life, dogs and books

Here’s the thing, everyone should have a dog. Or just maybe some kind of living thing. I mean a dinosaur would be super cool and maybe if I had a special power over giant spiders that’d be awesome (ALL MY ENEMIES BEWARE), but if you can’t manage some type of crazy amazing superhero animal, then a dog is the next best creature. I was thinking about this today after I got home from the beach with my pup, who is exhausting and wonderful and exhausting and hilarious and many other various things, and I came to the conclusion that everyone should have one. (Just not mine, because I need him. See reasons below.)

They help take yourself little less seriously. It’s really hard to be pissed off about your day at work or the fact that someone was rude to you in line somewhere or whatever happened to you today that was petty and unimportant but really, really got you mad –  when you have a puppy dancing around your feet just wanting to be near you all the time. I mean, hello, there is grass and sky and walks to be had, is life really all that bad? This cute little furry thing is just reminding you that hey, it’s ok to be happy anyway. Even when life sucks mostly.

They’re really, really cute. I mean, really cute. If you’re lucky, your dog will be half as cute as mine and he’s probably the most adorable thing I’ve ever laid eyes on. One of my friends told me that looking at cute things once a day helps us to be calmer, happier people. I think this explains the whole people-googling-youtube-cat-videos-all-day thing, because they’re probably really unhappy at work at don’t have some furred creature at home to look at when they get back home after a long day. They need more cute in their lives because it touches some gooey needy place inside of us that needs to be touched once and a while to remind us that the sun shines, people love us and hey, there are baby animals in the world on youtube. Just for us.

They remind you to take a moment. It’s hard to be crazy busy working 30 hour days and living at your job when your dog needs to go on a walk or be fed.  You have to go outside, take a jaunt around the neighborhood and just breathe for a while. You can’t sleep in until noon like a depressed cave dweller when your creature needs to be taken care of. It makes you move your ass and get out there in the world, or at least outside your door. And while you’re out there you can’t really worry about rent or bills or something, you just worry about your dog going to the bathroom like RIGHT NOW please. Which in itself can be ridiculous because you’re crouching on the grass begging this animal to please just do this already so you can go back inside and not burn the house down because the oven is on and please, please just go? And it looks at you like, hey, I’m a dog, I don’t control my bodily urges.

They remind you that you aren’t as smart as you think you are. At our heart, we’re all idiots. Really, we are. We realize this when we talk to our dogs in baby talk even though we detest that we talk in baby talk and that others do it too.  Or when we assume they understand that “no” really means no and not “I can’t believe you did that, do it again! again! Yes!” We are always surprised, aways, that they continue to find, chew, destroy and generally wreak havoc on our belongings. Did we really think that hiding the glove would be safe from this dog that is so incredibly smarter than we give it credit for? It watched you. It remembered. It will destroy that later when you’ve forgotten that you put it there. And you will be surprised, again. 

And last but not least, they’re really good reading companions. I mean, who else in your life is totally willing to go to the park everyday and sit on the grass and let you read a book? I mean, seriously, this pup would be down for that 24/7 if I had the time and we could do it. It makes me want to move closer to a park just to satisfy both of us.

And if you can teach your creature that the one thing they cannot destroy ever is your books, those beautiful tasty things that are piled all over your home, because that… that would actually break your heart?

Well, then it’s all win-win from there.

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In the Linen Closet

I’ve moved into a new apartment, a lovely, one bedroom, empty apartment. My possessions consist of a more-comfortable-than-I-thought-it-would-be air mattress on the floor and some boxes. The boxes are now half empty, scattered about with no actual plan or reason. I don’t have any type of furniture. I have nothing to set the moose vase I bought in Estonia upon. Yea, it sounds hideous, and it probably is, but I love it. It reminds me of that castle in Tallinn where we stumbled upon a ridiculous little store full of hand made moose items. Moose necklaces, moose earrings, moose coffee mugs and hand painted moose vases. Moose vases! Amazing. You see why I had to buy the vase and then carry it in my hands on the plane all the way back to America to make sure the antlers didn’t snap off. But I digress. This of course, is not the point. My moose is on the floor, my paintings are laying about, everything is just there. It has no where to go. My books though… my books are another story.

