Writers rely on routine. Some get up before sunrise and write until the crack of dawn. Others wait until late at night when everyone else in the house is in bed and write in blissful silence. Still others strap on a headset, put on their favorite tunes, and block out the world while they scribble their masterpieces.
Environment is also important. A comfortable chair. A favorite desktop knickknack. Neat desk vs. cluttered mess. A window view or blinds drawn to block out the world and its distractions.
I write best in the morning, although I’ll leave the pre-dawn routine to others. I find music distracting. My desk lies somewhere along the spectrum between Felix Unger and Oscar Madison (look it up, kids). My favorite useless desk object is the handprint I made for my mother when I was in kindergarten. I could write without it, but why would I?
If everything is perfect for me—right time of day, comfortable environment, no distractions, kindergarten art within eyesight—I can write. Yet there remains one thing that, while not enhancing my productivity, increases my enjoyment. I love being at my desk with a dog curled up at my feet.
Almost since the day we were married, my wife and I have owned dogs. We started with Charlie, a mutt we got free from someone looking to clear his house of unwanted puppies. I wasn’t writing in those days, but as a graduate student, I spent a lot of time with my nose in a book. Charlie was small enough at first for me to put him in an open desk drawer. During study breaks, I would put him in my lap and pick off his fleas. This was before we had those wonderful monthly pills that eliminate the problem.
Every morning before going to class, I took Charlie into the backyard and threw the ball for him. Most afternoons, I took him to a church across the street to play fetch. Evenings would find him in his desk drawer or, when he got too big, lying at my feet. He was a great dog.
When Charlie was about a year old, he tore the house apart one rainy day when we left him alone. Our veterinarian told us he was bored, so we got him a friend. Barney was a sweet, loveable dog but a couple of beers short of a six-pack. He wouldn’t chase the ball but would run alongside Charlie as he fetched it, nipping at his ears. He also had what we thought were extra claws. I now know these were dewclaws. At the time, though, we thought we had a special dog on our hands.
When we lost Charlie to liver cancer, we brought Jenny into our home. Jenny was a beagle. We didn’t know much (or anything) about beagles, but soon learned they are smart and obsessed with food. I once came home to the wonderful aroma of a pot roast dinner wafting through the house. When I looked on the counter, though, all I saw was a bowl of roasted vegetables. How a 20-pound dog ate a 4-pound roast without exploding remains a mystery.
By the time we got Molly, I had begun my writing career. Molly was often at my side as I struggled with that first book. At the slightest hint that I might be taking a break, she would approach, flip onto her back, and wait for a belly rub. We should all be so lucky.
Next came Max, a wiry terrier mix that became my nap buddy. Max stuck close by when I wrote, but lived for the moment when I would head for the couch. Before I could get comfortable, he’d be on top of me, nudging limbs this way and that to make the perfect spot for himself. He also was what my neighbor termed a “fetching machine,” ever ready for one more throw of the tennis ball.
We found Bella at a street fair. We stopped at a dog rescue booth, where a number of cute puppies up for adoption were on display. I left my wife with a small, black one in her arms to go look at the other booths. When I returned fifteen minutes later to find her still holding the same dog, I knew the little thing was coming home with us. Bella instantly found a favorite spot beneath my desk as I wrote. Unfortunately, she quickly outgrew the space and had to settle for a nearby blanket.
Not long before we lost Max to heart disease, my daughter found Maggie on a rescue website. Because her only photo would make your driver’s license picture look like a glamor shot, we weren’t interested. I’m glad we took a second look because Maggie is a sweetheart. She’s also quite cute, as the picture proves. And she loves laying on my feet as I write. Best foot warmer ever.
Bella succumbed to old age a year ago and, for the first time in decades, we are down to one dog. Fortunately, my wife’s cousin owns a fun-loving pup that spends a lot of time at our house. Cooper isn’t one for keeping my feet warm, but he does stick close, providing the companionship that makes writing a less lonely pursuit. He's the fuzzy one in the middle. The one on the right is Willa, my daughter's dog. I apparently caught them having a tongue contest.
The only negative I can think of to having dogs in your life is watching them transition from youthful hyperactivity to feeble old age. The loss of each one tears a hole in your heart that heals ever so slowly. I get misty-eyed thinking about my six trips to the vet (so far) for the final goodbye. But you know what? As I look down at Maggie snuggled against my feet, I know it’s worth it.
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