Wednesday, May 24, 2017

My Thoughts on Cultural Appropriation

This is a very important discussion that has only recently been brought to my attention by a long thread on a Facebook group for Nia Teachers. Thanks go out to Vinajoy Duran for bringing it up.  I am one of the privileged white people who isn't negatively affected by this except that I am sensitive and empathetic so when I hear that someone is struggling with something I'm doing, I feel their pain and choose to acknowledge them, examine it, and do my best to make it right.

I have been teaching Nia for 21 years now and I appreciate how much it has changed in that time, just as the world is not the same place it was back in the 80's when it began, or in the 90's when I joined. As the world continues to change, I think it is incumbent upon us to embrace newfound awareness and adjust as needed.
There is no denying that we have entered an era of renewed attention to cultural oppression and bigotry, and it is my deep desire to be a voice and an example of compassion and tolerance in this environment. SO I want to start by admitting that this is real.
Continued ignorance of this issue considering all of the specific examples given in the thread is quite an amazing feat. The way I see it, it is something that is inherent in the work of Nia from the world music to the variety of movement forms to some of the specific moves themselves. Or is it?
I love Nia and I know for a fact that no one intended to disrespect another being or culture, but it is also entirely possible that, in our privileged mindset, we have not seen what toes we could be stepping on.

I don't think the answer is to deny that it's happening, or to stop doing what we're doing, but instead to be open to and mindful of what exactly we are doing and what about it potentially hurts people and to figure out how we can frame it and present it to the public in a way that honors all cultures and continues to allow us to practice and offer what we do.

So I had to ask myself what exactly the offense was when we spoke of Cultural Appropriation. The examples I hear tend to imply that an item of dress or a symbol, or a phrase or ritual is taken from an oppressed culture and used in a privileged culture in a way that gives no respect to the original source. And then the second question I had to ask was 'are we doing this in Nia?'


When I was first introduced to this concept just a few weeks ago, I was stymied. I'll admit, my first reaction was to push it aside and not face the discomfort. I had no point of reference for it, so in order to understand it and eventually deal with it, I had to create a point of reference for myself in my head. I am not a practicing Christian, but I was raised as one so I know enough about it. I imagined a situation where someone from a different culture used symbols of Christianity in a secular way. I imagined the "Crucifixion" workout being popular in Japan, for example. "They claim it's good for the legs and the back to drag a heavy wooden cross across a cobble stone street. It also builds toughness to have people throwing things at you while you did." I imagined the participants wearing Crowns of Thorns as a fashion accessory, despite the fact that it was not part of their culture and they had no idea what it really means to Christians. They all thought it was fun to wear sandals and a white loin cloth, too. After class, it was traditional to eat some bread and drink some wine. All the while, they're laughing and playing music; having a fun time with absolutely no knowledge of the story they've appropriated and the weight it has in Christian culture.
I imagined a diet book called Ta'anit shooting to the top of the best seller charts. (Ta'anit is a sacred ritual of repentance or mourning in Judaism.) I could substitute a weight loss diet based on the sacred practices of Ramadan, Yom Kippur, or Lent, and start to get why people could be upset by it.

Then, I remembered that I've had the experience in Nia classes of wearing a bindi on my forehead. I've danced in complete naïveté to sacred pieces of music. I've seen sarongs and saris and harem pants worn in class by white people not connected to the roots or symbolism of such garb. And I've been party to an appropriation of a calendar and a method of measuring time that comes from a sacred culture I know nothing about.
So, despite the fact that I meant no disrespect to Islam, Judaism, Maya, or Christianity, could this be offensive to them? What steps could I take to assuage the negative feelings spiritual people might feel from my turning their beliefs into a fitness practice or fashion accessory? If, in light of this new information I simply continued to do what I've always done, then I'm no longer innocent of crimes of ignorance, but now complicit in the offense.

These are the difficult questions I asked myself and have come to the realization that Nia is not cultural appropriation.

Yes, it does borrow from many different cultures and it happens to appeal to a predominantly affluent white female community. But it is a spiritual practice of sorts in its own right. It has no intention of stripping any sacred or symbolic meaning from anything it borrows. On the contrary, it is the sacred importance of the piece that attracts Nia to use it. It does not intend to remove any sacred meaning from anything, but rather to create a globally inspired system of self-care that addresses body, mind, emotion and spirit.
I step boldly into a new era of understanding with an open mind and an open heart. I am learning. I realize that simply because I've been doing something for over two decades is no reason to continue doing it, especially when I've been enlightened by having a new perspective brought to my attention.

In our quest to present globally inspired work, there may come a time when we unknowingly play a sacred piece of music that could offend a practitioner of a certain religion. And it is my feeling that until we are alerted to such a situation, it is not up to us to self-police and to forever swear off of using anything remotely considered to be connected with another culture. But to do so with empathy and tenderness and be willing to hear it if and when someone expresses a conflicted feeling about it.

I was gifted a Intuit bracelet, but I didn't know what it was for a long time. I liked it and wore it occasionally without thinking much of it. Someone saw it and asked, "Oh are you connected to the Inuits?" and I had to look blankly at him until he explained further. I was embarrassed and I think that at that moment, I was guilty of cultural appropriation.

But I have since looked up the story of the Inuits and the symbolism of the bracelets and in particular of the stones that my piece is made of. So now if anyone asks, or even simply admires the bracelet (which I still wear on occasion), I can use that as an opportunity to possibly enlighten a follow privilege-enjoyer about the struggles of the Native Americans. So rather than feeling like the bracelet is taking away from their culture, I feel like I'm connecting to them, in a way that helps keep their history and their culture vital.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

2017 Bookings and Drive Times - PART TWO

SAT - SEPT 16
drive: Amarillo to Farmington (7 hrs)

SUN - SEPT 17
visit: Four Corners

MON - SEPT 18
teach: Nia in Durango @ 9:00 am - Evonne^
visit: Mesa Verde

TUES - SEPT 19
teach: Nia in Durango ?? Maggie, Sharon, Ashley, Lori, Kim ??

WED - SEPT 20
drive: Farmington to Albuquerque (3 hrs)
teach: Nia in Albuquerque @ 4:30 - Erin^
drive: Albuquerque to Santa Fe (1 hr)

THUR - SEPT 21 through MON - SEPT 25
teach: Nia in Santa Fe

TUES - SEPT 26
drive: Santa Fe to Flagstaff (6 hrs)

WED - SEPT 27
teach: Nia in Sedona ?? Alba ??

THUR - SEPT 28
teach: Nia in Flagstaff ?? Stephanie ??
drive: Flagstaff to Carlsbad (7.5 hrs)

FRI - SEPT 29
teach: Nia in Carlsbad ?? Lisa-Anne ??

