There’s a trend going on lately (or maybe I’m just finally paying attention) that says it’s okay to change our stories if we don’t like how things are going. This is not to be confused with changing the truth, and we know it’s impossible to change the past, though we can change our relationships to it. This is about taking responsibility for the future.
Every story has an arc, and if we find ourselves in the midst of a trajectory that’s uncomfortable we can take one step at a time in order to achieve more favorable results. We can say, “This chapter sucks. The next one will be different.” Sometimes we need to get more aggressive. Sometimes we know that the next chapter must be different.
This is hardly a new concept. Orson Welles said, “If you want a happy ending, that depends, of course, on where you stop your story.” And like I’ve said here before, “Everything will be okay in the end. If it’s not okay, it’s not the end.”
This is good news: we’re in control of our stories, our destinies, our lives. But there’s other news too: so is everyone else. In my case, the someone else right now is Luckydog, my right-hand man, who also happens to be the most reliable person I’ve ever known. But lately he’s done a change-up on his story.
For the most part Lucky has been one of the easiest dogs around. He doesn’t bark. He likes to sleep in. He’s patient. He’s kind. He‘s never met a dog he wants to fight with and will (literally) lift his nose and turn away from provocation. Even when a chunk of his heinie was taken out by a dog on a trail he didn’t bite back. When a dog pushed him into barbed wire and sliced open his inner thigh he tried to hide it from me, and he did. For several hours he went into a different room and licked it. He didn’t want me to worry. He thought he could handle it. And actually, he did.
He’s quiet in the car. He doesn’t drool. He poops in the perimeter of a yard. He always brings the ball back. People say he smells good, like essential oils, which might have something to do with the fact that I’m constantly hugging him. Or he might just naturally smell good, because he doesn’t get frito-smelling ears and popcorn-smelling toes from me.
He’s not perfect. He likes to walk between people’s legs, and will do this even if he can’t quite fit. It shocks people when he comes up from behind and they think they’re getting goosed, but you know what: he makes people laugh.
If I put down a beach towel he thinks it’s for him. He will get up on your couch; he used to ask permission, but now he just goes for it. If you give him permission once he’ll take it as a lifetime pass. He sheds, but that isn’t his fault.
He humps, and this has increased rapidly within the last three years. Read: he’s a dirty old man.
If he wants you to pet him he’ll bump his cinder-blockesque head under your hand and send whatever you happen to be holding up into the air. Wine, tea, coffee, you name it. Read: He can also be a little pushy.
He begs. Read: he steals.
Yes, he steals. I never thought I’d say it, but now it’s true and I have to: it’s part of Luck’s ever-evolving story. I used to say that I could leave a ham sandwich on a coffee table for hours and he wouldn’t touch it, and I said this because it had happened and because it was true. I’ve always been enamored with Luck’s patience and perseverance. Now I say, “Keep a firm grip on your cookies, kids.”
It started slowly. Last year I had a box of groceries in the back seat, and while we were driving he helped himself to a baguette. The year before he plucked a croissant out of a kid’s hand. The girl was waving it around and he was gentle about taking it, but still: not cool. Then there was last week.
Last week we arrived at our friends’ place in the Adirondacks. They’d been up there all week and we joined for a long weekend at the end of their stay. We arrived and walked around the house and property—Ady showed me everything that had changed around the place in the past thirteen years since my last visit, which wasn’t too much—and then we sat in the living room with the kids to plot our next move.
THE LIVING ROOM. Aside from an occasional iPad or lego lying on a hundred year old tablecloth, the place is slow to change and feels like stepping back in time. It’s anachronistic. It’s amazing.
We were enjoying the space when I heard a small noise from the kitchen. It wasn’t dramatic, just a single tap. I jumped up in time to see Lucky’s front paws drop from the kitchen table and we made quick eye contact. I looked in front of where he’d been practically standing on the table and saw that he’d ripped the top off the last blueberry muffin still in the tin. The tap I heard was the pan hitting the table when he failed to nab the entire muffin. Smart boy though: he got the best part.
He proceeded over the course of the weekend to aggressively beg. I was a little embarrassed, but there was zero shame in his game. The less someone wanted to give him food, the more diligently he sat in front of that person sporting his biggest smile and most energetic wag. It was purported he stole all sorts of things over the weekend including, but not limited to, the fixins for s’mores. It’s possible, but there are some other bellies the graham crackers could’ve ended up in and I’d be surprised if Lucky went for marshmallows. He’s more into savory than sweet.
But Luck’s story had already changed. The following weekend at a friend’s cottage in Maine I had to tell the kids about the change of plot in Lucky’s story. I had to tell them to watch their snacks, and we put things up high. We tucked the crackers into the back of the counter’s space. Cookies went on top of the fridge. We didn’t even risk the butter.
He’s still a good boy. The kids in Maine had a joke, “Lucky’s not a good dog…He’s not a very good dog…He’s not an awesome dog…He’s the BEST dog.” They said it even after he begged for cheese and pretzels and lobster. Honestly, it didn’t lose it’s oomph even after a dozen iterations, and every time they said it the adults laughed, especially Blake, his other biggest fan.
I’d post a photo of Lucky’s dinner our first night in Maine, but I didn’t take one because it wasn’t pretty. It was dog food and a bunch of castoffs from our lobster and steamers dinner. Gooey bits, guts, slimy parts, stinky parts, juice from inside. It was an unbelievable welcome to Maine and introduction to shellfish. In human years he’s about eighty years old; it’s time to live a little (more).
Here he is the next morning when bacon was on the block. All business. Can you blame him?
I could try to control Lucky’s story a little more and not give him table food because giving it to him only encourages more begging, right? Maybe. Possibly. When Luck was a pup a million lifetimes (and stories) ago I read an article about how sharing food with your dog encourages bonding, and maybe we would’ve been close regardless, but maybe not.
I can’t find the article now, though I only did a quick Google search, but it doesn’t really matter at all, and a proving-article isn’t even part of our story. It’s not about supporting evidence; it’s just about what is. Some people say feeding your dog human food will make them sick, they say it isn’t healthy, they say it isn’t good.
I really dislike when someone says something isn’t good as in “It’s not good to ________ .” Because really: who says? Answer: You say.
It reminds me of this, part of a poem from Rumi, AKA the most over-quoted person in the history of Facebook. But you know what? I don’t so much care. I liked him twenty years ago when I read his words from mildewed pages, but do I really have to explain myself like crazy? Answer: Nope. Not even for a second. To me, for this story, these words are just perfect:
“Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing
and rightdoing there is a field.
I’ll meet you there.”
It’s your story. Now go out there and change the parts you don’t like. Change the plot, the characters, the essence. Be mindful of where your story intersects with someone else’s, but don’t confuse your stories with theirs. Meet each other in the field. Meet yourself there too.