Thoughts Like Puppies

I am not ready to write. I’m not ready to process, to put onto paper my feelings and thoughts this morning. They are my thoughts. They are my feelings. They are floating in the ozone in amorphous wonder and delight and being free to be what they are and not nailed down, categorized, prettied up, and made to dance a dance that I can understand.

Sometimes words escape me, not just when I am speaking to others or when I am writing, revising, rethinking. They escape me like a recalcitrant puppy that will not heel, come, sit, or stay. They are not at that moment ready to yield to the containment of ritual, routine, or just the inability to accept such wild energy.

My thoughts are puppies, which I love. So why can’t I love these thoughts that are not able to land in the categories that I can understand? Right now, I know they are there and I know some are wild and some are just seeking a place to settle but not that place that I think they should land on. Even as I write this I don’t know for certain what it is I am saying but I know for certain that I love that I have the courage and openness to say it, this, and that. I don’t have to have a polished thought every time I open my mouth or write in my journal or type on this computer. There is a shine to them, a glow to them whether or not the grammar and direction and argument and focus are clear. That I can get out of my own way to say anything is a sign of growth for me.

A puppy has energy and wholeness and puppyhood. There are very few people who do not like puppies. They might fear them or fear for them, but they probably like them, simply for their unbridled and curious natures. Getting curious about my thoughts, allowing my thoughts to be thoughts of curiosity is not the easiest thing for me to do. I want to say, yes, you are so cute and funny and energetic and wild and now that I’ve acknowledged those wonderful traits, it is time to get real and get focused and to make sense.

Do puppies make sense? On some level they do and yet suddenly they sprint away to do who knows what. Suddenly they bare their teeth or jump in your lap or the lap of someone whom they don’t know. Sometimes they won’t eat or they gobble up your socks and the bugs attached to your spider plants. Sometimes they just do stuff that is unpredictable and we say to ourselves, how cute at the same time that we know, we absolutely know, that we must teach the puppy not to be so terribly spontaneous. We must align the puppy with the life that will keep him safest and healthiest. That is what we tell ourselves.

How to do that without damping down this energy? That is the question that I ask myself about my wild and unfocused and totally energized and spontaneous and amorphous thoughts: How do I cultivate them without blocking the energy that keeps new unbridled and innovative and unexpected thoughts from coming and receiving my full attention and love?

How do I retain my puppy self?

Getting it Done

So on Monday, I spent the afternoon revising an essay on leadership, which is to appear in an anthology on pedagogy. The due date for the essay was … let’s just say, earlier. Much earlier.

I drafted the piece in February and spent weeks writing and rewriting, researching and rewriting, straying from the point and coming back.

I submitted the essay (late) and was asked to revise it. I left it on my desk for several days –many, many days! – thinking about how to approach this phase of revision. I re-read the essay and re-wrote it, confident that I had conveyed the points I was trying to make.

The editor asked me to revise the essay again.

When I submitted the draft on Monday, I was oh so tempted to add a plaintive note: “This is all I’ve got. If this version isn’t what you are looking for, I understand (Wah, wah, wah!). I’m sure I can get it published elsewhere” (Someone else will appreciate my writing).

I did not write the note. I discourage my students from offering such disclaimers before they read their pieces to an audience. “Let the work speak for itself,” I say.

Sometimes I follow my own advice.

A Writer Reads

I love to read. As a writer, reading is enjoyable and educational. Here are three books I’m in the midst of reading. I may provide an update once I’ve finished them.

Nobody Wants to Read Your Sh*t by Steven Pressfield: In the first few pages, Pressfield offers valuable advice:

“The reader donates his time and attention, which are supremely valuable commodities. In return, you the writer must give him something worthy of his gift to you.”

“develop empathy”

“switch back and forth in your imagination from your own point of view as writer/painter/seller to the point of view of your reader/gallery-goer/customer.”

       I have just finished chapter 61, in which he explores the distinctly “American” story principles of Hollywood movies. Pressfield also talks about making a living. This book is a worthwhile read for anyone serious about building a career through artistic expression.

Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear: Elizabeth Gilbert’s perspective on creativity won’t appeal to a lot of folks. I find it refreshing. I just finished the chapter on permission, in which Gilbert explores the paradox of art as “absolutely meaningless” and “deeply meaningful.” Her basic premise (so far) is to lighten up and play. Works for me.

The Bones of Paris: I love mysteries. Laurie R. King’s lush narrative set in 1929 Paris seemed promising when I thumbed through the book. Private investigator Harris Stuyvesant is looking for a missing woman. So far the book is big on atmosphere and low on dramatic tension. Also, I really don’t care about any of the characters. Having stalled at chapter 17, the book has become an assignment: What techniques does King use to draw in the reader? When does atmospheric charm get in the way of the story? As a writer, I want to understand why I find such a well-written book so dull.

By switching between the perspectives of a writer and a reader, I can discover what works and what doesn’t, while indulging in one of my primary pleasures, reading.

What are you reading?

Prince

Two days ago, I went to my local library to pick up a book. As I walked through the door, the librarian gasped, throwing her hands up to her face as she stared at her computer.

“Oh my God! Prince is dead!”

“What?!” I and a patron said.

“He just died. Prince is dead. He’s dead.”

Now you have to understand me to get my reaction. I said,

“That’s unbelievable,” in a flat unemotional voice. The librarian was in shock, eyes wide with distress and sorrow. I kept going through the motions of getting my book checked out. I did not know how to react because I did not know how I was feeling.

