They’re Good Dogs, Crass

I was a teenager when Norm, our younger springer spaniel, attacked my dad. He had undiagnosed rage disorder and bit my dad on the face while they were snuggling in his chair. Dad threw Norm in the back yard and mom took dad to the hospital. I had to stay behind and listen to Norm, now returned to himself and confused about his banishment, cry to be let in.

He hadn't howled like this before. This was a wholly new sound, different from the sounds of pain and stress and alert that normally came out of him. Listening to it was almost unbearable.

I sat in the upstairs hall and wept. Our older springer Malley padded up close, sniffed me twice, and nudged me. I tried to shoo her away. She normally listened to that, but that night she stayed, and she nosed my hands away from my face again and again until I let them fall. She kissed me and she lay down next to me and did not leave my side until dad came home. We put Norm down the next day.

He used to try to talk. If you were sitting in a chair and reading or watching TV, he would come and sit right in front of you, face like a forlorn Stan Laurel, and wait for you to notice him. If you ignored him, he would scoot a half-step back, sit back down, and huff once. If you continued to ignore him, he'd try to talk.

This was not a bark or a whine. He would open his mouth and start modulating his voice in a constant up-and-down rurring sound that approximated the rise and fall and cadence of human speech. I've never heard a dog do that before or since.

That was one of the things I missed most when we put him down. He was one of us. He wanted to be near us, to share body warmth with us, to be comforted and told that he was good, that we saw him there, that we hadn't forgotten our boy. He was also weird as hell, and I identified with that.

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The gist of this article is mostly reasonable. Which makes the clickbait nature of its headline and framing even more tiresome in contrast. Even Norm didn't clown that hard to get our attention. He just tried to talk to us.

That clowning drowns out some of the piece's more disturbing points, like that 40% of women dog owners get more emotional support from their dogs than from their husbands. That's a parasitism that's far more worthy of scrutiny than the question of whether my Mugsy understands selflessness and altruism.

Indeed, there's a case to be made that we're all emotional parasites. That we need affirmation, that we need security both physical and emotional, that we need to feel needed and valued. That others are mostly a means to those ends.

The question of whether dogs love us or merely need us only stops with their species if you don't understand the implications of what you're asking. Pointing out that they train us just like we do them opens us up to much broader and more interesting discussions about the nature of our thinking and feeling existence than a lazy and predictable "everything you know is BACKKERDS" hot take, if we’re listening.

It’s a perfect microcosm of everything I’ve come to hate about the internet I used to love. A big opportunity for meaningful discussion torpedoed by the symbiosis of market considerations, short attention spans, and the need for an outrage platform.

Right now the San Diego Union-Tribune is basking in a viral Twitter fight that raised their ad revenue for a minute. Right now Twitter is screaming DOG HATER about an article they didn't read. Both of them sacrificed something to get what they wanted.

The whole thing makes me tired all over. So tonight I will scoop my little bearded boy up in my arms and carry him up to bed (note: that fucker’s spoilt), and I will ponder for the 500th time as we plod past the stained glass window just what all this says about what it is to have feelings.

Vote GLaDOS/HAL 2020

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When you create a weather app whose whole concept is being powered by a murderous, anti-human AI, it’d be the easiest thing in the world to take that joke and run with it for goofs. When you use it to demonstrate how far we’ve gotten from basic human decency while running with the joke, you’re operating on the fine and delicate line between comedy and rage.

That takes skill, not to mention stones. App stores are hard to make a living in because app pricing has taught people to value useful software less than coffee and a bagel. A feature like this (which you have to turn on in settings to really get the effect, but still) potentially shrinks your revenue further. So I’m on board. They get my annual subscription.

Funny people are being asked to play the role for democracy that Jesus played in the temple. My house shall be called a house of prayer, but you have made it a den of thieves.

I miss the days when laughing didn’t matter so much. When I didn’t scramble for my wallet just because I found out that my favorite Git client backs women’s causes and the ACLU.

In any case, Arnold Fiske couldn’t shut up about it.

By noon the next day, the whole town knew. And the whole town talked about it.

A Sasquatch. The widow and a Sasquatch. Ain't that just a kick in the pants.

Two days later, the pair had been spotted in public, walking along the railroad tracks.

And again, picking their way across the bog.

