Communication, Receptivity, Responsiveness, and Leaving the Room

What are your considerations when choosing between in-person conversation, phone calls, hand written letters, texts, and emails?

During in-person conversation, nonverbal expression like eye contact and body language afford a depth of communication and empathy that is beyond the dimension of words. “Your face says it all” is a declaration that you can’t hide from the truth. Maintaining steady eye contact lets the other person know about your receptivity to what is being said. A break in eye contact communicates a fear of being connected, a distraction, or receptivity drifting away.

Gesticulation can be revealing body language. The posture of both the speaker and listener conveys the level of openness and confidence. Crossing arms across one’s chest can stultify conversation.

Proximity to the person(s) with whom one is speaking impacts the tenor of the conversation. If you are too close, it can be uncomfortable. If you are too far away, it can be distancing.

Akin to in-person converations, phone calls cannot be edited. Spoken communication takes place in real time, giving the person on the other end of the line an opportunity to provide immediate feedback. Whether in person or on the phone, tone, pitch, and volume influence expression and its reception. Phone calls retain a human touch.

Our use of voice mail for leaving messages runs the gamut. It is often used as an invitation to talk at a later time. Why do some callers opt to not leave voice mail? Is it out of concern that Big Brother is listening? Doesn’t the recipient who sees that a call has been missed without a corresponding voice mail message wonder why the person reaching out made the call in the first place? In the rotary phone dialing days before voice recorders and before cell phones, there wasn’t an option to leave a message. There was no way for the intended recipient to know they’d missed a call. Did we suffer back then in the absence of the modern messaging inventions? What happens to something you have to say if it has to wait?

Texts, emails, and hand written letters are capable of being edited by the composer, and then reviewed at a future time. If you don’t want to emote, then texting is a better option than talking in person or on a phone call.. You cannot hear intonation. It is more difficult for the recipient to ”feel” what the communicator is saying. On the upside, written communication that can be edited provides a chance to avoid empty conversation fillers, like ”um…,” “I mean…,” “like…,” and ”you know.” Emails and texts are economical.

Texting affords opportunity for use of emojis. Sometimes they are expression aides, other times they are weaker substitutes for words that would be better expressed in language instead of images, and they are susceptible to over use. On the positive side, an image of a heart can be evocative, and a “thumbs up” emoji is handy.

How and when a recipient responds to communication matters. In an in-person conversation and in phone calls, speed of response is automatic. Some written communication warrants responses and others don’t. There are two sides to the speed of response. The sender’s expectations and the recipient’s decision about whether and when to respond can match up or not. Why are promptness of response, and the disappointment of non-responses such hot buttons? This is the sender’s issue, not that of the recipient. But acknowledgments of messages received at least reassure the sender that the message wasn’t lost in the ether. An acknowledgment of a message received completes the communication cycle.

If you want to let someone know how important they are to you, then a hand written letter is a special choice. Hand written letters feel more meaningful to both the writer and the recipient. They are rare. They impart powerful, indelible impressions. They impart emotional energy. Hand written letters are gifts.

Is communication a skill or an experience? On the skill side, communication is able to be refined. However, without the context of real life experience, there isn’t a contextual hole for the communication peg. Communication skill development doesn’t occur in a void. It occurs as a product of life experience and the desire to be in relationship with others.

Then there’s the tactic of leaving the room in one’s mind when another is jabbering on about something uninteresting. In his song, “The Other Side of Town,” John Prine satirically says to his significant other, “You might think I’m here when you put me down. But actually I’m on the other side of town.” Now that’s a skill.

Memphis In The Meantime

The need for a change of scene arose a couple of weeks ago. I became road weary. My engagement with life in my motorhome was waning. I struggled with the feelings. I din’t want to be a quitter. But when sustained personal engagement ebbs, it’s time for a change. For some, fulfillment is the American dream of earning a handsome income, procuring assets, and looking good to the outside world. For me, success is engagement.

I was asked yesterday if I enjoyed my five months on the road. I don’t enjoy driving long distances by myself in a 5 ton gas guzzling behemoth. I enjoyed the places I went, the friends with whom I spent time, and being outdoors. The capstone of the last five months was getting to know myself better. The bittersweet part has been been heightened awareness that life is spontaneously combustible. Enjoyment isn’t a constant. Ups and downs are part of the rhythm.

