Category Archives for "Life Skills"

2 My Heroes! – the humans I look up to most

         We dogs tend to idolize our humans, so I of course see Handsome as the most wonderful being ever (which coincidentally is just the way he sees me!).  But he’s not my only hero.  I have a lot. 

         First of all, anyone who gives me food, ever, is my hero (or heroine – I’m using the word “hero” regardless of gender) at that moment, with all my heart.  Or anyone giving me a tummy rub for that matter.

         And secondly, I see a lot of dogs and people who do amazingly brave things.  Rescuers, crimefighters, firefighters, defenders of their country, all that.  We domestic dogs often get credited with being selfless, but those beings show a caring for others beyond themselves that makes even us gasp.

         But I find another group of humans particularly stunning. And I want to talk about them today:  Healthcare Workers.

         There are all sorts of healthcare workers out there.  Doctors, surgeons, nurses, chiropractors, acupuncturists – I love them all and owe my life to them.  And so does Handsome.  And so, I’m pretty sure, do you.  Even if you haven’t ever had a life-threatening illness or injury, have these people kept you alive through their care?  Or was one of your parents saved from something that endangered their life before you were born? Well, then if it weren’t for the devoted workers who saved them, you’d never have been here at all, right?!

         I don’t think there’s anything easy about working in medicine or health. For starters, even I know those required classes are hard!  Handsome often tells me he would have loved to become a veterinarian, if only he wouldn’t have had to pass Introductory Biology – and the study gets a lot harder after that.

         Then we all hear about how much work those professionals have to go through once they’ve finished their study (I know it’s very romanticized, but if you’ve ever watched Grey’s Anatomy, that shows some of the crazy work that medical interns are put through).  Long shifts, food we dogs might turn our noses up at, ungrateful or even mean patients, and lots of grotesque sights and smells.

         And then there’s what we know is the very worst part: the guarantee of failure. No human or animal lives forever, and those who try to keep us going face death in their patients all the time.  Or even failures that aren’t death – injuries that never fully heal, or diseases that permanently maim someone – all of it is heartbreaking.  We always hear people say they’re afraid to get a pet because it’s so sad when they die; imagine facing that every day at work.

         My best friend Aria died last year of a cruel cancer. The oncologists who worked with her lose dogs and cats to that disease constantly. Somehow they soldier on through it (and yes I use that word on purpose – these souls are soldiers in a war that never ends). Imagine being a heart surgeon, or a specialist in geriatric (a big word for old people) healthcare.  You’re fighting against time every day, and time will always win eventually.

         We saw probably the greatest example of the bravery of healthcare workers ever a few years ago, during the height of the COVID pandemic.  These incredible people went in to emergency rooms, intensive care units, or even just their regular offices every day, facing, fighting, and daring exposure to a disease people knew hardly anything about.  Then, as we all saw, a bunch of yahoos all over the world made it worse by spreading misinformation about the disease, encouraging people not to mask or distance, lying that vaccinations didn’t work (I hate shots and fully understand those who chose to not get vaccinated, but that does not mean those painful injections aren’t saving countless lives), and even attacking healthcare workers for doing those great noble deeds.

         And now we hear about people leaving the health industry, burned out by these exhausting years.  What a horrible awful disgusting fact that is – they should be honored and lionized, not struggling with finding a new career that doesn’t mean as much to them.

         But in the end, I have to stick with what’s personal to me (I know, that’s an odd word, but “dogal” doesn’t exist!):  I love every veterinarian and vet assistant in the world. 

I love the ones who have a natural gift that makes us love them, and those who don’t, and so have to work harder at it. 

I love the ones who make me feel good, and the ones who have to spray things up my nose and stick needles into me, and even cut me open. 

I love the ones who run clinics and the ones who only walk the dogs around or pet the cats, and the ones who just sign patients in at the front desk. 

I love the ones in cities and those who travel around to farms.

I love the ones who help horses, lions, gerbils, parakeets, elephants, donkeys, pigs, barramundis, and yes, even cats.  But you know I most most most most love the ones who help us dogs.

So I have two requests for you, dear reader.  First, if you’re young and thinking of what to do with your life, please think hard about going into healthcare. We don’t know the future of a lot of professions, but this one’s going to be around as long as any animal is still living.

And second, to all of you, please let your healthcare worker, of whatever sort, know how appreciative you are of them, of the work they put in just to get here, and of all they’re doing for you. 

They deserve it, and, who knows, today might be the day they most need to hear it from you.

The Boy – and Girl – Next Door: defining the undefinable

You know those words that you’ve known all your life but are really hard to define to someone?  What does Marriage mean?  How do you define Politics?  And while we’re at it, what is a Neighborhood?  It’s funny how much humans have these words, and use them constantly, without having them perfectly clear in their head.

Recently my friend Handsome was talking with his friend FiFi about how one area he’d seen felt like a neighborhood while another didn’t. And FiFi asked him why.  What was his definition of “neighborhood?”

He was stymied.  “Well, we all know what a neighborhood is, don’t we?  It’s where… well… you know, you’re close and friendly and do stuff together and…”

But I knew he was wrong instantly.  We’ve had neighbors who were unfriendly, some he wouldn’t want to do things with, and some who were completely awful.  So it’s not that. 

About a day later, he sat down with me and said “Shirelle, I figured out what a neighborhood is. It’s a place where children can go to each other’s homes and play.” 

But then he thought more.  “But can’t there be a neighborhood without kids?”

I can see where he’s struggling.  The street we live on now didn’t feel much like a neighborhood when we moved in.  Then a few years later, although most people kept to themselves, it did.  Now some of it was because Handsome had been nice, and lots of them were terrific people.  But I really think it was mostly my doing!  I’m way friendlier than he is, and… well… let’s admit it… cuter too!

But during the stupid virus, most of the people nearby who were friendly with us moved away, and now it doesn’t feel much like a neighborhood at all. 

This became especially clear a few weeks ago, when Americans celebrate Halloween.  For years, people had driven to our streets on that night, knowing our houses gave out good candy (I’d always get locked in a room so that I wouldn’t scare the children with my barking – even though they’re the ones in the scary outfits!).  But this year, although Handsome and some other people nearby decorated their houses invitingly, our doorbells only rang three times.  Not only aren’t there many children nearby, but others looked at our street and didn’t see enough places with pumpkins out, so they drove to better blocks.  I hardly got to bark at all.

