I have just returned from the pet hospital. Two days ago, my eight-year-old Schnauzer, Grendel, had to have an emergency hysterectomy. According to the doctor, she’s not rallying since the surgery. We brought her home hoping she’ll perk up here. We believe she’ll be happier.
In honor of Grendel, I’m reviving two old blog posts from my personal blog, kristystories.blogspot.com
Every Writer Needs a Dog
As a writer, it’s easy to let myself escape into my head. I consider this a really important part of my job. Some refer to this as being in the flow, in the moment, or in the zone as if it’s a physical place rather than a state of mind. Wikipedia describes “flow” as the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. And this immersion is a good thing. Mostly.
According to Wikipedia, when I’m not in the flow I am depressed. To be caught in the ennui of depression or the agitation of anxiety is to be barred from flow.
Here’s me when I’m not writing: Carol drops by with a pan of brownies. She looks like a teenager in that halter top. She says, “I brought these for your husband to thank him for helping me fix that broken window.” I say thank you, but inside I’m thinking I really wish she’d wear more clothes. I wonder what she was wearing when Larry was at her house, for how long was that? I can’t compare myself to her—I had six kids and she has a cat. Maybe my abs would look like that if I had countless hours to spend at the gym. Does she work out at the same gym as Larry? Why does she call him all the time? He doesn’t even like brownies. But I love them. I bet she knows that. She knows that I’m going to eat this entire pan of brownies because now I’m so depressed and one or two or five brownies isn’t going to matter because I’m going to be divorced, single and fat. I better call Larry, although I just talked to him, and he’ll be home for lunch in twenty minutes. I need to hear his voice.
Here’s me when I’m writing: the doorbell rings but I don’t hear it because I’m deep into my story. Somehow Mercy has to stop Eloise from going on a drive with horrid Mr. Steele. What can she do—should she confide in Eloise? In the real world, my dog is pawing at me. No. Eloise is a blabber mouth. She can’t be trusted. My dog knows someone has come to the door and she pulls at my sock with her teeth. I shake her off, but she’s so annoying that I have to investigate. Someone has left brownies on my front porch with a thank you note. It’s from Carol, that darling girl from across the street. I consider the brownies and inspiration hits—Mercy will bake Eloise a pie laced with a draught that will make her sleep through her rendezvous with Steele. I put the brownies on the counter and save them for when Larry comes home for lunch. I hurry back to Mercy, Eloise and Mr. Steele, wondering how to make a sleeping draught.
(FYI- Neighbor Carol is fictional, used to make a point about my own lunacy and not a commentary on my highly respectable, modestly clothed and admirable neighbors or my good husband who always lets me eat more than my fair share of brownies.)
Being a writer isn’t an excuse for poor citizenship. Just because you’re thinking about your book and not about the road doesn’t mean you get to run red lights. Once while writing at the Mission Viejo library, I turned off my laptop, stood up, only to suddenly realize that a person on the other side of the glass partition, not more than eight feet away, must have had some sort of collapse. The room was filled with paramedics, a gurney, and a crowd of about forty people. As I left the library, I passed an ambulance pulled up to the curb, lights flashing. I don’t know how I missed all of this, but I’ve since taken it as a life lesson. I never want to be so caught up in my own private world that I can’t recognize and help someone in need.
This is why I need a dog. Sometimes I need someone, preferably someone furry, someone willing to tug on my socks with their teeth, to drag me out of the flow. And Grendel needs me to feed her, clean up after her, and take her for walks. I also need her for other things, like chasing the bunnies out of my yard and letting me know when the Girl Scouts are at my door to sell cookies.
Is it possible to become so immersed in the flow that I can’t get out? Sure. We all know the very real, gritty stories of the writers who lost their minds. It’s happened to the best of us. A flow so strong can carry us away and before we know it, we’re drowning. Hemmingway had cats, but cats won’t tug on your socks with their teeth. They just won’t.
That’s why every writer needs a dog.
Dog Days of Summer and a Pet Snippet
According to Wikipedia, “the Romans referred to the dog days as diēs caniculārēs and associated the hot weather with the star Sirius. They considered Sirius to be the “Dog Star” because it is the brightest star in the constellation Canis Major (Large Dog). Sirius is also the brightest star in the night sky. The term “Dog Days” was used earlier by the Greeks (see, e.g., Aristotle’s Physics, 199a2).
The Dog Days originally were the days when Sirius rose just before or at the same time as the sun (heliacal rising), which is no longer true, owing toprecession of the equinoxes. The Romans sacrificed a red dog in April to appease the rage of Sirius, believing that the star was the cause of the hot, sultry weather.
Dog Days were popularly believed to be an evil time “the Sea boiled, the Wine turned sour, Dogs grew mad, and all other creatures became languid; causing to man, among other diseases, burning fevers, hysterics, and phrensies.” according to Brady’s Clavis Calendaria, 1813.”
