Category Archives for "Blog"

A Trashy Love Story …though not the way you think…

A Trashy Love Story …though not the way you think…

I was in the back seat. Handsome had taken us up to the top of the huge hill that separates two cities, and we were driving along the ridge road. He had the back window cracked open just enough for my nose to stick out (but not my whole snout or head; while we dogs love to crane out fully from cars, it’s very dangerous for us: the whipping air around our sensitive ears can deafen us; little particles can fly into our eyes; and one stupid driver not paying enough attention could pass too close to us and… ooooooohhhh… let’s get back to my story!).

It was one of those beautiful mornings – a little fog just making everywhere look a touch magical, and making all the smells a bit stronger and fresher. Each curve of the road brought new views and scents. It was hard to tell which of us – Handsome or me – was enjoying it more.

Then this amazing thing happened. As the morning traffic slowed us down, I smelled something just astounding. A delicious mix of hundreds of smells, from food, from nature, from I didn’t even know what. And at the same time, I heard Handsome gasp.

“Check this out, Knucklehead! Look up in those trees, up to the right.” I looked to see what he was talking about, and saw some flickering of orange-yellow. (Okay, I’ll admit it – we dogs are color-blind. But Handsome said to me…) “You see those flickering lights? That’s the orange-yellow of the sunrise, reflecting off someone’s huge window. And the flicker is from us passing by the trees between it and us. Isn’t it just gorgeous?”

I have to admit – even without color, it was pretty cool. But I was more taken by the smells, which were getting stronger and stronger.

“Here, just around this bend, we should be able to see the house. I’m sure it’s a marvel of architecture, and it’ll be just…”

Handsome stopped talking.

“Oh. Oh well.”

 

It wasn’t a large window reflecting the sunrise at all. The flicker was from the warning lights of a garbage truck, behind those trees! Of course, that’s what I was smelling – and I was thrilled! Maybe we could stop and I could climb inside and find some great things to eat and…

 

He drove past it. And we both slumped. He was a little embarrassed over having mistaken what he’d seen, and disappointed that it was just a dumb old truck. And I was even more disappointed, because I wouldn’t get to indulge in those terrific smells, the same bummedness I feel when we pass by barbecue restaurants.

 

Then we got to the street he’d been heading for, and he parked the car between some empty rubbish bins. He got out and let me out, careful to keep hold of the leash in case a car or cat came by. And we started to walk down the sidewalk. I sniffed around, and he looked at the pretty, clean street, and we both breathed in more of that fresh clean morning air.

“You know, Shirelle, I was wrong, the way I thought about that truck. That truck is why this street is so clean. That truck keeps this place safe, where I can walk you and not worry that something someone threw out has gone bad and turned into poison. It’s why I’m not scared you’re going to find a rat that’ll bite you and give you a disease. It’s why the air’s so crisp and fresh. Garbage trucks are great. And the people who work them are heroes.”

 

And he was right. Would he have loved to see the glowing house he imagined? And would I have loved to have eaten all those smelly things? Sure. But this was even better. We had a bright beginning to our day, and knew we’d be healthy and ready for it.

Which was convenient, because what should come down the street, but the cutest, friendliest Labrador Retriever, being walked by a very lovely woman. Handsome stopped to talk with her, and they let us off our leashes to play and tumble around for a few minutes. Eventually, they called us back, everyone said goodbye, and he and I walked off.

But there was something different about him. He’d been in a good mood before, but now he seemed truly excited.

“Did you like that Lab, Shirelle? I hope so, because I think you two are going to meet again! That beautiful woman gave me her phone number! Can you believe it?!”

Now, dear reader, you know how we dogs are. When our human gets excited, we have no choice but to get excited too. I started running in circles around him, tying him up in my leash, and even tripped him onto the ground, but he was so happy he didn’t care. It was just the way he was back in the car, so excited about those flickering lights.

 

And it hit me – this really IS the same thing. Love is a lot of things, but one of them is… Love is a Garbage Truck!

When a person, say you, first gets interested in someone, you just see beauty and possibility. You don’t see the other person’s flaws yet, or if you do, they don’t think they matter. It’s like Handsome seeing the flickering lights, and me smelling those smells.

Then that high goes away, and you start to really see the reality – of that person’s flaws, and of how the dreams you had about the relationship might not be possible. Just like Handsome realizing the lights weren’t a beautiful home, and me realizing I wasn’t going to be allowed to jump into that beautiful trash.

But then, over time, if you’re open to it, you’ll start to see the real good of that other person. Their strengths, their heart, the ways they make your life better.   Like what we realized about how the garbage collectors had made our world so much better.

Will Handsome ever actually talk with that woman? Will they fall in love? Will they learn things about each other they can’t stand? Will they then learn to appreciate more about each other than they ever imagined?

I have no idea. But I hope so.

 

All three stages are true and right, based on what we see at the time. That first explosion of love is wonderful, and no one should put it down. The realizations of reality are also important, and shouldn’t be ignored.

And when a relationship grows into true appreciation, that’s the most beautiful of all.

 

So open your heart, and your eyes. Get out there and meet new people, like some, love some, fall in love, learn too much, get hurt, get back up, love again, and find the loves that last. In other words, live!

And no matter how many times you’ve been hurt, don’t trash love to me.

Since I’m someone who just loves trash!

 

xoxo

Shirelle

 

My Kind of Shooter … the life and beautiful soul of a true giant

My Kind of Shooter … the life and beautiful soul of a true giant

Maybe you’ve never heard of him. After all, he lived to be pretty old, and his greatest fame was 40-50 years ago. But you’ve almost certainly heard of his team. Because they did something no one else had ever done, and did it so well that no one else even tries.

 

And they did it for a reason that, we can hope, will never come again.

 

When Meadow Lemon, Jr. was born, he had a pretty lousy life laid out for him. Kids of African descent were treated to segregation and worse in the North Carolina city where he grew up. But one day he saw something that changed his life.   A basketball team, composed of men who looked like him. (At this time, professional basketball teams in the United States only allowed white players). The team was called The Harlem Globetrotters, and Lemon knew at once that he wanted to join them and be like them.

 

As their family was too poor to afford actual basketball equipment, he made a hoop out of a coat hanger with an onion sack hanging from it, and used a milk can as a ball. And then he did what all youngsters hate to hear, but is the key to so much: he practiced, and practiced, and practiced. And he got good. Very good.

 

By the time Lemon reached adulthood, two things had changed. The National Basketball Association had begun letting some black players onto teams, and the Globetrotters had discovered that they could grow their popularity by focusing more on entertainment than competition. But all this suited him perfectly.

 

Before he got hired by the team in 1954, Meadow had changed his first name to Meadowlark, as he liked the idea of being associated with a songbird. And this was to become the essence of his life – that the key to existence is Joy.

 

Meadowlark Lemon’s brilliant gymnastics and irresistible charm raised the Globetrotters into true international superstars. They toured the world, turning the serious sport of basketball into a hilarious and magical experience. But at the same time, their games carried a serious message – they spent the whole time making fun of their white opponents and officials.

