A Difficult Circle to Draw: Those of you who know me know that I am a dog lover. The last time I wrote a canine-connected post here was in February, when I delivered the sad news of the loss of our beloved Belle. I genuinely appreciate the outpouring of heartfelt condolences and support the post initiated. It was a very healing process, indeed.
We still sorely miss our Belle. The loss lingers, hitting us in unexpected ways. Today’s post is about dealing with the opposite—with the circle of life starting over again. And yet, as you’ll see, there are surprising similarities between the two extremes. If we are Facebook friends, you undoubtedly know that we have a new puppy in our lives. The steady stream of photos there are sort of my version of Rafiki holding up Simba for the appraisal of the realm.
FourLeaf’s Surfer Girl, a.k.a. Gidget, arrived in our home at seven weeks of age in mid-May. She’s fourteen weeks old to the day as of the writing of this post. And she’s mostly adorable (I’ve heard people joke that puppies are cute so that we don’t kill them – I am once again reminded how bitingly funny that joke is). And quite often she’s even fun to have around. And so, in spite of life’s occasional trials and sorrows, the circle continues.
Consumed by Chaos: Gidget has now lived exactly half her life with us, and in some ways it feels like half a lifetime to me, too. It’s embarrassing to admit, but the chaos of having a puppy has more or less consumed my life these past seven weeks. The bursts of unbridled energy combined with a mouthful of needle teeth and no concept of manners can be utterly exhausting. Thank God puppies sleep sixteen to eighteen hours a day. Any more hours of that level of vitality would make raising one nigh unbearable. I’d forgotten what a relief it is to close a kennel door (as I did just before starting this post).
All of this gives me a renewed sense of appreciation for those of you who have kids and jobs outside of the house, let alone a pet (or pets), and still manage to get some writing done. I can see that it’s going to take much more focus from me, and rapid improvement from our new family member, for me to get my current rewrite done anytime soon.
Lessons at the Near End of the Leash: Sometimes I feel a bit of resentment for having to deal with such a turbulent presence in our house, in the stead of my dear lost writing partner. And I suffer occasional pangs of guilt over my increasing affection for Gidget (it’s not logical, but it feels like a betrayal to Belle). And yet I think having had so much of my attention and effort tied up in caring for and training our new family member has had its benefits. It’s a diversion from loss and grief over her predecessor. The overall experience has been a healing one. And, when I pay heed to the being at the near end of the leash, it’s been enlightening and growth inducing as well.
So, without further ado (and before she wakes up, and I’m back at it), I give you Gidget’s Puppy Lessons for Writers:
*“Aww, isn’t that cute?” Sure, a puppy seems to be as cute as a cartoon character, or a stuffed animal. At least from the outside looking in. I’m always shocked when a parent blithely encourages a very small and unsteady child to approach and touch an animal that can’t possibly be relied upon to behave; one that is also teething and has a mouthful of fishhooks. I know—they’re just playing, right? I’d remind you how rough retriever pups’ play is by showing you the scars on my hands and arms. It’s nothing that won’t heal, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t sting.
It’s very similar to when outsiders hear that you are a writer, isn’t it? You can almost hear it in their voices: “Aww, isn’t that cute?” They think we’re cartoon characters, scribbling down our little stories—livin’ the dream. They can’t know about the angst the blank page can induce, or the fortitude it takes to overcome writerly dread and hit the send button—to feel the sting of even a playfully tough critique. When someone’s stroking me about how great the writer’s life must be, it’s almost enough to make me want to unexpectedly bite. “What? I was just playing,” I’d say. “It’ll heal.”
Gidget’s Lesson: Although it takes time and maturity, we can inhibit our antisocial impulses, and learn to appreciate that those who pay attention to us mostly mean well. We know that no one really likes a rough patting on the head, but those who pat are oblivious. So just take it in the spirit in which it’s intended, and move on.
*Renewed Sense of Wonder: When was the last time you really appreciated the dew on every blade of grass, or marveled at the grace of a dragonfly? How about the splendor of the sun reflecting on the lake, or the rhythm of waves lapping on the shore? What about the feel of sun-warmed sand on your belly? How evocative is the echoing honking of a passing flock of geese in the gray of dawn? I must admit, it had been a while since I was up that early, let alone stopped and watched geese flying over. But I got chills in watching my puppy’s wide-eyed appraisal.
