Thursday, 18 June 2009

Dog brains

(Tracey Emin, 'Dog Brains'. Even though apparently she's joined the Conservative Party, godalmighty)

Oh, this is all too hard. So I am writing something boring about the dog. Also, I am sorry about not replying to comments individually over the last week. I will try and start again next week and I wish I were confident I'll keep that promise, but I'm not because, well, you know. Apocalypse and all that.

So. This dog walking business.

As I mentioned once in Confessional, I can't really be doing with the dog walking any more. I had fondly visualised strolls around the nicer parts of Brussels (yes there are some, shut up) with the weepette trotting elegantly by my side, and snuggling under my chair when I stopped for a restorative mid morning espresso with Le Monde Diplomatique, occasionally wordlessly accepting a crumb of speculoos. The reality is, taking the dog anywhere (and particularly anywhere I might be tempted to go into a shop) is an almighty pain in the arse. It sees pigeons or other dogs and gets overwhelmed with the desire to bark boringly and insistently at a high pitch. It pulls me along in a knee punishing fashion with all its puny weepette weight, leaning forward diagonally such is its eagerness to sniff the next pool of urine (yes, I am applying your dog training suggestions to this problem, but the weepette is a slow learner and I have no authority). The result of this is that instead of ambling down the rue des Chartreux, I just take it to the park.

This is not the parc du caca, but the slightly larger foresty park round the corner. At least in the park I can let the weepette run in bouncy, pointless circles and fail to chase sticks. If it barks madly at a particularly provocative dead leaf, noone minds. In the park, the weepette also allows me the illusion of appearing in charge, as it is so cravenly scared of everything it keeps close by, and comes when I call it. The park is dog walking WIN territory. I even concede grudgingly that early in the morning, it can be quite scenic, when it smells of damp mulch and honeysuckle and the sun puts in a tantalising appearance through the canopy.

But oh, the park. The park is full of Dog People. They gather in some pre-ordained fashion and stump across the park together making small talk. I don't have a regular time slot, so I can confirm that there are MANY groups of Dog People at various points through the morning, stomping and chatting. IT IS HELL. They all know each other and I must hover at their periphery while our dogs sniff at each other. I should be able to just make polite conversation and walk with them, or not walk with them, without agonising, but that isn't how the inside of my head works. There must be agonising and awkwardness. It is Required. Is it rude if I don't walk with them? What on earth will we talk about? Should I ask their dogs' ages or something? Should I hang back and let them walk on? Will it be bad form if they see I am still in the park but haven't walked with them? I feel lumpenly awkward and rude and savage. It's the sandpit at the Parc Monceau all over again.

I am reminded of a guy from group therapy. He was really annoying, actually, and I was glad when he left. He was always picking on me to ask how I was feeling, when all I was feeling was the desire to sink imperceptibly into the plastic chair unnoticed. I started to get really quite resentful of him - he was loud and obnoxious and the poor depressives all looked hunted and twitchy when he started mouthing off and demanding we give him FEEDBACK. But one day, caught offguard, he explained about what went on on the inside of his head and it was horribly familiar. He said that when he started talking to someone, or when it looked like he was going to have to talk to someone, his brain would start running on, miles ahead of events. What was he going to have to say next? How would the conversation end? What would they think of him if he said x or y (entirely innocuous things)? How was he going to escape? We got a glimpse of what it was like living in that head and it sounded exhausting.

Um. I should say I am not like this. All the time. With everyone. Just with the Dog People and at conferences, honest. Shackass, I sound like a freak now. Thank god I didn't tell you about my making out with Shakin' Stevens dream last night! Then I really would be in trouble.

Pah. Please tell me some of you also find basic social intercourse overwhelmingly difficult at times? That's why we're hiding on the internet right?


Evitchka said...

You have been describing very accurately what goes on for me when I go to conferences with 'learned people' and when I started out on Twitter. Shall I follow? Why aren't they following me? Am I interesting enough? Nobody loves me! etc. So I couldn't even hide from my very own inner freak show even on the Internet.
Reminds me of a bloke in Australia whom I asked, just to make conversation, what was the name of his black dog. PC hadn't entered his part of Victorian outback yet. 'Nigger' he drawled without even a trace of awkwardness! I spluttered in my beer.

