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60. (…..Exit-o…..)

There came a time when Benny felt ready to get a dog. He decided to rescue one from an animal shelter, and had found one not too far away. When he walked through the door, there was someone standing behind the front desk with her hand around a steaming mug on the counter, which was caught nicely by a spot of sunlight from the front window (that she seemed unaware of because she was looking away). He could tell it was spiced chai latte when he, and his nose, got closer.

He had called ahead to check that there might be a suitable mutt on hand (and she must have been the one he spoke to) and he was told there were a few small and medium dogs they had available for adoption.

Once taken through to where the animals were kept, standing out from the line up of potential new best-friends was a medium sized biscuit-coloured dog with a happy grin. “He came in not long ago,” she said, “and we haven’t even given him a name yet. He didn’t come in with one, and we’ve just been calling him Boy. But he’s had all the health checks.” She said the dog was already de-sexed, and seemed to be familiar with some commands, like ‘sit’ and ‘stay’, so must have had some basic training at some stage.

She said he had a microchip but it wasn’t on the animal register, and they were going to fix that. “Did you have a name in mind Ben?” Before coming to the shelter he had been thinking that maybe Fang would be a good name, and a bit out there too, but right then had a sudden re-think and with a slight motion towards her mug said “Maybe chai… he’s the right colour.” She thought that would be a nice name for a dog.

I must admit that there was also in this choice a subtle nod towards our old dog Milo, who had been a darker brown colour — another grinning friend from long ago.

“Before we look at the paperwork, why don’t you take him for a short walk, just to make sure you’ll be comfortable with him,” she said. “There’s a big grass area over there that’s part of the shelter’s grounds,” and she put on an old leash for Benny to use. “Try a few commands, and practice being in control. Like make sure you walk through gates or doorways first, before he does, to show you’re in charge. It’s good to get him to sit” (and he sat) “before crossing a road, and try a command to get him to start walking again.”

She suggested ‘release’, as it doesn’t sound like many other everyday words, so shouldn’t be confusing, and when she said that the dog (or Chai as he’ll learn to be called), stood up like he was ready to walk. “Hey! You know, he must have been to obedience classes. I’ve heard some trainers actually use the word ‘release’, that’s why I suggested it. He must have heard it before too. You know what, why don’t I come with you for a short try-out walk. We can even go along the streets around here and try a few commands. We’ll find out what he can do.”

So they all three walked out into the sun, to test for that previous training, and also for Benny to start to get to know his new friend. He was glad he had made this decision, and felt no regrets.

 

END
< Chapter 59 …a concluding verse…

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59. “Look what I can do”

Benny remembered being told that the jelly desert wouldn’t set any faster if he kept checking on it in the fridge, that it will just have to set in its own good time, but will probably take longer if he keeps opening that door, so he’d better leave it alone.

The ants in his pants came from the fact that it was one of the first times he had ‘cooked’ something, so he was naturally keen to see that it worked. Not only did he want to be the first to dig his spoon into that smooth red wobblyness, but he was also looking forward to showing off the results — until then, he hadn’t really thought he might grow up to be a famous chef.

Sometimes I was reminded of that childhood moment of his, especially on those occasions when it became obvious that our boy was getting a little too expectant of a grand payoff of some kind or an imagined standing ovation on the back of another achievement of his. Okay, so he wasn’t shouting ‘look what I can do, look at me’ anymore, but sometimes I knew that the urge was there.

But this attitude, the hunt for recognition or looking for approval, the thought of winning certain laurels because of whatever he was successfully occupied with at that time, seemed to primarily work to dilute any aspired-to outcome. An expectation of kudos, or hope for praise, certainly got in the way of Benny actually appreciating what he had managed to bring about, and looking around for a pat on the back tended to make his otherwise solid achievements a little more rickety than they should have been.

Not that this happened very much these days, but I’ll have to try to be a little more vocal about these sorts of things as they arise. But that’s no problem. And it’s good to be needed!