SAT - SEPT 30
~~~Yom Kippur~~~

SUN - OCT 1
drive: Carlsbad to Gardena (2 hrs)
teach: Nia in North Hollywood - Paula

MON - OCT 2
teach: Nia in North Hollywood - Paula

TUES - OCT 3
teach : Nia in Santa Monica @ 9:30am - Cheryl
drive: Gardena to Santa Barbara (2.5 hrs)

WED - OCT 4
teach: Nia in Santa Barbara ?? Ken / Cleo ??
drive: Santa Barbara to Vacaville (6 hrs)

THURS - OCT 5
teach: Nia in Walnut Creek @ 10:00am - Danielle^
teach: private Nia training - Miki

FRI - OCT 6
drive: Vacaville to Nevada City (1.5 hrs)
teach: Nia in Nevada City - Aimee
drive: Nevada City to Eureka (5.5 hrs)

SAT - OCT 7
teach: Nia in Eureka - Rose
drive: Eureka to Springfield (5.5 hrs)

SUN - OCT 8
teach: Nia in Eugene @ 11:00  Kellie/Amy/Janet
drive: Eugene to Portland (2 hrs)

MON - OCT 9
teach: Nia in Portland ?? Allison/Siere/Laurie/Anita ??
drive: Portland to Seattle (3 hrs)

Monday, May 22, 2017

2017 Bookings and Drive Times

MON - AUG 14
drive: Seattle to Leavenworth (2.5 hrs)
teach: Nia in Leavenworth  @ Noon / @ 5:00 pm -  Gayle^
drive: Leavenworth to Moses Lake (2 hrs)

TUES - AUG 15
drive: Moses Lake to Hayden (2.5 hrs)
teach: Nia in Hayden @ 10:30 - Jamie
drive: Hayden to Butte (4.5 hrs)

WED - AUG 16
drive: Butte to Helena (1 hr)
teach: Nia in Helena @ 2:00pm - Kathryn^
drive: Helena to Billings (3.75 hrs)

THURS - AUG 17
teach: Nia in Billings ?? Sue/Aimee ??
drive: Billings to Riverton (4.5 hrs)

FRI - AUG 18
drive: Riverton to Evanston (3.75 hrs)

SAT - AUG 19
teach: Nia in Evanston @ 9:30am - Lisa^
drive: Evanston to Fort Collins (5.5 hrs)

SUN - AUG 20
teach: Nia in Lyons  10:15 - Jasmine^

MON - AUG 21
drive: Fort Collins to Omaha (7.5 hrs)
***SOLAR ECLIPSE***

TUES - AUG 22
teach: Nia in Lincoln @ 8:30 am - Holly^

WED - AUG 23
drive: Omaha to St. Paul (6 hrs)
teach: Nia in Minnepolis @ 7:30 pm - Beth^

THUR - AUG 24
teach: Nia in Minneapolis @ 8:00 am - Amy
drive: Minneapolis to Cedar Rapids (4.25 hrs)

FRI - AUG 25
teach: Nia in Coralville @ 6:00 pm - Beth^

SAT - AUG 26
visit: Sioux Falls

SUN - AUG 27
drive: Cedar Rapids to Hazelwood (4.5 hrs)
teach: Nia in Edwardsville - Sally

MON - AUG 28
teach: Nia in Edwardsville - Sally

TUES - AUG 29
drive: Hazelwood to Jeffersonville (4.5 hrs)
teach: Nia in Louisville @ 6:00pm - Maria^

WED - AUG 30
drive: Jeffersonville to Indianapolis (2 hrs)
teach: Nia in Indy @ 10:30 am - Robin^
drive: Indianapolis to Grove City (3 hrs)

THUR - AUG 31
teach: Nia in Columbus @ 7:00 pm - Trish^

FRI - SEPT 1
drive: Grove City to Richmond (7 hrs)

SAT - SEPT 2
teach: Nia in Richmond @11:30am -  Felicia^

SUN - SEPT 3
drive: Richmond to Durham (2.5 hrs)
teach: Nia in Durham ?? Molly ??
drive: Durham to Charlotte (2.25 hrs)

MON - SEPT 4
teach: Nia in Charlotte @ 9:30am - Sherrie^
drive: Charlotte to Myrtle Beach (4 hrs)
teach: Nia in Myrtle Beach @ 4:30 -  Mary^
drive: Myrtle Beach to Florence (1.5 hrs)

TUES - SEPT 5
drive: Florence to Norcross (4.5 hrs)
teach: Nia in Decatur ?? Sandy ??

WED - SEPT 6
drive: Norcross to Bessemer (3 hrs)
teach: Nia in Cullman ?? Ann ??

THUR - SEPT 7
drive: Bessemer to Ocean Springs

SAT - SEPT 9
drive: Ocean Springs to Houston (7 hrs)

SUN - SEPT 10
teach: Nia in Houston @ 9:15am - Angela

MON - SEPT 11
drive: Houston to Corpus Christi (3.5 hrs)
teach: Nia in Rockport @ 5:30 - Diane / Dorene

TUES - SEPT 12
drive: Corpus Christi to San Antonio (2.5 hrs)
teach: Nia in San Antonio - Adelle

WED - SEPT 13
teach: Nia in San Antonio @ 9:15 - Adelle

THUR - SEPT 14
drive: San Antonio to Irving (4.5 hrs)
teach: Nia in Dallas ?? Shannon ??

FRI - SEPT 15
teach: Nia in Dallas @ 9:45 am - Jule
drive: Irving to Amarillo (5.5 hrs)

...to be continued

Thursday, May 18, 2017

2017 Offerings

Here's what's on the menu for JAG TOUR 2017
Studio Nia, Santa Fe, 2016

This year, I've created two new Nia routines.  Both of them are adaptations of older routines.

Fantastic - (new for 2017)
Inspired by the movements from the classic Carlos Rosas routine, "Fantasia,"  Fantastic is a JAG original routine that uses Carlos' classic choreography in an almost song-for-song adaptation. Some of the featured artists in this routine are Goldfrapp, Macy Gray, Talking Heads, Basement Jaxx and others. It also contains a three-song tribute to the career of David Bowie, from Space Oddity to Heroes to Blackstar.

Profound - (New for 2017)
Another adaptation, this time of Winalee Zeeb's recent routine, Deep Dive.  Profound sets her wonderful liquid choreography to new music from Xavier Rudd, Imogen Heap, Propellerhead (featuring Shirley Bassey), Beats Antique and others.


Both adaptation routines use mostly modern, popular music from this millennium, with an ear toward ethnic eclecticism.

I am also willing to teach any of my original routines that I've brought around in the past, including:
Rockin - (2012)

Goldfinger (2013)

Woodstock Experience - (2014)

Frankie Say Nia - (2015)

Orchestra - (2016)

Amazing - (2016) 

JAG's FloorPlay - (2015)
******************************
Corpus Christi, TX

I'd really love to stay a few hours and teach a full playshop, too. I'm open to suggestions on subject matter, but I'm prepared with a few idea as well:

Finding Balance with Yin and Yang
I originally put this playshop together by request for last year's Men of Nia event in Santa Fe. It was a hit and it was suggested that I expand on the work and continue to present it. So that's what this is. It is an exploration of what exactly we mean when we say "Yin" and "Yang". We'll discover why we want to seek a balance between them and how to do so in the context of a Nia class and beyond, into life.

Honing the Martial Arts in Nia 
In this one, we'll get clear on the architecture, science, art, and craft of the three martial arts that influence and inform the Nia technique; specifically AiKiDo, Tae Kwon Do and Tai Chi.  We'll spend time embodying each movement form and also have an experience of them in the context of a routine. I could easily teach a workshop on any of the three "arts", but this is the one where I felt there was the most need for practice and clarity based on what I've seen across the country.

The Joy of FreeDance
Last fall, I got certified as a Nia FreeDance DJ, and for the past several years, I've taught an informative playshop on the Nuts and Bolts of FreeDance. So this year, I'd love to combine them into a full Nia FreeDance playshop and class experience. The Nuts and Bolts playshop is intended for people who are paralyzed with fear and uncertainty around FreeDance, but who want to break through their own limitations.  It is not the eight stages of FreeDance and it is not anything that we've covered in any of the intensives. The playshop is my work. I put it together to help people who say they don't know what to do when it comes time to FreeDance. I can teach anyone exactly how to FreeDance by breaking down and spelling out what goes on inside the mind of someone who is FreeDancing.  After participating in this playshop, students will never again wonder what to do, movement wise. They will no longer run and sip their water to wait for the choreography to return. We can cap off the playshop with a full Nia FreeDance Class experience.

Community Choreography Creation Playshop
If you're unaware of the 2015 CNS project that became the community co-created routine called "Amazing" which I presented in 2016, you can read about it here. This year, I am putting it out there again. I'm not sure what will come of it, but any community that wants to play with co-creating choreography for possible inclusion in a new JAG Nia routine, let's do it. Basically, we choose a song and play with it for a few hours until we find the choreography together. It is an incredibly satisfying, enriching and inspiring experience to co-create with friends and classmates.


Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Skin Cancer Redux

If you want to catch up, click and read:
When I discovered the first occurrence back in 2010.

Some follow ups from surgery to remove cancer.

Further education and experience.

Using topical chemotherapy

The experience motivated me to seek out good brands of sunscreen, so you can read and enjoy the fruits of those labors here. 

When all of this was going on, the doctor told me that I was at a very high risk for a return visit from this type of cancer. And I was going along fine for several years.  I would diligently point out any marks, bumps or dis-colorization on my skin to a doctor and, until recently, was always told it's nothing to worry about.

But a few months ago, the doctor examining a suspicious spot on my neck said, "Hmmm. I'd like the lab to take a closer look at this to be sure." I agreed and let her take a punch biopsy to send in for testing.

The results came back positive. As in, I had cancer again. Once again, I was reassured that the type that I have is very slow-growing and benign, but the suggestion was to have it removed along with a margin of healthy surrounding tissue to ensure we removed it all.

I didn't take a picture of the offender, since it looked literally like a fat freckle or a pale mole. Now, I really wish I had. It didn't look alarming to me; not as much as some of the other spots I'm sporting. And I have plenty of those that are friendly. It just goes to show I need a trained eye to spot the bad stuff.

This is a picture of the same area after the punch biopsy was taken.

 Looks harmless, right?

This looks ten times more gory than the original 'mole' did.