Fanny said...

This might be one of those times when The Fear works in your favour - for goodness sake, don't talk to the Dog People! They will want to tell you how to discipline your dog and will try to demonstrate their Amazing Dog Master Skillz right there and then and you will want to punch them because they think they're superior to you on account of an essentially useless set of skills. Pah!

Irene said...

Please, you don't need to walk with the other dog people and never mind what they think of you, pay it no attention whatsoever. It's obvious that you're in a class by yourself and that you aren't expected to just join up with an ordinary bunch of dog walkers. Just go your own way after a friendly Bon Jour and a smile and that will do, so don't fret about it anymore.

Anonymous said...

I agree with the Gossamer Woman; smile, say hello and keep going. They will only be boring anyway and who wants to compare dogs, yours is clearly much better.

I hate those lunches at legal courses where you are supposed to network with the other lawyers. I find most other lawyers (present company excepted of course) a bit boring and the men always start to compete about the deals they are working on. I don't want to talk shop when I could be eating chocolate cake. So if the food looks good I eat as fast as I can and then run away for some fresh air (in London, yeah right!) or if it doesn't I just run away and buy a sandwich and wander around.

Helen Brocklebank said...

Had a similar experience with Dog People when I had a dog (boo hoo, sound of old wounds reopening). It was a nightmare: no one ever knew each other by their real names, just by their dog's names. Can you imagine anything more ghastly and twee as being greeted with a cheery "Hello Weepette Mummy".
And, on Sunday afternoons, they would bring tupperware and wine boxes and plastic glasses and have a dog owner's cocktail party.
My dog was always appallingly badly behaved and would snaffle the sandwiches from the tupperware boxes.
The horror.

Anonymous said...

I have the same feelings as you quite often, but thanks to a trick from my mom I am usually able to quell those feelings. She always says to "focus on the other person, and how they might be feeling, since they could be nervous too." For some reason that has helped me immensely! I think it might be perhaps because it takes my mind off of my own awkwardness. :)

Anonymous said...

The trick is to just keep on walking, don't miss a step, you are just far too busy and in a hurry to talk to these dog walkers. That's what I did anyway when I was talked into having a dog supposedly to cure my fear of them but just made me realise I didn't really fear them (well some) just hate them. I have more of a problem with Twitter - will people think me rude if I join in their conversation? Will I make myself look stupid replying to a comment not addressed to me? Do people think I am a stalker? I need to know the etiquette of Twitter. Now I am worrying about the spelling of etiquette and whether I should delete this reply. Still no-one knows me out there and no-one will be wondering why I cannot look them in the eye.
Love the blog by the way. Promise I am not a stalker.

Elsie said...

Worse than Dog People, I find, are the Sports Parents on the sidelines during son's soccer games. Middle-aged flirting and chanting, mixed with anxiety and arguments over boys' performance. Difficult to to feel part of this group, and they turn very narsty if one tries to read a detective novel instead of watching the ball roll around the field.

lucia martinez said...

oof. am the same, primarily at the dog park. I, too, lack a set group/hours; even basic things like waving goodbye are paralyzing because One Doesn't Like To Intrude. clearly this is all in one's head, but it doesn't feel like it, most of the time. however, having realized that being hypervigilant and having one's defenses up constantly leaves one exhausted and alone (in terms of friends, not lovers: peculiar, that), one tries. occasionally. we can be antisocial at one another if you like, should I ever go to belgium.

as regards the weepette, perhaps a nice bit of chewy, beefy animal treat is in order? it works much better than authority with my beagle when we go for walks--just holding a little bit of treat next to my leg in the non-leash-hand and he stays glued to my side. we may go through three treats on a walk, but it works: no pulling or choking or shouting or public humiliation. and, to give you hope for the cafe/canine/cappuccino trinity, it can happen! just let him get a little older and then do it constantly, post-park. exhaustion is a wonderful calming tool.

SUEB0B said...

