"Lithe, mischevioius, blue-eyed sprite, she was like a creature from another world where the life of the imagination was taken for granted, taken as truth. He remembered the profound companionship of those hours they spent together in the studio. [. . . ] 'Do you remember,' he said to her now, 'do you remember when you were a little girl?"
I am living in an apartment complex in Grand Rapids, Michigan, that has six or so buildings, each of which has three floors. I live on the second floor of the building that’s furthest to the left, all the way in the back, and I’ve been taking Gigi, my Boston-Bull Terrier, out the back door where there’s ample room to roam around for a poop spot. About 200 yards to the right of this area is a path that leads down to a dog park, with two separate sections—one for the wee dogs and another for the real ones, like Gigi.
Gigi is forty pounds, and pure muscle. She is a REAL DOG.
And she’s so social! I’m learning how much she likes to be in the mix. At a party, she’d be the one in the middle, breakdancing or doing that caterpillar thing, or just consistently dancing “Thriller.” (Paws up, claws out, shaking with so much excitement. All the time).
Today someone asked me whether I liked my new apartment. I nodded, sort of, and then went on that I was pretty sure that Gigi liked it. And that was all that really mattered anyway. Gigi likes the little patio sticking off the living room, she likes the sun on the carpet, likes the bed I’ve placed just below the window. She likes running through the leaves on the ridge behind the building, likes sniffing around the trees, likes the woods. If Gigi is content, I am content. It’s pretty simple.
In church today there were interpretive dancers that came up the aisles before communion. While the pastor spoke the communion liturgy, the dancers made motions that coincided with the words. There arms went up, as if in praise, then they came down. And then the dancers dipped to the floor. I wasn’t thinking about the words being spoken, I was watching the dancers and thinking about whether they were comfortable dancing. Whether they were scared of being looked at, seen, thought silly. It struck me that this was not at all the point of the dance. The point was to link words with bodily expression, to show that when we worship, we use all of ourselves—or perhaps, that we could.
I realized as I was watching the dancers, and then watching kids run up and down the aisles to their seats, that when children enter your life—or when dogs enter your life—this whole new world opens up to you, this expansive, yet simplified outlook on life that redefines what is important. Food is top priority. And pooping is the biggest relief in the world (and is also the biggest ordeal). But then there’s the joy, the expression of joy, the purity of joy, the innocence and delight and sheer elation that is locked in the eyes and whole body of a child—or a dog. I could sit for hours just watching Gigi play with a toy, or with another dog.
And when there’s sadness, or loneliness, you feel it, and you can see it. (Gigi doesn’t bark much, but otherwise I’d say you can hear it).
You ever think about how older, “grown-up” humans can hide their loneliness—or any emotion—better than kids or pooches? To find out how our friends or family are doing (internally, emotionally, mentally doing), we often have to ask them. We have to be pointed about it, be intentional. And even then we might lie to each other! (WHY!? Why, oh why). But as we gain experiences, we lose innocence. I think we become more afraid—of the world, of shame, of being hurt, of being vulnerable.
I always tell Gigi when I leave the apartment, “I promise I’ll be back. I promise.” And I hope she understands. Because somewhere in my brain, or even in my body, I know what it feels like to be left by someone, to feel alone and without company, to not have someone to share time with. It’s a horrible feeling, and I don’t want that for Gigi, even if she is “just” a dog. She’s a creature! I need to love her because it helps me feel love in return.
I am trying to say something about expression. About the way we show what we are feeling. I am trying to say that having a dog has helped me understand what I am feeling. Having Gigi has helped me learn to show love.
My writing is suffering, I’m jogging a lot less—because Gigi is a terrible jogger, and I can’t bring myself to go out the door without her—but I’m learning what it is like to have a creature in your care. And I’m enjoying this new way of seeing. It makes me joyful, excited, makes me want to be more expressive, to not feel ashamed of my emotions or feelings, but simply to live, and learn, and show love.
I found inspiration for this blog post from Deirdre Madden's novel, Authenticity, published by Graywolf Press in 2005 (and by Faber and Faber in 2002). The novel centers on the relationship between three artists, two of whom are in a romantic relationship together and the third of whom is struggling to find a reason to live. Madden expounds upon the intricacies of relationships, the challenges of the artistic life, and the human struggle to live authentically with each other in a world which so often seems to stifle honest, genuine communication (or expression). I highly recommend this book, especially if you consider yourself an artist--of any type!