Untethered Dog

You Never Know Where He Will Go

Presence

A few words on mindfulness quick, before I gotta run.

Ha!

Seriously, mindfulness is all the rage these days.

I mean, at least until you get pinged that another cat video has been uploaded and is now appearing in your Facebook feed. No way he jumped right into the cookie jar!

As I was saying — oh wait: look who is having an alcoholic beverage next to water and oh how she must be loving life — gotta “Like” that — (that bitch)! — my life sucks — I am not with someone that beautiful — it’s as if we woke up one day and Ram Dass took over every workshop, seminar, business meeting, and therapy session.

Be. Here. Now. Everyone! Did I say later? No. I said now!

I kid because I care. Some of my best teachers (including at least one I traveled several states away once to hear instruct on the topic) espouse mindfulness and way too many well-adjusted humans have made use of such tools as meditation to discount the real benefits of taking time to get out of the monkey mind and sink into the only moment any of us is guaranteed: this one. In fact, I mean to bring up the ever-widening presence of the need for presence less to be a smartass and more to admit there is little I can add to the topic that you can’t get from a calmer person, from a more practiced meditator, or from a smarter human being (like those wacky neuroscientists with their brain scans).

Yet, finding myself recently in a conversation among thoughtful, sensitive souls on the connection between attention and happiness (there is more than a little data that tells us present people are happier people), I did conjure one bit I want to throw into the moment you are currently experiencing to see if it adds something to the moments you soon will be experiencing.

My thought comes in response to this question: what is the goal? On the face of it, it seems a question that is anathema to the reason for mindfulness in the first place. We are always trying to achieve; what if we take a break and just be? Why, of course, this a decidedly constructive endeavor. We can intuit that and even one minute of concentrated meditation affirms this. Yet I took the question, which came from a person I respect, someone who gets that there is more to life than constant doing and striving, as a good one.

It’s a good one because not only can we not be present every moment, we don’t want to be present every moment. We did not evolve to this place as a species because we were mindful — because we were in the moment every moment. Had we been immersed in the moment and only immersed in the moment those saber-toothed tigers we hear about every time someone talks about the fight-or-flight response would have eaten us. We are out gathering berries … at one with the sound of plucking … absorbed in the feel of the fruit on our fingers … and we ourselves become breakfast.

I do not doubt the data that mindful people are happier people but I don’t think that is why you should meditate.

Everyone wants to be happy but really the pursuit of happiness is a trap. First, by definition, to grasp at happiness is to reach for another moment beyond this one. And, more to the point, there is more to life than being happy. Whether you like it or not. And it’s going to be easier to endure the not-happy parts if you seek meaning and have purpose. (Which might be found in cat videos — who am I to judge?)

To that end, we have our own teacher: the voice inside that tells us what we must do. The unconscious, if you will, though I am not a psychologist (and do not play one on the Internet). We are almost constantly receiving the wellspring that comes from within. My bias is that the unconscious is wonderful, bountiful, and limitless. Anyone who has ever followed his or her intuition and found as a result beauty or bliss knows this.

Yet a lot of gunk comes up, too. The intuition isn’t always right and, even if it were, you have a constant minefield of other shit to contend with — fears, irrational and not, bad memories, and received wisdom that may or not be useful to you. And that’s for starters. You’ve also got desires for sex and revenge and chocolate and for anything else that makes the pain of life lessen.

We have only so much control over what comes up. But we do hold sway, in my view, and more than a little. And the best way to feed the beast, one way to keep him reasonably content, is to send him unadorned moments. The reason we have so many happy memories from childhood, it has been said, is that we were there for nearly every moment. Yes.

The goal, then, is to nourish our thoughts just as we would our bodies. Just as our bodies do not need broccoli all day every day neither is it possible or desired that we aim to feed our minds perfectly. There is no perfectly. Yet just as the body will react to a steady diet of Doritos so, too, will the mind respond to, and languish, if fed with too much trash.

It’s understandable, then, that we are learning about and so craving the power of mindfulness right now (hey, a pun), precisely during a time when we’ve never before as a species been repositories for so much refuse. It really is more than we can manage. And that’s just Instagram.

Yet we can stop the deluge at any time. The moment offers us that. Always.

Mindfulness not only gives us this break it, and in my view this is more important, when we focus right now we will get the best of our unfocused thoughts later.

