Every dog needs his day – for Tippy

TippyCanoe
Tippy

When my friend and fellow Spokesman-Review columnist Cindy Hval wrote a couple columns from the perspective of her cats, Thor and Milo, I laughed. They were fun columns with the facts filtered through artistic license. (You can read them here and here.)

Over drinks Cindy and I decided I should respond by writing a column from the perspective of my border collie Tippy. I’d written about Tippy before but not from his point of view. Alas, when I submitted the column it was rejected with apologies from my editor.

I rewrote the column from my perspective (read the revision here), but have since received requests to share the original column. What’s the point of an oft-neglected blog if not to self-publish rejected columns written from the perspective of a dog?

So, here it is in Tippy’s words:

I’m Tippy, a border collie-Australian shepherd mix that lives in the Barville pack. I’m writing this column for Jill, my Alpha animal. I’d do anything for her. She’s the best, which I tell her all the time because when you love someone, you should tell them every time you see them.

Jill has written about me before but when I heard that Milo and Thor, columnist Cindy Hval’s cats, each wrote a column while she vacationed this summer, I barked.

It’s cute that a cat could write a column. But unlike a cat, I’m dependable, high energy, focused, and bred to work. Ever since she brought me home from the animal rescue place, I’ve told Jill that I’d like more responsibilities beyond managing house and yard security, entertaining the pack, and providing constant companionship to her no matter what room she’s in. I’d prefer to do more.

It took quite a bit of barking before she realized what I wanted. She’s smart but not border collie smart. When she finally said, “do you want to write a column too, Tippy?” I barked loud, perked my ears and jumped into the air, careful to not put my paws on her. She doesn’t like that.

Since I love her very much, I try hard to do things she likes and stop doing things she doesn’t like. I stopped barking at the aerosol cooking spray can and at the vacuum cleaner, because she asked me to, even though those things could hurt her.

I just wish she were smarter or could understand bark the way I understand English. Then I could reason with her and help her understand why I do some of the things I do.

When I bark at horses, dogs and other animals who’re approaching the big, black window, for example, it’s to keep them from jumping into our living room. The rest of the pack just stares at the black window, as if they don’t realize the animals on the other side aren’t safe. It’s up to me to keep the pack safe.

I also bark at the black window when Jill yells at it because some humans aren’t doing what she wants with a ball. They must be bad at fetching. I’m good at fetching. If she needs to throw a ball a bunch of times, I help by chasing it and bringing it back, no matter how hot or tired I am. I could do this all day.

In fact, I can do a lot more than she thinks I can. She shouldn’t have been so surprised last week, for example, when I went to visit my best friend Bear. He’s a golden retriever and not an actual bear. I’d seen Bear the night before when he visited after traveling in an RV for a month. We didn’t get to play long enough.

I thought when the other Alpha, Curtis, left the garage door open, it meant I was supposed to scout the neighborhood and make sure it was safe. It was and everyone was either asleep or in the shower so I didn’t have any other jobs to do so I ran the ¾ mile to Bear’s house. There’s only one busy street to cross and I’m faster than most cars anyway.

Speaking of speed, I’d like to clarify that I’m faster than most animals, including squirrels and especially cats. This is one of many reasons I’m so good at my job as chief security officer and pack protector.

I run at half speed while barking to ensure squirrels don’t violate our yard space. They’re stupid rodents who push the boundary by running along the top of the six foot fence, talking smack in those high pitched voices that sound like a squeaky toy.

This partially explains the squirrel incident last month. Jill isn’t the best communicator and hadn’t explained that I wasn’t authorized to use lethal force when enforcing our borders. So when that squirrel breached our yard space and squeaked, I did my job. I grabbed it with intent to toss it over the fence. It was still squeaking when she yelled at me to stop.

Her wish is my command so I dropped it instantly before running into the house with my tail down to show I was sorry my security measures had displeased her.

One of my prime responsibilities is to make sure she and the other pack humans are happy, a job I take seriously.