And again, standing in the back of the crowd, at a liquidation auction. The Sasquatch sometimes wore Mr. Sorensen's old seed hat and boots (he had cut out holes for his large, flexible toes), and sometimes wore the dead man's scarf. But never his pants. Not even some kind of shorts. Or, dear god, at least some swimming trunks. The Sasquatch was in possession, thankfully, of a bulbous thicket of fur, concealing the area of concern, but everyone knew what was behind the fur, and they knew it would only take a stiff breeze, or a sudden movement, or perhaps the presence of a female Sasquatch to cause a, how would you say—a shaking of the bushes, as it were. Or a parting of the weeds. People kept their eyes averted, just to be safe.

—Kelly Barnhill, "Mrs. Sorensen and the Sasquatch"

If you can make a passage about Sasquatch dick be delightful, you are my kind of person. Kelly Barnhill, one day I hope to give you a hug.

Lost

The frogs were loud.

I was in the hammock last night, in the summer we stubbornly insist is still spring. Took me a minute to worry myself into my sweet spot for the night.

When I did, I noticed the frogs. I swayed there above the creek and listened to them call out for companionship and wondered if I could sleep in it. This high crickety lonesome. Like bubble wrap that somehow needs oiling.

There was that gnawing at the back of my head that so many of us word people feel, someone knocking on the other side of the basement door and saying "I have a gift for you. An idea. Use it now, or at least store it someplace safe until you can. Who knows when I'll come back."

So I reached up to the pouch that hung on the ridgeline above me, brushing past a book of Jane Yolen short stories, and I pulled out my phone as the sentence congealed. There was something to it, I thought, so I banged it out quick in my drafts app.

"The frogs were loud."

And then I said my prayer. I receive this gift with thanks, I acknowledge its heft, and I promise you that I will write it just as soon as I can. But I hope you will understand that I must sleep now.

And I did. It was deep and dreamless. I stirred only once when it had gotten cool enough to pull the blanket over me, maybe once more to worry over a pinched nerve. When I woke, I thought about my whiteboard.

Lance taught me about whiteboard meditation. You write something on your whiteboard and linger over it, see where it leads. I did my first one last week, and this is what I wrote:

YOU'RE LOOKING TO GET LOST

So many of my decisions, particularly the ones I've regretted, have been driven by what I believe is a fundamental need to lose myself. To be free of my own obsessions and fears and resentments and self-consciousness and, well, me.

I've found a healthy loss of me through helping others, through communing with that presence I reluctantly call "God", through immense suffering and loss. I never get it the right way when I chase it, yet chase it I have, in ways big and small. Through chemistry, through challenges to my endurance, through an addictive “faith” that was more like a dare, through women. And, I think, through stories and song too.

If you ask me to go to a party, I may say yes, but I will think no. If you ask me to be left alone with a story, to sit in a chair and read something that turns me, to sit in the dark and let a glowing screen change my feelings, I will leap at that chance.

I looked at that writing cue. The frogs were loud. And I thought about that smear of marker. You're looking to get lost. And I wondered. Should I write? Why?

Everyone who loves me will say yes, I should, because I have a gift. You have been given this, they tell me. It's a sin not to use it.

Okay, maybe, but for what?

Because what I want to do with it is get lost in it. Better if I can make you get lost too, because then you'll love me, won't you? Ask me what I wish I could do most of all, and I'd say I wish I could tell stories that delight. I want that for me, because I want that for me. That seems like a bad way to spend that gift, to feed it to my ego or use it as an escape pod.

It may be lucky that I've never really seen a story through. It may be the best thing for my health. Because the world is out there, people are out there, and if I'm going to get lost, shouldn't I get lost in them? In their stories? Shouldn't I be there to celebrate their triumphs, to hold them in their grief? Is that what the words are for?

The frogs were loud. My god, you wouldn't believe it if you haven't heard it. They knew nothing of anxiety or resentment or dread. They exulted in a natural compulsion: Tonight I must sing, because that is my nature.

And they sang, but not to me. Not for me, though it felt so. It felt as though I were in the center of it all, taking it in, letting it build in me until I could find the right means to grab your hand and tell you to listen, this matters, the frogs were loud and it changed me, it can change you too.

What is that for? Why is it?

What now?

I cannot find enlightenment or fulfillment by seeking it. I fail at the very first step because it is at odds with the very reason that I want it. I want it for me. And it isn't for me. Yet I have these words, and I am paralyzed because I don't know how to use them just for you. I don't know how to sing like the creekfrogs. They sing together. They sing to stay alive. They need not worry why because they cannot be corrupted as I am.