 

(Don’t expect applause)
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58. Stop splashing around in the shallow end

“I had a song in my head that was terrible and I just couldn’t get rid of it” (actually I didn’t think it was that bad) “and I had the thought that wouldn’t it be tragic if I was hit by a car or something… I mean that would be tragic anyway… but I mean wouldn’t it be privately tragic because only I would know, if that stupid tune became the thing that was playing in my head for the last time. There’d be nothing I could do to change that. And then, even though I’d be the only one to realise it, that dumb song would become the soundtrack for that last scene of my life.”

Every now and then, Benny would surprise me by indulging in something really trivial or puerile. I wish he wouldn’t do that. It seems very much at these times like he’s just paddling about in the shallow end of a swimming pool, like he’s avoiding actually getting some real exercise by his splashing around there and not swimming toward the deeper end. He shouldn’t waste his precious time, frittering it away on frivolities. He knows better.

 

(Don’t be frivolous)
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57. What other-side-of-the-fence?

“I like that saying about the grass always being greener on the other side of the fence, when people are talking about being envious or jealous about what other people have. I think one of the reasons it seemed more intriguing for me than it probably would have for anyone else came about from when I first heard it years ago, and that had something to do with a misconception that formed in my younger head at the time.

“I’d imagined that there was some interesting science fact at play… that when you look at grass from a more side-on angle the light or something else physical made it look greener than when you saw it more from directly above. I was quickly put straight about the real meaning, and it all made sense then, although I didn’t really think I’d missed the point completely.”

Apart from feeling a little silly at the time, the picture in his mind that young Benny was left with was a residual impression of wandering through grassy paddocks judging all the greenness that was going on. I know that his ‘liking’ the grass-is-greener phrase had a lot to do with his having to be corrected about its intended meaning, because by then he had started to conceive the connected idea that an initially perceived ‘better’ greenness could fade to a usual same-old greenness once approached — although he then mixed this up with also imagining the affect somehow resulting from something like those temporary particles on your eye that float away when you try to look at them, but edge back into almost-view when you give up.

The appeal for our Benny was that his original misconception could be somehow justified if the imagined outcome of being envious about greener grass was that the inviting other-side-of-the-fence patch of pasture would fade to ordinariness once you got a closer look or were standing right on it. I did what I could to maintain the appeal of his idea, as it was also quite thoughtful and, I thought, added to the general thrust of the original saying.

“Anyway, it’s worth remembering. Envy’s a pretty useless thing to get yourself caught up with. I’d rather just get on with it.”

 

(Don’t be jealous)
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56. Music for the pity party

“There’s been a few times when I’ve wondered if I’m just showing myself up to be a dill by all the self-criticism I put myself through sometimes. When I look around I’m not always convinced that other people have made such a fuss over things, or even bothered to think about situations at all. And what difference does it make anyway? It doesn’t seem like there are very many people who are worse or better off than me — I mean everyone’s pretty much on par aren’t they, although I suppose it’s hard to tell.

“The trouble is, I feel stuck with this. It’s a bit hard to turn off.”

The pity party continued for a while and was as annoying this time as every other time Benny fell to wallowing in it. And I knew he was wrong about there being little difference made. What we’ve uncovered are insights, and what’s wrong with that? And what he did get right this time, about not being able to turn it off, is a benefit he should be better acquainted with. In other words Benny boy, toughen up and get used to it.

 

(Don’t wallow in self pity)
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55. In the dark undergrowth

One thing that Benny didn’t mention about our older family member was that he was also fond of telling a joke or two, usually what might have been called ‘dad’ jokes, only of course these were uncle jokes. One that comes to mind, and that will be seen as relevant after certain notions have been teased out, concerned a leaky roof, with the thrust of the humour being that the person who lived under that roof didn’t fix it when it was leaking because then it would be raining outside, but also didn’t think to repair it in dry weather because it wasn’t leaking then.