 

Take a look at this video, and you’ll see what I’m talking about. There’s never been anything quite like them. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:The_Harlem_Globetrotters_in_Scheveningen.ogv And the one having the most fun out there – and the most popular for the crowds – is our friend Meadowlark.

 

Now you might note the time we’re talking about. While the Globetrotters were having fun on the court, African-Americans were fighting for their rights to equality, being insulted, shot at, even having some of us dogs set onto them. They were becoming bigger in music than ever before, with great demanding songs like “Respect” and “Say It Loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud!” And the Globetrotters were saying the same things, but in a way that made little children everywhere laugh.   And Lemon and his teammates weren’t expressing anger and fury (as they had every right to), but love and fun.

 

Before long, the Globetrotters were so “mainstream” there was a children’s cartoon series about them. And the idea of segregating sports became seen as completely absurd (Why in the world would a team not want to have the best players it could have?!). One of the Globetrotters, Wilt Chamberlain, left and became the greatest competitive player of his time. But even he acknowledged that the finest player he’d ever seen was Meadowlark Lemon.

 

So why didn’t Lemon go “pro” like his friend? It was clear – he had way too much fun performing. He loved the audiences, and he especially loved the kids.

 

Eventually, he even became a minister, but he didn’t leave basketball comedy behind – he used his skills and charisma to reach out to kids around the world and build up their courage and optimism with his message of hope and love. And, as always, joy.

 

By the time he passed on, Lemon was able to see a very different world than the one he’d grown up in. Racial segregation is seen around the world as wrong and stupid; basketball is one of the most popular sports in the world; and while racism certainly still exists, it has to hide itself in other forms, as it’s universally despised. Lemon had something to do with all of these changes.

 

So why am I writing about him this month? Because I see so much anger out there. So much violence. And so many of the people committing it argue that they have good reason to do so. They kill because their people have been mistreated, because their religion has been insulted, because the way things are just isn’t fair.

 

And I’m not here to tell you that any of their arguments are wrong. But I do have one simple question: does the violence ever actually make anything better?

 

In my country, a politician argued a few weeks ago that members of a particular religion should be kept from entering the country. Soon after that, some members of that religion committed a horrible act of violence. This only helped that politician. Imagine if, instead, those people had done something to make all their countrymen love and appreciate them; they could have been responsible for ending that man’s political career!

 

So to those of you who write me about the unfairness of the world, about oppression, about prejudice… please know, I support your voice. When you write, when you sing, when you scream, when you march, when you post, I bow to you.

 

But please take just a moment to think about Meadowlark Lemon and his teammates. And see if you can, besides expressing your anger, if you can do something to make the world look at you in a way that lets them see your joy.

 

Because if you do, they can never dismiss you again.

 

Hey, it sure works for this pup.

 

Love,

Shirelle

2 Hello. It’s Me. …the struggle for identity…

Hello. It’s Me. …the struggle for identity…

As you know, we pups have really great hearing – far stronger than any human has. Lately, I’ve been hearing radios, phones, TVs, computers, all playing the same thing – this pained voice singing a beautiful song that starts “Hello – It’s me.”

 

The first time I heard it, since we hadn’t heard anything from that voice for a few years, it made sense to hear her say “it’s me,” to all of us who heard her say “Hello” and thought “Hey, isn’t that…?!” But now, I’ve heard it so much I want to bark back to say, “Okay! Enough! We know it’s you!”

 

But then, as it’s kept playing, it’s gotten me thinking about something very interesting – about this particular time in human history.

 

Most of you know that this great singer has now put out three albums, each of which tells about a year in her life. And each title is about each age, 19, 21, and her new one, 25. What I find fascinating is that this new album will probably take over from the gigantic popularity of another singer’s album that’s dominated the radios for a couple of years now, titled 1989, for the year of her birth.

 

Think about this – probably the two most popular singers in the world, who both tend to record autobiographical songs about their relationships, and both putting out albums whose titles tell us when they were born, and how old they are.

 

What’s going on?

 

It used to be common for pop artists to put a year on their album to show how current they were – think of big successes like Beatles ’65, Sinatra ’65, Talking Heads ’77, or simply the great Aretha Now. Or other folks even made themselves futuristic, like that huge album from 1982 called, um 1999! So this is different – these women aren’t saying they’re “now,” or “what’s coming;” they’re arguing something else.

 

I kept thinking about this, and my mind went to others of the most popular singers out there – there’s that guy who’s usually going on about how great he is, and recently said he’s going to run for president; there’s that other guy who put out a song called “Sorry,” that lots of people think is an apology for his public bad behavior; and there’s that woman cheering girls everywhere to “Roar” and be a “Firework.” Not to mention the superstar who for years has argued in his raps that whatever you think he is is wrong, including any one of his three names he uses (and will the real one please stand up, please stand up!)

 

And I thought – you know what? This is an exciting moment. And it’s all about Identity.

 

There have been other times when pop music emphasized the personal – the early 1970s are often called the “Singer-Songwriter” era, a time when lots of the top groups broke up and their individual members performed songs about things like their childhoods, mothers, and every detail of their romances. But this is different. Those past artists seemed to be saying, “I want you to see the rest of me.” But these newer ones are yelling “Hey! I’m Here! Don’t Ignore Me!” As if they’re creating their existence by stating it.

 

That’s pretty big.

 

We pooches don’t have large enough brains to hold a sense of our own identities. I know I am what I am, because I just am. I like to be noticed, so I bark. But I don’t care a bit about whether the ones I bark at know my name, or how I feel about my friends, or what year I was born.

 

But you humans do. A lot right now. And it’s not just in the new music. It’s in the events we’re seeing worldwide – good and bad – where countries debate about what their identity is and whether it includes refugees from other places, where people kill and torture others in hopes of achieving an ethnic purity, and where masses march chanting that their lives matter.

 

Their lives matter. Wow. How much one must feel their identity is ignored to feel they have to say their lives matter. How absolutely horrible.

 

And then, think about it – for the whole duration of humankind, there have been people who didn’t feel right about the bodies they were born in, believing to the core of their souls that their true identities didn’t match their outer sex. But never before has this been as much in the news, or TV shows… never so much in the public’s mind. It’s as if everyone everywhere is either yelling “See me for what I am!” or listening to someone else say it – whether they like it or not.

 

(Just in case you’re wondering, no dog has ever been transgendered. Because, you see, we don’t have any sense of our gender! I’m a female, but I lift my leg when I pee. Why? I don’t know, I just do! You humans, with your large brains, have to deal with so much more grief about these things than we do!)

 

So I’m not going to tell you what to do about these identity issues. I’m going to assume that every one of you is going through this, and feels the need to scream it out. And as you do, I’ll be listening, fascinated.

 

But I do hope you also, occasionally, can let go of it. And just accept, the way I do, that you simply are. And that whether other people see you or notice you, or accept you… or even whether or not you accept yourself the way you were born… you still can just be.

 

Please don’t ignore, or forget, what’s frustrating you. But could you, every now and then, simply remember that deep down you’re a being, like me, and that you can run like crazy, chase birds you’ll never catch, bark at the clouds, jump so high you fall down laughing, and get yourself very very muddy.

