SNOOPY AS A ROLE MODEL – BY ELLIN CURLEY

I read a unique article in the Washington Post by a writer talking about something from her childhood that inspired her to be a writer as an adult. Her name is Ann Patchett and her title names the motivating force in her career choice. The article is called, “Snoopy taught me how to be a writer.”

That’s right – the Snoopy from Charles Schultz’s beloved comic “Peanuts”. The perpetual loser, Charlie Brown’s dog. Ann says she read Peanut compilation books, as I did, in her formative summers and was smitten by Snoopy. She says that she was a nerdy, uncool kid who saw Snoopy as the essence of cool. He even raised the totally uncool status of his ‘person’, Charlie Brown, just by being so quintessentially cool himself.

Snoopy was confident enough to let himself become totally absorbed in his fantasies – WWI Flying Ace, Soldier in the French Foreign Legion, figure skater, tennis star, astronaut, and so on. He brought everyone else along with him in his fantasies to the point that they too heard the imaginary bullets flying by and the roar of the imaginary crowds.

Most important, Snoopy was a writer. He let his imagination run wild here too and then he sat down on the top of his doghouse and typed. He sat at his typewriter and plinked the keys to form hackneyed and repetitive paragraphs that he knew needed ‘editing’.

He had confidence and sent his manuscripts out to editors. He got lots of rejections, like all writers, yet he kept on trying. The best thing about Snoopy was that even when he failed and his doghouse was riddled with bullets, he lost in sports or his manuscripts were rejected again, he was still cool.

His superpower was that he remained cool in failure as well as in success.

Snoopy at his typewriter

Anne says that Snoopy taught her how to survive the publishing process; to deal with rejections and then get over them; to ignore bad reviews and move on. Snoopy turned out to be her perfect career mentor and he also led her into a life with dogs who enriched and fulfilled her. She says she always assumed that her dogs have an active inner life and are always cooler than she is.

I was never inspired to write. I just always did and so did my parents. My school required creative writing and analytical writing as well as research papers from the third grade on. My high school papers are indistinguishable from my college ones.

My father published seven books and numerous articles in the field of psychiatry and anthropology, many before I was born. He spent every summer locked in his study, writing, Every day he would present his writing to my mother who would edit it and encourage rewrites when needed. There was a lot of heated discussion about content, organization and writing style throughout my childhood.

My father in his fifties

When I was around fifteen, I joined my mother and we became my father’s editing team. As he got older, his writing often rambled and went off-topic and it was our job to keep him focused. We often had to outline material for him and even rewrite sections ourselves when he resisted our ‘advice’ and insisted on his now more stream of consciousness style. That may work for fiction, but not for an academic treatise.

Writing has always been a part of my life. I went through a period of anxiety and insecurity in my own writing when I was in high school and my mother did for me what she did for my father. She helped me figure out what I wanted to say and the most effective and persuasive way to say it. She taught me how to organize my thoughts and present my ideas cleanly and clearly.

Me at seventeen

When I started writing short audio theater plays with my husband, I had to learn how to write dialogue, which is a totally different kind of writing. I was used to writing analytical prose, which is not the way people talk. Dialogue has to sound like someone is actually speaking, not reading aloud from a non-fiction book.

So my writing evolved and expanded to encompass a new format for me. It is amazing and gratifying to hear actors bring your words to life. It’s even more awesome to hear audiences reacting to your words by laughing and applauding.

Title page of one of our scripts

I loved Snoopy too growing up, but I identified more with Linus and Charlie Brown than with the fearless, adventuresome Snoopy. I can imagine that if Snoopy ever wrote short plays, he would picture the adulation of audiences and bask in their approval. I’ve had that experience, so in a way, I’ve had my ‘Snoopy moment.’

Even a nerd like me can feel cool. But never as cool as Snoopy.

THE RAINBOW BRIDGE – BY TOM CURLEY

THE RAINBOW BRIDGE

I usually try to be funny or at least amusing when I write these blogs. Sadly, this will not be one of them. Yesterday, my furry grandson Banning crossed the Rainbow Bridge. He was a sweet, wonderful little guy. It was only a month or so ago that he officiated at his Mom and Dad’s wedding.

For those of you who have never had the soul-wrenching job of having to have your pet put to sleep, you may think the Rainbow Bridge is the bridge Thor uses to get from Earth to Asgard.

That’s not the one. Although I guess it could be if your dog is a Viking.

