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Well They Began It! …the hope and despair of intolerance…

Well They Began It! …the hope and despair of intolerance…

I don’t pay much attention to politics.  Most of it is far too confusing for me.  How is a dog, who can’t master basic arithmetic, supposed to figure the costs and benefits of different tax plans?  What’s the best policy on drug legalization?  How much is the right amount to spend on defense, or education, or infrastructure?  (And I’m just using that last word because I hear it occasionally – the closest I can come to understanding infrastructure is when I was play-fighting with my friend Kuma and we bashed into an old pipe so hard we cracked it open and water sprayed all over us and the yard for a couple of hours before Handsome saw it and shut it off!)

I’ve written before that I only care about two things in politics:  I’m against anyone starting an unnecessary war, and I’m against unnecessary pollution.  My reason is simple: I care a lot about kids, and I’m a dog, and those two things cruelly and horribly devastate kids and dogs.  Please, defend your lives and property, and use the bounty of the Earth to better your lives; but if you’re killing children and pups for greed or power, I’m not going to support you.


But recently, I’m noticing something else, something that worries me.  All over the world.  People actually becoming less tolerant of others different from them.  And treating them in ways they wouldn’t treat a dog (and I mean the ways people who don’t like dogs would treat dogs!).

I hear about how some countries are refusing to let people in, people there because they’re trying to escape murderers, and letting them drown in the ocean instead.  Others are literally kicking people out because of where they were born, or where their grandparents were born.

And I’m ashamed to admit (and dogs normally don’t feel shame) that the government of my country recently started a policy of kidnapping  children of families trying to get in, separating them from their parents, and then losing track of them, so they might never meet again – even keeping these children in cages in the meantime.  It’s not like that isn’t against the law here; the problem is that the government is ordering the law-enforcers to break our own laws.  It’s horrific.


One nice thing about being a dog is that we don’t remotely grasp or understand the reasons you humans treat each other this way.  We’ll hear you guys say “Well they don’t speak our language,” or “they worship a different god,” or “they have different values.”  Not one bit of which means a thing to us.  People of every race and nationality and religion have treated dogs badly, and members of each of those groups have treated us well.  The idea of saying everyone of a certain race or religion is good or bad is ridiculous to us.


And the craziest thing is, it’s ridiculous to you too!  Every day, I see you people breaking through those boundaries, learning from each other, helping each other, loving each other.  You know you can do it, and you know the world’s a better place when you do.  So why in the world do you still accept this nonsense?!


Now don’t get me wrong.  We dogs are just as guilty of prejudice as you guys.  Maybe more so.  I was attacked by a big dog with long black fur when I was a puppy, so I’m still scared any time I see a pooch that looks like that.  And I have a real issue with men in uniforms, ever since I was picked up by a dog catcher and kept in a pound for days.

But would I say that big black furry dogs should be killed?  Or that the guys who check our water and power meters should be kicked out of the state?  Of course not!  I just get scared or bark at them all – and that’s perfectly enough for me to feel good about myself!


The issue I’m getting at is called Intolerance.  No one’s going to like everyone, and no one’s going to want to be besties with everyone.  But we can tolerate the differences we don’t like in each other – and benefit from them.  We HAVE to.  (If I didn’t allow those meter-readers into our yard, we’d lose all our water.  Even without Kuma and me smashing pipes!)

Now humans have been writing books and songs and plays and all about Intolerance forever (In fact, one of the first really big important movies ever was titled Intolerance, an amazing epic that shows examples of it being played out through history).  But to me, the most beautiful and powerful statement anyone ever made on it was a stage musical that came out about sixty years ago, and the movie they made of it a few years later.

Most of you probably know the classic play Romeo and Juliet.  Where a boy and a girl from rival families fall in love, and everything goes tragic?  Well this tells kind of the same story, but set on the streets of New York city, in a gang war between boys whose families have lived there for years, and new immigrants from Puerto Rico.  It’s called West Side Story, and if you haven’t seen it, or heard the music from it, you are in for a TREAT!


Handsome saw a production of it a couple of weeks ago, and came back and told me all about it.  Oh sure, he was excited by a bunch of things I couldn’t relate to – the cool dancing, how good this person’s voice was, how they moved the set around.  But then he played me the music, and I just swooned.  It’s SOOO good!  Exciting, fun, scary, and, when it gets romantic, just crazy-beautiful.

What hit him mainly was two things.  First, that it’s really all about teenagers, and teen passions.  You have probably noticed how most adults just don’t have the same intensity of feelings about things that teens have.  That’s for a lot of reasons, including some biological ones.  But you’ve probably also noticed that those passions can be both really great and really awful.  You get more excited, pretty people are more beautiful, music is just amazing… but also your feelings get so hurt, you feel so alone, and you might lose control of your temper a bit more…  And you might hate more.  And love more.

Maybe there’s something other than West Side Story that does as good a job of expressing ALL those teen emotions, but I don’t know what it is.  The excitement, the energy, the fury, the desire… You see, this is why I relate to you guys so well… We dogs live in the same glorious madness!

And just like dogs, teens can cause some trouble when there’s no control over those feelings.  I like a fight as much as any dog, but I’m awfully glad no other pups have knives or guns – and I’m not crazy about the idea of teens carrying those around either (nor am I about anyone else having them, but I understand why they might be necessary in some cases).

But I sure am crazy about the way you guys love each other, and joke each other, and dance and get so excited about romance.  It’s why I have such fun with your letters!


The other thing that Handsome pointed out was one tiny bit of one song.  One gang sings “Well they began it!”  And the other gang sings “Well they began it!”  And then they both sing “And we’re the ones to end it once and for all!”

Have you studied enough history to get the irony of this?  It NEVER WORKS.   The Germans thought they’d “end it once and for all” in the 1940s, and nearly ended everyone everywhere.  Today, on so many borders, we see countries arguing “Well they began it” about other people – about arguments that “they began” so many centuries ago that NO ONE knows who began what when!

This might be the stupidest thing about the human race, this “Well they began it” idea.  When I see five-year-olds screaming it on a playground, it at least makes sense for their age.  When I see adults do it, I bury my head in my paws and whine at how pathetic it sounds.


The point of the show, just like Romeo and every other story along these lines, is that in all the despair, there’s always hope.  And the hope comes from Love.

Not just the romantic, sexy love two teenagers might have for each other.  But love for humanity.  Love for a person you haven’t met yet.  And love for every person you might not like now, but you know they have qualities you’d love if you got to know them better.  Yes that’s EVERY person.


When I meet a human, I usually go up to them and lick their hand.  That does two things.  First it tells them I’m a loving dog, and they don’t need to fear me.  But also it lets me taste them, and that tells me a lot – about their mood, about where they’ve been… and about whether they have any pizza!


I wish you guys could learn to do that.  Even if you don’t literally lick each other, just to consider each of you astounding seven billion as someone interesting and valuable.  As someone you could love, who could love you.  Because that’s the truth.

If that could happen, the world could become, in the words of one of the show’s prettiest songs, “One Hand, One Heart.”  But till then, I will live in hope that it’s possible.  To quote another tune, it’s possible that “Something’s coming, I don’t know what it is, but it is gonna be great.”

“The air is humming.  And something great is coming.”


If we all let it.




2 Dollar in the Road – the worth of love

Dollar in the Road – the worth of love

I was riding in the back seat of Handsome’s car yesterday.  We were on a freeway, so I was hunkering down (let me tell you it is NO FUN to be standing on all fours when some dummy cuts in front and Handsome has to hit the brakes!  Dogs were meant to do lots of things, but flying isn’t one of them!), till I saw him signal to pull down an offramp.  I sat up and looked out the windows.