I want to lose that corruption. I want to lose me. I'm sick of me. And I know where to do it. I lose me in you. But I can twist even that into something it was not meant to be. So the words are a gift, yes, but they are also a burden. They put me at risk to be no longer useful to you. And without you, I go back to being something I've learned to fear.

I don't have a tidy bow for this. I have only the question of what now. I suppose it's time to shut up and listen. To find someone I can help, and trust that the words will eventually either show me what they are for, or else leave me alone.

How many dancing rabbits have you seen in your life?

Look at me, he said to her. His arms and legs jerked. You got your wish. I have learned how to love. And it’s a terrible thing. I’m broken. My heart is broken. Help me.

The old woman turned and hobbled away.

Come back, thought Edward. Fix me.

Bryce cried harder. He made Edward dance faster.

Finally, when the sun was gone and the streets were dark, Bryce stopped playing his harmonica.

“I’m done now,” he said.

He let Edward fall to the pavement. “I ain’t gonna cry anymore.”

—Kate DiCamillo, The Mysterious Journey of Edward Tulane

Them Thar Hills

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The beauty of the Ozarks is nigh on to cubist. It is angle and protrusion, knot and jag. The Ozarks are a broken nose that didn't set quite straight, a tombstone worn illegible, a lover's lips blessing a c-section scar. Theirs is the beauty of use and meaning and scrabbling for a life lived hard.

When the fall comes, the trees go to the bone and the woods are a wake of tottering, knee-walking drunks swaying to a hiss and rattle danse macabre under a corpsewhite sky. Everything is contrast and vacancy.

But in the spring and summer, the hills will rain their life down on you. They will pack it in your nostrils, rub it into your eyes, grind out a shotgun-wedding waltz on the legs of crickets and the bellies of cicadas until you can hear the heat. The hills will not allow you to forget that life only comes in a surge of mess and scent and howling, that sweat is sometimes a wedding ring and walking is often climbing. They welcome you, and they dare you.

I left the Ozarks 16 years ago, but my heart is still buried in their clay, stained orange and still beating, somewhere deep in a bootlegger's cave.

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What’s that in the corner?

Reading a Hellboy omnibus and the Good Lord and Mike Mignola remind me of three of my favorite comics panels of all time:

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The whole thing happens after some stupid noblewoman opens a box containing Satan’s head. Which turns out to be a fly, which flies into her mouth and possesses her. Later Hellboy and Abe get attacked by a chimp with a revolver. Who is actually the lady’s husband. Mignola wrote that.

No one does straight-faced noir mixed with gothic horror and camp quite like Hellboy. It’s one of those things I’m grateful I was alive to witness.

Bright, bright, bright

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“Love isn't gonna save us. It's what we have to save. Pain makes us strong enough to do it. All our scars, our anger, our despair? That's armor.

“Baby, God loves the sinners best 'cause our fire burns bright, bright, bright. Burn with me.”

Legion is still unlike anything I've ever seen on TV.

How do we write now?

You are completely at its mercy and it is your kingdom. The apples are all the things you have ever compared to apples. The stars are all the ways you have tried to describe the stars. Paradise is not just the day when the poem pours down like Niagara with the hottest couple in the world kissing steamily behind it, it is also the day that you spend changing the word A to THE and back again. That concentration is reverence. You are passing the beads of things through your fingertips and your head is bowed and your mouth is moving and the preexisting rhythm has found its place in you.

I’m not saying you’re lucky to be there. I’m saying as long as you live there you are in opposition to the powers that rule the world. You are the opposite of money. You are against presidents, oil spills, slaughterhouses, Young Sheldon. You’re the opposite of the red button under Matt Lauer’s desk. You’re the opposite of the red button that ends it all. You have never been so hard in your own name. Nobody has you.

Patricia Lockwood reminds me that the world still is, that llamas matter, that the place where I burn is always open.

I wanted to quote pretty much all of this, but I thought I’d focus on the promise, the target we forget to aim at. You are the opposite of money. You have never been so hard in your own name.

God damn.

Papa said drinking was for nighttime and for fools

The boy couldn’t ask Grandfather, either, for Grandfather was off again, into the snowy woods, to sing and to dance under the trees and wear beech leaves in his hair till the policeman brought him back: “Keep old Crazy Anders at home, please.”

—Jane Yolen, “Andersen’s Witch”

Just figured out what kind of granddad I want to be