The Power of Artificial Constraints

The Power of Artificial Constraints

Two short stories and a lesson.

Story One. I like to drink coffee in the morning, and I like it hot, hotter than the coffee maker makes it. So, I put my mug in the microwave for an additional 20 second blast and then I race to grab as much silverware as I can out of the dish drain and try to put it all away before the buzzer goes off. If I’m not holding it when I hear the sound I win and if I am still holding it, I lose. Despite the absence of stakes, I feel a little upset if I don’t get it done in time. Functional!

Story Two. Sometime before 3rd grade I lived in a very hilly neighborhood with winding roads. I liked to tell myself I could only use the breaks on my bike two times while coming home. This ultimately resulted in a total wipe out that ruined my bike and left me bloody and limping. Commitment!

Lesson. Create artificial restraints in your art practice. Make some rules. The thing about rules is they have to be clear as day and non-negotiable. They do not have to make sense or be good. Even if they make no sense they will work. The other thing about rules is they have to be fun. Fun to YOU! Not a rule you wanted or hoped would be fun. No, that’s Monopoly, a long and stupid game that you don’t want to play. The rules absolutely, positively have to be FUN! Make a piece of art, you win.

If you make up weird little rules for yourself, please share. I would love to know I am not the only weirdo.

Sidewalk Face 784

Stop What You’re Doing and Smell This!

Stop What You’re Doing and Smell This!

My dogs and I are not paying attention to the same things, almost to the point of no overlap. Though we are in the exact same situation, mere inches apart, we are experiencing completely different sensations and prioritizing unrelated stimuli. For example, I will notice a person sitting in their car with the windows rolled down, maybe on the phone, maybe smoking a joint. My first impulse is to put some space between us. Just to be polite. We’re outside, no need to bunch up and crowd each other.

Decaf, my male dog, starts manically sniffing the grass along the length of the car, back and forth, from tail pipe to engine. It’s like he’s able to sniff gold and he can smell the jackpot. I’m not sure I do anything with the level of passion he displays multiple times a day sniffing grass. After twirling in a circle a few times right next to the car door, he settles in for a poop. Seriously! I feel like a jerk. If I was in the car I would definitely be like, Move along lady, why are you lurking directly out my window? Ugh! My dogs are oblivious to other people. Humans do not register. 

When approaching a group, Decaf will zig in front of me and zag in front of them causing everyone an inconvenience. I know this and so I tighten the leash and move us to the side. Even constrained, he strains to be under foot. I would think he too would want to avoid all this kinetic action but no, he struggles mightily to remain in alignment with the scent he is tracking. He is laser focused on smell. I don’t know what people mean to him. Are they like streetlamps are to me? Something in the vicinity that doesn’t need to be regarded? I would think that people would be noteworthy. They are to some dogs.

Just the other day a big dog with a ball in his mouth bounded up to me and my friend and needed to say hello to each of us. We received a good sniff from him and a small whine which seemed to be relieved by petting and acknowledgement. Then he loped off.

I like friendly dogs. I hope, if there are more dogs in my future, they are friendly. That’s because I’m friendly and it would feel more comfortable to me. Neither of my dogs are friendly. Decaf is like a navy seal. He is on a mission. Period. There is nothing else. Feather, the female, is traumatized and everything scares her. She flees from all interactions. But if people are NOT trying to interact, then it’s like they don’t exist, and she also seems oblivious to our proximity to others. She mostly focuses on Decaf. If he demonstrates that a patch of weedy grass deserves a good long smell session, she is going to wait patiently until he is done, you don’t smell in tandem apparently, and then she is going to daintily sniff about a bit. Nothing too excessive. She doesn’t seem to get as worked up about it as he does, but she does do something, and she sure takes her time with it. If it’s inconveniently happening near other people, so what?

I am super attuned to other people. How far away they are, what direction they are walking, whether we will intersect and when. Don’t you hate it when you can tell you and someone walking at a right angle to you will collide if you keep going at the same pace? Who’s going to concede and step aside? But aside from the haughty feeling I should have the right of way, I like people and am fine with crossing paths with them. I am not attuned because I am afraid. It’s just part of what registers and most of that registering comes from sight. A little bit comes from listening.

Decaf is mostly only using his nose. If I could be a dog for ten minutes or an hour or a day I would do it. I am not the most adventurous person but this I would do in a heartbeat. I am dying to know what he smells. But not with my nose and my general aroma ignorance. I want to smell with his nose and more importantly I want to perceive the information he is receiving. I want to know what he knows. I want to feel what he feels. Why is that particular spot of grass so psychedelic? Is his fevered and desperate sniffing, huffing, circling, tracking and trailing over a small patch of grass like getting to sample Albert Hoffman’s original batch of LSD? Is it like reading the last ten pages of a whodunit? Is it like hearing the numbers of a winning lottery ticket? Please share the pleasure with me!

But perhaps we could constrain my shape shifting fantasy to invisible smells only. Both dogs have a perplexing attraction to excrement. Yet another point of division between us as to what merits our attention during the daily walks.

I was reading this to my husband to see if my observations squared with him and he said, you should call this one: I Don’t Give A Shit About You But I Do Give A Shit About Shit. This is why I married him. He makes me laugh. And to be clear, that title would be from the perspective of Decaf, not me. I most certainly do give a shit about you and I hope you are doing well.