Thankful (ver. 2)

I believe that Max is a very thankful dog. While I don’t know all that goes on in his head, it is not hard to tell he is grateful when he comes running up with tail wagging or when he flashes his loving, puppy dog eyes.

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He is definitely thankful for food and walks and attention. And he is thankful for us finally getting out of bed in the morning after he has been whining for an hour.

I think he is thankful that I only dress him up in costume a couple of times a year.

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And in the spirit of the week, I’d like to share a few of the reasons I am thankful for Max.

I am thankful that Max stopped knocking over the trash can and eating out of it this year.

I am thankful that Max reminds me of how much I need to rake leaves by rolling around in them and then dragging them in all over the house.

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I am thankful that Max is remarkably chill. I am reminded of this fact every time we are around other more hyperactive dogs. Max hardly ever barks and never scratches at doors. I am thankful that even though he doesn’t really obey commands to stay or come, he does remember how to act reasonably civilized.

I am thankful that he at least waits an hour before destroying a new toy.

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I am thankful that Max loves people and that he is always eager to meet a new friend.

I am thankful for his “fierce” protection.

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I am thankful that Max enjoys evening walks, even when I don’t let him sniff every little thing.

I am thankful for all the laughs he gives us.

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I am thankful that he provides me so much material to think and write about.

I am thankful that on my really busy days, he reminds me to slow down and appreciate the moment.

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I am thankful that Max is authentically himself, and that he embraces me just as I am.

And, of course, I am thankful for his cute face.

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Max has taught me much about being thankful for the nice, good, fun things in life, but he has also taught me to try to enter all the other parts of life with a spirit of thankfulness.

So, Max, we are thankful for you. Thanks for being you and for being a part of our lives.

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Act Your Age

A little over a week ago, we celebrated Max’s 6th birthday. Happy birthday Max!

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To be honest, I thought it was his 5th birthday, and I would have stuck by that if Erin had not been sure I was wrong. After looking back at his earliest records, I was wrong, he is definitely 6.

It’s hard to believe because for a dog that age is starting to sound a little old. I certainly hope he has much longer to live, but for some reason 5 still sounds closer to puppy age and 6 is definitely in a different category.

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And yet, Max still acts as wild and crazy as he always has. Just yesterday we went out for a walk and when we got to the gate he was so hyper that he started making laps around the backyard. We still wrestle every now and then and he is just as fierce as ever.

I know that it is hard for me to see any changes because I live with him everyday. Any development is so gradual that it is often imperceptible. But also, I just can’t bring myself to call this guy mature…

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I don’t really know what it would look like for a dog to act its age at year 6, but I keep expecting for Max to start mellowing out. In fact, many days I eagerly hope he starts mellowing out so that he doesn’t freak out when we pass other dogs on walks. But in the same breath I am grateful that he is active and healthy and I hope he maintains that liveliness as long as possible.

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Max has taught me that it is really difficult to determine what it means for anyone to act their age. We were walking this week and we passed some people building a house. As we passed, a guy on the roof started doing a hilarious dance. It was a moment of sheer goofiness, but also complete authenticity. I thought, what is that grown man doing dancing like that? Then I laughed and thought, good for him.

Similarly, when I see Max do some of the weird things he does, I wonder what is that dog doing sleeping like that? Factoring in dog years, he’s quite a bit older than me now. But then I laugh and think, good for him.

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Max has revealed a sort of existential question I continue to think about more and more. What does it mean to act my age? I can’t stay out late at wedding receptions as long as I used to, but I also still do a lot of stuff late at night and I like to make goofy videos. I am definitely still very young, but at what point does the switch flip to feeling and acting a different age?

And then Max teaches me that acting my age is ultimately about being authentically me. Acting my age is much less about acting, and much more about being myself. In a way, it is impossible not to act my age, because I am who I am.