Handsome won’t let me stick my head out and sniff, the way other dogs will, unless he’s going very slowly, like on a country road.  He says it’s because tiny rocks and such can fly into my eyes, and I might go deaf from the wind blowing my ears around, but I know there’s a worse reason – he just hardly ever can bring himself to say it.  Sometimes drivers don’t look where they’re going, and drive too closely to the cars alongside them, and Handsome shivers in horror whenever he thinks of what might happen with my head out there.  “Shirelle, I’ve lost a couple of rear-view mirrors in my life.  I don’t care a bit about them, but they were right where your head would be!

So I’m sitting up in the back seat, on the offramp from the freeway, and there are a couple of cars ahead of us, waiting for a light to change.  A man is standing on the sidewalk.  From looking at him we suspect that he’s got mental problems – jittery movements, talking to himself, dirty clothes.  I don’t know if he was born that way or it’s from drugs or battle trauma (We get a lot of all of them here in California, because the weather is so pleasant to live in if you can’t have a home).  He’s not holding up a sign or a cup, but we naturally think he’s hoping someone will give him some money or food.

And sure enough, the car in front rolls its window down, and the driver calls the man over to him, handing out a dollar bill.  The man smiles, walks up to the driver, but then grabs the bill, curses the driver, tears the bill up and throws it onto the street, and stomps away, talking to himself more.

The driver, of course, is shocked and a little hurt.

The light changes, and that driver goes through and turns.  Handsome drives through too, and pulls up alongside the driver at the next light and rolls down our windows.  The driver rolls his down as well.

“I saw what you did.  That was really kind.”

“That man – he’s crazy!”

“Sure, but what you did was still great.  What he did doesn’t change that.”

The man smiled, and turned to me.  “Is he friendly?”

“She is!  The friendliest pup I’ve ever known!”

The man reached out to me, and I licked his hand.  He looked at me with great affection.

The light changed and both cars drove off to their different destinations.


And this whole incident really struck me.  Every day I get letters from my Pack members, asking about relationships.  A is trying so hard with B, but B cheats and insults A.  C tells D how deep their love is, and D doesn’t even hear it.  Or the most common one of all, where E loves F and F loves E, but they want different lifestyles, or follow different religions, or want to live in places thousands of miles apart.

And, so often, the person who writes me does so because this problem has made them feel so awful about themselves.  Thinking that, because this other person didn’t love them back, they’re not good enough to ever be loved.  Or that, because the other person wants different things in life, they’re wrong to want what they’ve always wanted.

And this is so wrong!  One has nothing to do with the other!


Your love for someone is the greatest gift you can offer them, whether they see it, or want it, or not.  Or if it just doesn’t fit with their life.  Your love is every bit as wonderful as it would be if they accepted it in every way for the rest of their days.  Your desire to be someone’s friend is, similarly, a beautiful thing, no matter how it’s answered.

Most of you know, I was in a dog pound when Handsome found and rescued me.  My little brain can’t even do the math on this, but most cages there had three or four dogs in them, and there had to be a couple hundred cages.  Most of those dogs never got saved, and were put down.  Now I’m sure a few of them had had such awful lives that their emotional damage rendered them unable to love in a healthy way, but all the others – all the hundreds of others – had love and loyalty and goofiness and friendship to give someone, just as worthy as what I’ve given Handsome.

And each of you has intelligence and experience and charms that no dog ever had.


So I’m not necessarily saying that anyone who rejects your love is mentally ill (though perhaps…!).  But I am asking you to never forget, although we all need training on how to reach out to others and win them over (It took me a while to learn that biting people’s ankles was not the best way to make friends!),  that beneath those acts, what’s in your heart is just as valuable as anyone’s.


Do you know what a dollar (or Euro, or Rupee, or Peso, or Naira) is worth that buys dinner for a hungry needy person or dog?

And do you know what a dollar torn up and thrown away is worth?

Exactly the same.


So the next time someone tears up your love and throws it into the street, offer them some pity.  They’re going to sleep on the street hungry tonight.  And they missed the chance of a lifetime, or at least of that day:

They missed out on you.

They’re the unlucky ones.





2 The Wrong-Turn Lizard …how to live life in the moment…

The Wrong-Turn Lizard …how to live life in the moment…

Just today, just a few minutes ago, my human friend Handsome went outside his house, to check if the mail had arrived.  I walked out with him, as I usually do.  And as we were walking back in, a very small lizard stepped inside, through the doorway.  Handsome pulled me back and held the door open, to encourage the little creature to go outside.  But, frightened by the two of us, it instead ran behind some heavy boxes in a closet.  So there was no way for Handsome to get the lizard to come out and through the door – moving the boxes would just scare it further in.

Now I don’t know a whole lot about lizards.  I don’t know what species this one is, or how long they usually live.

But I am sure that this was the most interesting event yet in this little creature’s new life.

Anyway, now, Handsome’s got the door open, in hopes it figures out to go back outdoors.  But it might stay hidden, and lose its life back there.  Or one of us might find this little beastie crawling over our face one night as we sleep!  There’s no way of knowing.

But this does make me think about these events that change our lives.  Suddenly, out of nowhere, everything shifts.  If that lizard had just run out the door instead of into the closet, the whole incident would have been just a mildly interesting moment for it.  Instead, this might well determine its entire future.

Sometimes we get those events in predictable ways: you’re born, you start school, you leave home, you start a job, you marry.  Or in my case, I got bought at the dog pound… and that’s about it.

But I don’t know if I’ve met anyone who’s not had other life-changing moments, ones they didn’t expect.  As big as a horrible accident that severs a limb (and unlike lizards’, ours don’t grow back!), or the sudden loss of a loved one.  Or the good kind – being picked as a random winner, receiving a wonderful gift, or getting struck by the lightning that is love at first sight.

And then, there are also the little ones.  Whether bad (failing a test at school you hadn’t realized was today; getting sick right before a date you’re excited about), or good (meeting a friend when you didn’t expect to; switching on a TV and seeing what becomes your favorite movie ever).

And then there are the super-tiny ones.  “I didn’t think the sunset would be so beautiful tonight.” “I didn’t expect this much traffic.”  “I thought I’d like that soup more than I did.”

The truth is, life is so full of surprises, you might argue that life is only a collection of them.  At least if you look at it the right way.

You do know that one day, you won’t breathe anymore, right?  So what if you let yourself be pleasantly surprised every time you take a breath.  Any time you wake up.  Any time you hear the sound of someone you love.

One thing we dogs are WAY better at than you people is living in this mindset of gratitude.  When you come home to us at the end of a nothing-special average boring day, we are THRILLED to see you.  When you feed us the same food we’ve gotten every night, we jump around and dance for it.  And when you pull out that leash…  watch out world!

You see, because our brains are smaller than yours, we can’t have the sorts of conceptions you can about time and plans.  When you leave in the morning, you’re gone, and we don’t know where you are or if you’re ever coming home.  So we get sad and worried over things you never would, but we also leap into joy so much more than you.

Now here’s the giant truth – your next breath is every bit as important to the rest of your life as that lizard’s choice to run behind those boxes was to its.  Your next meal could be good, nasty, incredible, or poisonous.  The next person you meet could become the love of your life, your best friend forever… or your murderer.  You have no idea.