To a puppy everything is new. Every person is a marvel, there to be met and known. Every other animal is a magnificent wonder. Every new dog is a potential best friend.
Gidget’s Lesson: Seeing the world through a puppy’s eyes is a real gift. Life’s fascinating details can become peripheral to our attention if we don’t take note. And isn’t the best writing born of noticing?
*There Is No Finish Line: I keep wondering when this puppy thing will be over. When do those needle teeth fall out again? How long before we can rely on her to come when we call? When will she just chill out with us while we read or watch TV? When will she become my writing partner, and hang out in my office with me during the day (without demanding three-quarters of my attention)?
It’s pretty easy to remember the latter halves of Belle’s and Maggie’s lives, when they were ideal companions. It’s convenient to forget the years of training and the frustrating days along the way. For the first three years of Belle’s life, if she found a dead fish on the beach, the only thing on her mind was whether to roll on it or eat it (depending on the state of rot, I suppose). Paying heed to my bellowing was not even on her radar. And yet, at some point, we could easily call her off of a dead fish. It took time, patience, and a lot of soapy baths to get there. Even then, heaven knows she was no angel. Heaven also knows that her selective hearing loss was not due to her advancing age so much as to her lifelong bouts of stubbornness.
Gidget’s Lesson: This lesson is more of a reminder. Raising a canine companion is about the evolution of a relationship. The bonding and the improved reliability are gradual. It takes daily dedication and practice. And there are going to be setbacks. When reversals happen, all that can be done is to begin again. (I think the similarity to the evolution of the writing life is evident without further explanation, don’t you?)
“Dogs and people aren’t normal mammals. Most mammals play a lot when they’re young and then gradually become more sedate… There are few other animals, besides dogs and humans, who also show high levels of play as adults…Overall, the young of any species are much quicker to welcome change than their elders… From a broad perspective, adult humans are amazingly flexible compared to the adults of other species. Our love of play goes hand in hand with that flexibility, and it’s one of the defining characteristics of our bond with our dogs.” ~Patricia B. McConnell, Ph.D. (from The Other End of the Leash)
Some days I think I’m getting too old for this puppy thing. On a recent trying day I even told my wife that I thought this was the last time. “The next one’s going to be an adult rescue,” I vowed. But on the good days, I’m not so sure. And history indicates I have a short memory for these types of vows. Perhaps Gidget is just the ticket to shaking this staid writer back to flexibility—both physically and mentally. A reminder to stay playful, about my work and my life, might be just what I need right now.
I’ve noticed that, through happenstance during play, Gidget is learning and growing. By being interested in a toy bumper, and chasing it, she’s learned both to swim and retrieve—both important aspects of the serious work of her lineage. Labs were originally bred to haul nets in the frigid Atlantic, after all. Through play, she’s gaining the skills and the aptitude for work. And it’ll be work she’ll enjoy for the rest of her life.
Gidget sees every waking hour as a chance to play. Perhaps I should take that approach to my own work. Perhaps that’s not such a bad thing to stay a pup.
Paying Homage to Predecessors: I said at the onset that there were surprising similarities to this post and the one I wrote after Belle’s passing. The lessons I note that Belle taught me are about patience, finding the joy in chaos, showing up every day, and that a job well-done was reward in and of itself. I’ll be damned if those aren’t lessons needed for raising a puppy. I also once wrote that because of Maggie before her, Belle had a specially blessed life. Now it’s Belle’s turn to pass along the blessing.
Not a day goes by that I am not grateful to Belle for the lessons she taught me—lessons so keenly needed now. And she’s there for me when I lose my patience, too—reminding me that I can do this. Belle reminds me that if I could survive her puppyhood, I can deal with just about anything the world dishes up. I close my eyes, then look skyward and take a deep breath, and I realize this puppy will be worth it.
So I will end this post as I ended that last one, by publicly restating: “Thank you, Miss. For everything—for all the lessons, all the stories, all the laughs and tears. I promise you, they will not go to waste. I will never forget.” It’s important to remind myself, because I’m still learning, still growing. It’s important because, after all, in many respects I’m really still just a pup.
