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Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Vagaries of Fate


My camera's whereabouts continue to baffle and frustrate me. I've dug out an old picture, but today's post is mostly lots and lots of words. I have a lot on my mind.

Vagaries. A lovely word, isn’t it? In the sound is the suggestion of vague, of vagueness, but lack of clarity hardly gets at vagaries. Capricious is more like it. (Are waves capricious? Vague in French is wave.) I am feeling capricious this morning and need to get it out of my system before a Chamber of Commerce meeting, a gathering of focused, grownups. Unpredictable or erratic. It’s the unpredictable that’s on my mind—the unpredictable in relation to human projects that set out toward some more or less clear goal and then take on a life of their own.

In the beginning, an idea. Not just an abstract notion but an idea for something that one can do. A practical idea. An idea for a project to serve some future goal. Then the project. But the project takes on a life of its own. Human endeavors have a way of doing that, taking on lives of their own. Teach two sections of the same class, on the same day, and the two classes will never be the same. The form is shaped, even deformed, by the content without which it would be pointless. Sorry—all that is very vague. Let me begin again.

I have in mind two different specific phenomena, both of which grew out of ideas I had relating to my bookstore and ways to strengthen support for its continuance. The first was to invite friends to “drop in” on Tuesdays for “brown bag lunch.” The second was this blog.

My original idea for the drop-in lunch was to encourage local book-reading friends to visit the shop on a regular basis. There’s always something new in a bookstore, but getting people in the door on a regular basis is a real challenge. Besides, though I do work five to seven days a week, depending on the season, I enjoy seeing my friends. So my motives for this idea were both social and business.

The inspiration behind the blog was more far-reaching, as many of my best customers do not live nearby. They visit only on their vacations, maybe only once a year, but they love Dog Ears Books, and they miss the bookstore and Northport, they tell me, during the rest of their year. Giving Dog Ears fans a platform where these people could visit from afar was, like the brown bag lunch idea, a way I saw to connect with them more regularly, to give them a way to “drop in” more often. Again, a combination of social and business.

Lunch took on a life of its own. The blog took on a life of its own. The unpredictable courses of these two projects, the vagaries of their existences—existences which I, their originator, would have seen as complementary and overlapping—have brought me to unexpected places.

One of the surprises of the blog has been the way it has introduced me to book-lovers, dog-lovers, nature-lovers, photographers and writers from all over the country and even from other countries. Many of these people will never walk down Waukazoo Street and through the door of Dog Ears Books, but they express care and concern for my bookstore, as I feel and hope I express concern for the projects in their lives, and we are mutually enriched by our exchanges. I hadn’t foreseen this, but I appreciate it.

Lunch really took some surprising turns, so quickly that it made my head spin. It turned from brown bag to potluck, becoming more elaborate by the week. It turned from drop-in, everyone welcome (my original idea), to a set cast, with no room for more, so that it was no longer appropriate for the bookstore. The bookstore must provide a welcome for anyone and everyone whenever it’s open; if people feel they’re crashing a private party, they are uncomfortable and leave quickly. It turned from lunch into brunch into breakfast, since three of us are working women and not available for long lunches, and it turned into Saturday breakfast to accommodate one woman who needs to be on the job earlier than the other two of us. It’s a wonderful group of women. It has been, at various times and for various reasons, a support group for several.

In each case, such were the vagaries, the social aspect all but eclipsed the business goal. Well, more so with lunch than with the blog. Still....

One of the lunching women died in December. The loss of the remaining group to some of its individual members would be devastating. This phenomenon, grown out of a very different kind of original project, has taken on importance in its own right. The lunch group would be profoundly missed if it were to vanish.

The blog has its regular readers but none, I think, who would be devastated by its disappearance. There are always other blogs, other sites, other connections to be made online.

What about the bookstore? This is the third year that the building we’re in has been for sale, but this year the FOR SALE signs are plastered all over the front windows, and every day I have to field anxious questions with the only response I can honestly make: “I don’t have a clue.” At present, the bookstore is open for the season, Monday through Saturday, hours a bit irregular in April.... The consignment store that was our neighbor to the north is gone, moved to Suttons Bay. I would be surprised if the gallery opened this season, but again, "I don't have a clue." No one has given me any information, so I have none to share. "What will happen to the bookstore if the building is sold?" That’s the most frequent question, and it almost makes me laugh, because I don’t even know what will happen to the bookstore if the building doesn’t sell.

July 4 will be the 17th anniversary of Dog Ears Books, and every year has brought its joys and new friends, but every year has brought its struggles and heartaches, as well. Where the vagaries of fate will take me in the coming year, regardless of the direction I set and my efforts to steer a course, time alone will tell. Some would miss it, I know, if it were no longer here. How many? How much? That's harder to tell.

11 comments:

dmarks said...

Thank you for your Vagary Monologue. Or is it spelled vagarie?

torchlakeviews said...

In the spirit of the tone set by d, I will woman the bafflements with you, keeping watch for the errant camera and hoping for the arrival of Clarity, knowing all the while that life is capricious, all answers ambiguous.

The Dog Ears Virtual Book Club? Mail-order subscription to Good Books, with online discussion . . .

P. J. Grath said...

Unreconstructed Francophile that I remain, I prefer the second spelling, dmarks.

See what I mean about all your ideas, Gerry? I just feel short on energy these days....

arwen22266 said...

Sad to hear the consignment shop is gone - they had fun things. We will be in town on the 1st - what other changes should we be prepared for? Did the BBQ place survive the winter?

P. J. Grath said...

Yes, the Drive-Thru is open for another season, after being closed for the winter. I got my lunch there just the other day. Everything else is pretty much the same. Nature Gems moved into the place where the Northport Bay Dog and Cat Company was, and Jamie has the Dog and Cat Company (Sarah had her feet groomed there this morning) up on the main street, Shabwasung, as you come into town. Old Willowbrook place is not open yet for the season. Dolls and More, Flying Cat Beads, Barb's Bakery, Northport Fitness, etc., etc. still in business.

P. J. Grath said...

Here's the scoop on the new incarnation of the Willowbrook--you won't believe the changes:
http://thewillowbrookmill.com/

P. J. Grath said...

Camera found! Road trip prescribed! Back to your idea, Gerry, on the virtual book club with online discussion. That could be an idea for my future, but I wouldn't need to maintain the overhead of a physical store in order to make it happen. The store would be beside the point. Maybe bookstores are beside the point in general, like horse-drawn carriages....

billiecat said...

We've been watching the transformation of the Willowbrook for the last few summers, and they must have sunk a truckload of cash in getting that place fixed. The wonky floors alone must have been a nightmare in engineering. I am so hopeful that (1) the economics of the business model work out and (2) there is some opportunity in my future to attend an event there.

arwen22266 said...

Very impressive! Although I wonder if they realize when you call up their website, the banner at the top says "Weddings in Northpoint, Michigan" ... thanks for the heads-up!

denise said...

your latest entry makes me sad? somewhat,the possible passing(dare I use that word) of your wonderful bookstore and the thoughtful,lucid prose of your blog, please banish the thought! Nevertheless,you must go where your heart leads...hopefully your readers may continue to follow, if you so allow.You write so beautifully and we would miss your lovely interpretation of life.

P. J. Grath said...

Thanks for those last three contributions, which I am late in acknowledging. I'd love to go to an event at the new Willowbrook, too--wedding or whatever--and yes, there was a ton of money sunk there, I'm sure. Denise, thanks for your appreciation. It means a lot, and my subsequent post was much cheerier, as you'll see if you haven't already.