Unconditional Inevitability

                Unconditional love is a rare and precious thing.  It can be found in only a few different places in life, a significant other, a parent, a child, etc., and most people are lucky to find it once or twice.  However, there is one exception to that rule, and that is the relationships that we share with our pets.  Whether it’s a dog, a cat, a horse, or something else, a human’s bond with their pet can be one of the most treasured connections that we are capable of experiencing.

                Not everyone has shared that connection; some people aren’t used to having pets.  Others simply don’t maintain that close of a relationship with their animals, instead choosing to view the situation as a necessity when the animal provides some sort of service, such as transportation or security.  Some people only keep porcelain pets (not that that means they don’t love them just as much as if they were, say, NOT made of porcelain). 

                For me, as most of you know, having a pet has always been something of a focal point in my life.  I grew up with multiple dogs and a couple cats.  Then I worked at an animal shelter for years.  Nowadays, while I may occasionally steal some affection from my parent’s dog, Sammy; or my roommate’s cat, Biscuit, I primarily get my fix for unconditional love from my dog, Levi.

                If you don’t know Levi, he’s a boxer and bullmastiff mix.  I got him from the SPCA, where he was a “frequent flyer”, meaning that he was returned to us time and time again due to the bad habit of jumping fences and never staying in one place for too long.  That habit didn’t change much when I got him.  It took years of chasing him down the street, tricking and trapping him, getting help from my roommates, (and one time even enticing him back in to the house with a trail of bacon that I HAD been cooking for myself) in order to break that habit and get him to stay home.

                Despite his natural wanderlust, Levi is quite the homebody.  He’s always loved to sleep on couches or beds, and it’s rare that he lets me out of his sight when around the house, following me from room to room.  He is always there to comfort me when I’m feeling down, to annoy me when I’m frustrated, and to share in my excitement when something goes right for me.  And isn’t that ultimately what real love is?  To be so in tune with the person or animal that you love that you not only feel what they feel, but you either amplify it or you change it for the better?

                However, nothing can last forever.  Levi is a large-ish dog (70+ lbs.), and even though I never knew him as a puppy, and all we can do is guess at his age, best guesses put him right around 10 years old.  Now for a dog his size, 10 is on the distant side of middle-aged.  Most dogs his size usually live to be 12 or 13. 

                I mention this because his age is beginning to become a worry for me.  He limps when he walks; he struggles to get on the couches and beds that he loves so much.  A few minutes of play with younger dogs will nearly incapacitate him for a week.  He has fatty tumors growing all over his body, and he sometimes has trouble swallowing.   He’s getting old.

                He still looks at me with absolute adoration in his eyes, but now those eyes are clouding up with cataracts.  He still likes to cuddle on the bed, but now he can only lay on a certain hip, the other one hurts him too much to lay on it for more than a minute or two.  He still begs for food, but he can’t raise his front paw as he used to in order to give that classic begging pose.

                Having worked at the SPCA for as long as I did, I have had to assist with euthanasia multiple times.  Sometimes the animal was sick or old and in pain, and someone had to be there to do the deed.  That someone was frequently me during my time there.  I became somewhat accustomed to it, even with dogs or cats that I had grown attached to.   Still, it was never easy; it was an emotional hurdle every time.  (Side note: In my last two years there, I would sing “If I Could” by Jack Johnson to the animals while I held them.  It seemed to help calm them, and it certainly helped me.)

                However, this one, this one will be harder.  Levi has been my best friend for years now.  When I’m depressed he can tell, and he makes sure that he’s touching me whenever he can be; whether that means that he is laying on my feet while I sit on the couch, or pressed up against my side while I lie in bed.  When I’m happy, he tries his best to lick my face, even though I won’t let him.  When I’m confused, he sits and watches me as I talk to him.  I pour my heart out to him, and he listens, he’ll just sit there for hours and calmly watch me as I talk my way through my dilemma. 

                It’s because of the love in his eyes as he watches me; it’s because of the emotional warmth he gives me while pressed up against my side in bed; it’s because of his determination to congratulate me the only way he knows how, even though I won’t let him.  It’s because of all of this and more that I’m not sure I’ll be able to face that day that I know is coming.  I’m worried that it will be too soon.  And I’m worried that it will be too much.  I’ve had that unconditional love for years now, and I’m not sure what I’ll do when it’s gone. 