So while I do hope the little reptile (or are they amphibians, I can never remember) has managed to sneak out the doorway without my seeing it, and will live a full, happy life (which will include getting chased by me another day), I also want to give you this gift, of surprise. Of seeing every moment as new, frightening, invigorating, exciting, and magical.

If you can look at your experiences, while you’re living them, in that way, your life will be fuller and far more beautiful. It won’t be easy – it requires bravery and a willingness to feel failure often – something a lot of people will try to talk you out of.  But it means you will feel every moment fully, and experience a level of gratitude few people achieve.

Or, I guess, you could sit behind a box, in a dark closet, waiting to starve.

But unlike any of the “surprises” I’ve listed, that would be purely a choice.  Your choice.

And last I looked, you guys were supposed to be … let’s see … how much smarter than a lizard?!


Doctor Johnson and Mister Garrick … can anyone actually own anyone…

Doctor Johnson and Mister Garrick … can anyone actually own anyone…

My human friend Handsome loves exciting entertainment.  He loves fun bright music, he watches movies with lots of car chases and horses and guns, and especially loves those with monsters created in laboratories and people who turn into wolves.  Oh and does he adore that TV show with the dragons and the beheadings and the snow-zombies and… you know the one I mean.


But he also has this insufferable, ego-driven quest to read all these boring books that someone else once said were important.  Which he often does by playing audio readings of them in his car, so I have to hear them too.  Now it’s delightful to take a nap on a long drive while he’s listening to Harry Potter or a good mystery.  But when he gets to old philosophers or drawn-out novels about women staring at wallpaper or Russian brothers debating religion, I get annoyed.  Yes, I can sleep, but these even make my dreams turn dull!


His latest might be the most intolerable (though luckily he’s only reading the book, not making me go through it).  It’s James Boswell’s The Life of Samuel Johnson  (Bet you’re bored already, right?!).  For 250 years it’s been acclaimed as the greatest biography ever written, the best book ever about 18th-Century England, blah blah blah.  I’ll tell you what it really is; it’s the record of one guy fawning like a lovesick Golden Retriever over every utterance a pompous bore says.


Oh, and almost all this noted philosopher speaks is about how everything is just the way it should be.  Their religion is the best, their political system is the best, their class system is the best (Funny, people at the top of their pecking order almost always seem to feel just that way!).  And even that poor people love their class system too, and think it’s the most delightful anywhere (Really?!  I find that usually isn’t…  well, never mind).


But one interesting thing did come up in the book, that Handsome asked me about.


You see, Dr. Johnson (who, I’ll admit, deserves a lot of credit for writing the first English dictionary, a nearly impossible task) was friends with the most popular and honored actor in the British theater of this time, David Garrick.  But they had the sort of friendship where Johnson would insult Garrick’s acting at every opportunity.  To take him down a peg, arguably; though he might also have been jealous of his talent, success, and popularity.


But if someone else put down a performance of Garrick’s, Johnson would disagree with them at once, using his sharp wit to destroy their argument.


Then at some point, a great painter named Joshua Reynolds commented that Johnson’s treating Garrick this way – always insulting his successes but critiquing his critics – proved that Johnson considered Garrick his own property.  That he alone had the right to criticize, and compliment, him and his work.


So Handsome told me about this, and asked me, “So I’m always insulting you, and telling you that you’re the best thing ever.  Does this mean I own  you?”


And this got me thinking.  A lot.


Now yes, the law says he does own me.  He pays for my license, which registers me as his property.  And if I bite someone, he’s liable.  But when people marry they have a license too, registering with each other.  And (at least here, today) no one considers one married partner the other’s property.  And while children, of course, are absolutely considered to “belong” to their parents, they’re also seen as their own persons.


If you want proof of this, look at the difference between how the law looks at it if someone smashes up their own refrigerator or sofa or computer, to if they smash up their spouse or their child!


Now we dogs and cats are in a sort of in-between status there.  If someone beats their Fido or Mr. Whiskers extra badly, they can be arrested for it.  But the law sees nothing wrong with a person putting their pet to a painless death; it’s a major part of what veterinarians do.  While doing that to their spouse is controversial, and to their child absolutely out of the question.


Handsome showed me an old movie where a man argues to a woman that because he loves her, she belongs to him.  Now we might laugh at that (or, if it were in real life, be scared she’s about to be kidnapped!), but don’t we all feel that way?  That when we love someone, we feel we own them?


I get very upset with dogs who Handsome pets too much.  I don’t get mad at him; I get mad at them.  I jump on them, growling, so they know “He’s mine!  Keep away!”  I love him, so he’s mine.  Right?


And once anyone’s in any sort of committed relationship, they are sort of saying they own each other, right?  They set rules:  Children should obey their parents.  Romantic partners should stay faithful to each other.  Employees should show up to work on time, and employers need to treat their employees with respect (now more than ever before).


So do any of these people own the other?


Kind of!


Do voters own politicians?  They can vote them out of office, certainly, if they feel they’re not doing what they want.  But meanwhile, politicians make decisions that spell life and death for those voters (declaring wars, cleaning up or poisoning air and drinking water, etc.).


And what about abusers?  Those awful cases we hear about where a person so dominates another that they command full obedience, even beyond what a parent has over a child.  Even there, does the controller actually own their victim?


Lots of questions, and not much answer, I know!  But I’ll sure say one thing here: I love loyalty, I love relationships, and I especially love love.  But I do believe we’re each our own being.  So that no one fully, completely, owns anyone else.  If I eat a fly that’s annoying me, I’ve ended its life, yes.  But its life was still its own.  I never owned it.  And even when Handsome tells me that I “own” his heart, I know I don’t really; I just occupy a very large portion of it.


I suppose the closest anyone gets to true ownership of another is in the child-parent relationship.  But not because kids do what they’re told.  No, I mean the way the child owns the parent!


From the moment a baby is born, or a child is adopted, that mom or dad is never the same.  Their life is never what it was before.  Their choices never are.  Even a negligent parent is just avoiding the responsibilities they know they have.


Handsome loves to tell me about the first time he held his baby niece in his hands, and he looked down at this newborn scrunched-up thing and thought “That is the ugliest single creature I’ve ever seen, and I will be hers forevermore.”  And that wasn’t even his own kid!


And, to rest my case, in conclusion, as it were, indubitably (see, I can write boring too!) to go back to Handsome’s original question…  No, I don’t think he and I have the same relationship as Dr. Johnson and Mr. Garrick.  At all.


Because Handsome would never tell someone they’re wrong for complimenting me.  Or for critiquing me.  If they say they don’t like me, he’ll gladly tell them he feels the opposite, but he respects their opinion.  Instead, he spends every moment in a state of gratitude that he’s been able to have me around.  Just as I feel towards him.


And I think that’s the real answer to this whole question.  I don’t own him, but I sure own my joy that he’s in my life.  And he owns his constant awe of me.


So my wish for you is to have the freedom to do what Handsome did with his niece (who did get a lot prettier), and what he and I do with each other every day.  To own yourself enough to be able to commit fully to those you care about, those you love, even those you worship.  But always to know that you’re still yourself.


Hey, if a pooch can be, certainly you can.