My brain used to be like that all the time. Then I became a journalist (I came to it rather late, at 40) and I learned some skillz that transformed the way I talk to people. Now I just ask them open-ended questions and shut up while they ramble on endlessly about themselves, as 90% of people will do once they realize you are interested in them.

The magic of this approach is that people do not even realize that you haven't said much. They LOVE you. They think you are a WONDERFUL conversationalist. It is uncanny.

Some people are tough to get to crack open and then it is like rock climbing. I find it an exhilirating challenge to find the little cracks I can get into and get them to talk.

And I have also accepted that some people aren't going to chat and/or I don't feel like putting in the effort, then I am ok with just hanging out quietly.

Part of this may also be from getting older. At 47-going-on-48, I don't give that much of a crap what other people think anymore. I use the old biker saying as a mantra: "F*** em if they can't take a joke."

nicolelynn said...

Ah yes, the familiar air of social anxiety. I have those feelings on the phone and often plan out and practice full conversations. Or, you know, just ignore phone calls all together. Also get that way at group outings. I analyze everything said for days, trying to figure out what, if anything, I said that was "bad." You are not alone.

redfox said...

God, yes. Overwhelmingly difficult things include:

1. Basic social intercourse
2. Complex social intercourse
3. Conversing with self in own head.

Gabriella said...

Yep. My brain is like that. I have learned the trick of "ask people about themselves" but at some point I start to panic about how to get out of the conversation before I run out of questions(usually because the other person is boring me to tears) and it all goes to hell. I usually end up interrupting them mid-monologue with something like, "Oh you know you just reminded me of something very important that I forgot to do..." and then I skuttle away (back to the bar?) trying to look concerned about the made-up forgotten thing. Fun!

suzanneingalicia said...

Oh yes!!! Yes! Yes!
Look on the bright side, though: this - yes, this total social weirdness/awkwardness - is what makes you such a wonderfully funny writer! Which is why hordes of internet people are addicted to reading your blog.

Z said...

You are so beautiful and elegant that the other dog walkers look at you, hoping that you will speak to them. Only do so if you want to. It's perfectly all right not to, and equally all right to smile slightly in recognition at nicer ones you've seen before, without starting to talk. I can do the social scene, but I actually enjoy the distance where I can observe.

I think A Lady's suggestion of dog treats is an excellent one. I understand that difficult-to-train animals for films are taught by waiting until the cat (or whatever independently-minded creature it is) does what's wanted by chance and then being rewarded for it, repeatedly, until it learns to get a reward by doing the trick.

Dogs are easier because they want to please. But you must assert your authority. You can do it with your eye - raising your eyebrow area (sorry) and then narrowing your eyes is a good one. Defiance is responded to by a slight and silent snarl and then, if necessary, by an almost inaudible growl deep in the throat. I hardly think that's necessary with a weepette, however. Turning away in disgust or giving a treat will bring him to heel.

tragicanon said...

i panic at whether to say 'hello' to bus drivers and if a 'cheers mate' slips out my mouth by accident as i get off the bus, i'm screwed until i'm at least half way down the street wondering if i was too informal...
don't get me started on people i actually have to make an impression on, i'm bad enough talking to my subordinates at work (what's too formal and bossy? what's too casual and matey?) let alone the people in charge of keeping me in a job...
most of the time i just stick with awkward silence and hair fiddling...
wish i could get it into my head that people don't give a twaddle about the things i worry about... but i will never be one of those effortless conversationalists...
aside from when i've got a drink in me and it all comes out...
shit i sound insane don't i?

Antonia Cornwell said...

I had exactly what you describe when Esme was toddling and I began going to parent & toddler playgroups. I stank of what Ian calls FSSF; the Foetid Stench of Social Failure. I am better at it all now, meaning I barely give a shit what people think of me, but I still have moments of "if I follow them to get tea, I look clingy and if I walk away, I look rude."

I notice your Belgian Pic of the Week comes from Lord Mayor's Walk. Do I win £5?

connie said...

