Thursday, December 1, 2011

She sits and waits...

[Before I get into the post, I want to remind you that it's Thursday. Oh, you already knew that? Well, being Thursday, it's the day I update the Tiberius tab with the next installment of his story. No, I didn't update it last week, so, yes, technically, I'm a week behind. It's going to stay that way. Tib is not my only writing project, so you'll just have to deal. Also, I'd love more feedback about Tib. You can leave it, well, anywhere, really. Except on the Tib page. Because I haven't figured out how to allow comments on the non-post pages, yet. I'll get around to it. Figuring out how to get the PayPal button up for signed copies of The House on the Corner used up all of my allotment for fiddling with tech stuff for... well, a couple or few weeks, at least. Speaking of signed copies, The House on the Corner would make a great Christmas gift, so order your signed copy now! (while I still have them on hand)]

I promise this isn't going to become a blog all about dogs. I did manage to make it more than a month before devoting an entire post to her, after all. But I did have a thought, a particular thought, about the dog when I came out of the bathroom the other day. In fact, it was what the last post was supposed to be about, but I got all caught up in the story of getting the dog and figured 2000 words was enough for one post. Before I go on, how about another look at her?

Dogs have a pretty uncanny ability at figuring people out. They are the only non-primate animal (maybe the only animal, but I'm sure about the non-primate part) that scan faces in the same way that humans do. It allows them to have great empathy for human emotion and is what has made them such a great companion for humanity for the last 15,000 years.
It also allows them to quickly discern their alpha.

Before we had even left the shelter with Tessa, she had already determined that I was her alpha. I'm pretty sure she decided that she was going home with us before I decided it. She just knew. Being the alpha for a dog can be a lot of responsibility, and other people can't always fill in. Some breeds, like Chows, can be very hostile to anyone other than their alpha. Fortunately, Tessa isn't one of those obsessively clingy, needy dogs that has to be attached to its alpha 24/7.

We picked Tessa up the weekend before my kids went on fall break, which was nice, because they had a full week with her right off the bat. It gave Tessa a chance to get acclimated to "her people." Still, the first time I had to go off and leave her with them, she freaked my kids out. I just had to make a quick trip to the store to pick something up. I was gone, maybe, 20 minutes, but she sat at the front door and, according to my kids, howled and moaned the whole time I was gone. She was so happy to see me when I got back that I believe them. The dog did have to learn that it's not going to be abandoned, and, I'm sure, that's worse for a shelter dog that has already been abandoned and had all sorts of strange people dealing with it for months. I can't really imagine the kind of panic the dog must have been going through when I went off without her.

She has learned that I'm coming back, and I can leave the house, now, without having to worry about her crying and howling the whole time I'm gone. But that first week was rough. I couldn't even go to the bathroom without her whimpering at the door the entire time I was in there. It was kind of like having an infant again. Just a furry, mobile one.

The other thing with being the alpha is that her attention tends to always shift to me. For instance, if one of the kids is playing with her and I walk by, she runs over to me to see if I will play with her instead. I have to be careful, because I want the kids to have a good relationship with the dog, so I don't want to pull her away from them. As I've said, though, she's smart, and she's learned that my daughter is, in many ways, her personal playmate. If anyone is playing with the dog, my daughter cannot keep herself out of it. She's the only other person in the house besides me that's willing to play rough with the dog, too. My younger son is her cuddle monster. If she wants loves, she goes to him. He's also good for catch, but not as good as she'd like for tug and wrestling, so that's my daughter. The oldest is really only good for the occasional pat on the head. He's a teenager; what can I say?

But to get to the point...
The other day I was coming out of the bathroom, and there she was on the floor in front of the door waiting for me (That's much more likely to happen during  the day when it's just me and the dog here at home). It occurred to me that people are just like that. Sitting and waiting. All the time. For something. For someone. For anything, really. We make our lives dependent on some other alpha.

Sometimes, that alpha is a person. We wrap ourselves up and become dependent on them for, well, everything. We don't have to make decisions that way, and we don't have to be responsible that way, and, let's face it, life's just a lot easier if you leave things to someone else to take care of. Honestly, I think most people live their lives like this.

Sometimes, it's a job. That's slightly better than when it's a person, but not by much.

Sometimes, it's... well, we don't know what it is. We're just waiting for it, and we don't know what it is. Maybe, that's really the lack of an alpha. A person that wants or needs one, some one or some thing to give him direction, so he just drifts along waiting for it to happen.

