Being grateful for the chance to scoop poop.

November, November, it’s time to remember.. all the things we are grateful for… at least, that’s what Facebook wants me to believe. I should participate in the statitude of gratitude, but I have so much to be grateful for, that I couldn’t possibly post it all. Plus I’d forget to post 50% of the time.

That being said, there is SO much I am grateful for. I am increasingly reminded on a daily basis what a wonderful support network I have–my brother Matt is here with me, casting a gently protective eye over every doucher who might even want to do me wrong—and I am surrounded by friends who have gone above and beyond to help me in my transition to a new city. My roommate is a total badass, who loves to cook and never ceases to surprise me with her impressive intelligence and good humor. And then I am always humbled by the incredible kindness of my oldest brother, Sam, and his wife Brooke, who is probably the most incredible woman I have ever known in the history of ever. The two of them are deserving of both gratitude and respect of the utmost kind. To top it off, I have five more brothers who are smart, kind, funny, and interesting. I am such a lucky gal.

But tonight, despite all these wonderful things for which I am grateful, there is one individual who sticks out disproportionately large in my mind. We’ve known each other practically since birth, and she’s been there by my side through thick and thin. She’s my best friend, my constant companion, the receptor of every stupid song I make up in the shower, and the chewer of everything sacred I own.

I am talking, of course, about Lois.

Everyone knows I love Lois, even if I joke about beating her brains out on a regular basis. It is unbelievably irritating when I come home and there are irreparable pieces of everything all over the floor. She eats more, shits more, sheds more, drinks more, and sleeps more than I ever knew was possible in a dog. But she’s my eating, shitting, shedding, drinking, sleeping dog, and tonight I think I’m more grateful for her than I’ve ever been. Let me explain.

This evening, I went to the local dog-friendly corner bar. I’ve taken Lois here before, and she’s enjoyed herself; and since I had no plans tonight and drinks are cheap, I decided we probably ought to check it out again. Lois was excited to go, and pooped thrice on the way there to make room for her eager anticipation. Once we arrived at the bar, she made friends with everyone there and promptly greeted every new customer. After a while, her true personality came out, and she laid herself out on the floor and couldn’t be bothered to get up or even wag her tail. Good dog.

Nevertheless, everyone loved her. Everybody at the bar told me what a beautiful, sweet, calm dog I had. And I had to agree! I mean, Lois really is a people pleaser. What with her nose being exactly at the perfect butt-sniffing height, she can crotch-rocket to her heart’s content and nobody can blame her. I really love hearing all the wonderful compliments on the attitude of a dog I have no control over. I take all credit.

But after the surface-y compliments that always accompany a dog of such high Idaho-farm accidental breeding, come the stories. Lois seems to resemble everybody’s dogs that have passed away, and in a bar environment where everyone is a little tipsy, I get to hear about these other dogs.

And I love it. I love, love, love to hear people’s stories about their animals. For some reason, people can talk about their animals much more openly than human loved ones; dogs, especially, seem to open the flood gates of conversation. All night, I was privileged to hear tales about loyal best friends, and the incredible adventures they had with their owners. A couple of times I admit I was brought to tears by the tender loss that the bargoers experienced when their dogs passed away. But, invariably, they’d look down at Lois, say things would be okay, and take another shot. I was convinced.

Before I met Lois, I’d known people who had had animals their entire lives and then lost them. Weird was it to me that these people experienced such devastation when their pets died. Growing up with lots of faunae, but having parents who didn’t particularly cherish indoor animals, I had never truly bonded with a pet, especially with one as sentient as a dog. I thought tragic pet death was this odd liberal phenomenon, exclusive to those who replaced childbearing with other, less important beings; surely, their suffering was not really that deep.

Boy, was I wrong. Just listening to the painful stories that came in from wiser pet companions than me makes my heart hurt. The toughest dudes have to take work off for a week when their dog dies. The most uncommunicative folks will tell you, in vivid detail, of their last visit to the vet with their old companion. A serial killer will cry when he recounts his last night with Bubba (I made that up, but I’m sure it’s true). A couple of months ago, I read “Where The Red Fern Grows” and I cried the whole goddamn way through. Thinking about the time when Lois’s hips are splayed and I have to (attempt to) carry her down the stairs fills my stony soul with such tenderness I can hardly bear it. God forbid she should have to save my life from an angry black bear on a freezing winter’s night; I might die of loving sentimentality.

