Writing is My Unreliable Lover

Writing_BlogI am a fitful writer. I am happiest when I write, but I often don’t write for weeks, even months at a time. During those times, I can feel myself losing grip of my art, my light, my happiness. I doubt my work. Then life takes over, and I let it. I’ll reorganize the entire house, clean the windows, wipe the baseboards, visit the grocery and hardware stores, take the kids on an all-day outing. I pretend it’s fine; life is just busy. The truth is that life is busy. But it’s not fine. Not writing is like telling my lover it’s okay for him to leave for a month and not call or write. I tell him, “I can keep busy. It’s okay, I’ll be fine.”

No. I won’t.

Well-meaning friends have proposed that writing in fits and starts is just how I work. I have fruitful periods and barren periods. Sometimes the muse just isn’t there. Well, screw that. My testy muse is an unreliable bitch and I need to find a way to forge on without her.

This last week, for the first time in over a decade, I considered giving up writing. I have a full memoir manuscript begging me from the shelf to just finish her, revise her, connect a few more dots. It’s an incredible story of faith and love and magic. And I sat around this week and said out loud, tears rolling down my cheeks, “It’s a stupid idea. I don’t even know why I’m writing it.”

Of course, the little honest bird in my heart knew that this was ridiculous, just a toe-dip into despair to see how it felt to give up. It was a reaching down, a superficial effort to hit bottom so I could sit down at the god-blessed computer and write something.

I guess it worked, because here I am. But I’m exhausted. I’m wet and worn like a twisted rag. I feel the pull, right this very second, to drift to my bed and take a nap. But with each word I type, I’m pushing away the blank page, trying to stare down the dark place, fists raised for a fight.

As if a miracle had come

A small excerpt from the memoir in progress:

Bunker followed me from room to room. When the house was empty, we lay on my gray bedroom carpet, his shedding puppy hair entwining with my damaged blonde mess. I touched the wet soft of his nose. He licked my finger, then rolled onto his back. When his eyes drooped, I watched his eyelashes flutter long after they closed. It was a love affair of survival. With him, I began to think I could venture out into the world again. I thought of the days I couldn’t rise from the couch or the time I sat clutching the knife in the basement. I thought of how warm the wind felt on my ankles the day I opened the car door on the highway. It terrified me that I ever felt that desperate. As if a miracle had come, the lid on that endless sorrow clamped shut with this dog by my side. Something about him—some wordless magic he brought—began to close that chapter of my life forever.

For Bunker

June 17, 2012

After he came to me in 1996, I began calculating the years. He was a big dog, so I’d be really lucky if I got 15 years. I spent way too much time dreading the day I would lose him. I remember consoling myself with the thought that when he died, he would’ve done his job by then. I would be okay, able to survive another few decades without him.

I never said it out loud, but I knew that Bunker had come to help me heal. He was a therapy dog before there were therapy dogs. He brought me a level of calm I’d never known. Without him, my depression would’ve probably ruined me. He picked up my broken, battered spirit and carried it alongside his. He took away the heaviness, and I still don’t understand how he did it. I don’t understand who he was or why he carried such medicine. I spend my days writing my heart out, trying so hard to explain the tremendous comfort he brought.

He was 11 when he got sick, and he died within 10 days of his diagnosis. The moment he passed, I felt a shift in the atmosphere. The light changed. In a way, I still feel frozen in that spot, still stuck in that sterile veterinarian’s office with his lifeless head on my lap. I write this book in an effort to move out of that room, to share the beauty that was his being, to share our story of healing. How blessed I was to have him.

Get out!

There are times my life gets overwhelming. This week it happened when my husband was out of town, both kids got sick, bills piled up, milk was gone, toys were strewn everywhere, and then it started raining. All moms out there know this story. This just happens. It’s life.

I find that after I’ve come through the other side of these times, I need rejuvenation. It’s as if my spirit needs to take a breath. For me, that usually means time alone outside with my dogs. Yesterday we walked a few miles off leash, and it was as if all three of us were, for once, untethered. The sun was out, the sky was clear, and we were free.

After two hours of roaming along the San Francisco bay, Ben (pictured left) walked up to me with his big butt wiggling, and I captured this perfect little moment.  We were both so happy. With his body, his ears, his sweet happy smile, he told me that he felt as great as I did.

We can’t speak to each other, but still somehow we manage to say so very much.

Hundrs of puppys

This sweet little flyer was taped to the trash bin at the dog park today. The first thing I thought when I read it was that I was the kind of kid who would have done something like this. I used to contemplate life for the dogs at the pound, how awful those hard, cold cages must have been, how much those puppies missed the warmth of their moms and litter mates. I anthropomorphized so much that I even worried about the trees in the winter. I imagined that their tiny, high up branches were like frozen fingers forced to endure months of deep freeze.

I hope no one told the child who wrote this lovely note that there are actually hundreds of thousands of “puppys” that don’t have homes. I hope instead she went home and felt like she’d done her part. The dogs will get wonderful homes, and she can stop worrying now.