My old friend has warned me by email, that he intends to write a response to what I had to say about him in a recent post and that what he has to say may not be all I might have hoped for. I informed him that he is free to say about me whatever he wishes but that were he to in any way denigrate Rocky, I would ensure that such denigration, as far as I could stop it, would have no place in my patch–tiny as it is– of cyberspace. So far, I have received no response from him. No doubt, as is his wont, he is writing and re-writing his missive, adding to it snatches of poetry, mostly from Shakespeare or T S Eliot, his favorites, and sharpening up the humor which I would bet, is sharp enough already.
My friend, I have concluded, though smart and still full of dreams and hopes and as mad– by which I mean youthful–as ever he was, has nevetheless nothing much to say about Rocky except to say that Rocky has become my best friend. Try as I might to explain to him that Rocky is a dog and therefore not a competitor in the best friend stakes–and anyway, have we not moved on from the need for such childhood affirmations?– he remains entirely unconvinced by my assurances. I believe this is due to the fact that my friend has never had a dog.
In contrast, another friend responded to my ruminations about friendship and Rocky’s place in my heart in that recent post of mine, this way: “Your last blog on friendship ….. made me think. It made me think about the true basis of your relationship with Rocky, and of humans’ relationships with dogs. Of course he is a lovely dog and so he deserves plenty of credit but there’s a bigger question, isn’t there? Why do we love dogs so much? I think part of the answer is in the line I once sent you: “I want to be the kind of person my dog thinks I am.” The unquestioning loyalty and admiration and unqualified friendship of dogs is so profoundly reassuring to humans, anxious insecure beings that we are.
“But maybe it’s more than that. I think that your love for Rocky is not only, perhaps not even mostly, about Rocky. It is about love for the idea of love, or more precisely, love for the knowledge that we are able to love. Being with a dog makes us feel good about ourselves. And, on top of that, their silence — or lack of speech — creates such a deep bond. I remember walking our dog when I was a kid. I would be lost in my thoughts, raking through my anxieties, the flow of the human world, fear, desire, shame — then after a while I would notice that my dog was with me still, by my side, looking out with me at the physical world, both in step with me but respecting me, waiting to know what I would do next — what I thought of this world we were entering together. And sometimes it felt very deep. ”
This brings me to a decision we have made: out of love for Rocky and concern at his despair every time we leave him alone. We have decided to get him a dog companion. Being an only dog, we have concluded, might have been acceptable had I remained committed to my fantasy of a new life after I left The Age and journalism and meetings and frantic busy-ness, a new life full of time, I suppose, and yes, self-indulgence. Things turned out differently and while my old life is over, gone and finished and unlamented, I have been forced to conclude, given the fact that I am the head of a centre for journalism at the University of Melbourne and that I attend meetings and plan research projects and events and that I am excited by the potential of this centre to make a real contribution to journalism, that this idea I had of myself as a rather inward looking, self-absorbed and private person–a writer in other words –who for 30 years or more was diverted from his real calling by the seductive power of being a public figure, even a minor one, that I have possibly been deluding myself.
The consequence of this delusion for Rocky has been that I have not honored my implied promise to be around most of the time, which means that he is often left alone. The evidence suggests–his increasing down-heartedness long before I leave the house, his baleful little bark as I put on my going to work outfit, his earlier and earlier retirement to his bed in the morning–suggests that he is unlikely to come to terms with my broken promise of a life spent mostly together, any time soon. If ever. Rather than change my life, I have decided to change Rocky’s life by offering him a companion. I will do so with some trepidation, for I wonder whether this an ethically and morally sound step to take, given that I cannot at this moment, imagine there being room in my heart for loving another dog the way I love Rocky. Not just that. Even if such room exists, how will Rocky take to having another dog in his–and my–life? What guarantee is there that a dog companion will sooth and comfort him when I am about to leave home? What if his pining is for me and me alone? Finally, finally, there is this question: What will happen to Rocky and Gawenda?
There are no answers to these questions for there are no guarantees in life and in love. Nor are there guarantees in the life and eventual death of Rocky and Gawenda. And so with hope in my heart and with trepidation, with only faith to see me through it, I shall, as soon as possible, bring another dog into our life. So much of what we decide, I realise, is based on faith and hope.
In my last post, I revealed that Rocky and Gawenda was to be published as a book in October by Melbourne University Publishing as Rocky and Gawenda: The story of a man and his mutt. I posted a small image of the book’s cover and said that I loved it very much. Turns out that those who know about these things thought that my excitement at Rocky and Gawenda being published in book form had slightly unhinged me, so that I did not understand that the cover I posted was never going to be the `real’ cover. The real cover, which I am posting above, I think is even more gorgeous than the `unreal’ one.I think the photograph of Rocky captures the pensive and thoughtful side of his nature.
The book is to be published under MUP’s new imprint, Victory Books, which Louise Adler, the boss of MUP has described as “proudly commercial”. I see that along with my book, Mick Gatto’s life story will also be a Victory Book published in October with the title I, Mick Gatto, which I suppose is meant to be suggestive of swearing an oath–or affirmation to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, in court proceedings. Gatto and Gawenda, eh. I wonder whether Gatto, often described by journalists as a `Melbourne identity’ –and everyone knows what that means– has a dog companion that has offered Mick the gift of knowing that he is, in my friend’s phrase, able to love? I must read his book to find out.
Postscript: Another litte plug for my son’s band Husky which is doing three nights at the cabaret venue, the Butterfly Club in South Melbourne from tonight, Thursday August 13. Then Friday the 14th and Saturday the 15th. It is a small club and the band will be mostly acoustic. The show starts at 7.00pm. Friday and Saturday is nearly booked out. Tonight’s a good night to come along.
Bookings at: www.thebutterflyclub.com