Monday, February 21, 2011

Looking For Pug In All The Wrong Places

Now that you're up to speed, and now that you know how awesome (re: scarily open to this idea) my friends are, I bet you're asking how this really played out.  Well.

Why Do Awkward Things Always Happen When You're Trying To Eat?

Maybe it's just me.  But, this reminded me of the  time Grandma asked me about my sexuality in front of the rest of my extended family at Thanksgiving.  It must be something about the activity that food provides that elicits the need to provoke, I guess.

We were sitting down for dinner two days ago when Woo dragged in her cotton playmate.  At first we thought it was cute.

But soon, we were disquieted.

Woo had decided that playmate or no, this dog was going to become her bitch.  And I mean that in the very literal sense.

When you think about dog sexuality, there is the classic image of a grungy male dog humping someone's leg.  And yet, there is something absolutely surreal seeing your adorable, sweet (and seemingly innocent) female pug dominating a stuffed animal.

There are so many questions that come to mind:  "How does a female dog know to do what she is doing?" "Is she that lonely?  Have we isolated our dog?"  "WHY!?"

I think what made it worse was the fact that she would leap off of the stuffed animal and then proceed to just sit and stare at it squarely in its glass eyes--as if almost to say, "Hellooo.  Are you even there?  I'm trying but you're giving me nothing to go on here."

For me, the issue turned into a revolving door of questions:  What is sexuality?  What is dominance?  What kind of roles do they play in each of our lives?  What does neutering really do to the mind?  Why does my dog hump a stuffed animal?

I'm getting a little overwhelmed just bringing this subject up.  It's awkward and uncomfortable writing about it, particularly with my dog--who until recently I was comparing to David from the Bible--as the centerpiece for discussion.  Then again, a friend currently studying to be a Lutheran Pastor reminded me that the Bible is the farthest from being asexual.  For Christ's sake--literally--it is written that you must ingest the blood and body of your savior.  That's pretty bawdy, if you ask me.

I guess that's where this week has left me--in a place of supposed neutrality, wherein I find myself facing quite the opposite.  In fact, I decided to go on a hunt for the root word "neuter" as it pertains rather well to the root of the confusion at hand.

I went to my trusty OED.  As an added bonus, I've found the OED is about as asexual as a book can get.

Yes, that's an anatomy coloring book alongside an anxiety & phobia workbook and environmental science textbook I stole from school.  It's ok.  UC Berkeley can handle the $160.00 loss.  And no, I have yet to color in all the parts of the body.  I stole that book from my sister (I have a theft problem) and ever since I feel slightly awkward trying to compete with her coloring skills as I know High School Older Sister would probably still beat College Graduate Me.

Life is hard.


I went a-huntin' for some etymology.  Etymology is frighteningly similar in spelling to entomology--remember that, when trying to type it next time.

I love my OED.  It's fascinating.

I try to widen my eyes to focus on the smallness of the type.  Erin & Ben K., you will probably recognize this facial expression when reading your OED's.

It doesn't work, though.

Anyway, after some use of a magnifier, I found that the root word "neuter" is latin in origin, signifying literally "neither," or rather, the  process by which something is made into neither one thing or another.

Neuter/neither, btws, is also another combination of words.  "Ne" signifies "not," and when combined with "uter" ('either') you have created the word for "not either" (of two choices).

Neithered, Not Othered

Not + Either = Neither (of two).  I feel like I just brought back my old math days but this time socio-linguistically.

Obviously today the word "neuter" correlates to the process of making creatures sterile, which doesn't make you cringe really, until it's brought home in the package of a sci-fi movie, like Children of Men.  There are some weird, weird politics about ownership of fertility in that movie--like the fact that it's called "Children of Men."  Somewhat presumptuous, that title.  I want to create a protest sign in response saying, "If women's median annual paycheck reflects only $0.78 cents for every $1.00 earned by men as of 2007 because of maternity-leave discrimination then you GODDAMNED BETTER RECOGNIZE THEM AS PARENTS IN A FRICKIN' MOVIE TITLE."

I might have to get a big piece of poster-board for that.

Life is hard.