When the youngest human pup gets up, for example, I meet him on the stairs and bounce backward while barking as he stumbles up sleepily. This helps him wake up and arrive at the top safely. It also makes him feel loved and that is the most important job of all. Humans need to know they’re loved.

It also makes the young pup happy when I give him a high five, shake his hand or fetch the flying disc or ball, so I perform these tasks and eat the oat cereal he offers as payment. I love having a job and wish he and the other humans would give me more work.

I’m pretty sure I could learn how to do anything they do, only better, whether that’s fetching a sports drink from the refrigerator or writing this column twice a month.

If you read both versions, which is your preference? I promise to not take it personally.

[polldaddy poll=0]

There’s a “cuss” in Concussed

Concussion has the word “cuss” in it for a good reason. Getting one is a major headache.

Last month, my husband and I went hiking at Liberty Lake regional park, to the great joy of our border collie, Tippy. No, that’s not a muzzle. It’s a nose harness that minimizes pulling. (Also great if you want to run with your dog.)

Hiker and dog
Tippy and me, ready to hike.

In warmer weather this is a popular hike to a picturesque waterfall but Curtis and I had never done it.

Since it was a cool, rainy day we were the only hikers on the peaceful, muddy trail that follows a stream filled with snow melt. It felt great to be outside enjoying each other’s company. Hiking has always been our favorite date.

streamtrail1 trail

After a mile or two, snow and ice covered small stretches of the trail but we forged ahead. The trail is seductive. Each bend beckons, “come a little further.”

When we reached a bridge with hard-packed ice on either side I stopped to capture the beauty of the stream with this short video.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v9pF47tx1iY]

“This is a fall waiting to happen,” I said with a laugh after putting my phone away. I’m not afraid of falling. It just means you’re pushing your boundaries.

Then I slipped, the back of my head slamming into ice and rock.

I’ve broken bones, burned my cornea and given birth naturally to three children. This pain was different. It felt like someone drove a tank through my skull at 200 miles per hour.

Overwhelmed by nausea and dizziness, it took a few minutes before I could stand. When the worst of it passed I crawled back across the ice, my dog monitoring every move. Then we retraced our steps on the trail at a toddler’s pace.

I’ve signed enough sports forms to know any exertion would be a bad idea but slow was all I could manage anyway.

One ER visit, a CT scan and some hefty meds later I hoped to be back to normal in a day or two. But after watching my son’s weekend soccer games I crashed. Over the next week I slept almost around the clock and struggled with short-term memory issues, headaches, dizziness and slow thinking.

Getting concussed turned me into a 96 year old.

My doctor told me to wait until I was symptom free before trying any physical or mental exertion, then add back about 20% of my typical activity every other day unless my concussion symptoms returned. Cuss.

I couldn’t write. I couldn’t read. I couldn’t run. Each of my favorite pursuits are unfriendly for initial concussion recovery. Cuss.

At first, when I tried to run or write, even in small doses, the headaches and sleepiness came back like a boomerang. Cuss.

At 2 1/2 weeks, the fog finally lifted. I consider myself fortunate.

A dear friend still suffers from post-concussive issues following a car crash years ago. What I experienced was a little window into her long-term struggles.

It makes me appreciate that I can read again. I can write again. I can run again.

In fact, exercise may be one of the best things I can do for my brain. It’s also one of the best things I can do to prevent future falls.

While my fall was an unlikely accident, strengthening my core more is on the exercise agenda. That’s because I plan to enjoy many more hikes, runs and other active pursuits over the next several decades. I’d like to do it without cussing.

Have you ever gotten a concussion or other injury from a fall? How did that affect your activity level?

 

Spartan Race Entry Giveaway – Find Your Strength

Overcoming obstacles in a Spartan adventure race is a lot like conquering challenges in life. It forces you to face your weaknesses while finding your strength.

But the experience is wrapped in exhilaration, adrenaline, camaraderie and mud. A lot of mud.

Thanks to Spartan, I’m giving away one free entry for any open heat (non-confirmed start time) in any 2014 Spartan Race in the continental US.

