“When are you going to get started on the Christmas letter?” David asks.
It’s a simple and reasonable question, asked for the first time, so it’s not like he’s nagging. So why do I feel like I’m being hounded? I’ve been feeling grumpy for a few days now and I’m not sure why.
“And say what?” I want to know. “We used to have such exciting adventures. But for the last few years there’s been no new news.”
“We took that trip to the northeast in the fall.”
“And I blogged the crap out of it. The people who would read a holiday letter would’ve also read the blog.”
“We got to see Sam while we were in Boston.”
“His situation’s as stagnant as ours is, so why write about it?”
“But now his company’s SamCentric.”
SamCentric is a word I came up with when Sam told us that in an effort to move Mantra forward he’s going to become more visible. Does this SamCentric approach mean that Sam is going to become a celebrity in China? It sounds like he already is. His last video received three million views and pulled in ten thousand comments; and he’s got fifty thousand followers.
“If Sam moved back to the states,” I say, “that’d be something I’d put in a letter.”
“You can’t be irritated with Sam for living in Beijing when we were out of the country for nearly thirty years.”
“It was different. Our parents didn’t miss us at all.”
This is true. A divorce reshapes a family and my parents kind of wrote me off when they split up. And David’s mother had children and grandchildren galore. Demands were coming at her from all sides, so she was fine with us being elsewhere.
“You can write about Curtis and Anna.”
“And say what? That they work a lot and take vacations every once in a while?”
“One of your books was released in the states; that’s a big deal. And you had that blog tour.”
“Big whoop.Old Buildings has twelve reviews on Amazon. Beartown has two thousand, three hundred, and thirty-two.”
“Old Buildings is hardly Beartown.”
“That’s true, but Norah Roberts’ last book got over a thousand reviews. She’s been writing bestsellers for so long that at this point her work is no more than hackneyed regurgitation. Yet still she gets the readers and the reviews.”
“Playing the comparison game is never a good idea.”
“The absolute only thing that’s changed this year is we got a new dog.”
“So write about that.”
So, here’s the Christmas letter:
We’re fine and the boys are fine. The only change has been the arrival of Dilly. So here’s a little about Dilly:
I got her from the local no-kill SPCA shelter. She’s a total mutt, but people seem to find comfort in labeling.
“She’s half poodle and half shitzu,” one neighbor says.
“She’s also very skinny,” another says. “I think she’s poodle, shitzu, and whippet.”
It’s true that she has the haughty snout of a poodle and the protruding lower teeth of a shitzu, but she also has the long feet of a rabbit. She’s white with a tinge of cinnamon along her back, and, as with most white dogs, the distinctive copper tearstains. Like I said, a mutt.
At first she was scared of everything. She would crouch into submissive position every time she heard a loud noise. Once, trembling with fear, she went prone in front of an oncoming car! She flinched when the wind blew strong. Also, she cringed when I held out a hand to stroke her head, a sure indication that her last owner hit her, which upsets my heart. She sounds like a wimp, which isn’t such a bad thing. Her timidity made me believe that she’d never stray and that she would forever rest her faith in my ability to keep her safe.
That was two months ago, when I naively thought that, because she was so fearful, she wouldn’t go far. But she’s grown more confident by the day and more territorial in the cul-de-sac. Now she takes off after other dogs, wanting them to be her friend; when she hears our neighbor’s voice she runs to his house and jumps into his arms; and she follows our guests to their cars, begging them for a ride to anywhere.
The shy princess has become an insecure teenager with daddy issues, needing everybody to love her and seeking affection from strangers.
My belief was that the advantage of having a small dog is that if she doesn’t do what I want her to, I can easily pick her up. But I can’t pick her up if she’s not there. She runs away fast and doesn’t respond when I call. I have no control, which, come to think of it, is probably why I’ve been so grouchy lately. I tend toward discontented introspection when disorder invades.
I know how to train a dog. I was just being lazy, hoping she’d figure out my expectations and then train herself. How stupid is that? So now Dilly and I are spending two sessions a day with her on the leash as she learns how to heel, sit, and come when I call. She’s catching on quickly, but I don’t fool myself. Once she’s off that leash she’s gone, which is a dangerous way for a little dog to be.
And here’s the part that makes this a Christmas letter—
We wish our friends and family, and their friends and family, the most Merry Christmas ever and a safe and serene 2019.