Which leads me to something I enjoy Handsome listening to in the car far more than boring books -a great old song.  If you don’t know it, it’s easy to find (it’s been recorded thousands of times, by too many people to list).  But even if you do know it, just let these words to this great Gershwin ballad feed your soul.  Because here’s what all us lovers truly get to own:


The way you wear your hat
The way your sip your tea
The memory of all that
No, no, they can’t take that away from me

The way your smile just beams
The way you sing off key
The way you haunt my dreams
No, no, they can’t take that away from me

We may never, never meet again
On the bumpy road to love
Still, I’ll always, always keep the memory of

The way you hold your knife
The way we danced till three
The way you changed my life
No, no, they can’t take that away from me


Just as no one can take YOU from me, my friends!  Hear that?  MY friends!!

Loads of Love,




2 Aria’s Agenda …how fears hold us back…

Aria’s Agenda …how fears hold us back…

When I was a puppy, and first went into Handsome’s house, I saw another dog.  It looked like a friendly pup, but when I sniffed at it, and it sniffed at me, I didn’t smell anything; it was on the other side of a glass door.  And then, when I walked around the door, there wasn’t anyone there!


You might ‘get’ what happened; I was having my first experience of seeing my own reflection in a mirror.


But of course, when you see yourself in mirrors, you aren’t seeing exactly what you look like.  You’re seeing, in some ways, the opposite!  Your left is on your right, so any markings you have are on the other side, and even the slight difference between your eyes’ size is the reverse of what all your friends see in you.


I bring this up, because sometimes we meet someone who’s like a mirror image – partly just like us, and partly the opposite, and hardly anything in between.  Which means there’s nothing about that being you don’t find fascinating!


I have such a friend.  Her name is Aria.


Both of us were rescues of a sort.  I don’t really remember my first couple of months, but I know that at some point, I was captured by a dog catcher and put into a pound, in a cage with four other puppies.  We played together some, but mainly we were just scared poopless about timetables; if someone didn’t come to take us out within four days, we’d get taken to a little room and sent into whatever happens after this life.


I made it five days, because a nice employee stole my identification card and hid it, but then Handsome showed up and we fell in love at first sight and my life’s been comparatively wonderful ever since.  I just wish I could know what happened to my cell-mates.  (…Or maybe I don’t…)


So, although there were those scary days in the pound, I’ve been lucky.  No person has ever abused me, most dogs I’ve met have been friendly (and any who haven’t have either been pushed away by Handsome, or I’ve been able to fend them off myself), and I’ve never worried about where my next meal was coming from.  It’s a good life.  A life that’s enabled me to trust everyone until they prove me wrong, and to assume the next stranger I meet might well become my new best friend.


Aria had a different story.  She was kicked out of the home she was born in, because the owners didn’t like her.  She found another home, but – believe it or not – they kicked her out too!  She lived in the wild, hunting for food and avoiding predators, for a long time then, till some people coaxed her to come with them (it took them days).  By this time, she’d learned to assume that any dog she met would attack her, and any person would beat her for no reason at all.


She lived with the people who’d found her till she was adopted by a very nice couple who look for homes for dogs.  And then, she found a person.  Kind of like my Handsome.  But I call him Ugmo.


Ugmo had wanted to get two dogs, one adult and one puppy, and thought the way to do this was to rescue an adult, bond for a couple of weeks, and then bring a puppy in, who the adult could teach in manners and housetraining.


Do you know the word “naïve?”


Ugmo loved Aria at once, the way Handsome loved me, but the moment they were away from that nice couple, she was terrified of him.  Too beaten-down to attack him or run away, she’d just cower in a crate or a corner, or even slumped in the middle of a room, hoping to not be punished.  And when he took her for her first walk, and she snapped at a bothersome puppy and he pulled her back, saying, “Oh don’t do that,” she fell onto her back, all her paws pulled in, her eyes blinking rapidly – showing him and everyone else there that she had been beaten horribly, and expected that from him.


This was going to take more than two weeks.


Over the next year, Ugmo worked every day with Aria.  Most of that work involved treats, petting, and kisses (lots and lots of kisses, especially on her tummy), but eventually he worked up to getting her some leash training, going on hikes, and taking her with him to work.  In all these situations, everyone found her sweet and lovable, but she was too scared to have fun with them (people or dogs).  She’d cower, showing submission, and do everything she could to express that no one need be frightened of her.  Then, ironically, if they petted her in a way that scared her (especially if she felt they were going to grab her by the neck, the way some mean people had long ago), she’d scream and snap at them; her fear actually made her more dangerous than a dog like me, who doesn’t worry at all about convincing people I’m not a danger.


But she’s come a long way.  Now she’s not afraid of Ugmo, and is even able to play at times.  She’s become very attached to a squeaky toy lamb – not in the way I am (loving ripping them to bits), but more like a little girl and her dolly, protective and always concerned about where it is.  And I’m sure she’ll continue to get better.


But she’ll never be as easy-going as I am.


Ugmo often says it’s because she’s “got mashed potatoes between her ears.”  But Aria’s not dumb, she’s just learned a lot of awful lessons.  Which mainly add up to one: Don’t Trust Anyone, Because The World Is Dangerous And Cruel.


And because she believes that, she acts on it.  All the time.  She acts on it by hiding, by keeping her head down, by snapping at little dogs who could never actually hurt her.


And in this, she’s not unlike a lot of people I’ve seen.


In fact, I might argue she’s like all people.


The man who sits in the bar, ready to punch anyone who says something that sounds disrespectful to him, because he knows they will.


The woman who goes on dates but is always expressing that she knows she’s unlovable and will be left by this new boyfriend just like the others.


The child at school who knows the other kids won’t like him, and so acts up in ways to get bad attention, as he knows that’s the only kind he can get.


The teenager who won’t ask anyone for help, because she knows  that no one will ever care about her.  As she’s learned by experience, over and over again.


Do you have a “knowledge” like this?  Something you “know” but don’t really know?  Nobody who meets you at a party ever likes you?  All people of a certain race or class or sex look down on you?  You’re not good enough to be loved?


Here’s the crazy part about those beliefs – have you ever heard the term “self-fulfilling prophecy?” – these beliefs stick around because your believing them makes them come true!  They actually create an Agenda.  An insistence that “I’m gonna act this way because I know this.”


Ugmo will have five people over to his home.  Everyone wants to meet Aria and pet her, but she hides in her crate the whole time.  At the end of the night, she’ll “know” she was right – no one at the party liked her, which is proven because no one petted or played with her.  She sure was right to act the way she did!  The fact that she kept them from being able to be nice is completely unknown to her.


And why is she, unlike you or me, unable to see how wrong she is?  Because that belief didn’t want her to realize it.


That last sentence might be worth reading over a few times, to make sure you get it!  Yes, literally, her brain is telling her “You need to believe this, because this belief keeps you safe.  And this belief can’t exist if you start believing people are nice.  So, for your safety, we won’t let you realize it, even if it’s true!”


Lots of people and books tell about the power of Manifestation, that a person focusing on, and believing, something they want makes it more likely to come true.  I can’t argue whether that’s real or not.  But I can promise you that if you have a belief that something you don’t like, that’s always been the case before, will always happen – and you act on that agenda – you’re doing a great job of making that rotten belief come true.


Don’t get me wrong.  Aria’s not bad or dumb.  She’s suffered horrible treatments I can only imagine.  She has every reason in the world to fear and believe the things she does.


But she also, now, has every reason in the world to stop believing those things.


Bit by bit, she’s working through it.  And every day for her is better than any day she ever had before.


But what about you?  Do you have any of those beliefs?  Do you act on any agendas like that?  Are you ready, and willing, to put even one false, fear-based belief behind you, and change your agenda?


Because if you are, you will literally create a future full of – not necessarily joys, but certainly of possibilities.