Anyway, my dog is neutered.  She is neithered.  She is not either (of two choices).  When I put it like that in my head, I started to think of what the two choices were for Woo--fertile or sterile, mother or just daughter, mated or single, sociable or introverted.  I started to think of what the "two" choices were for me--out or closeted, dominant or submissive, masculine or feminine--and also, for everyone else out there.

Going back to two nights ago, my family and I tried to understand, we tried to eat, and we tried to laugh it off--all of which ultimately failed.  What really solved our dilemma was that we realized that Woo wasn't exactly having fun, either.  The whole process of trying to dominate something that wouldn't respond was just as frightening to her as it was to us.  So, for her sake (and most definitely ours) we took away the toy and have made a new rule:  take her out to get to know real dogs in real life.  She can still sleep & platonically play with the toy, if she so wants.  But, forcing sexual advances on a stuffed animal, whilst simultaneously freaking herself out at its lacking response--no.  Not necessary.  She deserves better than that, not-eithered or no.

I wish it could be that simple for humans, sometimes.  Don't you?


Sunday, February 13, 2011

My Goliath

"And the Philistine came on and drew near to David, with his shield-bearer in front of him.  And when the Philistine looked, and saw David, he disdained him; for he was but a youth, ruddy and comely in appearance.  And the Philistine said to David, 'Am I a dog, that you come to me with sticks?'..."
-1 Samuel, 17.41

Everyone has one.  There's that one Big out there that scares the living daylights out of you--there's no way in HELL you are capable to take it on.  It's a hurdle, a burden--no, more than that.  It's a hurden.  Or a burtle.

It might be more accurate to say, however, that everyone has their own Goliaths with each passing phase in life.  With new encounters, new challenges are sure to arise, right?

Anyway, I have been thinking a lot about this, given current events.  I know it's not a new thought that We All Struggle, however, I hadn't realized how inclusive that "we" is.  I've been learning, yet again, via watching my dog, Woo.

Yes, Woo.

She doesn't exactly seem like the type to have huge battles in life.  In fact, she's been bred to be the last creature on earth to have a worry.  Do not be fooled by the large, gaping eyes.  Those aren't worry lines, either--they're wrinkles.  On her neck.

The Scene

Anyway, Woo has this routine that I'd like to talk about.

She sleeps on her own bed at night, curled up for the warmth, as the heat is turned off at night for energy-saving purposes.  If Woo had an environmental ethic, I think she would disagree with this choice.  In fact, I would fair to say that Woo is very anti-green, but we'll get to that later.

Every morning, as the heat is turned on again in the early hours, she wakes up and vacates her nightly bed to find warmer pastures.  Her target?  My room.  My room has a window that gloriously floods my mornings with light each day and as a result it absorbs heat like a solar panel.

Woo has taken note of this luxury.  So, like anyone would in their right mind, she trundles along into the kitchen, past the couch, past her food bowls and up to my room, wherein I sleep.

She then knocks, lightly.

You can imagine this makes for a slightly uncomfortable awakening.  I have yet to learn the art of retiring early for sleep in the evenings, so any noise before 8am is confusing and frightening.

Even though I know it's her, I still try to fight off forced consciousness. 

I turn over to one side, almost as if to "play dead."  

I crack an eye to see if the coast is clear.

It looked fine.  I closed my eyes.

And then I hear a thump-thump-thump-thump.

Woo, as with every morning, knew I was faking it.  She scratches at the mattress a few more times, to make it clear she will not go away and I finally get up to let her on board.  This is what I go through each and every early morning, thanks to Woo.

But this week was different.  

The Enemy Approaches

On Thursday, Woo went through the same ritual as before, knocking, walking and scratching to get on top of my bed.  

But, this time after heaving her onto my bed (and her immediate B-line to the pillow where my head had been seconds before) I heard something new outside of her snores.  At first, there was just a low rumble burbling from deep within her pudgy throat.  Then it turned into a slight annoyed huffing noise, as if to say, "No, really.  Stop it."  And before I had a moment to react she started barking--right on top of my head--because, little to my knowledge her arch-nemesis was right outside my window.  

My pug has an arch-nemesis.  

A dog that has been bred to have nothing to worry about--food is bestowed upon her without any effort needed on her part, she has several beds throughout the house and practically every person that walks through the house is honestly more interested in hanging out with her than me--has an arch nemesis.  

Recycling Isn't For Everyone

So, who is it Woo both dreads and dreams to defeat?  