Before this, we lived on a street across from a nursery.  Most of the area was apartments, with people moving in and out quickly, but the nursery was wonderful.  They always gave Handsome free plants, they would stop traffic so he could pull out of our driveway, and they even would run and catch me whenever I’d get out (I was a hyperactive and very curious puppy!) and bring me back to Handsome.  They made it a neighborhood.

But today, Handsome told me about his first neighborhood.  When he was very young, his family lived on a street full of neighborliness.  Everyone knew each other, the families played together, and – check this out: In the winter, the children would fill paper bags halfway with sand and put candles in them, and on Christmas Eve whole blocks would glow from these gorgeous warm lamps along the sidewalk – all made and put out there by the kids. 

But in recent years he’s learned more about it –

about neighbors there who were crazy, who had creepy political views, some who’ve even killed themselves.  So maybe it wasn’t quite as idyllic as he remembers.

So now it’s me asking, what is a neighborhood?

Handsome looked up the word “neighbor” in a dictionary.  It said it’s a noun that means:

  • 1. a person living near or next door to the speaker: “our garden was the envy of the neighbors”
  • 2. a person or place in relation to others near or next to it: “I chatted with my neighbor on the flight to New York”

Now those are all correct.  But you have a different sense of it, don’t you?  I sure do.

The more I think about it, neighborhood is the midpoint between family and community.  Your family is super-close (sometimes too close and everyone gets really annoyed!).  Then you have the people you know at work or such.  They might be nice, and you might be mutually supportive.  But neighbors are in between those two – you go to a neighbor for a cup of sugar or to take a shower when your plumbing’s out.  Not the person in the cubicle across the hall.

But there’s a third dictionary definition.

 Any person in need of one’s help or kindness: “love thy neighbor as thyself”

      I like that one.  Especially as, as we dogs know, EVERY person is in need of help and kindness.  In fact, that’s the way we pups tend to treat people (at least those we’re not scared of).

We hear friendly humans described as “He never met a stranger.”  But does that mean everyone he met he regarded as family?  No that’s too close.  Community?  No that’s too distant. 

While Handsome does want a street with trick-or-treaters, and where people bring one’s dog home, wouldn’t it also be great to just see everyone as your neighbor?  Everywhere?  Maybe it wouldn’t be as full of familiar smells as the block I walk every week, but then everywhere could be your neighborhood.

There used to be a popular children’s television show that I hear about, where the host always began by singing, “It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood.”  And I’m thinking he’s right.  It is a beautiful day in the neighborhood, today.

If you decide it is!

      But wait… What exactly does “beautiful” mean?!

4 Shut Up That Barking! – the epidemic of noise

Have you ever lived next door to a dog?  Even if you like the pooch, what’s the worst thing about living there?  I’m going to guess it’s the noise.  You’re trying to sleep in and out comes the yowling.  Screaming their head off at some nonsense, like, oh, another dog is being walked across the street, or someone’s delivering something to their door, or a burglar is approaching your window – but you never learn that because that dog scared him off!

Nothing gets me yelled at by Handsome as much as my barking.  There are things that concern him more (like my love of chasing some animal into the street), but barking happens so much more.  This could happen when I bark loudly right next to him while he’s working or sleeping (funny how that seems to affect him), or because I’m outdoors telling off a stranger and he knows his neighbors are going to get upset.  Or because we’re on a walk and I see another person and dog coming, and the dog and I go on a rant at each other of “If I weren’t on this leash, I’d rip you apart at the seams!” 

(Even though we both know that, if we weren’t on leashes, we’d probably just sniff and play together!)

But you know what animal makes a lot more noise than we do?  And doesn’t just drive us nuts but themselves as well? 

Yep.  You!

Now first there are the actual sounds you guys make just by doing things. Between your cars, planes, factories, shops, ships, rocketships… you are a very loud species.  And then there’s the noise you make on purpose – musical instruments, speakers, sound systems, headphones (yes we dogs can hear them), alarms, firecrackers, sirens, bombs…  My ancestors tell me this planet used to be really quiet except during thunder and volcanoes.  Today we kind of like the peace those bring, as nature focuses you folks on more important, less self-expressive, activities.

But today I want to talk about another kind of noise.  A sort that doesn’t hurt us dogs’ sensitive ears as much, but breaks our hearts to watch.  The noise of misinformation.

Long ago, certain people realized that creating noise is a great way to avoid responsibility for things.  When scientists discovered that smoking tobacco leads to cancer, the tobacco companies spent billions of dollars putting out stories that said that there were “two sides” to this, that not all scientists agreed.  Well this was a lie.  But they kept their yammering going, and so managed to keep selling their ‘cancer sticks’ for decades.

It’s not unnatural.  Two kids get taken to the school office for fighting at recess.  One says they fought because the other punched them and called their mother a name.  The other says that’s not true.  What’s the principal supposed to do?  One is lying, but there’s no way to know which one.  So whoever’s lying just did a great job of avoiding trouble by making that noise.  Hey if we dogs had the ability to get out of punishment by lying, we’d do it too.  No judgment there.

My problem is when adult humans do it on a large level.  I’m sure you heard about the Al Qaeda attacks on the United States in 2001.  The U.S. was upset and wanted to retaliate against the group that had done it. But the president wanted to go to war against Iraq, a country that had nothing to do with those attacks, and was even run by enemies of Al Qaeda.  So he and his administration started repeating the lie that Iraq was behind the attacks, and preparing to unleash nuclear war on the U.S. (something they were nowhere near capable of doing).  Many Americans and others spoke up about the lie, but they weren’t loud enough to beat the noise.  The U.S. attacked Iraq and started a war that killed maybe a million people.  (Why do I say “maybe?” Well, the noise machine has made sure that no one knows exactly how many deaths there were.)

But as awful as that, and so many similar cases, have been, maybe the worst case of noise ever has been the lies about what’s happened to the Earth’s climate over the last couple hundred years.  Scientists knew about greenhouse gases and man-made global warming in the 1950s.  Yes you read that right – the 1950s!  So what’s happened for the past seven decades?  Noise!  Tons of noise, billions of dollars worth of noise, all to just create doubt about this science.  For profit, for power, for… well, anything but care and love for the human race, for the animals of the earth, for even one’s own children.

