Sometimes the sky isn’t far enough to go

The past few days, I have been keenly aware of the dissonance between my social media self and my actual self. I’m always aware of this at least a little, but usually the difference is between flatness and roundness, between making a stupid joke and taking a walk outside to see the storm clouds gathering on the mountain. It’s a difference, if you will, of realms: one where social norms are a driving force of existence (do we know the same meme? do you get the reference? can you figure out what everyone is talking about under their breath without having to ask—i.e. are you part of “the discourse”?), and one where your actual life and body sometimes intervene to focus your attention differently.

At the moment, though, the immediate difference for me is one of joy vs. grief, and the difficulty of experiencing—let alone performing—both at once.

In joy news, yesterday it was announced that AMC is opening a writers’ room for a possible TV adaptation of my second novel, Invitation to a Bonfire. I doubt I have to explain why this is exciting? People loved my book, loved my story, enough that they want to potentially adapt it into a show, giving it a new life and skin. I am thrilled about this, and I know it’s not a sure thing yet, but I hope it happens: everyone I’ve talked to at AMC, from the producers to the showrunner, have been wonderful, brilliant, with keen insight into the characters and exciting ideas for the show. I trust them completely, and I’m so happy about this.

Plus, although we just got to announce yesterday, I’ve known about the option deal (i.e. AMC buying the rights to potentially make a show) for a long time, and I have been largely sitting on this news, just letting it percolate in the background. Which makes sense! I had no idea what would happen—in fact, I still don’t, though I am now more hopeful—and it made more sense to keep it quiet. But talking about it is fun!!!!! So I’m happy I get to do it!!!!

Announcements like these are what social media is made for, the way that going to school on your birthday was a big deal in elementary school. Everyone’s happy for you! They all want to give you a high five, or whatever! And you just get to sit there, accepting five after five. As though the thing happening was the type of grace you were due, and which you collected regularly, while living perhaps on Mount Olympus.

Of course we all know life isn’t like that, though, because we are all alive. We all know that the good things come after years of invisible work, that there is more pain behind each accomplishment than congratulation, that this one dimension of a person’s life isn’t real enough to sustain them completely. I guess we’re back to flat vs. round.

There are a lot of things I could talk about here, but I’ll just talk about the most recent things that tilt the axis of my experience: first, over the weekend, our dog Paul got sick, and no matter how many emergency vets I called, none could take him. He was steady enough that it seemed like we could probably wait until Monday for his regular vet (and spoiler, he was, he’s ok now), but this involved a lot of me crying and feeling like a monster because he was in pain.

But then, on Monday, after I finally got Paul sorted and was starting to move tentatively back into existence, I got a text from my dad on our family group chat, saying that his dog—a bouncy, sweet, healthy 8-year-old—had suddenly collapsed in his doorway and died.

We don’t know why and we probably never will. He had just been playing around outside with a friendly neighbor dog, and nothing unusual had happened. He’d just been out at my dad’s cabin for the weekend, digging holes and enjoying himself. He was only 8. His head was enormous and he liked to rest it on a person’s chest when they were sitting on the couch and gaze into your eyes.

We think it might have been a heart attack, but we don’t know.

I realize that for some people the loss of a dog is not a big deal, but first of all, I guess I don’t care, if that’s you, you’re fine, have a lovely day. But second of all, this happened to my father, my lovely father who spent a lot of the pandemic caring for a two-year-old human, and who has been trying to edge towards the sort of comfortable retirement he thought he would be starting years ago. My loving father who I haven’t gotten to see in over a year, and who Bolo, the dog, absolutely loved and admired like he was god, and who also loved Bolo with his goofy beard and his neediness and his chaotic energy, and his utter sweetness.

When Bolo was a puppy, we called him the Chupacabra, because he was all spinning motion and needle teeth. He was my dad’s second dog, who he adopted after our first family dog, Chessie, died. They were both pudelpointers, which is a very intelligent and family-friendly breed of hunting dog, which looks a lot like a very tall German wire-haired pointer. I remember being worried that Bolo would grow up to be too dominant, because of all that Tasmanian devil behavior; that he would forever be pushing his place in the hierarchy. I was comparing him to Chessie, who had been calmer, though it’s unfair to judge a puppy by the standards of its 14-year-old predecessor. It’s unfair to judge one creature’s life against another.

Anyway, I was wrong. Bolo was the gentlest soul. Yes, he got into trouble and didn’t always know his own strength, but what he really desired in life was to be near his people, especially my dad. He was not a hierarchy-pusher. He was a totally needy lover with a giant head. He really loved to sniff people’s ears, or even lick them if you’d let him (not recommended) (but also, why kink shame him now?). He—and I say this with utter sincerity—liked long walks on the beach. (That was true in a literal sense, because he was a dog and the beach is full of dire smells like rotting kelp and fish bones, but also it was true in the sense that Bolo was a sloppy romantic.) He liked things to be nice. He liked to be nice, and to beg for your food, and to wipe the excess water off his beardy face onto your pants, and the couch, and wherever.

So what was I saying? Did I frame this as a conversation about social media? What on Earth is wrong with me? You can maybe see, though, what I mean, about the schism in my brain, lately. I can still remember how to do the happy things, and the static flat things, the discourse-y things, but I can also get distracted by being a person in the world, and how many feelings I have that don’t make good internet posts, or which I would never want to share that way. I am full to bursting. I am also empty and very tired. My studio is a little muggy despite the AC running in my face, and I have been listening to Philip Glass records over and over again, flipping them over and pressing play and then flipping them again. I don’t have a larger point about my social media persona vs. my real or fuller or more corporeal self; you all know what this is like. That we are multi-dimensional, and sometimes we feel like we lose access to one or all of the dimensions and suddenly are floating in a boundless void. Half the sky, right now, is dark clouds, and half is sunny and blue; that’s how it’s been for the past week. Rain at night, hot mid-afternoon. Each day the sun rising, against all odds and expectations.