How about you? Are just still “just a pup”? Give me your puppy stories. Do they apply to your writing journey?
Beautiful, and moving as always, Vaughn. I laughed at the “mouth full of fishhooks” and nodded at the lessons learned from Belle. Gidget has some big shoes to fill, but she looks like she’s up to the challenge, and she couldn’t have found a more loving home.
Best of luck with your other new endeavor. I’m sure Vahldan’s story (sp?) will benefit greatly from the lessons learned, and skill honed, in your wonderful previous trio.
Life is good. 😉
It’s funny how often we see a bit of Belle in her. I suppose it’s just normal breed behavior and similar bloodlines, but I still think maybe Belle is giving her a nudge now and again. 🙂
Thanks so much, D, both for the well-wishes on the rewrite (yes, your spelling is perfect), and for the progress of our new surfer girl! You’re right – life is good! 🙂
I found myself laughing, nodding, and tearing up a bit. Ah, the bittersweet circle of life. I’m raising three children and have compared toddlers to puppies more than once in my life. My son is now four and sometimes I think our seven-month old Lab/Retriever mix behaves better than he does. 😉
I concur with all you said. Raising children and puppies has influenced my writer life. I’ve learned a little about patience, backtracking, and playfulness.
The hardest lesson is letting any guilt go. Guilt for those days when we’re cranky and all those wonderful lessons fly out the window. Guilt for loving one (child or puppy) differently than we love the other. (There are no favorites in parenting- two our four-legged- only different ways of loving). That can be applied to our writing life as well. Letting go of the guilt of not meeting a time or word quota for the day, or being so consumed in a moment in our stories we forget everything else.
Beautiful post, V. I loved this and laughed so hard: When someone’s stroking me about how great the writer’s life must be, it’s almost enough to make me want to unexpectedly bite. “What? I was just playing,” I’d say. “It’ll heal.”
Oh my goodness. I went out for drinks with friends a few weeks ago and though I love them, I sort of wanted to bite for the reasons you mentioned. Good thing I’m trained. 😉
I am SO cranky sometimes nowadays. And then, you’re so right, I feel so guilty about it. It might sound funny, but when I get impatient with Gidge, I feel like I need to apologize to Belle. So I do (silently, of course – don’t want the neighbors thinking I’m any stranger than they already do).
Having never been one, I never want to compare having a puppy with being a parent, so I’m glad you did, and that it holds a kernel of truth. Even now, as I type this, I check the clock to see how long she’s been “locked up.” Don’t need any fresh guilt today. 😉
You really made me lol with “being trained.” 😀 Thanks for weighing in, Tonia!
Our little Leo is 112, and sometimes I feel like I am too! He is our family darling and has taught each of us the lessons we needed–funny how that works! Ginger is adorable!! xoxo
I like that idea – that one canine companion can teach each member of his family their own lesson. And I’m sure it’s true! May Leo live to 200, and bless you each day with laughs and kisses and cuddles. As far as ginger goes, I’ll be needing to keep some around for my stomach. At least till Gidget gets through adolescence. 😉 Thanks, D!
I see some Belle in her in that last picture.
They are sooo lucky that they’re cute; you’re spot on with that one. And, you couldn’t be more right about the lessons to be learned from each of her new experiences. TRY to savor it. It goes by fast. 🙂
I was going to post a picture of Belle that looks SO much like that bottom one. But then I thought that this post should be about Gidge, not Belle. Great advice, thanks, E! And thank Archie, too. He’s been a great help in socializing our ‘wild beast.’ 😉
Oh wow, my heart is melting. I’m a puddle. What a precious gift a puppy is and what a trying challenge. And what a reminder. We need to play, to see the world with new eyes, to wonder at it’s incredible beauty and never-ending curiosities—to discover its secrets all over again like we did when we were pups. If we don’t, what kind of writers will we be? After all, it is up to us—at least in part—to restore joy and curiosity, discovery and play to the world, and through it all, to teach them of love. Because love is what it’s all about.