 

And maybe when you do, you can live up to those words that singer who was born in 1989 said…

 

“’Cause the players gonna play, play, play, play, play
And the haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate
Baby, I’m just gonna shake, shake, shake, shake, shake
I shake it off, I shake it off!”

What goes bump in YOUR night! …what is truly, truly scary to you?!

What goes bump in YOUR night! …what is truly, truly scary to you?!

Where I live, in the United States, we’re about to have two really fun holidays. From our European heritage, we have Halloween, and from Mexico, we have Dia De Los Muertos  (Day of the Dead). Both involve decorations with skeletons, concepts of the dead coming out of their graves… ooh it’s enough to make anyone go “Yikes!”

About a week ago, I wrote a letter to my Pack members, asking what gives them the willies. The responses were… well, read on!

Like most people, eiei hates public speaking; so does cinderrella (along with creepy sounds at night and vampire movies); Peace_Dog is worried about True and False Prophecy; Astrid is scared of paranormal TV shows – especially since she saw one where a ghost robbed a girl out of a bed that looked just like hers! — and angelbrat,my kind of human, said that what scares her the most is CATS!  “They are weird, ugly, disturbing and most of all they are associated with witchcraft. They remind me of deaths especially when they growl its as if they are talking to each other.” Exactly how I feel (but angelbrat, I think your friend must be making up that story about a cat strangling a person! I mean, those paws are awfully small!!)

You know, when I was giving examples of what might scare a lot of my Pack, there was one thing I thought about mentioning but didn’t – and then two letters came in about that! Brittany wrote, “This morning at recess at school I leaned up against the corner of the kindergarten building, and my friend Emily said ‘Um…behind you?’ and I walked away and saw a huge yellow and black spider going insane.  That scared me to death!” And PurpleHaze pointed out that she knows they’re good for the ecology, so she doesn’t kill them (good for you my dear! You’re so right!), but that “It doesn’t matter if they are little bitty teeny spiders that build little bitt y teeny spider webs between blades of grass, or big hairy Wolf spiders that carry their babies on their backs or giant fake spiders in silly movies, or pretty garden spiders with pretty colored stripes that build big beautiful webs between two trees, or the small fuzzy ones that seem to hop from place to place… I get itchy all over like maybe something is crawling on me. I have to look behind me all the time, like maybe there’s one sneaking up on me.  And it takes me hours to make the feelings go away.”

Wow, PurpleHaze, I think you’re a poet! That’s so well-written it gives me the creeps… and I don’t mind spiders at all!

But there’s another letter that I really want to share with you all. I expected most of the letters to be creepy fun, and maybe even funny. And they were. But this one made me cry. I think it’s one of the most sensitive, beautiful things I’ve ever read. And I think it says, in an incredibly honest way, what I and most of my Pack friends often feel.

“I’m fond of talking, like chatting, or in person. But I usually get worried when I talk to boys who I don’t know online and when they want to see my photo. I think this is because I wanna be something special in their mind even I don’t like them. At those moments, I am worried if they don’t like me. I don’t mean that like between boys and girls, I mean like between a person and a person.

“As I am a teenager, I also care about how everybody sees me. In fact, I am really scared that someone thinks ‘she is nothing, just forget her.’ So, I try to meet people, but sometimes, it doesn’t work out.  Actually, it (not working out) happens a lot these days. I am so depressed, and now I am a little scared even to try.  In education, and in community, if I make a mistake, I feel like everybody I love is blaming me. And even when they are wrong, they act like their mistake is nothing compared to mine. So, sometimes, I lie to cover my fault.  I know its wrong, but it makes me feel better.

“Well… enough of my feelings. FINALLY, the thing that really scares me is that someone I love or someone I care about thinks of me as a jerk and being a failure in my own mind, no matter how I try.

“Therefore, I would like to ask you a favour. Right now, I need a place to let go my mind. If you have a network address or something to help me share my feelings or forget them, I would like to know that. I really wish you won’t ignore my mail and I am hoping for your reply.”

Well, Erin, I can tell you right away – that’s so beautiful and sad, I can’t ignore it at all. And here’s my reply: You Are A Member of Our Pack! And you can write me anytime you want with your feelings, and I’ll be honored and thrilled to hear from you. And if you want to share your concerns with everyone else, I’ll post them just like all the other hundreds of questions I do; or if you would prefer it stays just between us, that’s fine too.

Now, what scares me?
Let’s see… skateboards, loud noises, my veterinarian when she has a needle… but when I really think about it, there’s one thing that scares me the most. And that is Rage. When a stranger doesn’t want me in their yard, and screams at me to get away, or when dogs get into a fight or are barking at me furiously, or (worst of all) when Handsome gets really angry and yells out bad words – I get really scared.  Oh sure, I know I can outrun that stranger, or avoid that fight, and I know Handsome will always calm down right away and pat me and say he’s sorry that he got so upset. But still, lots of times, I’m still trembling.

So give me a speech to make in front of a thousand people, give me a whole web full of spiders, even give me a night full of the yowling of cats! I’ll take all those, if I can just not get yelled at.

Because, you know, it’s when I’m yelled at that I feel most alone. And that’s when I have those feelings like
Erin wrote about. Those feelings we all know all too well.

But hey, Halloween and Dia de los Muertos are not about bad hurtful feelings! They’re about fun scary stuff! They’re about ghosts and goblins and skeletons and vampires and those amazing “Scream” masks with the fake blood squirting inside them, and zom bies and glowing monstrous jack-o’-lanterns… and lots of candy that makes your next trip to the dentist TRULY scary!

So here’s hoping that for this month, and forever, your scares – well, most of them – are the fun kind.  That’s what this Pawprint is here to celebrate!