And that is the future that a cheerful, optimistic, excitable, knucklehead dog like me sees every morning.


And exactly the future I so wish for you.


(And my mashed-potato-brained friend)


Live Love!


Going to the Well … finding your biggest energy …

Going to the Well … finding your biggest energy …

Maybe you’re still a kid.  But even if not, I’ll bet you can remember when you were, and how much you wanted to get to do the most amazing thing in the world…  DRIVE!

I can sure tell you, as a dog, that I envy you guys like CRAZY – that you’ve invented, and are able to work, a machine that comfortably carries people, dogs, and other cargo at incredible speeds, far faster than even I can run.

And I know that, reading this, you either share my envy or had it once before.

Maybe you were three years old and wished you could drive to the ice cream store.  Or maybe you were twelve and just wanted to speed like crazy, with the windows down and your favorite song blasting all your neighbors awake.  Or maybe you were fifteen and just wanted to be able to escape your family and get to your friends who understood you better (or maybe, just who you understood better!).  And maybe you’re older than that, and for whatever reason, you still haven’t had the ability to learn to drive, or don’t have access to a car.  And so you’re still jealous of every driver out there.

Well join the club.


Now the one thing I do get to do is to ride in the back seat and look out the window (Handsome won’t let me stick my head all the way out, which I so want to do, as he says it’s too dangerous – something could strike my eye, or a bad driver could even drive too close to us and… YIKES, OKAY, I’M GOOD STAYING INSIDE!).

And do you know what I see as I watch the other drivers?  I’ll bet you do – almost everyone is MISERABLE!  They’re frustrated at not being able to drive faster, or angry that they’re running late, or hating all the other drivers for just being there, or mad at something they’re hearing on the radio, or jealous that someone else has a better car in some way.

Now, yes, some drivers are happier than those.  They’re singing along with something fun, or having a funny chat, or… well there’s at least one guy who likes nothing more than to reach into the back seat and scratch my ears and get a lick on his hand and tell me how much he loves his knucklehead…

But do you see where I’m going with this?  No one is actually happy about the fact that they’re DRIVING!  They’ve waited years, maybe decades, to be able to do this, and once they can, all the fun of it is GONE!

How ridiculous is that!

And I see this same quality in you amazing humans all the time!  You try so hard to get a job, and then complain about having to go to work.  You dream of finding a mate, and then get bored and bothered by that person you’re “stuck” with.  You achieve the greatest circle-of-life goal by creating a baby, and then spend eighteen years griping about how all the good days of your life ended when you got saddled with those stinking kids!

Now I know, my brain’s a lot smaller than yours.  So my ability to be overjoyed about something happening that has happened every day for years (like getting food, or my human coming home) might seem silly to you.

But if we’re both living our lives pursuing happiness, and I’m happier than you… who’s the silly one?


And now that I’ve got you there, here’s my real question – wouldn’t you like a way to be able to tap into that same energy I have all the time?

There’s a way.


Each of Continue reading

6 My Beautiful Reward …how good comes back many times over…

My Beautiful Reward …how good comes back many times over…

When I started this website almost eight years ago, it was out of a simple thought.  I was just tired of watching you humans struggle so much to find happiness, when the answers to it are so easy.  I could tell that your giant brains were far too complex to grasp what we dogs understand all the time – about living in the moment, the joy of unconditional love, the power of loyalty, the thrill that comes from giving your all to what you care about – and the magic that is living in this world, even with all its flaws.

Sometimes it’s been really painful.  Some of your letters have broken my heart and made me sluff out my doggy door and howl at the sky.  Some have made me angry enough to bite the computer screen.  But most often, I just feel so much affection for you guys – how unique and how alike you all are.  And how lovable.


Now I’ll admit – I could find people I like by just sniffing legs in the park (Maybe I wouldn’t like them quite as much as I like you, since I wouldn’t know what’s inside their hearts, but I might get some dropped treats, so it wouldn’t be too bad!).  But there’s one thing I can never get anywhere else.  And that’s when one of you writes me back and tells me what happened, with whatever we were talking about.  And especially if I made a difference.


You might have seen some of those comments in a Pawprint Newsletter.  I always love to post them – not bragging so much as my way of saying Thanks!


But sometimes I get a fuller story.  Like a letter I recently received from a Pack member named icecandyicepop.  She had written me years ago, about a relationship issue, no different from most of the letters you send.  That was fine – I love jumping in to all your exciting romances and crushes and fantasies!  But then things went a little further…


Around 2 years ago I asked you a question on the subject of a friend I had, and my parents got into a big ‘hooha’ about it, accusing me of various things because they thought he was too young for me.

I just want to say a massive thankyou for your advice! I was in a dark place during that period. I was in a transitioning phase of going from high school up to a college, and lost contact with many of my friends within the short space of a few months. This stress ultimately led to me developing an eating disorder, one that I can now say is in remission as I have just recently shot back to almost the same weight as I was when I had a healthy mind.

That guy was a part of this problem as he became more of an obsession, or a means of rebelling against my truest friends: my family. It took me just under a year but I eventually realized the cause of my desire to be friends with him and what my efforts had caused on myself: Anorexia, loss of family bonds and a disregard for my pre-existing and healthy friendships.

Now at my second year, an ease of mind and family support have helped to boost my grades far higher than I could have expected, which is a result of my eating good and proper amounts of healthy foods, closer than ever bonds with my family, even with my Dad who I have up until recently NEVER seen eye-to-eye with, and topped off with my many NEW friends I have made at college, all of whom seem to genuinely care about me and take time to talk to me and arrange events and occasions, something that even my old friends could never be bothered to do.

My life now is now as fulfilling and happy as it’s ever been for me (minus the workload of school!) which is thanks I guess to the tough year that I endured mentally. I guess you could call it an emotional safari; we had just been chased by lions, but those lions chased us all the way to the end of the rainbow. The pot of gold.

I now put my family and friends first at every opportunity, I no longer care about how skinny I am – to be honest, I rather want a little chubbiness to me, nothing excessive, just a little bulk to fill out my t-shirts and skinny trousers that for all too long, despite being skinny, have always fit like a straight leg.


Are you loving this as much as I am?  Well, here’s where I collapsed onto the floor…!

Your email which you sent me, whether you remember it or not, hit the nail on the head. I just needed to make some new friends my own age. I have done this and now feel like I belong somewhere, I don’t have to prove myself or the way I look to the type of friends I have, because now I am accepted for who I am, by my family and my friends – as these friends have chosen me for my personality, not my looks.

The next step for me is to get back into sport.  Now leading almost a ‘coach potato lifestyle’ with the occasional walk, albeit often a big one around town or taking my beautiful dog, wups! I mean my beautiful owner, for a long walk around my village.

Hearing your advice in those dark times for me was relieving, you helped to shine a light on the right path for me and that path was the best one.

I think all I needed was someone to talk to, while at the time, I had no friends or family to do so with. You helped me a great deal for which I am in debt; massively!

Thank you so much.


So okay, I read this, and next thing you know, I’m lying on the floor, panting.   Handsome saw this and got worried that I might have had some food poisoning, but I had him read the letter, and he plopped down on the floor next to me.  “Oh, now I get it,”  He said, scratching my ears.  “Pup, you’ve just experienced getting everything you live for.  Kind of overwhelming, isn’t it?”


It sure is.



