Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Gone to the Dogs

Barbara here. In this week of bankrupt publishers and demoralized authors, I thought a little levity would not go amiss. So I decided to confess that these days, my writing has seriously gone to the dogs. Most weeks I only manage an hour or two of research at the library, or one witness interview, and most of my “writing” is being done in my head, in the form of bandying around ideas for plots, themes and characters. This is an important first step in developing a new story, but usually I have a few writing projects on the go at the same time. I am usually toying with new plot ideas at the same time as I am doing rewrites and final polishing of a book due out in the near future, and perhaps writing promotional materials like blogs and web pages on a recently published book. I may even be writing a short story at the same time.

But lately, since January 7 to be precise, I’ve found it almost impossible to write. No, I haven’t run out of ideas or lost my passion to make up stories. I haven’t crashed my computer or been felled by the flu that is hitting the city.

January 7, I brought home a new puppy.

Suddenly I was thrust a quarter century back in time, to those days at home with toddlers who commanded every moment of my time. Puppies are like two year olds, except they move five times as fast. They can get from the toilet roll to the fireplace at the other end of the house before you can think “I wonder where the puppy is.” They can wiggle behind the sofa or even under it, to get at those soft, chewy wires connecting your lamp to the wall. Open the computer to try to check email, and they’re right there, bouncing with delight at the discovery of more chewy cords.

Puppies spend 15 hours a day chewing everything from the mahogany table legs to the cat’s tail. They spend a further 15 hours a day snatching anything that’s not four feet off the ground. Slippers, boots, mittens, toilet paper, dish towels… They eat everything. Dust balls, plant leaves, paperback novels, TV remotes. They have bladders the size of grapes and no sense of when they need to go. Catching them in time means watching them every moment they are awake. They need to be played with, socialized, trained and managed almost every waking hour. And they don’t sleep much. I have an aging retriever who seems content to sleep about twenty hours of his day. He wakes up to eat, go for walks, check the house perimeter and chase off undesirables, mostly of the bushy-tailed rodent variety. The puppy scampers around, chases the cat and bounces after her toys for hours before crashing on the floor at my feet. She follows me up the stairs, down the stairs, into the bathroom. As with toddlers, privacy is a lost luxury when you have a puppy.

When my children were small, I used to squeeze writing into the free moments of my day. During their naptime, after they had gone to bed, and while they watched Polka Dot Door or Sesame Street. It was not conducive to prolonged visits from the creative muse. No sooner would I remember where I was in a story and fire up the imagination when the baby would awake or the TV program would be over. The stuff I wrote during that period was dreadful. Disjointed, amateurish and full of cliches. I am eternally grateful that none of it was ever published. But I was younger then. I could pick up the threads more quickly and I could stay awake and alert longer at night. Having a toddler at thirty-five is very different that keeping up with one at sixty.

Not that I’m complaining. The new puppy is a joy. She is a constant source of laughs and levity in the midst of a Canadian winter. She will grow up soon enough. There will be time enough for serious writing again in a few months, when the frenetic wonder of puppyhood is over. I hope I will still have a brain when that time arrives, and who knows, she may even find her way into a story somehow. There is lots of material in the mischief a puppy gets up to in the course of its day. Who knows what skeletons she might drag out the back of that basement closet.


Pamela Callow said...

Can't think of a better way to make a Canadian winter go by faster! Enjoy! (And I love the pic).


Vicki Delany said...

Nice post, Barbara. Made me laugh.

Joanne Carnegie said...

Loved the post Barbara. Great analogy! So true that a person needs to have uninterrupted time in order to sustain complex thoughts.

As for the dog photo...seriously, I wonder if you could license the rights to it somewhere and make yourself a few bucks. Greeting card companies and photo contests almost always take all rights (which is out of the question!), but maybe there's an artist who would be interested in paying a fee for the privilege of painting it. Or a site where you could license one-time use or something. It's such a great shot, almost like a living Normal Rockwell painting.

RJ Harlick said...

Love it! And boy can I relate, as my office is being similarly demolished by a biting, chewing ball of fur.

Sue Pike said...

Awww. I still wear the tattered fleece slippers that my puppy gnawed. Now that he's a sedate six-year-old, I can look at those slippers and remember the frenetic puppy days with fondness. Luckily, I've blocked most of the exhaustion and frustration.

Linda Leszczuk said...

My old girl is 15 and I wouldn't dream of subjecting her to a puppy. But someday - hopefully far far away - when she's no longer with us, there will be another puppy. As effective as writers' block and a lot more fun.

Now go let them inside.

Frankie Y. Bailey said...

A wonder reason to be distracted from writing.

Now that I have a house, I'm trying to resist the urge to get a puppy because the puppy would be at home alone and sometimes I travel. . .maybe I'll just get two and find a puppy sitter.

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