It Would Have to Be …living with change…

 (Originally posted September, 2011)
      There’s a very sweet old song that’s been running through my head lately, that begins “If I had to choose just one day, to last my whole life
through…” As I lie on our front doorstep watching the trees’ colors begin to shift, and smelling summer developing into autumn, it makes me think about the whole nature of change.
        Don’t we all have those moments like that song talks about? Where we feel “This is absolutely perfect. I wish time would stop here,
right now, and life could always be this way!” And as we think back on our pasts, those moments stick out. I think I’d choose a day on a beach, or on a mountain, when I felt free and powerful and connected to the whole universe, but also happily with friends I loved and trusted. Others might pick a holiday when they got all the presents they wanted, or a
really amazing romantic date (that’s what the song talks about!). What about you? If you had to choose just one day, to last your whole life through, what would you pick?
      Of course, now that I’ve gotten you thinking about that… it can’t happen. What a drag, huh? Whatever was happening at one moment in our lives was slightly different a moment later. Good moments change, bad moments change, and, sadly, great moments change too.
      It’s kind of a trick, learning how to live with that. On one hand, it’s good to sit back like me on the doorstep, watching the changes and enjoying the show. But on the other hand, life is all about pursuing what our passions, which means not just accepting whatever comes (unless that is your passion, which is awesome!). For example, if a
squirrel should happen to scurry by while I’m on that doorstep… I will definitely follow my bliss!
      Right now, where I live in the United States, most kids are starting a new year of school. And most of them are grumbling about it, of course.  They loved having their summer off, getting away, relaxing, playing, and they’re not happy at all about nine new months of sitting still all day and doing homework at night.
     And yet, and yet… every new school year brings so many possibilities! Kids meet most of their best friends at school, they often find their first romances at school. And occasionally, just every now and then, kids actually learn something at school they will enjoy and use! The truth is, the best day in any of those kids’ lives might actually happen in this school year! The day they think back on, thirty years from now, when they’re asked which day they’d choose to live in forever.
     Other places in the world, other changes are happening. Spring is blooming in the southern hemisphere. Flowers are exploding into their
brightest colors, and everyone’s putting their heavy winter clothes away. Kids there might be preparing for their final exams and getting ready to scream into the joy of their summer vacations.
      And then, of course, some changes aren’t just seasonal. Babies are being born at exactly the moment you read this. Someone just burst out into laughter so hard they can’t control it. Someone else just learned the worst news of their lives and started weeping. A scientist just discovered the results of an experiment that will help in curing a disease. Another person just said something that made their friend never trust them again. Someone else just said something that made them a new best friend. And someone else just looked into someone’s eyes and realized they will love that person forever. Dogs are howling, birds are curling up to go to sleep, and cats… well they’re just being silly old cats of course!
      Most humans would say that the most exciting
thing in the world right now is what’s happening in a lot of the Arab nations in the Middle East. The changes there will determine the future of the world. They could result in a beautiful peace, and prosperity for a lot of people who’ve been downtrodden for centuries… or they could result in continuation and escalation of the wars that have ravaged that area for decades. It’s thrilling, it’s scary… and it’s right now.
      And that’s the thing about change. It’s always right now. You could meet your next sweetheart today. You could be in a car accident too. When you turn on your radio, you might hear a song for the first time that becomes your favorite ever.
      So go ahead and choose what moment of your past was your favorite. But don’t let that take your focus away from what’s really the most
amazing moment in history. The one that’s coming… right….
      Now!

1 The Book Of Love – my top ten rules for dating…

The Book Of Love – my top ten rules for dating…

Every few years – or is it every few days? – a new book comes out telling people what rules to follow in dating. Often it’s rules to help women make sure men will marry them, or rules to help men get women to give them their phone numbers. Well, as a dog, I don’t know much about marriage or phone numbers; what I understand is LOVE. Love is extremely easy for me – I’ve never spent a day not loaded with it, acting on it, and often getting in some trouble for it! But I see you humans struggle with it all the time.

So I’ve worked my thoughts down to five simple rules – with one additional bit. If you follow these, you really should be able to find love. I can’t tell you how quickly, or promise it will last forever. But I can tell you that if you don’t at least follow the five, you’re going to be pretty miserable in your search. Believe me – I see it every day.

Here goes.

 

Rule One: Know Yourself

 

This is very difficult, because no person has ever known themselves fully. But the more you know about yourself, the better off you are.

It’s amazing how honored this rule is. The Temple at Delphi in ancient Greece had this rule written on it, and one of Shakespeare’s most famous lines says it beautifully, “To Thine Own Self Be True.”

But do I mean that you shouldn’t ask someone cute to a movie until you’ve meditated twenty hours a day for twenty years? Of course not. No, I mean that you can’t really be a good boyfriend or girlfriend, or certainly husband or wife, without knowing yourself first. What do you really care about? What do you really like? What do you really hate?

Teenagers, as I so often say, are really brilliant and passionate. But they also do care a great deal about what other teens think. So, for example, a teenager might spend a lot of time listening to some music because it’s popular, that they really don’t like all that much. Why?  Because it’s important to them to like what’s cool! Now there’s nothing wrong with that, but if a teen truly Knows Themselves, they’ll realize that what they love is appearing cool, not that music itself.

Similarly, it’s very normal for humans to go through a stage growing up where they very strongly believe in exactly what their parents believe – watch twelve-year-olds in a political argument; they’ll passionately believe they’ve looked at all sides of an issue, when they’re really arguing about whose mom is more right! What’s funny is that, a few years later, those same kids will just as passionately argue that everything their parents believe in is wrong!

Because of this, I’m a big fan of waiting on any serious commitment till you’ve aged past both of those. Know what YOU believe. Only then can you truly offer yourself to another.

 

 

Rule Two: Know Your Boundaries – and Enforce Them!

I’m not judgmental. I know of people who don’t even see each other’s faces until they’ve married, and others who wouldn’t even commit to calling each other boyfriend-and-girlfriend until they’ve moved in together. Some people are only comfortable with holding hands, and others… well, have you heard about this movie out now whose title sounds like it’s about a beautiful Irish Wolfhound but it’s actually about people who like spanking and being spanked?!

I don’t care what your romantic boundaries are (as long as you don’t do anything to anyone that they don’t want, or to anyone who isn’t old enough to choose). But it is VITAL that you know what they are. So many female humans write me about having gone out with boys and done things they didn’t feel ready for, and they feel awful about it. Even some boys feel pressured. And it’s SO common for young people to not feel they have the right to say what they want and don’t want to each other.

All of these are recipes for discomfort or disaster. So, as well as knowing yourself, decide before you go out with anyone what you will and won’t do. And of course, know that that can change over time.

But don’t just decide it – ENFORCE it. If you don’t want a boy to touch your leg, and he does, tell him in no uncertain terms that that’s not okay. If you don’t want your date texting you ten times a day, let her know. And if that person doesn’t respect the boundaries you’ve set, DUMP THEM! You don’t want to be with someone who doesn’t respect you. It can only go badly!

Meanwhile, someone who does respect your boundaries will feel good to you. And you’ll find that you can still have lots of fun within those rules. And THAT is a great foundation for a great relationship!

 

 

Rule Three: Give What You Want!

You’ve all heard of the Golden Rule, “Do Unto Others as You Would Have Them Do Unto You,” right? Well one thing I find people forget is to take this to a higher level in relationships.

For example, let’s say you’re someone who feels really bad when people don’t pay close attention to what you say. So sure, it’s great to (following Rule One) be aware of that, and (following Rule Two) insist that anyone you date does listen closely to you. But the best way to bring in a partner who does that is for you to pay really close attention to others! Do it yourself, and you’ll attract people who also value it. It’s that simple.

Now I don’t mean this to an extreme literal level. For example, I love getting tummy rubs from Handsome, but my paws would scratch him up if I tried to give them back! But in a broader sense, I do value touch and warmth and someone making me feel good. So as much as Handsome rubs my tummy, I lie against him, and lick his face and hands, and do anything I can to give him the same touch and warmth he gives me.

Similarly, I like a mixture of lots of attention and some distant space. So that’s just what I give him. And it works.

I guess another way of saying this same rule is to not be a hypocrite in love. If you want to be treated with respect, don’t treat others with disrespect. You might find someone who is willing to put up with unequal treatment, but the relationship will always feel flat and disconnected. Far better to put what you want out there, and then let those who can’t return it go their own way. That will create room for someone better for you.

