Measured Extravagance

2001-04-22 - 2:10 a.m.

Dammit. I hope Marn's okay.

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More books!

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April Interpretations: Musing on Losing

price-less (pris'lis), adj. 1. of too great worth to be measured by price; invaluable. 2. [Colloq.], very amusing or absurd.

When I took a direct look at this month's theme word, "priceless," I was startled at its imprecision. We call possessions "priceless" when we consider them irreplaceable; we identify experiences as "priceless" when we consider them impossible to replicate. It's a word that's more than the sum of its parts - something is "priceless" not because it is without cost (which is how I would be inclined to parse "price"+"less" were I new to the word) but when one cannot begin to calculate or estimate its value.

Yet I am forever weighing and measuring what I invest - time, attention, money, soul - against the returns. This isn't to say I sit around with an abacus totalling up my share of friend x or the profitability of hobby y - aside from not believing in zero-sum scenarios, I'm far from methodical when I find myself reckoning up what I have . I sometimes try to be: I've talked myself out of many an impulse buy simply by dividing the cost of the item by the number of times I expected to wear or use it. It amuses my acquaintances whenever I gauge a potential expense by the number of sushi dinners I could indulge in instead: Even though I adore dressing up, I'd much rather splurge on clam nigiri than pay retail for a designer gown (hurrah for resale shops!), but for my cat and my puppy, I'd give up tuna rolls for canned tunafish if that's what it took to afford their care.

I'm not a saint. I wouldn't do this for just any animal, and between Saturday and Monday I was locked in serious debate with myself over whether I truly had the time and patience to cope with a new dog. Abby's brothers were very cute, but I didn't see myself skipping shows or adjusting my dining-out budget or tearing myself away from my computer to train them. Abby, though - Abby passed the sushi test. Abby means my schedule suddenly became less whimsical - for the past year, I've enjoyed complete discretion over when and where to take my lunch hour, and I often spent an hour or three after work doing errands or visiting Davis-Kidd. Now I must coordinate with the Beautiful Young Man - who's going to able to leave the office at noon? will you be home by 6? what will we do about the weekend we were both planning to head out of town? Abby means that I can't just slide into a nap on my favorite sofa or get lost in a random novel upstairs: since she's already managed to vault over the baby gate we'd set up in the kitchen doorway, so I have to keep an eye on her whenever she's loose in the house, as she's still learning boundaries (and not yet completely versed in "Come!" and "Off!"). When I can't keep an eye on her, such as when I'm showering or taking out the garbage or putting clothes in the dryer, I have to confine her to her pen so that she isn't snarfing down the cat's food or chomping on my sandals. Abby means it's taken me hours to get just this far in this entry, what with distracting her from chewing on books and chairs and cords, coaxing her to chew on her rubber bones (need to purchase tastier chew-toys), letting her out for backyard breaks, hauling up a very heavy carpet (which was under a heavy coffeetable) after an accident (cat hissed, dog pissed), praising her "sits" and "downs", scolding her for scratching the sofa, etc. Abby means that I can't just upload this entry and the promptly flop into bed; since the BYM is away stuffing himself with mudbugs, it's up to me to fold up the pen, haul it up to the bedroom, move the water bowl, ignore the pup's protests as I try to drowse off, and stagger up to let her out when nature calls.

All of that said, we've got us one sweet doggie, we do. I managed to snatch a nap on the study sofa this afternoon - it took a while for Abby to settle down, but she eventually stretched out right beside the couch - when I woke up, she was still snoozing away. It was almost perfect - when she and the cat get sufficiently used to each other, I'm looking forward to napping as a trio. I love the way she rolls over and lets me rub her belly, and the happy wagging of her tail when she sees me, and the way she nuzzles my feet and licks my toes, and the way her ears perk up as she bounces toward me when she understands "Come!" I love this dog already, and I'm already fretting over how to cope with off-leash dogs (once she's old enough to be walked), and the thought of anything happening to her already gets me sniffly and teary.

It's a morbid exercise, perhaps, this imagining life without Abby - or the Bat, or the BYM. I'm not sure whether I should blame my pragmatic side, which is drawn towards envisioning the worst in order to prepare for it, or my imaginative side, which knows that many good stories require some sort of loss to be reckoned with - a loss that can be as abstract as loss of peace or innocence or reputation, or as specific as the disappearance of an heirloom or a letter or a lover. It has to matter, if the author wants us to keep reading - it has to be something priceless, something that's so essential to the happiness of the protagonists that we yearn for its recovery - or its replacement.

I don't know if I'll ever want another cat after Bathsheba - I can imagine liking other cats, but I can also picture myself resenting some unlucky feline for failing to be as mellow or as affectionate. I don't expect to outlive the BYM (his relatives are long-lived; mine are not), but if I did, I'm not sure I could bring myself to remarry. I could see myself enjoying a fling or two or more (I'm certain he'd do the same); I can even imagine myself sharing vacations and meals with one primary "companion." But I can't quite see myself sharing a checkbook or a house or even seven nights a week with anyone other than the BYM; I'm not even sure I could muster up the patience to date around, much less the generosity to accommodate a new partner's personality and preferences. I like the reputation I've established in certain circles as flexible (as in flexible-unflappable, not flexible-easy) but when I try to imagine the adjustments and compromises I would need to make with a new partner, I automatically recoil. Make no mistake: I'm not the kind of woman who would die from a broken heart. If I got flattened by a bus tomorrow, I fancy that the BYM would grieve for a while and then find someone else and move on. If the BYM became roadkill, I'd be devastated, but I'm guessing I'd also be so angry that I'd stay glued together for the sake of terrorizing everyone around me into respecting his wishes and mine until the last dish from the wake was rinsed and dried - and then I would lock up what was left of me for a while - perhaps for a few weeks, perhaps for years. I don't know how long it would take me to grow back enough of myself before I would feel able to parcel it out again, but I do know that I would probably be wary of letting anyone matter that much to me again.

I can imagine what might happen - I can make myself cry just thinking about it - but I hope I won't have to discover whether I'm right. For that matter, that's true of a multitude of other things - I've lost a number people and places and possessions - some on purpose, some through neglect, some through malice, and some through sheer bad luck - and I can guess at the shape of some of the losses to come, and some of the prices that will need to be paid. It ultimately makes me more consciously grateful for present mirth and laughter, and that may well be the reason my mind insists on treading the paths of mental melodrama. What's that line from Our Town..."Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it? -- every, every minute?" I can't claim that I do. I can't even claim that I want to - not every, every minute. But some of the time, yes, it takes glimpses of both past and future to set me fully here in the now.

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