Decatur Cemetery, yesterday. Charlie contemplates mortality/geese.
Many years ago, reading “Harriet the Spy” for what was probably the ninth or tenth time, I realized that both novels contain meaningful scenes in which the protagonist dresses up as a foodstuff. (This may sound silly, but bear with me.) About halfway through her story, Harriet is cast, much to her chagrin, as an onion in her school’s Christmas extravaganza. At the end of “To Kill a Mockingbird,” Scout is conscripted to play the part of a ham in a Maycomb Halloween celebration. The distaste that Harriet and Scout have for these roles can be read as evidence not only of their discomfort with the idea of the traditionally feminine—soft shapes without hard edges—but also with the idea that existing in the world often requires the assumption of costumes, the displaying an inauthentic self, and even lying. But each comes to learn that subterfuge and dishonesty are occasionally useful, even necessary. About three-quarters of the way into “Mockingbird,” Scout and Dill meet Dolphus Raymond, a white male who lives with a black woman. Raymond, who is always seen sipping from something in a brown paper bag, explains that he only pretends to be a drunk so that the residents of the town will tolerate, if not fully accept, his unorthodox relationship. “It ain’t honest but it’s mighty helpful to folks,” Raymond tells the children. “Secretly, Miss Finch, I’m not much of a drinker, but you see they could never, never understand that I live like I do because that’s the way I want to live.” — The New Yorker | Anna Holmes, “Harriet M. Welsch, Scout Finch, and How to Be a Good Bad American Girl”
This guy came to live with Joe and me on Friday. We named him Charles Darwin but we’re mostly calling him Charlie, or Charlie D or Charlie Buddy or Charlie Butters or CHAAAHHLES or Charlesworth or Charliemange and, at least once, Charlene. Also, lots of singing, lots of horrible nonsense and strangely-pitched vocalizations. I’ve basically lost my mind. I am so in love with this little dude and feeling very woo-woo about the whole adoption experience. It has been weirdly meaningful and profound for something—human acquiring canine companion—that has been going for just about all of human-time. It feels somehow both “duh, yawn” and weirdly impossible until it happens to you and then it’s this earth-shattering, brain-exploding, Instagram-clogging EVENT. I would say “kind of like having a baby” but that seems both tempting fate AND the ire of actual parents of actual babies and those are things I would like to avoid right now, mostly because I am too busy cuddling this freckled Charlie who snoozes with his eyes rolled back into his skull but not fully closed, like a little fur-demon, like he’s here for my soul, and he might be.
When Joe and I started talking about adopting a dog a couple friends said, “Oh, when you find the right one, you’ll know, you’ll have a MOMENT,” and I wanted that to be true but I wasn’t counting on it. But then I met this guy. On Monday Joe and I decided that we would go to Atlanta Pet Rescue & Adoption on Saturday, and it seemed like a reasonable plan at the time, but by Wednesday I had fallen in love with a few from the shelter’s website and that afternoon felt a very strong and certain pull to go over there and see what was what, which sounded crazy but didn’t feel crazy, so I did. I met Ally McBeagle and Clancy and Jim and Mica and they were all very sweet and I began to think this would be harder than I expected, that there was no way we could pick out a dog to be our dog when there was a whole shelter, a whole world, full of dogs that we could love just enough.
But then there was this little scruffmonster. He had just been brought in Wednesday morning and wasn’t on the website, wasn’t fixed, wouldn’t be able to go home with anyone until at least Friday. The shelter had named him Frodo but I knew as soon as I met him that he would not be called Frodo for long because he was going to be our dog and our dog would absolutely not be called Frodo. When they brought him to me I think I said “Oh no,” because I knew he was it and it was him and because I also knew there was no way to guarantee that no one would come get him first before Joe and I could get over there on Saturday and my whole life felt suddenly on the verge of complete emotional ruination. In other words, I fell in deep stupid love. I KNEW, And Joe knew soon as I played the video of me saying, “You wanna be my buddy?” and him jumping up to put his two little freckled paws on my knees. We knew. We had the dang MOMENT. It’s real. Or maybe it’s not, but anyway, we had one.