The day after the discussion just described, one which so immersed me, I observed my little buddy embody the presence. On a cool late-summer day he sauntered to the far end of the yard and found a small slice of ground on which the sun was shining. He plopped down and sat there. He sat in a warm spot. He watched a fly. He sniffed the wind.

I watched him then and what is coming up for me about that moment prompts me right right now to feel my stomach rise and fall, to hear the sound of my breath, to know I am alive and that I love him and that there is something I must do — yep, I do need to go now — go take him for the morning walk. We are late. Somebody’s been writing too long.

As we go, I will try to be present for a good many of the steps we take together. Even if not all of them. That’s OK. Enough is enough.

Let’s Visit Our Other Structure

The garage light was on.

It was early evening, just after sundown. Back from our last walk of the day and a game of snout soccer in the books, I decided to finally take on the felled tree branches I had left on the patio to deal with another day. Today — yesterday, to be exact — was that day.

The garage light was on, I say.

What is it about a lit garage in the evening that can put me in a dreamy, yet motivated, mood?

On our late walks, when we walk by one of those houses, you know the ones, in which the garage door is all the way open and a guy is fiddling with his car, say, or clanking around in a tool box, with maybe a girly pin-up on a cabinet against the wall and an old crate or plate or some advertisement of something no longer sold high on a shelf, I feel happy.

Maybe it’s because I know that if our eyes meet that guy and I will exchange a sincere hello. Or at least a nod. Garage guys are calm guys. A guy working in his garage is not a guy who is especially angsty; garage work is not screen time. Garage time is not rush-time. In that way, and I think I know this in the moment, a lit garage sends me back to days gone by and keeps me present in the current one at the same time.

My father wasn’t a garage guy. He wasn’t one to fiddle with his tools more than necessary. I have few memories, in fact, of him even in our garage. I am not mechanically inclined myself. So I am not sure my wistfulness could be taken for nostalgia. Yet there is something serene that emanates from the glow of a garage.

A light on does mean possibilities. It means, despite the darkness that surrounds the garage itself, that the day is not done, not yet. Last night I looked for things to do — pulled out the ladder so as to adjust a couple of bulbs on a string of outdoor lights; grabbed my kettle bells to do a few farmer carries — just to soak longer in the energy, the low-level stimulation, that flowed from the open side door of my lit garage.

You would not be impressed with my garage. Certainly, few garage guys would be. Now, my garage is tidy. Unlike most in the neighborhood, I make in-garage room for storage of my various disposal containers, recycling, trash, etc., and an open, partially filled yard-waste bag. Nothing is scattered. Anything that I keep in my garage is easily retrievable. But the concrete is crumbling, there are no power tools to be found, and conspicuously absent is anything resembling an impressive tool shed. No old license plates, no signs of past consumption of Hamm’s beer, no girly pin-ups.

Mine is a detached garage which gives it, to me, not only an increased geographic but also an appreciated psychic distance from the house. The space between the house’s back door and the garage’s side door is about twenty-five yards. Which, in the conflation of my dreamy mind, might as well be a distant but welcome outpost. C’mon, little buddy, let’s go visit the garage. (He always dashes to the door — it’s sometimes his fastest run of the day — and if I haven’t yet unlocked it, bounces off it a time or three. The first time to see if he can get in, the next times for fun.) Usually, our visits to the garage are with a simple purpose: to grab his leash and a poop bag or two so we may start out on a sidewalk adventure.

I like that while on these adventures, as he is getting readings with his tuning-fork nostrils while making a birds-eye view of a hydrangea or a hydrant, I look up to see an open garage door. (If I am really lucky I’ll pick up the sound of baseball coming from a radio inside the same garage.) A guy will look up to learn who might be calling on him at this hour. Then, when he sees it’s just me and a dog named B., who really likes to pee, he’ll nod and I’ll nod and rain’s not looking like it’s coming till tomorrow and have a good night and you, too.

I know all this because the garage light is on.

Face the Facts

Sometimes you have to ask yourself the questions that are staring you right in the face in the morning. Such as: Is it possible I went to sleep with my glasses on last night?

What I know:

– I had them on in bed to read before turning out the lights. For sure.

– I don’t recall reaching for or putting them on this morning.

– My glasses are on as I type these words.