 

Rule Four: See Others as They Truly Are (not as someone you used to know)

This one is just about as difficult as that Know Yourself rule. I see dogs all the time who’ve been hurt or kicked by, say, a tall white male, so they are convinced that all tall white males are going to hurt or kick them. This is what’s commonly known as Prejudice, but a better name for it is Stupidity.

If you own your boundaries, then that should free you up to experience all sorts of new and fun people in your life. So if you went out with a girl ten years ago who rejected you for not being built like Channing Tatum, it’s fine to be a bit concerned that that might happen again, but it doesn’t mean that every girl feels that same way – some girls LIKE thin guys!

And if your brother and his guy friends always insulted you for having such curly hair, don’t assume all boys will be like that – some guys just LOVE long curls!

Handsome had a very funny situation with this long ago. He had a girlfriend whose father would always put on a silly show whenever he came to an automatic door, of throwing his arms open wide, like Moses parting the Red Sea, to open them. It had been cute for a while, but by now she was tired of it. Now Handsome didn’t do that, but he would always put his hand in front of him as he’d approach one of those doors, to make sure the sensor would operate. And every time he did it, she’d accuse him of doing the silly thing her dad would do. Over and over, he’d insist that he was just being safe, but she’d insist he was lying.

And you can probably guess where this is going: One day they approached an automatic door, he waved his hand out, the door didn’t open, and he stopped, but she walked straight into it – BAM! – and bruised her nose! Now he’s not an especially mean guy, but he did laugh about that for an hour. Not because he liked seeing her in pain, but because he was so tired of her insisting that he was doing something just because her dad had done it. No, he was himself.

So is everyone else. Give them a chance to prove it. For better and for worse.

 

 

Rule Five: Speak Up!!!

Yeah, I know I said that thing before about enforcing boundaries, but what else do you have to say? Do you love the way that person smiles when they’re embarrassed? Do you wish they wouldn’t put themselves down so much? Do you just melt when they’re wearing that one outfit? Do you find their humor outrageously funny except when they joke about that one issue you find offensive? TELL THEM!!! Why in the world wouldn’t you?

We dogs tell what we’re feeling all the time! When we want to play, when we love you, when we think you smell interesting, when you’ve stepped on our tail, when we’re sad, when we hate being locked up, when we don’t trust someone… AND WE CAN’T TALK! You have such gifts of communication – USE them!

Touching is great, and no one loves it more than I do. But you can create intimacy in so many other ways, just by letting the other person know what’s going on in you.

And by asking them things! Let’s say you’re on a date with a gorgeous girl who every boy at school is interested in. Do you really think you’re going to prove yourself something special by putting your arm around her at a show? That’s nice, but no big deal. But what if you’re the first guy to ever ask her about her cat? Her cat who she loves more than anything else in the world, who she dreams about, who she finds endlessly fascinating. All you’ve done is ask about that little creature, and suddenly she’s opening her heart to you – and thinking you’re the best guy Ever!   And then imagine you respond by telling her about the dog you had when you were six, who you still miss all these years later. You’ve forged a bond with her that no other guy ever will.

Now does that mean she’ll want you for a boyfriend? Maybe not – maybe she’s interested in twenty other things that you don’t have. But maybe, just maybe, you’ve moved yourself up to the front of the line. Just by talking about what you two care about.

 

Now, these aren’t all the rules there are, certainly. But these are my top five. The ones to protect you from being with the wrong person.  The next on my list are more fun. They include things like playing, teasing, dancing, joking, tickling… all the stuff that makes love a blast. And for those, I want to tell you about the sexiest dog I ever heard of. His name was Wolfgang.

Wolfgang was a dog Handsome had as a boy, and he had more attitude than Tramp and Rin Tin Tin put together. One day, Handsome was walking him in a park, and Wolfgang pulled away and ran off with his leash. Three teenage girls were sitting on a hillside nearby, watching a tennis match. And Wolfgang saw them and went in for an attack. Coming from behind them on the left, he licked each one on the back of the neck, just under their left earlobe. And as one would turn in shock to look, he ran to the next, licking her ear, and off to the next. So he basically created a perfect chorus line of these girls, turning to their left, to see… nothing, because he was already past them!

It was so funny, and so naughty, and yet so innocent. This was years before I was born, but I can tell you right now, I am completely in love with him, just from that story. Wolfgang LIVED romance. Just as I do.

 

Did any of those girls go out with him? Give him their phone number? Marry him?! Of course not – they were humans! But this spirit, this energy, mixed with him knowing himself, enforcing his boundaries, giving what he wanted, seeing others as they were, and speaking up…? He could have had any pooch he wanted!

 

That’s a lot to ask, I know. But if you can do all these things, you can live like me, and Wolfgang. And like every human out there who lives a life full of real love.

 

And I promise you, that’s a lot better than any phone number!!!

 

Earlobe Kisses,

Shirelle

 

4 Led Off the Path …the problem of struggling with goals…

Led Off the Path …the problem of struggling with goals…

You all know about my friend Handsome, the human I live with. Most of the time, I look at him with wide-eyed idolatry – he is so smart and powerful that he can make a car turn on, he can open locked doors with just a key, and he’s able to get all the food he wants without even chasing squirrels! And oh, how he knows just where to scratch my tummy… I mean he’s just brilliant!

But at the same time, sometimes he’s pretty clueless. There’s so much he doesn’t get. And that’s where I get to feel useful, and even smart, by helping him out.

For example, he was brooding around the house a few days ago, about the fact that 2014 will be over soon. Not that he’s loved the year so much he hates to see it go (he’s had those), or that he’s hated it so much he wishes it were gone already (he’s had those too), or that it’s just rushed by so fast (that happens EVERY year!). This one was more specific. “When last year ended,” he grouses, “all these things, all these achievements of mine, were set to happen. I was so excited about what 2014 would bring. And here it’s almost gone, and none of them is here! I haven’t accomplished a single thing I expected to!”

It’s never fun for me when he’s in moods like this. He goes stomping around (which can mean he doesn’t see me and accidentally steps on my tail), sometimes yelling at himself, and often forgetting important things – like feeding the dog!

So I really wanted to make things better for him. Which made me think – what does it mean when you haven’t done all you’d planned on?

 

Now that can happen because you were lazy and didn’t do the work you were supposed to. Or it can be because you weren’t organized enough and all your work went to the wrong things. Or it could be because you just didn’t care. Those are all easy to change.

But in Handsome’s case, it wasn’t any of those. He worked hard all year, and most of the time he was very organized, with a focus to achieve these goals.

Nope, the reason he didn’t accomplish what he’d planned was that 2014 was a year in which hundreds, yes I said hundreds, of things got in his way.

You know those days, when you wake up and say “I’m going to work ahead in that class and write that paper today, even though it’s not due for two weeks”… and then the phone rings and it’s your best friend crying because their biggest crush told them they weren’t interested… and then your dad comes in and says you have to clean out the garage before their party tonight… and then your little brother falls and breaks his thumb, and you have to go to the emergency room with him…

…And suddenly, the day’s gone. And you’ve lived the opposite of bad or lazy – you’ve been a good friend, a good daughter, and a good sister (or son and brother) – but that paper hasn’t even been started. And on top of that, while you were cleaning the garage, three friends called you to ask for help on the math homework, and while you were at the hospital, the cat got out and your parents weren’t able to go looking for him because of their party guests, so you’ll have to do it.

