Only Myself to Blame

It’s been a good week: five poems accepted for publication and acknowledged, a time-consuming project cancelled and a new poem written. Of course, I did my daily morning pages and insisted on a focus. I updated my submissions list and noted the next round of subs. But I did not tackle the long projects on my to-do list. It’s not that I don’t want to write the family history that’s outlined and started. And I would happily write a long essay about the need for writers to be vigilant in following the news, no matter how unsavory it is. I should sort and revise the short-fiction manuscript lurking in a fat notebook. But big projects don’t reach the finish line quickly. And that’s where I give up, curl up with the cat and a jigsaw puzzle, defeated by my own expectations: that I need to finish everything efficiently, right now.

Writing doesn’t work that way. It needs to incubate, grow in the dark, gestate. Pick a metaphor. I forget this regularly because our consumerist society demands efficiency and products with a price tag. What I need is to turn off all the media, stack up a dozen good books and withdraw from society for a while. And I don’t mean one afternoon. I mean a deep retreat from the angst and pace of public life. An article in the new Poets & Writers advocates a writing retreat.

Ah, yes, a writing retreat shimmers on the calendar, so bright that I squint at May 23rd, when I will fly back east for three weeks. I’ll house/dog/cat sit and stuff the TV remote under a couch cushion, post my absence from social media, and stop the clocks. I’ll write whatever comes, play with the dogs, and sit by the ocean. From here that feels right and easy. The catch, of course, is I’ll still have my own attitudes to deal with, my need to reassure myself that I am, in fact, a writer, no matter what shows up on the page.

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When Writing Isn’t Key

Usually, I post a blog on Saturday morning, but yesterday the world intruded and I chose to commit to the living instead of the virtual. It’s a choice writers rarely talk about. More often we brag about or bemoan the need to be at our desks, a diagonal way of saying how dedicated we are to this art form.

But Stephen King (a fellow Mainer)  in On Writing, says to put the writing desk in the corner of the room, put life out front. So when my dog, who has two major illnesses going on in the same 21 LB body, had a GI problem first thing in the morning, all thoughts of writing vanished. No blog, no critique group. We headed for the vet clinic and I waited till 1:00 pm to hear the welcome words that this was not the day I’m dreading when we decide there’s nothing more we can do for the dog. This kind of day not only puts the desk in the corner but puts all thoughts of writing almost out of sight. Yes, I sat with my journal, scribbling while I waited, but the words were all about the angst of making decisions about treatment, expenses and eventually the need to let him go.

Duncan the Dog

Duncan the Dog

He’s home, he’s eating and napping and cheerfully taking his two additional meds. His belly looks bloated and he licks it like he’s soothing it, but otherwise, we are having our usual morning. I’m still a writer, but I’m also a person with a strong attachment to other living beings.

Doggone It!

I’ve gone to the dogs. By which I mean, dogs keep wriggling their way into the my fiction. If you’ve read Accidental Child, you know that a beagle named Otis figures significantly in the opening scene when he lunges to chase ducks and pulls his owner off balance. She falls and wakes up in another time and place. We go on from there with her grieving over the loss of her child, her lover and her dog.

There are dogs running around in the sequel. First, there was Alice, a rescued cattle dog meant to teach a young child the meaning of adoption. Alice was smart and devoted, just what the kid needed. Now along comes Tillie! She is a Belgian Malinois. More than a replacement for Alice, who has gone “over the rainbow,” Tillie is a highly trained personal guard dog, about whom the girl argues with her parents. She doesn’t need guarding and for what they paid for Tillie and her extensive training, they could have rescued half a dozen dogs. But of course, Tillie wins her over and, while they don’t live happily ever after, they do survive. And there’s Angus, a lab-like mutt who steals hearts and sandwiches and there’s Little Smudge, of no particular denomination, needing a home, like so many outliers, and our girl has to help him find safety, warmth and a bowl of good kibble.

Duncan in plaid w/glow-in-the-dark eyes.

I confess, we have three dogs in our house, a Corgi (queen of the world who must have heard that her kind belongs at Buckingham Palace), a corgle (half Corgi, half beagle, half manic–yeah, she’s a dog and a half) and a Cairn (my famous constant companion and house alarm, Duncan). For years I was a horse person, even wrote a book about my beloved gelding, but it seems I’ve caught canine fever. Is there a cure? If so, don’t tell me, please. I’d have to edit out this pack of dogs and I don’t think they would leave without a fight.