While living in Nashville, singer songwriter John Hiatt wrote “Memphis In the Meantime” in 1987. It is about changing locations and getting a new outlook on life. He sings of weariness of the Nashville scene and its music style. He said, “Cause one more heartfelt steel guitar chord, girl it’s gonna do me in. I need to hear some more trumpet and saxaphone, you know sound as sweet as sin.” Horns are Memphis music’s counterpart to Nashville’s steel guitar. Hiatt needed a change of pace. I know the feeling.

I returned to Memphis a couple of weeks ago. I purchased a car, and I leased a downtown condo for a six month term. I’m surprised to find myself back in my home town. Six months ago I needed to get out of here. Now I need to have my feet on the ground…right here.

I’m enjoying the rhythm of more space, a kitchen where maneuvering is unrestricted, a shower without a six gallon hot water limit, and a washing machine and dryer in my home.

Hiatt says, “After we get good and greasy, baby we can go back home.” How long will my stint in Memphis last? ‘Til I get good and greasy.

The Paradox of Mind and Emotions

A good friend recently asked how I’m doing in my head and in my heart. It is much easier for me to decode my head space than it is to pinpoint how my heart is riding the waves. The noise in my head is audible. My heart walks to the beat of a more quiet drummer. My mind rules the roost in determining my life experience. I don’t ignore my heart; rather, my mind has a grip on its reins. My mind guides and checks while my heart beats, hustles, and flows.

If I’m unhappy, my heart isn’t the culprit. It’s my mind. Happiness or lack thereof is a function of how I look at things. Shifting out of happiness comes about as a result of changing what I’m doing. I can’t think myself happy. However, I can take care of my mind by doing things to produce an effect on my happiness. For example, doing yoga offers stability. Stability in my body begets stability in my head. K. Pattabhi Jois, reknowned yogi said about the practice, “yoga is mind medicine.” Practicing yoga is an exploration of both the bondage and the liberation of my mind. When I feel stable, I feel happy. The outcome of using my body to soothe my mind is much better than attempting to mentally manipulate my brain.

In earlier posts, I’ve spoken of anxieties of mine. Anxiety is trepidation about the future. Anxiety about my future is a condition of my mind at work. My heart may feel it as tightness in my chest, but the sensation is generated by mental machination. When anxiety morphs into fear, then its disturbance intensifies. I cannot think away anxiety. Thinking about it exacerbates it. Taking targeted action is my prescription towards quelling the forces of my mind that fuel anxiety. My meditation practice has a watchtower effect. It makes me more alert. It nudges anxiety and its associated fears towards wariness, a softer condition of being alert.

I stand in Warrior 1 pose attentively gazing forward but, like a sentry, I imagine eyes in the back of my head. They keep a watchful lookout behind me. Having bidirectional vision while steadying my carriage is an antidote to an anxious mind. There are fewer surprises. I stabilize my mind through my body.

In earlier posts, I’ve also spoken of loneliness. Loneliness is my mind playing games with me. Brandi Carlile sings about the adoption of her daughter in her poignant song, “The Mother.” She sings, “Welcome to the end of being alone inside your mind.” If you are a mother, this song puts it all in perspective. If you aren’t a mother and you are lonely, then I urge you to listen to this song. It speaks to my mind when it lapses into loneliness. It addresses the sensation as beautifully as any song I’ve ever heard, and it fills my heart. When my heart is full, my mind is inhospitable to loneliness.

I’ll step out on the limb of claiming that when I’m loving, or kind, or generous, it is my mind at work. Though the feelings may be in my heart, the expression and reinforcement of the feelings stem from my mind. I’ve already claimed that anxiety is mental. Love, kindness, and generosity mediate anxiety. All of these actions are good for one’s health, and all of them require neurotransmission. As a flint sparks a supply of fuel into energy, an expression of emotion likewise requires a mental spark plug. My mind interacts with my emotions to facilitate the expression of feelings. If I take care of my mind, my emotional flow will improve.

When I’m displeased or angry, my emotional instruments are engaged, but my mind is conducting the orchestra. Though anger is an emotion, it is triggered in the amygdala, a specific region of the brain. If I want to do something to influence my emotions, then it behooves me to do something to take care of my brain.

My self concept is a construct of thought.

Thought is an ingredient in everything I experience. Taking care of my mind is paramount.

Being Stymied

Stymie: To present an obstacle to or to stand in the way of.

