Leader of the Pack

Vicki Doudera here.

hoover oliver mabel

When Hoover  (that’s him on the far left in the photo above) was a puppy, my daughter and I took him to obedience school.  Lexi was ten at the time, and as she walked him around the ring on his little puppy leash, we noticed him growling at the other dogs.  The instructor explained to Lexi that Hoover was protecting her, but that she needed to show him that she was the alpha dog. “Tell him to knock it off the next time he does it,” he suggested.

Lexi took the teacher’s recommendation to heart.  Hoover growled at a little black lab and she belted out “KNOCK IT OFF” with such force that he never questioned her authority again. She had showed him she was boss – the leader of the pack.

Pack mentality is all about status, and we humans are just as motivated by it as dogs, wolves, or even chickens for that matter. We see symbols of status all around us in the cars people drive, the clothes they wear, the schools they send their kids to, and even the neighborhoods in which they choose to live. Psychologist Robert Wilson says that although we tend to associate status with wealth, “even the poorest of people find symbols with which to establish their status. The visibility of these status symbols can create the powerfully motivating emotion of envy.”

I’m thinking about status because the Darby Farr Mystery I’m working on now takes place in New York, a city many of us think of as the epicenter of status.  I’m writing about multimillion dollar penthouses, haute couture clothing, and jewels the size of ping pong balls.  And of course, I’m also writing about envy, greed and lust, all the emotions engendered in one way or another by the desire for status.

Yes, the Big Apple can be Big Trouble, but the thing that all of us here at Maine Crime Writers know is that these emotions aren’t missing from Maine.  When we first moved to Camden, our oldest son went to a pricey preschool peopled by the offspring of our town’s upper crust. I asked my husband why some of the moms were on the frosty side, and he said matter-of-factly that I didn’t drive the right car. I don’t remember what I was driving at the time – probably some nondescript minivan – but I was aghast.  It seemed so ridiculous – so high school.  Who cares what kind of car someone straps a car seat into?  And yet I came to realize that to many people, a car is more than a car — it’s a status symbol.

I struggle to understand the need for this type of esteem. After all,  I’m happier buying clothes at Reny’s than Nordstrom’s, and I could care less about having honking big diamonds in my ears. The funny thing is that I’ve attained some kind of status nonetheless. By virtue of writing five books, I meet people (even when I’m out walking Hoover) who are clearly impressed. I see them look at me with a new appreciation, and I know that in their eyes my status has been raised from lowly dog walker to auteur. 

I want to explain that for me, writing is a passion for which I’m so grateful. I want to say that I’m really not that special, just determined.  If I am skilled at what I’m doing, it’s thanks to practice and perseverance.  I was born enjoying the craft of writing, but I don’t know if I was born naturally good at it. I want to explain all of this but I don’t.

I’ve learned that it’s better not to burst anybody’s bubble. That will happen soon enough – the minute they glimpse my still nondescript car!

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8 Responses to Leader of the Pack

  1. Deanna says:

    It’s too bad that people base their and your worthiness on something other than what’s inside. Nice people are nice people – status be darned! Dee

  2. Joan Emerson says:

    Oh, the mere mention of status symbols and the dreaded, hope-to-be-forgotten-forever torture of high school creates waves of agony, sets my teeth on edge, and sends me running to hide under the bedcovers until all danger is past . . . .

    I have never . . . and will never . . . understand the “pseudo-superiority” that people so willingly embrace in a childish effort to prove themselves “better” on some incomprehensible scale of their own devising. What effrontery when there is so much more important stuff in the world that should be front and center on their need-to-be-concerned-about-this radar.

    By the way, I have no idea what your nondescript car may be, but nothing would make me give up the nondescript car I love [but hate to drive, which is another story entirely] no matter what the perceived “status symbol” crowd demands I own. Here’s to nondescript cars that make us happy!

    • Hear, hear!

      I will say that it IS useful for me as a Realtor to note what my new clients drive because it sometimes tells me something about them….. and what kind of house they might want…

  3. Barb Ross says:

    Non-descript minivan. I had one of those!

  4. thelma straw says:

    I love the comments about your adorable dogs! As to people statuses, I live on the Upper East Side in Manhattan and know a bit about one upsmanship!! Where you buy your groceries is a biggie! The latest film or play you saw! Especially what you DO!!! I belong to a large group where people equate “lit ” with those books one read in college … to most of them mystery is a real step down in life!!! Hard to make converts of them!!! Thelma in Manhattan

    • Thelma, thank you for these comments — so helpful as I work on Darby #5! I’m thinking I need to do a little scouting trip this winter to soak up the atmosphere. Maybe we can meet for a drink and talk mysteries…

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