And it’s too late.  This last year has shown that the effects of Global Warming are here, as I’m sure you all know.  And no matter how old you are, my reader, the rest of your life will be spent dealing with the effects of this.  Where you live, what you can eat, whether you can eat, what happens to your economy, what the population of your area is like, and of course what it’s like outdoors, will all be determined by this crime against all life.  It will be horrific, it will be incredibly expensive, and it will determine the future of all our species.

Now that’s just fact.  You can – and should – do whatever you can to help, but sadly no one person can reverse what’s happened (not even Greta Thunberg, and if anyone could, it would be that amazing soldier!).

But you know what you can do?  Stop encouraging the noise in your own life!

If you are wondering what’s going on in Gaza, and you click onto social media and see completely conflicting stories about who’s doing what, look somewhere else you trust for your information. 

If you’re voting in an election, look at what the candidates actually say and what they’ve actually done.  Don’t believe something someone says about them just because you hear it (Here’s a start: Volodymyr Zelensky is not a Nazi, and Hillary Clinton does not eat children!).

And even closer to home – if someone at your school posts online that someone else you’ve always found nice is doing something really bad, have some doubt about it.  This may just be noise.  And if rumors start flying where you work that make someone look bad, check that gossip  out before you repeat it.

And my biggest request of you – Don’t be the one to start a noisy lie.  It’s not worthy of you, and it only makes everyone else’s lives worse.

Let us dogs be the ones who annoy everyone with our dumb barking at the wrong times and in the wrong places.  You guys are way more powerful, and your noise causes way more harm.

But even better, let’s all aim for a bit more…

Peace.

2 When Facts Aren’t Facts … the absurdity of modern testing

         Handsome, my human friend, is sleeping at last.  For a few months, he was barely able to.  And even when he would fall asleep, he’d either be on top of his computer keyboard or holding his laptop in his arms.  He was just frantic.

         All this was about a test he had to take.  He wants to expand his professional license to other states than just our home.  That’s all fine.  And he had to relearn a bunch of stuff from school to do so.  That’s also fine.

         So why was he such a wreck?  Not because the test demanded a ton of knowledge.  No, it was because of how it asked for it.

         Shirelle is:

  1. A dog
  2. The Author of AskShirelle
  3. Handsome’s Best Friend
  4. A chair

This test doesn’t ask for straight-out knowledge.  Rather, it’s supposed to test how he thinks, to see if he’s qualified.  But for all Handsome’s flaws, thinking is something he’s always done well.  In fact, so well that he has a lot of problems with these tests!

they ask him to pick the Best of them, or to offer four bad answers, and have him pick the least-bad of them.

But does that make sense at all?

Everything Everywhere All at Once is about:

  1. The difficulty of running a laundry
  2. A lady getting in a bunch of fights
  3. A bunch of Chinese Americans
  4. Insanity

You see, I’m just a dog, I know, and I don’t have the brains you guys do.  But from what I’ve learned, there are facts and there are opinions.  And other than those two, there are only wrong things.

Are cats mammals?  That’s a fact.  Are cats annoying?  That’s my opinion.  Are cats likely to hunt birds?  That’s a fact.  Are cats likely to be hunted by dogs?  Depends on the dog!  But we’re still in the “fact” realm.  Are cats worth hunting?  That’s an opinion too.  But are cats reptiles?  No, that’s just untrue.

Suggesting that there’s anything else but facts, untruths, and opinions, gets into a realm that… well, causes lots of trouble!

Julius Caesar lived:

  1. In Rome
  2. In the first century B.C.
  3. In a Toga
  4. On a yacht in the Carribean

And when the people giving the test say their goal is to see how well you think, what they’re really testing is if you think just as they do; or rather, if you can read their minds and figure out how they’re thinking.

The best place for a dog to lie down is:

  1. In the doorway, where I can chase down a squirrel if it comes into my yard but I can also run to beg if Handsome starts to eat in the kitchen.
  2. On the couch, because it’s so comfortable.
  3. Anywhere other than the couch, because Handsome gets mad at me if I lie there.
  4. On top of a moving car’s hood.

So which is best, of the above answers?  The doorway is best for chasing and eating, the couch is the most comfortable, the “anywhere else” is good for keeping Handsome happy, and the car hood – well, it might be kind of exciting, but I think we can agree that it’s the worst of the choices.

But how is one expected to know what “best” means?  Again, it seems they’re asking you to assume something that they’re assuming.  To take this to its fullest degree…

4x + 38 =

  1. 42
  2. 59,327
  3. 24
  4. 38

Now sometimes the questions don’t ask for mind-reading.  Instead, very often, they test whether you catch their tricks or not.  A skill which shows that you are qualified to… take tests.  And nothing else.

For example:

Taylor Swift is:

  1. A 32-year-old singer
  2. The writer of the hit songs “Love Story,” “Blank Space,” and “Déjà Vu”
  3. The performer on the world-famous Eros tour
  4. A male photographer in Seattle

Did you get that one right?  Maybe not.  The world-famous singer is currently 33; the Olivia Rodrigo song “Déjà Vu” does credit her as a co-writer but only because it samples one of her songs; and her tour is called Eras, not Eros (though of course you had no idea if I might have made a typographical error).  But yes there IS a man, a photographer, living in Seattle, named Taylor Swift.  You can look it up.  D is the correct answer!

But unless you’re taking a test on Seattle photographers, this trick question ONLY serves to mess with you!

Now not every question on these tests is as awful as what I’ve shared here.  And Handsome actually thinks he might have passed, though he won’t know for a while (but they won’t tell him why it takes so long to grade a multiple-choice test he took on a computer!).

But while he sits there trembling in his crazy mood, I’ve been thinking about the whole mindset behind these tests.  What’s the point of them?  Do they help anything?  Or do they make things way worse. 

A few years ago, a spokesperson for the US President famously excused his lies by saying that they were “Alternative Facts.”  And while many people laughed at this, millions of others accepted it.  And I just wonder if that’s because they had been trained by this mindset!  Once someone accepts that there are “better” correct answers, or “less bad” wrong ones, then actual truth becomes meaningless. 

History has shown that people have often made up their own facts, but they were really spreading lies so well that everyone accepted them as facts (See the speeches of Nazi Germany about the dangers of Jews, for example).  But to me, this is a different version of the same problem.  At a time when you humans are achieving so much in science and technology, I see you also slipping into dumb and disproven mindsets of racism, sexism, and authoritarianism.  All because so many of you can’t agree on what truth is.