My first rig trip was at the beginning of May. I met friends David and Deborah in North Carolina. During our first two days we experienced 48 continuous hours of rain. Our campground became dank and drab. I remarked that I was getting sick and tired of the rain. David replied, “It’ll end.” Though I felt stuck, David’s response to my complaint reminded me that “stuck” can be a state of mind. The sky isn’t ever stuck. Stuck is often more about perception than actual circumstances. Overcast skies eventually clear.

I’m beginning to feel stuck in motion. At the outset of my journey, moving was an impetus to distribute my belongings, sell my house, acquire my rig, and hit the road. I yearned for adventure, for not knowing where I’d land day-to-day. Now being unsettled is unsettling. I’ve become interested in projects that I’d like to pursue that would be better served if I were living in one place. Moving from one spot to another has been freeing until recently. I’m feeling stymied by my life on the go.

I’m at my sister’s home in Nashville where her screened in porch is a settling spot. It’s an antidote for too much motion. I unplug on this porch; it is a beacon for sensate freedom. When I need to feel a sense of home, it’s where I return. A blocked state of mind doesn’t survive on her porch.

The phrase “come sit a spell” has its roots in the southern United States. It’s an invitation to someone to come over for a friendly chat on the porch. “Come sit a spell” means to occupy a comfortable spot where worries are less likely to stymie intellectual and emotional flow. When sitting a spell, you can stick around without necessarily becoming stuck. Sitting is a cessation of action that can grease the wheels of imagination. Imagination isn’t always pretty, but it isn’t sticky.

I’ve got an appointment for a colonoscopy next week. I’ve got a light schedule between now and then. Years ago I was interested in A Course In Miracles. I learned that its treatment of waiting is that it’s an “opportunity for enjoyment.” Try this on for size when you’re anticipating a tube being stuck up your backside to look for untoward things that might lurk in the cavities of your inner pipes. I’m focused on making the most of my time and space while waiting for my procedure.

Writer’s block is when one wants to write but is stuck at a standstill. Writers cannot force profundity. The mind can be full of enslaving, stymied, pessimistic prattle that causes the ink to dry up in the pen. There isn’t a patented prescription for curing this condition. What if creative writing wasn’t challenging? Would it be better if it was easy? Writer’s block can feel like a road to nowhere. However, the rain always stops, and the exit process from writer’s block can be enlightening.

Writing and analyzing what has been written at the same time can be stultifying. It’s akin to having one foot on the gas and the other on the brake. It’s wise to wait to analyze the material until after the creative flow has ended. You can tell that creative juices have been sapped when there’s a feeling of fighting an uphill battle.

Becoming unstuck is often not as simple as flipping a switch. The Robin Williams method of finding something amusing in just about everything is a viable option. Williams thought outside of the box. We get stuck because we’re too serious. We get stuck inside our own boxes of perception. Embracing the absurdity of our calculations, suppositions, and expectations is an antidote to being stymied.

We are stymied by our projections. Want to be free to express yourself and to live your life without being held back? Have a staring contest with the stuck you. Write about what you see. Or, follow the advice of the acclaimed baseball star and philosopher, Yogi Berra who said, ”If there’s a fork in the road, take it.”

Roosters

I’m enjoying the company of a good friend that I’ve known for over 50 years. We are at a site near Asheville, North Carolina where the adjacent property is home to a donkey, chickens, and roosters. When we arrived yesterday, we were humored by their noises. They became less enjoyable at 3 a.m. when we were awakened when the roosters announced that they were uninterested in keeping the peace. It made me curious about why people keep these annoying, sleep interrupting, crowing cocks in the first place. Unlike other species wherein males and females need to do their thing to procreate, I’ve thought that the eggs that we eat are produced by chickens who need to look no further for their production than the blessing of divine intervention.

Here’s what I’ve learned…

Roosters exclusively contribute to fertile egg production . They engender the kind of eggs that hatch into chicks. They are reproductive superstars.

A key rooster responsibilities is aggressive security of its flock. Roosters are vigilante community robocops. They keep an eye out for predators that roam the grounds as well as those who circle in the sky above. Get back, raccoons. Run for cover, raptors. Roosters have also been known to attack humans who get too close to their chickens. Rooster anti-aggression training is an authentically hot commodity where their innate barnyard hostility needs adaptive behavior modification. Someone should rise to the cause of becoming a rooster whisperer.