But if you’re a dog owner, everyday, despite the weather or calendar, is a dog day.
Remember the 1981 movie On Golden Pond? Here are some of it’s accolades:
- Academy Award for Best Actor (Henry Fonda, winner)
- Academy Award for Best Actress (Katharine Hepburn, winner)
- Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay (Ernest Thompson, winner)
- Academy Award for Best Picture (nominee)
- Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress (Jane Fonda, nominee)
I was in college, studying literature, when Ernest Thompson won the award for best screenplay. Now, more than 30 years later, I don’t really remember the film, except that I liked it, but I do remember Thompson. He shocked the world by using the F word in his acceptance speech at the academy awards.
We talked about his slip the next day in one of my literature classes. According to my professor, a writer can’t ever pretend to be something he/she is not. Their core values and character will shine through their works.
What does this have to do with the dog days of summer? Not much, but I do think it’s interesting that I like dogs, I’m a dog owner, and I include pets in almost all of my stories. That’s not to say that if I ever win an academy award I’ll get on the stage and talk about my dog, but if you like stories and you like dogs, chances are you’ll might like my books.
Here are a few canine excerpts from my books. (I also threw in cat just for fun.) If you’re a writer, please feel free to share your favorite pet passage, Be sure to include your buy link and a link to your website.
Wyeth’s tail began to beat on the oak floorboards when a child peeked around a chair to look at him.
“Would you like to pet him?” I asked.
The golden hair six-year old nodded, but she stayed on the far side of the plastic chair. She sucked on her index finger and watched Wyeth. Her wide, blue eyes stared at him then looked at me. She wanted to step from behind the chair, but Wyeth intimidated her. She wore a red, white and blue sailor dress with a large chocolate milk stain down the front. The child removed her finger. “He’s a really, really big dog,” she said.
Her mother at the next table looked up from her crossword puzzle book and smiled at me, making me her conspirator in child care.
I ruffled Wyeth’s ears. “Yes, he is, but he’s very friendly.”
She looked at us with wide blue eyes. “He’s really ugly. Did you want an ugly dog?”
That was a very good question. Most puppies, like babies, are cute, even the ugly ones, and then you feed it, clean up after it, train it, fall in love with it, then keep on loving it even after it’s grown ugly. “I guess I do now,” I replied. He always looked and smelled better after a bath and trim, but lately I’d been too preoccupied to groom Wyeth. It’d been weeks since he’d had a bath. I realized I’d make a terrible mother.
“I have a poodle named Princess,” the little girl told me. “She wears a pink coat.”
A thick marine layer blew in from the beach and reminded Deirdre of her smoky dream. She couldn’t see, but she knew where the oak trees, solid and massive, stood. Her leg hit warm fur. She fell with a bump, her hands smashing onto the grass. A large, wet snout attacked. Coyotes, she thought, curling into a ball. She opened one eye to see a massive snout approaching. A dog, a giant dog, but not a coyote. He placed a hamburger sized patty paw on her back as if to keep her down so he could clean her with his tongue.
“Leave me alone!” she yelled. The dog snuffled through her hair as she rolled onto her hands and knees. Shaking the creature off, she stood, but the animal rose on his back feet and placed his front paws on her shoulders. She had a vision of Beauty and the Beast dancing in the moonlight. She shook him off.
“You’re lucky I like monsters, mammoths, or whatever you are.” She reached for his dog tag, trying, unsuccessfully, to avoid his tongue. Grabbing his collar, she rotated his tags. “You’re the first dancing partner I’ve had in months,” she read the tag, “Pricilla.” She eyed the dog. He panted before her, looking like a friendly bear. “Pricilla, really? Why not Thor or Zeus?”
“Because she’s my partner—not yours.” A deep voice spoke in the fog.
Blair jumped and landed hard on the grass, her hands breaking her fall. She stood in time to see the kitten tear into the library through the wide open door.
At least it’s a smart cat, Blair thought as she went after it. She tried to brush the mud and leaves off her skirt, then slipped off her filthy shoes and soaking sweater and left them on the front porch. Standing in the doorway, searching, she called, “Here kitty, kitty.” A tail, gray and rat-like stuck out from under a rack of books. Blair lunged toward the bookcase, and her stocking feet went out from under her. Finding herself on the wooden floor, she turned to see the kitten watching her with one blue and one brown eye. Blair placed one hand in front for the cat to plainly see, and snaked her other hand behind the creature. The cat tried to dart away, but Blair grabbed it. Rolling onto her back she held the squirming, skinny kitten in an outstretched hand in the air above her face. She considered the small, gray, rodent-like animal. “I’ll call you either Mouchard or Rat-Fink after my friend, Drake,” she told the cat.