So I side with Handsome.  I’d love to see these tests go very far away.  And once that happens, to paraphrase Taylor Swift (the songwriter, not the photographer!), people should Never Ever Ever get back together with them!

Tests that expect the taker to read the mind of the writer of the test are:

  1. Stupid
  2. Invalid
  3. Useless
  4. Pickled Giraffe

What to do when there’s no one to help you through something

Vidhi asks: I feel alone and am confused about what to do.  I feel alone even when I’m around family. I just completed school but didn’t earn any friends. I am sitting idly most of the time. Last year I dealt with the death of my childhood friend so I’m finding it hard to cope. And my parents want some different path for me for courses but I have no interest in that, due to which I’m having daily arguments with them. Along with all these, one of my sister’s married friends tried to assault me. He had kids and stuff and it made me more disturbed, and the fact that all of these things happened and I had no one to turn to or talk to it makes me feel isolated and lonely. I wanted to see a therapist, but I don’t have enough money, and I can’t ask my parents because they clearly won’t agree.

Oh Vidhi –

Everybody feels alone at times but you have three special issues that really make this tough.  Of course, losing a childhood friend is devastating (and I’m assuming your friend was very young too which makes it even more of a heartbreak).  Then this assault is of course wrong on every count, and not being able to talk about it makes it even worse.  And then the fact that you know you’d like a therapist but your parents won’t agree just cements things.  

So let me say it a different way.  OF COURSE you feel alone.  Anyone would after the death of a friend, but in addition you are being kept from expressing the things you need to say, so how could any healthy relationship possibly come along?

Now I can’t do anything about your parents, and of course I can’t bring your lost friend back.  But I do wonder about the other one.  Is there really no one you can tell about that?  I don’t know how old you are, but if you’re still in school, is there a teacher or administrator there you trust, who you could talk with about this (and not mention the name or any identifying information about the man so you don’t have to deal with the school person calling the cops on him or something — unless you want to!).  

My friend you’ve suffered two horrible traumas.  No one would be unaffected by them, or be able to easily move forward after them.  So I really want you to find someone you can talk with about these awful experiences.  And if that can’t be a therapist, I’d sure like it to be someone else.

In the meantime, you can always write me about any of this.  As a dog in, most likely, a different country from you, I’m completely safe, and I promise I won’t betray your trust in any way.  So please feel free to tell me anything you like about either or both of those experiences.

But I also urge you, if there’s a way, to also find a good intelligent boundaried adult.  Someone who won’t betray you in the way your sister’s friend’s husband did.

And know I’m sending you caring, protective light, for you to carry around wherever you go.

All my best,

Shirelle

Too Much of a Good Thing? … how to wish better

Ever heard the old saying “Be careful what you wish for, you just might get it?” 

I have spent most of the past three weeks indoors.  Not because I’m sick or injured or in trouble (yes those do happen, but not in this case!).  But because it’s been raining here.  And I mean raining a LOT! 

I tend to not like the rain much anyway, and I especially don’t like hard rain.  I hate sprinklers and showers, anything where water comes down on top of me – though I’m happy to jump into creeks or the ocean anytime – so a heavy rainfall really irritates me.  But the main reason I’m kept inside so much at times like this is that Handsome doesn’t want me going out and playing in the mud and then tracking it all over our house. He’s happy to take me outdoors to walk and pee and all, but wants to be able to wipe my feet off with a towel when we come back in (which also really irritates me!).

And as I said, we’ve been getting a lot of rain in my state.  Enough that nearby there have been mudslides and landslides and even some people getting killed! 

And this is all after seven years of drought.   Between historic patterns in the western United States that are just returning, and the horrible effects of climate change, it’s been very rough here.  Record-breaking temperatures, lots of fires, and a frightening depletion of the water everyone is counting on for agriculture and just living.

In fact, the drought is one of the main reasons the rains have been so destructive.  When we had more trees, and more plants in general, they held the ground better.  But without them, soils that might otherwise stand up fine are avalanching all over the place!

So please understand – as a Husky-mix, I hate hot weather, and especially hate that we’re having more super-hot days than we did when I was younger.  And fires scare the daylights out of me.  So just like everyone else in California, I’ve been wishing for rain.  Wishing hard.

But wait – we didn’t wish for THIS!  Or did we?

If we’re honest with ourselves, we can admit, we wished for rain.  We didn’t specify a particular amount.  We wanted our reservoirs filled, our groundwater replaced, and we wanted our juicy fruits, healthy vegetables, pretty green lawns, and flowery gardens back.  Of course we did!

Now sadly, our drought has been so drastic that even these crazy rains likely won’t give us all the water we need.  Too much of it’s just running off into the ocean – because we didn’t have any means to hold on to it. 

Which makes me question even more – what’s wrong with what we’re asking?  If prayers and wishes actually do come true (as religious leaders and believers in manifestation have been arguing for millennia), then do we need to get more specific? 

Or did we just need to believe more that they might come true, and do better preparation for it?

Imagine if we’d spent the last seven years building rivers and reservoirs and all sorts of water catchments – and when these rains showed up, we’d grabbed all that water, which could keep us going for maybe a decade of drought!  Great, huh?

But can you imagine how hard that would have been to do?  It would have cost billions of dollars, with people screaming all the time “We’re in a drought and you’re building reservoirs for rains that aren’t happening!  Stop now!”

So by now you’re probably asking, why in the world is a dog asking questions about civil engineering!

Well, that’s not really what I’m after here.  I’m just thinking that, like the people in a drought-ridden community, each and every one of you has things they want.  That they want very very much.  But I don’t know that you’re ready for them!

I’ve seen men go to great lengths to win over beautiful women, who then treated them badly in ways they had no way to handle.  I’ve heard stories of dogs at race tracks who are so fast or clever they actually catch the mechanical rabbit they’re chasing, which of course doesn’t turn out to be the soft pliable bunny they expected!  And haven’t we all heard of people becoming super successful, or even winning a lottery, and then blowing their fortune on self-destructive nonsense, ending up in worse shape than when they started?

So it’s a new year.  And lots of people use that as a time to put out wishes and make resolutions.  Well here’s my wish for you:  Wish big, wish hard, and work like crazy to achieve your goals.

But also think. 

