A Terrified Puppy and a Life Re-Examined: The Lessons Love Teaches Us

A very anxious dog teaches a couple how love stretches our capacity for compassion and caring.

Edie first exhibited signs of severe anxiety at her first puppy social at the San Francisco SPCA. Unlike the previous two dogs Meredith May had owned, whom she describes as typical goofy, playful, curious, undaunted puppies from Golden Retriever Central Casting, Edie was absolutely terrified of the noise, the lights, the other dogs, the people — all the movement happening in a 360-degree circle around her.

“Her hyper-reactivity set off her fight-or-flight response, so that she ran from practically anything that moved — traffic, pedestrians, children, bicycles, motorcycles, garage doors, plastic bags floating on the wind,” said May, who writes about her experiences in her new book “Loving Edie: How a Dog Afraid of Everything Taught Me to be Brave” (Park Row Books 2022; $24.99 Amazon price).

May, an award winning journalist and fifth generation beekeeper who lives in San Francisco with her wife Jenn, had her own issues. The daughter of a deeply depressed mother, she spent years without getting out of bed and sought refuge in reading, a favorite stuffed animal that she took to college, hiding in small spaces and raising bees.

But she and Jenn didn’t return the adorable puppy, who was only calm and happy when indoors and away from stimulation.

“What this meant for me and Jenn was that one of us had to be with her at all times, indoors, there to protect her,” said May. “Which brought our carefree lives to a standstill and shut us out of the vibrant San Francisco dog culture. Think: dog rooftop cocktail parties, Corgi-con at the beach, dog cafes, pet parades and dog hikes that we had enjoyed with our other dogs.”

Edie also added stress to their relationship in other ways as they kept trying to “fix” her, transforming her into the dog they wanted her to be.

”Jenn, who had never raised a puppy before, kept asking me when Edie would grow out of it, and I was foolishly trying every remedy possible to make that happen so we could have the dog that was going to deepen our relationship and bring us nonstop laughter and joy.”

This might have gone on for a long time, but May fortunately met a brilliant veterinarian who had experience with anxious dogs. The vet shared a story about a mother of an anxious child. To get the daughter ready to go snorkeling in Hawaii, the mother started by having her learn to wear a snorkel and then use it, first in the bathtub and then in the pool.

“Only then, after the baby steps, could the family go to Hawaii and snorkel without any meltdowns,” May said. “This vet’s simple story made me realize that Edie wasn’t here for my entertainment, she was here for me to be her protector. What I had been resisting this whole time was being pushed into a maternal role with Edie because deep down I didn’t think I’d ever make a good a mother to human or animal, because I’d been raised without my father in the home and by a mother who often complained openly about how motherhood shackled her. They say dogs come along at the precise moment you need to evolve in a certain way, and for me the therapeutic part of Edie is unearthing a buried maternal instinct and discovering that it’s not a subtraction of my life, but an enhancement to keep this dog alive and happy. The best thing in the world is when Edie runs to me when she’s scared. She no longer runs blindly in any direction — she knows I’m home base.”

What would you like readers to take away from your book besides a fascinating and heartfelt read, I asked May?

“I hope readers learn that all dogs are different, and all have deep emotions that need tending,” she said. “I did not know how to read canine body language until Edie forced me to research it, and now I cringe at all that I didn’t understand with my other two dogs. I hope readers sympathize with my mistakes in the story. It took a neurotic dog to teach me that I was neurotic about being perfect, about having control, and that I was the one who needed to change, not Edie.”

For more information about May and her virtual book signings, visit meredithamay.net.

Leaving Isn’t the Hardest Thing

Lauren Hough’s parents were members of The Children of God, so she told people they were missionaries instead of belonging to that infamous cult. A student at a conservative Catholic High School, she hid her sexuality. As a member of the U.S. Airforce she visited gay bars using the name Ouiser Boudreaux, taken from the character Shirley MacLaine played in “Steel Magnolias” so that no one on the base would learn her real identity—and sexual orientation.

In other words she was always someone she wasn’t, trying to be what others expected of her.

“I’d learned to survive by becoming what they wanted me to be, as best I could,” Hough writes in her collection of essays, “Leaving Isn’t the Hardest Thing.” “And when I couldn’t, I hid, erasing those parts of me that offended.”

The collection includes an essay she wrote for HuffPost titled “I Was a Cable Guy.” I Saw the Worst of America” which went viral. One reader reached out to Hough to tell her how much she liked it. That person was Academy Award winner, Cate Blanchett. The two struck up a friendship and when “Leaving Isn’t the Hardest Thing,” Hough texted her to ask if she would read several of book’s eleven essays.

“Surreal is also a good word to being able to text Cate and ask her is she’s ever considered doing an audiobook,”  says Hough describing the entire experience not only of partnering with Blanchett in producing the audiobook but her life’s journey and how she ended up as a published writer corresponding with a movie star. As for Blanchard, she said yes.

“My conversations with Lauren over the last several years have been honest, raw, and sidesplittingly funny, and I treasure her friendship and penmanship beyond measure,” she writes.

Hough says she wrote many of her essays in the dark, just hoping to connect, if only to yourself. Growing up, her family had moved frequently, and she lived in seven countries including Switzerland, German and Ecuador, and Texas just to name a few placed, experienced violence and been abused. In adulthood, she’d worked a series of jobs—bartending, bouncer in a gay bar, livery driver, U.S. Airman, barista, and, of course, a cable installer.

Describing Hough as having hypnotic power as a storyteller, Blanchett says when she spoke Hough’s words in the audiobook that in “speaking her words, I truly understood the rhythmic heartbeat alive in every phrase. Aching to connect. Aching to be heard.”

