Following Atticus: Forty-Eight High Peaks, One Little Dog, and an Extraordinary Friendship by Tom Ryan is published by William Morrow. It tells the story of my adventures with Atticus M. Finch, a little dog of some distinction. You can also find our column in the NorthCountry News.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

I Heard From A Porn Star Yesterday

I heard from a porn star yesterday. 
I wouldn’t have known she worked in porn had she not explained it to me in her email and had I not noticed her website listed under her name at the bottom.  It seems she’s a big fan of our book, Following Atticus.  As I read through the email I smiled at the two books of the late monk Thomas Merton sitting next to the computer.

The woman is in a lot of films, none that I know the name of, but I discovered this, and other facts about her when visiting her website.  She crisscrosses the country appearing in strip clubs when she’s not posing for photographs or acting in films.  It’s a good living, she wrote.  She hopes to retire young and move to the country and have a little animal sanctuary.  In between her professional stops she reads – a lot.  So do many of her friends in the industry.  They’ve even formed a reading group and they take turns choosing a book of the month for each of them read. 

She wanted me to know how much Following Atticus impacted her life.  “I thought I was going to read about a cute little dog and I ended up reading about life!”

She asked me about signing books for the other woman in her book group.  She was looking for a case of hardcovers.  “They will love it as much as I did!  I’m also getting them to read your blog and your Facebook page.  You and Atti are awesome!”

I let her know how she could get a case of books.  She’ll send them to me, have me personalize each of them (“Don’t forget Atti’s paw print!"), and then I’ll send them back to her so she can distribute the books to her friends.  During the month of April Atticus’s silvery cataract eyes and Muttluk covered paws, as seen on the book jacket, will be on adult movie sets and strip clubs across the country, packed away in travel bags with stiletto heels, thigh high boots, oversized bras, thongs, tassels, handcuffs, and various and sundry other items. 

This makes me happier than I can say.  Over the past few years I have learned of a marriage counselor handing copies of Following Atticus to his clients. “Treat each other like Tom and Atticus do,” he tells them.  I’ve also heard that we were chosen for a book discussion by therapists dealing with family issues.  There was a city in Michigan where the clergy had a reading group where priests, ministers, rabbis, and nuns read Following Atticus and then met to discuss it.  Many counties, cities, and towns throughout the United States have chosen Following Atticus for a community read, including Groton, Massachusetts, where we will be appearing on April 12
th to talk about our story. 

The greatest pleasure of any writer is to be read.  But from there it often gets interesting to see who is reading your story. It’s wonderful to have varied groups and individuals invest themselves in it and then learn what they took from the journey of a man and a little dog as they left behind one life to get to another in the mountains of New Hampshire.

I am reaffirmed by the different people I hear from that while we are all distinctive, there are common threads that connect us.  Words and feelings knit us together.  They touch our humanity.  It doesn’t matter whether you have a cross over your chest or enhanced breasts.  Inside is what is most important and within each of us is a beating heart.  

The only question that remains now is how many more men will show up at the Groton event now that I know some of the ladies from the porn reading group hope to fly in that day to meet Atticus and me.

PS:  Of course I assured her I looked forward to meeting her, along with everyone else in Groton. In a subsequent email when she asked if Atticus was as friendly as he seems to be I let her know he'd probably like her more than most since they have something in common he doesn't share with most of his fans:  they are both used to being naked on stage.

PPS:  In a couple of email exchanges after reading this post Atti's newest fan joked when she added that while Atticus doesn't wear a collar or use a leash, she does at times - when the movie script calls for it.  Funny!  Lastly she asked if she'll be able to get a photograph taken with us.  "Perhaps, but we don't do selfies."  "I don't blame you. I don't let my fans take them with me either -  selfies are tacky."

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Angelic Lucidity in the Woods, in Friendship, in Connecting

The simplicity of the woods.  Sigh.

As I spend more time off-line I find myself more in line with who I am.  More letters written to friends, and more received from them.  Truths told and accepted.  Confessions, yearnings, reports of the day to day.  The joy in writing letters to friends is that we absorb these letters.  We ingest all before responding.  It's a conversation slowed down.  At least for me, it is. 

I thought of this while watching the twitching tail of a red squirrel, curious and protective of his home, as he studied our approach this morning under the blue skies and a relatively warm sun on the day after the storm. 

I long for connection.  True connection.  When it happens I embrace it and am grateful for.  That's the blessing of letters from those we are connected with.  It's a part of themselves.