Think even harder than you wish!  Think about what you’d do if you got that money, that job, that person, that rabbit!  Think about what you can do to keep what you’ve won, and also what you can do if you find that what you wanted isn’t something you want to keep.  How much of that money can you put into an intelligent investment instead of spending right away?  Can you change that person, or should you apologetically let them go?  And also ask are you a worthy mate for them if they are right for you – able to keep them wanting to stay in this life with you?  Or do you really want to improve yourself a bit more before you win them?!

For me, I’m very happy with my life just as it is.  So my job is to do what I can to keep it that way.  To stay healthy and not get hurt, to keep cuddling up with Handsome all I can, and to hold myself back from wandering when he accidentally leaves the gate open.  Pretty easy.

But then there are those other things – things we all wish for. 

Let’s wish for world peace – but also the wisdom to know how to handle a peaceful world in ways that make things better, and not just setting us up for more wars.  Let’s wish for a slowdown or stop to climate change, but which includes new technologies so people can continue to enjoy the use of energy that gives us progress. 

And of course, I wish for you that you keep moving forward in your lives – but that you also always remember that when things get difficult, there’s an eager friendly dog out here you can check in with.  Maybe I’ll be able to give you the advice you need, but even if not, I can always send you a big lick on your cheek.

And licks, and kisses, are something – unlike rain – that I don’t believe one can EVER have too much of!!

To Dance in Silence … the majesty of daring it all

            Handsome came home a couple of days ago, more excited than I’d seen him in months.  “You won’t believe what I just saw, Shirelle!  Remember I told you I was going to a ballet?”

            Now I have to admit, while I’m often jealous of Handsome’s ability to go to theaters, concerts, sport events, and such, ballet has never raised my envy.  Someone daintily dancing on their toes doesn’t move me the way, oh say, a bunch of folks excitedly chasing and kicking or throwing a ball does!  Now that’s exciting!

            I certainly see why it’s worth respect though.  I can barely hold the form of a “Sit!” and here are these humans – the clumsiest of all species – moving in perfect idealized form, and often performing with such strength anyone would be in awe (YOU try to stand perfectly still with one leg sticking straight out from your hip for a whole minute!  And then try it on your toes!!).  But to watch this for two or three hours?  Sorry but this pup will drop straight to sleep, dreaming of far more exciting squirrels.

            The ballet he went to is, I guess, the most popular of all, especially at this time of year.  It’s called The Nutcracker, and tells a weird story where a girl receives a gift from an eerie man, of a toy soldier who, if you put a walnut in his mouth, will crush it so you can eat the insides.  Then she starts dreaming, with visions of fairies and dancers from foreign lands, and – well here’s where it gets interesting to me for a while anyway – Giant Rats!  Handsome says it’s all about her first crush and dreams of romance and…  hey I get that kind of stuff in your letters all the time, Pack Members, and don’t have to sit quietly still watching it all play out!

            So although I do love the music to it (you all know this pup is a sucker for a good tune, and Pyotr Tchaikovsky created endless ones!), I saw no reason for him to be so excited about this show.

            “Well,” he explained, “the company that put this on used recorded music, not a live orchestra.” 

Oh, well there goes one more chance for excitement.  I do enjoy watching instruments get played, especially the loud fun ones like trumpets! 

“And many of the dancers were just amazing.  I can’t imagine how much work they’ve put in, for their whole lives, to do this so beautifully!” 

He looked at me with such an excited smile I felt a little bad for yawning.

            “It was all going fine, until this one song – I don’t even know what it’s called – where all these girls, I’m guessing around age 14 or so, were dancing very nicely.” 

My eyelids were drooping faster than I could control. 

“And then the music cut out!”

            Um… what?

            “It was complete silence.  Except for the footsteps of these girls – who kept dancing. In perfect time, following each other.”

            Well at last this was getting interesting.

            “Of course, no one can keep their timing exact, but they kept going, always with these lovely smiles, moving around the stage, watching whoever was in front at any time, since anyone up there couldn’t see the others behind her, and adjusting to that person or persons’ pace.”

            Okay, so I’ll admit, that sounds pretty difficult.  I have trouble concentrating on anything for more than a few seconds, unless there’s potential eating involved.

            “All of us in the audience were on the edges of our seats.  Could they make it through?  Would one of them break character and laugh or cry or give up?  Would the sound engineer make the terrible mistake of putting the music back on, with no chance of timing it exactly to the dancers’ steps?  Would some adult walk onto the stage and end it all?”

            So okay, what happened?

            “And when it finished, and they’d done it perfectly, everyone in the audience just ROARED in applause, and a bunch of us leapt to our feet.  It was  amazing!  Think of it, puppy!  The Nutcracker is danced all over the world, all the time.  But we saw something astounding, something none of us will likely ever see again!  And every one of those girls will never be the same.  They did something grand, that no one will ever take away from them.  They’re each like the kid who kicks the winning goal or shoots the winning basket.  Or you, Shirelle.  They amazed me the way you do every day!”

            He got onto the phone and must have yammered about this to different people for hours.  While I lay on the floor and thought more about it.  Was it really that big a deal?

            After all, we dogs dance without music every day.   If there aren’t any squirrels or birds to chase, especially when we’re young, we’ll just go nuts, running around, jumping, just to feel good and get our energy out. 

            And as far as that cool thing of them following the changing one in front?  I see birds do that all the time, especially when migrating.  And they’re doing it up in the air!

            But then I thought a bit more.  And had to admit – no dog has ever danced in perfect extended time to music.  And no bird has ever had to keep a perfect smile on its face while following alternating leaders.

            It’s true.  There are things that come naturally to dogs, to birds, and to humans.  And they’re not the same things.

            What those girls did was amazing.  And now I wish I’d been able to see them in their glory  (though it might have been more fun to watch backstage to see how they reacted after it was done!).

            And this led me to think about a quality you humans have, which you are better at than anyone else: making plans, and following your dreams. 

            You see, it’s easy to pursue goals when everything is directing you how to go (say, if you want to do well in a class, just pay attention and study hard!).  But what about when you aren’t getting any direction?  Like if you pick up a paintbrush and look at a blank canvas and wonder what to paint.  Or you see someone you’d like to get to know, but have no idea how to meet them.  Or you want to be successful in a career, but can’t think of anything you’d like to do.