I was scheduled to have it removed but had to delay the surgery because I was in a play and didn't want to deal with hiding the bandage during the run.  But once the show closed, I was able to go in and have it removed finally.

BEFORE
 I was a little bit nervous, even though i had been through it before.  I just didn't enjoy the idea of someone taking a chunk of flesh out of my neck.

By the time I was in the doctor's office, the wound you saw above had completely healed and she couldn't find the spot in question. Fortunately, I had these pictures in my phone, so I pulled them up and showed them to her, which helped her locate the tiny biopsy scar.

I explained at this time that I taught exercise and was very active in general. I mentioned this because it was an issue the time before. My first doctor cautioned me that I couldn't exercise for about ten days or risk interfering with the formation of a nice scar.  I told her I was less concerned about a 'pretty scar' and more concerned about giving up my livelihood for almost two weeks.  So she gave me another option which was a large gaping hole left without sutures. She wasn't happy that I was opting for an ugly scar, but I honestly didn't mind.

So this time, I brought up the same question.  In this case, since the punch biopsy seemed to remove a healthy margin already, we could opt today for a smaller margin, which I agreed to. It would mean that she'd dig less deep and the healing would be much quicker and more forgiving of my lifestyle.

She will send the tissue to the lab again and they will verify that we did indeed remove a margin of healthy tissue all around the cancer. And even if we didn't, her suggestion was that we wait and see if it grows and materializes as a cancerous 'tumor' again before going back to re-remove it.

We were all happy because this procedure took half the time of what we had planned so my doctor and her nurse were both able to take a long coffee break and enjoy this beautiful sunny day.

They sent me off with a bandage and a smile and a little kit for caring for my wound.
AFTER

My understanding is that it is typical for people like me, who had abused the sun in their youth but got wise as an adult, to have an average of 1 - 5 occurrences of this type of carcinoma. I've had two so far, so I'll be keeping my eyes peeled for numbers 3, 4 and 5.

UPDATE: Day 2 post surgery --

Once I'm dry, after my shower, I remove the bandage and wash it using a sterile cotton swab and hot soapy water. Then I use another to apply a layer of petroleum jelly and a big bandage. It seems to be healing fine. I have another seven days of doing this and then I go back to have the sutures removed.

UPDATE: Day 4 post surgery --

I just got a message from the doctor. The lab was going to look at the biopsy of flesh they removed to ensure we got enough margin of healthy tissue surrounding the cancer or if we'd have to go back in someday.  The result...

"I am happy to let you know that the pathology showed that your skin cancer was completely removed. Nothing else has to be done at that site. I hope it is healing well. Let me know if you have any other questions or concerns. Let the dancing continue!"  YAY!!  

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

JAG TOUR 2017 links

















I have updated the driving schedule and posted it in two parts on the following pages:

for August 14 - September 15 click here

for September 16 - October 9 click here 

To read descriptions of what materials I'm planning to bring this year, click here.

Hope to see you on the road this year!!

~JAG & River

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Bringing Civil Back

I'm not going to say it's the Republicans
They have some valid points
I'm not going to say it's the Democrats
Not everything they do is best
Plus, isn't it kind of uncool to broadly stroke so?

But the people who I think are the biggest and worst
instigatorpropagators of this ongoingworsening
Are the ones that think it's OK to insult the other side

Let's be adults here. We can disagree intelligently
But we won't get FUCK accomplished if we stand around
pointing fingers, refusing to listen to each other
and digging in our heels, thinking the other side is all wrong

Any immature fool can react explosively and make cruel jokes
But it takes a moment of thought and introspection to stop gainsaying
Long enough to remember that person with a different opinion
Is another human being (you, in disguise) who only wants
to protect what they feel is rightfully theirs.

I guess the point of this type of government we have
is to keep checks and balances on each other.
But it's all gone too far, to the point where it sets the stage
for the Second Civil War.

In this country we are guaranteed the freedom to practice our own religion
without fear of reprisal.  On the other side of that coin is the right to
be free from having anyone else's beliefs forced upon us.
Let's be respectful of each other, and also keep in mind that because
you believe in certain mythical, mystical, mysterious arcane beings,
doesn't mean you can use words ascribed to your god to lay down secular laws.
Not in this country. Live and let live; leave others alone.

Ours is a profane country; founded on freedom and equality.
Equal rights and opportunities. Taking those away or reducing them is
stepping over the line of US Constitutional behavior.

Speak your mind and fight for your cause, but always
Remember that when you lower yourself to the epithetical
You are showing off your jejune naivety.
Your callow green inexperienced and unworldly tactics will not fly
in a land made up of REAL, grown-up men and women.

the Second Civil War has already begun alas..
It's currently being fought with barbs and insults, hatred and vitriol.
Left to fester it will grow and escalate until we're all disintegrated
or half of us have imprisoned or murdered the other half.
I'm not joking. This is not an Alternative Fact.  This is real.


Sunday, March 12, 2017

Moongazing

all looking up into the sky

1: Magical

2: Magnificent

3: Majestic

4:  Mundane

1:  Meaning?!

4: I've seen it before. Many times.

2:  Missing the point.

3: Majorly.

4: Meh

2: Madness!

5:  (running in)  Made it!  (squeezing in line)  Move over. (greeting #3) Mayor Matthews

3; Mickey, ahem.  Moon maniacs meetings are at midnight, Mondays in March.

1: Mandatory!

2: Maybe matriculate more.

4: a masters in moongazing means many more midnight meetings.

5; meanwhile, Masticate, mates! (as he unpacks a picnic meal)

1, 2, 3, 4: Mmmmmm! (rifling through picnic basket and pulling things out)

1: Mushrooms and Mozzarella!

2: Manicotti wth marinara

3: Marzipan and Marshmallows

5: Mutton, medium rare, with Mustard and Mayonnaise on Marble Rye

4: do you have beer?

1: mead

4: do you have pizza?

2: Mod

4: do you have baked potatoes?

3: mashed

4: oranges?

5: Mandarine

6: (entering) Minions! mobilize.

1: Make us, mister.

6: Mysterious murderer migrating momentarily

4: is he happy?

6; moody

2: clean shaven?

6: mustachioed

5; a severe case?

6:  mild

3; OK this M thing has gone on long enough. We've much-milked this mad theme. Moongazers must monitor the mental state of the audience members. They've paid good money and deserve more.

1: my mistake.

2: mine

5; Mayor?

3: Moongazer's meeting adjourned until morning.

4; Memo:  Meeting in the morning at the market. masquerade in your best outfits.

(as they're leaving)

1: Moccasins

2: madras shirt

3: mascara

5: manicure

6: miniskirt






Monday, March 6, 2017

salam w hudú

salam w hudú is Arabic for "peace and quiet". I chose to make that the title of this entry rather than use the English words because of the important significance of finding alignment with other cultures; and especially Islam in these turbulent times.

But ultimately this has nothing to do with politics or religion. This is a highly personal concept to me. By keeping track of the ebb and flow of the feeling of peace and the practice of quiet in my body and mind and actions, I gauge the affect I'm effecting on myself in any given circumstance.

Just as I follow and track and move myself consciously toward a sensation of pleasure in my body, so too do I follow that feeling of peace. When I'm with a person or in a situation that inspires me to have thoughts or do things that bring me away from the feeling, I become aware of it. Not all deviations from the center of peace are bad, but the ones that cause me distress are. And they feel different than those that bring me eustress. I can't change anyone else and I have no control over any situation. The only thing I can control is my thoughts and actions. If possible, I first check and recover my feeling of peace. If I can't change myself in such a way to allow that, then I remove myself until such a time that I can recompose myself and return to the situation at peace.

So it is a conscious, inwardly directed practice of self love.

Quiet has been a big one for me lately. I am coming to see it as a profound observation of respect. To quickly answer someone is to demonstrate that very little forethought was put into the answer. I've been noticing my reactionary self, feeling, wanting, needing to respond quickly. How often do you wish you'd responded differently when looking back on a situation? I sure have, a lot. By nature, I learn "on the job."  My modus operandi is to jump into something new all the way and then figure out how it's done while still mid-flight. So I make a lot of errors as part of my process. But the simple practice of that moment of silence before responding, can make a big difference in making more informed and thoughtful decisions and remarks and fewer errors.