Anyone that has done it knows it refers to a card the vet gives you when your dog dies. It’s really quite beautiful and if for some strange reason you should ever find yourself feeling just too happy or in too good a mood and feel the need to cry your eyes out,  just read it. Works every time. I got to thinking about this because there was a copy of it on the wall in the vet’s office.

I first experienced the Rainbow Bridge when my dog George had to be put down.

I’ve always found that term so odd. When you “put the baby down”, you put the baby to bed. But when you “put your pet down”,  you put him to sleep. Forever. Never quite understood that.

Anyway, George was my first time going through this nightmare. I just couldn’t do it. To me, I was playing God. I had the power of life and death over another being. How arrogant was that? My then-wife and I agonized for days about when to do it and even if we could do it. We decided to take a ride around the block to clear our heads. When we came back, George was in a coma.

We rushed him to the vet realizing we had waited way too long. We were both total basket cases. And then the oddest thing happened. The doctor who took care of us was a doctor we had never seen before. We had been going to the same vet for years. I didn’t think much about it at the time. New doctors come and go.

I was also too much of wreck to even think about it until later. But here’s the thing. He was beautiful. Not just handsome, beautiful. My ex even said at the time “that’s the most beautiful man I’ve ever seen.”

He did what he had to do. He was incredibly nice and kind to us. We didn’t really notice until later because we were so devastated. We went home, cried for about a week and then as it does, life moved on. One of the only cures for the grief of losing a loved one is time.

So, fast forward about a month or so. One day I get a bill in the mail from the vet. All the bill says is “George – $50.” I look at it and go ‘what’? I was pretty sure I had paid all my vet bills, so I called the vet and asked what the bill was for.

There was a really long pause and the lady at the other end of the phone finally said in a quiet whisper, “It’s for… George.”

I said “Yes I know that. It says so right here on the bill. But what is it for?”

In an even quieter whisper, she said, “It’s for… George. You asked for him to be cremated.”

Apparently, we’d been asked at the time if we wanted George to be cremated and we said yes. I have no memory whatsoever of doing that, I was such a mess at the time. But I had to chuckle. Enough time had gone by that I could see the humor in the whole thing. So, I laughed and then asked her why she was whispering.

She explained most people get very emotional all over again when they are informed of the cremation, so they try to be as gentle and kind as possible. I said that made sense and that was very nice of them. She then said, “And by the way… George is ready.” I said, “Ready for what?”

Again, the whisper came back “He’s ready. He’s here. You wanted to keep the ashes.” Again, no memory of asking for that either. I laughed again and spent a few minutes consoling her because she seemed more upset about this than I was. I said I’d be right over.

So, chuckling at the whole incident and sort of happy that enough time had passed that I could see the humor in the whole thing, I went to pick up George. I entered the office and said I was here to pick up George. Instantly everyone got very quiet and out came the whispers again. I reassured them I was OK, and I paid the bill. Then the nice lady behind the counter looked furtively to the left and the right and reached down under counter and handed me a plain brown paper bag. Sort of like a drug deal. I smiled to myself. For some reason this was just getting funnier, they were all so sweet.

As I was leaving, I asked if the doctor was around so I could thank him for his kindness. I didn’t remember his name. I described him and they looked at me puzzled. No doctor of that description worked there. They hadn’t hired a new doctor in years. True story, swear to God. As the theme to the Twilight Zone played in my head, I left with my paper bag and got in the car. I looked in the bag and there were two things. One, a very plain white box. George. And then I pulled out this postcard with the Rainbow Bridge on it. I read it and burst out in tears and cried my eyes out all the way home.

I’ve helped many more of my furry family to that bridge since then and I will do so again. I didn’t have to make the choice in Banning’s case. His Mom and Dad, David and Katie did. But it didn’t make it one bit less gut-wrenching. They did what they had to do.

The ultimate act of kindness. I’m proud of them.

Keanu Reeves was on Colbert a while back and for some reason, Colbert asked him what happens after you die. He paused for a second and said.

“You will be missed by the people that loved you.”

There was stunned silence in the audience and Colbert who was literally speechless. He just said. “Wow.”

My furry grandson was my little bud.

He was loved and he will be missed.

Say Hi to George little buddy.

THE SCIENCE BEHIND THE DOG-HUMAN BOND – BY ELLIN CURLEY

Did you ever wonder why dogs are the only other mammal that became universally domesticated and now lives with humans as part of their families? Well, there’s a scientific explanation and it’s called Oxytocin. The same chemical that plays a role in mother/infant bonding as well as in altruism and trust, is at work with humans and dogs.