            That’s dancing without music.  And just as those girls all worked as one unit to make their beautiful magic, the best way to meet your dreams is to get all of yourself working together.  So, to meet that person, can you manage to look your best, convince yourself you’re confident about yourself, and be as friendly and fun as possible – all at the same time?  Now that’s a ballet corps, all in you!

            Now 2022 is coming to an end.  For each of us, some things have gone well and some horribly.  I have some big wishes for 2023, like for some wars to end and for this stupid virus to go away.  But I can’t make them happen, and neither can you.

            What I can do is to do my best to be my best, and pursue what I want.  And you can do the same.

            And my biggest wish, for you, is not just that you pursue wonderful dreams, but that, at some point, the music gets cut off.  And you find yourself led only by your best instincts, trusting yourself, making creative choices.

            Because then, whether or not the dream comes true, you will have been as alive as you can ever be.  And just like those dancers, you will always know you had that moment of glory. 

            So maybe your painting isn’t a Rembrandt?  So that person you pursued already had a date to the dance?  So that career didn’t work out and you need to try something else?

            Still, you were your best, and did your best… with no Tchaikovsky to guide you.

            In other words, my wish for you for 2023 is that you get to be just as awesome and astounding to yourself as you are to me, every day.

            HAPPY NEW YEAR!!! 

What to do when self-consciousness makes you lose sleep

Arty asks:
School is starting very soon for me. I’m going into 8th grade! Lately it’s been really hard to go to sleep. I’m actually typing this at 3:39 am. I talked with a friend of mine earlier and we started talking about uniforms and stuff. (I go to a small private school) I wore my uniform and she wore hers. As usual I looked stupid in mine. My skirt was basically at my knees which isn’t too horrible but I feel like it makes me look old. And I just hated how I looked in it. Now, I’m not exactly a pretty girl. I’m overweight. Not extremely but enough to make me self-conscious. And I also have acne and pimples and stuff. It’s not super horrible compared to others but still.  And compared to my friends who all look amazing! They all have mainly clear skin and are fit and everything, I feel like crap. So my self-worth has really just gone down the drain. Anyways going back to my friend, I told her some of this. How I don’t look very pretty and I’m ugly compared to her and stuff. And throughout it she’s like ‘What no! Ur not ugly!! Dude I feel the same way’ and stuff like that ,and I kept telling her “Dude you’re literally gorgeous and I feel like whenever someone says ‘ur not ugly’ or ‘ur super pretty’ they’re just lying,’ and she was like ‘I feel the same way!!’ And so the call ended and everything and I was feeling better. But then I started overthinking hours after the call, and realized that throughout that conversation, she didn’t once call me pretty or anything like that. She just kept saying I wasn’t ugly!  And I feel so selfish saying this since she was just trying to help, but not once did she compliment me or anything. And so I realized that she really doesn’t think I’m pretty. And I honestly don’t know where I’m going with this – I just really need to rant and get some advice! So then I keep telling myself, who cares what anyone thinks! It literally does not matter! And everyone is also worried about how others perceive them. And with this new worry along with my stress of starting a new school year and leaving friends behind, and hoping that I still keep in touch with lots of them. It hurts. And also with just wanting to cry, to sob, to scream, to shout. But for some reason not being able to cry or shed tears – it’s just really piling up. I tried talking to another friend and I told her “I hope ur not still mad at me” (we got into a fight earlier) “cuz I really need you” and she was like “I’m here, what’s up” and usually I can talk to her. I can be honest with her and just tell her. But I was too embarrassed I think, so I just asked her about sleep pills and she said “you don’t need sleep pills, you just need to let go of some stress. And then she was like “I’m a little upset with you dude.  You say you need my help but don’t want it. Maybe you should think about what you say before you say it next time,” which made me feel even worse. I just didn’t wanna pile up more stress on her. Her mom has cancer and money is low and they’re in debt and on top of all that she cuts and stuff so I just didn’t wanna bother her with anything else. And she was being sweet about it and stuff, like “I can’t force u to tell me but I can’t help u if u don’t” so I have half the nerve to go tell her everything, but I’m too scared.  Honestly this was just a rant for me, but I would really appreciate it if you could tell me what you think I should do. Should I talk to my friend or should I get some insomnia pills?  How do I handle the stress better, and how do I get myself to cry? I know you don’t have all the answers, but I hope you can let me know soon!

Hi Arty!

So first of all – I love hearing from you, and it’s totally fine to write me and rant.  No problem at all. So don’t worry if you don’t have an exact question.  Sometimes the most useful thing a dog can do is just be there to hug and cry into their fur, I know!  I’m happy to be that!

But I will talk about two things here.  Your self-consciousness and your sleep.

First, about the self-consciousness.  You are going into 8th grade, so I’m guessing you’re 13 years old, is that right?  Your body is changing more and faster than it has since you were a tiny baby, and more and faster than it ever will again.  This is the biggest lasting change you’ll ever go through (unless of course, heaven forbid,  something happens to you that causes a permanent injury!).  Most particularly your hormones are exploding, which causes weight gain and skin issues.  Now I don’t know what you look like, and as a dog I judge people by other things than looks anyway.  But I can say it’s totally normal that you’re going through a phase when you don’t look as pretty as you did a couple of years ago, or as pretty as you will a couple of years from now!  My human friend Handsome told me that he was a “late bloomer,” so his face didn’t break out till he was two years older than you.  Meaning that you might go through this now and then look a lot better than the kids like him in a couple of years!  But in the meantime, of course I’ll suggest you do things for your health that improve your looks, like exercise more, drink more water, keep sugars and caffeine down and please please please don’t start smoking or vaping, as those will only make things worse.  Will these guarantee a perfect complexion and a model figure next month?  No.  But they will keep you heading toward the best you can be.

Now one thing we dogs have over you humans is this whole self-consciousness thing.  Because our brains are smaller, we literally Don’t Have it!  Humans tell me I’m a beautiful dog, but I’m not aware of that beauty, or of the beauty in any other pooch.  I call my human Handsome because I love the way he looks and smells, but is he someone others would call Handsome or Plain or Ugly?  I don’t know – or care!  He’s gorgeous to me!  

And there’s no time in a human’s life when they’re more self-conscious than their teen years.  Right where you are!  So it’s normal to feel like you’re the ugliest person in the room, or the least liked, or the one everyone thinks of as dumb.  And let me tell you – you’re wrong!  Because everyone else in the room feels the same way.  Your friend was telling you the truth when she said she feels the same fears you do.  Now was she purposely avoiding telling you you’re pretty, or did she just not think of it?  I don’t know.  