To run the contest, which ends 12:00 AM PST, April 19, I’m using the Rafflecopter widget. At that point I’ll also post a link to 15% off your race entry, so everyone can be a winner.

You can enter by:

  • Posting a comment (required) saying why you are or want to be Spartan Strong. It’s up to you how you define that.  (2 points)
  • Tweeting about the contest. (1 point)

For me, Spartan Strong isn’t about how fast I am, how much I can lift or pull or push or how high I can climb. It isn’t about how many burpees I can do.

Becoming Spartan Strong, I believe, is about facing challenges and working hard to overcome them. It’s about breaking boundaries. It’s also about accepting help when you need it. (Good shoes can help, as well.)

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sPI0FwPK8i8]

When I ran my first Spartan Sprint last year (more about that here) I received help from my husband and friends as well as complete strangers who were willing to lend a hand, a back or foot to help me scale a wall or army crawl my way up a slick hill under barbed wire without any footholds.

Without them I might still be stuck on that hillside. They might be stuck as well, because it took teamwork to reach the top.

That’s life too.

Sometimes while facing challenges you discover some of your strength comes from the people around you.

That’s why I wanted to do this race entry giveaway. To all the people who want to break their boundaries and overcome their obstacles but think a Spartan adventure race might be a little too hard. Go for it. Discover how Spartan Strong you really are.

In that spirit, please share this contest with your friends.

Click here to enter the giveaway.

Spartan Strong and Winning

“You never know how strong you are until being strong is the only choice you have.” – Spartan Meme

That statement sums up the last year for me. It’s true in a way that’s bittersweet but incredibly empowering.

So, in honor of strength I’m doing my first blog giveaway.

In the next few days (just as soon as I figure out the ins and outs of a blog contest) you’ll have the opportunity to try to win a free entry to any open heat (non-confirmed start time) in any 2014 Spartan Race in the continental US.

AROO!!

I’ll also have a 15% off race entry link available for all blog readers, making everyone a winner. Registering for a race is one of the best motivators I’ve found to train harder, longer and more often.

That’s why I signed up for the Spartan Sprint in Washougal, Washington last year.

After running marathons, half marathons and range of shorter running events, I needed a new challenge to get my training adrenaline pumping. I’d become too complacent.

My husband and I signed up with several friends as team bumps and bruisers. It was one of our first kid-free trips in years and my pleasure anticipating an active vacation was accented by nervous energy that bordered on periodic panic. I knew I needed to get stronger all over.

 Team Bumps and Bruisers Before the Race
Team Bumps and Bruisers Before the Race

The obstacle race was between 3 and 4 miles. I’ve heard conflicting reports on the actual distance but that doesn’t matter much. You climb, jump, crawl, claw, pull, push, slide, clutch, carry and clambor your way through this course.

muddy climb    tire pull

Carrying a Sandbag up a hill

Running the hills between each obstacle was the easy part. I can run four miles under 35 minutes. The Spartan Sprint took me 1:52, which is the same as my last two half marathon times.

I think about half of that time was spent on a 1/4 mile uphill crawl under barbed wire on hard-packed, wet ground. I left a LOT of skin on that hill.

This race tested every muscle and left me spent and satisfied. I had a blast.

crawling under   yes this is fun

Team Bumps and Bruisers After Spartan
Our Smiles Say it All: Spartan is a Blast

Before we’d even washed the mud away we were talking about doing another Spartan. We considered the new race venue in Seattle this weekend, a trip to Montana in May or even some cross-country locales like Vermont or  Philadelphia. But after last year, it looks likely we’ll repeat the Pac West race near Portland in August.

Portland is fun. To name just several highlights that are me-centric, it has:

  • Powell’s City of Books (which is like a religious experience for an avid reader)
  • an Oregon Duck Shop (Go Ducks!)
  • the first marathon I ever ran, the Portland Marathon
  • Vodoo Donuts (worth the wait in line at least once and especially delicious as post-race refueling).