There is a new study that shows for the first time, that there is actual hormonal bonding that goes on between humans and dogs. Dogs are the only other species with whom that occurs, which may explain why dogs are the primary animals that became household pets thousands of years ago.

Apparently, only the wolves who had this chemical bond with humans received care and protection and over time, they evolved into dogs. In exchange, the chemical reaction in humans decreased their anxiety and elicited a maternal bonding style reaction. This, in turn, improved the humans’ health and mental states creating a mutual gain in the evolution of the man/dog connection.

One of the effects of this special connection between our species is that dogs understand us in a way no other animals do. For example, if we point at something, a dog will look where we’re pointing. They intuitively understand that we’re communicating something to them. This may seem minor, but our closest genetic relatives, chimpanzees, do not do that! Another example is that humans and dogs look into each other’s eyes when interacting, which is a sign of understanding and affection. In contrast, wolves see eye contact as a sign of aggression and hostility.

The study involves a small sample but the results were definitive. Thirty pairs of dogs and humans and domesticated wolves with their humans came into a lab and had their urine tested. Then the owners interacted with their pets for thirty minutes, petting them, talking to them and gazing into each other’s eyes.

Me and my dogs

After the interaction, another urine sample was taken. It turns out that mutual gazing had a profound physiological effect on both the dogs and their owners. With the pairs who had spent the most time engaging in eye contact, the dogs experienced a 130% rise in Oxytocin levels and the humans experienced a 300% increase! The wolf-human pairs showed no Oxytocin increase and neither did the dog/owner pairs that had minimal eye contact.

The way Oxytocin works with mothers and infants is that when a mother stares into her baby’s eyes, the baby’s Oxytocin levels rise, which causes the baby to stare back at the mother. This then causes the mother to release more Oxytocin and a positive feedback loop is created.

The same thing occurs with dogs and their humans. This explains why service dogs, companion dogs, and emotional support dogs are so helpful for people with all kinds of issues, illnesses, and disabilities, including autism and PTSD.

As Oxytocin may help explain the domestication process with dogs, it might also explain the dog’s ability to understand pointing.

A while ago, I read another study contrasting dogs’ and wolves’ interactions with humans. The animals were rewarded with food whenever they pushed a lever. Then the lever was nailed down so no matter what the dog did, they no longer got a treat. The wolves continued to hit the lever for long periods of time.

With dogs, after a few unsuccessful tries, they would stop and look up at the nearby humans, asking for help. The dogs understood they couldn’t solve this problem but humans could and would help them deal with the situation.

I’ve always known that petting my dogs and cuddling with them as well as talking to them — even walking them — makes me feel a rush of positive energy and emotions.

When I’m down, I worry that I’m annoying my dogs by showering them with endless loving. I think I always understood that in some way, my affectionate behavior to my dogs is a form of self-medication. I’m sure there are times they’d prefer to be left alone. I also sense they know that part of their mission in life is to be there for me when I need them.

It’s gratifying to me to know that there is a scientific explanation to my crazy, over the top love for my dogs.

I’m an Oxytocin addict!

INGENUITY: PLANNING A TRIP WITH THREE DOGS – Marilyn Armstrong

RDP Thursday – INGENUITY

We have been blessed with the opportunity to take a real vacation — relatively locally but in a rich and wonderful part of the country.

I have always loved Pennsylvania, especially this area — the foothills of the Poconos.  It would be a real joy to get to know these people personally, too. Online is lovely … but person-to-person can’t is the best.

Garry and I really need a time out. It has been more than three years since the last time we were away for more than a day or two.

The problem is dogs.

We have three. That we have three makes little difference because really, the problem is our two Scottish Terriers, both of whom are now 13 and beginning to show their years. They are small, so they don’t age as fast as bigger dogs, but Bonnie’s eyesight is diminishing and Gibbs is getting a bit deaf. He used to come running for treats as soon as he heard the lid lifted from the treat box. Now, he falls into a sleep so deep it takes several loud calls for him to first wake up and then to realize he’s being called and why.

Photo: Garry Armstrong – Duke and Gibbs

Gibbs isn’t the problem. Neither is wacko Duke. Yelling a little louder is not a big deal and Duke has calmed down to a point where while he’s a bit too crazy to take visiting, he’s good around the house. And he’s clean. He has never made a mess in the house from the day we got him.