But here’s what I do know.  You Will Get Prettier.  Your face will clear up, and if you choose to work at it, your figure will improve.  So no matter what you think of yourself today, this all can get way better.  

Now onto sleep – It’s also normal for teens to have sleep issues, and especially to feel the need to stay up late and sleep in late.  But you do want to – for your studies, for your looks, and just your health in general – work to get your sleep patterns at least a little closer to school hours.  Worries and stress will always make anyone have trouble falling asleep, but I know a few tricks you can try to help you doze off earlier.

First, stop all electronics at least half an hour before you want to sleep.  Yes, that includes your phone!  The light from them seems to make lots of people’s brains stay awake.  Instead, do all the electronic stuff you want earlier, and then stop, get yourself ready for bed, and climb in with a book or a magazine.  Why?  The reflected light from pages affects you differently from the radiated light of a phone or tablet or computer.  Reading printed material will actually get your eyes tired instead and lead to your falling asleep.

If that’s not enough, though, here’s an idea I like a lot.  Lie there in the dark, and ask yourself two questions:  What was the worst thing that happened to me today, and what was the best?  As your mind works to answer each, it will have to scan over your whole day.  And in doing that, it might uncover something you’ve forgotten.  “Oh, I was supposed to call my aunt back!”  “Oops I have to do that one page of homework!”  Then just turn a light on, write that thing down, and try again.  Often you’ll fall right asleep then; your brain hadn’t let you go unconscious while that issue was still there unremembered!

And if that’s still not enough?  That’s when I’d say you might consider talking to a doctor.  But until then, I’d focus on the effects of electronic light and the stress of too many things being on your mind.  

Okay, Arty, that’s a lot to take in, I know!  

Oh, but there’s one bit that pulls this whole letter together.  Did you know that the body burns off lots of fat while sleeping?  And that getting good nights’ sleep is as helpful for weight-loss as exercise?  And did you know that getting lots of sleep is great for your skin too?  So ironically, fixing the one issue here is going to help the other!

I won’t tell you to just have fun in 8th grade.  You’ll be self-conscious, tired, and go through some rough experiences I’m sure.  But I can and will urge you to try as best as you can to break through all that, and connect with friends, enjoy growing up, and laugh as much as you can.

After all, laughter is one of the few joys in life we dogs don’t get to experience.  And since you don’t get a tail to wag, you really ought to indulge it!!

All my best,

Shirelle

The Pain Worse than Pain – the struggle against stress

            I lost my best friend.

            I’ve spent the last few weeks trying to come up with a way to sugarcoat that, but I can’t find one.  Aria’s cancer got better, then worse, then better, and then lots worse, and finally her human friends had to kindly help her go, so that she wouldn’t suffer more. 

            I’ve told you many times that all dogs hate war.  Well we’re not too fond of cancer either, let me tell you!

            You all know about how much I loved her (and still do), and how much her life was dominated by fear and pain from things she suffered in her early years.  If there’s one blessing to her not being here, it’s that I do believe she’s free of those completely at last, and living in pure fearless joy.  Just what I’m always wishing for you.

            So I don’t know that I have a lot else to tell you.  I’ve told you about her life story – and anyone who wants to know more can always check out the book A Dog of Many Names which tells about those first years, before she was named Aria.  And anyone who’s ever lost anyone they loved knows the pain of grief.  Nothing for me to teach you there.

            But I do want to share something her human friend Ugmo wrote to me.  It’s not something he’s proud of, but he’s okay with me sharing it as he thinks it’s pretty universal, and might help somebody get through a tough time in a better way. 

            So I’m going to go do what I’ve been doing a lot lately – and just lie in my yard and feel the ground, and miss my friend horribly.  It’s the only way I know to truly get through sadness like this – to feel it fully and connect as deeply as I can with the earth that gives and takes all her beings.

            And let Ugmo talk with you about what he learned, in this most painful time of his life.

Hi Shirelle –

I know you miss Aria like blazes.  So do I.  It’s hard to wake in the morning and expect her lying on the bedroom floor, or to open the front door and look to see where she’s hiding from the squirrels – and in each case, to be reminded that she’s not there, and never will be again.  It’s just been a couple of weeks, but my eyes are already tired of crying.

But I have a strange confession to make to you.  It’s not as bad for me now as it was before.

Grief is pure.  Missing is awful but simple.  Crying is searing but relieving to my whole body.

What I’m not experiencing now is stress.  Stress that was mixed with grief and terror, so much that I almost couldn’t take it.

As you know, Aria got diagnosed with her cancer about five months ago.  And no one has ever found a cure for this specific one, Hemangiosarcoma.  Other cancers might be eradicated by operations or chemotherapy, or even improving a diet and exercise.  But not this.  Medication and good energy work can slow it down, but it shows back up eventually.  And once it gets to an essential organ, it’s just a matter of time.

That’s what happened with Aria.  She made it about four months, but then, on one awful day, she got very tired and lost her appetite, and I took her to a veterinarian who found that her liver was bleeding, and told me it was hopeless, that we needed to let her go that night.

You hear about the five stages of grief – Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance.  Well I guess I’d had all my denial and anger and bargaining already, so I went straight into depression and acceptance.  I sat in the lobby weeping, waiting for her friend Fifi to show up, as she’d want to be there for the end.  She arrived, and we took Aria into a small room and covered her in kisses and hugs and telling her all the lovely things we could. 

And she… got better!

Seriously, she improved.  Her strength came back a little, she seemed happier, and when the veterinarian came in to get her, she looked down and said “That is not the same dog!”

So after seven hours in the Emergency Room, which I’d expected to include putting her down, we took her home.  It was hard to sleep, because anytime her breathing shifted, I’d wake to see if she was okay.  At one point that night, I was sure she was going down again and ready to take her back to the doctors, but again, she recovered.

In the next few days, this all continues, including my sleeplessness.  She’d seem better, but then refuse to eat, so she got weaker and weaker.  I’d annoy or anger her by trying to get pills down her throat or putting food in front of her nose that she used to love but now found disgusting.  I got to where I was more scared that she’d starve herself to death than that the cancer would get her.  And I could feel that she was feeling my frustration, and afraid of it.