So when this kind of craziness isn’t just the story of your day, but of a YEAR, what does that mean? And how can a person move forward from that with a good attitude?

 

Well, this is the kind of question that dogs are waaaaay better than people at answering. You see, we mutts have none of your intricate sense of time. We live moment-to-moment, not thinking about the future or the past any more than we have to. (Now yes, you’ll hear stories about dogs who know what time to go meet their human child at school, but that’s because we have a great connection to nature, and can tell when it’s a particular time of day. But even those dogs haven’t been spending hours worrying, “Hmm, will I have time to chase that squirrel and still be able to make it across town to be at the school by 3:15?” We just don’t have that kind of brain.)

So the idea of a year means something completely different to us than to you. For us, we know that it means something that the weather’s kind of like it was, and the sun sets at a particular part of the horizon, and certain smells come out of the yards around us. But we never think about accomplishments, earnings, grades… any of that.

So when I see Handsome all concerned, I just look at him as hard as I can, till he figures it out.

And what I’m trying to get him to figure out is…

 

  • Years don’t really exist. Yes, the Earth gets back to the relationship to the sun it was a certain time ago, but years are a human-brain concept. So are months, weeks, days, hours, and milliseconds. They don’t have any actual meaning in reality. So the idea that he hasn’t accomplished by December thirty-first what he thought he would the last time it was December thirty-first is… absolutely pointless to me!
  • Big accomplishments take as long as they take. No more and no less. And once they’re done, no one really thinks about what got in the way of their making. How long did it take Shakespeare to write Hamlet? Did Rembrandt paint The Night Watch without being interrupted, or did things get in his way? Did any of The Beatles catch a cold while working on Revolver, and so had to postpone recording? Which of the Harry Potter books did J.K. Rowling have the most trouble in her life while writing? I have no idea of any of these. And if I did, it wouldn’t matter!
  • And biggest of all, while you humans focus on certain accomplishments, you might be ignoring the other ones you actually achieve. To use my example above, is that paper for school really a greater act than the other things you did that day? What if it turns out your friend was so upset about that crush that they were going to do something self-destructive that would have ruined their life, but your talking cooled them down? What if, in cleaning that garage, you came across a leaking can of gasoline that could have been responsible for your home burning to ash? And don’t you know your little brother will remember your care and kindness for years after those school assignments have been forgotten? And beyond that, on a more selfish level, if your goals have been set back by fighting an illness, and you get better, but you find out about someone else somewhere who actually died of that illness, doesn’t that mean that you accomplished something huge? Something they weren’t lucky enough to achieve?

 

So what I want is for Handsome to look at this year in a different way. Sure, he didn’t get those things he was hoping for done in the time he’d planned. But instead, he accomplished hundreds of other things. And accomplishing hundreds of things is a pretty big accomplishment – even if they weren’t what he wanted!

 

What about you? Are you bummed out that you’re facing a Hanukkah without a job? Christmas without a boyfriend? Milad un Nabi without money in the bank? New Year’s without having lost as much weight as you’d hoped?

Then just for a moment, think of how a dog would look at that situation. It would all be in-the-moment. They’d translate those thoughts to “I don’t have a job and want to get one,” “I don’t have a boyfriend and want to get one,” “I don’t have money and want to get some,” and “I don’t have the body I want, and want to get it.”

Different, isn’t it? See how this way of thinking allows for something good to still happen, rather than just feeling disappointed about failure?

 

Maybe that’s why we’re so much happier in general than you guys, even though you have so much we lack!

 

So am I saying not to be ambitious and goal-oriented? Absolutely not! Use those great human brains of yours and go after what you want. Achieve incredible goals we pups can’t even dream! Aim for deadlines, make New Years Resolutions, demand the most of yourself! Those are what keep you focused, and make those achievements happen.

And when you DO meet a goal, be proud. Know you worked hard to get that, and reward yourself.

 

But when you don’t, just remember… no one ever told you that life could be fully planned. Plans are just one part of life. And things come at us, every one of us, every day, that change those intentions. That’s what makes life frustrating. And exciting.

And how we deal with those obstacles that come at us? Those acts are what define us. Truly tell who we are, and who others are. Much more than those goals and intentions ever can.

 

Like… the way I deal with disappointment (woofing and walking away) versus the way Handsome does (saying bad words, kicking the wall, and thinking about it for days)… That says a lot about both of us. And I’m pretty content with the verdict that puts on me!

 

But don’t give up on him. I’m doing my best to change him. In fact, I’m gonna get him to think just the way I do, by this time next year…

 

Oh no! I’ve just started thinking like him! This isn’t working!

 

But wait… he just stopped ranting, and knelt down and started stroking my ears. Mmmmmmm… that feels good…

Maybe he’s learning to live in the moment a bit too.

 

In fact, maybe, who knows… 2015 could turn out to be a year in which we all learn to see things through others’ eyes a bit more.

Now that’s a resolution even I can sign onto.

 

Love, and Happy New Year!

Shirelle

D.B. – a miracle story

D.B. – a miracle story

A couple of years ago, Handsome heard that a woman had died. She was the mother of one of his closest childhood friends, a man he hadn’t been in touch with for longer than he could remember. It made him think about all the great times he’d had with that man when they were boys – laughing so hard in school they couldn’t stop, pulling pranks on their brothers, sneaking out at night… and some things that actually didn’t get them in trouble too!

But as happens so often in life, at some point, their paths diverged. When they were teenagers, Handsome got more withdrawn, more focused on doing well in certain areas, while his friend D.B. got more adventurous. Okay, let’s just say it out loud – Handsome was a Nerd, a Dork! And D.B. started hanging out with a cooler crowd. Living a more interesting life.

And then, after they left high school, things changed even more. D.B. got into a number of bad things, and even fell into some criminal activity to support his addictions to them. He went from the very healthy lifestyle of his childhood into one where a number of his friends died, either from overdosing on drugs, or being murdered by others involved in that world.

 

And then one day, after years of living at what they call “rock bottom,” he found out from a doctor what anyone could have guessed – that he was also going to die, from the damage all these poisons had caused his liver.

And so, D.B. did the hardest thing he’d ever done. He pulled himself together as much as he could, and quit. He quit drinking, quit drugs, quit all of those things. He moved away from his home town, since all the people he knew were still doing those things. He lived in constant pain, and was unable to medicate himself for it at all. And, knowing he didn’t have long to live, he did something amazing – he started taking writing classes at a college. And he wrote and wrote, writing about the people he’d known, the horrible and amazing things he’d seen while in his hellish state. And his biggest hope was to get some of his writings published, so he’d have some legacy, something of his to survive when he died – which could be any day.

 

When he got Handsome’s letter, he was surprised, and phoned him. His voice was so trashed, Handsome didn’t even recognize it. But it was him. And for the next couple of years, they talked often. They’d talk about what they remembered from their childhoods, and about what either knew about publishing (not much, frankly!). And they talked about the different roads they’d taken to get to the places they were.

