Month: July 2012 Page 2 of 3

Fixing my swing (Self-awareness part 2)

Regardless of Cesar Millan, the point of my previous post was that reflecting on Riley’s behavior has caused me to reflect on my own. I am becoming more aware of my body language, my attitude, my tone of voice. I still have a long way to go (as does Riley) but I think this heightened mindfulness can only be a good thing.

Case in point:

On Sunday, Andy arranged for us to play 9 holes of golf with a mutual friend. I prefer not to go out in hot, humid weather, but that day was borderline. (High of 85, mostly cloudy.) Andy encouraged me to chance it. I grumbled and warned him that he might regret it.

As soon as I said that, I thought, “Why am I being so negative? What does that accomplish?”

Andy called me out on it too, saying, “Yes, it might suck. But it also might not. Don’t let a defeatist attitude be the deciding factor.”

So I took a deep breath, relaxed my facial muscles, and told myself to be optimistic.

Despite a decent warmup at the driving range, my first couple holes weren’t great. My current goal is double bogey (par + 2 strokes) for every hole, but I was scoring double par (par x 2 strokes) instead. Normally that would frustrate me, and thus things would continue to get worse. This time, I took a deep breath, relaxed my shoulders, and told myself to shake it off. “What you just did has no impact on what you do next,” I reminded myself. “Each hole — each swing, even — is a blank slate.”

With that mindset, I was able to improve steadily over the next four holes.

At that point, we had been playing for 2 hours. All I had eaten was a granola bar and some Gatorade. My energy was waning, and as I stepped up to tee off at hole 7, I could tell my drive was going to be bad. When I took my practice swing, there was no strength in my arms. I had run out of juice.

Knowing that, I swung anyway.

It was my worst drive of the day, no question. The ball got no distance, no loft. It only went 2/3 of the way to the green, and this was a puny par 3. I immediately turned to Andy and our friend and whined, “I’m tired.”

Before Andy could even roll his eyes, I caught myself. I was acknowledging a reality, yes, but I was also offering it as an excuse. The former was fine; the latter was pointless.

Another deep breath. Another relaxation of my body. Another reminder: “Be optimistic. Each swing is a new opportunity.”

I salvaged hole 7, and I did fine on 8 and 9. Was it my best game ever? No. But did I manage to play okay and enjoy myself under less than ideal conditions? Yes.

Later, Andy compared it to being a baseball player. When a guy plays 160+ games a year, statistically he’s just not going to have his best stuff every time. A top-notch player knows that, but he doesn’t let it become an excuse. He doesn’t turn to his team and whine, “Sorry, guys, I’m tired. Don’t expect too much from me.” They’re depending on him. So he has to look within himself and ask, What can I accomplish anyway?

To do that, he has to be self-aware.

My dog as a mirror (Self-awareness part 1)

After our trip to Hocking Hills last month, when Riley was so anxious and disruptive, I started to wonder if we had become too lax with him. Most of the time he’s a great dog, but looking back with an objective eye, I can see that over the past couple years, his naturally high-energy personality has turned into an unnaturally high-strung nervousness.

Be the Pack Leader: Use CESAR'S WAY to Transform Your Dog . . . and Your Life To figure out how to ease his anxiety, I turned to Cesar Millan. No, Riley and I won’t be appearing on an episode of the Dog Whisperer, but I did read Cesar’s book BE THE PACK LEADER. I won’t rehash the whole thing, but here are the basic principles of Cesar’s Way:

  • Dogs naturally operate in a pack hierarchy.
  • If you want an obedient dog, you need to be his pack leader.
  • To establish your leadership, you should fulfill your dog’s needs: Exercise, Discipline, and Affection (in that order).
  • With all of that, you should also project “calm-assertive energy.”
  • If you do not do those things, your dog may become confused as to his rank/role within the pack, possibly leading to instability, insecurity, disobedience, or even aggression.

Essentially Cesar was saying that to correct Riley’s behavior, I first had to correct my own.

(And it didn’t matter that we had done all the “right” things with Riley as a puppy — training, socialization, etc. A good foundation is very important and helpful, but it isn’t always enough. Because dogs are creatures of the moment, you have to maintain the boundaries you’ve established.)

Through this new lens, I saw that I was taking too many shortcuts with Riley; allowing him to have control of certain situations; and humanizing him in ways that were detrimental to our relationship and to his understanding of the world. For all of our sakes, I decided to employ Cesar’s techniques to try and reclaim leadership of our “pack.” The biggest, clearest change is that we now start every day with a 30-60 min walk, with Riley right by my side instead of in front, and only sniffing and peeing with my permission. Believe it or not, it only took a single day for Riley to learn to walk this way, and in just one week I think it has helped to make him calmer and more obedient.


(Note: For Riley, I don’t think the walking alone would be enough. We’re following as much of Cesar’s Way as we can. The Dog Breed Info Center served as a great supplement, offering concrete, helpful guidelines.)