Roosters aren’t monogamous. They mate with as many as 20 hens per day. Years ago when I worked in the natural foods industry, I went to a folk remedy vendor who sold “rooster pills” to help men with sluggish libido. This person also kept a stash of ”king rooster pills” for the weekend. Men who think they are good in bed ain’t got nothing on roosters. Pharmaceutical manufactures don’t want the power of rooster comb extract to become widely known.

Senior citizen hens don’t like to sacrifice their dominance when they become old maids. They are capable of pecking smaller, younger members of the congregation to death. Roosters don’t like to lose members of the clucking tribe, including vulnerable chicks. They’ll peck at the aggressive older hens if necessary. Roosters work 9 to 5 to maintain the pecking order.

Incidentally, a peck is a strike or a bite with a beak, or quarter of a bushel, or a light kiss. Go figure.

Though I don’t see it, roosters are sometimes deemed handsome. I acknowledge that they add color brilliance onto the canvas of an otherwise drab flock of chickens. They earn this acclaim with their combs and wattles, the fleshy growth beneath their beaks. Rooster combs contain cartilage that is reputed to not only enhance sexual performance but also to relieve arthritis when injected. Step aside, ibuprofen. Whereas fleshy growth beneath a human chin makes plastic surgeons see dollars, dangling red organs beneath a rooster beak are considered to attract the opposite sex. Imagine the seductive quality of a rooster strutting in the barn yard while flapping its wattle.

Whereas cowboys use their spurs to signal to the horse that it needs to take action, roosters have spurs that they use to defend themselves. Kickboxing enthusiasts, take notice. Check out a barnyard or two.

Roosters are known for their ritual mating dances, the wing drag, the shuffle, and the feathers hackle. First they circle in front of the chicken, doing their Mick Jagger thing. Then they circle around to the hind area where they have their hen encounters. There is injustice in animal husbandry. The males run circles around their female counterparts.

Roosters don’t appear to care about their press clippings, including this blog post. They’re downright cocky. Now that’s a fowl attitude.

Mosquitos

I’m in middle Tennessee where this week’s weather has been under the influence of the trail of hurricane Ida. The mosquitoes have thrived in the aftermath of the rain. They’ve treated my legs as a delicacy. They like my back side second best, then my arms, and they’re thrilled when they make a score on my neck.

I swat mosquitoes without compunction. They are unwelcome. They suck. The nighthawk mosquito finds its way into my rig at night where it insatiably munches when I’m asleep. There are Paul Bunyan mosquitoes, the enormous ones that are encountered deep in the woods and can only be slain with an axe. There’s the Texas mosquito, the Asian tiger, and the Jersey bomber. Mosquitoes are disease bearing; they’ve contributed to malaria, yellow fever, the Zika and West Nile viruses, and encephalitis. Contracting any of these would put me in a foul humor.

Whereas I’m challenged to find nice things to say about mosquitoes, the males are the good guys; they don’t bite. The male mosquito is the proverbial flower child; he enjoys flower nectar instead of human blood. Mosquito ladies bite to generate food for their hungry children. They are capable of laying around 1000 eggs. I’m without sufficient kindness to withstand their bite and give up my protein for their offspring. I’d rather flatten them with my palm.

Dragonflies, bats, frogs, and fish are our friends that consume mosquitoes. These creatures deserve the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

I’ve been asked where I’ll settle once I’ve had all the fun I can stand living on wheels. My criteria include locales with interesting people, places that have environmentally significant offerings, and an attractive climate. I’ve only recently begun to consider residing where the mosquito population is at its thinnest. West Virginia has the fewest species of mosquitos…26 varieties versus 80 in Florida and 85 in Texas. Look out longhorns…the Texas mosquito is vying for position as the state mascot. Texas has been eliminated from the lineup of contenders for my residency.

If your chosen profession is mosquito dentistry, you are SOL. Mosquitoes don’t have teeth.

For those of you who can’t handle your liquor, transitioning to a mosquito might help you overcome your dysfunction. A mosquito can drink up to three times its weight in blood. They’re vampires. And they are attracted to people who drink beer. This is particularly unfortunate for those of us who like to eat pizza outdoors with its perfect complement. If you live in Texas and you drink beer, you are SOL.

The first Dali Lama is credited with saying, “If you think you’re too small to make a difference, try going to bed with a mosquito.” He is one of the rare persons capable of turning a repugnant insect into a good example setter.