Oh, and Portland is about 30 minutes from the Spartan Sprint in Washougal. I need another race on my calendar to amp up my 2014 workouts with a little adrenaline.

Spartan is a great way to test physical and mental strength, two things you especially appreciate when you need them most, whether you’re overcoming the obstacles of Spartan or the obstacles of life. In both cases I know I’m Spartan Strong.

Barb, The Bag Lady, Aunt Lucy and Aging Gracefully

Little moments matter.

This morning I read a lovely post by my online running pal, Barb. She talked about her regular interactions with a bagging lady at her local grocery store. Go read the full post here, then come back. I’ll wait.

I love Barb’s post for two reasons.

1. The idea of bagging groceries in the order they’re put away appeals to me. It’s beautifully efficient. Since my life is a blend of hyper-organization offset by complete chaos, I’d like to borrow some of Barb’s grocery shopping efficiency.

Until now, my bagger has felt like she’s doing pretty good if all the refrigerated items go together, the toiletries are separate from the food and the bread doesn’t get squashed. My boys each make between 3-5 sandwiches every day for lunch, so I buy a LOT of bread. I also shop at a store that doesn’t employ baggers, so the bagger is me.

2. More importantly, Barb’s post reminds me how much the little moments of interaction matter and how purposefully looking for the positive is always worthwhile.

It also reminds me of my Great Aunt Lucy and a promise I made myself about aging gracefully. (Someday I’ll write a whole post about meeting Aunt Lucy when I was 12.)

Near the end of her life Aunt Lucy was physically dependent, relying on caregivers to meet every need, from toileting and bathing to eating. And while her mind was sharp, her memory was more colander than steel trap.

“Write down that you were here,” Aunt Lucy said during my mom’s last visit with her.

She pointed at a notebook beside the bed and flashed a smile. “I want to remember you were here and enjoy your visit again.”

While they chatted my mom noticed how Aunt Lucy kept finding the silver lining.

She could have so easily complained. Her body was failing. Her mind was slipping but not so much she didn’t know it.

She could have griped about her aches, pains and loss of independence.

But she didn’t complain. “I receive such good care. They take good care of me here,” she said of the nurses and aides.

She could have bemoaned not getting more visitors or missing important family events she didn’t have the strength to attend. But she didn’t.

“Thank you so much for visiting,” she said, instead.

My mom left feeling blessed.

When I heard this, I hoped that when I grew old I could be like Aunt Lucy. But I also realized there’s only one way to be a positive person in my sunset years. I have to start becoming that person now, through how I handle the little moments like the grocery checkout line.

After grocery shopping Barb could easily have complained about her cranky bag lady. Instead, she looked for something to like (efficient bagging) and chose to be purposefully kind in those few moments she spends at the checkout counter. That’s pretty cool.

I bet the days Barb shops at the store are a little brighter for Joyce, her bagger. They’re probably a little brighter for Barb too.

Because she’s looking for something positive she finds it.

My Aunt Lucy would like Barb. I also bet that Barb will be a lot like my Aunt Lucy when she grows old.

 

 

 

Running Naked

Running naked can be illuminating.

Earlier this month I ran the Oktoberfest Half Marathon in Leavenworth, my third half marathon since spring. I’d already met my time goals for the year so I decided to run this one naked. That’s runner lingo for stripping the watch. The rest of me was fully clothed.

While I’ve read race reports about running in the buff, I prefer my natural running to include views of rocks, trees and water, not expanses of fast moving flesh. I also prefer to have my softer parts held snuggly in place and out of sight while on the run, without unnecessary bouncing, jiggling or chafing.

Not wearing my watch was hard enough.

I’m not a casual runner, though I’m also not particularly fast. I wear my watch on every run so I can enter my distance and time in a spreadsheet where I also track pace, mileage and a few other statistics. Some might call this obsessive, but looking at that progress gives me a sense of accomplishment and hope.

I’ve come a long way. I have a long way to go.