So you do the math.

Except, it can’t be that I did that. Can it? I mean, I slept through the night, no pee breaks, even, I dreamed, I pushed at least one pillow off the bed, I twisted the comforter around my legs, I half woke up, meditated, before getting up … all this and I kept them on and didn’t notice that they were, in fact, on? (Note: now that I think of it, there may have been one pee break.)

No way. There must be some other explanation.

I’ll check with the dog.

Skating


It was always the coldest arena in the county. And none of the Ramsey County rinks were what any person living outside of Siberia would consider warm. The joint wasn’t yet named after the late St. Paulite creator of the Peanuts. It was just Highland then. In my memory, we always got the 6 a.m. ice time at Highland. Which only served to make the place seem colder. It didn’t help that, even if you were the first car to arrive for that first ice time of the day, you could not park anywhere close to the front door, the parking lot set back and the entrance accessed only after you skated (skated before putting on your skates, that is) down a not-short concrete walkway. Once inside, there was little temperature difference, outside air to indoor arena. You wonder now why they even bothered with walls. The parents who sacrificed their mornings would keep their toes by huddling in the small rectangular warming area, near the “office” a chair behind a window on which sat the Zamboni driver and skate sharpener — and by a vending machine that served “warm” and cold beverages. I would not so much as sip coffee myself for another three-plus decades but in my memory I see the paper cup sitting there, a button pressed, a loud grinding noise, and, some minutes later, black stuff the color of motor oil whiz out. Oh, my, that must have been awful. But cheap! Of course, the mothers would take turns bringing portable pots and sleeves of Styrofoam cups. They had this chauffeuring thing down and never stopped taking us to these arenas all over the county that at that time all looked pretty much the same; concrete slabs with metal bars over the roofs. Highland was the furthest away from us in the northern suburbs. It would have taken 30-plus minutes, not including carpool stops, to get there. These days, I pass by the Highland Park Tower, an aesthetically appealing structure that belies the building, Highland Arena, that is tucked just beyond and beneath it, not infrequently. The other night my little buddy and I pulled over. It was a balmy night on which to conjure frozen memories. We lingered on the lawn at the edge of the golf course behind the rink. The arena itself was closed. That was OK. The part of what is locked behind the front door that I already want already is, and will forever be, inside me.

Not Cold-Brewed; Cold Because It’s Old

Day-old coffee is highly underrated.

Coffee may, in fact, share a trait with lasagna and sex: that is, it’s even better the next day.

For that reason, even when I am “to-stay” I tell the barista to please make my order “to-go.”

This morning, I forgot I had a half cup of aged java awaiting in my fridge.

Have your ever found one more present under the tree when you thought Christmas was all over?

It’s was a lot like that.

You Gotta Have Those Goals

I love goals. I love talking about goals. I love setting goals. Goals are crucial to success — however you define that term. For you cannot hit a target if you are not aiming at one.

Cue the Zig Ziglar. I can even do the accent, if you would like.

Yet what do you do when you are someone who wants to achieve many disparate things? More to the point, how do you navigate your goals when you are the sort of person who seems, truly, not to hold fast to the goals you have set?

I am not talking of procrastination. I could write plenty on that topic but that is not the issue I am speaking of here. We are not talking about a lack of desire but rather you might say too much desire. Or desire that flows in too many directions. You want to achieve a particular thing but while along the road you encounter another thing that also seems worthy of your devotion, maybe more, than the first. You might say that the answer is to shun the new aim until the first is satisfied. Or you could hold the view, also legitimate, that the middling first goal led you to the superior second goal and so go forth, grasshopper, to what calls to you now.

Except in the problem I am attempting to to describe this meandering is the rule not the exception.

Distraction is a very worthy subject of discussion — especially in a smartphone age — but that is also not what I am talking about at present. At least I don’t think it is.

In order to achieve anything one does need to actively push aside barriers. No barriers, no achievement. If it were easy everyone would do it, as they say. (And , have come to believe, that the act of letting go is at least as important as the movement of grasping for.)

Cough-cough. That throat-cleared, we get to another, lesser-discussed impediment to a life in which a holy grail is conceived of and sought after.