                Still, someday, everything goes.  It’s inevitability.  So I implore you, if you have that connection with a person, or with a pet, cherish it.  Make sure they know it.  Return that love with every fiber of your being, because ultimately love is the best way that we can improve the world around us.  


"X" Marks the Understanding

“I didn’t come down here to change any of y’alls minds about anything; I come down here to ease my own mind about everything.  It works every time.” – Todd Snider

Todd Snider has a point that he makes repeatedly in his new book, “I Never Met a Story I Didn’t Like: Mostly True Tall Tales”.  The point is that a good song writer writes their songs and their stories for themselves, not for the audience.  They write the songs as a cathartic act, an act of breaking themselves open to draw out the poison and whatever else may be in there. 

                I feel like his point applies not only to song writers but to artists of any type really.  To make art, the best art, you have to delve in to yourself.  Your soul is your paintbrush and the world is your canvas.  The best art is made from raw emotion.  It isn’t made with the audience in mind; it’s done for the sake of the artist and no one else.  It’s an act that is private and meant to be whispered in the dark.

                At least, at the point of creation, that’s what it is.  But the catharsis wouldn’t be complete if the artist didn’t then share that private, secret piece of his/her soul.  While art is meant to be created in private, it’s also meant to be shared with the world at large.  By doing this, the artist can find at least a moment’s peace; a respite from the voices in their head or the emotions stampeding through their heart. 

                I believe that what we’re all ultimately looking for is for someone who can understand us.  Perhaps that is even more true for artists.  We can’t comprehend the emotions inside us or the complex thoughts spinning through our imaginations, and so we ask for help to understand them.  Maybe if I can get this thought on paper or find just the right brushstroke to convey this feeling, then maybe someone out there will understand what it is that I feel.  If they can understand what I feel, then maybe they’ll be able to understand me as well. 

                We’re all seeking that companionship.  The world that we live in can be a scary place, but the worlds that live inside us can be a thousand times more confusing and frightening.  At times we feel things so strongly that we think our hearts may burst out of our chests, then at other times we want nothing more than to collapse in on ourselves, as if there were a blackhole inside us, pulling everything inward. 

These feelings and these thoughts can be terrifying.  Our feeling can overpower us, and in our inability to understand our own souls, we desperately search for those out there that may be able to understand us better than we understand ourselves.  All art is born out of confusion and a need for understanding.  We put our questions down in song, in writing, in pictures or sculptures.  We hold our art out in front of us like a Help Wanted sign, hoping that someone will be able to save us. 

It’s a compulsion, this need to be understood and to understand.  Some lucky few find that person that can understand them; sometimes that person is their friend, maybe family, perhaps a lover (hopefully not all three).  But from what I’ve seen, most people never quite find that level of understanding that they’re seeking.  They may get close, but it always manages to stay just slightly out of reach. 

I mention all of this for a reason.  I’ve been writing a lot lately.  Most of it is incomplete, fragmented thoughts and emotions jotted down, scrawled on the back of a receipt stuffed in my pocket or typed on five pages only to be buried beneath dozens of other incomplete thoughts.  Yet I still find myself writing them.  The problem is, that I’m afraid.  I’m afraid to share the most personal thoughts in my head.

I’m not sure why.  There isn’t anything particularly scary about them, it’s just that they’re so deeply personal and so immensely confusing.  I don’t understand them, yet I feel like I should.  I don’t like that sense of bewilderment that comes with them.  I know that I need to get the thoughts out there, in to the world so that maybe someone can understand.  But that means giving up control, and that is not my strong suit. 

That being said, I am going to make an effort to post some of my more personal work.  I certainly wouldn’t call any of it art just yet, but maybe someday, if I break down my own resolve enough, maybe someday someone will consider it as such. 

It’s hard to relinquish that control, to admit that I couldn’t find the answers by myself.  But maybe that’s what art really is, the act of breaking open your heart again and again, just to show the world what’s inside.  So, be prepared, I’m going to be trying something new here, after all, what have I got to lose?

“If everything goes particularly well this evening, we can all expect a ninety minute distraction from our impending doom.” – Todd Snider