Since the race was measured and chip-timed, I knew I’d still have an entry for my spreadsheet. The only thing lost by doffing my watch was the ability to figure out my pace during those 13.1 miles. What I gained was worth it.

At first I kept instinctively looking at my wrist. Naked. Numberless. I wondered how fast I was running. I’d positioned myself between the 8- and 9-minute pace groups at the start to match my last two race times but knew from experience my first few crowded miles would probably be faster. The adrenaline always gets me. It’s like driving on a congested freeway. You just want to pass people.

After a few miles the throng thinned and I settled in to enjoy the view, still glancing at my empty wrist from time to time. My watch is simple, without any satellite connection, so usually during a race I do a lot of mental math at each mile marker. Without those calculations to occupy my thoughts, they drifted.

I looked up, noticing a few orange trees sprinkled among the evergreens and the rocky peaks towering above me tipped in white. Was that an early snow, I wondered, or last winter’s slow-melting snow.

My mind wandered to the children’s book “Heidi,” mountain goats and how glad I was this race didn’t go over that crag. The rolling hill I was ascending was enough to make my quads ache and my breath come in shorter gasps.

That made me notice the clear, crisp mountain air, which made me thankful we’d chosen to run this year instead of 2012. Last fall, forest fires filled the sky with smoke that didn’t dissipate quickly.

Then a runner in a dirndl passed me, the dress barely resembling the authentic Bavarian dirndl my daughter owns after a year studying in Germany. Emily’s dirndl is an exquisite garment that comes to the knee and includes an apron that shows you’re single if you knot it on the left.

This woman didn’t need an apron to broadcast availability, I surmised, averting my gaze. Her costume was so short she didn’t need to stop and stretch to show her stuff.

With my mind occupied by a continuing stream of distractions I missed a couple of mile markers. Usually when this happens I figure out how far I’ve gone by time. Since I couldn’t, I started listening to my body better. I noticed my breath, my muscles, the swing of my arms and placement of my feet.

Adjusting my stride, I loosened my hands and leaned forward. I didn’t need a watch to know my pace picked up. Before long I spotted another dirndl ahead, long, blond braids bouncing on the runner’s back. This dirndl hit just above the knee, and as I gained ground it drew my gaze down to two very, hairy calves. It was a dude in a dirndl.

This made me laugh, then remember the young women in Bavaria I’d seen this spring wearing lederhosen hot pants, a fashion trend I hadn’t seen in Leavenworth.

That triggered a flood of memories of my month in Germany and a couple more miles passed in thoughtful gratitude. Over the rest of the race my thoughts meandered between the sensations of my body and the scents, sounds and sights around me to the memories and musings they triggered.

This is what I love most about running.

It clears the cacophony in my head, creating space for reflection. It strips away rationalization and all the other ways I choose to hide from myself. It makes the run’s destination an epiphany rather than a finish line.

In Leavenworth I crossed the finish line at mile 13.1 a mere 18 seconds slower than my last race. But I found my epiphany around mile 11.

That might not have happened if I’d worn a watch. I think I’ll run naked more often.

This post is my Front Porch column in the October 26, 2013 issue of The Spokesman-Review.

Egg Expressions

Broken Egg in a Bowl with its EggshellSome recent social interactions got me thinking about egg expressions.

I’ve been trying to walk on eggshells, as the saying goes, with less than successful results. You can’t walk on an egg without it breaking, I’ve discovered. And when the path before you is a minefield of eggs it take more patience and finesse than I currently posses to tiptoe through without cracking a few.

That, unfortunately, makes me want to jump and stomp the rest of the way through the uncooked breakfast. Or tell it to grow up and become a chicken already. (This would be a very bad idea, I know.)

While pondering personalities that possess the fortitude of a fragile eggshell, some other egg idioms came to mind.

If you’re a good egg, you’re dependable or of good character. Hopefully, your eggshell has developed a thicker skin less prone to cracking, too.

If you egg someone on, by daring or pressuring them into something they aren’t comfortable doing, you’re not being such a good egg after all. In fact, if this is a character flaw and not an isolated act, you might be considered a rotten egg.