And authors suffer from this problem as much as anyone, maybe more. We make our writing dependent on "inspiration." That was the specific thought that struck me when I saw my dog waiting for me outside of the bathroom. That I was her muse, and she was waiting for me to lay some inspiration on her. I do have to say that it makes the whole being a writer thing a lot easier. When you can blame your lack of productivity on a lack of inspiration. "Hey, it's not my fault. I'm waiting for inspiration."

Now, I'm not knocking inspiration. It's great to write when you're feeling inspired. I am knocking sitting around and waiting for inspiration to happen, though. And I've lost count of the number of blogs I've seen with the author complaining about not being able to write because she (and I'm saying "she" because I haven't seen this on any of the blogs of male authors that I follow (I don't know why that is, but I'd like to know)) "hasn't been inspired lately." Look, no responsibility!

Here's what I've found interesting. When I'm home working during the day, the dog lays around most of the time waiting for some attention. Waiting for her inspiration to strike, so to speak. When she's just laying around, I tend to not notice her. Meaning, I'm busy writing, and I leave her to lay there. I do have other things to do besides play tug with her all day, after all. However, sometimes, she'll get up, go get her ball, and start tossing it around. It's very cute, and, guess what, I notice her. When she decides to stop laying there waiting for me and to take some initiative, it draws my attention, and, usually, I'll go over and play with her for a bit. Even when I'm busy. Because I just can't help it.

That's how inspiration works. It doesn't come to us when we're just waiting. Why would it? It would have to come over and slap us around to get our attention. Inspiration doesn't want to do that. Inspiration wants to see us working on something. When we are, it says "ah-ha!" and wants to get involved and comes over to play with us and, pretty soon, we're typing away with inspiration sitting on our shoulders egging us on. And, you know, if inspiration doesn't come along, we often come out with good stuff anyway, because we're capable of writing some pretty cool stuff all on our own. But none of that happens when we're just waiting for it.

Put yourself in inspiration's shoes. Who are you going to pick: the guy just laying there or the guy trying to make something happen?

To approach it more objectively, though, most of the time, it really takes writing to be able to write. What? I was having a conversation with someone recently, and he was saying how he'd really like to write someday. He's someone that just discovered I've written a book and was all excited to know a "real" author. Long conversation ensued. I've actually had several of these conversations with people at this point, people that think that one day, some day, they'd like to write. But they're waiting for something. And they don't really know what it is they're waiting for. Except that what it is that they're waiting for is for someone else to come in and show they how to do it or what to do or... whatever. They're waiting for that nudge to get them going.

That thing, that whatever it is, is different for each person, but it's always something that comes from inside that person. That moment when they figure out that they have to quit waiting. And, as I said, it's not just writing, it's everything. It's life. So, quit waiting for life to happen to you and make it happen. Get up and do something. Write something. Be something. Take the ball in your mouth and start tossing it around. It's cute, just ask my dog; someone will notice and want to join in.


  1. My problem is definitely not about waiting for inspiration. The scribbled notes all over the place give evidence to that. My problem is doing everything else I have to do and being frustrated the whole time because "inspiration" is trying to drag me to the computer or the pad of paper (something I've used a lot more recently so I can write while waiting on my kids at karate or gymnastics or whatever the heck else I have to constantly be at). I'm waiting for TIME! Not really waiting, though, because I still sneak in writing wherever I can, so it IS getting done, just not as much as I'd like. I imagine every parent has that issue, though.

    As always, interesting comparison between two things. And she's a doll, that dog of yours.

  2. Another thing about dogs is that they are a REAL pet. I don't understand people who want to keep wild animals as pets. I read about tigers, snakes, hippos, and you name it killing or maiming their owners. Always people say "I thought it would never turn on me"...that is...if they survive. Stupid...just plain stupid.

    My point is that the dog is domesticated. It's a tried and true animal that very rarely turns upon its owner. You point out that it empathizes well with humans...I agree. I just wish more people realized this instead of keeping spiders, rats, and lizards around as pets and expecting you to not freak out about that.

  3. Commenting on Michael's point, I'd never want to own a chimp after seeing some of the former owners who got mauled by their "pet" chimp after it started to grow up. One lady pretty much lost her whole face. Ugh.

    I think cats can have an alpha too. My cat was much nicer to my mom than anyone else, probably because my mom fed her most of the time.

    People who sit around waiting for inspiration suck. They're like those people shown in movies who just stare at a blank page on the typewriter or computer screen. The kind of people who don't realize writing is WORK. I mean it's fun work in the end, but a lot of the time it means sitting down and actually DOING it.