The leaky-roof joke came back to me (but not really to Benny out there) one afternoon, no doubt prompted by a similar conceptual twist that grew in Benny’s thoughts. In the instance at hand it was the flash of white anger that had him clutching at his car’s steering wheel after another driver cut him off.

After calming down, it occurred to Benny that a while ago he had come to a conclusion about the uselessness of getting riled up or letting anything really get under his skin — especially when nothing could be done to change the outcome that he was left with — and he was reminded about the promise he’d made to himself that he would try to not go there. And it was at this juncture, for me at least, that a connection to the leaky roof twist could be dimly made out — that the problem was only discernable as a problem when it came into view… but when not out there or present in the here and now, simply didn’t seem to be a problem anymore.

And it was this hidden-in-the-bushes state that allowed it to remain undealt with.

It’s like that scenario that was mentioned not too far back, about learning all about a new device or appliance — instructions are okay, but the real lessons only sink in once you start hitting some buttons.

In this case, it seemed Benny could learn a lot from pushing his own buttons (even in an imaginary or analytical way), and try to ignite that useless anger in order to be able to deal with it, or at least to track its presence in the dark undergrowth.

With some honest examination, it would also become obvious that there was more than just anger to be dragged out and dealt with. There were elements within that if not recognised and shown in the clear light of day could ride under the surface interminably. It was a challenge for him, but I will certainly help, and I’m sure any effort made will prove to be a relief.

 

(Liberate yourself by examining and analysing)
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54. Make an effort, not an excuse

“I think I’ve already mentioned my Uncle Ted — he was a great guy and I really missed him. Although he was one of those practical types, he was always coming up with sayings, you know, pieces of wisdom, mottos to live by, that sort of thing, which I suppose he’d heard sometime somewhere and because they made sense he must have kept a mental file of sayings to bring out if one fitted the circumstances.

“Like he once said, after I’d made a blunder, something like how I should ‘forget the mistake, but remember the lesson’. It was that sort of saying that I’m talking about, usually old-timey but a lot of them made sense… I think I only realised that much later, when I was remembering back to the days when Uncle Ted was around.

“One that came back to me recently was ‘make an effort, not an excuse’. At the time I was doing just that, going at things in a half-arsed way and just making excuses for myself for the obvious fact that I wasn’t getting anywhere and just going through the motions.

“But the thing is, once I’d pulled myself together and really put in, in a wholehearted way, it really did make a difference.”

 

(Train wholeheartedly)
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53. Conquering hesitation rock

At a particular ocean beach at a holiday spot a couple of hours from where Benny grew up, and which he visited with his family a few times in his younger days, there was a wide and deep tide pool that formed in the seaweed covered rock shelf at low tide. The pool was close in to shore where the sandy beach ended and the rocky shelf began, which made it easy to get to. As well there was a large rock formation that rose up in a rough shape right next to the tidal pool. This made the pool a favourite for summer adventurers, both young and old, to jump into. Not only was the top of the rock, which happened to be right above the water, not too high (about six metres) but there was also a secondary jumping point on the same side only about four metres up — much more acceptable for the more nervous types who were not quite ready for the big jump. And although you could see the bottom, the pool was deep enough for the high divers — it was also very wide, so was a big target.

Another positive was that there were few inward overhanging sides to the pool, which made it seem safer because there were no lurking edges, and one section on the shore side usually seemed tentatively joined to the beach by having a steep sandy bank sloping down nearly all the way to the bottom, which made it much easier to get in and out. Years later Benny was reminded about that pool, and that it didn’t fill with sand, while watching a nature show on TV about intertidal zones, and that the reason his holiday rock pool probably didn’t have a lot more sand in it could have been because of the combined action of waves and incoming tides, which would most likely have scooped out any extra sand that otherwise would have kept sliding in.

