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Thursday, April 15, 2021

Incomplete But Nonetheless True Confessions

Spring is here.

I have not yet (ever) read The Handmaid’s Tale.


For any serious reader but especially for a bookseller (female, yet!), this is a pretty serious confession, and two years ago I vowed I would read Margaret Atwood’s modern feminist classic over the winter. I didn’t, though. And I haven’t yet. 


I’m not intentionally avoiding the story, but sometimes when any book has already captured the attention of so many other people I don’t feel a huge amount of personal responsibility for hurrying to get to it myself. Bestsellers are already bestsellers, after all, and classics are not going to stop being classics overnight. I’ll get to The Handmaid’s Tale in my own good time, as I’ve gotten around at last to many other long-neglected and worthy works of literature.

My book corner: you've seen it before.

I am usually reading multiple books at any given time. 


One of the books I’m currently reading is a different Margaret Atwood novel, Life Before Man, set in 1970s Toronto, a book that came to me serendipitously, as so many of my books do. I couldn’t have sought it out, because I don’t recall hearing the title before. Written in the third person throughout, the story presents multiple points of view, one point of view contained in each short chapter. I find it difficult to stop at the end of a chapter, feeling almost compelled to begin the next.


My car book these days is Crazy Weather, by Charles L. McNichols, first published in 1944. Lewis Gannett, reviewing Crazy Weather in Books and Things, wrote of it:


Crazy Weather is the story of a white boy who, through four days of torrid weather and cloudbursts, goes glory-hunting with an Indian comrade [Mojave] and returns to discover that he is, and prefers to be, white after all.


South Boy’s ambivalence is clear from the very beginning of the story, and no wonder, given the opposition of character presented by his father and mother. Hal Bortland wrote of the story:


This is the story of a boy who became a man in four days. Into it Charles McNichols has packed an amazing amount of action, adventure, Indian lore, and satisfying psychology…. 


Sterling North loved it, too. I wonder what reputation (if any) the book holds in our own day, particularly among Native American readers.


After our nightly pack time and movie, before going to sleep, I picked up another J. A. Jance mystery featuring fictional Sheriff Joanna Brady of Cochise County, Arizona. Part of this particular novel’s action took place on the old Charleston Road between Tombstone and Sierra Vista, and I read the description of the road aloud to the Artist, who instantly recognized the road we had taken to see water in the San Pedro River and been surprised by the locks on the footbridge.


I have been known to go on a genre fiction binges.


Yes, it’s true. While I called myself “a serious reader” at the top of this post, I do go on these binges from time to time. Presently it’s J. A. Jance. At other times it’s been Lee Child or Alexander McCall Smith or Sara Paretsky or James Lee Burke. Don’t get me wrong, though. This is a confession, not an apology.

Current binge books --

Mystery series books, books that develop a main character through time and through multiple crimes solved, I make little to no attempt to read in chronological order (whether reading for the first time or re-reading the series).


As a bookseller, I am very familiar with readers who feel they must begin a series at the beginning. A few won’t even start reading until they have the entire series lined up. I, on the other hand, would be hard pressed to name a series I started with the first book. What usually happens is more like this: I realize that such-and-such a writer is immensely popular and that it would behoove me to have some slight acquaintance of her or his work, so I pick up a book from the series and try it out. If I like it, I reach for another. Eventually I worked my way through the entire Ladies No. 1 Detective Agency series in that haphazard, nonchronological manner and still feel comfortable picking up any book in the series whenever the mood strikes. I dove into Jance’s Joanna Brady series the same way and continue as I find more books in the series.

Arizona dry wash

Escape is probably one of the reasons I read so many books. 


There are so many reasons for reading books, and like many readers I can’t say a single reason explains what some might term an addiction. I read for information, for understanding, for pleasure – and, I will not deny it, for escape. But my life is wonderful! Why do I need escape?


I am a worrier. 


I wrote once in this blog that I have come to believe needless worry, the kind of fretting that we do completely apart from taking action, is a form of superstition. Here’s some of what I wrote on the subject a while back:


As I try to tease apart this mystery, it seems to me that we hold a vague, unconscious, and unreflective belief that by worrying we feel we are making time payments to ward off future disaster. Pay now, play later! The focus of a worry, remember, is an undesirable outcome (or, all too often, multiple undesirable outcomes on a variety of fronts); thus worrying is suffering in advance that we feel should be subtracted from the outcome. If my hypothesis is correct, this same unconscious belief explains our worry over loved ones, as well. If, for example, I worry myself sick over my son’s late return home, I am paying the price that might otherwise have to be paid by a terrible accident befalling him. Or so says my superstitious belief.


Anyone who may want to read the entire post can find it here.


What I thought and said and wrote then and still believe today is that such worrying is irrational. And yet I continue to do it! I don’t worry that much about myself (What is this rough patch of skin? Should I have it looked it? Okay, when we’re back in Michigan) as I do about others. 


Since my former husband died a year ago, I’ve talked to my son nearly every day by phone. He is doing fine. But once a mom, always a mom! When I don’t hear from friends, I worry that something might be amiss with them. Situations of those I love facing surgery or recovering (I hope!) from same: another source of worry. 