And this is why I’m sharing this with you, Pack Members.  The rewards this website has given me haven’t been financial – no, actually they’ve actually been far greater.  I’m the only dog I know who’s ever gotten a letter like that!  And I get all sorts of wonderful, beautiful letters from you guys.  I can’t dream of anything more wonderful!


I was already a lucky pup, I know.  I have a human who loves me and shelters and feeds me and takes me to the veterinarian’s office even if I try to run out once I see they might give me a shot.  I’m not out in the wilds, or on the streets, hunting for food to keep from starving, and fighting off predators all the time.


Instead, I get to put my efforts into doing this.  And it’s the best feeling in the world for me.  Do you have something that works like that for you?  Something that has that quality some call “Selflessness,” but which really is completely selfish because it makes you feel so good?!


It’s so fun.  One of you gets a new boyfriend (or dumps a lousy one) and I feel tingles of romance.  Or another finds the way to work an issue out with your parents, and I feel more secure and trusting about the world.  And icecandyicepop moves past an eating disorder, and all my food suddenly tastes better.


Whatever you want to call that quality – charity, codependence, universal love – it’s beautiful.  And everyone can have it.


And if you can find a way to make it a part of your life, I guarantee, you’ll find the happiness I wish for you, each of you, every day.


Oh, one other thing – a funny thought about that.  From all I can tell, that quality I’m talking about is the one that most replicates the actual experience you humans get in adopting a dog.  You know you’re going to lose money on the deal.  And time.  And property that gets chewed up.  But the rewards are nothing short of magical.


Or so I’m told!

HONEST TO A FAULT …how to avoid coming off as desperate…

HONEST TO A FAULT …how to avoid coming off as desperate…

We dogs don’t really like TV. Lots of the time the noise bothers us (NO dog likes Game of Thrones – though I don’t think I’ve met a person who doesn’t!), and of course it’s always taking our humans’ attention away from where we want it – on US!


But occasionally I’ll watch something with Handsome. And recently, I saw something great.

An episode of an old program called Mary Tyler Moore, show had this woman, Mary, go on one date with a guy who instantly decides she’s the one, and starts sending her flowers, gifts, messages, and constant requests for more dates. Finally she overcomes her niceness and manages to reject him. But when he later approaches her in public with a giant cake with “Will You Marry Me” on the top, she explodes in fury, smashing the cake to bits.


You might say that fellow had earned dating’s most dreaded diagnosis: Desperate.


Everyone I hear from says they want a relationship where they can stay honest and expressive, but they don’t want to come off like that guy. And why would they? Desperation, I hear, can be a bigger turnoff than rudeness, bad breath, and overeating combined. So how can you avoid it? Especially when you’re totally smitten over a new love?


Well, we dogs are just great at this. We’re always honest (we don’t know how not to be – our brains simply aren’t big enough), and no one ever complains about us being desperate.


(Hmm… actually that last bit isn’t true. People who like cats tend to find us too clingy and attentive. But that’s just us as a species. People who like dogs tend to like us just the way we are!)


And I have a solution for you people too. To start with, let’s look at the five main ways daters come off as desperate:


  • Dressing too much of a statement

You see it at school, at work, and on the streets. The person so eager to be noticed, to be liked, that they dress in a way that doesn’t suit their lives. The man dressed in shirt and pants so tight he can’t sit down, the woman wearing something so low-cut she’s constantly pulling it up to avoid getting arrested! Or the person dressed in duds too fancy and expensive to fit in where they are.


  • Giving, and demanding, nonstop attention

This is the one we pups get accused of the most. Cat-lovers want to be left alone most of the time, while we’re always coming up to you with a toy or a kiss. But where I see it the most in humans is that crazy menace, TEXTING! One person texting another over and over, and completely devastated when they don’t get a response within minutes. This can drive both people nuts – the texter and the textee (Is that a word?).


  • Can’t keep hands off

Everyone loves being touched by someone they like. But some people just need contact all the time. Always grabbing their beloved, or insisting on PDAs (public displays of affection) no matter what’s going on – regardless of how it affects everyone else.


  • Constant asking for validation – literally

Nothing makes a person less eager to give validation (whether a mild “I like you” or a bigger “I really respect you” or “I love you madly!”) than being asked for it all the time. And when a person’s trying to pay attention to something else, while being interrupted with “Don’t you like me?” it’s only a matter of time before they blurt out “Not anymore!”


  • Expressing suspicion

Okay, this one is The Worst. When one human is feeling insecure in a relationship, and instead of just talking about it, accuses the other of cheating, wanting to cheat, or even just thinking about someone else. There’s an old rule of logic that You Can’t Prove a Negative. In other words, while you can prove I have a bone I stole, no one can prove I never stole one. So when someone’s accused of doing something, wanting something, or thinking about it, they’re stuck – there’s no way for them to argue their way out of it. Which I’ve seen reeeeeeeeeeeeally drive people up the wall!


Now the way I’ve described all these, each sounds just awful, doesn’t it? But imagine if I rephrased them, in ways that sounded ideal. Wouldn’t you love – wouldn’t anyone love – to get involved with someone who:

  • Always looks attractive, takes great care of themselves
  • Stays attentive and interested, never making you feel ignored or abandoned
  • Is willing to show affection and express their love through casual touch
  • Lets you know that you’re important and they need you to care about them
  • Isn’t naïve, and pays attention to subtle signals from you?


Well, sure. These sound so great, they could describe me! (Though we might disagree about whether I’m attractive after I’ve rolled in a big pile of horse poop; but I always think that’s me at my very best!)


But there’s one big difference between these two lists: And it’s called Awareness.


Being honest is great and necessary, but just as you didn’t want your mother yelling “Hey you’ve got toilet paper stuck to your shoe!” as you left her car to join your schoolmates, the trick in relationships is to temper your honesty with awareness of how the other person takes what you’re giving.


So, to go through that list yet again, while of course you always want to look your best, maybe you can show up to his World Cup party looking casual-cute in an oversized Kansas City Chiefs jersey and your hair in an adorable ponytail, instead of oozing drama in a halter top or your best black dress.


And while you want to let her know you care about her, one casual text of “Hey, hope that meeting went okay. Can’t stop thinking about last night!” at noon could win her over a lot more than six “I care more about you than you do about me”s per hour.


Similarly, a quick unexpected peck on the cheek or squeeze of a love-handle in the middle of a meal can be charming, sweet, and an electrifying promise for later, while interrupting their bite of potato in the middle of a discussion of the Palestinian crisis, to insist on a long French kiss, will push them away.


And saving those “I need to know you care” moments for when you’re in the middle of the day from hell can melt his heart, while telling it to him every night will just translate as “I’ve never believed you so far,” and leave him to look for someone who’ll trust him.


And speaking of trust, back to the biggest Desperation of all: Asking, “So your coworker could be a movie star; how is it he didn’t beat me to you?” is SOOO much better a way of finding out about their relationship than “I know you and Joe are meeting behind my back! Can you prove me wrong?!”


It really all comes down to one simple fact: Humans act desperate because they’re stuck in their own minds, and not paying attention to their partner. Think about it. If you really pay attention to someone, you’ll see what behavior pushes them away, and change it to something that makes them like you better, right? Instead of not really paying attention to them, and acting on what your mind says is going on, and how you think they should react to you.


And believe me: no one wants to be with that in-their-head person!


So when you find yourself acting desperate, just open your eyes and focus on what your beloved is doing, saying, and feeling. And that should be enough to change your ways – not to make you dishonest, but just expressing yourself in a realistic way. One that keeps you feeling proud of yourself as you navigate these difficult paths.


