We have two dogs who are, of course, the lights of our lives, both of them strays, both dumped on the side of some road, both picked up by local shelters. The first one we adopted we thought was a mutt, but then, of course, it turned out he was a purebred Australian Cattle Dog. After falling in love with him, Alex announced the next dog was going to be the same breed, and so we found Pearl. They’re easy to find in shelters, those dogs–people get them because they’re cute and then just can’t cope with the reality of the breed’s energy.
i don’t mean to be boring you about the dogs–hang on, this really is going somewhere. But I have to spend a few sentences saying how much they add to our lives. Dog lovers will immediately know what I mean, but for everyone else, there is something about love coming and going from and to wherever and whatever that is energizing, life giving…that makes one feel what it means to be truly human. It is the two way exchange of love (and this can be between people, between a person and an animal, between a person and the natural world…even between a person and a long dead author of a book…) that pulls you out of any fantasies that may be substituting in your life for reality, and brings you face to face with what life really is. Love, in other words, as opposed to any other human activity, is like swimming with the current in a cold, clear stream. Everything else is like splashing around in a muddy pond.
I’m saying this, because I was really struck this week by a book about the Australian Cattle Dog that I got as a present for Alex. Most of the book, it turns out disappointingly enough, is about the perfect form of the breed. This is what their feet should look like. This is what their eyes should look like. This is what their coat should be colored–this and no other.
Anyone who has ever been in love–truly in love, no matter with who or what–will recognize that this is not the way we assess the Beloved. We don’t think about bits and pieces; we just move with a surge of joy toward her, him, or it. What could be more perfect than the Whole Beloved? What could be more perfect than one’s loved husband or child, or dog, or maple tree, or mountain lake, or book? And how could it be compared, really, to anything else but itself?
It kept nagging at me, looking at that book about the abstract Australian Cattle Dog, and then looking at our own, living, breathing exemplars of the breed, that our whole culture has gotten very attenuated making the same mistake as people obsessed with breeding dogs to a certain look. It’s done the same thing to ‘acceptable’ ideas as the obsessed dog breeder has done to what it thinks of as an ‘acceptable’ dog. There are only a few ideas which are acceptable, and they have to be presented in a certain way, in certain words, surrounded by certain forms of advertising. They have to be written, even if only apparently and only in name, by acceptable names, that have passed inspection in a certain way. Like the collie that is admired for its slender head, so that collies are now bred with hardly any brain between the ears to achieve this, the culture is in danger of having real life and real ideas bred out of it in favor of a Byzantine, repetitive, dead set of personalities and principles, repeated over and over.
It really is. When was the last time you read something in the major media that made you sit up and say, “wow. there’s something new I never would have thought of in a million years.” Well, you can’t remember it probably. I can’t, anyway. And one thing I really have seen, working on EAP for the last few years, is that anyone who has worked consistently in the major media (there are exceptions, David Budbill comes immediately to mind) has a terrible time adapting to what I’m asking for: direct communication about WHAT THEY REALLY THINK. Not what they think they should think, or what they’re allowed to think in the major papers and mags, although this has sometimes become such second nature that the writers themselves are fooled about what they think in their secret hearts. Where I’ve found the most interesting, and the most spontaneous, communication was from people who, by and large, had nothing to lose by saying what really was there.
Anyone can do this, though it’s hard to break through the official barrier. Anyone can just engage in a serious and loving way with what they really think about what’s going on around them. And not only can anyone do this, for Christ’s sake, anyone and everyone SHOULD do this. Look at the mess we’re in. I mean, really look at it. Don’t get lulled by what you read in the papers. Don’t start thinking you’re not responsible either, and I don’t mean just because you don’t recycle. I mean every single one of us is responsible for what we really think, and then for expressing that clearly, and then for acting out of that truth.
And the first truth we’ve got to act out of is this: the basic, most important value of a truly human life is the human ability to love something wholeheartedly in the present. Not to analyze it, or try to ‘perfect’ it, but to love it, in joy.
In other words, take your own values and perceptions out for a mountain walk and watch them gambol about, and don’t try to force them to be bred to fit what the New York Times tells you is the correct aspirant upper class way to think. Get out there and see what your ideas do on their own, for God’s sake, and love them that way, and guide them in the way that looks best to you–not to Vanity Fair.
And then write to me when you do. That’s what I’m looking for. That’s the kind of stuff I want to publish for the next twenty years. That’s the way Brian Griffith thinks and writes, and that’s the way Mike Madrid does, too. Why are things this way, they say? Why not this way? What would happen if it was? And maybe then the collie would start broadening out its head, and not be as elegant and attenuated to the eye, but maybe it would be a better companion and friend that way, who knows? I mean, unless we try.
(The first three EAP books will come out in September and November of this year, but you can prebuy them now at a discount on Amazon…THE SUPERGIRLS: Fashion, Feminism, Fantasy, and the History of the Comic Book Heroine, by Mike Madrid; JAM TODAY: A Diary of Cooking WIth What You’ve Got, by me; and CORRECTING JESUS: 2000 Years of Changing the Story, by Brian Griffith. Get ’em while they’re hot.)