12 August 2018

Purple is the new black.


photo by Dianne Morey

My size 10.5 foot of reality stomped down pretty hard a few years back. Turns out I didn’t become a rich and famous It-Girl who rose to fame and fortune while never leaving the privacy of her secret, ocean view, mountaintop pony ranch. Being of a somewhat slackerish misanthropic disposition, it wasn’t like I tried very hard to make that happen, but it had seemed like it would have been a nifty career trajectory for me, so go figure. Instead I ended up with the kind of life where you have to remember to drag the trash cans out on Wednesday and pay the DMV on time and deal with the ants. Go to work. Chop up broccoli. Answer the emails. Realize you’ll never have a nice couch. Everything was very serious, even though my job was a capital “V” vocation, it was still mostly scurrying around with a scowl trying to beat the clock.

With one grandiose swoop of the birthday clock, I overnight became too old to be young enough to see bountiful amber waves and fruited plains rolling out endlessly in front of me, but way too young to just throw in the towel at this discovery. I was exactly in the middle, the place where a nagging little brainvoice starts causing you to comment on the old skool way you used to do what’s now the fancy new skool way to do all the things. I believe this is also known as Grandpa Voice. The same brainvoice does the math of how many years came before, compared to how many are left and mumbles quietly cutely scripted slogans along the lines of life is short, enjoy ever moment, then turns into anxiety dreams about evacuating livestock during a wildfire as you fall asleep on the couch before it’s even 9pm.

The art of having a genuine hobby definitely hadn’t occurred to me before. Hobby? Like the skinny old dudes and their pickleball, driving around with their pickleball license plates and flapping plastic balls bobbing on their antennas? Weekend cake decorators instagramming from their home kitchens the construction of towering rainbow cakes in the shape of bashful unicorns, with genuine gold leaf eyelashes? Golf?

Not a thing for me, the hobby. I was too busy having a life that seemed to keep slipping off it’s trajectory tracks. Work that had started gently as hobby, but quickly advanced many years prior to work, sucking all the good juice out of what first brought joy, then brought money. Not like I was sweat shopping on an assembly line or plodding away in some dank warehouse, but just trying to do all the things right while constantly reminding myself how lucky I was to be doing what I love, was so darn time consuming. And financially, definitely on the crummy side.

That first agility class with my lovely pet Ruby was an unlikely gateway into loosening the still fresh ties of adulting and the newish slinking, smoldering sprouts of panic caused by the quiet tick tocks of the doomsday clock. It started innocently enough, with an untrained dog. The obsession crept in all sneaky-like, like when you recognize a lead singer, cap pulled down low in incognito shades, skulking on to an adjacent barstool for a drink. An hour to sneak out of the day, drive to a grassy yard, sit in a chair, and give the dog a treat when it climbed on the thing. Changing the channel from our usual programming. It didn’t always go quite right, but even that upset of the drama, the dog didn’t go on the thing, the dog didn’t stay, the dog is running away, was an escape because of when it worked and there was the moment of rabbit in a hat magic. Hold a cookie and it’s like wand waving wizard school out there, you just turned that owl into a stackable washer dryer set, holy smokes!

Eventually, the dog reliably ran through the tunnel for a piece of cat food. Maybe caused by better reinforcement placement or just better cat food. It was a blissful and amazing satisfaction found nowhere else. Each time, the dog sent through the tunnel faster, with a growing expression of demonic possession on her face. There was a measurable, quantifiable amount of something happening, changing, improving. The dog was going somewhere I wasn’t, she had her own vast future ahead, so many things to learn. The apocalyptic future landscape was fended off for a moment by a dog running around chomping on a cookie in it’s mouth. I was on to something that just might suspend time.

I still hid out behind my ironic detachment. That hour turned into a day, then a weekend, of communing with others who were not like me. They were everything I’d never be. I’d never wear a floppy sun hat, especially not one that had extra long flaps on the back for necks shading and a sturdy chin strap. I’d never wear a baggy man size t-shirt with a cartoon dog screen print on the front. My shirts were carefully ironic, having been hunted and gathered via selective digging through choice thrift store bins. Probably, actually, a legitimate hobby pursuit of days gone by. Ironically though, the dogs of the others, regardless of their fashion choices, could do the weave poles every single time without messing up. I could pat myself on the back for having a really cute tote bag, but started out this quest as the worst in terms of dog agility skills.

Maybe my horror of matching accessories in sturdy purple water resistant nylon was some deep seated phobia that deep down, I was a matching purple accessories person. Purple phobic neurotica? Whatever it was, gradually, I had no time to go hang out with old friends at an art opening, or take students to a weekend horse show. I stopped calling my friends. They stopped calling me. I was on my way to the purple side, me and my dog and our new hobby. There was the weekly dog class. Then classes. Then there was the never, ever missing the classes. Then there was the practicing. And more practicing. And the renting the field for the practicing. And the lugging equipment to all kinds of fields for practicing. Then the fun matches. Then more of those. Then a trial. Then two days of a trail. Then another. Then another. And so on.

Nowadays, the cheerful diversions are super specific, collection turns off running contacts, or perfecting a send to the backside while sliding laterally, that stave off the nagging tick tock of what the heck have I been doing all this time and how much time do I have left to do it now? Back in the day, even not so cheerful diversions were all right. Dog agility used to make me cry on a regular basis and I still couldn’t get enough of it. Things are different now. I get it. Just go back and train it. So simple!

I have friends who think it’s perfectly normal when I text them at 5:30am because I saw my dog take a funny step when she walked across the kitchen. A wild Friday night is dog practice, and a great Sunday brunch replacement is dog practice. My husband didn’t sign up for a garage full of shade clothes and dog beds and blue and white striped pvc, but he’s taken it all in stride. And is mildy interested in this idea I have about us buying a motorhome one day. In the distant future. Except that it’s got to be the not so distant future if we're going to do it, life is short and so on and so forth, says the brain voice.

My dogs don't see that my hair’s a little grayer, and that my middle bits are little lumpier. Otterpop, who spent all those years in the USDAA Top Ten, earning big fluttery ribbons that have long vanished into dust gathering clutter that calls to me, “Downsize, Downsize”, she’s deaf as a rock and waddles across the floor with back legs that don’t bend at all anymore. They just sees me, and that it’s time to train, just like we did yesterday and like we’ll do again tomorrow.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

when i was doing all that, and ran into old friends who asked what i was doing these days, i just told them that i'd gone to the dogs :)

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