Monday, January 26, 2015

Neighborhood Watch.

Every morning, I’m greeted by one of two things: a wet nose and a “sudden” sneeze, or a steady whine, a whimper starting in the subconscious recesses of my dreams, like an approaching siren or wailing bank alarm, then breaching reality when I realize the sound is actually coming from the beast at the foot of the bed. My dog doesn’t have to go out or need his bowl filled, though he’d go for either if given the chance. No, Jackson is ready for his walk. He’s gotten spoiled. This, he’s grown to think, is how a day should begin. I try to take him every morning, which translates to four or five times a week. Sometimes we leave before the sunrise, and get home as it begins to peer over the Cajundome, and others the sun paints the whole path before us. He has a certain pride to his stroll, his head held at the same upturned angle as his fluffy, flag-like tail. We see other dogs, behind fences and on leashes, but Jackson never barks at them—though he will pee on the nearest tree to let them know he was there. If he finds discarded food, left over Taco Bell or chicken bones that have been tossed out of a car window, he vacuums them up. There are smells. Everywhere. And Jackson investigates them all.

He’s got a route, he’s got a neighborhood to patrol. And when he gets home, after a period of pant and shake, he collapses on the hardwood floor. Most often, he spends the rest of the day there. His job is done for the day. Sometimes, I watch him when he sleeps, watch his breathing hitch and paws twitch when the dream hunt is on, when sheep or goats or maybe even people need to corralled and brought back in from the pasture. And honestly, I’ve never seen a more perfect picture of contentment. He seems to sleep like he’s got nothing plaguing him, no worries or anxieties. Sure, I know I’m talking about a dog here. What does he have to worry about besides the next bowl of food, or how far the ball has been thrown? But you know what I see? I see a certain calm, a serenity that comes from doing exactly what you were meant to. 

That’s how I feel when I finish writing, after I’ve gotten on a roll, when I see a story taking on a life of its own. When I’ve saved my progress and closed the laptop lid. There’s a sense of: okay, now I can relax. Because I’ve done what I know I’m supposed to. It is, for lack of a better term, my job. The save button is how I punch out. And the paycheck? That doesn’t find its way into my mailbox every two weeks, and I shouldn’t expect a W2 anytime soon. Christmas bonus? To me, that just means more days off, which translates into more time to write. 

So why do we do it? Why do we stick with a position that is devoid of medical benefits, and 401K plans, and two weeks paid vacation—where there isn’t any room for “advancement” or managerial training? This is a job that pretty much every person in our lives (save for those along the same path), thinks is more of a “hobby” than a career, though they would never dream of saying it aloud. There are conferences and retreats and Facebook pages and support groups to remind us that there are others like us, that share the drive, the desire to create, but really, writing is a solitary endeavor. Because at the end of the day, after the line edits and end comments and networking with agents and publishers and the inevitable off site conversations about what Camus was really trying to say, we go home to our saved manuscripts, our misplaced commas, and our unparalleled insecurity about the ability to create the world, the characters, and the lasting impressions that only our minds can see. So, again, I could have been a firefighter or an astronaut. Why the hell did I decide to be a writer?

Because when I’m done for the day, after I’ve carved out five pages or two or even a single snippet of dialogue, I can circle the hardwood, pick the most comfortable spot and fall down, relaxed enough to let my paws start kicking, and dream of chasing down another story tomorrow.

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