I know that sounds ridiculously simple. That’s because it is! That’s why we dogs are better at it than you guys!



But one final reminder here, about that difference between dogs and cats? What comes off as unacceptably desperate to one person can be wonderfully romantic to another. Remember that Mary Tyler Moore episode I mentioned? Well after Mary smashes the cake, she discovers that that guy was actually bringing it to another woman, who then breaks down in tears of joy at her dream man’s proposal (of course, making Mary feel awful).


So if you find your intended keeps rejecting your enthusiasm, maybe the answer isn’t to alter your behavior, but just to put that puppy-love energy to better use elsewhere. Don’t worry – the world is FULL of dog-lovers and cat-lovers. Someone out there will like your style!


4 The philosophy of Chuck Berry.

Bye Bye Johnny …a philosopher of the joy of life…

(Now you all know about Handsome, right? My human, the guy I live with, and who I love more than anything? And who loves me more than anything?


Well, nothing’s changed about that, thank goodness. But of course, I’ve never been the only thing he loves. He has favorite movies and foods and cars, just like most humans. And of course, he has favorite music.


In fact, as you can probably guess (as he named his puppy after a singing group), music is one of his greatest pleasures. And the songwriters and singers and instrumentalists who create his favorite music… why they’re just earthly gods to him, almost as great as dogs!


And while he has introduced me to all kinds of sounds, from stately classical symphonies to sweet sentimental ballads to noisy gangster rap, whenever anyone has asked him who his favorite musician, favorite performer, favorite entertainer ever was, he’s always had the same answer. A man who didn’t put out all that much material in his long life, but what he put out was so magical it changed popular music forever, rolling Beethoven over and telling Tschaikovsky the news.


Maybe you’ve guessed already? Yes, a few weeks ago, we lost him. One of the most brilliant artists who ever lived. The Amazing Chuck Berry.


Most of what you hear about him is how he was one of the originators of rock ‘n’ roll in the 1950s, how he came up with new ways of playing guitar, or how his songs had such clever poetry about everyday life. And all are true, but these are like saying Picasso gave women three eyes or Michelangelo was good at ceilings – they leave out the pure soul and brilliance that filled his art.


And here’s the craziest thing about this. Handsome says that, beyond Berry’s genius with guitar, songwriting, dancing, and singing, what he loves most about him is the spirit in his songs – a spirit he insists is a lot like MINE!


So I’ll admit that, as a dog, I just can’t write this. I like music and have written about it here before, but for this one, I’m going to turn it over to Handsome and let him write his first Pawprint all on his own. And maybe he can explain to you what he’s talking about.


Love and Licks,







(written by Handsome)


My dog Shirelle says that she can’t really talk about Chuck Berry, that he didn’t affect her life that much. But I disagree. When she was a puppy, she was vicious with biting, and my only way to control it was to play tug-of-war with her, with a huge rope. And if music was playing in our home, it might turn into a kind of dance. Slow, fast, cheerful, sad, whatever.


But no matter what I was doing, if Chuck Berry music came on, her heart rate shot up like a rocket, she’d grab the rope and run to me, and the dance became a tornado. That guitar, those drums, would shoot into both our hearts like lightning bolts, and she and I and Chuck would all become one. One glowing testament to the thrill of life.


Which, of course, Shirelle tends to be all the time anyway. And she shares his music’s mix of joy and sadness and anger – sometimes all at the same time. And the way that two beats can exist at the same time too, creating something magical and far truer to life than a simple unified drum machine (piano laid back and guitar firing forward, like the hilarious way sometimes her back legs and front legs seem to be running different directions, which expresses her crazy heart perfectly). And a moral view that celebrates open desire but never cruelty or rudeness.


And a love of speed, of going as fast as possible. Like in “You Can’t Catch Me” when, in the middle of a race, Chuck barks out,

I put my foot on my tank and I began to roll

Moanin’ siren, ‘twas the state patrol

So I let out my wings and then I blew my horn

Bye-Bye New Jersey, I become airborne…


And while pop singles will dominate his legacy, I also have to talk about the way he moved. As Shirelle is the greatest runner and jumper I’ve ever known (to a degree that can be a royal pain!), no one has ever used his body quite like Berry. Most famously, he had a move he called The Scoot, where he’d sit down very far on one leg, stick the other out in front of him, and kick it up and down as he scooted across the stage. Many people call that the Duck Walk, but Duckwalking was actually a different, and equally glorious, dance he’d do, squatting down on both legs and walking while jutting his chin forward with every step. But reading about these, or seeing others imitate them, isn’t enough. Like Astaire, Chaplin, or Cagney, Berry’s movements were purely his own, and no one else could ever capture them.


But back to the songs, here are five of his most famous recordings. You can easily find them online or on any number of collections. Check them out and see if you can hear that joy of life. Or better yet, if it fills your heart, the way it does to Shirelle and me.


  • “Maybelline” – Chuck’s first hit record was an complete breakthrough. From the opening notes, we hear a guitar sounding like none had before, a sort of call-to-arms, notifying us of his arrival, before slipping into this fun upbeat country rhythm. Then this joyous friendly voice jumps in, “Maaaaaaybeline, why cancha be tru-u-ue? Ya done started back doin’ the things you used to do!” Wait, is he happy, like he sounds, or angry or sad, like the lyrics say? Then with the next line, he completes his full mark: “As I was motorvatin’ over the hill, I saw Maybelline in a Coupe DeVille.” “Motorvatin’?!” Sure many songwriters have made up words before, but this is such a cool one, and so casually thrown out, explaining that for him to drive requires both motor and motivation, while his beloved is in a big fancy luxury car…   Everything is simple, exciting, fun, and pure. (Then the song becomes a story about him trying to catch up to her – it does have suspense, but the early line “But nothin’ outrun my V8 Ford” does give a hint of how it’s going to work out).


  • “Too Much Monkey Business” – No it’s not about monkeys, but rather a series of complaints about daily life, set in a ferocious, almost machine-gun delivery. Much has been said about its effect on greats from Bob Dylan to Grandmaster Flash, but no one has ever quite matched it. Chuck’s wordplay was never better, “Workin’ to and fro, hard workin’ at the mill, never fail in the mail, yeah come a rotten bill! Aagh!”   Just listen to it and let your brain spin with all he’s putting out there, and how much you might relate: “Same thing every day, getting’ up, goin’ to school, no need to me complainin’, my objection’s overruled!”


  • “Johnny B. Goode” – His most famous song, and deservedly so. While countless bands have incorporated his guitar licks into their music, no one has ever captured the sound of this one – a brag about someone a lot like himself, who “could play a guitar just like a-ringin’ a bell.” One issue to bring up here is his race – Berry was African-American, and worked as hard to bridge racial gaps by incorporating “white” words and sounds into his blues-based music as Elvis Presley did by going the other way. So with some of his songs, he began them with more of a statement about his race, that he later pulled out. With this one, it’s just that instead of it being about “a country boy,” Berry had originally written his hero to be “a colored boy.” Another one of his masterpieces, “Brown-Eyed Handsome Man,” is even more clearly a hidden message, as the lyrics really refer to the glories of being a brown-skinned handsome man!


  • “Memphis, Tennessee” – a song so famous, and so frequently covered, that people forget, or never notice, how original it is. First of all, the simple guitar riff he created for it is now so common you don’t even notice it, but guitar textbooks do refer to it as “the Memphis riff.” But just listen to those lyrics – the way they lead you to believe the song is about a lost romance, then that maybe it’s even about an interracial love (as “her mom did not agree”), and then, heartbreakingly, in the last lines we learn the truth of what and who he’s seeking. Also note the quiet singing, far from the jubilation of “Johnny B. Goode,” the sound of a sad and sweetly longing heart.


