Thursday, April 30, 2020

Just a moment, please.

Whiskey, my eight year old golden retriever, had some lumps removed last Friday by a local veterinarian. Unfortunately, biopsies revealed some cancer, so unbeknownst to Whiskey, she’ll be starting chemotherapy soon.

Those who read my blog or who know me know that Whiskey is like my shadow. She and I are as connected and bound as proto and plasm. In the eight years we’ve owned each other we’ve walked thousands of miles together, usually talking about the essentials of life along the way.

Better writers than I, J.R. Ackerley among them in his great book “My Dog Tulip," have written about this closeness between man and dog. I know full well, as well, the meaning of the word neotony (look it up) and its evolutionary purpose. That’s not my point today.

My point also isn’t to express my sadness or my deadened senses or my Ahabian howling at the gods. The gods have their ways. And whatever happens to Whiskey, and I am optimistic we will deal with this, I’ve had eight years with her and counting and I wouldn’t change a single hairball that’s gathered in the dusty corners of my life. She has been as perfect a companion as anyone could ever want and it would be wrong of me to be anything but thankful for that.

Yesterday morning, early, before the rest of Connecticut’s Gingham Coast was awake, Whiskey and I went out for a walk and a talk. The rest of the world was asleep. I didn’t even check my phone for the night before’s invidious emails which the more trivial the subject matter the more hysterical and urgent the tone.

I paid no attention to any of that.

Most important to me right now when Whiskey and I have these walks together is to be fully present for her. No listening in on conference calls. No talking to friends whose mishigoss has gotten the better of them. I’m not even listening to the primal wailing of Ray Charles as he expresses all of humanities sadness and joy in a single stretched note.

No, it’s just me and Whiskey.

Whiskey had her growths removed on Friday and probably has 50 or more sutures on her left shoulder, her left paw and her left ear. But after 48 hours of drug-induced lethargy, she is, once again, raring to play when we’re out at 5:30 AM.

She wants more than anything to climb down the steep wooden steps to the rocky beaches and play fetch, just me and her and her duck decoys. Only I can’t now, until her stitches are out. I understand that. She doesn’t. And she can’t quite get why I seem to be punishing her by not taking her for what had been her twice or thrice-daily cavort on the Long Island littoral.

She looked at me with her deep neotonous eyes. Dad, please.

I answered her with as much kindness as I can communicate. “I want to, Whiskey. And soon we will. But until the stitches are out, I can’t. You understand.”

But she doesn’t.

She looked at me sadly, but then saw a two-foot long stick on the sidewalk. A perfect size.

She quickly picked up the stick and bucked and reared like a young colt and pawed it and tossed it in the air to herself. We walked along the road as she wrestled with it, hearing the chirping of a thousand birds, seeing rosy-fingered dawn reaching up into the sky.

I knew in a second that this was something. That what Whiskey was doing was the most important thing in life whether you’re an eight-year-old golden retriever or a 62-year-old unemployed copywriter who’s trying to keep the great cosmic entropy machine from tearing his world apart.

Whiskey had taught me something right then. As she had taught me so many times without me understanding what she was saying.

“Dad,” she said, “it’s about having fun. No matter what you’re doing, no matter if you’re sick or well, busy or idle, nervous or calm, don’t forget to play.”

Whiskey’s cavortations with her stick yesterday morning lasted maybe two minutes. But for those two minutes she was doing what so many of us have had mandated and bossed and timesheeted and businessed and you-might-be-fireded out of our lives: Whiskey put everything aside and had fun.

Simple, stupid, spontaneous, nonsensical joy.

We forget about joy. Even Maslow's hierarchy doesn't mention it, preferring the anodyne "self-actualization." But joy is what keeps us going. The laughter of a lover. A good joke. A compliment. A kindness. A kiss.

Joy should be a component of what we in the creative professions strive for. Not a Bacchanalia, but a moment's respite to savor creativity, inventiveness, even upsetting the dominant complacency or status quo.

But joy has left the agency business. As someone who has more than a little Borscht running through his veins, I have often been excoriated for being funny in the oh-so-serious world of business. 

Go fuck yourself.

Nothing we do is so big and important that it should muscle joy out of the picture. But the pissant and pompous importocrats have said "no." We're serious. We're publicly traded. We have to be professionalized at all times.

Of course there's the faux forced conviviality of an agency happy hour or a foosball table. The free mini-donuts meant to create an agency “culture.” But culture doesn't come out of a pink and orange fastfood box. 

It comes from people being people. But there's no profit in that.

We all need a moment of peace, abandon, silly, nothing, walking in the early morning sun, hearing the waves and the birds and walking with love.

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