That is to say, some people get up in the morning and burn to play the piano. Or swim faster than they — or anyone — ever has before. Some people dream of making a million in residential real estate. Or devote themselves daily to needy canines. Many people know what they want to do and they set about doing it. They can’t not, really. They put forth an honest effort and then succeed or fail. Or they do not go all-in, succumbing instead to the aforementioned procrastination and/or distraction or maybe they simply do not have the goods. In each of these camps, though, the problem is not not knowing. They have a target or an absence of a target. They don’t have a target that shifts and moves, that fades and flickers.

What if you burn for something for one day, wake up the next and find that fire doused? And the same thing happens on Tuesday. Every Tuesday.

What if you live the goal-setting equivalent of Groundhog Day?

That, friends, is a different sort of proposition.

I know of it because I have experienced much of my adult life. I have managed to write an award-winning book, earned a couple of master’s degrees, and a promotion or two at a job I care about. I take care of a dog, I am fairly healthy, I pay my bills, I vote, and drive on the right-hand side of the road. I function, yep, and I at times thrive. Yet … yet.

There is a lack of continuity, too.

It is not enough to set goals. Even if they are SMART goals. Not enough to think through the barriers. Not enough to set reasonable steps. And modest timeframes. For I have done all that and then looked a week or a month later and it’s as if I am starting from scratch. Things once clear and important are blurry or less certainly crucial. I seek in such times to simplify. I have, in fact, made progress in that regard. Yet it’s still not enough. Not for me.

Forgive me: I know just enough — I have grasped just enough of this — to pick up this mirror and hold it before my face. That is different than saying I know what it is that I see — or what to do with it. But just as you cannot hit a target that is not in your view, so, too, fuzzy questions produce unclear answers.

I am trying to formulate a clear question.

As a writer I am fascinated by the notion — you hear of these stories — of the man or woman who holes himself or herself up in a cabin in Nowhere, Wyoming or wherever and a few weeks later walks out with a novel. A smart novel. I am fascinated by this notion because that is not me. I would in the same cabin get a lot done but definitely not a finished book, even if you extended my stay.

So what is me, in this regard? It occurs that there is a commonality in my successes: an external structure within which I worked. School, contractually obligated deadlines, colleagues, society. If I failed at these, I failed publicly, you might say. I could not, as in the case of the cabin in Nowhere, Wyoming, simply turn off the lights and go home empty-handed, with no one but me disappointed in my lack of production.

External versus internal rewards — external versus internal validation — it’s a subject about which I have some shame. I buy into the American bootstraps ethos and I fancy myself as someone who increasingly decides for himself what is worthy of attention. Who wants others to direct their lives for them? It is not, of course, all or nothing, not all external or internal, yet I operate as though internal-only should be sufficient.

Perhaps it is for some. Perhaps it will be for me some day. For now, though, I am feeling like the mirror is showing me not only is the external required there are upsides to an embrace of this fact: possible connection with others and possible service to others being two of the significant ones that come to mind.

When it comes to goals I do believe we can say too much to too many people. (I am not, in other words, going to list my most important goals in this post.) In my Ziglar tape he talks about two kinds of goals: give-up goals and go-up goals.

Give-up goals — you want to give up smoking, lose twenty pounds, stop yelling into your windshield on the highway (since the rat bastard who cut you off can’t hear you anyway) — you can tell to anyone who will listen. For in this telling they will help keep you accountable. Harder to binge on chocolate cake in front of someone if that someone heard you say just yesterday that you really want to get rid of those love handles.

Go-up goals are different: those are the professional or personal achievements — things you want to do or attain (a title at work, an amount of money earned, a book you want to write, you get the idea). You want to share your go-up goals with select few people — only those with whom you have trust and have your best interests in mind.

Where I am at as I look for a way to land this plane of a post is that I think there is merit in the Ziglar view of sharing of one’s goals with an emphasis in the importance of finding the very right people — people who don’t just witness your proclamation but also witness your struggle. And in the best case scenario you do the same for them.

Press 1 to Be Caught Red-handed

I am a fugitive from justice. A renegade. A stone-cold criminal with no regard for human life.

Or so you might believe if you listen to the voicemails I have been receiving.

At least four times in the last week I have gotten robocalls alerting me that I face some serious allegations. I simply need to press 1, the non-human caller says with wordsthatruntogether, and if I do, I could avoid the legal action that is about to be taken against me.

