Wednesday 30 July 2014

Dog Beach Blowup and Other Breeds of Chaos

Monday morning Freddie and I arrived at the dog beach just in time to witness a canine brawl that turned into a human one. The two humans involved weren't biting each other's neck, so maybe "brawl" isn't the right word for them, but there was plenty of barking, growling, and snarling going on.

[Most of today's photos, as you'll notice, have little or nothing to do with the text; they're just random shots from the past week.]
It started (the human part, that is) when one dog parent raised a Chuck-it ball thrower as if to whack one of the unruly dogs — which gesture scattered the dogs but triggered a rabid response from another dog parent ("Don't you dare hit my dog!" "I didn't touch your dog! But he would've deserved it!" etc. etc.).

Who says dog people are always mellow?

In my experience, the overwhelming majority of dog-related encounters with other people (notwithstanding the Peevish Petter, the Poop Patroller, and a few other exceptions) have been entirely amicable and have contributed something good to my daily life.

Why, just this afternoon, a woman stopped to say hi to Freddie and give him a big kiss on the lips (which Freddie was more than happy to reciprocate)!

But the unruliness of dogs (yeah, all dogs), combined with the fact that they are, in important ways, an extension of their people (kinda like kids?), means that such encounters have a heightened potential to trigger flare-ups of people's otherwise dormant "issues" — anger being a big one.

Sunday Morning at the Central Library

Lots of people are chronically angry, it seems — but this isn't really a post about anger, and, anyway, even if everyone in the world were really good at anger management, the kind of interdependent social existence we humans lead would still have the potential for flare-ups, what with most of us having to negotiate different values/needs/desires/expectations etc. etc., day in-day out, and just generally to keep a lid on many of our impulses much of the time.

After Hours


We're in the midst of Fireworks Week and Pride Week here in Vancouver ... 

... and, nope, I haven't abandoned my original topic! I was thinking about these events as I lured Freddie away from the kerfuffles at the east end of the dog beach.

Both the Celebration of Light and the Pride Parade are, in addition to their aesthetic/political/other functions, pretty good examples of the kind of carnivalesque chaos that societies seem to need every once in a while to let off steam and shake up the usual order of things. (I suppose Vancouver's humiliating hockey riot of 2011 was a similar sort of thing — or, perhaps, just a potent illustration of why some kind of "organized chaos" is necessary.)

Not only is the Nofo Roots store rainbow-positive, they also allow pets inside. :)


Anyway, given my aversion to crowds, it's been yonks since I've gone anywhere near the hub of activity on a fireworks night or parade day ... but it just so happens that the rooftop deck of our new pad has an excellent view of the sky over English Bay (Fireworks HQ).

Last Saturday night we took Freddie up there for the first of three shows — also his first encounter with pyrotechnics. He didn't bark or seem traumatized, but his doggy brain clearly wasn't sure whether this was a party or an air raid (the similarity is no doubt one of the thrills, at least for those of us who've never had to endure the likes of what's going on in Gaza these days :-( ). 

The closest thing I've seen to a rocket launcher this week
Not to end off on an entirely grim note, here's a recent BBC tidbit with a connection to public displays of emotion: Turkish women get the last laugh (I hope)!

And, lest Freddie feel left out, here's a shot of his hind quarters. (The main subjects of this photo are my shirt, which I picked up at my new favourite consignment store, and my very groovy bag, handcrafted from vintage fabrics by our good friend Karin Birch. The link goes to her Etsy shop.)

The roads in our neighbourhood will be crazy tonight, but if you're around here anyway, c'mon up to our deck and watch episode 2 of the show!

Thursday 24 July 2014

The Dog's Breakfast and the Diabetic's Brain

I have no idea what goes on in dogs' brains — and only a smidgen of understanding of the human version — but if Freddie has anything resembling a left-right hemisphere split (a misleading oversimplification, I realize), I can't imagine that the turbo-charged feeling/sensing, just-being parts of his doggy grey matter are in any danger of being overwhelmed by the logical/analytical abstract-thinking parts. Nope ... Freddie is a paragon of sensory awareness, body-mind connectedness, and in-the-momentness.

Witness a typical breakfast: 45 minutes of intensely focused gnawing, chewing, tearing, sniffing, grinding, savouring. I can guarantee you he's not estimating how many grams of protein are in his bone, or contemplating where he should go for his next walk, or psychoanalyzing the yappy dog across the street, or wondering if he's reaching his full potential as a canine being. He's on the bone mat, eating his bone — and that's all there is.

Now, I don't mean to diss logical/analytical thinking. Such thinking has led to remarkable things in our world; it's responsible for many of the things that I've come to view as my biggest accomplishments. BUT (of course there's a but) ... as someone who's inclined to spend a lot of time in the realm of the abstract/hypothetical/theoretical, I believe I have something to gain by emulating Freddie's hyper-sensory relationship to the world.