If you have egg on your face, you did something that’s come back to embarrass you. Sometimes you get egg on your face while trying to walk on eggshells but more often you get egg on your face after someone has egged you on.

If you put all your eggs in one basket, you’re vulnerable because they could all break at once. The apparent wisdom is to spread your eggs around so eggshell walkers only break a few.

If you spread your financial eggs around you have better odds of growing a nest egg, one that actually matures into a chicken. This brings us back to the goal of growing up.

It appears that most egg expressions imply that this easily broken beginning should be protected in hopes of achieving chickenhood, though you shouldn’t count your chickens before they hatch.

I’ll avoid an analysis of other chicken expressions and go back to the egg, not knowing if it or the chicken came first. It doesn’t much matter when you’re staring at a broken egg. The only thing to do at that point is make an omelet. (Which is great post-run refueling food, by the way.)

When faced with social interactions strewn with fragile eggs, as yet unbroken, what do you do?

Do you try to walk on eggshells or do you jump straight to making omelets? Why?

Marathon Warrior beats Breast Cancer and Runs for Life

Carol Dellinger after finishing one of her 272 marathons.When it comes to life’s challenges, Spokane resident Carol Dellinger approaches them like a marathon, with optimism, determination and strength.

Known as the marathon machine or marathon warrior, Dellinger runs a marathon every two to three weeks. She finished No. 272 on October 27, 2013.

But since 2009 marathon running has added meaning for the woman who treats each race like an individual journey. In October 2009, one day after finishing the Portland Marathon, Dellinger went for her annual mammogram and learned she had breast cancer.

“Cancer picked the wrong woman to mess with,” she said. “It was a new marathon to run.”

By the following June, Dellinger represented Cancer Care Northwest and herself as she ran 30 solo miles during the 2010 Relay for Life at Spokane Falls Community College, a fundraiser for the American Cancer Society.

“It’s my way of proving cancer did not beat me. I won this,” she said, noting she picked 30 miles because it’s more than a marathon but not so many miles it would set back her training schedule.

Of course, the cancer diagnosis did set back her training schedule, forcing her to cancel three marathons that fall and winter. But she’s glad that was it, because the cancer was caught early. “I was a fit, powerful woman. How could it be me?” Dellinger said, describing her range of reactions. She didn’t drink or smoke, she exercised and ate healthy foods and didn’t have any symptoms or lumps.

Still, Dellinger, was religious about getting an annual mammogram. “I’ve had a mammogram every year since I was 35,” she said, explaining that five women in her family had gotten various kinds of breast cancer, though Dellinger knew from a DNA test that she didn’t carry one of the identified genes that are susceptible to the disease.

Her cancer, ductal carcinoma in situ, is a common cancer of the milk ducts and curable when detected before it has a chance to spread, said Dellinger. “Six more months and it would have been invasive. … I’m so fortunate it was caught early … By early detection my cancer was 100 percent curable.”

Dellinger recalled asking her surgeon, Dr. Stephanie Moline, if she was going to die. The answer? Yes, eventually, but not from breast cancer.

So, Dellinger flew to Boston and ran the Cape Cod Marathon, her last as a two-breasted woman. Then she came home and had her right breast removed on Nov. 9. She declined reconstructive surgery because she wanted the fastest recovery possible, to run more marathons. Just nine weeks later, on Jan. 17, Dellinger finished PF Chang’s Rock ’n’ Roll Marathon in Phoenix.

“I think that’s what kept me so upbeat and motivated through the entire recovery, because I had that goal. I was running my comeback marathon,” said Dellinger, adding that she presented the finisher medal to Moline as a thank you. “It was an amazing experience crossing the finish line of that marathon, knowing just nine weeks prior what I had been given.”

The medal is displayed at Cancer Care Northwest, where it’s a reminder to the staff that what they do matters.

“I felt very blessed that she would share that with us and thought of it as a good inspiration,” said Moline of the medal. “If she can do this, we can keep working too.”