Since I have not answered any of these calls I have not be able to ask the non-human what they got me on — racketeering (whatever that is)? Espionage (think I couldn’t?)? Serial jaywalking (OK, I plead guilty to that one, officer, but isn’t my dog cute?)?

What we know is such scams are working on at least some people or else they would not continue. Those of us blessed with educations and connectedness can sniff at those who might fall prey to these kind of scams but we shouldn’t.

First of all, I get it. The tone of the call, the threat of legal action, the naming of authorities and courts — after you get a few of these over a few days, you second guess whether or not it’s real. It’s understandable you might panic or at least take measures so that you can be sure.

Second, some people (more than a few), fairly or unfairly, correctly or falsely, do have ongoing legitimate legal issues with which to contend. That is the intent, presumably — to target the vulnerable and play on their fears.

Our disdain, then, should be squarely on laws and systems and inadequate investigation of such scams and not those who fall victim to them.

Of course, the whole thing does strain credulity. When you step back and remove your fear for a minute you think: is this how we’re catching criminals these days — with strongly worded voice mails? The police aren’t knocking on your door; they are speed-dialing instead.

Fugitive No. 1: “Clete, we gotta turn ourselves in.”

Fugitive No. 2: “What are you talking about, Jerry? The money from the bank we robbed is right here for safekeeping [Clete holds up stuffed pillowcase and tap-taps the side, smiling]. We are free as birds, buddy.”

No. 1: “Not any more. We gotta give it back.”

No. 2: “What do you mean we have to give it back?”

No. 1: “Afraid so. I …. I got a call.”

No. 2: “Don’t tell me: Did they — did they ask you to press 1?”

[Jerry nods]

No. 2: “And you pressed 1?”

[Jerry looks at his feet]

[Clete shakes his head, starts taking money out of the pillowcase]

An Arrow for the Bullseye

I have come to an important realization. This isn’t easy to say, certainly not publicly. And it’s no doubt going to be an unpopular view. One that in certain circles might, in fact, be seen as controversial. Yet there is no use pretending any longer. I might as well come out and admit it.

I don’t like Target.

I don’t like it — OK? I know everyone loves, loves, loves Target. They go on their Target “runs.” They make it their go-to place, whether they need a 48-roll pack of toilet paper, six kids worth of school supplies, plastic Halloween decorations, or produce.

In these parts Target is seen by the masses as affordable, palatable, convenient and, well, it has everything you need — and more than a few things that you don’t. But, hey, why not, we’re here!

Middle-classers can shop at Target without the tax-bracket shame they feel at Kmart.

Liberals can shop at Target without the political embarrassment they fear at Walmart.

But it’s time we acknowledged the elephant (sporting a red top and tan khakis) in the room.

First of all, the prices at Target are not all that stellar. I do have a Red Card, yep, which saves me 5 percent, and that’s not nothing, to be sure, but it’s not like I can’t get my laundry detergent any cheaper than at the drug store or grocery store.

More importantly, to have everything is to have too much. Unless you are looking for big items like a king-sized comforter or a two-seat couch, to enter Target is to prepare to go on a hunt — and, while on this white-light, sterile cheap-goods safari, if you see one of those red bat phones you might as well pick it right up. Get the 17-year-old kid to start scrolling his handheld inventory now before your mental fatigue sets in.

Let’s be frank: the fare is not of any higher quality at Target than at any other big-box retailer. I bought a lamp there that, I swear, stripped off its base 61 days after purchase and ever since hangs off kilter. The last three non-disposable items I bought there failed for various reasons and with little wear and tear.

Convenience? Puh-leeze. There is little about a store that size that is convenient. Even if you know what you want and you park within fifty yards of the front door, you must wade through the bargain bins and clearance end-caps. That is, after all, the point. I have heard it said you can’t go to Target and not spend a hundred bucks. The person who told me that was smiling. I am not. I don’t know how they do it but I feel certain they must have armies of capitalist masterminds making sure that it is so: you are hypnotized to buy more than you need. Go there now and come back and tell me I am wrong. (By the way, I see those bullseye bags behind your back.)

