Agility Spaz

Monday, May 28, 2007

Love, Loss, and the Disabled List

Sometimes it takes a small loss to begin to understand a large one. Viva was placed on the disabled list this month after an unknown incident or series of incidents led to a brief but noticeable case of lameness. The vet's best guess at the time was a minor tear in the left CCL (canine ACL, as best I understand it). Either way, time and rest were anticipated to be Viva's best helpers, so we took a month off from trials, stairs, jumping on (and off) the bed, not to mention counter-surfing-while-balancing-precariously-on-one's-hind-legs. Viva was peeved about the countersurfing ban, but a good sport about the rest. I'm grateful the injury appeared to be minor.

Nonetheless, I've spent the rest of the month noticing small changes in my thought patterns: Monday morning quarterbacking, sudden panic about normal canine behavior, a perverse desire to dent people who are mean to or frustrated with their dogs. Driving home from a trial at which I volunteered but did not run a dog, I thought to myself, "Guess I'm one of the normal people this weekend." Normal, as in people who do not have multiple PVC jumps, a tunnel, a brightly painted teeter, or a set of weave poles in their backyard. Normal, as in people who sleep in on weekends, go for a bike ride with their families, or call their mothers on something other than a cell phone, say, from a shade tent, while waiting for the endless stream of 24" dogs to finish Excellent Standard so one can run one's 16" dog in Excellent JWW.

In this context, what's the opposite of normal? Weird? Mutant? Special? For better or worse, there is something special about agility people. Moreover, I've apparently begun to think of myself as one of them, abnormal in whatever peculiar way(s) agility people are abnormal. Psychologists, I'm guessing, could talk about this in terms of identity. The understanding ones could even talk about an agility person without a dog to play with as a person vulnerable to a sort of an identity crisis: Who are we, really? And how do we know who we are?

Six years ago, I suffered a career-threatening injury to my left thumb. While it is true there are a couple of one-handed concert pianists on the circuit, the injury stopped me in my tracks both personally and professionally. Part of the trauma was the sheer pain involved, but equally trying in an odd way was a not-so-subtle shift in identity. I had not, pre-injury, been aware of the extent to which I thought of myself as a pianist. Of course there had been telling moments, as when a kind board member of a national piano competition asked me what my hobbies were and I drew an complete blank. There may be a few classical competitors who can simultaneously prepare for a major performance and dabble at a hobby or two, but most of the musicians I hung out with at the time were pathologically focused on music. Take the music away, and what do you have left?

In the months of hand rehab and reconditioning, months which ultimately stretched into years, I figured out that I had a fairly well-defined personality, a sense of humor, a fabulous partner, a decades-old longing for a puppy (hence Viva's entry onto the scene), and a kinesthetic fascination with fiber that ultimately developed into a knitting habit. I liked my job, even if I couldn't play as much as I wished, but I discovered I didn't like it enough to let it own me 24/7. In an odd way, the injury saved my soul. Certainly it got me a dog, who got me into agility and managed to convince me that the best days were not the ones entirely spent locked in the studio pounding away at a Steinway. In short, though I was indeed a pianist, I was also something more than a pianist. I suspect even sometime-pianists are, like agility people, impossibly far from normal, but I no longer mind. Normal is perhaps an impossibility -- the .5 in 2.5 kids. Ask anyone with children: they'd much prefer to be above or below the norm if the norm is sitting at 2.5.

Then there are dogs, who couldn't care less about norms. They care about routine, and they care about their pack. They notice changes in routine and changes in the pack. Viva misses agility, at least when there are agility obstacles around. She is bothered by the reduction in activity ordered by the vet, and she lets us know by barking a lot. With her activity level gradually on the rise, she is barking less. Perhaps that was a canine identity crisis of sorts. In her world, she went from normal to abonormal. The return to normal pleases her.

As for me, I am thinking less and less about the disabled list and what we can't do. It's more enjoyable to be in the moment with what we can and are doing. I managed to get through a trial this weekend without wanting to dent anyone, though for the most part that was because people were being really good to their dogs. There are more ways than agility to enjoy the summer. We'll get back to abnormal soon enough.