I worry about drought in the Southwest, race relations across the nation, family, friends, the future of the country, the fate of the earth -- and especially, these days, what is going to become of my rescue dog, the “dog with issues,” little Peasy. I wake up in the middle of the night worrying about Peasy’s future and have to turn on the light and read myself back to sleep ... because ...  

Along the Kansas Settlement Road

I have fallen in love with Peasy. 


It wasn’t “love at first sight” when I first laid eyes little Pea. (It was hard to get much more than a glimpse of him, the way he hid from anyone who came near!) He was cute, though, and needed a home, and I needed a dog and figured I could work him through some of his issues. Together we have made great strides! And naturally, gradually day by day, I have come to love him more and more. The way he looks at me! How can I help it?

Good boy!

David and I were absolutely smitten with our Sarah. Besotted! The thing is, though, anyone would have loved Sarah, and quite honestly I think she could have been just as happy in another home, with another family. Not only beautiful, Sarah was also supremely confident and easy-going and able to adjust herself to any situation. (She barely had a startle reflex at all.) When people asked if we had “rescued” her, I used to say we were just lucky enough to find her before anyone else did, and that was the truth. That little puppy spent only a single night in the shelter before we scooped her up took her home, and she was about as easy to train and live with as a puppy could possibly be.


Peasy, now -- quite a different kettle of fish! Not easy-peasy! Picked up as a stray, he was held in the pound for over three months because no one wanted him! What a challenge that boy was his first week with us! 

Now people who see him tell me what a beautiful dog he is, and I see him as beautiful, too, where at first he was only a funny, kinda cute, goofy little scaredy-dog, way too skinny and with a coat full of mats. He is still afraid of strangers, though, and just about everyone is a stranger. And so --


I could and would give him up, out of love for him, if I found someone who could give him a better, fuller life here in Arizona than I can hope to give him in Michigan. At least I think I could....


Because he is so happy here! He behaves and minds me very well. He has an absolutely joyous time when we go out with our neighbor and her two dogs. If the Artist and I leave him alone for a couple of hours, he greets us with happy wiggles when we return. And he blisses out when he joins us for 15 minutes to half an hour of nightly pack time up on our bed. He is, as I say, a happy dog. But still a dog with issues. And back in Michigan I won’t have the freedom of my “seasonal retirement” to devote myself to his training and exercise. I cannot see Peasy leading a rich, fulfilling life alone all day and/or in a cage (call it a “crate,” if you like, but it’s a cage all the same), and he has a very long way to go when it comes to acquiring social skills. 

Clockwise from left: Buddy, Peasy, Molly

I still think adopting him was not only good but the best thing for him. He could have languished in that sterile cell forever! Instead, he has had love and lessons and increasing freedom, and he begins and ends every day a happy, happy dog. (I know I am repeating myself. He is lying contentedly at my feet as I type these lines. How can I help myself?) And that’s what I want to continue: a happy, rich, fulfilling life, with as much outdoor work and play as possible. 

My Peasarino is a good, sweet, loving little dog. Given the right situation for him, for the dog he is, and given a kind, attentive, patient, owner who will love him as much as I do, I think he has potential to be a great dog. It's just that (I can't help thinking) someone else might be better able to bring out his full potential.


And yet I’ve done almost nothing to find another Arizona home for him. 


It’s so hard even to think of giving him up that I don’t look much more than a week ahead, if that, telling myself there’s no need to rush, that I still have time to work with him. But as hard as it is for me to think about his long-term future, it’s equally hard to banish those thoughts or worries from my mind, because there’s no way I’m going to “surrender” him, even to Aussie Rescue or the well-run shelter in Willcox, without knowing where he might end up. I am the one who adopted this dog, and that makes me the one responsible for his life.


And so continues the unfolding saga of Peasy, dog of the desert.


Cheri Walton said...

Oh, no.............I'm terribly worried now about Peasy. Love is all a dog really needs, and he has that , probably for the first time in his life. He's already been through hell, and if he loses you it will be another terrible blow to him. I really believe that even if he has to change his lifestyle when you go back to Michigan, you are more important to him than anything else. Maybe there is a doggie daycare near you where he can go while you are working. Gradually he may become more social. Sometimes it takes a long time.

In any case, despite the fact that it is hardly any of my business, I can't help but jump to Peasy's defense. Losing you would just be one more disaster for Peasy. He adjusted to a whole new life when he got you, and he'd adjust to life in Michigan.

I'm taking great liberties to treat you as would a good friend, but I guess I sort of see you that way.

P. J. Grath said...

Cheri, I appreciate your treating me as a friend and also appreciate your concern for Peasy. Thank you! The little dog will have big adjustments to make, whatever his future is -- wherever and with whomever. A human loved one wrote to me this morning: While you KNOW that Peasy loves his life with you in Arizona you don't KNOW that Peasy WON"T LOVE life in Michigan. He might take to life in Michigan (though not at the store) as happily as he does his life in Arizona!" And that's true. I don't know.

But really, do you think love is ALL a dog needs? (Or all any of us needs?) Some pets are smothered with love but have no larger social lives, no freedom, little or no exercise, no meaningful work. They are virtually prisoners of love, and I would not want to do that to any animal.

Let me say again that I would ONLY give him up if assured that his life would be better in a new home, that is, less stressful and freer and more companionable all day long than anything I can promise in Michigan. The jury is still out, but Peasy's wellbeing is my paramount concern.