Yes, this all takes a lot of time, effort, and patience. Yes, it’s exhausting. Yes, I think it’s worth it.

(But no, I don’t think anyone is a “bad” dog owner if they don’t do these things. I’m looking for solutions that fit me and my life, that’s all.)

Not only is Riley happier, but so am I. I feel more physically fit, more connected to my dog, and more confident and self-aware. I don’t think either of us will end up perfect, but I do hope and believe that this stable, healthy mindset can spill over to other parts of my life.

Being Elmo

Until a couple years ago, I never gave much thought to who was behind the high-pitched voice of our beloved Elmo. But if you had asked me, I would have guessed a woman. Probably a white one. And boy would I have been wrong.

Honestly, I did a double-take when I learned that Elmo was a black man. It didn’t matter to me; it just wasn’t what I had expected. And ever since I saw him (with Elmo) on YouTube, doing an interview on some British talk show, I have been intrigued by his story.

Being Elmo is a look at the life of Kevin Clash, the man behind the muppet who stole our hearts.

(There’s also a book called MY LIFE AS A FURRY RED MONSTER. I’m not sure if I feel the need to read it anymore, since I imagine much of the content would be the same as this documentary.)

I adored every second of this film. Unlike some documentaries, Being Elmo gives you a “character” to latch onto, to root for — and that’s what makes it stick.

We start with Kevin’s humble childhood in Baltimore, with parents who were surprisingly supportive of such an unusual endeavor. (Meanwhile his siblings didn’t get it, and many of his peers mocked him for it.) We laugh when young Kevin cuts up his father’s coat to make his first muppet. We marvel when he puts on shows for the neighborhood kids. We cheer when he gets his first job at a local television station. And we cry (or at least I did) when he goes to New York City to meet Frank Oz and Jim Henson.

Throughout the film, I felt SO inspired by Kevin’s single-minded focus. His passion. His work ethic. I found myself wondering if I could honestly say that I put in as much time, effort, and love to my writing as he did to his puppetry. (No.)

But then the film switches gears and reveals what Kevin sacrificed to become such a success: his family.

At some point he married the girl he had been dating since 19, and they had a daughter. But Kevin was always traveling, entertaining other children with Elmo, and becoming a bigger and bigger part of Sesame Street (writer, producer, director). Unfortunately that kept him away from his wife — they eventually divorced — and worst of all, from his daughter.

I don’t necessarily get the impression that he would go back and change things, but he did seem to regret that he couldn’t be more present as a father. That he couldn’t “have it all.”

That made me wonder about how I want to live my life. Do I want to become so dedicated to my writing that there’s no room for anything else? (No.)

But maybe that’s just what some people are destined for. Like, isn’t the work that Kevin was doing important enough to justify his absence? His family might say no, but when I think about all the children who benefit from Sesame Street — all the dying kids who just want a hug and kiss from Elmo — I have a hard time agreeing.

(I’ve seen this idea of personal sacrifice in other stories, albeit fictional ones. Like The Santa Clause with Tim Allen. Or the heartbreaking romance between Olivia Pope and President Grant on Scandal.)

Anyway. All this is a really long way of saying that Being Elmo is an awesome documentary about a really interesting, quiet figure who has undoubtedly touched your life, even if you had no idea. Also, it shows you that there is SO much more to puppeteering than just sticking your hand in a muppet and making a funny voice.

Down in Texas

From Houston to Dallas, family to friends, here’s my past week in pictures.

transco faux-57
faux-22 faux-27
faux-29 faux-32
faux-47 faux-53
faux-56 criswells-04
criswells-19 moms-new-imac

(Sadly that new iMac was not for me. But it was still fun to play with.)

Foggy mirrors

As a girl, I used to shower in my parents’ bathroom instead of my own. I’m not sure why. Maybe because their bathroom was bigger, brighter, and had a jacuzzi. Maybe just because I wanted to be more like them.

This past week I’ve been visiting home, and due to plumbing issues, I showered in my parents’ bathroom again tonight, for the first time in roughly 15 years. You don’t really think of a bathroom as a place for memories, but being in theirs brought back so many little moments from my past.

Sitting on my dad’s countertop, watching in the mirror as my mom did my hair. Playing in the jacuzzi and mixing up “super soaps” from all the different bottles. Graduating to the stand-up shower with its frosted door, where I could write secret messages in the condensation. Usually “I <3” whoever I had a crush on at the time.

If you asked me, I couldn’t have told you where I used to hang my towel, but tonight my hands went there automatically. And though I can pinpoint the exact moment that I realized I needed glasses — summer math class with Mr. Bath at Kinkaid — tonight I remembered how the reflections in my parents’ bathroom mirrors had gotten blurrier and blurrier, just a little bit each night. Sometimes these forgotten things are the most powerful. They make me wonder what else has been lost, and what other bits of myself are waiting around the corner to surprise me.

The bathroom is a weird place to feel nostalgia, but still, it was kind of nice. And it makes me want to capture more of these random memories, more of these little moments, even if there’s no real story to tell.

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