The Dog Formerly Known As Frodo got fixed on Thursday and wasn’t available to adopt until Friday, and we couldn’t put a hold on him, and I was so afraid someone would get to him first and break my heart into a thousand little dogless pieces, so Joe and I cut out early from work on Friday, drove out to Smyrna and made him ours. I’m not sure anyone else even knew he was there. They listed him on the website about 20 minutes before we got there, when we were already on the way. We drove back across town in Friday rush-hour traffic with him sitting in my lap. When we got to the last big intersection before the turnoff to our house, he stood up and strained forward, sniffing around, like he knew. Did he know? Probably not, but maybe.
The first night and day he did a lot of looking around at us like, “OK, what’s the catch?” but I think now he’s starting to understand that even when we leave we are always coming back. He doesn’t know I was also feeling like there might be a catch, like we were suddenly going to see very clearly why whoever had him before no longer wanted him. He’s slept in at least three different crates over the last week, in three different cities, and who knows what before then. I didn’t think I would be so compelled by the mystery of his previous life. We know nothing about where he was before except for somewhere up around Gordon County in a home with a doorbell—his first night here, when a doorbell rang on TV, he sat up and looked up at our door for a long time. We have no doorbell. Who knows what else we have, or don’t have, that wherever he came from had, or didn’t.
Someone in his former life seems to have housebroken him, at least, so thank you for that, otherwise inexplicable person. Joe and I went out today and left him at home for the first time, just for a couple hours, and the whole time I kept checking my phone like maybe he was gonna text me.
"LOVE U MISS U WHERE U WHERE FOOD WHERE U WHERE U"
Meanwhile, a few of the dogs I met on Wednesday that were Not Charlie are still looking for homes. Clancy, Jim and Mica are all sweet sweet sweet little goobers and I feel oddly attached to them and keep checking the website to see if they’ve been scooped up yet. I want to be a dog matchmaker and find them all homes but I’m too busy rewriting every pop hit of the last 50 years to be about Charles Darwin the wonder schneagle (?!). But if you’re in the Atlanta area and looking to adopt a dog (or a cat), I really can’t say enough wonderful things about APRA. Every human we encountered there was extraordinarily sweet and helpful, the facilities are bright and nice and clean and well-taken care of, and they seem to give all the buddies as much love as they can, but you can give them MORE! Plus you can blame your farts on them, and they can’t say a thing. Sorry, Charlie.
Back in November, I spent a couple days on the job with Dr. Linda Ellington, the kind of veterinarian dogs love even more than their own humans—but even among the humans who love her, just say her name and their eyes turn into giant pulsing cartoon hearts. Cats don’t even completely hate her!
Shadowing her was fun and sad and really really smelly. After two days I had more than too much to include it all, so just one day made it into the story, which you can read now in the new (animal-themed!) issue of the Georgia Tech Alumni Magazine.
Andy Lee took the photos (which I wanted to happen even before I knew his Great Dane, Leon, loves Dr. Ellington almost more than anyone else on earth).
I’m really proud of the whole issue—illegal dorm pets! frat bros and their giant dogs! bees (not “animals” but I decided not to care)! And after nearly three years with the magazine, it’s my last. New adventures begin next week and I’m so excited.
