Tag Archives: Dog

When your writing seems . . . weird.

Yesterday my writing felt odd, awkward, out of place. So I picked up Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek and read some perspective-setting words and then filmed this.

 

Do you hear what I hear?

Our two dogs are of varying intelligence and thus responsiveness to our commands. One “off” moves the smart gal from my lap, while the oh-so-lovable-but-slow canine continues to warm my thighs until dumped to the ground.

Their barking has become annoying:  yapYAPyapYAP until the source of  inspiration either disappears from view (other dogs out for a walk, meandering cat, saucy squirrel) or has been thoroughly sniffed (friends who come to the door). Our lovely neighbors, cyclists who pedal up and down the Virginia mountains for dozens of miles, suggested using their “dazzer” to control the barking.

The Dazzer emits an unpleasant sound, audible only in the doggie range. One zap and the smart dog understood and now ceases barking promptly when told, “no bark.” The other dog continues to bark despite the command — and will do so until the Dazzer is used. Which of course is unfair to the dog that was already quiet.

And, as it turns out, also a bit unfair to my younger son, whose youthful ears register the Dazzer. “Don’t you hear that little squeak when you press the button, mom?”

No, I do not. I barely hear Engineer Hubby when he asks me to pass the cream for the coffee. I know I’m not hearing the whining about soup and sandwiches for dinner again, right?

imagesSo yet again I discover the very real limits of my (aging) human senses, and, all kidding aside, am momentarily quieted. I wasn’t in awe of the 13 y.o.’s hearing, but it was in the neighborhood (see I know nothing for a dog-taught lesson in humility). I was awe-struck last Sunday when, twenty yards into the woods, both dogs sniffed snuffled snorted snurkled the leaves — speckled with bird poop, huh, look at that, my dull human brain noted — and then both mutts looked straight up and above us turkey vultures were circling, settling on branches, all with their wide, whispery wings. I know they’re carrion feeders and their heads are weirdly bald-looking but still: they are awe-some.

Then I read about the the concept of rewilding — as articulated by George Monbiot in this interview in the fine magazine Orion. He notes that humans are perhaps the most domesticated of all animals, living out our days in relative comfort despite having been designed to survive in a world bloody in fang and claw. We do not often experience the heart-stopping awe that is ours when we wade into the world sans civilized expectations and protections.

I don’t disagree, and/but I when I pause to look at my now-almost-six-foot son, who started as a mere eight pounds; when I see my Grandfather’s wild hair atop my younger son’s head; when I notice EH’s eyes look like his father’s, then I am momentarily awed.

These small details are invisible in the scope of things (the new Cosmos illustrated this for me: I had no idea we (think) we know as much as we do about the universe. The Local Group?) We are, relatively speaking, so very very very tiny. Eensy-weensy. How awe-some is that?

As I near fifty years old* (fifty years! A microscopic pinhead of days in the universe!), I find it easier to remind myself to switch from the daily-annoyances-perspective to the holy-cow-isn’t-this-amazing-perspective, especially when the dogs are pointing out the limits of my nervous system or the scientists my lack of knowledge. (Full disclosure: my family will disagree that I *ever* switch out of annoyed mode, as I nag them nigh unto death about putting away dishes, clothes, shoes, homework, etcetera.)

NASA photo

NASA photo

But what a wonder! What a happenstance to be alive in this time (whenever it may be), in this place (wherever it may be), with this consciousness (however it may be limited by no-dog-nose capacities).

All I can do is write it down. Badly, baldly, awe-struck-ed-ly, make-up-words-ily. What a ride. Buckle up and look to the heavens and tell us what you see.

* This post dovetails nicely with WordPress’s weekly writing challenge, about “The Golden Years” at their site, The Daily Post

The Yuletide 100

My writing craft group and I agreed that during the holiday break we would  jot notes about the holiday.  At least 100 words or phrases to capture the essence of the season.

