My dog turned 10 last week.
When we got JoJo as a three-month-old pup, and was told he would be a very large dog (he's 90 pounds and super tall) and that very large dogs have shorter life-spans, I said to myself (and to all the closest who indulge me so): 'We'll be lucky if we get 10 out of him.' I've been counting down to 10 ever since.
Perhaps I'm not the only pet-owner who's been consistently obsessed with my furry-friend's inevitable demise? I don't find it so morbid a fixation as it may sound but, then again, I've held a pragmatic sensibility about death since a strangely young age. Plus, my childhood dog Tiger passed away rather prematurely, with obvious heartbreaking consequences, and I suppose my adult self has simply wanted to brace for the inescapable end with a mindful awareness that might counteract any shock.
Thinking about my relationship with JoJo as a limited-time-only opportunity, a precious experience that will not continue indefinitely, helps me better appreciate the moments we share together. Influenced by a class on existentialism I took in college, I often consider the always-looming presence of death not in wishful beckoning, nor with terror-stricken repudiation, simply as a clarifying reminder of how our reality works. At my most inspired, I use this perspective to cut through the distracting bullshit that otherwise has me forgetting what really matters. It helps me make better decisions. When I'm strolling through one of the beautiful parks on a walk with JoJo and I reach for my phone to check my social-media accounts for the seventieth time that day, I remember to stop before I lose myself, again, in the meaninglessand return my attention to gratefully enjoying my dog's companionship, while I've got it.
Nurturing JoJo from orphaned puppy to much-adored older dog has taught me greatly about the natural ebbs and flows of a life-cycle. JoJo will be the first being I've observed moving through all the stages, from toddler to elder. As a youngster who hadn't yet grown into his tall gawky legs, JoJo was especially clumsy, tripping over himself at nearly every overenthusiastic turn. Then, after he matured into a more confident and capable (though still not quite graceful) adult, JoJo injured his shoulder and we were told he'd never be a beach-running, fetch-playing creature again. Yet, I witnessed his healing as we soldiered through his physical therapy together, JoJo regaining capacity to trot and romp like a champ. Now, he's getting clumsy again, slowing down, his rear legs (which were always somewhat wonky to begin with) suffering the wear-and-tear of old age. This morning, he had a little more trouble getting up on those legs. Life marches on.
I've had a harder go at accepting these same ebbs-and-flows in my relationship with San Francisco, beloved home for my past two decades. The changes this city has undergone over the past few years have contributed to my feeling increasingly alienated from a place I thought I'd live forever. (I'd already begun publicly addressing this alienating ambivalence four years ago.) I never anticipated having to move. I didn't think how my experience of what 'home' means might be vulnerable to these same life-cycle dynamics which is why I've found myself incredulous about the irrevocability of what's happening to SF, sad, and paralyzed in taking any action to respond.
I could easily rattle off an endless list of complaints about shuttered businesses, evicted friends, architectural travesties, and decimated culture here in 'the new San Francisco'and, too often, I dobut then I'm left sounding like a bitter old guy who refuses to change with the ceaselessly changing times. Cities evolve. Visions are born as messy children, mature into fully-functional adults, and decay into outdated shadows of their former glories. If we are unwilling or unable to combat the decay, we must do something constructive to channel our emotional discontent, lest we walk around with too much anger and resentment in our hearts, feeling ineffective or trapped only to end up mindlessly creating more unpleasantness, contaminating others' ways-of-life with our defiant griping and growling about what's already come to pass. At my lowest points, I've been that contaminating influence.
I now see my relationship with San Francisco as a romance which has been coming to a long, slow end. I love the city, sure, but I'm not sure I'm still in love with it. I can't deny the fact that things between the two of us haven't been working for a while now, though we may be able to work it out in the future. My heart is broken. I'm angry that, if I'm listening to my instincts and looking out for my well-being, I have to find another place to live sooner rather than later. I'm deeply grieving this loss, as I steel myself to leave behind a landscape I feel in my bones, a playground that formed my character, an inimitable cast of close pals and around-town acquaintances who've held me safe in their loving camaraderie.