I mean, dogs aren’t people. I get that. But the kind of bonding you experience with a dog is so intimate, so incredible, so (and I hesitate to use this word) sacred; I think that, once I lose Lois, I will never have another dog. It just takes one time, one round, one perfectly perfect animal who loves you, trusts you, eats everything you own and then asks you for more—how could I ever expect that again? How could I ever own another dog and ask him/her to measure up to Lois? How could I expect that dog to terrify the creepy guy at the park who tried to follow us home? How could I bring another dog to a neighborhood bar and expect him/her to garnish so much attention that I’m the proudest parent within a mile’s radius? How will I ever recover from the loss I know I’ll experience when Lois’s time to be my beastie bestie has come and gone?

Listening to these tragic tales from other folks—stories about taking their dog to the vet for the last time, holding their puppy as he suffers his last stroke, gently wiping up blood from the corners of their mutt’s aged mouth—I can’t believe how intensely and intimately these folks love their dogs. You never hear casual stranger just talk about people who have died, and yet they’ll share every detail of their dogs’ life and death with you. It’s a really neat thing, and I am SO grateful for it.

And that makes me grateful for Lois. I’m grateful for her, even if she’s really kind of stupid, and even if she chews a lot of shit, and even if she takes over my side of the bed in the middle of the night. She protects me, loves me, kills infinitely-legged bugs in the bathtub for me, licks my armpits even when she knows she shouldn’t, is too lazy to get off of the bed to pee in the morning, sleeps 80% of the time, eats a pound of food a day, poops three pounds of poop a day, sheds six pounds of fur a day, and still manages to give me those giant, gentle “I-love-you-so-much-even-though-I-don’t-know-why” eyes while doing it. I don’t know what I’m going to do when I have to live without her.

But, gratefully, it looks like the day when I have to answer that question is quite a ways away. Lois is healthy, without worms, fleas, or hip dysplasia—something I worry incessantly about. The fact that she’s a mutt from Idaho who happened by total accident seems to have ensured that she has lived life thus far without any physical deformation (besides the lack of a normal sized brain). She’s dumb, but she ain’t hurtin for it.

I’m so in love with Lois, and I am so grateful she’s in my life. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone. May you scoop poop with an attitude of gratitude, because you never know when the poop scoopin may stop.

Dance like EVERYBODY is watching: A lesson learned (with lots of parenthetical insertions)

The tacky, overused, overmemed phrase “Dance like nobody’s watching” follows every girl from her preteens forward. The essential idea of the phrase–that you should let go and be “yourself”–is idealistic at best, misleading and dishonest at worst. I don’t mean to say you shouldn’t respect your personality and convictions, or fully release and enjoy yourself on occasion (I, myself, like to poop like nobody’s watching whenever it is practical to do so). You do have to realize that not everyone is going to love you or your proverbial dance technique, and that’s okay. But the idea that you should simply relax, dance your heart out, and generally fall into the trap of permanent self-loving torpor has gotten my generation into a lot of trouble.

I think the same principle applies to the now equally meaningless maxims of “Follow your dreams,” and “You can be whoever you want to be.” My peers and I were told this by our parents, our mentors, and by every goddamn stupid fucking bright yellow twat poster plastered all over our middle school walls (I hide it well, but I actually really hate motivational posters). It’s been ingrained in our heads from youth; that we have the ability–no, the right– to be whoever we want! And we’ll be damned if you’re going to stop us from pursuing our entitled notions of universal success.

Well, as most recent college graduates quickly find out, we are kind of damned if we think that way. You don’t just get to be whoever you want to be, and you can’t just fart your way through life following your dreams. Every one of my English Major peers studied what we loved, and dreamed of being the next amazing poet, or teacher, or critic. We wrote our hearts right onto our sleeves. And then, we graduated and couldn’t find jobs (contrary to popular belief, this predicament also afflicts more than just those of us with useless liberal arts degrees). So, some of us went back to school, some of us started up careers in vastly different areas, and some of us flopped miserably and moved back in with our parents. Some of us, but certainly not me, succumbed to the dregs of self-inflicted psuedoalcoholism and danced our way through a string of really stupid jobs. One by one, we began to realize that success and dream-following doesn’t just come because you really, really, really want it, because in the real world, everybody really wants it, everybody works hard, and there is always a multitude of people better than you and doing what you do.

In a perfect world, where everybody values art as much as they value the stock market and getting bills paid on time, you would certainly be able to follow your dreams and dance until the cows (who are also not watching) come home. But, since we don’t live in that kind of a world and nothing we do will change the fact that humans mostly operate on the basis of “What can you do for me?”, we have to do our best to find a healthy balance between passion and reality.