I’ve resisted the list concept for most of my writing years: all those “list my life” books at Barnes and Noble. Listographies  for couples, for singles, for mothers and daughters. Barf. Like a list matters. Plus, is listography a word? (Not in my 1979 edition of the New World Dictionary! Oh, I feel so vindicated!) Regardless: making a list is just too easy! One must *suffer* for enlightenment!

You’d think I’d have learned by now that when my instinct is to sniff haughtily, a great Lesson is lurking. But no. I sniff away and it is only under duress — duress I PAY for in the form of a workshop or a book, or duress that is unavoidable (yes, I consider the holidays a time of duress) — that I grudgingly push open the creaky door of my Self  to possibilities.

My writing group adapted a Priscilla Long list exercise from her book The Writer’s Portable Mentor, and here’s mine. Not only was it a valuable exercise that I’m Officially Adding to my Writerly Toolbox, it tells a wee story. Happy New Year!

Unknown

  1. 12 y.o. has two teeth pulled after last day of school.
  2. 12 y.o. vomiting, 2 AM.
  3. 12 y.o. sick first day of vacation.
  4. Amazon shopping.
  5. 16 y.o.’s girlfriend over for supper, to make treats for neighbors.
  6. 12 y.o. rallies to deliver treats to neighbors.
  7. Xmas tree purchased day after mini ice storm.
  8. Ice inside heated home = water. Duh.
  9. Entire first floor washed by melted ice.
  10. Kids dub ice “christmas juice.”
  11. Xmas tree trunk too big for 70’s-era metal stand.
  12. Engineer hubby drags tree to deck for trunk detailing.
  13. Engineer hubby shaving  trunk with pathetic little saw.
  14. Engineer hubby borrows Real Tools, updates Xmas wish list to include Real Tools.
  15. Tree tilts 15 degrees to the left
  16. To the right.
  17. More trunk shaving.
  18. Tree tilts 5 degrees to the right.
  19. Engineer hubby: I’m done. Kids: but the tree …
  20. CVS has one tree stand left.
  21. Tree top breaks off. No one cares
  22. Tree is vertical!
  23. Burned out Xmas lights.
  24. Xmas eve shopping at Dicks Sporting Goods: all Medium sized fleeces gone. Panicked call to Engineer Hubby re: 16 y.o.’s preferred basketball clothing. Does it matter so long as it’s in school colors of blue and yellow? Engineer hubby: you know there are different shades of blue. Me: Seriously?
  25. Two hours later: new fleeces acquired for all the men in the family. Restorative hot chocolate purchased for frazzled mama on way home.
  26. My dad and brother arrive; my brother tallest person in the house @ 6’2″.
  27. Tissue paper for wrapping.
  28. Cat on tissue paper.
  29. Curling ribbon.
  30. Cat claw stuck in my thigh after “playing” catch the ribbon
  31. Can only find one batch of gift tags. All gifts labeled with the same green disc.
  32. Dog treats laid out with Santa gifts on coffee table.
  33. Dog treats all gone.
  34. Dog barf Xmas eve at midnight.
  35. Six hours sleep.
  36. New bird feeders: one with copper roof glinting in the sun. Birds confused, pecking forlornly at deck railing.
  37. 16 y.o.: “This is great!” re: coupon book for movies, dinners out, “Dates” with parents.
  38. Bag of gluttony and regret: chocolates & electric toothbrushes
  39. Kids give me hot tea/cocoa coupons 🙂 I redeem immediately.
  40. Settlers of Catan.
  41. Multi-handed solitaire.
  42. Blokus.
  43. Goldfinch.
  44. Mini Poppers: pig, monster, penguin, monster. Unknown-1
  45. Dogs eating popper balls. You’d think they’d had enough stomach upset. You’d think wrong.
  46. 16 y.o. visits girlfriend on Xmas day: a first
  47. Panettone
  48. Holiday-blend coffee from Milwaukee’s Colectivo Coffee.
  49. Turkey breast.
  50. Turkey breast with spine intact.
  51. Turkey breast deboning YouTube video.
  52. Dull knives.
  53. Scissors.
  54. Brining on back deck.
  55. Cold sunshine.
  56. Walking dogs.
  57. New scarf.
  58. Stuffing with sausage.
  59. Cranberry sauce by my dad. 3072908890_d2d0eb7ddd_b
  60. 16 y.o.: mashed taters.
  61. Toasted pecans.
  62. Frozen crust.
  63. Cook’s Illustrated cookbook: brand new. Corn syrup on page 720 by 3 PM
  64. Dessert wine.
  65. Port.
  66. Sauerkraut crock.
  67. Nine cabbages.
  68. Dill borrowed from neighbor.
  69. Virgnia Tech pillowcase over sauerkraut crock.
  70. About Time with 12 y.o. & Engineer Hubby. 12 y.o.: “That makes you think about life.”
  71. The Dark Knight Rises: surprisingly good.
  72. Sherlock Holmes, season 1 marathon
  73. The Full Monty: even my dad laughs
  74. The Last Emperor: like taking vitamins
  75. The Santa Clause
  76. All is Lost. Yikes
  77. Listing all colors for brown with writer pal Andrea Badgley day after Xmas.
  78. Basketball tournament in Roanoke for 16 y.o. Massive losses ’til very last game.
  79. Sauerkraut smells a bit funky.
  80. Old friend visits after New Year’s
  81. Old friend’s dog encounters skunk in backyard.
  82. Friend’s dog rolls on rug, runs through house.
  83. Friend to PetSmart for enzymatic skunk cleaner
  84. Friend’s dog washed on back deck with skunk cleaner.
  85. Temperatures dropping.
  86. Friend’s dog confined to crate.
  87. Friend’s dog depressed. Our dogs confused.
  88. Entire house smells of skunk; food tastes like skunk.
  89. Apple-cider scented candle lit.
  90. Sauerkraut smell obliterated.
  91. Rug removed to patio.
  92. Clothing washed with de-skunker.
  93. Friend’s dog washed repeatedly next day.
  94. Dog smelling better. Released from crate confinement.
  95. Joyful frolicking.
  96. Friend returns home.
  97. 16 y.o. to youth orchestra. Cello, case and music all smell like skunk.
  98. Xmas tree to fire pit, rug to dumpster.
  99. Sauerkraut funk again discernible.
  100. Carpool buddy to 12 y.o. on first day back to school: your hair smells like skunk.