And each time the talks ended, they’d say ‘goodbye,’ knowing that that might well be the last goodbye they had.

 

But then something happened. Something no one could have predicted. Something the doctors absolutely don’t understand at all: D.B. got better. And a week ago, D.B. phoned Handsome, to say that he and a friend of his would be traveling through Handsome’s part of the world early next year, and he’d love to meet up and spend a day together. The doctors had given him a clean bill of health! Now of course, his liver is still very damaged, and he could have a turn for the worse any time. Probably will. But right now, he’s okay. He credits all his health to “Prayer and Karma,” though his much-improved diet must have helped too.

But do you know why he and his friend will be traveling? Not to visit Handsome, or to go sightseeing. They’re traveling because his friend thinks he has a gold mine! They’re going to search for gold!

 

For years, D.B. lived in a world of hopelessness, of self-destructive emptiness. And his miserable journey of recovery has led him to this place, where he is going to chase a wild, adventurous dream. Will they have any luck? Will he get rich? Will he live long enough to enjoy anything that he gets? Will he be able to repair any of the relationships he damaged in his years of self-centered addiction?

 

I don’t know. I’m only a dog. But I know what I think of this. I know that for two years, Handsome always looked sad after he spoke with D.B. on the phone, but that this time, he hung up, threw his head back, and laughed.

 

Most of the time, life goes the way it usually goes. But sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes people find it feels good to refuse their hunger’s request, and fast for weeks; sometimes one day’s worth of oil burns for eight; sometimes an extra-bright star burns and a baby is born to rise from humility to greatness no one could have imagined. Sometimes the power of Unity and Self-Determination and Collective Economics and Collective Responsibility and Purpose and Creativity and Faith can combine to raise the power of an entire people.

Sometimes, yes, there’s a miracle. You just have to see them when they happen. One should be stopping by our home in about a month. And how cool is that!

 

Happy Eid, Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, Christmas, and, yes, Holiday Season, to all of you. May your faith in the amazing that can happen anytime glow just a little brighter in this majestic new year.

 

 

1 The Devils You Know … how to face reunions

The Devils You Know … how to face reunions

When I head out to a dog park, I have a lot of agendas. First, I just want to feel the freedom of running around an open area without a leash. But then I like to seek out the good smells, and see if any people have dropped anything tasty to eat that no dog has snatched up yet (I know, the odds of this happening are virtually impossible, but we pooches are eternal hopers!). And then, my favorite part, I check out the dogs.

Just like you, we pups greet each other by expressing curiosity. You humans might ask, “How are you?” when you meet, while we inquire, “What have you been doing?” And my favorite, “What have you been eating?!” And as you know, we do this by sniffing each other’s butts. Something most of you humans find funny, and kind of ridiculous. But it works!

It’s great to know where someone’s been, what they’ve been up to, how they’ve been feeling, and yes, whether or not they got to snack on any hamburgers. And our noses are our most sensitive sensers, so that’s the best way for us to find out.

And while it’s fun to do this with new acquaintances, “Wow, that Samoyed over there had some curry!” what means the most is when I find a friend, a pup I already knew, and can find out what’s new with them. It just means more to me.

Now is this because that dog I knew is better than another dog? Not necessarily. It is nice that I know I can trust them (or that I can’t! Ever heard that old line about “better the devil you know than the devil you don’t?” It’s kind of good to know which dogs are likely to bite if you get too playful!), and might have a sense of how they like to play. But it’s more than that; I just like finding out about the pooches I know. It’s exciting to me, to learn about what adventures they’ve had, what about them is the same, and what’s changed.

I find that humans are the same way. If you walk into a party, and the room is full of strangers, but you see one friend, you’re almost certain to head straight to the one you know. It’s comfortable, and easier than trying to start a conversation with someone new. But also, you’re likely to have a deeper experience. Think about it, if you meet someone new, you’re going to have pretty shallow chit-chat as you size up what they’re like. Whereas you could walk up to that old friend and instantly start talking about how each of you felt about the news about your mutual acquaintance, or what happened at your school. The exchange isn’t exactly better, but it’s usually more.

What fascinates me about this is that you humans are so often frightened to meet up with your old cronies – especially when it comes to Reunions. Whether it’s of family, or people they went to school with years ago, people seem to worry that they’re going to be judged or disliked. “Oh, I don’t want to go, my mean cousin will be there,” or “I’ve put on twenty pounds and don’t want them to see me like this.” While the funny thing is that, since everyone there feels the same, most likely everyone else is worried about themselves, and no one is judging the person who’s worrying so much.

But it’s actually even more ironic. I see humans meet up with people they knew years ago, when they were growing up, who they were never close to – but they’re THRILLED to see each other. Why? Because they shared experiences. They are so happy to re-join someone who knew the world they knew, who lived in that reality. Who cares that you weren’t super-close? What matters is that both of you were there.

Then this can get kind of funny too, when people who simply couldn’t stand each other meet up at these things. The bully who pulled your underwear up in front of your crush, or the nerd who aced every test and so kept your grades lower than you wanted, or the cheat who dishonestly beat you out for the basketball team. You’d think you’d hate these people for life, but instead, you see them, and your heart just expands! You actually feel love for that person! How in the world can that happen?!

Well, I’d argue, it’s what I was saying about sniffing under tails. That person might have been a weenie when they were younger, and they might still be a weenie (most likely they are!), but you still feel affection for them, because of that background you shared.

So my advice is, when that family reunion invitation shows up, or when the time for that get-together of your classmates rolls around, don’t look for an excuse to skip it. Head on in – even though you’re all loaded up with failures and extra weight and all that. Magic can happen, and often does.

 

Which leads me to an especially crazy thought. As I’ve just described, it’s really exciting to meet up with dogs I know. But I get excited by pooches all the time anyway. When I’m in the back seat of Handsome’s car, and we drive past humans, I might look at them, but it doesn’t affect me much. But when I see a dog, I freak out; my heart rate kicks up, I start barking (usually right in Handsome’s ear – he doesn’t care for that much), and I lose all sense of propriety. Because I see that dog as “one of us.”

And, as I described above, you humans get excited about seeing the people you know, even if you’d thought you wouldn’t. For the same reason.

Now, I want you to try to picture something. What if you tried to have a little bit of what I have when we drive?

Imagine if every person you met, for the rest of your life (or at least for today), you looked at as someone you share something with. Imagine you could have that heart-growth with a stranger, because you both are on that same piece of Earth at that same moment, or because you both were babies once, or because you both are humans who have loved, have cried, have laughed so hard you peed, and have lost someone you’ll never get over.

Now, imagine that there’s something about that person you hate. Maybe you’re on the opposite sides of a bad conflict. Maybe your ancestors and theirs did horrible things to each other – or maybe it was just one of yours doing horrible things to the other’s. Maybe you passionately disagree about what your country’s leaders should be doing. Maybe that other person has said horrible things about your race or your religion or your rights.

And yet… it’s still true. You share much, much more than you differ. And maybe, if you can look at that person with some interest, some excitement, some love about that, it’ll inspire them to see you that way too. Just a little.

