A Dog’s Life

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So as it turns out my wife and I are on the tail end of a major life transition just in time for Rich’s sermon on the subject.

At the beginning of July our family dog, Simon, started having seizures. We later determined this was likely caused by a brain tumor. After many visits to the vets office, the veterinary emergency room, and a constant string of nights with one or both of us sleeping downstairs to be with the dog when he seized, we put Simon to rest a little more than three and a half weeks later.

Simon was put to sleep late on a Sunday night, and by Thursday, we had a new Beagle-Boxer puppy named Riley in our lives.

We’re just … dog people, my wife especially, though I’m the one who pushed for going to the shelter on Wednesday. My wife had been sending me pictures of dogs, and I just had to meet this guy, Riley.

Meet Riley. Bow ties are cool.

Meet Riley. Bow ties are cool.

It’s been good for both of us. Dogs can have such a healing presence on our lives, and we lucked out with Riley. He’s playful but chill, and has this great brindle coat you’d have to see to believe. Our cat might be mad at us for a little while, but even she’s used to having some big animal with soft floppy ears hanging around.

But it’s still hard sometimes. It’s not the things you’d expect, like getting Simon’s ashes, or the photobook we had printed. It’s stuff like when Riley chews quickly on his leg and it looks like he’s shaking. It’s thinking about that last twenty-eight hours of Simon’s life. And it’s trying to fall back into normal routines while forming new ones, including having a dog who likes to go on a lot more walks than his predecessor, but also needs comforting when there’s lightning.

I’m still grieving for Simon even as I’m just loving Riley. He was my first dog, and I’m so grateful we had so many good days together before the end. And that I got to buy him his Five Guys burger, which took him a whole minute to eat. (By the way the new dog doesn’t bug me for food and will even stop in the middle of eating to see what I’m doing. That is so weird).

For me living in transition was just as much about giving up routines as it was keeping them. It was letting it be okay that I wasn’t participating in my writing group for a while, or frankly that I didn’t feel like writing blog posts or doing much of anything besides watching TV and organizing files on my computer. I got a lot of backup burns done while I was convalescing with the dog that last week.

God was merciful in so many ways, both in how good the moments were after the seizures so that we had time to say goodbye to our beagle buddy, but also in making it clear when it was time for him to go. I’m honestly not sure if I could have done a year of this, but like all things in life you do what you have to, and you lean on the thing you can count on, like your wife and God.

And coming out of that experience has been centered around routines as well. Picking up new projects and enjoying an evening writing again in the sanctuary, hoping for a good thunderstorm either before or just after my drive home. It’s blogging again and participating more in the world outside again. It’s playing with my new dog, and laughing when he sneezes which is hilarious. And trying to teach him tricks, and that daddy doesn’t appreciate it when the dog pokes his head in my shower.

Simon, back when I first met him.

Simon, back when I first met him.

Life changes. Just looking back at the photos from Simon’s nine years with my wife and I shows me how much the house, and our lives have evolved over time. But even after all this time, I still have someone excited to see me when I come home.

Blowing Off Some Steam

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Rich talked about recreation this week, which is an awful lot like play, though maybe a little bit different. It’s the fancy adult word we use for play, though in this case Rich talked about a particular kind of playful activity, namely play as a restorative force. Restorative, but not restful.

On my planet, to rest is to rest. To cease using energy. To me, it is quite illogical to run up and down on green grass using energy instead of saving it.” ~Spock (TOS: Shore Leave)

Ben TrubeRecreational restorative play has three functions: to help us to grieve and work out frustration, to flex our strengths and to return us to ourselves. Today I’m going to focus on the first of these, play as a way to re-direct or work out anger, frustration, guilt, etc.

I, like most adult males, occasionally have days that make me want to punch something. But I’m a civilized 21st century male who wears fancy dress pants (though not a tie), and who must attempt to avoid beating the people who annoy me senseless.

So I play video games.

Or at least I used to when I had time. There’s nothing quite so satisfying as a first person shooter for venting off anger. This isn’t exactly flexing a strength; while I’m a capable player, I by no means am a match for elite players, or even particularly difficult AI’s. But wandering through an alien ship, taking out biological anomalies can be satisfying.

The only problem is, this form of recreation can equally cause you to loose track of time, or the feeling in certain fingers and in your behind. It can ramp up feelings as well as diffuse them. Now believe me, I’m not a pro or anti-gaming evangelist, but it is a popular way for people of my age and our time to deal with stress and attempt to recreate.

I have tried to channel feelings into productive energy for writing. This has varying degrees of success. Usually it only works when how I’m feeling corresponds to what I’m trying to write. Otherwise it’s hard to convert distracting energy into something useful. And truthfully, writing isn’t really recreation for me, it’s a passion and a job.

I’ve personally found that walking around and doing something physical can help, even something as simple as walking the dog, though there is part of me that resists for some reason the idea that physical activity has any effect on my mood or my energy. I think it is the downfall of having both programming and writing as passions to believe that every problem can be solved inside my head. Even the video game to a certain degree is a much more mental activity than a physical one.

When I was in college I sang in the Men’s Glee Club. I felt this was essential (in addition to being fun) because it forced me to think in a different way than I usually was, and it was physical in that there was breath control, and even the shape of one’s throat to think about. You had to use your ears to listen to everyone around you, and produce the correct notes on your own, eventually off book.

I think it’s important to have something, anything, that gets you thinking and doing differently than what it is you do the rest of the week. It makes you a more well rounded person, and it helps prevent getting stuck in ruts. What works for me may work for you, or more likely something else. The key is, to allow yourself time for these recreations, and not always to feel like you should be getting something done, or doing something productive. Even as a guy who’d like to write 20-30 books in my lifetime, there’s time to walk the dog.

– Spock to Kirk, declining shore leave