Another aspect of the quiet for me is to keep in check my perceived need to input at all. It comes down to ego most of the time when I really examine my true impulse to speak. A big factor, for example is that my social anxiety gives me a lot of energy, which I tend to use to fill silences quickly. And I'm a helper. Huge 'Problem Solver." It's another part of my nature that I have come to understand can come across as arrogant if not kept under control.

Silence is where I have found the large majority of my breakthroughs in my work with River. It is not a lesson that was lost on me. I have gained a lot from our work together, and the strengthening of my silent communication is a big one. He hears me better when I don't muddy my communication with din.

So when I say peace and quiet, I don't mean to imply that there's no sound or excitement in my life. I can have peace anywhere and everywhere, no matter what's happening on the outside. Peace is all about how I react and about what's going on inside. When I refer to quiet, I'm not talking about my atmosphere. I could enjoy quiet in a noisy auditorium full of people or a rock concert. The quiet I'm concentrating on is my own silence. I like conversations, laughter, discourse and music and I love the sounds of nature. I can even get into the symphony of traffic or a construction site at times. But there are also times when any of the things that I mentioned could bring me away from peace if they inspired me to feel irritated or anxious, or break the quiet if I felt overwhelmed by my uncontrollable desire to express my ego.

In looking for a picture of "peace and quiet" to include with this post, I found that most images showed 'the world': a serene beach, a stack of rocks or a sky filled with wispy clouds. In many cases, a meditating person was included in the shot.



But I believe that that is a very limited view of what 'peace and quiet' means. It's easy to find it in those settings, but also less important. The picture I sought to accurately portray what I'm talking about would be a person smiling happily in the middle of an angry mob or on a busy street-corner, or sitting in a traffic jam with a contented grin or standing stoically while being harangued, accused or belittled by other people. I think this one illustrates it best:




Friday, March 3, 2017

We're All In This Together

are we on a lot
block
plat
or map?

subdivision
parcel
acreage
tract

township
province
municipality

village
settlement
burg
locality

town
suburb
sector
region
metropolis
ward
zone
principality

commonwealth
parish
county
place
state
neighborhood
precinct
or city

hamlet
borough
apportionment
nation

district
people
world
reservation

everyone
no matter where
drinks the water
and breathes the air

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Now


You want to do something?
Do it now, while you can.
Do you feel the urge to speak?
Spill before it's too late.

Face it, you'll never be ready
but don't let that slow you down.
Is there something you hoped to see
while you're still young enough?
What are you waiting for? NOW!

Do not assume that those
Opportunities and freedoms
You currently neglect.
Will be there waiting for you.
Life has no guarantees;
Liberties stolen in the blink of an eye.
So don't be quiet, don't wait and see,
Don't hold out, procrastinate,
Forever plan and fantasize.
Do it. Don't not do it, now.
Do it now.

Now is the only time that's real.
Now is the only time to act.
Remove the phrase, "I can't wait to..." from your lexicon
Don't wait to savor life.
Remove the phrase, "It can wait." waiting is a losing game.
In the future things may not exactly be the same.
In one moment your entire life could change.
And then what??...
...
...
...
Do it now.


Sunday, February 26, 2017

Goober Patrol

two tables at a restaurant. two CUSTOMERS are seated at one table and a WOMAN is seated at another table, waiting for her blind date to show up.  He’s late.

DINA: You're a contrarian.

DANNY: No, I'm not.

DINA: Well you gainsay everything.

DANNY: No, I don't. You're just being a bitch.

DINA stands up, throws her napkin down on the table and storms out, leaving her date alone.

WAITER (has seen this and stops her as she's leaving): Do you want me to call the PC Warden?

DINA: Yes!

WAITER: Yes, ma'am.  (turning to the WOMAN at the other table) And how about you, you've been sitting here for twenty minutes. Do you think you're FINALLY ready to order?!

WOMAN:  No, not yet, sorry.

WAITER storms off in a snooty huff.

In the meantime, a MAN enters with another official-looking man following close behind. They approach the other table.

MAN (to her): Are you Stacy?

WOMAN: Yes, David?

MAN: Yes, Hi. Have you been waiting long?

WOMAN: (lying) No….

The MAN sits at the table while the OFFICER stands behind him.

MAN: Sorry I'm late but there was a gnarly accident on the highway and traffic was a (fucking) nightmare.

As he’s uttering the curse word, the OFFICER calls out the word “goober” and drowns out just that word.

The WOMAN looks puzzled

MAN: Oh yeah. Sorry about that. That’s the Goober Patrol. He’s been assigned to me for two months. Last week I got caught using an offensive word and I was fined for it. They said, instead of paying the fine or doing jail time I could let this PC Warden follow me around and censor me. He’s an (idiot).

OFFICER: (over idiot) Goober.

WOMAN: I see….

MAN: (to the OFFICER) What?  I can’t say idiot? 

OFFICER: No, sir. That’s a derogatory term for someone with a mental disability and it implies that unintelligent people less valuable as a human when you use it to insult someone. 

MAN: (shit!)

OFFICER: (over shit) goober!

WOMAN: So this guy goes wherever you go?  You can’t lose him?

MAN: No, unfortunately. If I get separated from him I have to pay double the fine. It's only for seven more weeks though. You get used to it, but at first it totally (sucks)

OFFICER: (over sucks) goober!

MAN: (to the OFFICER incredulous) What?! What’s wrong with (sucks)

OFFICER: (over sucks) goober!  That word implies a lewd sexual act and is not appropriate in mixed company or formal settings. It also puts th--

MAN: Well that blows.

OFFICER: (a bit late) irks me

WOMAN: (to officer) What did you say? 

OFFICER: Irks me. Irks is a verb that means bothers or annoys. It’s a good substitute for sexually charged words that are considered violent against women. 

WOMAN: Wait. I don’t feel violated when he says something sucks. And I know that it refers to… Well I know what it refers to, but I don’t feel like it’s violent

OFFICER: It propagates rape culture by putting a negative connotation on a sexual act and implies the receiver is better than the giver, when in fact, many people “suck” and do it by choice and enjoy it.  

WOMAN: Wow

MAN: Let’s just ignore him. He’s an (asshole.)

OFFICER: (over asshole) goober 

MAN: Oh my (God)

OFFICER: (over God) goober!

MAN: God is a bad word?

OFFICER Yes, well It’s bad when used as an expletive. Using it in a curse shows insensitivity to spiritual culture by treating their sovereign beings as something negative.

MAN: OK...(to woman) let’s just ignore him. So. You’re into skiing, huh? I love skiing. Snow or water? haha

WOMAN: Snow. I’ve never tried water skiing, but I’d love to try it some day.

WAITER approaches

WAITER: Good evening. I’m Stephon, and I’ll be your server tonight. Our special is a delicious rack of lamb with roasted root vegetables and cous cous. Can I start you with something to drink?

MAN: (to WOMAN) Would you like something?

WOMAN:  I’ll have a glass of white wine, please. 

MAN: And I’ll have an IPA. 

WAITER: Great, I’ll get those right away. Do you know what you’ll be eating tonight or do you need some more time to decide?

MAN: I just got here. Please give us a little time.

The waiter huffs and rushes off. 

MAN: What a (dick)

OFFICER: (over dick) goober

MAN: (tool)

OFFICER: (over tool) goober

MAN: (asshole)

OFFICER: (over asshole) goober!!

MAN (damnit!)

OFFICER: (over Damnit) goober

WOMAN: Wow, he’s good.

During this next speech, OFFICER #2 enters with DINA and they overhear as they approach the first table.

MAN: No he's not. He's (fucking) annoying. He follows me everywhere and is destroying my social life and embarrassing me. So what if people can't handle my colorful language, they just need to grow some (balls) and this guy needs to shut the (fuck) up.

OFFICER: Goober! (over each parenthetical word)

DINA: (entering with OFFICER #2 and indicating DANNY) There he is, officer.  He's insensitive to my rights as a female. He's been mansplaining all night and he called me a ... (looking tentatively at both officers) ... a (bitch).

OFFICER #1: Goober!

OFFICER #2: (to OFFICER #1) What did you just say?!

OFFICER #1: Goober.

OFFICER #2: (over goober) Mayonnaise! (Or any word starting with M).

Everyone looks surprised at OFFCER #2.

OFFICER #2: Don't you know that the word goober is offensive to peanuts and peanut farmers and people who like peanuts?  It is a derogatory word and using it implies that the peanut is an inferior nut. We are trying to create a safe environment for all types of people in this restaurant so you should choose another word that isn't so offensive

DANNY: Peanuts are a legume, not a nut.

OFFICER #2: Shut the fuck up.







Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Wake Up

Belief is a block
So hard to rock
Open your mind
Dogma can blind

...to c0nnect1on; to sp1r1tual1ty;
to free th0ught; to p0ss1b1l1ty;

...to unanswered questions being
more powerful than unfounded answers

...to being all right - okay with not knowing
to the end--to meaninglessness

...to peaceonearthtogethernessonenesshealingwholeness and all that entreats and entails
 enlists involves inspires and incorporates
for one and all - forever and ever - amen

...to your 'nner truth
your truth
yourself

...to happ'ness.

All the good connection- real spiritbeing-
deepest thought -richest rewards come from seeing
searching asking wondering, considering and pondering
and doing it again and again and again, even then
still not knowing.

Organized religion is mind control (spirit off)
"god is my autopilot" cruz control, (spirit off)
Get out of the bible verse and into the universe
Swim in the fables, don't tread water in the book.
Science is real - faith not a virtue.

Good comes from within without guilt or fear
but from a standard-issue selfishness-
from a belief that we are all together here.
not equal...  (beyond equal) The Same!

We're closer than fellowship, closer than love
Closer than brothers. closer than brethren
Swallowing the canon will choke off discovery
And steer you away from the only real heaven.

For the bliss of true here and now happiness
See your enemy as your grandmother,
Everyone as yourself in a different jacket;
Then it's easy to love and forgive each other.

I don't have to be scolded and threatened
To eternal damnation if I bear false witness...
I don't behave for being watched and judged.
There are no consequences necessary. I just
Don't do those things to myself. I'm Jag;
I'm another aspect of you and you're part of me.
We're peace, you and I,
We are love.


My EYES Have It

For years I'd worn contact lenses, but about two years ago, I had a very strong instinct that I shouldn't put them in again.  And without ceremony, I simply never wore them again.  Not sure if that's related to this, but I'm putting it out there.

I guess it all started with gusto when I was living at a new Motel 6 every day.  Sometimes, I'd wake up and one of my eyes (whichever one was closest to the pillow if I slept on my side) would be terribly itchy and sometimes to the point of painful.  It felt like there was an eyelash (or a piece of straw, or a needle or a boulder) under my eyelid.  I'd rinse it with water and get on with my day.

I was concerned that my vision was getting worse, too. It seemed as though I was occasionally trying to look through a thin layer of oil.




I would blink furiously, trying to wash it away, to no avail. It was an off and on problem, so I suffered through it while it was exacerbated and ignored it while it was in remission.

Almost a year ago, exactly, I was working at a theater on a role that was incredibly physically demanding. I was exhausted, banged up, bruised and depleted. (Don't get me wrong, I had a total blast doing the play, and I'd do it again in a heartbeat!)  But at one point, I was weak enough to succumb to a 'cold'.  This was a unique cold for two reasons: Both of these things had never happened to me before, but in this case, I lost my voice for a few days and then developed what seemed to be a cold centered around my eyes. I had the normal mucus buildup in the nasal sinus and the run-down feeling that I get when I catch colds, but this time, whenever I blew my nose, it'd force snot out through my eyes! Until last year, I didn't even know that was possible.

I would be embarrassed in public sometimes by the amount of mucus on my eyes. When I woke up in the morning they were sealed shut with so much dried mucus that I'd have to pry them open and scrape them clean.

FULL DISCLOSURE:  None of the photos of eyes are me. I took photos of my eyes, but the symptoms don't show up as clearly as they do here. I searched the internet and found these photos that are close to how I look(ed).

Eventually that ran its course, I healed and life went on. I still suffered occasional pangs of what felt like foreign body invasions into my eyes, and my eyesight worsened off and on. I'm at the age where eyesight is expected to really start failing so I didn't get too concerned about that. And I do live my life like a child that's never grown up, in that I roll around on dirty floors, play in the grass and climb rocks and trees and just generally enjoy getting dirty and gritty.

Not only for fun, but I also do much of this for my work. As a Nia teacher, I'd roll around on a different dance floor every day. Some were cleaner than others. I often had sweat dripping in my eyes and sometimes it really stung; especially if I had used any coconut oil or sunscreen on my face that day. I also work in theaters, which are notoriously dark and dusty and often full of airborne debris from set construction, etc.

Another facet to the story is that I have a dog who I play with, again, like a child. We roll around on the floor and have very physical fun together. In the past, I'd been allergic to certain dogs, but had never been allergic to River, that I know of. And usually my allergy shows up as a narrowing of my nasal passages, not eye-discharge.

Since all of those things are factors that could make my eyes itch or could introduce a foreign body into my eye, each time I felt the symptom come back, I'd attribute it to my lifestyle or a newly acquired allergy and suffer through it until it resolved itself.

All of this has been over the past two years. During that time, I've also had at least one stye in each eye, that I took care of myself with a hot compress and a Q tip.

So this brings us to about a month ago, when I started noticing the pinkness around my eyelids that I'd gotten accustomed to over the past two years was getting redder. And, upon closer inspection, I could see tiny flakes of crust in between my lower eyelashes. I decided it was time to see a professional.

I first saw a general practitioner who said I had "blepharitis".  It sounds like he made a diagnosis, but in retrospect, he really didn't. Blepharitis only means 'inflamation of the eyelids'. Anyone could have told me that if they knew the word for it. He gave me a topical antibiotic and I spread the gel onto my lower eyelids twice a day for about five days. After two days the redness was gone.

I'm now starting work at the same theater as last year when I had the 'cold' in my eye. Sitting in the house, chatting with the director and cast about the play, our characters and the controversial subject matter, I started to notice my left eye was really itching and the cloudiness was getting thicker.

The next morning (today) I woke up to see that both eyes were rimmed in red and both eyes had boogers in the corners, whereas on a normal day I don't usually notice that. Also the upper lid over my right eye was red and so puffy that it made the eye look half closed.

This is a genetic condition in my family. Our eyelids get super full and heavy as we age. My grandmother had to have her eyelids surgically reduced, and my father would have benefitted from the same procedure but he was deathly mistrusting of the entire medical profession, so he never did. I wasn't sure if this new development was just my destiny or if it was a medical issue. I called the Kaiser Permanente Ophthamalogy department and described everything to them. They suggested I come in immediately.

The ophthamologist did a more thorough examination of my eyes than the GP had done a month prior. He grabbed my eyelids and turned them inside out to see under them.  And it was funny because as I was standing at the bathroom mirror this morning, that was my instinct, too. I hoped he was going to do that. If he hadn't, I might have asked him to.

I half-expected him to say "OH MY GOD, there's a colony of termites in here." but what he did say was far less dramatic and more believable. He said my eyes were infected by bacteria. When I described my lifestyle to him, he smiled and nodded and agreed that it was probably any one of those dirty environments that infected me.  But it is impossible to determine which one.

He prescribed me a different antibiotic.  This time in the form of eyedrops rather than the messy gel I was applying last month. I'll drop these into my eyes four times a day for ten days and hope to have clear-looking and clear-seeing eyes once again.

For those interested in this type of thing, the first antibiotic I applied was erethromycin in the gel form. This batch is neomycin-polymyxin-dexamethasone in the form of drops. I'm generally not a fan of using antibiotics, so this was a major decision for me.



Friday, February 10, 2017

The Gift of Pain

I'm grateful for the pain of others, but only if they share.
To Phoenix, we must first be challenged, burnt, hurt, broke.
We never try to improve what's running perfectly smoothly
But those who've survived through the fire have built the best bulwark.

Thanks Scott, Debbie, Jack and Jill for setting your journey alight.
you ignited your trials and blazed a path to your success
Generously affording me the fruits of all your labors
Without my suffering from the original distress.

Someone without asthma never has to learn how to breathe right.
Your battle with scoliosis has taught me perfect posture.
I'm intimate with my shoulder thanks to your inner journey
of rehab and recovery from a bad dislocation. 

We've been given a wealth in the form of our imperfections