    Though sometimes I think it's less about inspiration than simply being afraid. If you don't try then you're not going to fail, right? Or they're afraid the idea is perfect enough. Or something.

    But I guess that's why someone started that whole Nano cult, to get people to actually write without worrying how much it might suck.

    BTW, have you heard about how they do autographs for eReaders? There's some kind of thing where you mail the author a screen plate or something and they sign it and send it back. Doesn't seem the same to me but whatever.

  4. Dr. Grumpy there touched on something I had intended to point out, much of the reason I feel so protective of Nano is that I'd spent, seriously, almost a decade of my life planning on writing a novel. But I had never written anything (of significance) during that time. I was waiting for permission. Nano was the thing that let me know it was okay to go ahead and start.

    Ah, it was a real big moment for me. Since then I've been pretty good about working on one project or another, even though I still have issues with actually finishing things. But, one thing at a time I suppose.

  5. What an adorable dog! This is a great post and the comments are excellent. I completely agree that sometimes its more about fear then inspiration. I suffer from the fear thing......I like to blame it on inspiration but if I am being truthful I am just afraid to fail. Your blog always has the most intelligent thoughtful comments.

  6. Ohmygoodness you got a dog!!!!! She's adorable! *running over to find last post*

    What a wonderfully insightful post, Andrew. Thanks.

  7. Your post and mine today are kind of in the same Venn Diagram about living your life -- I really liked it.

    A long time ago, I stopped "waiting" to do something and just started doing it. When I felt like I wanted to get in shape, I started getting in shape, and I started that on some random day. When I wanted to quit smoking, I quit smoking, finally pulling the plug some random day in July. I don't make "New Years resolutions" because I'm already doing the things I would resolve to do.

    Writing is like that: As Grumpy says, it's fun (I choose to ignore the work part, because when writing becomes a chore I stop doing that part and move on to something more fun). If you don't find it fun, if it's a chore or you can't get to it, you're maybe just not that into writing, the way I can't ever seem to find time to put away my laundry.

    But I feel that way about almost everything in my life: I do almost everything I do because I enjoy it, and when it stops being enjoyable, I start doing something else.

    But, with that said, I know what Rusty's saying about NANO, etc., and giving him permission, and sometimes people need that little kick. I used to write a lot in the 90s but hadn't done much when, about 2004 or so, I said to Sweetie "I could write a better horror story than that" and she said "Well, then DO IT." So I started writing.

    I no longer know where I'm going with this comment. That grilled cheese sandwich I ate when straight to my head.

  8. Shannon: Oh, yeah, I'm with you on the whole time thing. I have way more inspiration than I have time to get to. I still haven't gotten my stuff from the summer swimming lessons typed into the computer from the notebook that's -still- packed! (Mostly, I see people complaining about a lack of inspiration, though.)

    Michael: They are a real pet. And there have been some interesting studies done about dog intelligence and why they get on with humans so well. One recent one was comparing dogs and cats and the conclusion was that social animals (dogs) are smarter than solitary animals (cats). Basically, socializing increases intelligence, which we kind of knew from people, but they think the differences in the way cats and dogs relate to humans highlight the issue.

    Dr. Grumpy: I haven't heard about the whole autographs for e-readers. That wouldn't work for me.

    I agree with the fear thing. It's like in life about not having to be responsible. I suppose I could have said that more explicitly. But, yeah, it's a cop out. I don't have to worry about whether my work sucks if I never finish it.

    Rusty: I get that about NaNo, which is why I don't do more than poke some fun at it. It's important to find the thing that frees you to sit down and do the work of writing, and, if that's the thing, then that's great.

    Jennifer: I understand the fear of failure. There have been times in my life when I've really let that stop me from accomplishing things. Since back in high school, one of the things I've always tried to remember and work with is that not doing something is guaranteed failure.

    Juliana: Oh, and, yeah, she is adorable. :)

    Briane: Grilled cheese can go to your head? I never knew that! :P

    There are a lot of things I do that I don't enjoy. Some of them are things that I used to enjoy and just keep doing out of habit. Some of them are those onerous things that have to get done. Like the dishes.

    Writing is one of those things that I don't enjoy until after I've done it. heh But I really enjoy having done it enough to make me slog through it.

  9. I waited a long time for the 'right' time to start writing. Then I realised that there will never be a right time, there is only now. I'm trying to remember that in all areas of my life now.

  10. Sarah: Yeah, there's never a "right" time for anything, really. Well, okay, sometimes there is: like, this was the right time for us to get a dog. But, most of the time, like with having kids, you just do it, and it becomes the time for it.