In her long search for belonging and being connected, Hough’s writings seem to have forged the connectiveness she sought.

President Obama’s Annual List of Favorites

“As 2020 comes to a close, I wanted to share my annual lists of favorites,” Barack Obama, the 42nd President of the United States, tweeted to his 127.5 million followers. “I’ll start by sharing my favorite books this year, deliberately omitting what I think is a pretty good book – A Promised Land – by a certain 44th president. I hope you enjoy reading these as much as I did.”

Somehow, the President forgot to include adding one of my books to his list again. Well, there’s always next year.

Jack by Marilynne Robinson

Caste by Isabel Wilkerson

Luster by Raven Leilani

Sharks in the time of Saviors by Kawai Strong Washburn
Twilight of Democracy by Anne Applebaum

Homeland Elegies by Ayad Akhtar
The Undocumented Americans by Karla Cornejo Villavicencio
Long Bright River by Liz Moore
Memorial Drive Natasha Trethewey
Deacon King Kong by James McBride
Missionaries by Phil Klay
The Vanishing Half by Britt Bennett
The Ministry for the Future by Kim Stanley Robinson
The Glass House by Emily St. John Mandel

Comedian Michael Ian Black “A Better Man”

In a world in which the word masculinity now often goes hand in hand with toxic, comedian, actor, and father Michael Ian Black offers up a way forward for boys, men, and anyone who loves them.

Michael Ian Black

A Buzzfeed Most Anticipated Book of 2020, Michael Ian Black‘s new book, A Better Man: A (Mostly Serious) Letter to my Son (Algonquin Books) is a poignant look at boyhood, in the form of a heartfelt letter from the comedian to his teenage son as he is leaving for college. But more than that, it is also a far-reaching and radical plea for rethinking masculinity and teaching today’s young men how to give and receive love.

In a world in which the word masculinity now often goes hand in hand with toxic, comedian, actor, and father Black offers up a way forward for boys, men, and anyone who loves them. Part memoir, part advice book, and written as a heartfelt letter to his college-bound son, A Better Man reveals Black’s own complicated relationship with his father, explores the damage and rising violence caused by the expectations placed on boys to “man up,” and searches for the best way to help young men be part of the solution, not the problem. “If we cannot allow ourselves vulnerability,” he writes, “how are we supposed to experience wonder, fear, tenderness?”

Honest, funny, and hopeful, Black skillfully navigates the complex gender issues of our time and gives a touching answer to an extremely important question: How can we be, and raise, better men?

Black, an actor, comedian, and writer, started his career with the sketch comedy show The State, on MTV, and has now created and starred in many other television shows. Movie appearances include Wet Hot American Summer, The Baxter, and Sextuplets.

He is also the author of several children’s books including the award-winning I’m Bored, I’m Sad, and I’m Worried, and the parody A Child’s First Book of Trump. His books for adults include the memoirs You’re Not Doing It Right and Navel Gazing, and the essay collection My Custom Van. Black also co-authored with Meghan McCain America, You Sexy Bitch.

As a stand-up comedian, Michael regularly tours the country, and he has released several comedy albums. His podcasts include Mike & Tom Eat Snacks, with Tom Cavanagh; Topics, with Michael Showalter; How to Be Amazing; and Obscure.

Married, he lives in Connecticut with his wife and two children.

How to Forget: A Daughter’s Memoir

          Kate Mulgrew is just finishing lunch when I call at the pre-arranged time and she asks for a moment so she can order coffee. She’s eating and talking because her schedule is so tight it requires serious multi-tasking. Right now, she is juggling filming a new season of Mr. Mercedes and is also on a multi-city book tour to promote her just released book, How to Forget: A Daughter’s Memoir.

          It is a book, she tells me, that she felt compelled to write as it chronicles “the turbulent, tragic and joyful “time she spent in Iowa with her dying parents.

          Knowing that sometimes expressing raw and painful emotions can be a psychological relief or catharsis, I ask if that was true for her.

          “It was the opposite of that,” says Mulgrew. “Instead writing took me into deeper waters. But I told myself you have to do this; you have to write this.”

          Those deeper waters were both emotional and physical as Mulgrew holed up in a friend’s house on Lough Corrib, which is, she describes as a desolate, deep and col lake near Cornamonai west Ireland.

          “Writing this book was lonely,” she continues after taking a sip of coffee. Since I’m drinking a cup as well, it’s almost like we’re having coffee together. “It took three years to write because I had to keep leaving to film Orange is the New Black.

          Was it necessary to live on Lough Corrib to write the book, I ask?

          “It is the only way to write a book about them and how much I loved them,” she tells me, in that husky voice I remember from her playing Captain Kathryn Janeway of “Star Trek: Voyager.”

          Embracing the remoteness and isolation while writing about death, Mulgrew talks about the Ireland’s short winter days.

          “The sun is out for just short time, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and then the darkness is upon us again,” she says.  “I shed many tears I would force myself to write until four and then light the fire and go for a walk or make dinner.”

          In the end, it was worth it.

          “These were the people who shaped me,” she says, as she sets her cup down for the last time, a clinking sound on my end of the phone signaling an end to the interview. “It’s important, that experience of saying goodbye, to be present with your parents at their mortal illness, to take the journey with them. We know that the turn in the road to sickness and then to death is universal. We know that bend in the road does not go into a flowering meadow, but into a darkening thicket from which no one will ever return. I’m one of eight children, each one of us has a different story and each one of us gets to go their own way in telling it.  And this was mine and this is how I decided to tell it.”

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