Sophie the dog died last week. She had surgery to fix her bladder. The surgery had complications. Sophie had to be put to sleep. These are the facts, but as is often the case, the facts leave so much unsaid.
My mother-in-law called my husband to let us know, and he told me. I cried (and I still cry when I think of Sophie). She was not my dog, but she used to be. She was my pet, and then, I had to give her up. She’s lived with my in-laws most of her life. Yet, I raised Sophie from a puppy. I struggle to mourn her loss. I already gave her up. What right do I have to mourn? How can I not mourn her? What do I say about a dog who used to be a part of my family? What do I owe her memory? I have no good answers (I rarely do).
Instead, I’ll tell you Sophie’s story, the parts that I know. It is the least that I can do.
Chris and I already had one dog, Hannah, and a mean cat, Belle. We bought a new house with a large backyard, and we worried that Hannah might be lonely. We were both graduate students. We spent many hours at the university away from home. We thought maybe another dog would be a good companion.
My mom happened to have a new litter of hound-mix puppies, so we decided to pick a puppy for Hannah. I was drawn to an off-white puppy with spots running through her fur. She had big brown splotch over one eye, which made her look a bit like the Pokey Little Puppy. This puppy was also nervous, which amounted to much pee to be removed from carpet, and rambunctious. We named her, Sophie. The name was my choice because it sounded sweet, and she was.
When we brought her into our home, she promptly peed on the tile.
I keep a notebook for my ideas of what to write. Actually, I keep notebooks (plural), virtual (Evernote) and physical. Fragments of what I write rest in so many places. I cannot corral my words even when I try too.
None of my notebooks are even close to full. Blank pages dominate my frenetic handwriting. Each notebook represents different moments in my life as a writer. They are evidence of my contradictions, my successes, and my failures.
There’s a black and white floral one that had plans for chapter five of my dissertation. I’m unsure whether I followed these plans. There’s a magenta notebook that feels like it is made of suede. It is not.
There are many black notebooks. One of which I cannot bring myself to open because I’m afraid of what I will find. That one is an anguished journal, in which I try to make sense of where I am at and where I have been. There are previous selves that I am not quite ready to encounter (again). There are moments I am not proud of.
At least one is repurposed. It is small and spiral-bound. The cover is green and brown. “Wine” is hastily written on the cover. Years ago, I thought I would get into wine because people I knew were into wine. I decided to document my favorites and their tasting notes. I quickly discovered that I don’t like wine that much. I feel outclassed by wine drinkers, and my tasting notes are shit. I ripped out the wine pages with much prejudice. Now, that notebook contains my thoughts on Joan Didion’s essays on self-respect and others from Slouching Toward Bethlehem, possible columns for Sexism Ed, and some colorful drawings by my daughter. Since I wrote in the notebook, she did too. A purple whale and a pink snake rest between my jottings on kindness and my summaries of episodes of The Leftovers. Writing and motherhood intermingle. Her whale makes me smile every time I thumb through that notebook. Continue reading →
This week, I have written something everyday: pitches, blog posts, drafts, and lists. I managed to finish an agonized column that I’ve been writing off and on for two months, and I should finish a review essay by early next week. I even sent off a pitch for a personal essay on tattoos, which is a topic that I tend to not be forthcoming. Last week, I finished a column and hit “publish” on two blog posts that had been hibernating in my Evernote files for at least nine months. There are more of those to come.
More importantly, I sat down with my files on my zombie manuscript this morning to strategically plan how to finish the damn thing. I’ve done more work than I thought I had (good), but there is still so much more to be done (not bad, exciting even). I feel like I am finally back in the writing groove after my slump this summer and early fall (also good).
Here’s the thing: I like writing. I actually enjoy it. Yes, it is often hard, but I am much happier with myself when I write. I feel productive. I process what’s happening in my life. I push all my torturous thoughts onto the page to get them out of my head. When they linger, they only do do damage. On my desk I keep a note that I wrote months ago. I keep trying to throw it away, but I can’t bring myself to. My frenetic scrawl reads, If I write them down, maybe I can let them go. It is my reminder to write out the thoughts, emotions, and things that trouble me. I follow, no more agony over what could have been. This is good advice that I often don’t take. Writing saves me from myself. Continue reading →
A colleague suggested that I write a series of reflections of what I would say to my younger academic self. Hindsight, of course, allows me to tailor advice knowing what the outcome will be, but these reflections also allow me to think about my journey to academic to something else in a way that I haven’t before. Here’s my first in the series, Notes to a Younger Self, which starts at almost the beginning as it should.
On graduate school orientation
You are going to cry after graduate school orientation. You are going to cry A LOT. This is okay. After all, this is the first time you been gathered together with all the other smart kids. You are used to being one of the only smart kids in the classes at your big state university. Now, you are confronted with all the other students who are also used to being the only smart kids.
This is what I know about you, Kelly. You feel outgunned. You want to panic. I need you to take a deep breath.
Just breathe and listen.
I know what you are doing right now. You are looking around the seminar room at all those students sitting around the gray, awkward table. You listen attentively as they describe their training and their summer adventures. You are waiting for the inevitable moment when you have to explain why you should be here too. You don’t feel like you belong. You begin to question your decision to go to graduate school. You are pretty sure that you will fail melodramatically.
I know what you are thinking. All these students seem smarter, more eloquent, better trained, and more ready than you. Many of them described European vacations, summer research, and other things that seem forever out of your reach. I know one guy will tell the group that he got married and his truck got struck by lighting. I know that you’ll be hesitant to note that you’ve been married a mere eight months. What you don’t know is that this guy is a member of your cohort, and he’ll become a dear friend. His humor offers you brief respite. Continue reading →
My paternal grandparents lost their middle son, Carl, in a car accident. He was almost 20. His car collided with a parked semi truck. He died. My other uncle, Stevie, walked away from the accident physically unharmed. I can’t speak to other harms. We never talked about it, and he died seven years ago. This tragedy came to define my father’s family. His death was a gaping wound. Sometimes, woundedness bound them together, but this loss also distanced them from one another in particularly intimate ways. Their mutual pain became distinct and separate. His absence made him even more present.
His death became a reminder of the tenuousness of life and the finality of death. He haunted them, and later, the rest of us.
I never met Carl because he died almost three years before I was born. Yet, he lingered. I was told throughout my childhood that I was like him. This was not necessarily a compliment, more often it was an accusation tossed out in anger. I learned that Carl was funny and warm, but also willful and determined. He didn’t follow the path dictated by my grandparents, and they wanted us all to follow their rules. He challenged them. I challenged them years later. I often wonder if they loved him more because of his refusal to bend while I am pretty sure that they loved me less.
The story of his life was often avoided. My mother, who divorced my father when I was three, was more apt to talk about Carl. She loved him like a brother. He brought her joy. The story of his death came to me in hushed whispers, eavesdropping, and conversations with my mom.