I was reminded of a thought by this presentation (a fantastic, tongue-in-cheek presentation by Ursus Wehrli that plays with art, language, and the conventions of scientific talks - and it's subtitled).
"You're like a puppy," Jenn Martinez sometimes told me when I was dancing in Boston. "Little puppy Mel." A smart little puppy, but a puppy nonetheless. When there is something I'm trying to understand, I'll look at it, and almost instantly I'll think "Hm... hrrrrmmm. Poke, poke. Poke-poke-poke - ooo! Well, okay, but... but... why?" And the busy little whip-smart puppy goes oh boy! and starts earnestly digging away in its neat little intellectual flowerbeds, strewing magnolias and asparagus here and there. When it's productive and happy, it ends up sounding a lot like Wehrli sometimes - funny, sharp, but also sometimes just missing something (consciously, deliberately!) beyond the intellect that most people would think of as the point.
"Come here, little puppy. Time to go inside." But but digging! happy happy dig dig dig... "No, no, you have to eat. It's getting dark soon." Dig dig dig! Diggety dig dig... "Dinnertime? Hungry puppy?" Diggety dig happy happy digging puppy! Happy digging puppy is happy, and... and... cold. Mraaa. Cold puppy. But digging! Diggety dig dig. Happy! But... cold. Cold puppy? "Yes, it gets colder when it's night-time. Come inside for dinner now?" But the digging! Digging, digging! But but... wait, is hungry. "Yes, that's why it's dinnertime." Dinnertime! Dinnertime! Dinner dinner nom nom nom happy puppy happy happy omnomnom! "Good puppy." Good puppy! Nommmmm. Dig?
Sigh. What can you do?
It's a very efficient little puppy when you need to dig away in intellectual flowerbeds - and there's plenty there! - but try to tell it where to dig, or to stop digging - or to start if it doesn't want to - or to come heel because it's time for a walk or a bath or a vet trip - and it gaily ignores you. If you drag it into line - and I have quite a bit of willpower and can force myself to do a lot - it whimpers, bewildered, and begins to panic, flounder, and pout. And sometimes snap back.
No no no not happy puppy happy puppy wants to dig! Why no dig? Does not want vet, does not want vet, bad bad mean person! Graaaaa! Dig dig dig! But... but... dig!
There are things outside of intellectual flowerbeds. And some of my most treasured moments are when that puppy, for some reason or another, stops digging for a moment - just a moment - and watches the leaves falling with that same wide-eyed happy curiosity, but also an open calmness. Or comes back and circles around my ankles, yipping cheerfully and going found something! found something! come see, come see, share shiny thing with you! Or best of all, when it comes over and cocks its head and looks at you, then matter-of-factly climbs into your lap and promptly falls asleep there, breathing deeply, warm and soft in your arms.
You know it's going to wake up and go back to happy puppy dig dig dig! soon, and that if it learns to do anything else, it will be slow and painful and probably take a long time, and so you cherish the calm times in the moments when they happen. And you know that you can't really make them happen on command, but gosh, it's hard not to love a happy puppy who's just so dang cheerful about digging and wants to share it! With you!
Frustrating, endearing, keeps you on your toes. Me and my brain and my self and my willpower, that's what it feels like sometimes.