My therapy dog, Rudy, and I will be at the Lyme Public Library, for a free talk on what makes therapy dogs special and how they’re trained. Rudy loves to meet new friends and does some fun tricks. P.S.That’s not us in the second photo.
It’s easy to get discouraged, especially when you’re doing something difficult like writing a book or a song, taking on a new project, caring for a sick person. I’ve been writing a nonfiction book for the past 2+ years, tentatively titled: Through a Dark Ravine: The Way of Disobedience. I’ve done my best to make this personal story honest and compelling, I’ve had readers help me, and I’ve emailed a strong pitch to a number of literary agents. What’s come back is either silence or a polite “No thanks.”
I’m stubborn and motivated, but this got to me and I had to take a break from writing. Had to step back and gain perspective. And in that pause, I picked up a wonderful book by Joyce Carol Oates:
She gave me a new perspective and helped me see that “the writer… is a curious melange of wildly varying states of mind…indecision, frustration, pain, dismay, despair, remorse, impatience, outright failure….the writer, however battered a veteran, can’t have any real faith, any absolute faith, in his stamina (let alone his theoretical “gift) to get him through the ordeal of creating, to the plateau of creation.. The artist, perhaps more than most people, inhabits failure…”
Wow! So instead of hoping for easy or depending on recognition from others, the task is tricky and full of discouragement and yet, if this is something I and others choose to do, then we do it. We do it with our eyes wide open. We do it knowing it’s hard, knowing we’ll get lost, knowing that there are endless deadends but that as we work, we improve our craft. Thank you, Joyce Carol Oates.
These beautiful snowdrops have been up for a few weeks here in coastal Connecticut. They’re elegant little flowers with drooping heads that look like clusters of fresh snow. But weeks before these brave plants bloom, skunk cabbage arrives in the streams and muddy places in the woods. They are spirialed, cone-shaped, in purple and green with a sharp tip that can cut through snow or ice. And better yet, they produce heat so they can actually melt the snow that covers them. (The technical term for this it thermogenic.)
Both of these early spring visitors remind me of my mother. She had a sharp eye for wild flowers and also kept track of the birds, writing down when she heard the first robin and the haunting call of a wood thrush. It was her way of marking the seasons, and I think a way of hope, too. Look what has just emerged from the frozen ground. Isn’t it wonderful? I think so.
Having a therapy dog never gets old. Here’s Rudy at almost six years old–he’s been a certified therapy dog since he turned one and he’s amazing. One of the places we visit is a special education class at our local high school, and the students made him a card and bought him a few toys. I wish you could see the faces of the students as Rudy prances into the room. He knows he’ll be adored. Given treats. The students all told him what they had done over the Christmas break, and although Rudy doesn’t understand the words, he knows they’re happy to see him, knows somehow that it’s important for him to be there.
One boy likes to play hide ‘n seek with Rudy and although Rudy cheats and watches him as he gets into his hiding place, they both have a blast. Another student, who used to be afraid of dogs, sits quietly beside Rudy and with a little encouragement, pats his black, shiny fur. Some keep their distance but are fascinated. We stay about a half hour. When it’s time to go, everyone says goodbye and after we sign out at the front desk, Rudy gets into the back seat of my car and closes his eyes. It’s hard work being adored, but it never gets old.
Here’s the inside of the card:
One of my favoirte carols is “In the Bleak Mid-Winter” with words from the beautiful poem by Christina Rossetti, music by Gustav Holst. Once I start singing this carol, it haunts and comforts me, making the short days less bleak. Last night I was speaking with a friend whose husband died a few weeks ago, and one of her neighbors gave her an amaryllis bulb. She didn’t know what it was and told me that it was an ugly stump in a large pot. That made me laugh. As we talked, I looked at the amaryllis on my kitchen counter–one that had sproutetd quickly from a similar undistinquished bulb. It has a long, green stalk and a fat bud, promising me future color. I sent her a photo of it.
Then I looked back in the photos on my phone and found one from last Christmas:
Now she was excited. Ready to hang in there. Willing to water it and wait. And that seemed to me exactly what this season requires: water and wait. Get expectations out of the way. Invite silence to visit. Or as Christina Rossetti put it: “Snow had fallen, snow on snow,
Snow on snow, In the bleak mid-winter, Long ago.”
