My black Labrador Retriever walked up to me as I worked in my home office, sat down on her back haunches, and proceeded to whimper and cry like she was in some real pain. I looked at her and shook my head because I knew the truth.
Tilly comes into my office and cries like this every morning at around 8 a.m. She’s already eaten. She doesn’t need to go outside. She’s looking for her morning treat. And today is no exception.
She’s pitiful, really, carrying on like that while I try to ignore her, but as soon as I get up and begin walking toward the laundry room, she follows eagerly, bouncing around like only a three-year Lab can do. She can’t believe her luck, it seems, that she is actually going to get a treat again this morning. Even though by now, we’ve settled into this routine, and she gets a treat every morning I’m at home.
From the plastic bag in the laundry room, I grab two duck and sweet potato treats. She’s sitting again now, playing the good dog. I instantly give her one of them. But the other I keep in my hand. When I eventually put it in my pocket, the motion catches Tilly’s attention. There’s a treat other than the one that’s in her mouth! Instead of finishing the treat she has, she spits it out and goes for the one in my hand.
I shoo her away, step back and grab the treat on the floor, offer it to her again. Silly Dog, eat this one first, I tell her. And she does, because now the treat in my pocket is long forgotten and apparently not odorous enough to catch her attention again. I laugh as I walk to my office, too aware of the treats I have spit out in the last year because I was afraid of missing the one in the hand.
When I sit down at my desk again, she’s back, and I pull the second treat out of my pocket and hand it to her.
• • •
It was week 12 of The Writing Life Workshop I was co-leading with Ann Kroeker for Tweetspeak Poetry when I was faced head-on with truth I needed. We were discussing the importance of limits in our writing lives—saying “no” to some things, so we can say “yes” to others. Like writing. Ann and I had written the content weeks ago; I had used examples of my own life from years ago. How could I just now be understanding the importance of limits in my writing life?
In the course of the workshop discussions, two different vices were mentioned by various people, ones that I recognized as my own: wasting time on Facebook and professional envy of other writers. As others confessed these vices, I saw the connection I had missed in my own life. Many nights I might spend an hour on Facebook, surrounded by other writers, and “suddenly, ” there is a hundred new projects I need to begin immediately. All of the new books, the speaking engagements, the collaborations, the contests entered and won by others seem like goals I need to attain.
It’s not that I am not happy for my friends. I am. But I could do all of these things, too.
So off I go: dropping the treat in my mouth—the writing that sits here before me—because I know there’s another one in the hand—everything else that everyone else is doing. I make lists of all the things I need to write about, all the new projects I should tackle. I visit writers’ websites to find out what else I might have missed. I pore over writers’ guidelines for agents, publishers, magazines, and publicists.
But truly, it doesn’t even stop there. I’d like to be a painter; I’d like to have a garden. I’m always looking for new recipes, new ways to please the palate. I spend time with family; I go to dinner with friends; I punch the clock at another job each day. The laundry needs to be washed; the floors need to be vacuumed; the dog needs her medicine. We have those first two episodes of Season 4 of Downton Abbey to watch.
And, I write?
I chose “limit” as a focus word for 2014, but really, it’s been my word for a long time. I’m always making adjustments in my writing life to make room for writing. Ironic, I know.
As I write now, Tilly is curled up on the couch beside me, quietly snoring and periodically adjusting herself so more of her is on more of me. Though Tilly might occasionally spit out the treat in her mouth for another one in my pocket, she rarely chooses anything over the chance to snuggle up close and have her ears petted.
Someday, I hope I am half as devoted to my writing.
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