Monday, July 14, 2008

Pets, Kayaks, and Isadora Wing

I am exceedingly not an animal person, so the NY Times Magazine article on pet psychopharmaceuticals left me cold, but for some reason I kept reading it, which is odd, because I am usually quick to abandon NY Times Magazine articles that don't interest me, even though I always feel guilty about it (case in point: the Mexican drugs article) (what's with the drugs this weekend?) (and the pets--East Coast Big City Newspaper Magazine was all about the pets too, and I quickly abandoned it). But I'm glad I stuck with the NY Times Magazine pets, though really the pets interested me not at all, because there was payoff in the very final paragraphs:

At end of the day that I visited Dodman, we sat watching video clips of dogs repetitively pacing, chasing shadows and snapping at nonexistent flies. Dodman, leaning back in his chair, launched into a story about a human obsessive-compulsive-disorder sufferer he had met — a man who repeatedly tugged at his beard. Dodman asked him if he had ever stopped, and the man said he did during a hitchhiking trip across Canada. Dodman thought he knew why: “He went back to being a human being. He was watching out for real dangers. He was trying to go to real places. He was concerned about his next meal. He was thinking about where he was going to sleep. And he wasn’t concerned about the stupid beard pulling, because now he had a real life. When did the problem start again? The minute he sat back in front of a flickering computer screen.”

Dodman’s theory, essentially, is that the causes of mood disorders and obsessions in humans and our pets aren’t so different — faulty genetics, dreary environments. Whether cubicle- or cage-bound, we get too little exercise; we don’t hunt, run or play enough to produce naturally mood-elevating neurochemicals.

What's interesting (coincidental, useful, obvious) is that just last night, I was trying to construct a blog post about this very topic.

I spend my life, work and leisure, in two very different ways. Sometimes I am a one-woman hub of activity: there are lots of people, and I am on my feet and moving around, and the action is non-stop, and you never know what's going to happen next. And then sometimes I am a one-woman...mmm, how can I describe this positively? Sometimes I am a one-woman vale of contemplation: it's me and my computer and maybe some books, and things to write and read, and I know that what will happen next is that I will procrastinate and agonize, and eventually do the things that need to get done, and finally close the book or get off the computer.

In case it isn't clear to those of you who read this blog--and it must be clear to those of you who know me in person--I spend a fair amount of time agonizing and angsting. Really it's an amount of time completely disproportionate to any causes for agony and angst (at least I hope it is) (at least I've spent a lot of time over the past decade or so convincing myself that it is). And most, if not all, of that agony and angst occurs when I am hanging out in the vale of contemplation.

OK, that is a candidate for most obvious sentence I've ever written in my life. Really I should delete it and come up with a more fortuitous phrasing for what I mean, because of course contemplation would be linked to agony and angst. Or maybe not, maybe there are some sunny contemplators, yes, like Laurie Colwin, who looked about and saw sweetness and light and delicious food, and then she died (and once I met her daughter, which was odd, because it was in a completely irrelevant context, but within minutes she had brought up the fact that she was Laurie Colwin's daughter and her mother had died). But of course I am not Laurie Colwin. Still, what I meant to focus on was, I think, the opposite of what I said: when I am in the maelstrom of activity, I do not agonize or angst, I simply am, and it's a much better state in which to be. Except that I quite love the vale of contemplation in its own way, only not its emotional consequences.

We went to the country this weekend, and on Saturday afternoon we went out in boats. We needed boats, not a boat, because there were six of us: the regular four of us, plus the nine-year-old twins whom we'll just call T1 and T2. S, T1, and E went in a canoe. M and T2 went in a two-person kayak. I went in a solo kayak--aaah. It was glassy as we canoed down the lake, and we kayakers stopped in the middle for M to slip out of her kayak and swim, which made T2 a bit nervous, but I specialize in reassuring the twins, so it was OK (and in case you were wondering, forward somersaults in a lifejacket are quite entertaining, whether you're doing them or watching them, but backwards somersaults are impossible) (or maybe it was the other way around).

When we turned back to go home--after ending our mid-lake sojourn and joining the canoers at the far end of the lake--the wind had come up, against us, and M and T2 started to get discouraged. There was no choice, though, they had to make it back to where we started. I couldn't complain, of course, and it felt like a good challenge to get my kayak back up the lake with my own two arms. But the girls needed help, so I coached them along, cheering them, telling them how many strokes to paddle on the left to get themselves headed back into the wind, then cheering them some more. So I paddled and coached, and we all got back up the lake, and there was not an iota of agony or angst (except maybe M was a little agonized, especially around the arms).

(And while we're talking about crosswords, which we're not of course, but one NY Times Magazine topic leads to another: it is not Erica Jong who has the putative phobia, it's Isadora Wing.)


Jenny Davidson said...

Interesting post - it might be I should e-mail you off-blog about agony and angst?!?

jackie said...

You know, this entry puts into words something that has been hovering around my thoughts lately-- I feel like I enjoy solitary time, but it is also when I do much of my worrying.

Think more about it so you can figure out how to deal with it, and I can copy you :).

Jane said...

It's ironic that you should write this as I, too, have been thinking about this very issue. And of course, since I am about to embark on a three week trip by myself, I worry that I will spend too much time thinking, worrying, obsessing. Thus, I find myself planning this, planning that, planning every little thing so as not to spend too much time thinking, thinking about all that worries me, upsets me, depresses me. All of which, I know, you know about.

Also interesting is that I am in the middle of trying to construct a post about a similar or related issue. Yours will help me, no doubt, as I muddle through putting mine together. Thanks!

Libby said...

all I can say here, is, "me, too!"

Rosa Jurjevics said...

"And once I met her daughter, which was odd, because it was in a completely irrelevant context, but within minutes she had brought up the fact that she was Laurie Colwin's daughter and her mother had died."

I have to say that I have no memory of this. When and how did we meet?

Becca said...

It was in a hallway at your college. I think you were talking with one of your former teachers who introduced us. A very passing conversation, no reason for you to remember.

Rosa Jurjevics said...

Oh, gotcha. Did you teach at Emerson or attend school there?

Funny, since it was a former Emersonian who stumbled on this site and told me about it...

Becca said...

No, my daughter was auditioning for an Emerson student's film.

Rosa Jurjevics said...

Now I remember... I think. The professor was Morgan Baker, no? This makes sense, as she and I had discussed my mother on at least one occasion. (I am not generally in the habit of bringing her up at random).