I have decided to confess and come clean: I am a victim of online dating. Six years ago I spent months obsessively combing profiles and pictures to try to find the right mix of geography, age, maturity, and cuteness. It is one of the most expensive experiments I have embarked upon.
One profile had me seriously considering a road trip and possible short-term relocation to Pennsylvania. But cooler heads prevailed and surprisingly enough the blue-eyed red head of my dreams turned out to be living in rural North Carolina—just waiting for me and Jock to pick her up in a Walmart parking lot. She was waiting for us in a blue Camaro with racing stripes. In my dreams that car has taken on the status of the white Thunderbird in “American Graffiti.”
In the intervening years, I have watched a number of friends struggle with the technological tools available to connect in the world and help them search for someone with whom to share their hearts and homes. Some have had more success than others. Few have had the success that Jock and I had with finding Hilda. She moved in that night, not just to our home but our hearts, and in that six years she has more than paid dividends on the expenses she has incurred.
encore readers will remember our furry love light had a big adventure before Christmas 2015 and was hospitalized under the care of Dr. Ned Williams and his amazing staff at Eastern Carolina Veterinary Referral. It was one of those unfortunate moments (the kind that bad movies are made from) when I realized I had let my priorities drift and not put Hilda in the center of where she belonged. As we labored through her recovery, I resolved that this year I would not lose sight of her importance in our lives, and my central New Year’s resolution was “do more stuff with Hilda.” But here’s the problem: I am a workaholic with far too many obligations. Many of those obligations are in locations that are not dog friendly, or are in situations not conducive to Hilda. All my longing to spend time with Jock and the dogs aside, I have realized the deeper question I am really struggling with: If I died tomorrow, what is it I wish I would have accomplished? I have realized I am terrified of that answer.
Wow. That was candid.
The answer is, on many levels, I actually have achieved something pretty surprising: I get to wake up everyday and go to my thriving independent book store, in beautiful historic downtown Wilmington. Then I go home (to Jock and the dogs) to write for local publications (the job that actually pays the bills). Every weekend I go see live theatre for that job. Every now and then, I get to travel for writing and have a weird adventure. I get paid to read books and write about them. In the meantime, I share life with the most fascinating (and indescribable) man to walk the earth in his generation, and together we are restoring vintage VWs. Everyday I get to talk to an amazing group of people who make life exciting, interesting and worthwhile because I am friends with exponentially wonderful people.
Does it get better than this? The answer: no. I am so grateful for this life. Thank you.
But tomorrow isn’t promised to any of us. Watching my heart get ripped from my body when Hilda got injured reminded me it is not just that I might not be here tomorrow, but the people I love might not either. No one mentioned this when I was combing the profiles online, trying to find the one who was waiting for us. There is something that changes in your compass of self—the way you see your world moored to other people’s when your parents both die. In my case as an only child, it is my amazing friends that I turn to—to give my life meaning.
But we must each give something back to the world that we pass through. We want to leave something that says we were here, and there was some reason for our time on this planet. (Of course, living with Jock does make me feel like the bar is set a little high on this score.)
Hilda’s life purpose is pretty clear: She is the antidote to my bad days. She and Horace protect the house, and she has perfected the ultimate begging pose for a tummy-scratch. But as her human, I need a bit more than someone to rub my tummy. We all have our dreams, our longings and for some of us, those longings are also our fears.
I have two books I need to write before I die.
I am a world-class excuse-maker for not working on either project. In my defense, running a small business and maintaining my deadlines are pretty time-consuming—and that’s before I try to have a private life with Jock and the dogs. In all fairness, I even hired one person at the bookstore for the sole purpose of giving me more time to write—and I promptly failed to stay home and work during those hours. The only person to blame in this equation is me. Hilda, on the other hand, is fully in favor of me following through on that resolution. She usually is my first reader, and particularly enjoys when I am in an editing and rewriting phase of work. (We both get treats for work accomplished.)
I finally have realized one of the mistakes I make is to think these are solo endeavors. Everything good I have ever accomplished in my life has come from accepting the help of people who are smarter, kinder, stronger, and more productive than myself (and the dogs—they are instrumental in all good things). There is magic in the world in a moment of shared creation; it is powerful and beautiful.
But my Puritan side of nature also reminds me at a certain point I have to just buckle down and do it. I admit: I am terrified of failure. I can live with many things in life, but failure is something that keeps me awake at night with terror. As a small business owner, that’s something that seems counter productive because the small business is so vulnerable. But it is so much more terrifying that I might fail at this—so somehow easier to avoid. Still, I can’t keep making excuses. I am starting to take steps to simplify my life (yes, I hear the laughter, too), so that getting a solid draft of each of those books can be the priority. Tomorrow isn’t promised, and I want to do this before I leave.
More so, I need to face my fears before I let them control me. Ever greater, I need the fulfillment of reaching out and living the magic of working creatively with people I respect and admire.