Obstacles we overcome can be our greatest offering.
Please let us share and revel in each other's struggles in life
The gift of your handicap was meant to strengthen everyone.



Thursday, February 2, 2017

Prison of Stuff


The years of accumulation
Trap me in a prison of strife
Surrounding and protecting me
From experiencing my life.

Now all the things I had once owned
Rotisserate me on a skewer;
Demanding regular upgrades
And maintenance, keeping it newer.

Electronics need updating
Wardrobe the same, plus washanddry.
As I practice for mastery
Toys take up my time nightandday.

But the biggest captor of all
Is my pet; a highly strung hound.
I sought a companion and pal
But now have a headcase profound.

Every day I'm on red alert.
Danger ambulates with megrim.
Myself, friends, family and strangers
Are jeopardized by his wild whim.

The question is, who's owning who?
Who is in charge when we go traipse?
Dog on offensive, I'm defense
I find myself plotting escapes.

Oh to be unhampered from stuff.
I think I'd do well being free
From those collected things and junk
Psychologically undoing me.

I could live without much of it
But some things are deeply ingrained.
The most painful thorn in my side
Is another sentient being.

The picture is larger than I am
My feelings must be set aside
Life is precious and so is he.
I must take my torment in stride.

Life is too short for complaining
About having too many things.
Even a man who has nothing
Is often the one who most sings.


Saturday, January 28, 2017

Frustranoia

Sometimes my life's a cruel and painful joke;
Conspiring against me and only me.
Well it's not funny and I've had enough.
Uncle! I give up!
Uncle! I give up!

Dreaming about disappearing disconnecting retreating.
Romanticizing hermitizing in a far-off grotto.
I anathematize the modern age; help me, I cry, now.
But when you notice I'm gone, well you know why, now.
I fantasize, I comminate, but don't try to get out. WOW!
Not surprising that I can't figure out how.

Don't come looking for me.
Don't come looking for me.

Things that normal people find useful- for me, unusable
Daily objects that work fine for them give me heartache no end.
The label says it's easy to connect, NOT easy at all.
the dogma is that you can plug it right into your phone; bullshit.
I commiserate with friends, but learn it works just fine for them.
"I don't know what to tell you. That's not happening for me bro."

Frustrated enough to commit uncharacteristic sins
I want to scream "FUCK YOU" to everyone I know and meet.
And eliminate the frustration from my dark existence.
But of course the source is only me so how can I break free?

It's petty to voice my infinitesimal
infinitesimal infinitesimal
paranoid entitled frustration when
there are real legitimate problems in the world.
People are starving, being tortured and detained.
Innocents getting gunned down by poor veterans
mentally/emotionally ravaged by war.
The "alt-right" is working hypocritically
to steal away benefits, rights and dignity
of women and minorities while all the while
sending young men to their death (or insanity)

All for insanity.
It's all insanity.

Embrace the fact that
perspective is power
surrender to "all you can do
wherever you are just relax be yourself
start with a smile you do you!"
The harsh world I see is my own bad reflection.
All I can change is within
The harsh world we see is our own bad reflection.
All we can change is within.


illustration by Melissa Dzierlatka

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Eat the Art

peel the carrots
carve the bird
baked to juicy, golden brown

chop the onions
soak the beans
filteredwaterrinse the greens

juice a lemon
add a fig
salt and pepper, parsley sprig

with fresh ginger,
let it sit
until it's aromatic

berries, kale, creme brûlée!
avocado, curds and whey!
sweet potatoes, fish filet!
rice pilaf, fois gras pate!

preserve the beets
stew the prunes
blend the celery, butter scones

pinch of basil
top with cream
zest of fresh-picked tangerine

grind the pepper
shuck the corn
brew the coffee (keep it warm)

sprouted almonds
black eyed peas
cauliflower cheddar cheese

berries, kale, creme brûlée!
avocado, curds and whey!
sweet potatoes, fish filet!
rice pilaf, fois gras pate!
sausage, eggplant, rhubarb pie!
sauté, simmer, broil and fry!

French toast, German
chocolate cake
Jerusalem artichoke

capon, crouton
Grey Poupon
ketchup, mustard, provolone

berries, kale, creme brûlée
avocado, curds and whey
sweet potatoes, fish filet
rice pilaf, fois gras pate
sausage, eggplant, rhubarb pie
sauté, simmer, broil and fry
dabbling in the culinary arts;
the yummiest way to each others' hearts!

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

No One's An Asshole

No one's an asshole, my dear brothers and sisters.
To all those I've bitten, cutting my teeth,
Thank you for helping me learn and grow.
Mistakes can be our wisest teachers.

No one's an asshole;
We all do our best but see different worlds.

Sometimes I don't know how far is too far
Until I've stepped on your toes finding my path.
My intentions were never to cause pain;
but hurt happens when our world views don't match.

No one's an asshole;
We're all here to help each other find our way.

Grateful for those whom I've pissed off to the point
That they school me on exactly what they think.
To those who've let loose when I was an ass in their eyes,
I regret saying, or thinking, that you're the jerk.

No one's an asshole;
Everyone is scared and looking out for themselves.

I know not to hold it against your character;
Selfishness is the human default setting.
We can all give and receive permission to flub.
Forgiveness is the more spirited path.

No one's an asshole;
We're lost and confused. No one's holding the fort.

Many times I've been the one hurting you,
Making you feel bad when we don't allow
For our different realities to coexist.
I'll give you leeway - permit me to do me.

No one's an asshole
and yet everyone's an asshole (in someone's mind).

When I point a finger or hurl an epithet,
I know that my view is my own creation
so I'm truly referring to myself.
You are my mirror, my education.

No one's an asshole.
Growth hurts (such is life) and we're all in this together.

Lessons along the way are not always
pleasant nor comfortable. So thank you
for being my asshole and for letting me be yours.
Truth is, without assholes we're all full of shit.

It's a Dog's Life (River's)

River recently had his sixth birthday, so here is a brief look back at his life.

The first 8 months or so of his existence are not known to me exactly, but I've put together a picture, based on his behavior and idiosyncrasies.

2011
Born in January and mostly likely separated from his mother at an early age, he was encouraged to fight with other dogs. Due to a genetic knee deformity, he experienced a great deal of pain in the rear legs. Sitting and lying down properly were too uncomfortable and running for any length of time resulted in days of limping afterwards. He was probably, therefore, not a good fighter. He was smacked on the head by a big man who drank; sometimes using his hands and sometimes a broomstick. In August, he was tied to a stairwell in a park near the waterfront and abandoned. By the time he was discovered there and taken into the animal shelter, he was gaunt and his ribs, hips and vertebrae were visible under his skin.


I found him in the shelter almost immediately after they brought him in; before they were even able to register him and give him his temperament tests. I fell instantly for him so they let me take him home as long as I first waited five days to give the original owner time to claim him. Once those five days passed, I had to pay for him to be neutered before they'd let me take him home.

Right away, his behavior was off the hook. He would snarl and attempt to attack anyone who would engage with him, but we'd laugh it off as being 'cute, puppy behavior'.  At the same time, using techniques learned from carefully studying Cesar Milan (The Dog Whisperer) I attempted to tame him to no avail. My hands and fingers were constantly bleeding and my arms were all scratched up from our daily skirmishes outside as I tried to walk with him.

Inside, when we played, his version of playing looked to me like fighting. I let him be in charge of when and how we'd play, thinking he instinctively knew what was best. I found out later that this sort of playing with him was only exacerbating his nervous anxiety.



2012
I relentlessly worked at calming the pooch. The Alpha Dog technique of Cesar Milan was not working. It only seemed to anger River further and certainly wasn't making his issues any more manageable. So I switched gears and found a positive reinforcement model of training.

DogWorks is a local puppy training school that we enrolled him in.  The idea was to only acknowledge and reward the positive behavior. However, we were not at a place where there was ANY positive behavior to latch onto. He was wild, fearful and reactive to everything and everyone so the large majority of this technique was unusable for us.

River did well at the obedience part, when food was a reward, but wouldn't give me the time of day if I wasn't promising a treat. To solve this, I never went anywhere without some food in a satchel to bribe him and/or distract him with.

