Fear like fog

May 25, 2009

Of human emotions and affects, shame settles in like a dense fog, obscuring everything else, imposing only its own shapeless, substanceless impressions. It becomes impossible to establish bearings or orient oneself in relation to the broader landscape. Like fog, shame distorts visions and influences what is seen. But more. Shame also feels like a weight, a heaviness, a burden, pressing down often at the top of the back, forcing the body into the characteristic posture … shoulders hunched, the body curved forward, head down, and eyes averted. The burden of shame can settle into different parts of the body — the pit of the stomach, the face or eyes, or externally, an aura encasing the entire self. Shame induces a wish to become invisible, unseen, to sink into the ground or to disappear into the thick, soupy fog that we have just imagined. — Andrew Morrison

I like that quote by Morrison, not because I’m feeling shame today, but because of the way it evokes the link between fog and the emotion. These days, the view of the mountain from our house is often obscured by a dense mist-like cloud which creeps down, bringing cold and rain. Four mornings a week I leave home at 6.30am when it’s still dark and cold.

This morning I had to leave the dog outside in the laundry where she at least has her dog-bed to snuggle up in. But there’s a lot of anxiety in that simple leaving. This is the same dog that bit her way into a previous house, breaking the same window twice and cracking it the third time. She has bitten her way through a (flimsy) garage door and also bent the bars of a security gate with her teeth. So a simple act of leaving my dog alone for the day is filled with anxiety. I’m half expecting a call from my neighbours to say that the dog has escaped and is now with them. Last time she landed up at the Kirstenbosch nursery.

And then there are other hassles, including my ever-unreliable tenants in Johannesburg and another upcoming long-distance trip for work.

On the reading front, I’m mostly enjoying a friend’s The Halo and the Noose, a book on using stories in business, and also finishing Charlene Smith’s Committed to Me, which is a combination of self-help, feminism and personal anecdotes and is subtitled “making better decisions in life, love and work”. And then there’s Sebastian Barry’s The Secret Scripture, which has been languishing for too long on the bedside table.

The only other thing to report is that I’ve been watching too much sport on TV, including the Super 14 rugby and also the Indian Premier League Twenty20 cricket. The team I chose as “my team”, the Royal Challengers Bangalore, narrowly lost to the Deccan Chargers last night in the final. For me it was a struggle of brute aggression (Deccan) versus the more elegant style of Bangalore. I realise that comparison doesn’t really work but at a more visceral level I just can’t bring myself to like Herschell Gibbs or Andrew Symonds. Bangalore had a revitalised and innovative Kallis (also Boucher and van der Merwe) and included the Indian greats of Kumble and Dravid. They were cruising to victory and got muscled out by the Chargers, leaving me to reflect on why I allow myself to get so worked up about silly things like cricket.

When the problem is the owner rather than the dog

May 29, 2008

Dogs are like children. You’ve got to love them (and try and stop yourself from smacking them). With me it’s a struggle not to smack. Loving is pretty easy, especially when she looks at me with her big brown eyes. But the not smacking is an ongoing learning thing for me. There are just so many things my dog does which are inappropriate. Here is a list for starters: sniffing people’s crotches; chasing the cat; climbing onto the furniture; entering other people’s gardens and doing her business there; entering other people’s houses; running away when she hears the garbage men or there’s a thunderstorm; licking her paw obsessively when owner is trying to concentrate; bullying small puppies; slobbering on strangers.

A lot of people would read a list like that and think: It’s the owner’s fault. Why did he let her get out of hand? Where was the consistency, discipline, loving guidance, rules? And then I’m quick to reply that I’m the third owner and that she learned her bad behaviour in her puppyhood. She wasn’t socialised adequately. Pedigreed ridgebacks are highly strung. We’ve had four homes in four years. I’m a single working dog-owner etc.

Actually I shouldn’t blame her for the paw-licking and the slobbering and the running away from noisy garbage trucks. That’s pretty much involuntary. And she’s a lot better about not climbing onto the furniture and slobbering on strangers. The crotch-sniffing is easy to control if you are an assertive person. Lifting your knee, turning away and saying “No” in a stern voice will do it.

Big dogs need lots of exercise and since I’m away from the house from 7am to 4.30pm she only gets one walk a day. I know exactly what I would say if I were the dog psychologist giving my opinion. If you want your dog to change her behaviour, you have to change your behaviour. Losing your temper and throwing a small blue baby elephant at your dog when she licks obsessively is not appropriate behaviour. Smacking her with the dog’s lead for not listening to instructions on a walk is not appropriate behaviour. Oy vey.

All the dog classes in the world will not make a difference unless she has a stable home environment. I’ve been working on that and I’m pretty happy with the current set-up. Granny (and sometimes grandpa) looks after her for much of every day. She has routine and another dog to play with. She gets a daily walk (although admittedly not as long as is needed for a dog of her size). She gets to take her aggression out on the Alsatians up the road (a lot of fierce barking through the fence). We avoid small puppies since it’s just too traumatic to try and explain to their owners that my hulking brute of a ridgeback is actually an anxious dog rather than a big bully. The dog and the cat have separate living quarters.

On a happier note, seeing a bouncy dog running wild on the beach is a pleasure. She takes off at speed, does figures of eight, chases her tail, attacks the waves and does some serious sprint-work, tail tucked in, down the shoreline. Then I forget about the slobbering and the furniture and the embarrassment of explaining an exuberant overgrown puppy to non-doggy people.

Random blogging thoughts

May 16, 2008

First up an introduction. This is Joschka (in typical sleeping mode), named by her previous owners after the German ex-politician. There’s so much to say about her but I think it’s a bit like blogging about your child. Where do I start? Do I tell you about the time she broke the same window three times in a row and I was so frustrated and despairing that I tried to give her away? Or about the fight that I had with my girlfriend at the time which boiled down to a variation of “It’s me or the dog”? Another time maybe.

I could also tell you about a blog challenge on another blog I visit here. It’s mostly a fun, social-type blog and from time to time we give each other topics to write about. My inspired title for this week was “Those three words”. I still have no idea what I’ll write about but I really liked Franky’s post about her dad.

And then there’s the newbie blogger thing. I’ve actually been blogging off and on for about 2 years but this is my first serious attempt at blogging. I know I’ll grow into it and that I should just be myself rather than trying to get all hyper and impress people. After all, the only person I need to impress is myself since this is primarily for my benefit. As Alan Bennett says, you don’t reveal yourself in writing, you find yourself. I suppose the same could be said for therapy.

Reading wise I’ve been making progress with Divisadero and the audio version of War and Peace and I’ve also started J.M. Coetzee’s Boyhood. I have mixed feelings about Coetzee but I like this book enough to blog about it (at some point).

Job-wise, I’m starting to feel a little more settled. I’m relieved that this new psychology position is not overwhelming but a bit sad that it’s so dull. It’s only for a year and I’ve got lots to keep me busy in the meantime. But there’s still some regret that I opted for the easy option (in cape town with the military) rather than taking a more challenging position elsewhere.

Weather-wise it’s pretty cold and rainy. So it’s perfect weather for a hot mug of something comforting and the rest of that Ondaatje (if the blogs don’t get me first). Happy reading.