Dear girl - this is the first time I have written a "comment" - I just love your blog and your writing strikes a chord deep in my soul. I have a book I thought you may be interested in reading - it's called SUNBATHING IN THE RAIN by Gwyneth Lewis. Lewis wrote the book at the end of a serious bout of depression because she had been unable to find something (to read) in which she could relate to when she was ill. In the book she describes herself being taken "captive" and sets out to discover why. I've just searched my bookshelves and can't find it so I'm remembering here. For her, one of the positive aspects of the whole experience was the fact that her illness was her body telling her something in her life had to change. The author is a poet and writer who I think lives in Wales.

screamish said...

hmmm. yes. worries about your shameful neglect of individualized comments, god knows how you had time to do it once your audience reached 12000 views per minute. its lovely if you can but not necessary

as for social incompetence, well...yeah...of course...i think possibly only mad people and the unthinking dont feel like that. Or maybe you need to be a buddhist monk not to care. You know- blindingly happy.

excruciating moments like that for me include the silent jostling that goes on in Geant Casino de merde when someone tries to push in front of me in the queue. or post office. I have been known to walk out of a place i really need to be because i cant face the psychological warfare.

H said...

I have the opposite problem. I constantly speak before I think, and frequently assume that people understand the tongue-in-cheek back story of my comment without actually telling them.
I offend people all the time and get in trouble with my Boss for flippantly saying things that on reflection have quite a meaningful subtext.
I never notice this until afterwards, when I spend ages castigating myself and wondering whether I should go and explain.I usually conclude that explanation would only dig me deeper into the hole but try it anyway.
I am envious of people who are able to have a bit of an internal monologue and some self-censorship. I'm sure that internally it is a nightmare, but all the outside world sees is your eloquence. Then you can get it all out on your blog later.
H (de-lurking again)

Anonymous said...

don't you know you never have to respond to individual comments and that we will read you forever and that you need to know you are so brilliant and brave and have so much to offer that should not doubt yourself so much and if you feel pain should find a way to make it less.

Anonymous said...

On the outside I apparently look like somebody who can and does talk to anybody about anything any time. On the inside, not true in the least. I also agonize : how do I start the conversation? how do I gracefully extricate myself when it (inevitably) starts boring me? why do I bore so easily? why would anybody want to talk to me anyway?

And it doesn't help that Porsche Guy is a social GOD and works the room absolutely effortlessly every single time - no agonizing for him! Then everyone assumes that I am the same way and I try so hard to live up to it, but it takes its toll and then I drink too much and vomit and then he ends up carrying me out to the car. (Oops. Too much information again. Sorry.)

River said...

Basic social intercourse IS overwhelmingly difficult. I go nuts every day having to make conversation with customers. By the time I get home I'm so talked out, poor husband can barely get two words out of me.

Tealeaf Jane said...

What particularly infuriates me about my own internal dialogue is that it's so bloody noisy! Is it not bad enough that I'm balancing-on-a-cliff-edge terrified that I might say something ridiculous? Is is really necessary to shout fretfully inside my skull at a trillion decibels? To such a degree that I can barely even hear the person I'm conversing with - guaranteeing inappropraite responses? Worse, it's not actually their judgements which bother me the most. It's the moment at which the voice decides to speak at non-ear piercing volumes just to clarify it's assessment of me. "Dumb Ass".

pinolona said...

Yes, all the time, constantly, permanently, prior to, during and afterwards.
Actually I find the dog helps because you can hide behind it. Figuratively speaking.

HelenSparkles said...

People think I am really sociable, but I have the internal dialogue going on too, I think we all do. I do try and think about other people, and that they are nervous too, but I really wouldn't want to be talking to the dog people. Polite distance avoids boredom and I fear you would be really bored by them! Other settings I do what others here have said, get people to talk about themselves, most people love it. Nothing original, but know that you are normal, it isn't a social phobia and we are not freaks! Interesting that you did group therapy, I did too, thought it would be awful but it was great.

bevchen said...

I find basic social intercourse overwhelmingly difficult ALL the time. Except when I'm drunk. Hmm.

Anonymous said...

I have the same problem but with mothers of my daughter's friends. I meet them often at birthday parties, and we can never remember each other's names and are all reduced to banal chit-chat.

Worse still, I am the only working mother amongst all of them. So, I return home with a huge bucketful of guilt as my "return gift".

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