I’m reminded of something I learned from my Siberian Husky Torgo who is, alas, no longer with us. While walking in the woods behind our home Torgo spooked a herd of deer. His normally excited level rocketed off the charts. He tore after the deer at full speed, with me hanging onto the other end of the leash for dear life and literally digging in my heels to try to stop him. I had to wrap myself around a tree to stop! Lesson learned: If you see something worth pursuing—go for it! Give it your all. Don’t let anyone or anything stop you! (Unless you’re about to permanently dislocate something important, lol.)
Each day is a precious gift. Life is too short to spend it buried in menial pursuits. Sure, we have to perform necessary mundane chores. But every chance we get, we need to go for it! Fetch life’s greatest bones and gnaw on them a bit. Dig in the sand for hidden treasures—we just might find something! Is it any wonder that, in the midst of all this exuberance, we occasionally accidentally (or maybe not) bite the hand of our Caretaker—the one who put all those amazing things out there for us to discover and then leads us to them? Then we lay at His feet and win his Heart all over again.
Ah well, when we’re done we merely need to leap into the surf and wash off the sand and debris we’ve picked up along the way so we can do it all over again.
And then? Then we write. So c’mon … let’s play!
Wow, Pat! What a great supplement to the post! So many great observations. You’re so right, that as writers it’s incumbent upon us to restore joy and curiosity.
I was laughing and nodding over your story about Torgo and the deer. You reminded me of one of the first times I was playing with Belle off-leash, at a partially enclosed playground, a fence on the road side, but no fence on the forest side. She went to retrieve a frisbee at the edge of the woods and startled a small flock into flight. She tore after them – a serious issue, since they could’ve led her to a fairly nearby road. My cries of Belle, Belle! caused a neighbor to come running. She’d thought I was yelling “help, help.” It was our first meeting, and her first meeting of Belle, of whom she always said: “Wish I could bottle that energy.” You’re right – Belle lived life at eleven. A good lesson. Go for it!
Thanks for offering such great metaphors and clever phrasing today, Pat. I’m in! Let’s play! 🙂
As a child my family had a minature French Poodle named Mimi. What I remember most about her is how eyes lit up when we played. She would wag her tail and grin. I remember a babysitter telling me that she wasn’t actually grinning. That dogs couldn’t grin like people, and I remember how Mimi barked at the babysitter after that statement. Mimi couldn’t abide tears. Whenever I cried, she would nudge her nose up against me and wiggle in such a crazy way, I would start to laugh. And then she would bark again, a happy bark followed by a big grin.
I really enjoyed your post, V. And I getcha on the parallel of writing. Who was it that said: “Life’s a journey, not a destination.” ?? Truer words were never spoken. And the secret of the journey is… it’s way more enlightening and a lot more comforting with a dog at your side.
Thanks for stirring the memories.
Aw, I’m so glad to have stirred such great memories of Mimi, B. And of course dogs can grin! I’m glad Mimi took umbrage at that and let that babysitter know it. Belle was not as much of a sympathetic dog as our Maggie was. Mag would never leave the bedside if either Mo or I was sick, and she’d kiss away your tears. Belle was more like Mimi – “Come on, snap out of it. Let’s play!”
Funny how often my canine companions have, and undoubtedly will continue to remind me what’s truly important. Thanks for a cool comment, B! 🙂
Such a great post, Vaughn. Never thought of writing from a puppy’s perspective, but I certainly think it applies now that I’ve read this. Thanks so much for writing it!
Thank you, Sabaa! I’m glad to have given you a new perspective. You’ve certainly done that for me often enough. And you’re an inspiration, to boot! Appreciate the comment. 🙂
Beautiful post, Vaughn, you got the waterworks flowing and now I want another pup more than ever. To hell with the fish hook teeth, the pinchy bites on the underside of your arm that she thinks is so funny to go after, the constant pee calls throughout the day, the non-stop play…it’s all so exhausting, but when your baby first discover her reflection in a window or mirror and want to protect you from “that intruder” it’s so endearing. When Lola was about 5 months old she found a large feather, and she was so proud of it that she carried it everywhere with her. She’s 12 now, grey, arthritic and partialIy deaf (or is it selective hearing?) I’m happy she’s become a patient and loving “woman,” but I miss my little girl with her wonder of discovering how great life really is (at least for my dogs, they live like Ottoman sultans).
