Someone once told me I couldn’t rescue them all and that ended a relationship. It wasn’t about rescuing them all. It was about doing what I could do with what I had. I didn’t stop and pick Lucas up off the road because he was cute. I stopped and picked Lucas up because at that point in my life I realized I could do it again. Three is just about my limit, especially with two of my older dogs creeping towards having older dog’s conditions that will require more resources. When I think I can pick up another I will. Do I feel bad about those I leave behind every day of my life? Yes I do. But I am doing what I can with what I have and that is all I can do. But it is what I will do.
Writing is a lot like rescuing strays. I have in my queue of things I am writing right now enough to keep me busy every waking moment that I am writing for quite some time. Yet here that feeling is, that feeling that a new idea is skirting around the edges of my consciousness like a stray dog that won’t quite come into the yard, still freaked out over being abandoned yet too hungry to stay away. I don’t have the time or the energy for another project, really I do not, but this is a game I have played with myself before; I will only write it out a little just enough to let it live, but I won’t love it.
I remember the story of a woman who knew there was a dog coming up into her yard every night but all she saw was a shadow. She wasn’t a dog person and was going to call the dog pound people but one night she made spaghetti for some friends and they had a flat tire so they didn’t make it. The woman took some of the leftovers and left them outside near the edge of the yard, where there were some woods and the next morning all the food was gone.
If I could explain it better I would but I have no idea what this idea is. It’s like trying to tell you what a cloud formation is going to look like the day before. I can tell you there will be clouds tomorrow because I feel the weather in my bones. I can tell you there is an idea for writing because I feel the same thing. I can smell it. I can taste it on my breath. I can feel it at the end of my fingers where the keyboard will rest tomorrow. I have no idea what the idea is.
The woman sighed and realized there wouldn’t be any leftovers for work, ever, if she didn’t buy some dog food but all she had seen so far is the shape of a dog, medium sized and rather furry, running away from her. It was black, and she named the dog Shadow. She got her lawn chair out one night and sat ten feet from the food bowl and waited. After an hour or so a young black Chow emerged from the woods and stood looking at her as if she had totally lost her mind. Chows are like that. They’ve got a pretty solid view as to how the world ought to run, and they get confused when the world doesn’t run that way. This was once a pretty dog, but not now. The dog was overly skittish and whimpered a lot.
Ideas are like that. You can’t make one something it isn’t, even if it means leaving it where it is. You can’t go charging in and grab it. This isn’t a fight or a war, and if you get frustrated and mad you’ll wind up chasing the idea away. You have to coax it in with the right bait. If it is humor that will take a different trap than if it is a horror story. But you have to get the idea to form, to come to some sort of tangible formula that can be used in some way to express what it is, and how you get it to do that is entirely personal.
The woman couldn’t get near the dog but clearly this was an animal who needed some help. A friend who was a very told her that a Chow wasn’t a good place to start for someone who had never owned a dog but she had named Shadow and that’s a promise to be kept. They set up a trap baited with spaghetti and after trapping Shadow they had to tranquilize the dog he was so freaked out. Whoever had Shadow before had abandoned him at the end of a chain. His chain collar had been put on him when he was a puppy and he had outgrown it. The chain was embedded in Shadow’s neck and would have to be surgically removed. The woman went from having no dogs to having one she was about to put some money into with no idea if the dog would stay when he woke up. Without hesitation she pulled out her checkbook and asked how much it would take to save Shadow’s life.
Most writers stick to one species of writing or another, something they are good at, and that’s like me sticking to rescuing dogs of size. I like dogs that are big. I like my ideas the same way but you can have more short stories than novels in your mind than there are novels. I write short essays like this because they’re there and they don’t always announce themselves. This idea showed up an hour or so ago and here it is now, wow, look at it, just an hour old and already we’re getting to the point there has to be some sort of resolution with Shadow and the woman who saved him. It’s a true story, by the way, shall we continue?
So Shadow wakes up after surgery and finds himself in the woman garage. He stands up, looks around and then goes over to her, and snuffles her hand. He isn’t afraid anymore because he realizes she has somehow gotten rid of the pain. Chows are intelligent dogs and Chows know a good person when they see one. The woman and Shadow begin a life together, and someone sent me a copy of the newspaper article and I felt like one day, I too, would rescue a dog just out of the blue like that.
Ideas are like that. You have to rescue them from yourself and for yourself, just like you rescue a dog from people, for people. We abandoned the dog and we have to rescue the dog. We have the ideas and we have to express the ideas or they will wind up lonely and abused, never being the thoughts and plans we could have. Life is like that. Rescue your own life. Do things that you read about other people doing and you’ll become the woman who because of a flat tire and an overabundance of spaghetti, is someone you’ve read about and liked.
There are dogs and ideas out there. Don’t ignore them.