On Sunday I bought a desk and put it together and now I have a desk. It’s in the room that is technically our dining room, although most of our at-home eating is lately done on the couch in front of the TV, which I am blaming on it being winter but will soon blame on it being whatever other season. In the corner where the desk is now there used to be an old chair, vaguely mid-centuryish, one of those things of which is generously said, “Well, it has good bones.” Except it actually had terrible bones—some underpart of it broke while we still lived in our old apartment, and then re-broke sometime last year or the year before, and has been basically nonfuctioning as a chair for more than half the time it has been in my possession. But it was a birthday gift from my mom after I saw it at an antiques store we were browing together, and it seemed ungrateful to chuck out an asked-for gift, so I kept it. The whole time we’ve lived in our current place it has been occupying a corner I lamely designated as a “reading nook” although exactly zero reading has ever happened there; meanwhile, I’ve doing all my writing and other desky work from the couch, or the bed, maybe once or twice from the kitchen table but not often, for some reason, even though mostly it is occupied with junk mail and various groceries that never made it into the cabinets. But lately this all started to seem ridiculous and I decided it was time to have a desk. So, goodbye chair. Now I have a desk.
I haven’t used the desk for much writing yet; I haven’t been writing much lately at all. There have been a few biggish work-related things occupying a good bit of my cognitive resources and I haven’t pressingly needed to be working on anything, so I’ve put it all on mute for a bit. It has been more easy than I would have expected or wished. After last fall when I put the brakes on music writing, I began to wonder what else might be expendable, and then working on this (I guess this is where I plug Scratch and tell you to subscribe if you want to read the whole thing?!) shook something loose, too. I wrote that in November and it’s been a burr in my brain ever since—how much do I need, how much do I want, what part of this is making me happy, what am I doing out of vaguely-defined fear and what am I doing out of real desire and what fear might be lurking behind that desire? Manjula is a generous editor and let me sit with my ambivalence and I appreciate that. And I’m still sitting.
Sitting now, as it happens, at a desk. I don’t like being superstitious about my workspaces, don’t like to give them too much power over me. I value my flexibility in this regard, am actively proud or maybe smug that I do not much more than relative quiet and an electrical outlet every few hours. I don’t need a sunny window or a particular brand of tea or note paper or white-noise frequency or a certain temperature or special hat or a moving train under me. I am not going to let some absent environmental element keep me from writing. I have considered the possibility that I put off buying a desk for two years in order to prove to myself that I could work without a workspace, and this seems likely to be true, though I do think I was also hung up on that old dumb chair and bad at throwing things out in general. I’ve also considered the possibility that I bought the desk to trick myself into writing again, to snap myself out of these slumpy weeks of cleaning and shredding and schlubbing and not-writing. Maybe I did, and maybe it’s working, and anyway would that be so bad, writing to justify the purchase and assembly and ownership of a desk? Would that really be dumber than anything else that’s ever motivated me before?
Either way, it’s a nice little desk if you’re also in the market. It took me about forty seconds shy of Purple Rain to put it together. I was left with a handful of spare parts but so far there are no signs of their structural necessity. There’s one big drawer and I’m putting all my secrets in it.
Parents have no idea what the children are up to in their bedrooms: They are reading the same paragraphs over and over in a stupor of violent bloodshed. Their legs are limp with horror. They are reading the same paragraphs over and over, dizzy with gratification as the young lovers find each other in the French fort, as the boy avenges his father, as the sound of muskets in the woods signals the end of the siege. They could not move if the house caught fire. They hate the actual world. The actual world is a kind of tedious plane where dwells, and goes to school, the body, the boring body which houses the eyes to read the books and houses the heart the books enflame. The very boring body seems to require an inordinately big, very boring world to keep it up, a world where you have to spend far too much time, have to do time like a prisoner, always looking for a chance to slip away, to escape back home to books, or escape back home to any concentration—fanciful, mental, or physical—where you can lose your self at last. — Annie Dillard, An American Childhood
Decatur, this morning.