Bonnie and Gibbs are a different story. Because both of them were trained to go out whenever they wanted to via the doggy door, they don’t tell you when they need to go out. They simply go. They don’t give us any indication of what they want. They are self-trained — which is fine in this house but not so fine in other people’s houses.

Gibbs

We have been trying to find some ingenious way to get Bonnie’s eyes properly taken care of while we are away. Owen will always make sure they are fed, spend at least an hour or so with them to keep them for getting too lonesome … and manage to squeeze two visits a day into their lives (and do Bonnie’s eyes while he is there). This is quite a trick considering he works a lot of hours.

We had been thinking about just taking Bonnie with us. That way, we’d know her eyes were getting the care they need. But if we take her with us, she will have me or Garry up by dawn. She requires an early morning cookie and a trip outside. Then she’ll have me up a couple of hours later again.

She is nearly blind, we would have to keep her on a lead — which she does NOT like because unlike home, she can’t feel her way around the house. In her mind, she has never lived anywhere else. From 9 weeks to thirteen years is a complete life for a dog. She knows every inch of the house, where all the furniture is, even where the step stool she uses to get up on the sofa stands.

In another house, she would need to find everything for the first time. Since she has always felt that leashes were something for Other Dogs, she is unlikely to take kindly to being led around.

First I figured we would take her with us. Now I’m rethinking it. If we are going to get any rest and relaxation, taking her will make that impossible.

Not taking her is also worrisome.

I’ve been trying to figure out some ingenious way of making this work for her and us. I’m coming up empty.

Taking her with us will guarantee her eyes are tended to properly and frequently, but it will enormously limit our freedom. Talk about a rock and a hard place. Damned if we do, damned if we don’t

The only place we could board her — assuming we could afford to do that at all — would be the veterinarian because her eyes need care. Owen will do the best he can, but he does work a full week and there’s only so much we can expect from him.

So here’s where I ask for ideas. No “dog walking” service in Uxbridge and Kaity is finally attending college — a commuter school — so she already has her hands full.

If Bonnie’s eyes were only cleaned and lubricated twice a day instead of three times a day for a week, would that be catastrophic? I know none of the dogs like when we are away, but much as I love them. sometimes we need to be elsewhere and this is one of those times.

Thoughts? Suggestions? I’m not sure there is a right answer, but if anyone has a creative thought, I’m listening!

NO REFEREE? A NEW CONCEPT – Marilyn Armstrong

FOWC with Fandango — Referee

So, it looks like we are going to take a vacation. Nothing we planned and I guess you could describe this as a delightful and completely unexpected gift. We’re going to visit newly made friends in Pennsylvania. Ponds, mountains, lakes … and people to meet and talk to and get to know and hopefully, laugh and enjoy.

The issue has been as it has been most recently, the dogs. Boarding three of them is out of the question, especially since one of them — Bonnie — has lots of special care required. We do it automatically, multiple times a day because she’s our girl and we care for her.

Groomed Bonnie

The two wacko boys — aside from a daily Prozac that goes to the Duke to try and keep him from bouncing off the walls — are easier. They also have rough patches and we are forever the referees between them as Duke is determined to be the Head Dog and Duke, overall, would prefer a nap. Neither of them messes much with Bonnie who is by dint of something in her personality, chief pooch.

Gibbs, Duke, and a window

It occurred to me that by leaving the two boys alone for a week, we might very well come back to find they’d finally made friends. Without a referee, they might just discover they have a lot in common. Mainly, that they are the two boys of the household. Without us here, there’s nothing to fight about because the disputes are always who gets to be the “dog on the sofa that sits between us.” There’s room for both physically, but not mentally or spiritually.

The more I think about it, the more it seems like a really good idea. If we have Bonnie with us, I will worry less and hopefully, relax more. And although she doesn’t see well anymore, maybe a change of scenery will do her good as well as us.

So we are thinking, thinking, thinking.

Portrait of the Duke

Our decision is not final yet, but … I’m thinking that I might say yes. Especially if I can find a lump of money to get her groomed. She is a smelly little heap of grungy dog fur, not necessarily fit for other human contacts.

And maybe, if we aren’t there to try and mediate the two boys, they’ll discover they can enjoy each other. Either that or … well … let’s not think about that.