And maybe then, the whole world will be just a little bit more like a family, or a party, or a Reunion.

 

Think about that word: Reunion. Becoming one, again. It’s a pretty beautiful concept.

 

Or better yet, maybe if you humans can do this, you’ll become more like a… Dog Park! And believe me, there’s NOWHERE more fun than that! What a future you could have!

Anyway, it’s just an idea.

 

Cheers,

Shirelle

6 The Best That You Can Do …how to live with your strengths, and weaknesses…

The Best That You Can Do …how to live with your strengths, and weaknesses…

Most of you know I was named after a singing group. There’s a reason for that: you see, my human, Handsome, just loves music. He’s always got a song going through his head, and usually is singing something or has music playing on a machine. I, like all dogs, have fantastic hearing, but, because of him, as well as the bugs and squirrels and skateboards I can hear from far away, I’m usually hearing guitars and trumpets and drums and singing from close by.

Handsome also tends to get on “kicks.” He’ll go through weeks listening only to some new singer, or some old opera, or become completely obsessed with the works of one great musician and not want to listen to anyone else for weeks.

Recently he’s been on a kick about a brilliant songwriter named Burt Bacharach. You might have heard of him – his most popular stuff came out way back in the 1960s and early 70s (there was even a running joke of him appearing in the retro “Austin Powers” movies), but his tunes show up still all the time. They’re not exactly rock and roll, not specifically soul, not quite jazz… you can only categorize them as Bacharach.

What pulled Handsome in to this obsession was the intricacy of Bacharach’s recordings. On the surface, they just sound like great, bright, catchy tunes. But if you listen closely, there is such incredible detail – the instrumentations are amazing, the timing changes lots within a song (something very rare in pop music), and the singing is often of a range very few vocalists can achieve. It’s like if one of the great classical composers started writing for the pop charts.

I used the word “bright” up there. His songs even conjure up colors in people’s minds (not in mine – we pups don’t see colors). A big brash sound with tons of instruments will suddenly go quiet for a soft trombone solo or a few notes on a piano, and you can’t help but see pictures. The great singers he had do his songs (including my namesakes, The Shirelles!) were given the most glorious rhythms, sweeping and witty-sounding melodies, creating a world of sophistication, intelligence, romance, and sexiness – but all in tunes everyone of any age can hear and enjoy.

But then there’s this other, unexpected, thing about those songs. Most of them have words that expose – not bright and sexy feelings – but sadness, loneliness, fear, failure, and especially deep love.   And it’s that mixture, of the brightest of melodies with such poignant lyrics, that make these songs so powerful, and so continually popular.

If you’re intrigued, I’d say to check out the following recordings to start:

  • “Baby, It’s You” by The Shirelles
    • This was an early hit for him, and not as complex as he’d get, but it shows the brightness I talk about. And if you listen really closely to the background, you’ll hear one male voice among the females… That’s Bacharach singing!
  • “Do You Know the Way to San Jose” by Dionne Warwick
    • This defines the brightness I was talking about. Listen to how the beats change, all the cool instrumentation, and how effortlessly this great singer jumps from low to very very high notes, like me when I wake up to see a cat outside the window – but much smoother!
  • “What the World Needs Now is Love” by Jackie DeShannon
    • One of his most famous songs – and a magical example of what I mean by pictures. Just try listening to this beautiful hymn without suddenly seeing that soft trombone when everything stops for it to play those tiny simple notes
  • “Casino Royale” by Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass
    • The theme song to a very silly movie – not the more recent Daniel Craig one. Here’s Bacharach without words – just an orchestra and a pop/jazz band painting an incredible landscape of sound. Listen to this one loud!

 

So while Handsome has been playing this music all the time, I became fascinated by this mix. You see, these songs are kind of like me. On the outside, I’m the most cheerful, silly, wild dog you’ve ever seen. But on the inside, I’m always thinking about the things you write me questions about – loneliness, fear, worries, etc. Which made me wonder – how did this Bacharach achieve these? What sort of human is he?

So I started to study up about him. He’s a very good-looking man (not as handsome as Handsome, of course, but to my eyes, no one is), and has lived a life of great wealth and popularity, with exciting romances, and even marriages, to beautiful movie stars, and yet – if you watch footage of him – there’s something a bit, well… dorky about him! He’s a little distanced from everyone around him. A little shy. A little obsessive.

And that’s not just in how he looks. People who worked with him talk about how crazy he’d drive them with his perfectionism. Everything had to match exactly the way he’d hear his music in his head, and he wasn’t necessarily nice about telling them so. Most composers write songs to fit particular singers; Bacharach wrote whatever he heard in his head, and then had to go to great lengths to find singers who could possibly sing it (Today, he performs with a group of singers, using two or even three voices to sing as big a range as one of his greatest vocalists could handle). He wrote the score for a hit musical, but was so horrified when he went to a performance and realized he couldn’t control all the musicians all the time that he never did another (though now, fifty years later, he’s saying he’d like to). “Control Freak,” you ask? You bet.

And in his personal life, what did people say about him? That he’s charming, but self-centered, maybe even a little cold. In other words, all that intricacy you hear in his recordings, and all the bright brilliance, is him. But then where did those beautiful words come from?

 

And this is what made me write this article. One simple fact: He never wrote the words to his songs! He only does music. In fact, at one point, when explaining to his ex-wife why he was a caring but distant father, his argument was, “Look, I’m just a piano player!”

He worked with a number of lyricists over the years, but most of his great successes were with a writer named Hal David. David was the complete opposite of Bacharach – a quiet man, devoted to his wife and family, and full of all the tender wisdom those lyrics express. As brilliant a lyricist as Bacharach is a composer, but in a fully different way.

What this means is that these two men knew it. They saw in each other what they each lacked, and valued it. And knew that, mixed together, their strengths could make magic. People often think that the great partnerships are between folks who think alike, but this is the opposite – these guys succeeded because of the incredible electricity that their differences created!

 

So when you go to school, and suffer the pain of doing poorly in one area, while you’re succeeding in another, sure, put some more effort into what you’re weak at. But also, be sure to remember: no one is great at everything. And, throughout your life, if you can devote yourself what you’re best at, while acknowledging what you’re not, and honoring those qualities in others, you’re on the road to a lot of success and happiness.

It’s hard. I know. It drives me nuts that I can’t climb a tree like stupid cats do! And I do try, believe me! But then again, I don’t know any cats who help girls win boyfriends, or help mothers talk with their kids! And maybe, just maybe, each of us in this world is helping co-write some great composition that we don’t even know about.

 

So that’s what I get out of listening to all these songs endlessly over the last couple of months: Respect what you’re great at, find your true voice, and dive into your passions. And yet be honest enough to encourage others in what you just don’t do all that well.

And if you can do that, perhaps you’ll achieve something as great and fascinating and addictive as Bacharach and David’s songs are, and will always be. At the very least you’ll know you’re doing, as another of Bacharach’s lyricists wrote, “The Best That You Can Do.”

And that’s not too bad a way to live.

1 4 5 6 7 8 10