“The strength I’m looking for isn’t the kind where you win or lose. I’m not after a wall that’ll repel power coming from outside. What I want is the kind of strength to be able to absorb that outside power, to stand up to it. The strength to quietly endure things—unfairness, misfortune, sadness, mistakes, misunderstandings.”
— Haruki Murakami, Kafka on the Shore
A few weeks ago, I signed up to be a foster parent for a dog. The idea just fit. I was a girl who needed a dog but couldn’t afford to pay for food and vet bills. The foster agency covers all expenses when you foster a dog. And Buster needed somewhere to crash, after ending up in a high-kill shelter in southern Illinois.
Unfortunately I didn’t expect to fall so head-over-heels for this pup.
He is me and Lisa in dog form. Quiet, sometimes anxious, but overall buoyant with joy and a love for people. He is white with pancake-colored spots and ears, and he loves sleeping and slow walks with lots of time to sniff around. Sometimes he likes running fast. He moves like a baby deer. We desperately adore him. He is a good dog.
He ate the blinds off the window in the living room yesterday. But. Details.
He sleeps at the foot of Lisa’s bed, and he loves talking to babies and puppies in the park.
Buster is slated to go to an adoption event tomorrow, to see if anyone wants to be his forever home. Lisa and I are deciding whether to just put him in our car and make for the border.
Seeing beauty felt empty. Janelle and I had spent the morning picking our way through ancient temples covered in vines, bathed in sun. I hated it. A queasy, trapped feeling that reminded me of being driven home in a high school boy’s dad’s BMW after a bad date and counting the minutes until we pulled into my driveway. I’m supposed to like this. Get me the hell out of here.
Partially we’d seen too many temples all in a row, and the carvings and the old-ness grew stale after temple number five in the searing heat, where we were followed by groups of kids yelling, “LADY!” and holding up cheap souvenirs. Too much. But also, I missed sharing this beauty with someone I was in love with. And then I hated myself for needing that.
I really lost it in the courtyard of the last temple. I just broke down, stupid tears!, and sat on a wall in a quiet section of the temple courtyard, in my floppy hat and thin flowered sundress. Janelle (bless her heart) came over and sat next to me. She listened for a bit and then distracted me by talking about books, because we both love books and stories and the structure of a story. Even in a puddle-like state I can still talk about books, so I said I’d read this screenwriting book called Story by Robert McKee — “…people say it’s formulaic, but positive and negative stuff happens to characters in every good story, and it’s all about reversals of fortune, like –“
Toby walked up. A scruffy stranger, bearded, dirty (no — tattery) t-shirt and cargo shorts, British accent. “Have you two been out here all day, too? Hot one. It just took me half an hour to buy this cardboard tube.” He held up a poster-mailing tube. “I just wanted the tube, you know, because I got a painting that I want to keep nice, but he wanted me to buy what was _in_ the tube too….” Suddenly we were off into Toby’s story. He “threw the toys out of the pram,” a.k.a, had just quit his job and took off around the world. Hiked a mountain with a crazy Polish girl. Almost died because they didn’t bring enough food. He’s about to go teach English on an island off the coast. “Do you know how to teach English to kids when I don’t speak anything, I mean anything, of Khmer? Just do a lot of charades I guess?”
I barely said anything the whole time and let Janelle talk, because my eyes were still red and I couldn’t quite feel like a normal chatty person yet. About half an hour later Toby went on his way, scratching his many mosquito bites. But the air had shifted, the stories and small-talk had pushed aside the storm clouds. Nothing seemed quite so dire.
I stood up from our dusty stone wall and opened my water bottle for a lukewarm sip — when I remembered our original, interrupted conversation about the structure of stories.
“This book, about screenwriting. It’s all about how every good plot has reversals of fortune. When a character reaches his lowest point, things flip.”
Free Comic Book day is one of the best days of the year: Free. Comic. Books. My love of this day began several years ago when Eliina and I made a new friend who gave us an extensive tour of a comic book store and who entertained us for hours with detailed synopses of graphic novels. Since then, it’s been a mini-holiday to me, even though I can’t name all the X-Men.
First though, Caleb called to see if I wanted to go to Bikram yoga (the only yoga I have ever gone to because the 100-degree temperature makes me forget that everyone is wearing $100 tank tops). When class ended I was a luminous new puppy, happy to be loping around in the honey-colored late afternoon.
Gloriously hungry, we went for sushi at Tanoshii, where you tell Sushi Mike the kinds of stuff you like, and he whips up something mind-bending. Our minds bent. We mentally high-fived with each bite.
But then I remembered, chopsticks in midair: Free Comic Book Day. Day, day, day! It was coming up on 6:30pm. The “day” part was slipping into evening, and we had no comic books to speak of. I had to work at a show at 7pm. Suddenly the endless perfect day had a very definite endpoint. We asked our sushi waiter for the nearest comic book store, and he said he thought there was one near Broadway and Balmoral. He mispronounced “Balmoral” which made me immediately skeptical. I had never heard of the place and this out-of-towner probably didn’t know either. But we had to try. Walking quick-like, we would just be able to squeeze this endeavor in.
After a few false alarms (This way? Can’t be that way…. That way? Can’t be this way…) Caleb spotted it across the street, Graham Cracker comics. I darted across traffic, using all my newly yoga-ed limbs. Yes. We are here. And then we saw the sign on the door: CLOSED.
I was so stunned by this turn that I held my arms straight out in front of me at the useless door, jaw poised to speak except that I was speechless. And then, the door opened.
A dude in a baseball hat poked his head out. “Hey, I’m just waiting for a ride from my friend if you guys want to come in and look around…”
Yes, yes we did.
“Just don’t stay too long or whatever.”
No problem, sir.
I tackled the free comic book stacks with zest and slipped a tidy stack of glossy randomness into my messenger bag.
“Oh, and do you want these donuts? We had a meeting this morning… They’re not poison or anything.”
Donuts, you say? Yes, we’ll take those too. Caleb put the box under one arm and we strolled out with our loot.
Months and months ago, I tried to stop planning. Things were unmoored, and by things I mean everything, and I thought that if I could just stop trying to figure it out with my brain, and just let things happen, I would be all right. But I couldn’t stop planning. And by planning I mean worrying. But yesterday I was walking down Irving Park and remembered the photobooth in the Holiday Club. In the empty, dark bar, when the bouncer asked for ID, I said, “I’m just here for the photo machine” and walked to the back, then pushed aside the polyester curtain and ducked into the cool metal booth. Inside glowed with flourescent light and I sat on the little metal stool and fed my bills in and looked straight ahead at the shiny black square that promised to be the lens. Seven minutes later the damp black and white strip clicked through the machinery and out into its slot. I cradled it in my palm for a moment, embarassed to be so self-watching, but really what I wanted was to freeze a moment so I could say hi to the person who is happy, and by happy I mean awake.
“The black sky was underpinned with long silvery streaks that looked like scaffolding and depth on depth behind it were thousands of stars that all seemed to be moving very slowly as if they were some vast construction work that involved the whole order of the universe and would take all time to complete. No one was paying any attention to the sky.”
— Flannery O’Connor, Wise Blood