“You don't just get things” - Life Lessons From a Dog

Some of you may know about my annoying dog voice. No really, it’s squeaky and babyish and irritating,not to mention crass (more on this blog). But my dog doesn’t mind.

When she wants something (food, or…food), and starts salivating when she hears a bag crinkle or a can open, I tell her “Gemma, I don’t care about your feelings!” Which of course is the farthest thing from the truth. gemma begging

I interchange this sentiment with, “Gemma, you don’t just get things.”

It occurred to me the other day, on the heels of some disappointing news that this wisdom applies to more than just a dog begging for food. It applies to us humans. I see parents imparting this on their kids all the time, or at least trying to. Saying no to requests. Like my parents used to say to me when I wanted my fourth sleepover in a row, or a ride to the Rockaway Mall so I could get blue mascara or a second ear piercing (never happened).

“But why not?” I would bemoan.

“Because I said so,” my father would say. Or just, “Because.”

“Ok but give me a reason,” I would negotiate.

“I don’t have to give you reason.” Which would send me off to my room in a crying tizzy.

It only took me close to forty years (like a Jew in the desert who needs reeducating) of tough experiences, of random occurences and unexplainable events, to realize that most of the time, there is no reason.

Most of the time, we don’t just get things. We don’t just get everything we want.

It prompted me to ask myself, what is my “thing” – the main narrative of my life? The thing that I wanted most, that sticks out above all others? My learnings, my writings, have all been divorce and remarriage centric. My first marriage, which consumed my being for all of my twenties and most of my thirties, was my “thing” and when that was no longer, the balance was later righted by finding and getting the thing I wanted (and worked at) the most. My husband, my soul-mate.

But in the other areas of my life – be it my job, or my writing, or even the expected succession of life stages that many of my friends have (marriage in your early thirties, time to hang out, followed by kids) – things don’t always go my way. Or success proves elusive. Sometimes all the hard work I put in, the whining, the yearning and straining – or attempting to manipulate and negotiate events in my favor – doesn’t beget results.

And when that happens, it sucks. It hurts. The thrill and joy of attaining the thing we want most – has an equal and opposite shitty feeling. But maybe that’s the point. It cultivates a deep gratitude.

We don’t just get things – at least not all of them. Maybe we just get one of them – the most important one. And that’s enough. It’s plenty.

But Gemma? I lied. She totally gets everything she wants. All the time.

A Birthday Coupling: Sharing My Birthday With My Beloved.

My husband’s birthday and mine are one day apart in May (conveniently, mine comes first, so we basically get to celebrate my birthday twice).

Neither one of us is into astrology, nor have I ever analyzed or researched what this actually “means” beyond the fact that it underscores my certainty that he and I are spiritually paired. We share a unique bond, like Gemini twins.

On every birthday since we met, my husband surprises me with an unexpected gift that demonstrates he knows what I need, like a new iPhone, business cards for my writing and blogging promotion, or an artsy ring from a store he knows I like. I usually buy him clothes, because I’m lame, and because I know which store in Manhattan carries men’s XXL (Banana Republic, J Crew, no. G-Star, yes) and I’m too impatient for anything that requires craft.

He is the opposite. On my fortieth birthday, a few months after we had gotten back together, he surprised me with a “me” video montage that highlighted and celebrated my journey from divorcee to meeting him. When he proposed to me, on a beach overlooking Bermuda, his proposal came by way of a video card too. And for this birthday, I awoke to his most poetic card yet. Our story in title cards, set to a song with ethereal lyrics about how tiny and inconsequential we are in this vast universe, solitude imbedded in our DNA. And when we weave our souls together in love, like two intertwined DNA strands, it eases this solitude.

I assumed that was my present, until we got home that night from a party. I was recounting an anecdote from the evening, getting ready to wash up and he told me to come over to the couch where two large sketch pads and packs of charcoal and pencils lay.draw “I think you should draw again,” he said. “You’re an artist.”

An artist. I was. It was how I had begun. When I was a kid, I went through a vicious bought of insomnia, and would lay out paper and colored pencils on my desk, my comforting friends who I knew would be there for me later in the quiet loneliness of the night. I attended the School of Fine Arts in college. I see feelings in pictures and cheesy visual metaphors. But amidst life and my job, where I nurture and sell other artists, I had forgotten that I was one.

I stood there in shock, tears streaming down my cheeks. My reaction surprised us both. I hadn’t told my husband that I missed drawing, nor had I even had a fleeting fancy to buy some supplies. But I had been feeling frustrated with my writing. While my book is out on submission, I’ve been plotting other endeavors. Go back to revising my novel. Have it ready to go once the memoir’s fate is revealed. Write a new blog post. Write and publish an essay in The New York Times (as if the only thing that’s stopping me is writing it). Like Ann Packer wrote in a recent piece for the NYT, being between projects is a strange and anxiety provoking place – always feeling like you should be doing more, doing something. I had been feeling stuck in between indeed, but I didn’t know it.

But my husband knew. “I thought it might be good for you to be visual, get back to your basics. It could help your writing,” he said.

For a moment, I wished he had included some black pens in the gift, so I could make my typical ink designs, which are really just sophisticated doodles, but then he told me he left those pens out intentionally. IMG_1255 Doodling is my crutch, my safety blanket, my nervous energy worked out on a page. But I wasn’t going to grow from that. Doing the same thing I always do wasn’t going to inspire fresh ideas or manifest a buried emotion in a new form.

So this year, a new light was shed on the meaning of our back-to-back birthdays. Yes we share a midnight between two days on a calendar, but mainly, we share something more rare – the intangible and ephemeral. The gratification and fulfillment of being seen and understood, sometimes better than you understand yourself. It eases the gnawing sense of solitude we carry around as not only artists, but as humans.

Oh, and by the way, I’m not promising to share any of those would-be drawings, as programmed as I may be to share my private life and feelings. I’ll save that urge for this blog.