Stuck Between a Rock and a Chew Toy

As someone who leads a self-examined life, I did not like what I found this past week. As always, the lesson involved Morty. Ah Morty, my little mirror, my reflection pond. The invisible choreography of the Universe making a match between me and the Mujzie never, ever escapes me, try as I might to downplay it.

For the record, can I just state that I was not in the mood to be brought to my knees spiritually?

Like so many of us, I am worn out from all things pandemic and keep hitting my pandemic wall. Grief just heightens the exhaustion. It doesn’t take much to make me feel like I need to lay down: I have to open an envelope? I have to cut off the ends of the Brussel sprouts? I have to put on my shoes? Oh lord.

Early in the week I asked Morty one morning, “What does God want from us today?” After a few seconds of silence I said, “Okay, I’ll go first.” I can’t remember what I thought God wanted from me, but I was glad to have taken a few short moments to think about that. I thought God would certainly give me points for trying to connect or at least act like I was connecting. Mostly what I remember from that morning is how funny I thought I was when I said, “Okay, I’ll go first.”

So Morty attacked a small dog at day care on Tuesday shortly after I dropped him off. This was his second time attacking another dog, so I was asked to come get him with the understanding that he was not welcome back.

Morty is a reactive dog. I ended up with a dog that barks and lunges at people and dogs, no matter how close or far they are from us. Once he barked incessantly at a washing machine that was on the ground next to the delivery truck. On Tuesday I was triggered by Morty’s reactivity and spent most of the day reacting (poorly) to everyone and everything. I was crunchy and untethered on the inside, with a side of snappy, mean-spirited behavior. I didn’t understand the irony at the time.

My knee-jerk reaction was that I had no choice but to return Morty to the shelter where I got him. I’d show him: I’d get a dog that was docile, that I could take to visit sick kids in the hospital, which is something I originally wanted to do. Can you just picture Morty in a hospital: barking at anyone walking with an IV pole, chomping on small children who make noise, attacking people pushing a gurney. Lawsuit Central, please hold.

I was so mad at Morty and told him so. I told him that I was most likely going to give him away. If I was in a cartoon there would be steam coming out of my ears.

Tuesday evening was my zoom session with JH, with whom I practice Spiritual Direction. I sobbed and sobbed, asking JH if God was punishing me by giving me a Dog With Issues. I felt stuck between a rock and a chew toy: I did not think I could endure living with Morty’s reactivity and also would not survive the grief of returning him.

I took my crankiness out on JH, who read me the riot act, as she is wont to do when I fall off the rails. I wanted to leave the country, as per usual, and she encouraged me to stay in the conversation, noticing that she was there with me and for me. Once I got on my knees metaphorically and actually became present, we prayed. And then we listened for what God was saying or wanting us to notice.

I consider most of my praying as really ‘placing my order with the Universe.’ I even picture an angel with a small pad and pen like a waitress uses. I pray for outcomes I’d like, I make requests and what I think are Helpful Suggestions. I am very busy talking to God. It is the listening part that I struggle with; the getting quiet and still. The waiting.

Often in my conversations with JH when we’re being quiet together and tuning in, I’ll see colors or images, I’ll recall a dream, I’ll hear song lyrics or lines from a poem. Discovering what Spirit has to say isn’t a linear process, which both frustrates and delights me.

I cried some more. Deep belly cries. Partly about Morty, about missing my Pop, about all of the clients I talk to every day who are being evicted, who have lost family members, whose electricity has been cut off, who don’t have enough food.

The great thing about crying is that it clears out all of the feelings I’ve been schlepping around on the inside. While it isn’t so much fun when it’s happening, I always feel lighter afterwards, and tired, with a bit more clarity.

JH encouraged me to refrain from making a decision about Morty, to keep asking Spirit for help and to try my very best to listen for any updates from my soul. She said the work was to live with the uncertainty of not knowing what I was going to do. As someone who has done improv since the late 1800s, the not knowing can still be so challenging. I said okay, I will do my best.

Tuesday night Morty was on my bed, just lying there, minding his own business. I talked to him about what was going on. He can be such a good listener. No judgement. Wednesday was not one of my better days, as I was exasperated by small things and um, quite reactive.