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Now, I want to be clear that such authenticity doesn’t mean anything goes. There is certainly maturity that develops over my whole life. And there are societal and moral values that I must continue to uphold. But really, those don’t change just because of age. Respect of others, promotion of justice, and compassionate love are involved in being any age. Authenticity is no pass for gross misconduct toward other people.

And yet, true authenticity is key to acting my age. Max reminds me that I shouldn’t put on a mask trying to present myself differently just because I am older. Acting my age is about continual growth – developing the ways I can live more and more in loving, just relation with all people. But it also means I do that in an authentic way.

So thank you Max for acting your age – being authentically you at all times. I look forward to growing with you year after year and learning more from you as you get older and wiser. I may still laugh at some of the weird things you do, but I also think, good for you for being you.

Happy Howloween 2017!

Max never misses an oppawtunity to bring you some hair-raising howloween fun. For the fourth year in a row, Max is costumed up to the k-nines and you are furtunate enough to get a glimpse!

Livin’ that pupster life, man.

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Max is the ultimutt champion!

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But he may have played a little too ruff. Would someone please call the dogtor?

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Well hello there Mr. Hairy Trueman.

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Max insists on the golden standard of video gaming.

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And when he doesn’t get his way, beware…Mad Max: Furry Road

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Tune in Fridays on the Fido Network to learn how to make the perfect puppy chow with Barka Stewart.

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Layin’ down some jazzy beats with Max Pooch.

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This muttchanic is no tool. He’ll get even the ruffest jobs done.

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I hope you don’t have trouble retrieving your lines. I’ve head this director is impawsible to work with.

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No more tricks for this guy, just some much deserved treats!

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Thank you, Max, for giving us all a happy howloween!

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There’s plenty more where this came from. Check out year 1, year 2, and year 3 of costumed madness!

The Rules of the Game

Max likes games, but since I never really took the time to teach him how to play, he doesn’t know how any typical dog games are supposed to go.

Or maybe he does know and he just insists on playing by his own rules.

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Every now and then I get the urge to try to play fetch with him. It usually goes something like this: I walk out into the yard wherever he last left the ball. He gets really excited because I’m doing something he could potentially be involved in. (It’s important to note that this is the same level of excitement he shows when I sit on the couch -not something he can really be involved in-, or when I start making dinner -again, not something he can be involved in. So, his level of excitement is not a good indicator of actual involvement…)

After I pick up the ball, he focuses solely on it. I think, “Cool, we are doing this.” And I throw the ball. Max runs after it, but instead of bringing it back to me as a RETRIEVER probably should, he takes it away to a different part of the yard and lays down with it.

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Max clearly does not understand how the game fetch works and how fun it is to keep up the cycle of chasing and retrieving. What I’ve begun to suspect Max does understand is how fun keep away is.

Either Max is really clueless (and I might answer that differently depending on the day) or Max thinks that fetch is “keep away.”

I can’t help but come to the conclusion that Max is legitimately playing a different game than I am.

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And it is not just in fetch/keep away. Every now and then I get the urge to play tug of war with Max. It usually goes something like this. I see a toy where Max has left it on the living room floor. I pick it up. Max gets really excited because I’m doing something he could potentially be involved in…

After I pick up the toy, he focuses on it and I think, “Cool, let’s do this.” I extend the toy to him, he latches on and we do start tugging for a while. It is clear that Max knows he is not supposed to let go. Things are going a little better than fetch at this point.

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Max is pretty rough with the toy, and I’ve noticed that he usually readjusts his grip to catch the weakest part. It’s a weird strategy.

Then, if I let go (to make him think he has a chance, of course), he runs off with the toy and starts chewing on it to try to rip it to shreds. That is not tug of war.

Max clearly does not understand how the game tug of war works and how fun it is to have whole, not chewed up toys, to play it with.

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I’ve begun to suspect that Max thinks that tug of war is actually “tear stuff up.” And he legitimately likes to play the game tear stuff up with me – allowing me to hold in place what he wants to tear up.

Max and I are simply not playing the same games.