That reality dictates that we are, in fact, being watched. We’re being watched very closely by our peers, our teachers, our potential employers. We’re being watched by people who could have very real impacts on our future success, and the funny thing is that most of the time, we don’t even know when it’s happening or who’s doing it, because the watching is frequently quite arbitrary. The regional manager of a Staples doesn’t walk into a store, announce his presence, and then tell everyone he’s carefully watching and evaluating their performance; he might step in for some double-sided Scotch tape, ask for help a couple of times, purchase a printer cartridge, and leave the unknowing employees, his mind firmly and permanently impressed by each of their work ethics–on that particular day.  Even more arbitrary are parties stranger to you, doing unconscious evaluations every time they step into your office or restaurant or lobby, and with online networks like LinkedIn or Facebook or Instagram, the chances of you being anonymously viewed and judged on your behavior are at an all time high. Enter anecdotal evidence:

A couple of months ago, I was finishing up Chicago Job #3, and prepping for Chicago Job #4 (when I first moved here, I ran through jobs like Freddy Kreuger running through a cornfield filled with young children, although I think my results were slightly more disastrous). It was my last table, on my last night, at the last restaurant I swore I would ever work at again. Actually, it was actually my second-to-last table, but I believe in lying as long as it enhances dramatic effect. As I finished up with my “last table,” joyously sweeping away the plates and thinking happily about the next job that I would also soon end up quitting, the woman at the head of the table handed me her business card, complimented me on my service, and told me to call her if I was ever looking for a job.

“Ma’am,” I chuckled, “How did you know I typically keep jobs for an average of 1.67 months before I quit, and that I start a new one tomorrow? Of course I’ll call!” Actually, that’s another lie. But I did tell her I was beginning a new job on the morrow, took her card, and thanked her sincerely.

About 1.63 months later, just as I was beginning to realize next said job was another disappointing career dead-end, I found the woman’s card in my car’s middle console, and with a jolt of excitement I figured, what the hell, it couldn’t hurt to email her. She was so kind, she tipped well, and lo! She was also a manager at a bank. Maybe this was my chance to pull myself out of my shitty job pickings and begin to be a successful post-grad.

After the interviews, the job offer came, along with the notification of so many paid days off a year I literally thought for a moment that my manager-to-be was joking. I did not feel like it was really happening. As I wildly speculated on what this would mean for my future, I experienced a sense of what I imagine a mild case of survival’s guilt must entail. Why me? Why did I get this job, when so many of my peers still struggle to find a fulfilling career path? I initially chalked it all up to luck: I was in the right place, at the right time. And although both of those things are definitely true, it wasn’t until my brother was kind enough to point out that I was doing the right thing in the right place at the right time, that I was able to feel like I actually deserved the job.

Not to get all advice-doll-out-y, because the good lord knows I’m a glutton for foolish mistakes, but I learned a very important lesson from that experience. You, I, anyone who wants to be a true success–who desires to follow their dreams, and be whoever they want to be–cannot afford to dance like nobody is watching. You are being watched, and if the person watching you has the opportunity to give you that critical leg up and you’re dancing your pants off in a nonchalant way, you may very well be passed over. People who begin their careers as McDonalds burger flippers become regional managers, because whenever somebody important is looking, they’re performing well in a job that isn’t exactly fulfilling.

Unfortunately, that fickle bitch Life is all about doing the things you don’t really want to do so that, eventually, you can do the things you do want to do. For Tina Fey (a personal idol), it was doing the stupid skits at high school dances until she was hired by SNL. For Kim Kardashian, it was fucking Ray J like nobody was watching until everybody was watching. For you, it might be being the friendliest hotel greeter, or fastest pizza dough cutter, or most organized line cook until you earned recognition and move up the chain of command. It does take time, and luckily my career break happened pretty early on, but if you’re doing the right thing all the time, the right time and place will eventually find you because you can’t be missed.

The moral of the story is this: I could have served my second-to-last table ever with a nonchalant style befitting someone whose feet hurt very badly and who really doesn’t care about their job. It would have been easy to be lazy, or neglect the standards of service just because, well, I could and get away with it. But, whether due to my own OCD compulsions, or I was in a good mood that day, or simply because I’m, heh, the world’s best employee, I did not neglect that table and my career path was permanently changed because of it. And, get this–I was “discovered” at an extremely dead-end job.

*Cue happily-ever-after theme music*

Ignore this child’s advice. He also shits his diapers like nobody’s watching.