We spent several months this way and River became expert at following my commands. He would be extremely excited, but would SIT, SPIN, SHAKE, STAY, etc. like a champ. Basically, I'd tell him Good Boy when he did what I asked and admonish him with "No!" when he didn't. It was a very high energy, highly verbal exchange. But we labeled it as 'fun, excited dog' in our naivety.

And the food and obedience only held him until such a time that he was derailed by meeting a person or dog out in the real world. He was terrified and lashed out with what looked like aggression, but I later came to learn it was his defense mechanism from fear.

By this time he has bitten several people. I was OK with him biting me, as I was getting in his face and trying to train him, so I could forgive him for lashing out at me.  But when he bit strangers who only wanted to pet him or play with him, or that were ignoring him altogether but just "didn't smell right", that was definitely not OK and indicated to me that what we were doing wasn't working well enough.

River was so anti-social, that we were eventually forbidden to return to the Dog Day Care center. It was unsafe to have anyone over, even when we were home, so having someone come and sit with River while we were gone was out of the question. And he would howl and dig ferociously when I left him alone in the house, so I became bound to the home.

I all but gave up on having a social life and I designed my working life so that I could take River with me wherever I went. This arrangement was not ideal for anyone, as no one really needs a dog to be present at the gym in an exercise class, and driving from place to place, meeting a new roomful of excited women each day increased the anxiety of an already highly volatile creature.  But all I could do was take him along with me and do my best to keep him safe.

Eventually it would get to the point where I had to ask everyone we met to completely ignore him, just so he could be calm and make it through life.

2013
Things were staying at this level of danger. I was starting to think that our entire life together was going to be spent on Orange Alert! Determined to break through the fear into the sweet dog I hoped was lurking underneath, I switched tactics once again.

I Googled "Help, my pit bull is aggressive!" and I found our third trainer. This time I hired a guy who specialized in troubled pit bulls and worked with police dogs. His technique was known as European Training, in some circles. It was a controversial method, but I was already convinced, after failing at both Dog Whispering and Good Boy methods, that River needed something more.

The K-9 Nitro technique introduced us to yet another piece of equipment.  We had already had him in a flat collar, a chest harness and a nose lead. None of those afforded me much control over him, nor did any of the associated techniques afford him any modicum of control over himself. So we now ventured into the prong collar.

The theory was that if a puppy misbehaved, its mother might nip it in the neck as a form of discipline. And the specific type of tug we were taught to give on the leash would make the prongs in the collar nip at his neck in the same way.

At first, I was amazed at how well it worked on River. When trainer used the technique, it looked a bit like bullying at first, but once River settled down and accepted what was going on, it grounded him so well. He was actually walking at my side for the first time in our lives, so I was forced to accept the training technique, warts and all.

Working with this technique, I eventually got River to walk alongside me and to stop when I stopped. It seemed to reach down deeper than any of the techniques we'd tried to date. He could, on occasion, be led right by a potential trigger and not react. And furthermore, if he did react, the prongs were such a strong statement on his neck that it would distract him from the source of his ire long enough to calm him and get him out of harms way. We got to the point where our trainer introduced us to the cinch collar. This was basically a rope doubled on itself. It sat loosely on his neck unless he pulled on it, which caused it to tighten and grasp his neck.  He also showed me a method for getting the dog to follow me without pulling on his neck. It required a lot of changing directions and getting in front of the dog.

So far none of the techniques we had explored allowed us to walk pleasantly and normally down the street. He required constant undivided attention. I could never look at my phone, enjoy the flowers or trees, or even get lost in my own head while we were out on a walk. Not only did he require direct hands on attention at all times, but it required full use of both hands and an attitude of alertness to predict any dangers around us for 360 degrees. I became a ninja out of necessity.

It wasn't easy, but it seemed to be working... for a while. Gradually, though, he seemed to grow tolerant to the technique. I started to need to 'remind' him more and more often, and use more and more force in the reminders. Eventually we got to the place where I'd be violently correcting him several times each block. My arms would get tired from all the corrections every few steps, so I can't imagine how awful it must have been for his neck.

And then, like all other techniques we had used so far, River eventually stopped responding to it, and our trainer told us he didn't know what else he could do.

It was also at this time that I decided we couldn't go on with his poor, defective knees. So River went under the knife (laser, actually) and had both of his knees properly aligned. After the short recovery period, he was like a brand new dog and could run and play at the beach all day with no ill effects.

2014
I was at my wit's end. I was ready to give up and surrender the dog as a hopeless aggressive case. He has bitten at least half a dozen people by now, or maybe even ten or more by this point.  Fortunately, none of the bites were very bad. And interestingly, all of them were in the hands. He's never bitten any other body part. And were it not for my lightning fast reflexes, pulling him out of a lunge time and time again, the number of casualties would have been much higher.

I was searching for help on the Internet again and I found an online obedience program that promised to be different than all others because it claimed to be based on communicating to the dog in the way that dogs communicate with each other. So I signed up for that online course called "How To Speak So Your Dog Will Listen."

That course gave me a whole new perspective on what a dog's world view is like and how to get responses out of them by acting like they'd act with each other. Rather than commanding him, I learned how to make him WANT to come to me and to stick by me.  I learned how to become attractive to him, and I also learned healthy, effective ways for me to help him release some of his pent up emotions.

River responded immediately to this method and we were very happy for several months.  But gradually, he adapted to it and I found him pushing the boundaries of acceptable behavior once again.

Despondent and desperate, I was in a bookstore one day, in the Pets section and I happened on a book called Your Dog Is Your Mirror. I noticed that the author of the book was credited as the creator of the Natural Dog Training technique that 'How To Speak So Your Dog Will Listen' was based on, so I picked up the book and perused it.

Kevin Behan helped me understand even more about River and his behavior. It was at this time that I first learned that River was a 'sensitive' dog and that his terrible behavior was a manifestation of his fear and confusion. I devoured the book and also got his first book, called Natural Dog Training. I loved what I was learning. I also went to a weekend seminar on the technique and visited Kevin at his farm in Vermont for a weekend of training.

Kevin and the people who studied his work helped River and I break through many barriers. I was educated on a whole new paradigm. I was taught how dogs "think" (or more accurately, how they process the world around them, emotionally) and given a specific regimen of training that would help River settle into being whole again. I was taught that most of the obedience training I was doing only served to excite him further but offered no sense of satisfaction for him.

I worked for several months to train River to do the five basic core exercises, BARK, PUSH, STAY, COLLECT and TUG. The theory was that all other actions are based on those basic canine behaviors. River had a heck of a time releasing whatever pent up emotions had prevented him from barking, but eventually I got it out of him, and now he can warn me with a bark whenever he's upset by something, and I can help him to avoid the situation.

All of the other exercises have real life applications, as well, and they all helped to calm and ground him.

2016
He is improving and is more manageable than he's ever been.  And yet there are still leaks; places where the training doesn't quite cover him and his bad behaviors sneak out. I'm still on high alert around every corner. I still have no options for boarding him and have to be extremely cautious anytime anyone comes over to the house or wants to pet and/or approach him out in public.  He's a gorgeous dog, so he gets lots of attention and people always want to pet him, which he hates.

It took me this long to finally come to terms with the reality that I need to tell people, "You can't pet him. He's aggressive. He bites."  I was letting my pride get in the way of reality until recently. I wanted River to be an ambassador to the breed, but as it turns out, he's more accurately an example of why people are and should be cautious around pit bulls.