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Now this could be a nice lesson in which I learn how valuable it is to take someone else’s point of view and see how the world is fundamentally different for them than it is for me. I would otherwise have no clue why Max is such a weirdo when it comes to normal dog games. But in stepping into his paws for a second, I can begin to see this other possibility.

But I’m just competitive enough, that the first lesson I actually learned from all this is that playing different games means that we each think the other person is losing really badly. Max is owning me in keep away because I just keep throwing the ball away, and I think he stinks at fetch. Max is destroying it in tear stuff up (literally), and I’m just frustrated that he has ripped up another toy. If we are not playing by the same rules, no one really wins…if winning is even really the point of such interactions.

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I have found this to be an important lesson. And I can’t help but think that different segments of society understand each other less and less because we don’t even agree on the rules of the game. Of course, the issues that lead to the division we see are by no means games, but still it is easy to think we are winning if we are investing in values fundamentally different from each other.

I’m going to be more direct than normal here. I think President Trump is losing when he fundamentally misunderstands a peaceful protest about real racial injustice in our country or when he tramples on the civil rights of lgbtq persons, etc. And I have come to understand that he and many of his supporters think me and others who hold similar opinions are losing when we don’t support what he apparently sees as American values.

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Now, Max has not taught me a solution to this divisiveness…at least not yet. I think it goes beyond merely trying to understand one another, because this stuff isn’t a game. And even if we agree on the rules, I don’t see how competing to win will help those among us who really need help.

I look forward to that lesson with the solution, hopefully sooner than later. But for now, Max has taught me why he and I seem so disconnected sometimes. And he has taught me that both of us will always lose if we aren’t playing by the same rules.

So, thank you Max for teaching me that sometimes you really are playing by different rules of the game. Thank you for helping me understand some elements of the disconnect I see around me, and I hope that you will soon teach me how to address that division.

Smile

Either Max is a naturally happy dog, or he has an uncanny ability to smile for the camera. I find his goofy smiles pretty infectious, and I hope you do to.

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Of course, Max has the golden standard of smiles.

 

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He’s no rock-weiler, but he charms all the fans with that (s)waggin’ smile.

 

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Sweet dreams are made of…cheese!

 

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But sometimes, his smiles are pawsitively creepy…

 

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Clap along if you feel like a room without a ruff ruff!

 

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Sometimes, his smile is a little too fur-rocious,

 

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But he’s never hesitant to turn that frown upside down.

 

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…mutt as well have a good time!

 

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Must. Max-imize. Smiles.

 

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And at the end of the day, he’s always looking quite fetching.

Thank you Max for your smiles – they brighten my day. I hope you keep smiling and bringing more and more joy to this world, at least until the day we can all smile as authentically as you.

P.S. This also pairs nicely with Jay-Z’s “Smile”, for those who have Tidal or other access to it.

Escape

When I was growing up, I had a dachshund named Peanut. Peanut was my first dog, I got him when I was two years old, and he stayed with us until I was in high school, so he was with me through most of the time I was figuring myself out.

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Peanut was around to comfort me in the busy school days and to enjoy with me the lazy summer days. He was with me as I thought and dreamed and wondered. As any child, I often dreamed of different things I could be when I grew up. Paleontologist was the front runner for a long time, but even in those days there would be moments when, while sitting with Peanut, I began to wish I could just be a dog.

From my perspective, Peanut had an easy life. He got to sleep whenever he wanted (I really liked sleep back then), he didn’t have to do any homework, and he got treats pretty regularly (my mom spoils all her dogs).

It was a no-brainer to me – the ultimate dream was to be a dog and live the carefree dog life.

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I don’t have many lazy summer days anymore, but when I get a chance to watch Max resting by the window, it takes me back to those childhood dreams. Especially when so much crap is happening all around the world and we seem to keep circling around hate as if it were our tail that we are chasing, I begin to wish that I could be a dog, curled up by the window, carefree and ignorant of all the problems that still suffocate our world.

Being a dog would be such a beautiful escape.

