Take Your Mind Off Things


Right now, my dog, Uno, is curled up on the bed behind me, his sixty-five-pound body making a perfect, tight circle, his nose tucked into his tail. He is obviously cold, even though it’s 68 degrees in our house right now. I could cover him with a blanket. Sometimes we do—like at bedtime when he’s in his crate (because we keep the house really cold at night, and he looks like one of the pets on those cruelty-to-animals commercials if we don’t) and sometimes just to be cute (because he’s already a really cute dog, and when you cover him up with a purple blanket, his cuteness ratchets up to squeal-level). But right now, I don’t cover him because two hours ago we took him on a walk through the neighborhood when it was 33 degrees and windy, and although we were bundled up like walking burritos (brrr-itos, get it?) and shaking in our wool socks, Uno was happily trotting along, bouncy with energy and stopping to sniff every new smell as if he had all the time in the world. I mean, why rush just because Mom & Dad’s noses have snotcicles hanging from them? It’s now 28 degrees and dark outside and still windy, yet if I offered a second W-A-L-K, Uno would be happy to oblige. But then he would come home and curl up into a tight little ball again, looking like the poster child for the SPCA. (If he weren’t on a bed, under a blanket, in front of a space heater, that is.)

This dog dichotomy has got me thinking about my own hypocritical tendencies. This past weekend, I visited the new Austin Central Library with a good friend. We walked up all six flights of Hogwarts-style stairs* and all the way back down again. After that, we went for a walk around Lady Bird Lake with my husband and the aforementioned Uno. Not being a particularly athletic-type person anymore, my legs were already weary from the library stairs, and halfway into our loop, I was feeling tired and sore and just a wee bit whiny. But THEN we arrived at the dog park at Auditorium Shores, and the site of all those adorable wagging tales and lolling tongues perked me right up. I watched games of fetch, petted a group of Great Danes, squealed at a baby Husky, and laughed at a Weimaraner trying to catch a squirrel in a tree. (How dumb does a squirrel have to be to choose to live in a dog park?) When we left, I had a smile on my face and a skip in my step.** It wasn’t until we were almost back to the start of the trail that I remembered I was supposed to be tired. Hmm…

Another moment this makes me think of happened in my first period class last week. A student with sensory issues arrived to my room in distress because his shirt was itchy. This is no laughing matter. Consider the least comfortable item of clothing you own—the pants that are too tight or the sock that always turns around inside your shoe or the boot that rubs a blister on your heel—and multiply that sensation times ten. This is what kids (and adults) with sensory issues have to deal with. It was only 8:30 in the morning, and already the student was red-faced and angry about his unbearable situation. After we determined that there was no tag to be cut out (it was just itchy fabric) and no extra shirt to change into, I empathized with him and said he’d just have to get through the day and then never wear this terrible shirt again. He was still yanking at the collar and snarling as I gave directions for the lesson, but a few minutes later when he was working with his partner on their project, I noticed that his face was back to it’s usual color, and he was gesticulating wildly with his hands, no longer tearing at his shirt. The itchy fabric seemed to be forgotten. For the moment, at least, he didn’t mind it.*** Hmm… again.

“Mindful” is a buzzword these days. We are encouraged to be mindful of our surroundings, mindful of others, and mindful of ourselves. We remind ourselves to slow down, take deep breaths, and be in the moment. At my school, we even have “Mindful Mondays” where each week, the counselor leads us through a short exercise on mindfulness during the afternoon announcements. I love these little lessons. 95% of the time, I’m on board with being mindful. I think it makes us better, healthier, happier inhabitants of the world. But then there’s that other 5% of the time when we need to get out of our heads and take our minds OFF things. In other words, sometimes we just need to lose our minds a little bit.

My cold pup loses his mind when we go for a walk. I lose my mind when I see a bunch of adorable dogs. This student lost his mind when he started having fun working on his project. And we were all better off without them.

One more example that comes to mind is… this blog post. I’ve been trying to write a blog post for three days now. My original idea turned out to be too big and needed more research than I was willing to do. After that, I just stared at the computer a lot while eating Sour Patch Kids and thinking, I have absolutely nothing to say. Then I’d watch Will & Grace reruns and call it a night. And… repeat. Tonight I sat down and, although I was out of Sour Patch Kids, I was also still empty of ideas. Nothing worked, mainly because I didn’t try anything. I just sat and stared and thought writerly thoughts that were the equivalent of I’m cold and I’m tired and I’m itchy. Finally, I decided to write for ten minutes. Not a blog post, just something. ANYTHING. Ten minutes of words and then I would give myself permission to watch Will & Grace and go to bed. I looked around my room for something to say. I saw my dog curled up into a ball. I started typing. And then… I lost my mind.

That was an hour ago.

I’ve found my mind again. It’s right where I left it, next to this finished blog post.

Today, I give you permission to take your mind off things.

* One of my students told me the new library had stairs “like in Harry Potter.” The staircases are very pretty, but I’m disappointed that they don’t move.

** After we left the dog park, we walked by the statue of Stevie Ray Vaughan, and Uno had to growl at it for several minutes before we could continue on. What does my dog have against this Austin icon???

*** If my student had not been able to take his mind off the itchy shirt, I promise I would have found something else for him to wear. I did make his other teachers aware of the issue in case he became mindful of it again during the day.

the offending statue

* * * * *

Don’t forget! The Morose Penguin Review is accepting submissions until midnight on January 31st! Send your best and/or worst and/or only poems about morose penguins via the Contact Form on my website.

Published by Carie Juettner

Carie Juettner is a former middle school teacher and the author of The Ghostly Tales of New England, The Ghostly Tales of Austin, The Ghostly Tales of Burlington, and The Ghostly Tales of Dallas in the Spooky America series by Arcadia Publishing. Her poems and short stories have appeared in publications such as The Twin Bill, Nature Futures, and Daily Science Fiction. Carie lives in Richardson, Texas, with her husband and pets. She was born on Halloween, and her favorite color is purple.

4 thoughts on “Take Your Mind Off Things

  1. Great post! Love the Sour Patch Kids/ Will & Grace/ “I have nothing to say” anecdote. And this is a great reminder. I’m with Uno though; I’d probably growl that that statue too.

  2. I just loved this! The way you went on writing as things or memories came to you and when it finally turned into lesson. It feels like I know exactly how you must have felt like when you were writing and thinking these, like I lost mind and was thinking through yours. 😀

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