I was finally getting some gardening done this week, battling with my raised beds and bags of dirt and the broken wheelbarrow — it truly is a battle — when I had a writing epiphany.
It didn’t have anything to do with gardening, so don’t get all “oh geez, here comes the lame writing is like gardening metaphor.” It had to do with my dogs (cue the “here’s the lame what we can learn from our dogs lesson.”)
While I fought with my tools and plants, Emma, my sheltie-corgi mix, sat alert, watching my every move, ears up, eyes following me. That’s nothing new. Both she and recently departed Dewey, a corgi-Australian shepherd mix, have both been very good about supervising my projects over the years. It’s a herding dog thing. Their number one job is to make sure when there’s serious work to be done, it’s closely supervised.
It always struck me as funny. Anyone who has been lucky enough to have corgis knows they have their own agenda. They do what they want unless you can make it worth their while to do what you want. That said, they take their supervisory duties seriously and when a project is underway, they are at attention.
Since I moved to a quiet lane, the dogs have had the run of the dooryard when I’m outside. If I’m standing around waiting for them to do their business, or reading a book on the porch, or puttering around, they’re oblivious to me. They have their routes, their stuff to check out, and I am not part of that.
But when I’m focused on a project, either outside or in the house, their herding instincts kick in. They tune in to my energy, know something is up, and they are at their post. I’ve always been impressed by their ability to focus. Easily distracted most of the time, they are fixed on me like a laser when I am working hard at something.
When Dewey was still around, he was always right there when I’d sit down to write. He seemed to know when I was writing as opposed to doing other, less important, things on the laptop. Ever-vigilant, he’d come over, poke me with his nose like he was punching a time clock, then sit at, or sometimes on, my feet. Sure, he’d eventually fall asleep, but every once in a while he’d wake up and check on me, make sure I was still at work, then lay his head back down.
Emma used to keep her eye on me from the couch across the room, but in the month since Dewey’s been gone, she’s taken up the spot at my feet, watching, dozing, watching again. Making sure I keep working.
I thought a lot about this as I was gardening the other day under Emma’s watchful eye. Herding dogs have it down: When there’s work to do, put the distractions aside and focus on it.
Most of us who write love it. Most of us are also not lucky enough to do it for a living, or even get paid for it. It’s easy to rationalize why this thing that we love doing so much — maybe even our favorite thing — is still hard to sit down and do. I need a solid two hours to feel I’ve accomplished something, and it’s hard to carve that time out. I keep thinking of the other things I have to do. On top of it, the fact that we write (or at least I do) on a laptop rather than paper means my email and the Internet are always close by, luring me away the minute I hit a rough spot or if it’s just not going well.
My dog knows when it’s time to work. She puts the distractions aside. No sniffing that tree where all the other dogs pee. No checking out neighbor dog Cocoa to see what she’s up to. No eating grass or digging holes. No looking out the window or sticking her head through the cat door or checking for fallen cereal on the kitchen floor. She only cares about doing her job.
I know it’s obvious. I know it shouldn’t take a dog to make me realize I need to turn off the email, turn off the Internet, and just write. It’s not lost on me that this came to me while I was outside, away from the electronics, able to focus on something without any distractions. When you get rid of those distractions, the brain works a little better and the obvious becomes, well, obvious.
Writing is my job, paycheck or no, as much as keeping a watchful eye on me when I’m at work is Emma’s job. I’m glad she finally pointed that out to me.