This will also take me away from blogging for a bit. A week off might be exactly what the doctor ordered. it is what several doctors, a husband, and a lot of friends have suggested.

An intriguing idea, isn’t it?

A MUSICAL AND PHOTOGRAPHIC FATHER’S DAY TRIBUTE – Leslie Martel & Marilyn Armstrong

Music by Leslie Martel, SWO8 and photos by Marilyn Armstrong

When Leslie proposed this project to me, I wasn’t exactly sure how it would work out, but it came out fine!

Today is Father’s Day. The song  “Tribute to Clarence” by swo8 Blues Jazz from the album Osaka Time in iTunes, was written for Leslie’s father, Clarence. They had an organ at home — at one point, even a pipe organ (I’m so envious — I love the sound of those pipes).

Leslie’s father built a special room to house the pipes. When he played that organ the house rocked! Clarence had two loves in life: music and his dogs. It was at the “dogs” that I came in because I have pictures of dogs, probably because we have two dogs now and have had as many as five. If we took in all the dogs offered to us, we’d have probably been able to register as a shelter, but we were up to capacity.

A fine piece of original jazz! The dog is Leslie’s “grand-dog.” The man playing the organ is indeed the aforementioned Clarence, Leslie’s dad.

Enjoy!!

R&R WITH OLD FRIENDS – Garry Armstrong

It was our time for a bit of R & R in the lush Connecticut woods, far from the madding crowd. It’s another world where we can recharge our life force and mental batteries.

Home

Our hosts are the kindly friends for whom we are grateful. We’ve known Tom for more than 50 years dating back to our days in college when we and our world was young. We’ve known Ellin – it seems forever – or since she married Tommy and immediately improved the quality of life for all of us.

Our mini-vacation included time at the marina where everyone seems utterly relaxed — except when they are rehabbing their boats for another summer on the water. The much-maligned weather put on a good face for us.

Ellin
Tom

Sunshine and summer-like temperatures were abundant. It was warm but not uncomfortable. The breeze from the water made it almost perfect as we relaxed for an afternoon of doing absolutely nothing.

Marilyn and the camera
Garry at pier’s end

Tom apologized for not taking the boat out because the water was a bit too choppy for his taste. No worries, we repeatedly told him as we soaked up the afternoon sun, chatting about stuff that brought giggles and contentment. Really. NO worries!

I enjoyed looking at the names of the boats in the marina and wondering about the folks who owned them. I’ve never wanted to own a boat but have fantasies, thanks to Bogie in “Key Largo” and other movies which romanticize the boating life.

Ellin socializing on the pier

I’ve always thought I’d name my boat “The Busted Flush” after fictional detective Travis McGee who chased bad guys in his trusty little houseboat which also provided room for romantic interludes with his miscellaneous yet somehow dubious love interests. Hey, just a passing fancy.

Tom has schooled me in the difficulties of keeping “Serenity” in running condition. I’m good being a guest.

There’s so much to see just relaxing with Tommy and Ellin in the Marina. The setting is soothing. You can drift off mentally without a worry. No obsessing about what’s happening in our politically-challenged world. That stuff is blocked out for a few precious hours. I could actually feel my heartbeat slowing. Just what the doctor ordered.

Tom and Ellin on the boat

Back at “La Casa Bonita” of Tom and Ellin, it’s more of the easy life — at least for us, the guests. The conversation ramps up during the evening “News Hour.” Imagine sitting between two guys who’ve logged 80 years in network and top market TV News.  The old, war stories fill the air spiced with profanities that befit we who ducked idiot management suits from the “Tricky Dick Era” to today’s “Follies of Donzo.”

We can name drop with the best of them. Hell,  Tom and I have probably sent myriad suits seeking psychiatric care because we refused to tolerate their idiocy.

Tom is the master of his impressive entertainment room. He’s introduced Marilyn and me to shows and movies we never knew existed.

Tom, the telly, and Remy
One thing that impressed me — I looked and looked around the walls and notices no awards reflecting Tommy’s long and accomplished career at the highest level of TV News. I know he’s been in the cross-hairs of some of the biggest news stories over half a century. No collection of hardware — unlike me.  Tom doesn’t need any stinkin’ bodges.
Lexi

Marilyn and I were very reluctant to leave Tommy and Ellin and the comfy good feeling they bestowed on us, but our dogs were calling us homeward.

We have an invite to return with Tommy taking us for a trip aboard “Serenity” when the seas are smoother. I’m already dreaming about it.