I drove down from the mountains this morning with Steve’s Red-blooded (pneumonia-plagued) Coonhound spewing drool all over the backseat of my car. When we stopped at a drive-thru Starbucks, the sign on the window said,
Due to sanitary restrictions absolutely no dog treats will be handed to customers, effective immediately.
The coffee lady leaned out the window with a handful of dog treats and said,
“How old is he?”
And Pfieffer, after The Wonder Years character, spun his drool dangler from the bottom of his mouth up and around his snout, while flapping his ears and stretching his neck towards her.
“What’s his name?”
She dug into her green apron and produced another handful of animal cracker-like snacks and said,
“We’re not allowed to do this, but I stuff my pockets with treats before I leave the house every morning.”
She had a tattoo below her ear and wanted to also tell me about the Vivanno, their new life-enhancing smoothie drink, which I’ve already heard way too much about.
I think she wanted to tell me a lot of things, or maybe get in the car with us and navigate through the all-day rain rather than be there, skipping from espresso machine to headphone to another customer, there, then gone, like things always are when you feel alone.
While Pfieffer properly devoured the snacks in back, I reached back and pet him a few times and told him he was being pretty good, even though his saliva looked like it had rained inside my Honda. I know his dopey low voice, if he had words, would have said, “Gawsh, I don’t feel so good,” so I had to give him a little love.
Plus I just wanted to touch his soft fur, like that lady had, when she reached towards us for a little connection, no matter that it was just two seconds long.
When I dropped Pfieffer off, I felt kind of sad as he loped over to the couch and circled his own body before plodding down in the dark living room.
I think if I stayed sequestered, I'd end up circling myself, too. That’s why I write here rather than in a notebook I could keep in a locked drawer.
When I got in the car minus my hound friend, I called some people, and then came home to my house, forgetting that my own dog is at my parents. It seems that being alone, for me, is usually accidental, or at most, a bridge between being with people, and then being with other people, with maybe some dogs in between.
So it is with art/writing/education, too being a functional transition from one to another. I had a conversation with some friends this summer about journaling. I do have a whole drawer full of journals—one is from Pizzo, with a pine-colored velour cover, bound by a thin piece of driftwood, another is from my mom, with a picture of a lion on its glossy cover, one is dark leather and ties shut, one is cardboard and says, “Journal.” Most of them look like this on this inside:
My mom gave me this journal today. I don't really have much to write about right now…
And then there’s nothing else in there.
One of my friends confessed that she always wrote in her journals with the notion that someone would end up reading it one day or another. She grew up with six siblings and said she knew they would find all her words and read them eventually, so it was more worth it to write for her inevitable future audience than just for herself.
I keep wondering if we really discover anything without an ache to be discovered ourselves.
Bees and ants, my brother's biologist girlfriend was telling me, are eusocial and need to feel social communion to function. If I were an insect, I'd be one of them.
So, lucky me that I have thoughtful writers my life. My friend Wei just sent me The Habit of Being, Flannery O’Connor’s letters, in the mail. They begin with O'Connor, as a 12-year-old, addressing her diary spies:
“I know some folks that don’t mind thier own bisnis.”
No doubt, O’Connor’s opener is a portal to her real purpose: she was writing for the possibility of other ears and eyes when she started, which turned into a lifetime of letters and cross-continental conversations. Connections work best when they are humble, but not hidden.
Sally Fitzgerald, in the introduction to The Habit of Being asks about the purpose of O’Connor’s letters:
“What else though do the letters tell us of the storyteller herself? The overriding impression is of a joie de vivre…and as offering her a scope for living.”
What if letters are also things like over-explaining a tasty drink, doling out secret treats, and reaching out to touch something, even something that won't talk back, just to connect with something other than our self?
What if everyone wrote one letter a day?
Could our exchanges, made thick and connective as coonhound drool, become not only our joie de vivre but also our very habit of being?