Yesterday, October 27, 2013, Dellinger ran the Cape Cod Marathon again, still grateful and positive about her journey as a cancer survivor and marathon runner.

“It was an emotional finish because this was the last marathon I ran 4 years ago before this breast cancer journey began,” wrote Dellinger on her Facebook page. “So it was a day of coming full circle. It has been a great team of people who have worked hard to get me here. A very talented Surgical Oncologist, Orthopedic Surgeon and all of my amazing friends! And after I finished I had one thought…..I am going to be alright because I kicked Cancers Ass!”

Carol Dellinger at the 2013 Cape Cod Marathon
Carol Dellinger at the 2013 Cape Cod Marathon, Marathon #272

According to Moline, Dellinger’s upbeat attitude likely helped her recovery. “She has a lot of positive energy, whether it’s facing 26 miles or facing a diagnosis of breast cancer. Most women don’t recover from surgery that quickly or bounce back with a positive attitude and keep going … Having a positive outlook, I think, made her recovery easy.”

Now, Dellinger uses her story to encourage others, blending the lessons she’s learned running so many marathons with the lessons she’s learned beating breast cancer.

“Marathon running is a way of life. Now as a breast cancer survivor, I can entangle the two and be an inspiration,” she said. “I run for hope. I run for every mother, woman, aunt, grandmother, partner, and sister who has ever been diagnosed with breast cancer. I also run to feel. Surviving breast cancer is something I have to feel.”

This post is an updated version of an article I wrote for the May 27, 2010 issue of The Spokesman-Review. I’m featuring it on the blog as a fitness profile because her story still inspires me and she has become a friend. Now, each fall I attend the mammogram party Dellinger hosts at Inland Imaging. (See story about that here.)

Hugging the Journalist

Once I overheard a fellow reporter say, “there are no hugs in journalism.”

This gave me pause. During my career I’ve written about more topics than I can recall but they tend to fall in four basic categories: business, technology, health and people.

Business and technology interviews are always hug-free and most of the other interviews are as well, especially telephone interviews. Those never have hugs.

But some of the stories are much more personal than what company made the latest, greatest widget – the woman who was switched at birth in the hospital, the baby who received a bone marrow transplant, the recovering drug addict, the abused girlfriend, the survivor whose family was murdered, the mom who couldn’t afford Christmas presents.

These stories go beyond the what, where, when and how to dive into the who and the why. The who and the why are what interest me most.

I’ve asked questions of bereaved parents, cancer survivors, grateful grant recipients and non-profit founders. I’ve listened quietly and taken copious notes while they pour out their passions, their pain and their pursuits.

They share things that are deeply personal. And in journalism we call them sources, a semantic attempt to remove the personal in the name of unbiased reporting.

But these aren’t vessels of information like a file-cabinet drawer. They’re people. And reporting without bias doesn’t have to be heartless.

So, after a parent tells me about the day her son committed suicide or a grandmother describes the day her grand daughter received a bone marrow transplant, I give a hug if I’m asked for one.

I’ve never replied, “there are no hugs in journalism.”

While that reporter might disagree, I don’t believe this makes me unprofessional. It makes me better at my job.

People (sources) tell me things they wouldn’t dream of telling that reporter. Sometimes they tell me things they haven’t told their priests, pastors or best friends. Sometimes it’s on the record and sometimes it’s an “off the record” aside. Sometimes they cry.

Sometimes they ask for a hug at the end of the interview.

It’s my theory that this happens because I listen. In our busy society if you aren’t in therapy you might never get to sit and spill your story to someone for 30 minutes with the only interruption a few clarifying questions to direct the conversation.

During interviews I don’t advise and I don’t give commentary. I can do that in my newspaper column or on this blog.

For 30 minutes or an hour of listening these people (sources) give me some amazing quotes, perspectives and stories that I must find a way to share with a wider audience. Every time I know I fall short but it’s a privilege to do this job and I welcome the challenge.

I also welcome the hugs at the end. Journalists are people too.

What do you think about hugs in a professional context?