When I walked into my new apartment, I despaired a bit at the lack of bookshelves. In my opinion, new apartments should come with bookshelves. Here I was, in this new city, new apartment, driven halfway across the country, five days, endless gas money, all in essence…to tote four very full storage containers and multiple bags of books all the way to my new home. If my books hadn’t been in my car, it would have been me, a computer and two suitcases. Thanks to my books, I couldn’t see out the back window. At all. They were piled in so tightly my friend who drove across the country with me couldn’t recline her chair. It was really ridiculous (but obviously, necessary.) She was a good sport eventually though, she gave up, completely hopeless, after she tried to convince me I didn’t actually need all my books. To be fair, I gave a good 50 or so away. I only kept the ones I truly needed. Really.

When I lived in Massachusetts my apartment had no room for bookshelves so they ended up in my kitchen cabinets (all of them but one) and piled around the studio, towers of them here and there became natural fixtures. Under my tables, upon the nightstand, next to the couch. Now with no furniture, its a little tricky. But then, I discovered, my new apartment has this contraption called a linen closet.

Its got these nicely spaced shelves, a whole ceiling to floor row of them. Unable to leave my books in boxes  (anyone else have a compulsive need to unpack books?), the linen closet, top to bottom, crammed into every crevice, has become a home for my books.

I kind of like it actually, I can close the door on them at night and feel that they are safe, waiting and hoping for the day I have enough money to buy them a real home. So hey, if you know where I can get a bookshelf, please let me know. Then maybe I’ll be able to buy some sheets.

A life story

We mark with light in the memory the few interviews we have had with souls that made our souls wiser, that spoke what we thought, that told us what we knew, that gave us leave to be what we inly are.”  – David Richo

I am covering a funeral tomorrow of a very special man to this community. He has let our journalists follow his everyday life, his struggle with illness and now, the final chapter, his death. We have shared in everything from his surprise birthday party to a date with his girlfriend. We’ve spent hours hanging out with his family at the hospital, in their home or out in the community at events. We have been witnesses to how many friends, family members and acquaintances he has touched in his lifetime. Though I am confident in my ability to cover this funeral because I am creating the video, I find myself daunted by our writer’s part in this story. How do you find the words to encompass a whole person? How do you do justice to someone who has touched so many people? Maybe it is simply because I am not a writer, but I would love and be completely intimidated by the honor of writing a person’s last chapter. How do you capture it all? The history, humor, hope, faith and everlasting love of a lifetime. I believe that the ability to write it, and write it well, is an amazing achievement.

So in honor of true stories of all shapes and sizes, of everyone who has had their life written down with the eloquence and emotion it deserves, I wanted to dedicate a post to some great new non-fiction.

  A STOLEN LIFE, by Jaycee Dugard. (Simon & Schuster, $24.99.) A woman tells of being kidnapped at the age of 11 and held prisoner for 18 years by a convicted rapist and his wife.

I have not started this book but it is on my TBR shelf. To not only experience something that difficult but to share it with the world? She sounds like an incredibly brave person and I can’t wait to read her story.

  UNBROKEN, by Laura Hillenbrand. (Random House, $27.) An Olympic runner’s story of survival as a prisoner of the Japanese in World War II.

I have just started Unbroken this week and I can tell you just from the first few chapters that this book is beautifully written. It has elegant imagery and moments I know will stay with me long after I’ve finished. You should see my copy, highlights galore.

  BOSSYPANTS, by Tina Fey. (Reagan Arthur/Little, Brown, $26.99.) A memoir from the creator of “30 Rock.”

Though this is not so new anymore, it still deserves a mention because a lot of people I know haven’t read it yet. We do need the stories of survival, but we also need the stories that make us laugh.

  TURN RIGHT AT MACHU PICCHU by Mark Adams. (Dutton, $26.95.) Retracing the steps of the ancient city’s discoverers.

Sounds an interesting journey for those that have and have not visited Machu Picchu. It is an astonishing place that may be closed to the public soon because of too much tourism. So if you never get to see it, this book might be the next best thing.

Non-fiction is compelling because it is so often startlingly brave and true. To know that another person has struggled, has fought, has suffered and somehow, has triumphed, is a message we all need sometimes. The resilience and power of the human spirit is an important feat we all must witness, whether it be in our own everyday life, or in the lives of those whom we read about in books.