“This is a real loss,” I said. This I knew to be true, intellectually.

“Were you a fan?” a man asked the librarian, as he busily punched his cell phone.

“Yes,” she said. “Yes, I am.”

My book checked out, I headed to the door.

“I’m so sorry to give you such bad news,” the librarian said.

“No. No,” I answered in a meaningless way. I drove the four miles to my house, parked in my garage, unloaded my groceries and book. I went directly to my Facebook page. Here is what I was thinking:

What if this isn’t real? What if this is one of those Internet hoaxes? What if he is really alive? Even as I write this I keep thinking that he is still alive.

He isn’t.

I have only felt this devastated about the death of an entertainer on two occasions: when Otis Redding died in a plane crash and when Marvin Gaye was shot by his father. I was very young when Redding died and quickly got over it. However, to this day whenever I hear one of his songs, I wish Marvin Gaye was still alive. This is not because I think he would have continued to produce brilliant music (though he probably would have), but because his death left a hole in the fabric of the world, one that has never mended. I suspect the same will be said of Prince.

After posting on Facebook an experience I had seeing Prince perform in person, I went on YouTube and found a video of Prince performing “Purple Rain.” That is when my sorrow broke. I sobbed and sobbed. As I thought about this brilliant performer, I kept wondering where he was now at the moment. At times like these when a person’s essence still remains in the atmosphere, death seems an impossibility. There cannot be a time when a person no longer exists. They must go … somewhere.

I have felt this way about my mother for years. It doesn’t seem possible that she could no longer exist. I think about her, dream about her, quite often. I hear her talking to me. Though she has been gone for over 20 years, I have only recently stopped feeling depressed in October, the month of her birth. Oddly, I never dreamed of my father until last night. In my dream, I was lying in my bed crying. He came into the room, put his hand on my back and asked me,

“Why are you crying?”

“I’m lonely,” I said. He patted my back in a tentative way and I felt comforted because he tried. He tried in that moment to make me feel better. It was a vivid dream, so vivid that I was crying as I woke up. And I felt loved as I emerged from sleep. I felt loved and peaceful.

Was this dream somehow connected to Prince’s death? I don’t know. Understand: I was not a huge fan. I had lost sight of his recent career accomplishments. From what I have gleaned, he continued to produce music with exuberant skill. It is clear to me that his music is a valuable gift to the world. He was a role model for artists: keep innovating, keep practicing your art, no matter what.

Looked at from this perspective, my sorrow shifts into appreciation for life and the ability to greet yet another day with joy and the music of being alive. I am smiling as I write this.

 

Coyote, Hyena, Jackal

I’m taking + Acumen presents Elizabeth Gilbert’s Creativity workshop through Udemy. The course supports +Acumen. Acumen is a non-profit venture fund with a vision to help build a world beyond poverty through investing in companies that deliver critical goods and services in water, health, housing, energy, agriculture, and education; leaders who are paving the way for new approaches to fighting poverty; and the spread of ideas that will give the world the knowledge and the understanding to change how the world tackles poverty.

One of the creativity prompts is:
What was the last thing you really wondered about?

Here is my answer:

The last thing I wondered about was what is the difference between a coyote, a hyena, and a jackal. I wanted to see the differences among them, visually. In my mind, I was pretty clear about how they looked, although after I googled them, I realized that a hyena’s ears are much rounder than I recalled from seeing them on nature shows. I remember thinking that hyenas are very odd looking creatures and I wondered why God made them so odd looking. What is the purpose of their appearance, evolutionarily speaking? This leads me at this moment to wonder about giraffes and rhinos and hippos. What is the evolutionary purpose of their appearance? For example, I can see that a whale and a dolphin, their appearances have much to do with their being water animals. They are sleek looking and their bodies seem aerodynamically suited to the watery environment.

If I stretch that thinking to hyenas, I might get a sense that their coloring is almost like camouflage. Jackals, I suppose, could be seen in a similar way.

This curiosity emerged from seeing a coyote in a show that I was watching. It recalled to me that I had seen coyotes on several occasions when I lived in Charlotte. I heard them as well. Since I’ve moved to Bristol, I have heard coyotes once but not seen any. The coyote is about the size of a German Shepard. Yet when I looked them up, their statistics seemed to suggest that they are smaller. I am sure that the coyotes I saw were larger than 50 pounds, which is the upper limit stated as their weight.

Like dogs, coyotes have that wondering, longing and welcoming look about them. I’m not sure why it is, but I consider them canines in the friendlier vernacular of that term. I like dogs and am not usually terrified of them, though skittish around them until I get to know them.

I know nothing about coyotes except that they are wild so I assume they are feral and mean. It is a paradox that they look so much like dogs that I feel they are friendlier than they probably are. I would not feel the same about a hyena or a jackal because they don’t look like domesticated dogs.

I met a woman who has a coyote as a pet. She used to have a wolf also but it has since died. She talked about the coyote with love and about its habits that are endearing to her – nesting i.e., tearing up her bed or other furnishings, for example. We didn’t talk about the wolf, though I got a sense that the coyote and wolf got along.

I do not want a coyote for a pet. I would probably want a wolf if I thought I could control it.

As I re-read this, I begin to wonder if a coyote, a hyena, and a jackal could get along with each other. Is this the beginning of a story? Under what circumstances would these three animals be in the same place and not fighting each other?