Friday, August 28, 2015


Several years ago when we adopted our greyhound Adam off the racetrack, we had to teach him how to climb up and down the stairs.  We had to stand behind him and beside him and lead him, coaxing him through the daunting process, until at last he took them automatically.

But over the last couple of weeks, he has developed a new fear of going down the staircase and we don't know where it came from. He stands at the top and backs away.  He stiffens his legs and whimpers.  He waits for Ben to carry him.

I've spoken to the Greyhound Adoption people and they say this happens quite often to greyhounds.  They just have to be encouraged and talked through it. No one knows why.

When Ben isn't here to carry him, and Adam follows me upstairs unthinkingly, he will back off from following me down again. He retreats from the edge and trots off into another room, makes his peace with a carpet in the sun. He relaxes.

Unless I'm going for a walk with the other greyhound Izzy.  Then he stands at the top and barks plaintively.  It's awful.  And it's completely self inflicted. Right now he is sleeping  peacefully on the carpet beside me as I type this.   But when it's time to go down, he might not be able to manage.  It's because he's overthinking them.  He's like Mr Bean on the top of the high dive - suffering vertigo.
me coaxing him towards the edge

Yesterday, for one brief moment, he forgot he was afraid.  Someone came to the door, and without thinking he ran downstairs. Then on the landing, he remembered his fear. Whoops.  Up he ran again.

I guess when it comes to stairs, you have to forget them entirely.  You have to trust that you know you can do them, then on automatic pilot, go down anyway.  But it's a bit like not thinking of the pink elephant.  If you remind yourself that you have to forget, you are in essence remembering.  It's also like trying too hard to fall asleep. You have to forget you are trying. Then suddenly you are asleep without realizing it.  But the catch is self awareness.  You have to let go of the satisfaction of being there mentally to realize it!

It occurs to me that everyone in my immediate family is currently standing at the top of their own metaphorical staircase.  We are starting new projects and moving to different cities.  One is off to new prospects in Chicago another back to a daunting doctoral at Oxford that has been on hold for a couple of years.  Another has moved from Sydney to start a course at GSD.  There is ambition in these lives and it's scary as hell.  Sure we could lie on the carpet and dream like Adam is doing right now.  That's easier and a lot more fun. At first. In essence it's what we've been doing all summer. Hanging around and talking.  Watching movies.  Eating meals together. Going to the beach.  But summer is over and taking the staircase is difficult.  The lead up isn't fun.
stairs are scary things

I'm also at the top of my own staircase. I'm trying too hard to finish a book. I've been overthinking it.  I keep going over the same pages with a fine tooth comb, inching forward to the edge where there is nothing yet written - then I stop in fear. I can't do it. I can't let go of myself enough to forget that it's me who is writing. So instead I busy myself with trying to rewrite and I'm not actually producing or even making it better. There's madness to this method.

Bracing yourself doesn't work because in fact, you don't have to jump after all.  You don't have to do the stairs all in one go. You have to breathe and relax and head off the edge without thinking.  The precipice doesn't exist.  It's one step after another.
the green green grass downstairs

1 comment:

  1. Beautiful analogy on life. Too true, walking, stairs, the outside world have to be faced with more or less mastered fear and a certain amount of insouciance. It's like diving into a swimming pool, anticipation, trepidation and elation are all felt in the split second before hitting the water. After that, pure joy!
    BTW, beautiful image of Ben & Rozzie -- true childhood innocence!