Being at the top of the high rock was an issue for our younger Benny, and he could never quite work up the required gumption to take that final leap. From the lower ledge, yes… he could do that, after a few tries, and when everyone else he was with did it. But not way up there on the top. Benny had of course climbed up to that upper jumping spot on a few occasions, had stood there with his toes near the edge, looking over and down into the clear water below, with voices from down there somewhere urging him to jump. He even felt himself making tentative advances, then retreats, ‘should I’, ‘shouldn’t I’, going forward, backing away, ‘maybe another look’, ‘no not ready yet’ sort of approaches. But it was always too much of an ask for him to make the final decision and step out from the solid rock and into the waiting airspace. It was a particular vacillation he remembered in conjunction with that occasional summer destination, the leaving of which invariably concluded with a pact to really try to make the jump next time — a pledge which was repeated until he actually did it, in the last summer before getting his learner driving permit.

That was an amazing experience for the Benny of that time, who had just started to wake up. Much later he would realise just how many efforts, not just on that rock but in many circumstances, can be stymied just through having vacillated in the first place. That back-and-forth can be unnecessary on so many occasions, and it seems to be done just through fear of making a mistake. In a way, he should have been making as many mistakes as possible, and in that way learn to not make them again. Later it would slowly crystallise; if there was one main thing that resulted from his vacillating, it was that he became better at it.

 

(Don’t vacillate)
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52. Reprioritising is rarely done on whimsy

“I once gave a Rubik’s cube as a birthday present to an eight year old who was turning nine, and the way it was packaged had it in the ‘solved’ position, with each side having the same colour squares. When we took it out of course the first thing she did was to start mixing it up, twisting the sides this way and that to mix up all the colours. She seemed to enjoy that part. After a while I said the real trick was to get it back like it was in the packet. But maybe I’d let her twist it up for too long before saying so — I left her to it, and found out later that she had sat with that mixed up cube trying to twist it back into place for a long long time, although at some stage she had managed to get three same-colour squares lined up along one edge. Apparently when she went to bed that night it was still in a mixed-up state on the floor — and I know I would have been the same, although I’d probably have given up earlier. I would never have been able to solve that puzzle without some help, especially when I was younger like her… I’d usually not be able to stick with efforts like that for very long.

“But the next time I came by, one of the first things she showed me was the solved Rubik’s cube, with each face one colour. I was very impressed — that is, until her parents told me she’d actually gone to the trouble of carefully peeling off the coloured stickers on each little square and sticking them back in the solved positions. And when I looked more closely I could see that they weren’t exactly square-on. You had to smile at that. It was an obvious and simple hack, but also kind of clever in a nine-year-old sort of way, especially if she thought up the sticker-swap trick by herself. And anyway, who cares, although I remember wondering if the cube would still be solvable like that.”

So Benny could see that obviously the intention of the puzzle was lost on our nine year old, whose attention was drawn first to the twistiness of it, and only later to the goal of trying to have uniformly coloured sides. But it was her sideways solution of how to achieve that end result (and now he wondered if he’d been sold a cheaper version) that became the seed of his later understanding of this sort of approach as a phenomenon seen in many others along the way. Benny’s retelling of the fate of that birthday present was no random recollection, but was prompted by the displays of others that mirrored such misinterpretations of purpose. Not specific incidents in this case, but as a general acknowledgement.

I’m sure a lot of people know someone who has the knack of being able to re-set the focus of a lot of situations so that their own take on things gels, at least in their own minds, as ‘correct’. It’s a skill that’s not really under the heading of twisted logic, but a sort of reprioritising. Actually that’s not a good way to label what I’m talking about, because it’s not a skill and half the time I’m sure there’s no real priority; it’s more of a recasting of a situation to suit their own agenda. The way that people can re-write personal history is an example. It’s a way for many to disguise either what they don’t quite ‘get’, or else their own failures, as attempts at something positive. And then there are the simpler examples (not necessarily done through volition) of someone paying lip service to good intentions when their focus and attention are really drawn elsewhere.

The Rubik’s reminder may need rekindling now and then.

 

(Don’t misinterpret)
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