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 MortyPie 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 acting like I was trying. 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. 

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 have been steam coming out of my ears.

Tuesday evening was my zoom session with Jinks (Hoffman), with whom I practice Spiritual Direction. I sobbed and sobbed, asking Jinks 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 Jinks, 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 wanted us to notice.

I consider most of my praying as really ‘placing my order with the Universe.’ I even picture an angel as waitress, with a small pad and pen. 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 that I struggle with; the getting quiet and still. The waiting.

Often in my conversations with Jinks 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. 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 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, with a bit more clarity.

Jinks 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 judgment. 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, stop being so dramatic, get a grip, reel it in, calm down, dial it down, simmer down.

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 by shortening the leash, tucking my elbow into my waist and moving forward with my head up.

I am curious about 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 occurs by telling her that it’s not like in the movies where you have a realization and then suddenly life changes. He says that you have a realization and your life changes maybe a month later. 

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 refers to as the next step of my ‘operating instructions.’

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

Oh so mortally yours,


11 thoughts on “Stuck Between a Rock and a Chew Toy”

  1. Oh so so hard, Jody. You express it so beautifully and insightfully, but I don’t know anything more challenging than loving a being that keeps me away from the encounters I love most. Our dog Baci (who died in 1919) was aggressive with most other dogs. Didn’t ever draw blood, but I would cross the street when I saw another dog walker approaching (now that’s just what we do to avoid covid). A neighbor once met me without Baci and was amazed, “you’re friendly!” He had me pegged as antisocial because of my avoiding him and his pooch. It affects everything about my mood when I walk with our newer dog, Harper, who wants nothing more than to get to know every dog and collapse at the feet of every person. Hugs to you and to Morty, Jodi.

    1. I understand the neighbor/reputation dynamics all too well. There has been lots of off stage drama between me, MortyMoo and several neighbors since he arrived. It has kicked the s–t out of my desire to people please and my need for approval, even from inanimate objects. Oy. Harper sounds like a lovely moo-moo head. I miss you. Darling. We have known each other for so long that I feel I can tell you that my name is spelled with an ‘i’ and not a ‘y.’ Love you!

    1. Sometimes I am very busy being clever, and I know it doesn’t always serve me. I am learning about humor via our time together. Love you.

  2. Oh Jodi, I miss you!

    I have 3 dogs, and 2 human pets I made myself. As far as behavior predictability goes…I’ve got 1 out of the 5, I can get right half the time.
    Hopefully Morty starts to remember his manners.
    Love you!

    1. My little cacophony — I miss you too. The two human pets that you made must be driving and have their own apartments by now! Or else be close to middle school age? Brandon seems very trainable, so you have that going for you. Love you.

  3. We have two rescue dogs and are struggling with issues with each of them. I keep threatening to return them but just can’t. Who will take care of them? What was their life like before we got them? How can I throw in the towel? Should I just be more patient? Time will tell. Shabbat Shalom.

    1. Oh, who *doesn’t* have issues. I mean, really. I will say that having a great trainer makes a huge difference. My friend D’vorah reminded me that Morty came to me ‘damaged,’ as it were, that I am not responsible for his life before me. No one knows what you are able to tolerate or have the bandwidth to work on changing. It all takes time. Whatever you decide to do will be the right thing. I guarantee it. Love you.

  4. Thanks, dear Jodi, for the human wisdom you so generously dispense. I just hate that our growth comes from pain and frustration and upsetting situations rather than birds and flowers and well-behaved dogs. But alas, so it goes. I’m having to tell myself to mind my own business almost every other minute so that’s how it is going at my house.

    1. Oh Bunny, wisdom is a strong word. I know what you mean about how we grow from hard lessons. I also believe that we grow from dreams and making art and laughing uncontrollably with someone. Just might not be as flashy. About MYOB: When I first heard the phrase ‘staying on my side of the street’ I thought it was martian talk. It’s so easy to wander away. Love you.

  5. I love you, Jodi. Boy, can I relate!
    I want to say, don’t give up on yourself, don’t give up on Morty. You are both worthy.
    Keep listening to the the ethereal messages of color, words, songs and images.
    Keep crying.
    Above all, keep moving forward with your shoulders back and your head held high.

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