This morning I wrote to a friend while Atticus and I walked alone in the woods.  That's how I write many of my letters, essays, and articles.  We walk, or hike, and the words bubble up.  I remind myself to put a certain thought, mood, or theme into what I'll be writing when I return to my desk. 

Steve Smith, White Mountain author and owner of the Mountain Wanderer Map & Bookstore, handles his wooded sojourns differently.  He takes copious notes with pencil and tiny notebook, pausing often during a hike. 

I'm told he has a room full of these notebooks from years gone by. 

Once, when sharing how we write about the trail, we compared notes.  So very different.  His details are for guidebooks and discoveries along the trails.  I take more of a romantic approach in considering the discovery of the self, of nature, and the soul of all things.  So different, but we connect with each other's writing. 

This morning I was contemplating something I read a few days ago about "moments of angelic lucidity." 

Marlinda Stull (if we are ever in Kentucky again I'm sure we will stop by Stull's Country Store in Payneville) sent me a few books recently.  One of them is "A Year with Thomas Merton: Daily Meditations from his Journals."  It was a splendid gift, especially since Marlinda knows I like Merton.  He ranks up there for me with Thoreau, Emerson, Wordsworth, Muir, and Oliver.  Merton wrote: "The sense of angelic transparency of everything, and of pure, simple, and total light.  The word that comes closest to pointing to it is *simple*.  It was all simple.  But a simplicity to which one seems to aspire, only seldom to attain.  A simplicity, that is, that has and says everything just because it is simple."

Through the simplicity comes connection.  To thoughts, the natural world, what and who is important to us . . . to simplicity.

The pleasure of walking with Atticus in such moments, in all our moments really when we are away from those who label and define, is that there is no dog and no man.  There is no dividing line. It's one of the reasons I don't relate to the idea of breeds and avoid themes and terms and clichés that come with dogs.  I understand Atticus is a dog and I am a human, but that really doesn't have much of anything to do with defining us.  We connect as equals in the woods.  Neither one of us deifies each other.  Nor do we look down on each other.  We simply are.  It's a connection, not a separation.   

I've told my agent I am the worst possible ambassador for pets.  It's because I don't use the word nor do I relate to how many talk of animals.  I like it this way.  Our way.  It's a connection.  There is no thought of words like owner and master.  There is no one over the other.  I'm not trying to make him my son.  He's no one's baby.  He's an adult.  He's himself, just as I am myself. It's simple.  It's Tom & Atticus, or Atticus and Tom.  

Some of you know this story already but it bears repeating.  A woman came up to me in a store. 

"You're a *breed deleted* person!"

"Not really.  I ended up with three dogs of the same breed by chance."

"Oh well, at least your a dog person."

"Actually if I would call myself anything I'd say I am an elephant person."

"But you live with two dogs."

"That's because I don't have the room for two elephants." 

But even if I did have an elephant, other than medical, physical, and nutritional needs, I wouldn't think of the elephant as the elephant.  I'd simply think of him as an individual who is my friend and if I had to call him anything I'd call him by his name. 

Years ago, when I lived back in Newburyport, I often had breakfast or lunch with three fascinating elderly men.  One of them was Doug Cray.  He was a retired New York Times reporter who had covered Kennedy and Johnson in the White House, not to mention volumes of other notable people.  You wouldn't know it, though.  Doug was as humble as could be.  After knowing him for several years I'd still find out about people he had spent time with. 

"Really, you traveled on the road with Duke Ellington for a month?"


"What was he like?"

"Oh, you know Duke." 

I didn't.  But what I took joy in was listening to how Doug talked of others.  It was always personal and intimate. 

One of the waitresses at a local coffee house adored Doug Cray.  We'd stop in during the afternoon for coffee and some kind of treat.  Before we'd leave Doug would say to the waitress, as he gently touched her arm, "You know, I'd like to get one of those delicious raspberry scones to take home to Barbara." 

One day the waitress said to me, "Doug is such a gentle man.  Know what I like best about him?"

"What's that?"

"I've only met Barbara a couple of times but he talks about her so personally that I feel like I know her well.  He never refers to her as his wife.  There's no ownership.  She's only one thing.  She's Barbara.  That's so personal."

I always liked that about Doug.

Although I've rid our home of so much "stuff", I have held onto things that truly matter to me.  One of them is Anne Criscitiello's first portrait in years after her dance with cancer.  It's a sketch of Atticus, Will, and me.  There's even a paw print of Max in it.  Ann sent it along framed and matted.  It's a keepsake.  In the matting she inserted a quote from Thoreau, "The most I can for my friend is simply be his friend." 

That about sums it up.  The connection.  The simplicity.  Angelic lucidity.