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Tuesday, November 24, 2020

I am Pierre’s dog.

Another dawn, another day

David, a.k.a. the Artist, took me to a new coffee house in Willcox, and we sat out on the front porch on Haskell Street (Business I-10) with our drinks. When I was in graduate school and reading Sartre, I wrote a paper called “Consciousness of Self and Pierre’s Dog.” Or maybe it was “Pierre’s Dog and Consciousness of Self.” The first line, anyway, was “Consider the dog in this café,” my variation on Sartre’s famous “Consider the waiter in this café.” In my version, Pierre’s dog was called that because, while Pierre did not own the dog, he and the dog had fixed morning routines in the café every day. Then comes a morning when Pierre does not appear, and everywhere the dog looks, all he sees is Pierre’s absence. 


As for reading, I haven’t finished a book since we were in Michigan, and that last book I read was Rinker Buck’s The Oregon Trail, which I left in Illinois (our second night out on the road) for my sister and brother-in-law to read. I tried to finish Absalom, Absalom! for a Zoom meeting with the reading circle but couldn’t manage to lock myself for long enough into that depressing, claustrophobic atmosphere to get through the last third of the book. Instead, while traveling and during our first days and nights here in the cabin, I read now and then a few pages of SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome, but my progress in it was slow, my attention repeatedly drawn away from the book to our dog’s unaccustomed demeanor. 


Then Sarah had a good day on Sunday, and I felt briefly optimistic that she would “recover from the trip,” as the Artist put it, and that we would have – not long hikes, but at least one more short walk with our neighborhood adventure pack before I had to leave her home on mornings I went off into the mountains with them. So on Monday and Tuesday of last week, which is to say during Sarah’s last days, I started into my winter writing project.

The following Tuesday, on what turned out to be her last day of life, I only “left” her briefly (we were scant feet apart and could look into each other’s faces whenever either of us had the desire) to sit with the handwritten diary that a young man in Pennsylvania began in 1854, a diary I will be transcribing this winter, putting his entries together with my own journal entries and other thoughts and reflections on his time and mine. 


Now that she is gone, I still read myself to sleep after an evening movie but have set aside SPQR for a comfort book, one of Alexander McCall Smith’s novels set in Botswana and featuring Mma Ramotswe. When we wake up in the middle of the night, as we do every night, the Artist and I may talk quietly or lie together in silence, but sometimes then too I turn on my bedside light to escape to Botswana. The cows in the book are comforting. I wish the cows of Dos Cabezas would pay us a visit, but they seem to be grazing and foraging somewhere out of sight.

The comfort of cows....

While I was lying on the floor with Sarah on Tuesday, stroking her head and fondling her ears, a Motown song by Gladys Knight and the Pips came into my head and would not go away, and it has been there ever since. “Neither One of Us Wants to Be the First to Say Goodbye” is a song about a couple postponing a breakup they realize is inevitable. For me, it was about my dog – about Sarah hanging on and about my world having shrunk to wherever she was lying at any given moment. She never did “go to sleep” but kept following us with her eyes whenever we moved from one part of the room to another. She and I did not want to say goodbye to each other – and the Artist and I did not want to say goodbye to her.

Night lingers as day begins

My sisters mentioned another song, one called “Sara,” by Jefferson Starship. I put off listening to that one for days after Sarah’s death, and when I finally called it up, the Artist and I could hardly bear the lyrics: “I’ll never find another girl like you…. No time is a good time for goodbye.” 


Then the other day I picked up a small collection of poetry, ten poems by ten different poets, put together in a book by Roger Housden called Ten Poems to Say Goodbye. This may be the book I will finally finish and be able to add to my “Books Read 2020” list.

I am thankful

But life goes on, as it always does, and Thanksgiving will be here in two days. The Artist and I have each other! We have priceless family and friends! And we have received a flood of touching and very meaningful sympathy messages from a couple hundred people, many who knew Sarah for years and others in distant places who knew her only through my blog posts. We were unbelievably fortunate to have found puppy Sarah in the first place and then to have had her in our lives for so many years -- the best traveler, the best bookstore dog, and the best companion imaginable. 