Recycling trucks.

She hates them.

It's not just the noise that they make--she has literally stood in the front yard, barking her head off at them, as if there was one iota of a chance that she could actually threaten a 4-ton truck with hydrolics.

Now, this struck me--literally; she stabbed her paw into my face when she leapt up--as odd.  Why would a little tiny, tiny creature, that in no way shape or form can outweigh the thing that she is afraid of, demand retribution?  What part of her little doggie-brain says, "Fuck it.  You're dead." ?

There is NO way in hell she can fight this one off.  And yet, she so readily is willing.

Woo v. Philistine Truck

No, I did not let my dog run loose and chase after a recycling truck to see who would win; I know who would win.  Woo would.  Because the recycling guys all know her now and laugh when the see her and would probably turn off the truck if she came at it.  Probably.

But, in the world of Woo, there is definitely no knowledge of this most-likely safety net.  And THAT'S what gets me, every time.

Anyway, I've been thinking a lot about fear and the urge to take action based on that fear recently.  Thats about when I went back into my handy-dandy Oxford Annotated Bible to do some re-reading on David and the Philistine, Goliath.

Rereading it, I wasn't nearly as impressed with the story as I am currently with the tradition of carrying that tale on.  Goliath remains to this day a name and adjective for a formidable foe.  David, the original meaning in Hebrew meaning "beloved" is still a favorite name--in fact, my dad is called David, or Beloved.  I feel there is a Toni Morisson joke flying around somewhere in this paragraph.

Anyway, it's not just the fact that we keep telling the same stories because they were written so stellar in the first place (have you reread the Bible lately?  there are some cool passages, at least once you get past all that begating...lots of begating in The Bible...) but because they hit upon something true to human nature, or the natural world itself. 

And we, as a social species, love the community that tradition and common understanding brings.

Who's Afraid of a Woolf?  

I think in a lot of ways, I have this tendency to look around at my friends, my family and almost "check in" with them to see if the thing that's wigging me out is scaring them, too.  But, it doesn't always work that way.

In fact, usually people tend to tamp down what freaks them out.  Dogs, in a similar fashion, in the fight to show that they're doing fine and are not easy prey, even after severe injury, will play up a positive attitude to their family members until they're out of the room, only then choosing to actually limp and/or lick their wounds.

I am ultimately fascinated by the human nervous system as well as emotional network within our heads.  It took Woo to remind me that dogs are just as emotional as humans.  In fact, I just recently watched the Dogs Decoded:  Nova special, which demonstrates how sensitive dogs have become to human communication through reading our body language and eye movement.  It also postulates that domestication is a process of decreasing levels of fear.  

I mean, don't get me wrong--I am amazed that dogs don't want to kill me and simultaneously can tell if I'm happy or sad and take care of me accordingly.  But remember, that fear humans were slowly breeding out of the wolf was what kept it independent--and fighting.  The wolf has been taken out of the wolf.  And, I don't know if you've noticed, there is definitely a visible difference, as well.

I know that's an Irish Wolf-Hound and not a wolf, but honestly this is the closest I could get to a live picture of Woo with a wolf, or a pug near a wolf for that matter.

Well, except for this one.

So, what astonished me most when Woo went into killer-mode was that even after hundreds of years of careful, selective breeding, her urge to fight and attack something came shooting back from the depths of her well-deselected fear.  Fighting a recycling truck has nothing to do with defending the pack, or a communal hunt.  Instead, it makes me think there is a larger community at work here.  It's not just humans that have insurmountable opponents and fearful odds in life.  The struggle for life is a universal experience, regardless of how much you try to breed it out.

What is yours?

If you're reading this and are happy to share, I'd like to know.

It could be anything.  It's not really a matter of logic behind that struggle (I just went off on my pug fighting a recycling truck) but the psychological, biological instinct to fight and persevere that takes over your body and mind.

It could be the time you chose to leave a relationship even though it was the only one you had known, the time you were the only one in your group of friends who actually didn't agree with them on a particular subject that hit close to home, or the time you decided to go take on law school and ever since regret learning the french word "tort."

Or perhaps it was that one time you helped start the revolution in Egypt against Ex-President Mubarack.

You know, whatever you've got.  I'm interested.

Because basically,  

 Everyone's got a Goliath.