Striped_Skunk_(Mephitis_mephitis)_DSC_0030

Standing on the table, howling

My younger son has a gift that many of us lose as we mature: he makes wishes and believes, with an open, hopeful heart, there is a fair-to-middling chance they’ll come true.

1914 Santa Claus in japan

1914 Santa Claus in japan (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The universe has, in fact, provided bountiful gifts after his requests — and no, “the universe” isn’t code for “mom and dad bought it at the store and pretended it was from Santa.” The two most obvious fulfilled wishes have been (two years ago) for another cat, and, this January, for another dog (Rosie, introduced earlier this month in How many words do you need for a story?).

Virginia Kitty

Our perfect cat

Because the cat (truly, a perfect kitty) appeared within 24 hours of his expressed wish for same, when he expressed his desire for another DOG, I had an inkling that the universe might well again answer affirmatively. I sprang into what I thought would be preventive action: I talked with him, extensively and repeatedly, about the extra responsibilities and time another dog would require. Walks even in foul weather. Picking up poop. Brushing. Extra dog hair to sweep. It didn’t matter. He was game. Adamantly.

And yes, seventy-two hours later, a friend found “the perfect!” dog wandering on a rural road. Its owner didn’t want her anymore. This dog wasn’t too big, was friendly, didn’t chase cats, was house-broken and about two years old. Plus she didn’t bark! Barking is my major complaint with the current dog. The new dog would be perfect.

Engineer hubby and 12 y.o. went to meet the dog while the 15 y.o. & I were outta town. EH texted me photos: she was adorable! She wasn’t too big! They took her home.