  • “Nadine” – Another all-around masterpiece so simple and elegant, you’d swear it came from a style that had been around for years, but no, this was a melody, a beat, an unbeatable lyric, and a whole sound that he created himself. And don’t kid yourself that something this perfect was created overnight – Berry actually wrote this over a two-year stint in jail! No matter how great a writer is, it’s still got to be pure magic when you come up with an opening like “As I got on a city bus and found a vacant seat, I thought I saw my future bride walkin’ up the street. I shouted to the driver, ‘HEY Conductor you must, SLOW down I think I see her, PLEASE let me off this bus!’”


In “Maybelline,” Chuck caught his girl and the Cadillac. He eventually wrote a sequel song to “Memphis” with a happy ending. But “Nadine” offers no such closure. For fifty years after he wrote it, he kept performing around the world, yelling out “Nadine! Honey is that you?!” And never finding an answer.   Maybe he’s found her now?




Chuck Berry died on March 18, at ninety years old. Instantly social media exploded with tributes from nearly every great rocker alive. Though I suppose his most beautiful eulogy was given decades ago on a talk show by John Lennon, who said, “If you had to give rock and roll another name, you might call it Chuck Berry.”


And if you had to give art, or music, or the joy of life, another name, you wouldn’t go astray by calling them by the same name too.


She finally got the letter she was dreaming of
Johnny wrote and told ‘er he had fell in love
As soon as he was married he would bring her back
And build a mansion for ’em by the railroad track
So every time they heard the locomotive roar
They’d be a’ standin’, a’ wavin’ in the kitchen door

Howling, bye, bye, bye, bye
Bye, bye, bye, bye
Bye bye Johnny
Good bye Johnny B. Goode

4 The Sweetest One – how love begets love begets…

The Sweetest One – how love begets love begets…

I’ve written a few times on here about friends. Friends who achieve miraculous feats, friends who say something that makes my ears stand straight up in amazement, or, sometimes, friends who have passed on.


Today I’m writing about all three. Though she was, and is, more than a friend.


When Handsome was a little child, a lot of his family lived in other areas, so he was especially close his two local cousins – sisters, one a few months older than him, and one a year younger. The three played together all the time, at their homes, and especially at their grandparents’, where everything was big and old and exciting and mysterious.
Time changed things, as always. The girls got another sister, everyone moved into other homes, a divorce happened, but that early childhood tie was so strong nothing could break it.


But that didn’t mean nothing could break any of them.


As the middle sister grew into her teenage years, she became different. She still laughed at times, such as when Handsome would put on serious faces at formal family dinners, but most of the time, she seemed to be getting sadder. And then, one day, she just sat up in bed and started crying, and crying, and crying. Nothing could stop her.


Finally, her family took her to be examined, and found that she had suffered a full emotional breakdown. She got better, but never regained her full self again. And then there were more breakdowns, and more.


What was happening was that she was moving into something called Schizophrenia. Now if you’re an expert at languages, you’ll know that the word, by its Greek roots, means having more than one personality. But that’s not what Schizophrenia is. Schizophrenia is a mental disorder where a person isn’t able to grasp reality fully. They might hear voices, or believe things to be true that no one else does. And Handsome’s cousin was sliding from being sad into living in a world that no one else could share, one often filled with horrors and deep pain.


Her family did what they thought was best, which was to have her live in an institution where she’d be safe and kept highly medicated. And she lived there for ten years. This treatment did keep her safe from harm (though ending her life was something she tried more than once), but it also changed her more. She looked different – bigger, slower-moving – and she certainly suffered some mental damage from all the drugs.


But something wonderful also happened. She met someone. Just the way so many of you write me about your hopes of finding that special someone – she did. He was also damaged, had also been hospitalized. And they fell in love, and stayed together, never once thought of leaving each other.


Sometimes she would start to hear voices again, or fall into horrible depression, but it would get treated and she’d be okay.


Eventually they were able to move into a home together, and have a life. They sometimes were able to work, but mostly they took care of each other, and their pets – oh they loved their pets! They had cats and dogs, all as adored and attended as Handsome ever has treated me.


But they didn’t just love each other and their pets. They loved everyone.


They would call family members out of the blue, always carefully introducing themselves as though the others didn’t remember them, to tell them their latest projects or thoughts, or just to pass on affection. Every year, they’d send Christmas cards – not the store-bought ones we usually see, but drawings and poems, sometimes even books of poems, she had written about the holiday, the weather, or just plain love.


And there were amazing moments when they would shine. The two of them interrupting a family party to sit at a piano, and bang out and sing that great old rock ‘n’ roll song that goes “ooh wee baby, you drive me crazy, goodness gracious great balls of fire!” The beautiful religious statements she would give to people at difficult times in their lives – it was as if, by being less connected to the world most humans are in, she was more connected to something beyond.


Then there was the most amazing moment – when her father died in a sudden swimming accident. The morning before his funeral, she came up to Handsome while he was brushing me, and told him that she’d had a dream the night before. “And Dad came to me, and he told me, whenever I needed, to look at the trees around me. Because whenever I saw a breeze blowing through them, that was him telling me he loved me.” Handsome smiled, thinking that was nice. But when the mourners went to the cemetery to lay the body in the ground, the wind picked up so strongly that it almost blew a huge tent over; he stared at her, and they nodded in understanding. She hadn’t been just dreaming; she was the one who was able to receive the message. And all the love he was pouring on us all.


This December, she sent us a new bunch of poems, and Handsome wrote her an email about how funny and beautiful they were. And then she sent something else – a new copy of that wonderful book A Dog’s Purpose. You’ve probably seen ads for the upcoming movie of it. It’s about a dog being reincarnated numerous times, to help his special human. Handsome had read it years before, but knew he should call to thank her for the thought anyway.


He should have.


One night, just a couple of weeks later, her boyfriend found her on the floor of their home. She was still, no breath or heartbeat. She was gone.


Was it an accident? Was it the effects of all those years of medication? Was it her giant loving heart just giving out? No one knows. She’s just gone.


In the days after she passed on, family and friends talked and shared thoughts about her. And something interesting happened. Everyone who wrote about her on Facebook, anyone who’s talked with Handsome about her, all have used the same term.




And they’re right – there are people whose stronger minds have enabled them to do more acts of kindness, some who are more polite and nice. But that quality of sweetness, that one sees in the youngest of children, or puppies – that’s very special. And she was the sweetest person I’ve ever known.


The morning we heard about her, we went for a walk, and Handsome was talking – maybe to me, maybe to himself, it doesn’t really matter. Talking about memories of her. And an odd one came up.


They were teens, in their grandparents’ basement, and for some reason they got talking about their favorites – favorite movie, favorite TV show, etc. And he remembered that she said her favorite song was that cute old tune “You’re in My Heart.”


And then he looked down at me and said, “But of course it was. Everyone was in her heart. And she’s in the heart of everyone she ever met.”


We kept walking. He was busy trying to remember the lyrics, so I was the only one who noticed the breeze, the way it picked up, and tossed the trees around in a beautiful dance for us all.


While he sang:

I didn’t know what day it was

When you walked in to the room

I said hello, unnoticed

You said goodbye too soon…



You made all hearts sweeter, Jess.




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