla endear so much was how true he was to himself, and how much he accepted his appearance.  He didn’t pull back and ask if you thought he was good-looking enough; he ran to you, snorted, licked you out of the side of his mouth, and dropped a drooly toy into your lap, demanding you play with him.

            (Handsome says, in his book about me, that one of my strengths is that I know how to “Initiate Play.”  But Dilla demanded it!  An at-least equal strength!)

            A beautiful rose in a garden sits there, waiting for you to see and appreciate it.  A beautiful woman or man at a bar might do the same.  But Dilla’s energy didn’t allow for that – it exploded at you, taking you over, changing you, winning you into his world of growling pretend fury (he was not one to cheerfully fetch a ball and ask you to toss it again; he would roar at the ball, then tug-of-war with you before letting you have it, and then bark at you to throw it – everything gruff, everything adorable – and I have no words for the ways he would pretend-fight with his original best-human-friend.  Imagine raging violence with no actual harm done, all pure love – that’s about as well as I can describe it).  His fury was love, and his love was furious.  And when he was done with you, you were the same way!

            Dilla lived a full and joyous life, loved by all.  Unlike so many of us, he wasn’t felled by cancer or an accident; he kept snorting and growling and chasing till one day his body just gave out.  He’d gone blind and deaf, and was sleeping almost all day, but still his spirit never faltered.

            And soon after he went, it rained.  It rained in Southern California in August.  Please understand, it NEVER rains in Southern California in August!  In the middle of a drought, no less! 

            Some may say it was the angels weeping for Dilla.  But I say no – it was Dilla laughing, peeing on all the trees everywhere, making mud when no one expected it, maybe even making some people slip and mess up their clothes.

            With the message he always gave:  Be yourself so passionately that even your ugly is beautiful.  Love so strongly you make others love what you do.  And furiously grab life for all you can.

            Good night my beautiful friend.  And thank you.

4 A Human Tragedy … the importance of humility

This is a very sad week in my country.  Twenty years ago, after we’d been attacked, we sent our armies to the country where our attackers came from.  But the hope was that we’d not only find our attackers and get justice, but also bring a better government to that country, one that would prove better to both its people and the rest of the world.

This week, as we removed our armies, who’d been there much longer than anyone had intended, the people who’d been running things before we got there, who had supported and protected our attackers, took over the country again.  To a greater degree than they’d been before we went there. 

Over here, countless veterans feel depressed and even betrayed.  They gave their youth, often parts of their bodies, and worst of all their friends, to a cause that seems to have disappeared.  It doesn’t matter whether one here supported the mission there or not; it’s impossible for our hearts not to break over what these brave young (and no longer so young) people are experiencing. 

(And I’m not even talking about the people in Afghanistan who believed in the government we enforced, who now fear for their lives – though the new/old government has promised to not act vengefully on them;  we can just hope and pray they keep that promise.)

Many people will criticize the US’s exit as badly done or badly planned.  And others will criticize the cause that our soldiers fought for itself.  But I think they’re all missing the point.  The cause was noble-minded, and this withdrawal isn’t a mistake by our current president, or the previous one who’d set it up.  The mistakes happened 20 years ago.  What’s happening now was and is inevitable.

How do we know?  Because it’s happened before.  Many times.

If you have studied American history, you probably know about the Korean War, or the Vietnam War, or the Iraq War.  In all three cases, the United States sent armies to change the governments of troubled nations.  And in every case, the U.S. failed.  At best (as in Korea), they managed to effect a lasting stalemate.  At worst (Vietnam), they left a horrific legacy, which only made the conquering army more vicious on those they beat. 

But of course the U.S. isn’t the only nation to make this mistake.  France had the same experience in Vietnam, and the U.S.S.R. had the same experience in Afghanistan.  And this recent war actually involved many other nations as well as the U.S.  And there are countless other examples of this throughout history, maybe most famously the ways Napoleon and Hitler were each defeated by the Russians they expected to easily conquer.

What went wrong?

Well, military historians who know a great deal more than I can give you detailed answers.  But to this doggy’s eyes, the initial problem for all of them was a lack of basic humility.

“Humility?  Are you crazy, Shirelle?” I hear you yell!  “But wars are about pride and force!  Humility has no place there!  You sure aren’t humble when you chase squirrels, are you!”

No I’m not arguing that soldiers should be anything other than the brave heroes they are.  But soldiers don’t plan these wars.  Leaders do.  And it’s up to those leaders to learn from the past, before they send a single brave young soul into battle.  (And it’s very interesting to note how rarely wars like this are started by people with military experience; veterans seem to know what can and cannot work much better than non-vets who pretend to be warriors)

Today, Americans who remember the end of the Vietnam War are experiencing déjà vu.  “It’s the fall of Saigon all over again,” they cry.  And they’re right.  But that didn’t start this week.  Twenty years ago, many voices warned the US’s leaders, “Watch out.  You’re going into another Vietnam.”  And the leaders laughed them off.  “No,” they argued, “We’re much smarter than the idiots who made those mistakes.  We know what we’re doing.”

They didn’t.

The military minds behind the Vietnam War were anything but stupid.  And Napoleon and the Nazis were so brilliant in their strategies they both came close to taking over the whole world. 

But they were also arrogant.  Simple timeless lessons such as that people will fight to the end for their homeland, that no one wants soldiers from another place ruling them, or that democracies by definition arise from the people and not from outside – were not heeded.  Instead, idiotic beliefs such as “We could’ve won Vietnam if we’d just been more ruthless” won out.  They weren’t true then, and they aren’t now.

History shows that nations can help other nations grow, modernize, and become freer.  But never this way.  They do it by helping the people do what they want.  That includes with their traditions, their religion, and even their undemocratic views.  It’s not easy, and never has been.  That’s why there’s a U.N., and why its success rate is so slow (but far better than if it weren’t there).

It’s also a reason to believe that the new/old Taliban government in Afghanistan will do just fine… but only for a little while… unless they adapt to the people there.  Women, for example, have now had twenty years of experiencing civil rights.  If these guys think they’ll willingly give them up just because the president fled, I think they’re more ignorant of history than we’ve been!  And the simple fact is that no one has ever been able to control the Afghan people!

So why am I writing this to you?  Well, two reasons.  First, because many of you vote, or will vote.  And I urge you to not fall into the trap my country has so often – believing that your country and your system are so wonderful that other nations want you to come in and take them over.  Even with the best intentions.

But also because every one of you has choices to make in life.  And while we dogs may be far less brainy than you in so many ways, we are pretty good at humility.  We’ll defend ourselves, but we’d never believe that other dogs want us to take over their homes. 

So please listen when I say that, when you’re on that date and she says no, she means it (you can try other means to get her to say yes, but just moving ahead as if she’d never said anything will only result in her developing anger and fear at you).  And when someone tells you he devoutly believes a different religion from yours, respect his right to it.  And when someone suggests that force will win someone else over to your point of view, just know that it never does.

Force has its place.  We pooches have teeth for a reason!  But it only works to demand what we want at a time.  I might bite a person who’s kicking me, or who’s threatening Handsome.  Or I might chomp down on some prey.  But I know enough to know that it’s not going to make that person stop disliking me or Handsome, or make that rabbit agree with my taste in music!

There’s an old adage, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.”  Well, here’s hoping that all the old cultures of the world, as well as the newer ones, can learn the new trick of learning from the past. 

Because, as I often point out about science, history is simply truth.  And not learning from it means humans waste their great brains, and might as well be us.

And the results of that, as we’re seeing this week, are nothing less than tragic.

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