Romania’s Merry Cemetery: “Their lives were the same, but they want their epitaphs to be different.” (via austinkleon)
Count the First! Wish I could find more online about this lil dude. (via)
Snow in the South happens in the night every three or so years, maybe once out of every five times it’s called for and rarely ever lives up to the panic its forecast usually inspires. Grocery stores are sacked for milk and bread and eggs as if doing so will appease some vengeful god, and usually it seems to work. We wake up, there’s white stuff on the ground, by noon the sun is out and it’s 45 degrees and the next day we’re shedding our sweaters at noon again. Of course a lot of idiocy transpires in the meantime because SNOW IS MAGIC especially when you’re never sure when it’s coming again. But until it’s on the ground there is a very real feeling it will not ever be on the ground.
At least this is how it was where I grew up in Tennessee and in Atlanta where I live now, where yesterday hundreds of kids and teachers got trapped in schools and thousands of motorists got stuck on roads and interstates as an otherwise seemingly routine snowstorm (yes, snowstorm! it was a storm and it was snow and we call this a snowstorm) dropped down over the city. Of course to those on the outside, especially to the northeast region of the outside, this is just laughable dogpatch weaksauce (snowshaming, it’s real!). And to many inside the ice-crust bubble there is a lot of (mostly warranted, I think) anger about insufficient infrastructure and transportation policy and government-directed preparedness, etc etc. But there’s a particular psychological element here that, while I don’t think it should bear responsibility for how all this went down, is worth considering anyway, as a factor.
Even yesterday when the first flakes were coming down (before they landed, half-melted, then immediately froze again) I was like, “Yeah, OK, this is happening, but it’s not really happening, nothing is going to be happening.” (If you, like me, are a certain kind of snow-appreciating person in the South there is a real element of heart-guarding in all this—the disappointment from unwarranted snow excitement buildup can be stupidly crushing!) I left work early but mostly because I was psyched about picking up some sandwiches and working from home the rest of the afternoon, and I was worried only because I know how people down here get when there is white stuff in the air, even just a little. I was more worried about how people would react to the nonevent than I was about the possibility of the nonevent actually being an event.
A week or two ago, one Sunday night when “snow” was “vaguely” in the “forecast” for Monday, I was out at Your DeKalb Farmer’s Market, looking for a can of chickpeas, and the canned food aisle had been totally decimated; when I heard other customers muttering about the weather being on the way, I got a little panicked and grabbed a few cartons of soup, just in case. This time I did nothing—fool me once, etc. If I’d been even slightly less eye-rolly yesterday, I might still be out in my car somewhere. Many people still are. What a mess. Stay safe, everybody. Except you snowshamers—I hope each of you bust your coccyx on black ice in front of a large crowd of people who you were desperately hoping to impress, and then they all just laugh at you and leave you there weeping.
Jane Rule Burdine, via The Oxford American
"The world has signed a pact with the devil; it had to. The terms are clear: if you want to live, you have to die; you cannot have mountains and creeks without space, and space is a beauty married to a blind man. The blind man is Freedom, or Time, and he does not go anywhere without his great dog Death. The world came into being with the signing of the contract. This is what we know. The rest is gravy." I honestly do not know what she is talking about at such times. The only thing I could swear to is that the writing here leaves something to be desired. "What’s going on here?" is one of the author’s refrains. "The creator loves pizzazz," she answers herself. — New York Times | Eudora Welty reviews Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek (1974) // Underrated: critics flatly admitting their utter bemusement.
Your writing is not more important than someone’s life. It is only writing. — Maria Dahvana Headley, “SINATRA’S COLD IS CONTAGIOUS: Hostile Subjects, Vulnerable Sources & The Ethics of Outing” (h/t Eric)
Avondale Station, last night.
To my mind, a story’s ending ought to acknowledge the ever-moving quality of life; that is, I want it to engage change rather than finality. Your final word and the void following it on the page are as close as you’ll get to conclusion. The best endings to stories have a sense of hovering in space and time; even a dark ending can be uplifting, exhilarating, as long as it seems to hover in space and time — because then it reflects life to us as it is: unresolved, eternally unresolvable. — Work in Progress | Nelly Reifler, “Endings That Hover”