“I don’t read your blog,” a friend told me bluntly, but with a hint of apology in the tone. “I’m just not interested in dogs.”
“It’s not really about dogs,” I told her. “It’s about how people interact because of dogs, and how dogs affect your life.”
“Oh,” she said. She’s still not going to read my blog.
Once upon a time you were bound to your family and friends by ties of blood and proximity. If you were lucky, these people shared your hobbies, interests, and values. If they didn’t, you pursued them alone. Our metropolitan world and the Internet have allowed us to expand our lives to include people who, in a different time, we could never have met. Thus we form many social communities, with various purposes and payoffs. Though it clearly has many benefits, sometimes it leads to a fractured sense of self.
It should be clear by now that I don’t just go to the dog park for Our Best Friend. And it’s not really in my best interest either; I get more benefit actually walking the dog than standing around chatting. But I love meeting people who have no expectation of who I should be. No one at the park worries about my parenting, wonders about the depth of my religious commitment, or cares what I do for a living. I’m just another dog owner, one with a beautiful dog who attracts looks, questions, and admiration because he comes when called.
We had a nice day last week. I think it was Thursday. As a result, there were actually people at the park, instead of just icy wind, and better yet, people (and dogs) I know. Four of us, including Ronnie, chatted about dogs, dog sitters, the weather. Ronnie mentioned someone not present. “You all know Bob, right?” The three of us shook our heads. “You don’t know Bob? He has a lab cross, Happy.”
Our frowny faces immediately cleared. “Oh, of course I know him!” I said. Happy is one my favourite dogs. “His name is Bob?” I looked at the other two people standing there. “Let’s be honest. Who here knows the names of more dogs than owners?” And all three of us raised our hands. Even funnier, we didn’t ask if we knew each other’s names. I’m pretty sure we avoided that ’cause none of us do. Ronnie, on the other hand, probably does. That’s why he’s Ronnie.
Such is the convoluted nature of relationships in the modern age. People whose names I don’t know care more about my dog than people related to me by blood. They’ve watched him grow, offered advice, and encouraged me to persevere in spite of Our Best Friend’s on-going issues. Likewise, most of my friends don’t read my blog; strangers do. Strangers whom I’m getting to know through commenting back and forth through cyberspace. My best friend is running a marathon, but it’s a blogger across the continent who successfully guilted me into walking my dog more regularly, in spite of the weather.
But friends from cyberspace or the dog park don’t pick my kids up from school when I can’t make it. They don’t meet me for lunch, come over and cut my bangs to save me a trip to the salon, or listen to my personal woes on demand. We don’t share holidays and life cycle events. Saying “We’re on a first-name basis” usually connotes intimacy; at the dog park it’s just one step above a no-name basis. At the end of the day, they are still strangers whom I know nothing about except what kind of dog they have. We have little in common except a love of dogs; my friends and I have much in common except a love of dogs. It all balances out.
I am grateful to live in a time when I have the opportunity to meet different people with whom I can share different parts of myself– my kids, my dog, my writing, my neuroses. (Maybe no one else is happy about that, but some people put up with it.) To my friends and family in the here and now, who aren’t reading this (and to the half-a-dozen that are): Thanks for being part of my life. I hope I’ve been a good friend back. To the subscribers, who read and leave the occasional comment: Thanks for keeping me from shouting in the wind. It motivates me to keep writing (and to walk the dog). And to my dog park friends, the focus of all this effort, and who have no idea I keep this blog: I’ll see you later at the park.