Learning to Share With People and Dogs — The Faux Louvre pg255
Colorful companion to my memoir The Incompetent Psychic
I was on the lookout for another dog… but not just any dog. I had come up with a list of seven canine qualities as a guideline. While walking past the window of a pet store a beautiful golden retriever smiled the brightest grin right at me. I went in to meet her.
A woman filling out forms was putting her up for adoption and explained, “I love this dog. She’s only a year old, but I work all the time and it breaks my heart for her to be alone in a small apartment for so long. Much as I don’t want to, I’m hoping to find a better home for her.”
I sat down on the floor in front of this darling pooch and sent her a thought question, “What do you love?”
She sent me a full color video meme of her romping and rolling in green grass with two children. I had neither the grass nor the children, assured her she was in the perfect place to find her family, and they’d be coming soon.
“I know! I know!” she laughed. — From Chapter 14
It’s rare for me to converse this well with people, much less our doggie friends. I’ve taken classes and still kind of suck at it. (For people skills I joined Toastmasters. For dogs: an animal communication workshop in Berkeley with my fur buddy Rosie years before.) At that weekend workshop was another golden retriever who showed me what it looks like to run through shallow water at the beach from a dog’s perspective. It was gloriously hilarious. Maybe this ability to share telepathically is why goldens are so popular a breed. That my skills in this realm are so hit or miss inspired the title of my memoir.
The skillset to share effectively in a group setting is something I had to learn with practice, and only really understood last year. The example of how another woman behaved — let’s call her Joy — was the ah ha moment most people get in elementary school. Being precocious, slow to mature and having a loud mouth mother gave me a lifetime of awkward social graces.
A few months before Covid hit I joined a local writer’s group and was getting helpful feedback. The woman who facilitated the group was a retired NYC publishing house editor. She hated the title of my memoir but I didn’t care. She suggested, ‘Reluctant Psychic’. I replied, “I’m not reluctant. I’d actually like to be better at it.” Good thing I didn’t take her advice, because it turned out that title was already used — coincidentally by Suzan Saxman, a woman right here in Woodstock who is a truly competent psychic.
Back to Joy. When we find a helpful group that offers great feedback, a couple of things become obvious. There is an unspoken 90/10 guideline. We listen and offer what help we can 90% of the time, and become the center of attention to receive suggestions when we get our 10% turn. Feedback itself is most effective when it comes 50–50, half about how our work already works to build on success, and the rest improvement ideas. Joy joined the group after I did. She was bright and observant as an editor, but more socially awkward than even I am. Joy arrived to the two-hour sessions in the final half hour with a demand to be next. She jumped in first, the second someone finished reading their piece, firing off a bullet list of their mistakes. Joy forced the polite, unspoken participation guidelines to become written rules — which she wouldn’t obey without continual reminders. Her combative truculence slowed down the whole process, and caused more gentle souls among us to clam up or quit the group. I’m grateful for the example of Joy, who serves as a constant reminder to monitor my behavior in any gathering of more than one person… or dog.
It takes time and patience to hear, comprehend, empathize and respond responsibly. This insures effective communication… and requires constant practice when those skills weren’t mastered when young so as to become second nature. After a year of being sheltered and socially distanced (thanks pandemic!), I’m pretty sure what few skills I fought for have atrophied. I’ll apologize beforehand for any spastic, Tourettes-like social behavior I will need to unlearn again when this isolation is finally over. I’m also afraid I will randomly hug strangers in the post office line without asking.
A signed copy of Mernie’s memoir is available at www.etsy.com/listing/839838936
Unsigned copies can be ordered wherever books are sold.