And so I found myself wishing she’d just be done.

Shirelle, this is why I’m writing you.  Because I couldn’t believe that that thought was able to come into my mind.  I loved – and love – Aria more than anything on this earth.  And I wanted every second I could get with my pup.  Nothing in me wanted her gone.  Except that something in me… did!  I could feel it.

What in the world was that?

            It was the voice of my stress, screaming so loud inside me that it overshouted my heart.  For moments, I’d forget what I wanted most – to keep Aria around as long as I could, and give her as much love as I could, and help her get through this as much as I could – and feel, instead, only how much I hated feeling all this worry, this helplessness, this confusion, this stress.

            Now, once I realized this, I was fine.  I still had all those awful feelings, but I never once again experienced wishing for it all to end.  In fact, I realized that I only had one full wish – I wished she had never gotten this cancer!  But since she already had it, I had to live with just partial wishes – that she’d get through the next day without pain, that she’d get a burst of puppy energy, that she’d eat, that she’d be happy a little bit more. 

            And those smaller wishes came true, many times.

            I’ve found, since realizing this about myself, so many others experiencing the same things.  Sure, everyone hates stress, but I mean people doing stupid, self-destructive things just to avoid feeling it.  Getting so uptight in a close game they make mistakes and make themselves lose.  Worrying about their teeth being bad so skipping going to the dentist for years.  Fearing they’re not attractive enough to compete with the best-looking person at school, so overeating and quitting exercise. 

            The only reason stress has all this power is because we let it.  The moment we see it for what it is, it becomes much weaker.  And when it does, we can begin again to live our full lives, with our full hearts. 

            Aria died, but I’m so glad I’m not looking back on my soul dying on her first.  Our last weeks were beautiful and joyous and sad and very close.  Stress had tried to take that away from me, but I’m so glad it failed.

            And today?  Well I’m the sad mess I described to you, but I know I’ll get stronger over time.  And Aria is… do you remember a song I played you once, Shirelle, called “Beyond the Horizon?”  That’s her now, I have no doubt.  Loving, feeling love, fearless, and knowing more than you and me put together!  And absolutely free from all the stupid stresses we suffer down here!

            I’ll see her there again, and I know you will too.  Wagging her tail in that circular way, lunging at us with those quick side-shot kisses of hers, and cuddling up for hours on end. 

            But here, for better and for worse, are just memories.  As Shakespeare wrote, parting is such sweet sorrow.  And that sweet sorrowful dog left so much sweetness and sorrow in my heart, and yours, and those of all who loved her.

            We’re the lucky ones, Shirelle.  We’re the ones with the beautiful pain.  I hope it never goes away.

            Love Always,

            Ugmo

Does wishing for things push them away?

Bts army asks: I like to create fake scenarios in my mind about how my future will look or how I want it to be. Sometimes I think doing this will take me further from achieving, but other times think that I’m creating my future, so it’s okay. But I feel like I am not enjoying the present as much and, honestly, there’s not much to enjoy. So what should I do? How do I stay happy with things I have, even if there isn’t anything great going on?  How do I stop myself from expecting so much from someone or from something?

Hi Bts army –

As you probably know, lots of people believe in something called the Law of Attraction.  According to this, if you put your mind in a position of believing something good will happen to you – or even more so, that it’s already happened – and feel grateful about that, you will attract that good thing to you.  So “I’m grateful I’m a millionaire,” or “I’m grateful I got the job I wanted” or “I’m grateful I married the person I most love” helps make those things happen. 

I’m a believer in this, but more in the way that it avoids the opposite from happening.  I can’t be sure that positive thinking will bring what a person wants, but I know very well that negative thinking will push those good things away.  “I hate that I’ll never have enough money” keeps money away.  “I hate that I only get crummy job offers” will keep away that dream gig.  And most of all, “I hate that I only meet losers, and that everyone remotely worthy is already married or attracted to the opposite sex from me!” will definitely push potential partners away!

And of course the whole concept of prayer, which people have been doing for millennia, is based on this.  “I believe that if I pray for _______, it has a better chance of happening.”  So prayer then puts you in the mindset that that good thing is coming.

Where I disagree, of course, is, as a friend told me years ago, “God is not a vending machine!”  Envisioning something doesn’t make it come true, and prayer doesn’t automatically manifest what you want.  I think of it more like a garden – you plant a seed (wishing for something) and then treat the soil with just the right amount of water and sun and maybe nutrients (belief, faith, clearing space for that thing you want in your life), and there’s a really good chance that seed will grow.

To use myself as an example, I’m a very optimistic pup.  Now wishing for my human friend Handsome to come home from work sooner won’t necessarily make it happen.  But when he does, if I show him how happy I am to see him, he’s more likely to pet and play with me.  And hanging around the kitchen with my eyes wide, and maybe sniffing at my bowl, will help him remember I haven’t been fed all day, which will likely get me a treat and then dinner!

So do I think your envisioning what you want will bring things to you sooner?  Maybe, especially if you act on it.  Do I think it’ll push things away?  No, not at all.

But can your envisioning be one of the reasons you’re feeling disappointed and frustrated?  Sure!

If I don’t think about Handsome not being home, and how much I want him to come back, I won’t feel bad about it.  If I don’t think about how much I’d love a nice snack, I won’t feel bad about not having one.

But I think the trick is to change how you think about those things.  Thinking “I want a big beautiful house.  So I’m miserable that I don’t have that house” isn’t working for you.  But what if you change it to: “I want a big beautiful house.  And the best way to get that house will be to get a great job I love and am good at.  And the best way to get that job will be to take this particular class.  And the best way for me to take that class is to apply to ten schools so I’m sure to get into at least one, but I’m going to hope I get into my top choice.”  That’s pretty good.

But then, while you’re doing that, you meet someone and get chatting, and you tell them about your dream and what you’re doing, and they say “Wow that’s amazing.  I’m actually hiring someone for just a job like that.  You don’t really need that class, since I already know you.  You can come start tomorrow!  And meanwhile, I know someone with a mansion looking for a house-sitter while they’re out of town for a year.  Would you be interested?”

And that’s possible.  BECAUSE you envisioned it, and owned your vision.  Is it a guarantee?  Of course not.  But it’s possible, because you have made it possible.

And there’s my advice to you, Bts army.

And my wish for you, that all your best wishes come true!

Shirelle

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