I'm not saying I'm up for rolling around in fly-infested seaweed or lapping at muddy puddles in the park. Ew. Nor am I necessarily ready to give up plates and cutlery at the dining table. That said, however, I suspect that my relationship to food — a relationship that's been, well, screwed over by diabetes — would most definitely benefit from some Freddification.

As most of my diabetic readers — especially those with clear pre-diabetes memories — know too well, eating in Diabetes Land is no picnic. Often it's closer to math class on a Friday afternoon. The process of adding up grams of carbohydrate and other nutrients, estimating the effects of recent and future energy expenditure, and adjusting for current glucose levels, all in order to calculate (ie. guess) appropriate insulin doses, has a way of seriously undermining the sensory pleasures of food and eating.

Even when I'm in the Diabetes Fuck-It Zone (the D-Fiz), I find that no sooner does the café-mocha mousse hit my taste buds than I'm already thinking — at least a little — about what all those carbs I haven't bothered counting are going to do to my blood sugar. To go back to that schematic conception of brain hemispheres, I end up feeding my left brain, which has only a rudimentary appreciation for the taste sensations of coffee and chocolate, while my poor right brain stays hungry (or conspires to make me sneak into the chocolate cupboard while Lefty isn't paying attention).

So. It's not as if I've taken no pleasure in food, lo these 26+ years with T1D. The phenomenon waxes and wanes. But I've been experimenting, the past couple of weeks, with prohibiting all so-called left-brain activity while I'm actively eating. Like Freddie, I can chew, sniff, savour, taste, etc. ... but Diamathematics and other abstract contemplations are verboten.

And ...?

I dig it. It makes a difference, I think (feel?). Obviously none of the calculating and other crap has disappeared; it just gets temporarily bracketed off, allowing me a few moments of something approximating the kind of pre-diabetes eating experience I still vaguely remember ... or even, at best, an all-encompassing "bone mat" kind of experience.

Bon appétit!

Saturday 19 July 2014


Holy chicken carcasses, Freddie! It's been more than a week since my last confession ... er, blog post! The main reason for the hiatus is increased activity in that other genre in which I write at this time of year: the one-paragraph, end-of-essay, how-to-make-your-next-attempt-better comment. But Freddie still needs to walk, so the photos have been piling up, along with the random musings ...

Join us as we explore the North Arm of the Fraser River, the trails of Musqueam Park, the back alleys of the downtown core, and — yes — a place where the sparkly blue water is not to be swallowed!

Freddie and Paul on the banks of the Mighty Fraser

This barge reminded me of my three months of rowing on the Rhône in 2010. Twice a day or so, a huge honking barge would set out from the Lafarge cement plant, a few kilometers upriver from the Avignon rowing club, churning up potential disasters. I managed to stay out of its way/wake — a lucky thing, given my abilities in the staying-upright-in-challenging-water department

Fraser River log boom, plus a view of Macdonald Dog Beach in the transpontine* suburb of Richmond

*This word is dedicated to Paul, from whom I learned it (as he told of staggering to a port house — as in a place where fortified wine is made — located across a bridge ... in Portugal, no less).

Freddie wasn't actually with me on this downtown walk (nor was my camera — hence the graininess of these Stupidphone photos). If you're thinking, But isn't Freddie supposed to be with you all the time? ... that's a good question. And I answer it here!

Anyway, on this particular evening, I was at the SFU downtown campus to hear Reza Aslan, author of the controversial book Zealot, talk about the historical Jesus (as opposed to the "Jesus of Faith," to use his term).

Interesting guy (Historical Jesus, obviously, but I mean Reza Aslan), and a very interesting talk. Did you know, for instance (I didn't), that crucifixion was not, technically, a death penalty in the Roman Empire (though survival was highly unlikely)? No ... apparently it was a scare tactic that made a public display of the fate of political shit disturbers*, with the purpose of intimidating other potential disturbers. According to Aslan, the Romans sometimes killed the accused first, then nailed the body to the cross. They could be compassionate that way, I guess.

*The so-called "thieves" who were crucified alongside Jesus of Nazareth were, says Aslan, closer to "bandits" — the term used for rebels of a certain sort.

Tête-à-tête under the razor wire

Holy Hair Extensions
 Gastown Trolley Bus Cables
Vancouver Summer!
On the trail that runs between the Musqueam Band Reserve and Musqueam Park ... Freddie is sporting his spiffy visibility vest from Stylish Canine. (This link goes to an article about doggy safety gear that features Freddie!)
RIP, wild salmon streams :-(
Freddie in "Zoomie Mode," testing the waterproofness of his vest
(It passed!)

Funny Neighbours :)

Yay, True Carnivores!

You may recall that Freddie and I joined Leah and her colleagues on the picket line back in June, but, since this particular dispute doesn't involve my own union, and since the T.C. gang has given us plenty of treats over the past year, I didn't ask for a free bone. :)

RIP, technology that's designed to last

(Though I suppose if it's designed to last, it's not dead, ergo not needing to rest/rust in peace ... unlike this snazzy, useless eMac computer hanging out by a dumpster.)

