Nina Gaby

Essays, art, and healthcare


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ONE DOG LIFE

Today I just want to write about my dogs. I should be blogging and twittering according to the people who talk about author platforms. My book’s official publication date is today. I just want to think about how things are strung together. Not how I am supposed to be paying attention to my social media presence.

Today is also town meeting day and as new writer Matt Sumell has said in his NPR interview of last week, “Bad choices make for good writing.” We made bad choices and now we live in a place that has a town meeting on the first Tuesday in March, which is my publishing date and the day we will put our dog down. I wrote the book because it was a way to make sense of the outcome of our bad choices. In my book’s acknowledgements I thank my dog for getting me through, “my loyal assistant,” I called him. “No one can feel dumped for very long with a Golden Retriever by her side.” My dog has cancer. The chemo got him through to my publishing date.

The friend who gave me the book that I have chosen to read at this time has cancer. The book is Abigail Thomas’s Three Dog Life, a memoir of her husband’s traumatic brain injury, ensuing dementia and death. Last summer a writing instructor told me to read Thomas’s Safekeeping, so I read that instead. Now my friend’s blood work isn’t so hot and my dog is dying and another friend has cancer. I may get to meet Thomas in Atlanta this April through another friend who contributed an essay to my book. The book that officially comes out today. So it makes sense that I am now reading Three Dog Life, waiting for my life to soon be a one dog life. I know I will not lose my moorings but the more rope I can tie around things the better. This is grief.

The friend in Atlanta writes about how to write about grief. Mostly instead of writing I am watching television, opening and closing both my book and Thomas’s book, and wandering about the house eating snacks which I share with both the healthy dog and the dog who is dying of cancer. I cooked him hard boiled eggs. I share my Milanos. I bought him a new toy. We are up much of the night as he stares at me and I pet him and tell him thanks. I am angry at my own fatigue even though I know that’s ridiculous. My breathless cough has been around as long as his cancer, now. Both of us breathing in unsteady rasps. We are loud and annoying. My husband can sleep through anything, which is good, as I cannot stand to see him cry. At 3:35 AM Amazon sends me a list of the 100 memoirs to read in my lifetime. If Three Dog Life had been on the list, as it should, I might have collapsed from the weight of so much synchronicity. I’m glad my husband sleeps through this quiet agitation. The rest of us, healthy dog, sick dog, and me, are in and out of the house in the below zero temperatures, because the sick dog can’t remember that he has just been out, and the healthy dog is just excited that there is so much activity. The healthy dog has stopped roughhousing. The vet would be glad of that, she has been worried about the sick dog’s platelet count. Not that it really matters, now. But the healthy dog instead places a paw over the sick dog’s paw and lies down quietly next to him. He is no longer fighting for the sick dog’s toy. He sleeps on the sick dog’s bed, probably for the scent, as the sick dog only lies on the hard surface of the floor, although most of the time he just stands and stares at me, his front legs too far apart, like an old man who is trying to keep his balance.

A suggested reading list:
Safekeeping Abigail Thomas
Three Dog Life Abigail Thomas
Dumped: Stories of Women Unfriending Women Nina Gaby, editor
Braving the Fire: A Guide to Writing About Grief and Loss Jessica Handler
Making Nice Matt Sumell

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Charms on a bracelet, amulets on a string:

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I woke early this morning to review some drafts. Submissions for my collection DUMPED: WOMEN UNFRIENDING WOMEN. As I go deeper into the process of putting together a book that only has one of my pieces in it, (an essay I wrote almost a year ago at a self-imposed and glorious retreat at Kripalu in the Berkshires, sitting, professionally edited, already six months,) I realize I have become an editor and business woman, maybe less a writer? Outside of reworking two lengthy essays and a blog piece for Brevity, what have I really done?

Yesterday, after a 38-hour-in-3-day stint of working my day job so I could justify a whole day off to write uninterrupted, I didn’t write. I did many other things instead. Things that involved typing but not writing. I had a volley of e-mails with my accountant about setting up an LLC before signing my publishing contract. (The LLC being somewhat like the malpractice insurance I keep for my day job.) That then required several attempts at downloading forms from the Secretary of State and then calling several times to ask questions about those forms. Then more e-mails with the accountant about those forms. And the frustration of trying to deal with a rural bank. They have set up two previous business accounts for me, but they have changed hands and I can’t remember what I had to do to set up accounts before and the only person who does it now works only a couple hours a day and the person at the customer care center in the next state over suggested I drive to an address that is actually only a drive-through window so I got huffy with her which prompted a whole Facebook rant. And then after several more phone calls I realized I was in the wrong (I need the state paperwork before I can get a new checking account which they might have told me last week when I actually went into the bank for advice) which then prompted a delete of the whole thread on Facebook and then I felt crazy and watched Judge Judy from the treadmill. After business hours I continued to dutifully read a memoir strung together by women’s’ friendships, wondering if Susanna Sonnenberg would write a blurb for me. Hell, maybe she’ll write a piece. But overall, even reading good stuff feels like homework.

Why am I bothering you with these increasingly run-on sentences? Because it wasn’t until this morning, so early that first light hadn’t even made up its mind, that I was able to quietly savor the actual pieces that writers are sending me. I laughed at Judith Podell’s essay notes. I marveled at Jessica Handler’s interplay of grief and attachment. I reviewed e-mails from famous and not so famous strangers and a promise from Carrie Kabak. Another from River Jordan. “Gems,” I thought to myself. “I’m stringing together gems.” Every downloaded form and unmet deadline, every psychiatric note and evaluation I do at my day job, they all serve as the jump rings which will glue together the final project. Like a charm bracelet. Like the amulets that my best friend in high school began stringing together for me, and now forty-five years later, a necklace I am still adding to. The magic imbued in each hamsah, scarab, evil eye, baby tooth. Making one for my daughter when she turned 16, one for a friend after her partner died. Graduation presents, tickets to safe places. Pieces of meaning and beauty and superstition. I do enjoy the metaphor for a moment before I pull the paperwork from my tote and start typing my documents for work, getting a start on the real day.