I don't really want to leave what I cherish. But even as I write that, I must recognize all the cherished identifiers continue to change, too. Landscapes morph. Playgrounds grow stale. Friends have babies, move away, drift in different directions, get sick, die. That which I don't want to leave doesn't really exist anymore anyway, not in the manner I wistfully memorialize. Life marches on.
What's next? It feels almost disloyal to dare putting words to a promising future, while I'm still moving through grief for what's passing. But lest either you or I indulge an impression that everything good in my world is imminently coming to a grave end, I also share some wonderful, fantastic, absolutely thrilling news: Just this week, my gorgeous shop The Sacred Well is opening the doors to its second location, in Portland, Oregon. (The original location is in Oakland, California.) I can't take too much personal credit for this great feat, since the bulk of the labor has been carried out by my amazing co-workers. But nonetheless, it's so heartwarming to watch a 'baby' I co-birthed almost a decade ago grow into a thriving set of siblings and to enjoy the expansion of our magic into uncharted territory, where we can share what we do with a new audience and soak up the fresh energy of a less-familiar city full of kooky magical charm.
So, it seems like the most natural next-step would be for me to move to Portland. My partner Ricky feels similarly discouraged by how SF has changed, and shares my fond curiosity about Portland. We are eager to explore the rhythms of this smaller, quieter, creative, quirky, food-and-drink-centric town for ourselves. Of course, these days, it's pretty cliché for a San Franciscan to relocate to Portland. Just as I grumble about the changes to my city, some longtime Portlanders point to us exiled Californians (rightfully so) as a gentrifying force that's ruining the arty weirdness of their city. Cities evolve. What's an ending for one person is a beginning for someone else. I only hope I am considerate and compassionate enough towards those grieving their irretrievable past that I don't exacerbate their pain, and can leave us room for mutually rosy possibilities.
A brief astrological interjection: Over just the past few weeks, we've moved away from that 'in-between' energy of recent months, which resulted from having three outer planets forming a T-square in mutable signs. Mutability is the quality of a season that's starting to taper away, blending carryover energy from what's passing on with the first inklings of what's coming up next. Cardinality, meanwhile, brings a more palpable start-of-a-new-season energy. Jupiter left mutable Virgo and entered Libra a month ago, to begin forming a T-square (with Uranus and Pluto) in cardinal signs. Then, Mars wrapped up a protracted visit to mutable Sagittarius (nearly five months!) and advanced into Capricorn, another cardinal sign and one where it's unrivalled at actualizing long-term strategies. This 'next thing' really is actively unfolding.
Thinking about building a 'new life' in Portland fuels an excitement I haven't known in quite some time even if I'm not quite ready to assuredly declare, 'I'm moving to Portland.' I enthusiastically ponder how there are neighborhoods to wander, gorgeous topography to gaze upon and hike through, novel interests to delve into, deliciousness tempting my tummy at every corner, and countless opportunities to stumble upon unfamiliar sites and surprising joys. I have old friends in Portland I look forward to getting more closely acquainted with, as well as future friends I have yet to meet. I yearn to settle safe and snug into a new home, perhaps even plant roots which will hold me for many years to come.
Ricky even agreed that, once we move out of the escalating madness that is SF, we can also get a new puppy. JoJo has always excelled at playing the role of older-brother dog-mentor to young pups. And he loves playing with them, too. He behaves more youthfully when ricocheting off their high-intensity puppy energy. I've often felt JoJo's lifespan might increase if he had the ongoing stimulation of a puppy to engage and entertain him. He's already 10, thoughthat magic number I've been counting down toso I conceive of every additional moment I share with him as icing on the proverbial cake. During JoJo's sunset phase, I'd love to have his dutiful best-friend assistance in training the new puppy to mind our commands as impeccably as he's always done. JoJo would live on, then, through the formative imprint he leaves on a young dog just beginning its life, just as my old man moves ever closer to his irrevocable end.