Author Mary O’Connnor said, “It’s not so much how busy you are but why you are busy. The bee is praised. The mosquito is swatted.” Bees make honey. Mosquitos make irritating skin bumps. We lead active lives, but we don’t always use our time well. O’Connor suggests that we might incur praise instead of a swat if we identify what we are good at contributing, and then follow through by making the contribution. Female mosquitoes are born wired in with knowledge of what they can offer to the world and they do it with abandon. Perhaps having a fan club of bats is an ego boost.

Confuscious is quoted with the saying, “Don’t use a cannon to kill a mosquito.” Make prudent use of your resources. If you use a cannon to kill a mosquito, the odds are good that you’ll miss your target. When you are working with tools, choosing the best one for the task at hand is paramount. Where it concerns mosquitoes, you need to look no further than an open palm.

Rakesh Upadhyay said, “Mosquitos are like family. They annoy you but they carry your blood.” Sometimes humor can lighten the darkness connected to a challenging relationship with a family member. It takes a special person to manufacture good mosquito humor.

Mosquitoes have more bite than bark. Their buzz emanates from the base of their flapping wings. The topic of these blood sucking heathens makes me itchy.

Psychological Freedom

I taught yoga for 20 years. I learned that, regardless of what I intended for the student to take away from class, the fruit of the practice was out of my hands. I could be teaching a class about loosening tight hamstrings, and the student might be processing their resolution of a decades old fracture with their step-sister in Kansas. The importance of the practice was the relationship between what was happening on the student’s mat and the rest of their lives.

I’m a meditator. Sometimes I enter practice with a leading question. The majority of the time I take my seat and get still. A lot can happen in stillness. The practice is a doorway for observation and revelation. It is a gateway to psychological freedom. The toy inside the Crackerjack box of my meditation is the relationship between my practice and the flow of my life. It isn’t a box on the list of daily tasks to check off once completed. Rather, the point is mindfulness of thought and emotion. It’s an objective vantage point. It’s an opening for a glimpse into psychological freedom.

Though I’ve been spending time with friends, I’ve recently experienced intensifying loneliness. I yearned for its erasure. I was reminded of the yogic teaching of non-attachment during a recent meditation. It softened the charge that I felt around being lonely and made me a happier camper in that moment. It was psychologically freeing.

Thinking is not antithetical to mediation. Meditation is thinking’s perfect companion. Thoughts are susceptible to becoming identity guides. Meditation can help to neutralize thought encumbrance. I become my own observer, my own witness. I don’t always like what I see, but the practice can soften the hardness connected to my observations.

I’m not someone who is easily brought to tears when I’m sad. I thought I had a grieving defect. My meditation practice played a big role in shifting that perception to one of accepting that my grief is unique, that it doesn’t need to look like anyone else’s grief, and that my grief process isn’t defective. Thoughts are a difficult part of mindfulness. Once I eliminate any confusion between their appearance and their impermanence, then I’ve got a fighting chance to not drown in the revolutions of my mental skating rink.

Even though we don’t live as though it’s true, every experience changes. We’re prone to succumbing to the illusion that we will ultimately arrive at finality, at a point where the doubts and questions end. But the recognition that the doubts and questions don’t end can be clarifying. There is no arriving. I’m often asked about my quest, my destination, and when and where I’ll settle back down. My plans are subject to change, my thoughts are subject to change, and my observation of the flow is psychologically freeing.

My observer that validates impermanence isn’t in conflict with commitment. Instead, my observer itself is a commitment portal. I don’t know precisely where I’ll be, but I’m committed to going. I’m committed to my practice so that I’ll stack the odds in my favor for psychological freedom. I would abort my own psychological freedom if I went through life without admitting that I’m a work in progress. I’ll continue to step into the laboratory of my experiments where I’ll recognize and regale flux.

What Isn’t Said

Years ago I visited with a National Public Radio executive. He spoke about the hallmarks of good public radio. He first described their journalists as honesty watchdogs. He added that classical music is a key stimulant for emotion and cognition. They take a pledge of independent allegiance to the public. In a sharp contrast to commercial radio, they allow for programmed silence. He mentioned listening to the NPR segment with Loung Ung, activist and survivor of the Khmer Rouge massacres in Cambodia in the 1970s, during which both of her parents were slain. When the compelling story ended, NPR programmed silence. The opportunity for the listener to interact with the silence made space for the story to be absorbed. The power of the silence in this particular instance was palpable to this executive. The silent spaces between stories became integral to NPR programming.

