Life lessons from man’s best friend
By Jim Keogh
Roger Ziegler ‘91 is a life coach who helps people navigate the world with confidence and clarity. He specializes in transformation — taking the steps to land that dream job, improve athletic performance, deepen a personal relationship or simply be more at peace.
He’s also a writer, who has worked for The New York Times and other publications on his native Long Island.
With those two professions on his resume, Ziegler was uniquely qualified to publish a book of self-help advice, which he’s done. But his inspiration came from a surprising source, as evidenced by the title … wait for it … “Pee on It and Walk Away: How to Stay Stress-Free Among Difficult People. Life Lessons from Superdog Abby.”
Yes, Ziegler is being metaphorical here. His muse, on the other hand, has no compunction to follow the title’s suggestion exactly as written. Ziegler and coauthor Esther Yang have employed her dog, Abby, as a sort of avatar for dispensing nuggets of advice that are just as relevant for humans as they are for the canine world.
There’s a backstory to all this, of course. Ziegler, who also teaches karate to children, met Yang, a yoga instructor and psychotherapist, when he took one of her yoga classes. She in turn helped him with his karate class. One of the constants of their partnership was the ever-present Abby.
“She was the sweetest, calmest dog I’d ever met,” Ziegler recalls. “I was impressed by how well Abby handled stressful situations; she had more wisdom than most people.”
In talking about the dog, Ziegler and Yang struck upon the idea of creating a book centered on Abby’s secrets for living a stress-free life. If people were more like Abby, they reasoned, they might find themselves better equipped to manage difficult situations and people.
“Our goal was to be helpful and funny,” he says. “We wanted to create something that was down to earth and easy to understand.”
The book offers pithy words of wisdom accompanied by photographs and illustrations of dogs and other animals displaying specific behaviors. For instance, the line, “Have a snack. When your mouth is full, you are less likely to bite off someone’s head” is illustrated with a photo of a Siberian Husky puppy getting ready to chomp into a club sandwich placed on a table. Another reads, “Life is short, think BIG. Don’t ever beg or settle for crumbs” and sports a photo of Chihuahua hungrily eyeing a slab of beef several times its size.
“It’s easy to get caught up in small dramas that seem big,” Ziegler says. “This book is about changing your attitude toward what’s happening at that moment. You can change the situation. And sometimes it’s best just to leave. Walk away for a bit.”
“Living in New York we run into difficulties every day; we encounter difficult people — I’ve been a difficult person. The thing is, you have to be aware of what’s happening around you; what you’re getting hooked into. People have a lot of stuff going on below the surface, and we need to have compassion and more patience for what we can’t see — not only for their sake, but for ours.”
Ziegler describes himself as a “provincial Long Islander” who came to Clark intent on studying psychology, but who eventually created his own major in mass media and culture. “Clark opened my eyes to the world,” he says, “I had a great time. I met people from all over the planet and I learned so much in class and out.” Ziegler also got involved with theater at Clark, performing in a student production of the slapstick farce “Noises Off” and hosting an annual variety show.
After graduation he worked as a journalist for many years, living in the Hamptons and writing features for The New York Times’ Long Island section. He also wrote for other newspapers on the island. “I was deeply involved in media,” he says. “I got my major’s worth.”
He moved to Manhattan and entered the theater world, working for a producer on the off-Broadway show “Golf: The Musical.” Eventually, Ziegler became a life coach, though he still keeps his hand in the media world by writing a wellness column for examiner.com.
“Pee on It and Walk Away” was, at its core, a labor of fun for the authors. “Roger has a daughter and I have a daughter,” says Yang. “If they laughed at something and we laughed, then we used it. We knew if something didn’t make us laugh, then it wasn’t any good.”
Adds Ziegler, “We wanted to entertain ourselves, give ourselves wisdom, and in the process help people to help themselves.”
The authors have a sequel in the works, this one with Yang’s cat, Chopstick, delivering tips for improving one’s self confidence. This book, too, will teach with humor.
“If you can pick it up, look at a couple of pages and get a laugh and a good tip to lighten your day, then we’ve succeeded,” he says.