I have a strong suspicion that I will look back on Gidget’s puppyhood with some fondness. And funny thing about feathers, isn’t it? Gidge sprints to pick up seagull feathers on the beach, and plays with them in such an adorable way. If the wind’s blowing, she will drop it purposefully to chase it again. So much fun. 🙂
Had to laugh at your Ottoman sultan reference. That sounds familiar. 😉 Give your patient and loving woman/canine-sultan a hug for me. Enjoy her in her regal and wise years. And thanks for your kind words and for weighing in, Rebeca!
As we’ve been discussing on Facebook, today we’ve had a few setbacks with our new furry companion. Boy, V, did I ever nod and grimace and smile along with you in this post.
But you will make it. We will make it. One day we’ll have fine canine citizens AND a writing career. ‘Tis all possible.
Great affirmations, Boss. I’m with you! And I’m here for you, even if you just need to vent off some puppy steam (eww, that sounds kind of gross, but I think you know what I mean 😉 ). Btw, I’d jotted some ideas for this post, but your post yesterday inspired me to actually sit and write. So you’re already a great puppy/writing partner!
Daisy’s a charmer, Jan. Wish we could get them together. They’d wear themselves out whilst we enjoyed a libation (or two). Thanks for helping to keep me positive!
Gidget is BEAUTIFUL, Vaughn. We used to have a black lab named Satchel who went to heaven about 14 years ago. Next, came a yellow lab named Midas who was the most amazing dog ever. Even as a puppy, he was so mellow. Gypsy (another yellow lab) is almost two and still puppy, puppy, puppy. Each dog teaches us something…just like each book I write does, as well.
Hey Marcy–glad you could make it. Isn’t it funny how different they are? Great point about how both our books and our dogs teach us something different. And doesn’t it seem like it’s always just what we need at the time?
We are starting to sense that Gidge is a combination of Maggie (who was gentle, loving, and eager to please), and Belle (who was super-smart, funny, energetic and athletic -which kept us in shape, too). Fingers crossed! Thanks for sharing Satchel, Midas, and Gypsy with us!
Thanks for responding, Vaughn and for the reminder of what wonderful teachers our dogs are.
Great lessons for writing, and life in general. Gidget is adorable.
Thank you, Lisa! And great to have you stop by. Hope you and your family are having a wonderful summer (and that you’re managing to get a bit of writing time).
You made me cry AGAIN with that ending, Vaughn! Having been there (losing a companion) with Roscoe and recently surviving puppyhood with Freya, I completely relate. Someday I have got to meet Gidget!
Hey you! I feel particularly honored, knowing how crazy your summers are, for you to have found time to read my post. 🙂 Not to mention having moved you again. Thanks, Kim! I really, really hope you get a chance to meet Gidget someday. The FROG’s always here for you, anytime you need a getaway. 🙂
I need a getaway NOW! I just can’t take it.
I just found your website via Writer Unboxed. The word pup just drew me to you! and here I find the most moving and beautiful post and gorgeous pup. I understand about the energy needed for a young puppy! I also know the deep loss and pain of losing a best friend who happened to have an external appearance of a dog! after 13 years.
And then the joy at some point of realising that every dog is ‘my’ dog and I can just love them all wherever I meet them!
As a Process Oriented Psychologist, I was thnking of re-training as a dog psychologist. Instead we have started doggie holiday care in our home in Sydney, Australia. Now we have the pleasure of varied and cute and sometimes growly dogs staying with us, so i had to be a dog psych anyway, as it turns out.
And yes, will be writing a book about dogs, when I finish my current book, a love story set in the Himalayas.
And about to follow your blogs! Thanks.
Hi Sherry, Thanks so much for your kind words, and for the follow and the FB friend request! What a wonderful endeavor you’ve embarked upon. I love that attitude, that all dogs are ours to love. I’ve been rereading my dog training books, and it’s such a great reminder of the patience needed, which is very supplemental to the writing life, I think.
Great post on WU today, wasn’t it? Jeanne is a real asset to our community at WU. Please don’t hesitate to join us in the WU group on FB. There’s a link to the page about it on the blog, in the right sidebar.
Best of luck with your current WIP and with the book about dogs to come! That sounds like a winning idea!