I’m attracted to people who listen well. I’m equally attracted to people who know how to be judicious with language and then button their lips in a conversation when nothing more needs to be said. Its antithesis is someone who is “chatty,” talking to hear the sound of their own voice, especially when they are insecure, lonely, or anxious. Silent attention deepens conversation much better than idle words. When yakkers chatter, you’ll find me traveling somewhere else in my mind.

Why are we made uncomfortable by another person’s quietude? Does it make you uneasy when you don’t know what someone else is thinking or feeling? Why does the space of silence need to be filled?

Bird watchers understand. When recently canoeing on a lake in Minnesota, friends of mine and I spotted a loon. At the moment of the sighting, everyone instinctively silenced their voices so we could hear the beauty of the loon’s call. We were unified in our behavior, connected in a way that we’re not always able to experience when we are vying for our voices to have a place at the table.

Earlier in life I was easily intimidated in conversations with people who I perceived to have a gift of thought and language that was superior to mine. I’d chastise myself for not reading enough to develop a better facility with words and a quickness with thoughts. Later I became aware of the power of listener contribution. My intimidation rarely surfaces any more. Being a good listener isn’t being passive; rather, it’s purposeful, it’s focused.

I love live music. I’ve been to innumerable music events attended by a talkative audience. I wondered why these persons opted to come to the event in the first place. Instrumental music has its own language. Those who speak different languages hear the same magic in this music. Music accompanied by vocals draws some of us listen for the words to the songs first and to the music second, while others listen to the music first and the vocals second. Either way, connecting to one another and to the music becomes infinitely more clear in the absence of sound from the audience. Whether it’s rock ‘n roll or classical, indoors or outdoors, I’m an advocate for being a respectful listener when attending a music concert.

I recently visited a friend with a mountain home. When describing acquiring this property, he stated that he and his wife bought a “view with a house.” The view looking out towards the southwest from their place is awe inspiring. They have million dollar sunsets. We had a great time talking, hiking, and laughing together. However, the sunsets we viewed were unforgettable. When we were silent, the sky did the talking. I may not be able to recount our conversations, but those sunsets made an indelible imprint.

It’s not that I’m uninterested in conversation when there isn’t an agenda or a topic. I enjoy spontaneous, stream of consciousness exchanges. I’m just as interested in how we might connect deeply, and learn about ourselves and one another in the spaces between what is spoken. A lot of questions get answered in silence. Yoga teachers often start and conclude classes by chanting the primordial sound of “Om.” I was taught that it has 4 parts…the short “a” sound, the “o” sound, the “m” sound, and the silence afterwards.

To paraphrase Thich Nan Hanh, “If you listen to the wonders of life, you’ll be able to stop running.”

Lola

My well being is fueled by the company of my dog, Lola with whom I spend all of my time when there’s no human company. She’s an objective listener when my conversations are between multiple sides of me. Lola has adapted to the changes in my life. She’s a trooper, having ridden over 9000 miles with me without complaint. Lola’s love is unconditional. She’s tranquil most of the time. We have similar goals and values where it concerns good food, fun, a balance of activity and rest, and being outdoors. Lola’s love offsets periods of loneliness.

Lola has made quite a few canine friends of her own along the way. For example, Hank the vizsla in LaGrange, Kentucky, with whom she had barking contests, and who did his best to teach her how to catch flies. She had a big time with Gracie, a golden retriever in St. Louis, in whom she found the ideal playmate. There was Oliver, the male golden doodle from Indianapolis who is about three times Lola’s size. Oliver and Toby, the red healer from Chicago, both demonstrated aptitude for urinating on potted plants on their patios. Fortunately Lola didn’t get the hang of this predominately male practice. Winston from Wisconsin (“Winnie”) demonstrated a relentless quest for humping Lola. Her rebuttals didn’t slow his determined male ego. I’m grateful that Lola is from the shallow end of the testosterone pool.

There are hard parts about traveling with a dog. I had to leave Lola with a sitter for a week in Columbus, Ohio when I flew from there to Massachusetts. It temporarily caused my heart to ache. Dogs that don’t fit under seats aren’t allowed on passenger planes. Rover, a dog sitting service with an app that includes sitter profiles, provided me with great sitters who’d keep Lola in their homes. I also had to board her for a week in Duluth, Minnesota, when friends and I rented a house that didn’t allow pets. Both of these sitters make their livings as full time dog caretakers. Even without meeting Lola in advance to be certain that she was compatible with other canines, they trusted that she would be fine because of my testimonial, and because she’s a doodle, a breed with whom neither of them had ever had issues. Lola fared much better than I did during our times apart. She’s doesn’t do homesick.