At the end of 2016, we returned home after an epic five-month long adventure on the road. It took a while for River to get settled back into home life in Seattle, but once he did, I started to notice the aggressive behavior popping up more and more and with more vigor and power. He seemed to be especially excitable right in front of our house. I figured it was territorial behavior.

I found myself at my wits end again and really exhausted from five years of struggling with this. Finally, I didn't know what else to do and made arrangements for his euthanasia. I couldn't live with myself knowing I had allowed such a beast to continue to live, considering the undeniable, strong evidence that he was a dangerous animal. I lived my life in fear every day; fear of him biting the face off of a child on the sidewalk or fear of him snapping at a litigious attorney who would end up owning my house. It has been my experience, throughout River's life, that everyone gives him the benefit of the doubt to a fault. So, it was for this reason that I wasn't comfortable surrendering him to another family. Not only would River have been doubly miserable and terrified to be living with someone besides me, but they wouldn't know how careful one needs to be around him and may find themselves on the business end of a serious dog attack.

Tearfully, I surrendered him to the vet, who was supportive of my decision. They coached me on how it was sometimes the best, most humane thing to do, and sometimes it's the only responsible thing to do. Probably because I was such an obvious blubbering mess, they suggested I first board him for three days before taking the plunge. I agreed.

I cried all night the first night he was away. I struggled with the feelings that I was a murderer, that I was being selfish, that I didn't try hard enough, or that I was actually responsible for creating his predicament. Nothing could console me.

I weakened and went back to visit him at the vet the next day. I asked them if I could take him for what I thought was going to be our last walk together. We went to a favorite park and I didn't try to get him to do anything. I just enjoyed his company. He didn't seem to get himself into any trouble and our walk was as pleasant as could be. It almost as if he knew he was being scrutinized within an inch of his life and was on his best behavior.

When I returned him to his cage at the vet, I expressed my conflict to the technician, who suggested I put him on anxiety medication. I was hesitant to go back, now that I had come to terms with the painful reality of his being gone. I was afraid that if I did, and it didn't work out, I'd have to go through the pain of mourning all over again. But I figured it would at least allow me to say I honestly tried everything before giving up, so I agreed to get him started on Trazodone and took him home again.

2017
We started him on 100mg, and as he grew tolerant, kept increasing it. Now, River has been on 200mg of Trazodone daily for a couple of months. As with everything we've ever tried for him, it did wonders in the beginning and then he slowly adjusts and builds a tolerance to it, which brings his undesirable behavior back. We have permission to eventually up his daily dosage as high as 300mg, but have yet to go there.

These days I'm working very closely with the vet on River, his attitude and behavior and his future. I do find that he's generally a lot more calm. He's able to spend time alone now, which is something he'd never been able to do before. Even right now, as I type this, I'm on the third floor and he's in his crate on the second floor.

He still gets riled up at the sight of most other dogs, and occasionally to a certain energy in people. But now his reaction is a lot more normal. He will bark at them, but stay put near me and eventually respond when told to stop acting like a fool. Whereas in the past, he would be inconsolable and be lunging toward the offending party, looking to do some damage, now he's able to shake it right off and turn around and sniff a bush.

So now the euthanasia is on the back burner while we see what develops with the new drugged down version of River. I'm encouraged that he's a lot more grounded, even if he's not the happy-go-lucky dog I would have loved him to be. But he's able to recover from his upsets now and that's all that really matters in life, right?  No one can expect to go through life without being upset, but what makes the difference in our quality of life is how quickly we are able to return to our center after being knocked off base.

We are hoping for a good 2017 as River looks forward to his seventh year.
Some ways in which River needs to be treated differently than most dogs:

No Talking.  -  Hearing your voice only excited him unnecessarily. Dogs don't speak English and aren't accustomed to using vocalizations to communicate. They use body language.

Don't Touch -  For whatever reason, River doesn't enjoy being pet. Especially by someone he doesn't know. Even I, whom he trusts completely, am not allowed to touch his head. He tolerates it, but he flinches.  When I am truly in tune with his needs and not only concerned with my own, I can clearly see that he'd rather I didn't pet him.  Since being on Trazodone, he has calmed to the point where he can enjoy being scratched, but only VERY lightly and only on the rear aspect of his body. Never on  his head.

No Eye Contact -  Contrary to popular belief, it is bad manners to look into a dog's eyes. Many people say, "I do it to my dog all the time and she's fine." But that doesn't mean it isn't polite. It means that your dog is tolerating your inappropriate behavior because you feed her every day. In the world of a dog, if another being locks eye contact, it is a challenge. The dog can choose how she accepts the challenge, and could simply walk away, but River is so heightened and nervous that his response to eye contact is to panic.

No Eating Indoors - I have to take River outside for his dinner. And I don't put his food in a bowl and let him devour it, but I give him each bite directly by hand. Every day at dinnertime we reinforce his five core exercises. He earns every morsel.

No You Can't Say Hi -  Please don't approach or engage River. He can't handle it. You can admire him from afar. By the way, the way dogs enjoy each other is not by touching each other and cooing and telling each other that they're so handsome.  Dogs enjoy each other by running after something together. or pulling it apart in a tug of war. They spend quality time by standing near each other, breathing at the same rate, smelling each other's pee.... etc.  But they don't face each other unless they're in conflict.

Don't Say His Name - I'm training River to come to me when I call his name. I do this by being consistent with a food reward every time I say "River" and he comes to me. There is a problem when people are meeting us and they ask 'What's his name?" and I answer "River." He hears that, but it doesn't result in food, so it weakens the power of the word. And then, they always repeat his name to him, "River! You're so handsome," further diffusing the power.  SO I came up with a new idea.  Anytime someone asks me his name, I'll answer "Easy". EASY is a command I've used to encourage River to relax, ground and collect himself. He might respond by sitting or lying down, or maybe just by relaxing the tension he was holding. But it's a very useful tool for us to have. When a stranger is engaging with us is the perfect time for me to tell him 'Easy'.  And then, the stranger will also remind him to take it "easy" when they repeat his 'name' to him.  I think the results will be much more pleasant for River in this experience then it is when we're using his name, and no stranger needs to know his real name.

JAGs POV: This whole experience with River has taught me a lot about myself and human nature as well as about what really makes dogs tick. Most of us can go through our entire lives without coming to terms with how dogs really are because they fit so nicely into our own assumption about them. (unless they're severely damaged and need special treatment.)

I've learned that people think they know about things that they don't know anything about. I have gotten so much unsolicited advice from people who have never worked a single day with River. Sometimes, someone who's only seen River for less than five minutes will have the gaul to tell me that what I'm doing is inappropriate. This upsets me incredibly, as they have no idea how much I love and care for the dog and how much work I've done for and with him.  And while I recognize that some of the methods we have used over the years don't look so pleasant, I'm not an asshole for doing them. It's what the dog needs.  So please, people, keep your opinions to yourself when you feel like you need to correct what I'm doing with my dog. You have no idea!

I've also learned to cultivate my own levels of patience and understanding. I tend to do things quickly and with full steam ahead, and River's needs have helped me move more slowly and relaxed.

I've also learned a lot about the pain of having expectations. River is nowhere near the dog I wanted, but he's the dog I have. I can be miserable when I try to make him the dog I wanted, or I can be happy and enjoy the dog I have.