Clementine, our little beagle/pit bull mix, is a runner. I've never met a more loving dog in my life, and she only wants two things: to sit in your lap and shmuddle you to death, and to run. (Also, she wants to catch rats at the beach, but let's not talk about that.)
While I was writing the other day, I'd left her in the backyard. She likes to lie in the sun for hours and will stay happily out there by herself. I checked on her a couple of times, and she smiled and thumped her tail but had no interest in coming inside. The next time I looked out at her, I didn't see her. She wasn't in the backyard, and she wasn't in the house.
She'd pushed her way out of the gate and the front gate was ajar, so she'd gotten out.
I was terrified, instantly. In the past, we'd at least seen her go, and we'd been able to give intelligent chase. This time, I just had to guess where she might have gone. I ran around the neighborhood, calling her name over and over again, thinking "I've lost Lala's dog. Oh, shit, I've lost Lala's dog."
It has a happy ending — I saw her racing up another (busy) street and called her, whereupon she pretended not to know me until I got that I'M SO DEAD SERIOUS tone in my voice and she dropped to the ground like she'd been shot. I carried her home, scolding her the whole way.
At home, she started acting funny. She seemed too nervous to sit next to me on the porch while I read, and instead, she went under the jasmine on the porch.
She walked around and around, spinning and pushing her way farther in each time. I watched, curious, as she began to stand funny.
No way. She couldn't be stuck. Could she be? I watched some more and then called her. She pretended not to hear me. She was fine, her body language told me. She was totally fine. She didn't need ANY help.
I got closer.
Yep. She'd made a noose of the jasmine vines. They weren't tight, but they were holding fast. She'd never have gotten out of it if I hadn't been there to break all the strands, and she could have done herself serious damage if she'd tried to.
What struck me was her attitude. When I caught her running on the road, she looked at me with a face that told me she didn't need me, not one little bit. I think I'm like that when I'm writing a first draft. I run fast, and I run hard. I dodge cars and stray bullets and if I hit the writing freeway, I run faster. If I see someone I know, I look away and pretend I haven't seen a thing. But then I usually end up exhausted and confused, and I need someone to help me home, to the finish.
And the whole jasmine bush ordeal reminded me of what it feels like to be working on a big novel revision. That's where I am now — the first pass through. I'm tangling myself up in the plot threads, spinning and burrowing, and sometimes I look out and I'm surprised to find I can't move. I completely wind myself up so that I'm trapped.
The natural extension of the metaphor would say that I need people to help me out, to untangle me. And that's true, in a way. No one can help me at this point in a book. Talking doesn't work, and another person reading my work at this fragile state might be catastrophic.
But just sitting around with friends, talking about writing? That helps. Talking about the world, laughing together. That's the way out, I think. Taking time away from the draft. Being together with REAL people.
And hanging out with dogs. That helps, too.
Oh, and also with cats, especially crankypants named Digit:
Purrs to you and yours.