I am very well aware of how blessed I am, what a wonderful life I have, and there are moments already when the Artist and I can make each other laugh, even over shared memories of Sarah. At the same time, for now, Sarah is my Pierre, and I am her dog: Everywhere I look, I see her absence.

Thursday, November 19, 2020

My Darling, Sweetest Girl

Sarah was adopted from the Cherryland Humane Society in Traverse City, Michigan, in January of 2008, at the age of four months.

Sarah died at 8 p.m., November 17, in her winter home of Dos Cabezas, Arizona, aged 13 years, with her family at her side. 


Rest in peace, darling, sweetest girl – you will live in our hearts forever.


Thursday, November 5, 2020

Hello and Goodby! Coming and Going!


And no, I do not mean presidents! Don't you want a break? I sure do, so while we're waiting for the count, I'm stealing some bookstore news -- "industry" news, it might be called in other lines of work -- from articles in today's “Shelf Awareness” newsletter. 


Countless events take place in the world without generating screaming headlines. Comings and goings of indie bookstores take place all the time across America, whether you see them happening or not. How many times have visitors from elsewhere come through my bookstore door exclaiming that there’s nothing like Dog Ears where they live – or, more often, bemoaning the disappearance of bookstores in general. And yet, while it’s true that somewhere a bookstore is always closing, it’s also true that somewhere else a new one is opening. Statistics for openings vs. closures would be interesting to see, but every story is particular, as every independent bookstore’s identity is individual and personal.


So here are a couple of stories, but keep in mind that every week there are more stories like these:


New kid on the block: I’d love to pop in for a visit at the new Beausoleil Books in Lafayette, Louisiana. The only time I was ever in that town, I was delighted to find it (much more than New Orleans) a true francophone community, so a bookstore in town stocking French books along with English titles seems long overdue. Among Lafayette’s other charms: how many universities do you know with an alligator pond behind the Student Union? ("Pond" not at all the word I want, but I'm drawing a blank here. Help!) And dancing, every evening, all ages, to live Cajun music between dinner and sensible early bedtime. Road trip, road trip! Beausoleil Books, we wish you un succès fou!


Veteran’s farewell: On a sad note, however, the Book Nook in Monroe, Michigan, is closing its doors forever after December holidays, the “heartbroken” owner writing sadly on her Facebook page that after 50 years of weathering challenges from the Internet in general, the Online Behemoth in particular, and a fire next door, she has finally made the tough decision not to go "further into debt.” She adds bluntly (speaking of presidents), “I don't think it is ‘smart’ to not pay my share of taxes or file bankruptcy or stiff local vendors. I wasn't raised that way.”


My heart goes out to honest, hardworking bookseller Janet Berns, who asks for patience from her customers at this time when her emotions “are running the gamut from sadness and despair to anger and frustration to nausea and grief.” I can imagine myself in her shoes, with that roiling stew of feelings, and I hope her next chapter will have the brightness and rewards she has certainly earned after a half-century in her bookstore!


And so it goes. They come, they go, and nothing is forever. 

Some booksellers, of course, look forward to retirement. Book Nook owner Janet, though, was clearly not ready, and that troubles my heart.


Remember Tinker Belle? If children no longer believed in fairies, she would die, but if enough believers clapped their hands, she would live?  With bookstores, clapping your hands and saying you love them isn't enough. Only sales pay the bills -- another case of actions showing much more convincingly than words what people believe in and value. So to all who have kept Dog Ears Books solvent for over 27 years, please know that I appreciate each and every single one of you and look forward to picking up again in the spring in Northport for what I hope will be a busy, happy, healthy 2021 season. 

Meanwhile, be safe, stay healthy, keep reading -- and remember to shop local with my literary colleagues at Leelanau Books in Leland, Bay Books in Suttons Bay, Cottage Book Shop in Glen Arbor, Horizon Books in Traverse City, and Landmark Books in Traverse City. And if you must shop online, try alternatives to the Online Behemoth

Thank you, all you reader customer friends, for your support! You keep us going!


Tuesday, November 3, 2020

Alone and Not Alone, Each and Every One of Us

Sunshine and shadows


...Brown eyes stared back at her bleakly. A serviceable, capable person with a heart like a volcano, one that was spewing out a lava of rage and confusion and grief. Oh, no one would ever guess it. Her customers would never believe her capable of such fury and desolation, the unending baffled confusion she felt…. 

