We're Artists: Be Like a Dog

The other day a young undergrad (19 years I think, Lordie she made me feel old), asked me to get coffee and chat about art-making for a living. We made a date at Thunderbird. I came armed with my meager 3 years of knowledge.

I was expecting to answer questions about retail.

  • Accounting.
  • Systems management.
  • Prioritization. 
  • Goal Setting.
  • Clients.
  • Boundaries. 

She wanted to talk about none of those things.

Instead we talked for over 2 hours about a totally unexpected topic:

My energy.

It took about 15 minutes of chats on weather before she felt warmed up enough to share. Forewarning, I am about to re-type the insane compliment she paid me then. It still feels like a humble-brag to write.

"To be honest, I am impressed with your intuition and confidence," she said. "Everyone I've watched you interact with seems more comfortable in your presence."

Admittedly I choked on my coffee a bit and tried to control 20 shades of blushing. She went on to share her struggles as an artist, and for lack of a better term, ability to "human." She felt overly sensitive, had all kinds of feelings, felt overwhelmed and anxious by life... and felt like most of her artist friends were the same way. 

In short, she thought I was an anomaly and wanted to know my secret sauce.

I looked at this sweet young woman and absolutely saw 19 year old Becca looking back.

I replied: "Girl, either you'll love or hate hearing this... but we're exactly the same. The truth is, I'm an artist and I'm sensitive as shit. Many (MANY) creative people are."

She wasn't buying it. 

To her, we were apples and oranges. She pressed: "What is one thing you recommend I do..." and explained she felt strongly I might have advice on being more confident and extroverted. 


I've spent a lot of time since then thinking about our conversation. What is the one thing that I value most in my approach? What is the advice I'd give that girl? (Because y'all my coffee shop advice that day mostly sucked.)

And I think I have it. It's equally unexpected. Maybe a little simplistic, but hopefully approachable:

Be Like a Dog.

Stay with me. I think I got this... just hold on while I explain.

The other day I took Layla to the Greenbelt. If you live in Austin you're familiar. If not, the Greenbelt is an expanse of metro-park that stretches through the city. It's pristine, untouched, and one of my favorite places. I always take Layla with me to the Greenbelt.

On that particular day, we parked at one of the trailheads and began to walk towards the path. We approached a young guy changing T-shirts outside of his car. He glanced up at us, and I expected to exchange a smile and hello. Instead something alarming happened. Instead of a friendly smile, my eyes met with an absolute leer. He gazed me up and down and I was overcome by an incredibly negative feeling. 


I'm 36. I haven't been leered at in years. I forgot how much is sucks. 

Before I could register what I was reading off his face however, my dog reacted. I felt Layla freeze. I nodded at him awkwardly as I dragged the dead weight of my 27 lb pup past him. Not surprisingly, she was absolutely refusing to walk by this dude. 

Nevertheless, we got to the trailhead unscathed. Jay-Z was a wise man: "Dirt off the shoulder." I took her off leash and we jogged down into the creek bed. We ran about a mile, eventually stopping at one of the cliffs where Layla likes to explore. I hydrated and listened to music, forgetting that the longer we sat there... wait for it... 

Creepy dude had time to catch up.

And when he came around the corner, my dog did something I've never seen her do before or since:

She lunged at him.

Her bark said it all: "I will rip your face off if you come any closer."

Admittedly I was a mix of pride and concern. His leer turned to a frown. He tried to pet her. I had to restrain her. I was about to tell him to buzz off before my dog actually did something shitty, when two women jogged up.

"Aw cute girl!" said the one, and leaned down to pet Layla. 

Layla's tail wagged. She nuzzled the woman's hand.

Whereupon creepy dude became tremendously upset. He looked at me incredulously: "I don't know why she's being like that, I didn't do anything to her." before awkwardly huffing off.


So here was the deal. (I know you know what I'm about to share, but I'll share it anyway):

He didn't DO anything. But who he WAS... sucked. 

And my dog saw him. 

She saw underneath parts of him. Even more clearly than I could. 

So friends, that is my advice to the woman in the coffee shop. If you feel like you want to be more confident, and less sensitive.

Be like that.

Be like a dog.

If I can do anything differently than her, it's that after 15 years of teaching and 20 years of waiting tables I've learned to heed the spidey sense that's all our birthrights. 

I don't bark at people. Or wag my tail. I just make decisions based on non-verbal things I pick up. I do it religiously. I truly believe that if I'm having perceived success, it's from listening to my feelings before intellect. Especially when it comes to who I work with. I can predict the ease of working with a client simply by the feelings I get off their initial email. 

That is the one thing I wish I had told her. And now it's the thing I want to tell you.

I know, intuitive fluency takes practice.

I recommend in the meantime (if it's feasible) get a pup!

They can remind you how to listen to your spidey sense if you let them. I took Layla to a contract meeting with the founder of West Campus Books the other day. {They will be shipping coloring books for us now!} And do you know what Layla did 5 minutes into our meeting? She laid at his freaking feet and fell asleep.

Needless to say, I'm excited to work with those guys.

Learn to see people like a dog. You know why good people like dogs? Because dogs see under the surface of their mask, and react in kind. 

People want to be seen. 

Well... unless you're the creepy dude in the Greenbelt.

See like a dog.

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