Of course, you may still bump your red cart into mine at a Target sometime. I still go. But I have been going far less in last couple of years and my last visit cinched it for me that I will only go when I feel I must. I had walked in to make a return. After finishing the return, I checked my home shopping list and thought I might as well finally get that pumice stone. As I was going to the Personal Care area, I stopped to regard the Q-tips. After all, I don’t have any at present. Then there was the hand soap. Only $1.29, you say? Might as well grab some. Meanwhile, I couldn’t find a pumice stone to save my life. I circle. Shampoo, Row 1. Shampoo, Row 2. Pumice stones not in Personal Care, apparently. I looked for a bat phone. A red shirt. A sign. Something. Hell-o!

Finally, I said to myself “I shall not do this any more.” (Perhaps not a verbatim transcript. Point is this: I came to clarity. See, I prefer to shop bricks-mortar than online. I like to see what I am going to buy before I buy it — hold it in my hand if I can. And I like to be loyal to local places — but seems clear I should concern myself here only with places that add value. Last week, I shopped at Dey Distributing, an appliance parts shop in St. Paul, where I bought an air conditioning capacitor. I could easily have saved $10 elsewhere or online. In my view, the extra ten spot was money well spent. For there are adults at Dey — and those adults are available and able to help you. I shop regularly at Ace for the same reason. The men and women who work there know the products and they will help even an idiot like me use them. The store is also smaller than a soccer field. I am, for example, in the market for a weed whacker. When I stop being cheap and I decide to buy one, I will likely get it there. I might spend a little more but I know they will service it and answer any questions I may have.) the bottomline: Skewer me if you, as a Target loyalist, must. But I am not going to hide it any longer. At this point, I’m able to find a pumice store or a guy with a handheld, I did what any responsible adult would do in the same situation: I set my basket down and walked away.

Yum

You can feel it on the edges of the day; the air is shifting, the sun is lessening, the heat is breaking.

It was my turn to work the late shift yesterday. I do not mind being at work after the usual hours — there is calm and lightness in being part of the skeleton, post-5 o’clock crew. Yet it makes for a short night.

Last night I was grateful for the interruption in the usual routine. The air was — I know no other word — simply delicious. Just cool enough for a thin hoodie. While sometimes of late I will get weary on the late-day walk, last night it was me, not the little buddy, who wanted to go the extra blocks — who wanted to further explore new paths, who wanted to walk by the old theater a second time. What else might we see? Who else might we run into? In hindsight I can’t believe how light were my feet.

When we returned from this anything-but-hurry stroll, with the sun newly down there was still light enough to see, if barely. I turned on the string lights and took out his ball. Under this glow we kicked the ball, one of us with his snout. I am not sure either of us didn’t play for any reason except for the fact that we could.

I also took out the trash/recycling because the next is our day for that. I found myself pleased for that easy but necessary chore — for the excuse to sip additional minutes from day. You wish you could bottle up nights like that one but that’s why it’s special and you know it’s special while you have it — know it in the moment — because you cannot.

Though, I suppose, this post is my way of trying to.

Tour de Farce

At what point did it become the case that nearly every weekend road warrior who bicycles now wears attire as if they were coming over the Pyrenees in the Tour de France?

Used to be that people who enjoyed bicycling would, you know, put their butt cheeks on their bicycle seats and start peddling. Not any more. First, it seems they must change into form-fitted, aerodynamic attire. This would, of course, include shorts tight enough to reveal one’s religion and jerseys peppered with sponsorship-suggesting insignia. And then there are the helmets. Some sporting minute rear-view mirrors, all are decal-laden.

This Saturday morning ride down the River Parkway is brought to you by Cervélo.

That trip to the light rail station was made possible by Trek Bicycle Corporation.

In America, circa 2019, brand names are our tribe markings in far more than just bicycling. Certainly. You see brand ID on gym bags, on sneakers, the front of T-shirts, and the back of those ever-ubiquitous leggings. That’s just for starters. Yet it seems there is a special form of tribal pride practiced by bicyclists. They seem to seek something more than merely to pledge allegiance to Cannondale. Few people who play weekend softball wear full uniforms, stirrups and all. No one I know shows for pickup basketball by first pulling off tear-away pants to reveal full-on tank-top and shorts combos. Breezers are simply not worn for shinny hockey.

By contrast, the impression one gets while dodging the waves of cyclers on the way to the grocery store, the gym, the pet supply, is that most bicyclists are dressed as though they are doing nothing less than going after another article of clothing: a yellow jersey.