-      Ellen Airgood, South of Superior


Our little reading circle, that long-standing, intrepid band that formed lo these many years ago to read James Joyce’s Ulysses together, has chosen Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom! as November’s discussion group book (meeting via Zoom), so I’ve been plowing, dragging, trudging – picture a tired old mule, legs shaking with fatigue – through that depressing American classic. But last night, the night before Election Day, I needed a break, I needed comfort. And I needed to feel close to my friend, the author. So I fled, in spirit, to the U.P. before falling asleep (and waking at 3 a.m. to read some more, but that’s another story).

Toggling between the near and dear familiar and the difficult long-ago

The thing is (as another friend and I touched on earlier last night, during a phone conversation that we agreed at the beginning could not be long but which somehow kept going irresistibly once underway), we have all endured long years already of painful political and social division in our country, and on top of that came and still continue long months of pandemic restrictions and isolation. And still, on top of all the unusual, long-drawn-out, seemingly endless daily stresses of political and social strife and pandemic, the usual crises and disasters that life brings every year keep coming, too: accidents, unexpected expenses, job losses and business failures, fires, hurricanes, power outages, serious illnesses and hospitalizations and deaths – in other words, trials and losses of all kinds. Even happy events such as weddings and births cannot be celebrated as they would have been in normal times. It’s overwhelming and exhausting, the cumulative toll.


So no one is not exhausted. Which is why the long slog with Faulkner through the South, before, during, and after the Civil War, as we continue to feel nightmare reverberations today from that long-ago time, is not something I can handle nonstop.


Are Faulkner’s long sentences Proustian? One member of the reading circle thinks so, but I’m finding them very different, both in form and mood. A Faulknerian sentence, interrupting itself over and over on the way to each delayed and long-desired period, strikes me as an articulation of bottomless anger and frustration and regret and pain, while Proust’s sentences -- for me -- unfurl voluptuously in slow, bright, festooning ribbons of sensuous detail. Proust wraps a reader in long, luxurious moments, Faulkner withholds and torments. Of course, the respective content of these two brilliant writers cannot be separated from form, and the very different content undoubtedly colors my impressions….


These days many usually soft-spoken friends, feeling powerless and fearful despite their noble and tireless efforts to bring about better times for us all, express themselves privately in loud expletives. One dear friend, overcome by spells of panic that come without warning, bursts into uncontrollable sobs as we speak on the phone. Another loved one sadly expresses the feeling that he is alone in the world. Anger, panic, loneliness. Fear and sadness. Rage, confusion, grief, fury, desolation. Exhaustion.


Do I exaggerate? The basic condition of aloneness – that each of us is born alone, suffers alone, and dies alone – a truth that active, busy people generally manage to keep in the background of consciousness, is in our faces every day now. Giving up is not an option, however, and so we seek calm and comfort in prayer and meditation, long walks outdoors, playtime with children and pets, happy memories and current domestic joys, making art or baking pies -- and calling, texting, writing, making and maintaining connections, that is, to each other and to the precious ordinariness of life. Because joy is, we remind ourselves, as true as pain, loving connection as true as social isolation, every moment of life a precious gift not to be squandered.

Making connections

As Airgood’s character Madeline Stone realized about the U.P., life is “all mixed up, beautiful and bleak, both.” 


Will my friend Ellen be taken aback to find herself in company here with Marcel Proust and William Faulkner? Love you, Ellen and Rick!


I want to send a special “Hello and thank you!” to Margie Burns, also, up in Marquette, whose cheery note in the mail yesterday was such a lovely surprise. Warmest greetings to you and Jackie and all the members of your book club, Margie! I remember your visit to Dog Ears and am touched that you continue to follow my bookstore and life vicariously via this blog – and that you wrote to tell me so is a special gift.


In closing, on this long-awaited Election Day 2020: Better off than four years ago? Hardly! But not giving up, either, not by a long shot, whatever the results! It’s time to call on all our sisu and keep calling on it, daily, one day at a time, the only way life can ever be lived. That is today’s Upper Peninsula lesson, no less applicable here below the Bridge or in any other part of the world.


This tree has sisu!