Often, when we leave the house, there is a black and white dog that Lydian has affectionately named “Oreo” who sticks around by our gate leading out to the street. When we have our screen door open, this dog will sit nearby, just outside the gate with her nose and paws situated as close to us as possible. She doesn’t like to be alone. She’s obviously been beaten plenty of times because she cowers when we reach down to pet her, but she belongs to someone because she’s obvious healthy and well-fed. We’ve talked to her and petted and her and loved her. In all the times I’ve seen this dog, she has never made a sound. Until yesterday.
Yesterday, we were walking past the neighbor’s house up the giant hill when all four of the neighbor’s dogs came running toward us to bark at us from behind the gate. “Oreo” was also locked up behind the neighbor’s gate yesterday and sure enough, she was the one with the high-pitched bark that has disrupted my thoughts so many times since we’ve been here.
It’s amazing how my feelings about the high-pitched barking have changed since realizing that it’s specifically the one and only dog that I’ve cared about since we moved to Costa Rica making that sound. I feel so sorry for that dog. She wants so desperately to be around people and to be loved. She’s been beaten, but she still loves people and on account of that I just can’t help but love her too.
I have similar feelings toward “George”, the landlord. He stopped by a few days ago to ask us if we left water running while we were gone over a weekend. He was angry because his water bill was higher than normal (probably because there are people living in the house using water) and he had come over to make us feel badly about it. The whole interaction was so similar to the way my dad has interacted with us of the years, it bothers me a little. It’s uncanny. He said, “I just thought maybe you left the water running while you were gone for the weekend…”
John said, “Why would we do that George?”
“Well, I don’t know, but the bill is really high.”
“Seriously, George…why would we leave the water running?” John said it again, for emphasis.
At this point, I went ahead and pointed out to George that we had had remarkably low water pressure. I had other things I could have complained about too. The hard beds. The cockroaches. The kitchen appliances that didn’t work or that were only half there. But, honestly, I didn’t want to hurt George because I already know him in a way. On the inside he’s my dad all wrapped up in a different package. He’s been beaten too and I understand that that’s why he barks all the time and why he too is so annoying sometimes.
But he is still annoying. And he could hurt people with his behaviors. I’ve written down my thoughts about him in other posts to this blog. These thoughts were more emotional than this one though. My chaotic, multi-layered thinking isn’t a problem except for the fact that when I write my opinions about George or Oreo in one moment, my opinions could be completely different or perhaps just more insightful in the next moment. For example, if a person looks at a photograph of a bunch of friends at the beach, no one looks at it and thinks the people in the photo are STILL at the beach. But with writing, an opinion expressed has a really solid appearance. Like if I say in writing that I hate dogs that I couldn’t possibly ever not hate dogs (or George). It’s as though what I write is how I feel about something for all eternity.
Everything that I’ve thought about and written about on this trip is one-sided. It’s one way of looking at things. This isn’t in any way a revelation for me. In fact, it’s one reason why I’ve never blogged about our travels before. In any given essay, I can only really present one or two view points on a topic. But usually, there are a multitude of valid points of view. And there are different layers that are wrapped around the topic as well. It’s impossible to represent all of these facets of thinking about a thought in writing. It’s too confusing for the reader. So instead, I have to commit to one thought. One perspective. And usually the perspective is the result of some emotion that I’m having. An emotion, that will go away, inevitably.
I’ve always been afraid of writing my thoughts and putting them up for the public to read because it seems like such a big commitment. Like writing about hating the dog next door. I don’t hate Oreo. I hated the dog that I imagined barking through my window at all hours of the day and night. It might be true that I hate the barking, but I don’t hate the dog. Actually, I kind of loved the dog. But anyone who reads just the article that I wrote about hating all dogs won’t ever know that I don’t hate dogs, or even the one dog next door. Because I could only present one point-of-view on the topic at the time that I wrote it. I was upset and my scope was somewhat limited as a result. I’m allowed to be periodically narrow-minded, I tell myself as long as I don’t impose my views on others or get stuck with that kind of perspective on things. But isn’t writing supposed to be somewhat persuasive? And don’t I end up with allies and enemies when I say I believe this…or that?
I’ve always used writing to get the cards out on the table and say it “how it is”, but only to myself. Because, frankly, “how it is” changes. Indeed, writing about it causes changes. But people who read what’s written don’t necessarily know that the target is moving. Having people read what I write is new. It broadens the scope of change in a way. What I felt at the moment I wrote a particular narrative evolves or becomes unimportant to me within hours or days after I write it…but it may be months before other people even discover it or comment on it. By that time, sometimes I can’t even remember what I was thinking.
A lot of times in an effort to be witty, I’ll write something and then later my opinion changes drastically. It seems impossible to avoid this conundrum if I choose to write. Writing is a one or sometimes two-sided affair (at best). It can capture bias beautifully as it occurs moment-to-moment. What is doesn’t capture is the stuff I’m going to learn about later (perhaps only minutes after I shut down my computer) and how I’m going to change my mind. I can’t seem to represent this more malleable part of myself when I write about experiences, other people or situations. My thoughts would seem too wishy-washy to be interesting.
I have opinions, but I try to keep an open mind and I like to be proven wrong at least some of the time. I’m not sure if I believe in being “right” or “good”. I don’t know if there is such a thing as “right” or “good”. I have my little thoughts and my little feelings and they oscillate and change. On this trip I wrote some of them down. But I reserve the right to be wrong. To me, it’s nice to find out that there was no dog next door that deserved my anger.