Okay, I get it. It’s lovely to sit on a bench by the harbor and watch the sun set, my dog, Rudy, happily sniffing around. That kind of waiting is fun. Relaxing. It doesn’t matter when the sun dips down below the horizen, when it gets dark, when the clouds go from light pink to deep crimson. But other kinds of waiting are awful, whether that’s being held in suspense until you get the results of medical tests, or waiting in a crowded airport while your flight is delayed, or in my case, sending off a new book to an editor, caught in a trickly balance between hope and despair.
I give myself lectures. I tell myself, “Listen up. You can’t give that kind of power over your future to someone else,” and it sounds smart and reasonable. But if you’re doing something you love, and if getting it out into the world is dependent on other people, then the waiting is dark and heavy. I’ve learned tricks over the years: start a new project, get readers to help you see the work more clearly, tell yourself in the words of T.S. Eliot to “care and not to care.” But I do care. Especially when I’ve put the best of myself into it for several years, then it’s more than a project, it’s me and not me, a best friend. And what kind of friend would I be if I didn’t care whether or not it was knocked over, trampled, forgotten?
If you feel brave, share with me and others what has helped you wait. Maybe you practice deep breathing. Maybe you sing or pray. Maybe you just watch your dog the way I watch Rudy, the late sun glinting off his dark fur. And just maybe, that is enough.
This is one of the things I love about summer. It slows me down. And my roses are now in their second bloom of the season–and yes, I know that the photo is sideways, but since my two dogs are looking at me with that “why aren’t we out walking look”, I’m going to let it be. The light and the heat and the colors and smells of summer bring back my favorite season as a kid–one where we were let out of school and could make up games, swim, fill the long hours with whatever we wanted. (My mother did put a limit on how much ice cream we could have.) My advice to myself is to stop, look, take in this green season. To not be busy all the time. To let go of productivity. To be like my two dogs who are now stretched out at my feet, hoping that a walk is right around the corner.
As many of you know, I’ve been working with therapy dogs for the past ten years: Bella from 2012-2018, Rudy from 2018-2022. It’s an amazing journey and brings such comfort to the people we serve. I’m doing an AARP live webinar tonight and hope you can join me. Plenty of time for Q&A at the end. It runs from 7-8PM Eastern Time. Here’s how to register:
Wednesday, Mar 9, 2022
From 7:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time
Learn about the science behind therapy dogs’ work and the importance of what they do – featuring a certified therapy dog! Join AARP CT for a free virtual event on March 9 at 7:00 p.m. ET | 6:00 p.m. CT | 5:00 p.m. MT | 4:00 p.m. PT – AARP membership not required.
It always make me a little sad to pick the last tomatoes and to see the vines wither and turn brown. And I really hate it when I have to buy tomatoes at the supermarket, as they don’t taste anything like the sweet ones from my garden. But there it is, the end of a season, and I remind myself that these wonderful fruits (which most of us think of as a vegetable) have sat through hot summer afternoons and warm nights. I’ve fussed over them, and have watered them and have watched with excitement as the hard green tomatoes turned red.
If you’re anything like me, you resist change, while simultaneously being energized by it. So in a few weeks when I put my garden to bed for the winter, when the frost kills the last marigolds and hardy carrots, when color is erased, I have to remind myself to look closely elsewhere. Just today, for example, I noticed that the marsh grasses surrounding the nearby cove, have turned an incredible burnt orange–a color so striking against the green of other plants. And the berries on a bush I pass everyday walking my dogs are now a silvery blue.
As Keats wrote in his wonderful “Ode to Autumn”: “Where are the songs of Spring? Ay where are they?/Think not of them, thou hast thy music too,–” I hope you find ways to enjoy this time of change and discover simple observations that warm your spirits as the days get shorter. We need each season to end. Just as we need to welcome a new one.
Rudy, my therapy dog and I are honored to be part of an AARP CT live presentation tomorrow, August 18th at 1PM, about the work of therapy dogs. I’ll cover training, what’s important in a therapy dog, and an in-depth look at the work Rudy does in schools, hospitals, nursing homes and the court house. Hope you can join us! It’s free but you must register: https://aarp.cvent.com/DogsAug18.