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And I feel that way as a privileged white man, who for all purposes does have the ability to escape all the craziness. I can choose not to be bothered with it. That reality in itself is a big part of the crappiness, and I try my best to address it head on and not shy away from it.

I cannot know what it is like in other people’s shoes, but I do trust the voices who cry out because they cannot escape the oppression, they cannot simply walk away or ignore the structural racism and sexism and all other evils that make up our society.

And yet I cannot shake the desire to just escape it all. I cannot deny the inclination to ignore it all like a dog.

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But Max teaches me that such escapism is not an option. He reminds me that I am one with the ability to walk out the door, I am one with the responsibility to interact with that society I sometimes don’t want to be a part of, I am one with words and actions that can really make a difference in small or larger contexts.

And so if I just sit at the window watching the world go by, my inaction would make me complicit in the problems. Even if I sit there and sigh at what I see, I am not making anything better until I escape the escapism that nags at my tepid mind.

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Max has taught me that I am one who can speak out against the hate, or be complicit it in, but I am not one who should escape it. Max may have that right, but I do not.

So thank you Max, for teaching me that as tempting as it looks, I should not escape into the carefree life you live. Thank you for reminding me about my responsibility to speak up and act out in this crazy world.

Chasing Tail

Sometimes Max can act in the most stereotypical dog ways. I can’t help but laugh every time he pees on a fire hydrant or bolts after a squirrel.

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And of course, he even chases his tail.

It’s a little surprising when he does chase his tail, because it never makes sense. It’s a sudden outburst of irrational behavior that gets him nowhere. And it’s dangerously out of control – I know he can’t see where he is going and he gets uncomfortably close to coffee tables and bookshelves as he is whipping his whole body around and around.

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When I watch him do it, I usually think several things:

Dogs are so weird.

I hope he doesn’t knock anything down or hit his head on something.

I’m glad I don’t do anything like that.

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And yet, Max has me wondering – surely I don’t do anything like that, right? Surely I don’t irrationally go around and around in circles not really getting anywhere.

Unfortunately, Max may be teaching me that I am not so different, that I too may be stuck in an irrational cycle of unhealthy, unhelpful movement.

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It definitely seems like my country is. We seem to be circling around hate and violence as if it were our tail that we are chasing and can’t quite seem to get. We keep chasing and chasing ourselves instead of moving forward. The evil spreads and we wonder why we didn’t see it right after collapsing from another round around ourselves.

In this tail chasing, I worry that we keep trying the same things over and over again, thinking we will finally catch the evil around us, and yet we find ourselves ever chasing it.

I worry that we arm ourselves with sharper teeth or fiercer barks to no avail. In fact, while we tell ourselves those tools are necessary for catching the evil, it seems that they only hurt those trying to help us see what is really going on.

And I worry that we begin to think that such tail chasing is either just a reality of being human or that it is a game.

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And then Max makes another lap around himself and I begin to realize that I too am guilty of chasing my tail. It is not just the country – it is me.

Every time a black person is murdered and I stop short at reading all the articles about it, I have irrationally gone around and around and not gotten anywhere. I have become complicit in staying busy but not rooting out evil.

Every time I complain about decisions my elected representatives have made but fail to write or visit them, I chase what I think is just the state of things beyond my control, instead of making use of the access afforded to me.

Ever time I hear a sexist micro-aggression, and I laugh it off as a joke or ignore it for fear of confrontation, I chase my tail expecting the problem to resolve itself while I look distracted.

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Max has taught me that chasing my tail gets me nowhere and is both irrational and dangerous. Chasing my tail when real hate and injustice and violence are present means that such evil will only continue to go on and I’ll probably hurt myself while ignoring it. There’s a lot more to do in speaking out and transforming the words and symbols I and my community use, but ceasing the tail chasing is at least the first step.

So thank you Max for teaching me how problematic it is to chase my tail instead of dealing with the real problems around me. Thank you for teaching me how I’ve been irrationally circling around that evil but not really dealing with it. I hope you can show me a better way forward.