In contrast to humans whose emotions fluctuate so widely between joy and its absence, I’m impressed with the simplicity about the things that elevate Lola’s disposition. Playing fetch with a ball or a stick is her equivalent of winning the lottery. When we’re out on walks, Lola’s eyes are always peeled for a wayward tennis ball. Sometimes she steals them from the front yards of young children. By the time I’m aware of the theft, it’s often too late to return the property to the scene of the crime. The only activity that holds more sway than playing fetch is chasing squirrels. Though she’ll never catch one, she’ll not stop trying. It’s all about the journey.

Lola is my pet and she’s also my pal. When we have earnest exchanges, we are always looking directly into one another’s eyes. I’m more than just the supplier of her meals. She gets excited when she sees me. She sits in the passenger seat in the rig and stares out the window when I go places without her. It’s her way of asking to be taken along instead of being left behind. She’s demanding and she’s amusing. She’s determined to get her message heard when there is a need. She is good natured, friendly, and precious. She’s respectful but not particularly well trained. She’s not a good match for people who don’t like to give dogs attention. She’s perfectly imperfect.

Don’t Let Friendships Lapse

I’m in Finland, Minnesota, a beautiful environment close to the north shore of Lake Superior. I’m one of a group of 9 people, 4 couples and me, who’ve gathered to have a one week play date outdoors. Sarla would have made an even ten. She is here in spirit, palpably represented by last night’s heart felt toast to her at the dinner table. She would have added liveliness and love to our gathering.

I became friends with three of the men here 50 years ago. We attended Camp Nebagamon, a boy’s camp in northern Wisconsin during the 1960s, and then became staff members at the same camp during the 1970s. Between 1980 and 2012 we took 17 wilderness river canoeing trips together in the US and Canada. Since aging out of big white water rivers 9 years ago, we’ve continued to gather as a group, sometimes with and at other times without spouses, in places that afforded us kitchens, beds, and showers. The women in this group have become close friends of mine as well.

During the past 14 months, I’ve given myself permission to have female friends with whom I could go on walks, meet for coffee, or enjoy a dinner together. It was important for me to maintain exposure to a feminine perspective after Sarla passed away. Conversations sink in more deeply while walking with someone. A couple of the women with whom I’ve shared time and conversation have stated that, unlike other men they knew, my wide circle of close male friends was uncommon. I’m surprised at this observation because I naturally gravitated towards valuing friendship highly and assumed that others, regardless of gender, behaved similarly. The time that I’ve spent alone on this journey has made me cherish friendship even more.

Fred Torzs is in the photograph with me at the top of this post. It was taken earlier this week. He was drafted into our canoeing klatch a couple of decades ago. Fred adds quirky humor to the mix. I can be completely inane with him. Laughter is at the heart of our animated connection. Even though we became pals only 20 years ago, Fred has bridged the gap of coming late to the party. Laughing with Fred activates my tear ducts, wrinkles the skin at my temples, and makes my ribs hurt. My limbs temporarily become weaker and less coordinated. In the words of singer songwriter John Mellencamp, it “hurts so good.”

My psychological health is buoyed by my friends. Losing my spouse was hard. My friends were my emotional backbone. Having close friends floats a lot of boats. I can count on them. Most of the time their company makes me feel better. Even with the limitations of being human, my friends are honest but not parental when I open myself up to them. I hold these relationships deeply.

Friendships have no formal covenant; the structure of the relationship is often inexplicit. I didn’t say to Fred, “You are my friend now, and here’s what we can expect of one another.” We maintain contact not because we are obligated to one another but because we have mutual regard for one another. Friendships can lapse because of time and space. I don’t know what I’d do without these friends with whom I can talk, on whom I can depend, and whose company is my life raft.

My friends and I share language, history, and a common understanding that sustains us. They ask what I’m thinking and feeling instead of assuming that they know. They listen. Our time together is precious. The only strings that are attached to these relationships are the ones related to simply being there for one another in the best way that we can. Regrets when my time on the planet is up will be fewer by keeping these strings tied. The binds they tie make me a rich man.