And now, at last, here we are: the Spanish Banks dog beach at low tide. Dogtopia. The Garden of Freedom. Seemingly endless expanses of shallow water for fetching, splashing, romping, cooling off. Grecian skies, salty breezes ...

... not to mention natural but toxic concentrations of phytoplankton, also known as Red Tide — which I didn't actually know about on our recent visits, during which I made only lame attempts to discourage Freddie from drinking the ocean water (more for hydration reasons than anything else).

Two visits to Spanish Banks since my last post => two bouts of canine projectile diarrhea ... outside on the grass, thank DOG (but unfortunately not very pick-up-able in a poop bag).

A few dogfolk I've spoken with say their pups react that way to any ingesting of salt water, but Freddie has seemed fine after drinking the stuff in other locations, at other times. The local news has issued Red Tide warnings for Burrard Inlet, so, in the absence of any other explanation, that's my story, and I'm sticking to it.

Back to the forest, Freddie, until that other Tide goes out ...
You're a miraculous sniffer, but I have no confidence in your ability to part the Red Sea!

Tuesday 8 July 2014

Walking is therapeutic ... but can it replace the shrink's couch?

Hands up: how many of you out there have enlisted the services of a professional for psychological / emotional issues?

Hmm ... I'm squinting into the distance, and I'm not seeing many hands. OK, yes, psychotherapy is expensive, and not everyone has extended health coverage for that particular kind of care (I bet they have it in Sweden!), and finding someone competent and compatible to treat psychic ills is a whole lot harder than getting a bout of strep throat seen to ... so how about this: who out there will freely admit to having needed such therapy at some point?

Yeah, a few more hands, maybe ... but I'm still squinting (and yes, I need new glasses, but still). Does that mean the stigma associated with psychotherapy is alive and well ... or is it something else?

Do we go along with Kierkegaard when he claims, "I have walked myself into my best thoughts, and I know of no thought so burdensome that one cannot walk away from it"? Can a few kilometers in a good pair of hiking shoes do as much good as a few hours on the proverbial shrink's couch?

Is it fair to say that the kinds of psychological problems that Woody Allen films obsess over are just a "luxury" of the modern, industrialized world, of people with leisure and abundance enough to develop such problems ... sort of like tennis elbow and gluten intolerance?

Is focusing on such problems narcissistic? Does it turn our attention away from the problems of other people and the planet in general?

Or does dealing with the in-house issues make us better equipped to respond to the needs of others?

I dunno! But, for the sake of argument, and with all due respect to Dr. Kierkegaard and his formidable (literal and philosophical) shoes, I'm going to say that, despite the great benefits of walking (running, rolling, ruminating, etc.) as a means of working through problems, sometimes the help of a trained, objective professional (or a skilled layperson) is just what the Dogter ordered. 

We're not Freddies (well, I'm not, anyway) — blissfully coccooned in an ever-friendly present, with (so far) nothing more threatening to cope with than a few vaccinations in the rump. Human existence is fraught, the human psyche is complicated, and the seeking out of professional help for emotional/psychological "stuff" shouldn't occasion any more embarrassment or judgment or cost or complication than a visit to the walk-in clinic for that case of strep throat.

Here's my good friend Andrea (pronounced the Spanish way) with a blissfully muddy Freddie. We're all getting some forest therapy here!


So. Is my own hand up for those questions I asked above? Oh, yeah. Over my adult life I've had professional help with marital breakup, hypochondria, and diabetes burnout — convenient labels for complicated constellations of issues.

Add to those a few things I probably should have sought help for, but, for one reason or another, didn't/haven't, and, yes, I think I qualify as someone who benefits from the psych branch of the healthcare system. Not every counsellor/therapist I've seen has been stellar, yet I think I've taken something useful from every experience.

And now? Well, without going into the nitty-pitty details (Walking With Freddie is not a bare-all blog!), I'm interested in talking to an objective expert about this particular, er, stage of my life (a life which is almost certainly more than half over — as evidenced by my need for new glasses, among other things).

I wouldn't exactly call it a "crisis" — I'm not shopping for a convertible or planning to leave Paul and Freddie to go find myself in an ashram — but I have, this past year or so, been pondering some Big Questions and feeling more than a little, oh, uncertain ... and sometimes stuck (as in unable to a- get revved up about or b- choose between the various worthwhile things I could be doing with myself and my time).

Paris! I'll go to Paris! Again ;-)

Is this midlife malaise, or is it the cumulative effects of technology, convenience, and abundance taking their toll? I dunno, and maybe the friendly therapist I've signed on to rap with won't know either.

But if these (extended-health-covered) sessions manage to give me a new perspective, a kick in the butt, a strategy or two for dealing with episodes of BeenThereDoneThatism or (in a different mood) attacks of TimeIsRunningOutAndThere'sTooMuchLeftToDo, then I think they'll have been worth the while.

Andrea and "El Peludito" (the Little Furry One), looking blissful

And, hey, if any WWF readers out there have any thoughts on the matter,
 we'd love to hear from you.

(which is as close as I'm getting to ashram lingo for now!)