It finally occurred to me on Thursday how reactive I am myself. The buzzers sounded and the lights flashed during my aha moment. Oysh. It is incredibly embarrassing to finally notice what is so damn obvious. I am not proud of how reactive I am nor the fact that I spend way more time apologizing for my behavior than I want to, which is not at all.

When I was 17, I saw the movie Billy Jack and loved Jean. She was quiet and soft spoken. Plus she knew how to ride a horse. For the longest time I wanted to be like her. Over the years I’ve been told to lower my voice, stop making so much noise, get a grip, reel it in, calm down, don’t be so dramatic.

How do I honor my big, bold spirit and also create more even keel?

In my training with Bobbi I am working on walking Morty as I shorten the leash, tuck my elbow into my waist and move forward with my head up.

I am curious how to do this with myself. At the end of Postcards from the Edge, Gene Hackman makes a great speech to Meryl Streep about how change in real life takes time, it’s not like in the movies where it happens so quickly. You have a realization and then things unfold over time.

So for now I am keeping Morty, who is having his third nap of the day as I write this. I wanted a dog that I could take on long walks, who was people-friendly, who would be easy. I ended up with a dog who challenges me at my very core. Go know.

I am praying for help and for patience. For real. I am tuning in, waiting for what Anne Lamott calls my ‘next step of operating instructions.’

The sun is out, the wind is friendly. Thank you for listening.

Oh so mortally yours,

Jodi

Fooling Around or Not

Many months ago, A Bad Thing Happened to me, Morty, a neighbor and her dog. I cringe thinking about it. Long story short, which usually ain’t my style, I put all four of us in a dangerous situation in our kibbutz dog park by bringing Morty’s favorite ball into the park. OY!VAY!OY!VAY! The Traumatic Event involved kicking, screaming, growling, jumping, running, crying, blaming, yelling, biting, whining and guilt. I will not clarify who did what, only that it was messy.

My go-to plan after a fiasco of my own doing is always the same: Leave the country. 

I chose to remain in my petite corner of the universe and called around to find a trainer to help me. I felt like I was living with a monster. Unlike geckos, birds or lizards, I couldn’t toss Morty out into the wilderness and wish him good luck on his own. I knew something had to change and my hunch was that Morty wasn’t going to initiate any follow up.

I found Bobbi and things have changed radically.

The first time we met with Bobbi, Morty barked the entire hour. We were sitting about seven feet away from her. Bobbi pointed out, in the nicest possible way, that Morty was obviously running the show, I was a wreck and that the dynamic needed to change. It’s all true – he was in charge and I was tense, irritable and overwhelmed by all things Morty. It had gotten to the point where the love I felt no longer outweighed the challenges of my life with Morty.

Bobbi has spent the last several months working with me on relaxing, calming down and setting boundaries with the MortyMoo. She has worked on my behavior. Lo and behold, my changes affect Morty, who is still quite articulate, overly protective of me and um, spirited, is a polite way of describing him. Bobbi says he can be a punk and a bully too. She also says that Morty is a good pup who had a bad puppyhood. And let’s be honest, it’s not like I showed up sans baggage.

The work I am doing with Bobbi is about breathing and communicating what I want and expect from Morty. At first, I was cranky and resentful about having to spend so much time schlepping out to Bobbi’s place (in Kishinev) and how after all the time I’d spent on training Morty the first year and a half, things had gotten so out of control, and the dynamic between us was so cockeyed.

Carolyn Forché, one of my favorite poets, used to have a sign in her kitchen that read, “Whatever keeps you from doing your work has become your work.”

Silly, naïve me – I thought I would get a dog, take it on walks and the rest of my life would carry on as before, buh buh buh. The Universe was not fooling around when it sent Morty into my home and my heart. My relationship with Morty has become my work, which involves learning how to breathe when I feel tense, being present, setting intentions, walking with confidence and acting like a leader in charge.

Here we are.

Morty still drives me crazy sometimes and every so often I long for a quiet, easy puppy. I’m pretty sure he is writing about wanting a Mama who jogs and doesn’t blow her nose so loud when she cries. But then Morty will jaunt over to help me find the right lid for a container or jump on and off the bed in the morning like a joyous mountain goat or sit on my lap in the art room to sniff my latest project and I am smitten all over again.

Oh so mortally yours,

Jodi