Slow Down, You Move Too Fast

Dear Will:

If you’re in a hurry and trying to get from wherever you are to someplace else, you might think twice before you decide to bring Nacho. Our dimwitted family mutt, the Mexican orphan, has a tendency to lose focus within the first three steps of any walk. Everything around us is just so . . . sniffy. Take that wall over there. Sniffy. That rhododendron? Also sniffy. That random patch of grass in the middle of a much larger patch of grass? Sniffier than you can imagine.

In fairness, historical records indicate that we do eventually make it around the block. But if you’re trying get out, get back, and get on with your evening, forget about it. Between the sniffing and the peeing (and the peeing and the peeing), there isn’t a lot of time for, say, walking. Were it not for the frantic flaring of his sniffomatic snout, sometimes we might find it hard to trigger a motion sensor. The wild bunnies in the neighborhood don’t even bother to flee when this bloodhound approaches. Mostly they just blink in whiskery bemusement.

These “walks” often remind me of when my kids were little. We didn’t call them walks back then. They were “explores.” Luke typically found it necessary to load up on gear and supplies before we stuck his little sister (temporarily) in the stroller to cruise the neighborhood. On one occasion when he was maybe five or six, before we could leave the house he filled his backpack with the following (I kid you not): calculator, kaleidoscope, dice, popgun, flashlight, toy car, koosh ball, two plastic coins, stuffed lion, plastic dimetrodon, top, magnet, football, trumpet, rubber snake, wristwatch, shell lei, knight in armor, and, of course, a brochure entitled Wildflowers of Cuyamaca Rancho State Park. Forget the ten essentials; this kid was prepared.

What he needn’t have been prepared for was a lot of walking. With Bryn along, we tended to stop and start, lurching here, wandering there, constantly pausing so that she could hand us things to fill the abandoned stroller: sticks, rocks, leaves, snail shells—the sort of neighborhood whatnot that is treasure only to a two-year-old. I once cracked that if Bryn had been along when the pioneers were crossing the plains they would still be in Nebraska. At which point Dana surely would have reminded me that, on these family treks, getting “there” was not really the point.

True story: On one such explore, I was growing increasingly impatient with my children’s lack of forward momentum. When I turned to snap at Luke to pick up the pace, I discovered that he had—literally—stopped to smell the roses. (For my children, this is the sort of thing that qualified as “parenting.”) This scene played itself out again recently while Bryn and I were backpacking in the Uintas. While I was tromping through a meadow, frantically searching (again) for the poorly-marked trail, Bryn was standing gobsmacked in a gentle rain, admiring a mother moose and her baby. I was trying to get from wherever I was to someplace else; Bryn was having an explore.

Bryn gets it. And perhaps Nacho does too. For me his twice-a-days can be a bit of a chore; but for him, every time he senses potential pre-walk activity he’s all a-jitter for what might come next. He paces and paces, eager to get going so that we can . . . not go much of anywhere, as it always turns out. But the going and then not going and then going again, sniff-sniff-sniffing along the way, makes him deliriously happy. While I’m charging through the neighborhood with, I don’t know, “Radar Love” or something as my inner soundtrack, Nacho is sniffing to the beat of “The 59th Street Bridge Song.” And by the time we return home, it’s not hard to guess which of us is feeling groovy.

Pretty smart for a dumb dog.


Feeling the Joy

Dear Will:

We have this delightful, irresistible friend who likes to say that she is a “certified joyologist.” She’s kidding, but if you met her and heard her infectious laugh and saw the way she infuses a room with positive energy, you would have no reason to question her claim.

Given the chaos and disruption of 2020, we figure we could all use a little more joyology in our lives. A lot more, actually. As the poet Mary Oliver has written, “joy is not made to be a crumb.” Rather, she says, “if you suddenly and unexpectedly feel joy, don’t hesitate. Give in to it.”

All right. We’re game. ‘Tis the season, after all, when joy shows up on billboards and t-shirts and any number of gift bags (shopping bags, for that matter). Looking back on this year-like-no-other, there have been plenty of things that have brought us joy in spite—and sometimes because—of all the rest. So in this season of giving, we’re giving in. To joy.

There were many moments during 2020 in which we suddenly, unexpectedly felt joy. Moments like these:

  • When hundreds of my co-workers agreed to voluntary pay-cuts so that no one would be laid off or furloughed (not a bad place to work, right?)
  • Before: 90-mile commute on the 405. Now: 30-foot stroll down the hall (pants optional)
  • Working with a puppy asleep at your feet (panting optional)
  • Hearing the sound of neighbor children lost in imagination on a cool, summer evening (love that)
  • Knowing that many doubters wear masks anyway for the sake of the rest of us (love them)
  • Sitting together—just the two of us—on the patio outside of Rubio’s (first night out in months)
  • Making new friends of old neighbors while walking Nacho, the least-disciplined dog in Orange County (work-in-negligible-progress)
  • Eavesdropping while Dana tutors one of her students (who knew math could be so fun?)
  • Texting with Seth during the Lakers’ Championship in Quarantine (perhaps even better than the championship itself)
  • Watching more movies AND reading more books (how is that possible?)
  • Trading in Dana’s two worn-out knees for a couple of state-of-the-art titanium numbers (to match her titanium hips)
  • Cheering in the early dawn as our beloved Brentford Bees came THIS CLOSE to the Premiership (best season ever)
  • Sunday evening Facetime Poetry Hour with Bryn (how else would we know about Mary Oliver?)
  • All of us avoiding COVID-19 (so far)
  • Seeing a resounding affirmation that democracy still works (so far)
  • First tour of Luke and Tyler’s first house (quirky and delightful, just like the house)
  • Spending a distanced weekend with Bryn and Seth at Silver City Mountain Resort (before they were chased out by the fires)
  • Celebrating the Dodgers’ first championship since before any of our kids was born (catharsis)
  • Looking on as Nacho disembowels yet another squeaky toy (no blue dragon is safe)
  • Studying Engineering from home while enrolled at UCLA (correction: no joy in that for Seth whatsoever—he’s moved back to Westwood)
  • Eating Guerilla Tacos during the Worst Drive-in Dance Concert of the COVID Era™ (Date Night!)
  • Witnessing the selflessness of medical personnel and other essential workers (angels and superheroes)
  • Meeting the brand-new baby of our brand-new friends who arrived only a few months ago as refugees from Afghanistan (you’d love them too)
  • Sitting down to compile this list (and there’s more where this came from)
  • Thinking about friends like you (corny, but true)
  • Celebrating the birth of Jesus (Joy to the World!)

Here’s hoping for even more joyology in 2021.


Photo by Anthony Asael

Peter and Nacho Work from Home

Nacho and Dragon

Dear Will:

Thanks to COVID-19, I’ve been working from home now since the first week in March. I share my remote “office” with wife, my son, and Nacho, our mongrel pup (who has been working from home pretty much since we adopted him in December).

I brought you a Thing.

As I have adapted to this new way of doing business, I have tried to pick up some best practices from anyone with recent work-from-home (WFH) expertise.

I can make the Thing squeak. [Squeaker-squeaker-squeak . . . SQUEEEEAK!] I can do this over and over and over and over and over. And over. [SQUEEEEAK!] Perhaps you have heard.

With these simple techniques you too can maximize both productivity and well-being while under quarantine. Based on my observations, I’ve come up with the following 11 WFH Tips and Tricks.

I chewed the Thing A LOT.  My slobber makes it slimy. (So slimy.) And look! NOW your bare foot has noticed that I brought you a Thing!

  1. Don’t be discouraged by early failure. Keep trying different approaches until you achieve success.

I brought back the Thing. You and I will now play the game where you keep throwing it away and I keep bringing it back. For about an hour.

  1. Stay active. Physical activity is good for both heart and mind.

[PANT PANT PANT] I am still worried about the Thing. I will torment it with my powerful head-shaking submission move. It is terrified by my jangling collar! Fear the Fangs of Death, Thing!

  1. Sometimes it helps to step away from difficult problems. Return to them later when you can attack them with renewed vigor.

I have made you safe from the Thing. I brought you the Thing again so that you can see that you are safe from the Thing.

  1. Take time to share your successes with others. Don’t let isolation rob you of a well-earned celebration.

I placed the Thing on your keyboard so that you can see that I have made you safe from the Thing. Now you must try to extract it from the Fangs of Death. For another hour.

  1. Look for assignments you can really sink your teeth into. With the right attitude, just about any assignment can be fun.

[PANT PANT PANT] I could really use a nap. This nook by your chair where you usually put your feet looks like the best spot.

  1. Take an occasional break from whatever it is you’re working on. Choose a favorite place where you can let go of the tensions of the day.

I see that you have stepped over me to use the bathroom. I shall interrupt my nap to supervise. Good job!

  1. Make sure others feel supported in their work. And of course give praise where praise is due.

I have found another Thing! [Squeaker-squeaker-SQUEEEEAK!]

  1. Don’t hesitate to take on new assignments. Variety is its own reward.

I must disembowel this other Thing. I simply must. I shall lie down on your foot so that you can observe my surgical prowess. Look how much stuffing I am pulling from the body of this other Thing!

  1. Conquer difficult challenges with tenacity. Persistence pays off every time.

I placed my front paws on your laptop to let you know that it is now time for you to rub me the way that I like. And take me for a walk.

  1. Follow your impulses. When you have an itch, scratch it. Who knows where it might lead?

[PANT PANT PANT] I shall now chew on my stick which you say is gross and disgusting whenever you accidentally step on it.

  1. When you love your work, others will notice. Even if they do not fully understand it.

I brought you a Thing. . . .