My Reading Life by Pat Conroy

It involves the eerie mysteries of enchantment itself, the untouchable wizardy that occurs when a story, in all its fragile elegance, speaks to the times in a clear original voice and answer some strange hunger and demands of the zeitgeist.

Shannon at Books Devoured mailed me this book as a RAK this month because I had it on my amazon wishlist. I had it on my amazon wishlist because someone suggested it when I was enjoying A Passion for Books. (another wonderful book about books, collecting, literature and how books shape our lives btw) So that is how My Reading Life meandered along into my mailbox by chance one day and landed in my life. I’m ever so glad it did.

Conroy’s My Reading Life is witnessing his life story through the literature that shaped who he is today. His mother is featured in many instances, her love of reading, her need to better herself through books and my favorite chapter, her devotion to Gone with the Wind.

To Southerners like my mother, Gone with the Wind was not just a book; it was an answer, a clenched fist raised to the North, an anthem of defiance. If you could not defeat the Yankees on the battlefield, then by God, one of your women could rise from the ashes of humiliation to write more powerfully than the enemy and all the historians and novelists who sang the praises of the Union.

Since I am not a Southerner, Gone with the Wind affected me differently than those grew up in the aftermath of that time period. I realized while reading Conroy’s impassioned words, for someone who grew up in the South the book takes on a whole new meaning and significance. For the first time, I realized how seeped in history the South still is and how recent the civil war still feels to families who are descended from those soldiers. This chapter was a love song to his mother and Scarlett O’Hara. It was touching and inspiring in its sheer intensity.

This book demonstrates again and again that there is no passion more rewarding than reading itself, that it remains the best way to dream and to feel the sheer carnal joy of being fully and openly alive.”

And man, can Conroy can write a sentence. He can weave words with the best of them and make you feel insignificant with his prose. His writing is, and this is stating it lightly, passionate. He states how he feels with every adjective he thinks is necessary and (at least in my opinion) it works for him. Some writers seem to use adjectives as afterthoughts. They read like extra adornments to their sentences that don’t fit, as if they’re just trying to fill up space. Conroy has an elegant love affair with adjectives that puts most writers to shame. He is so blatant in his adoration of words, that it refreshes me to read such unabashed expression, such freedom.

In My Reading Life, Conroy also invites us to relive memories of his favorite teacher, his father, bookstores that have been a part of his daily travels, his education, meeting an author for the first time and how he truly began to write. We see his growth from a boy who loves books to a man who writes them. And like any obsessed bibliophile, he also touches on his love of the words themselves.

In literary criticism my eye has fallen on such gelatinous piles as “antonomasia,” “litotes,” or “enallage.” I’ve no idea what those words mean nor how to pronounce them nor any desire to look them up. But whenever I read I’ll encounter forgotten words that come back to me like old friends who’ve returned from long voyages to bring me news of the world.

My Reading Life is a humorous and moving collection. Anyone who has experienced firsthand the power of  stories to shape our lives will enjoy it. It made me laugh and cry at many different points, which I appreciated a lot. I felt that it touched on the light as well as the dark of Conroy’s life. Often books about books are just a bunch of lighthearted anecdotes, which is great, but there is nothing wrong with a little sadness to balance out the laughter. I feel it makes My Reading Life all that much stronger.

My Reading Life ended with Conroy writing about visiting one of my all time favorite authors, Jonathan Carroll. The story of their meeting mirrors Carroll’s writing style, it sounds like a moment one of his characters would have in one of his books.

He exuded a serenity and a seriousness that I lack. But he kept his eye on a woman at the next bridge. She was moving so slowly I thought she might be leading a dogsled pulled by escargots. After an hour, the woman walked in front of us, and she bowed her head in acknowledgment of Jonathan. With great dignity, he returned the gesture. To my surprise, she was walking two enormous tortoises, displaced natives from an Ethiopian desert. The woman walked them every night, and Jonathan was always there to admire their passage.

“Thats what writers do, Conroy,” he said. “We wait for the tortoises to come. We wait for that lady who walks them. That’s how art works. It’s never a jackrabbit, or a racehorse. It’s the tortoises that hold all the secrets. We’ve got to be patient enough to wait for them.”  

This probably guaranteed my love of Conroy forever. There is no way he could have ended this book that would speak more to me personally.  So what can I say?  I may be hopelessly devoted from now on.