15 y.o. & I return: turns out the dog is in heat — a fact not obvious, or mentioned!, in the text messages. Bloody drops everywhere. Well, that’s OK. We’ll get her spayed. No worries. While elder son & I have been gone, she’s been sleeping all snuggled up with the 12 y.o., who’s been walking her twice a day. All is well.

The first night we’re all sleeping under the same roof since Rosie’s joined us, I’ve given both dogs their last walk of the night and gotten into bed. It’s midnight. I’m the only one still awake. I’m savoring the silence.

Until the silence is sundered by Rosie’s howls.

howling dogs

howling dogs (Photo credit: andrevanb)

Who has made her way out of the 12 y.o.’s bedroom, descended to the main floor of our house and vaulted onto our dining room table. Where she raises her sweet doggie face to the heavens (well, the ceiling) and gives voice to all the longing a horny dog has. Which is too much, decibel-wise, IMO. But not enough, apparently, to wake any one else in my house.

And this is my extended metaphor of my story-making these days: I look around me and something ain’t quite right. I wish for another story and it arrives. It’s inevitably a mutt, not a purebred. And it usually shows its true colors only after I have settled down to what I think will be an easy night, as it were. Then it raises its head and howls and I have to get up at one AM and take it off the table, strip off the now-stained tablecloth, and sit up with it, console it with a little treat, some kind words and lots of loving. In story-making, this consists of printing it out on nice paper, then ruthlessly highlighting every single phrase that works and eliminating those that don’t; writing myself a list of things to fix in a pretty colored marker, and then shutting it in a drawer for a week.

And then there are the extra walks. And the poop-in-a-bag to be disposed of. And though I complain, I wouldn’t have it any other way. Rosie — and my howling stories —  are lively spirits of unconditional joy, alongside their demands and their poop and their decibels.

Plus I’ve stocked up on stain remover and erasers. Joy is messy.

How many words do you need for a story?

Rosie the running dog at rest

Rosie the running dog at rest

We have a new dog, Rosie, younger than our “old” dog, Penny. Rosie is a different variety of mutt: the more energetic variety. Rosie likes to herd Penny with nips to her withers, and wants to run run run run run.

Problem is, Rosie is more interested in the world at large than in us and the treats we offer, so we don’t let her off leash at this point. Penny, on the other hand, always returns to us if we remove her leash, after investigating tantalizing smells (near as I can tell, what most fascinates her are logs that serve as chipmunk mausoleums).

Last week I met a neighbor’s father in the woods during the morning dog walk. He doesn’t speak English; I don’t speak Chinese. He sized me up: one dog ambling, leash-free, the other leashed and, frankly, a bit angst-ridden. He gestured to Rosie and asked, with his face and his hands, why she wasn’t loose like Penny.

I responded, “Oh, she [I mimed running] spwhhht” (this made-up word represents sort of quick whistling windy sound made by a fast-running-away dog. I swear.).

Ah, he nodded, and he continued westerly whilst I went east.

I’ve returned to this exchange several times over the past several days, as I’ve revised, and tweaked, and tinkered with, and edited and revised again, a short story.

Which words do I need? Only the necessary ones.

I made up an exercise for myself during my latest effort at word-smithing: I subjected every single word in the story to what I now call the walk-in-the-woods test. Would I try to pantomime and make up new sounds to express what that word meant, if I were conveying my fiction to someone whose language I didn’t share? If so, it’s earned its place. If not? Delete, delete, delete.

Of course, a story written in English is intended to be read by those who understand the language, and there’s depth and nuance available to native speakers that even the best sound-effecting pantomime among us can’t touch.  But a story that doesn’t run at the heart of what I’m trying to say? It’s a miserable dog on the leash of a writer’s vanity.

Stories can show us all the places life teems invisible to those who walk fast and talk too much. Set your stories loose, and aim them at the best, most interesting part of your figurative forest, be that chipmunk mausoleums, the creek bottom, or gopher holes.