This may be a strange compound question from me, as I have been capturing a story of my own for a few years. I think I’ve figured out a little more about why they are written, they seem to be therapeutic for the writer. In my case it just happened. Loss cracked me open and the words came out. I started smearing these memories on paper and while watching them dry I found that preservation made me feel little better. Discovery became compulsion and grew. The spirit of my dog led me down this new path and I just kept going…
Why do people want to read Memoir?
Often I wonder why do strangers read other people’s life stories. Many are tragic and share deeply painful moments. Are readers looking for a similar experience while hoping to gain some insight? Find hope? Learn something? Follow someone back from an edge? Does a common thread need to pull them together?
For me these questions will hang on lines – like yesterday’s laundry in today’s rain, waiting for tomorrow.
This was my second time in the former car dealership showroom turned brewery conference room, sitting amongst some kegs of aging beer and learning more about writing.
From the various prompts, discussion, breaks to walk around Astoria and a strong beer – I ended up with this:
I usually walk with purpose (I have a dog) and out of necessity (my back chronically reminds me) – I do this daily. Often I simply wish to walk for no reason, to range about. Today my purpose was to unwind my mind and let my feet range.
When walking I typically try not to think – it is my escape. I am however easily distracted by people (not today) and architecture (Astoria has plenty worthy of noticing). While glancing at older buildings (more refreshened since my last visit) and ruins of pilings wobbling in the river, I noticed something new. Colorful bits of random display, knitted patches of several different people’s artwork twisted, wrapped and tied around posts, benches and a gate. Public displays of an orchestrated effort to grab attention and brighten the day for those who notice.
Today my mind was bombed by yarn.
I started writing about Life with my dog Sarrah a few months after she was gone.
It just happened, I never set out to write anything nor get this involved with it, but here I am. As if life cracked me open and the words just started coming out. I began writing daily for an hour or two, sometimes all day and even a few marathon weekends with little time for food or sleep, I did this for about a year.
I set my pen down the day that I learned people in the present run out of time for those who live in the past.
I went from keeping my binder with me at all times to leaving it on the coffee table.
Instead of writing daily, I maybe read it a little every other week and tweaked anything that I stumbled on. This went on for almost a year.
One day I decided to pick it back up and work through it. I made some “Draft Copies” and gave them to a few friends and family, noting that it was far from finished. I wanted to give it, to give Sarrah, some kind of life and protect the story from being lost.
Having never read Memoir I began attending writing conferences, seminars and classes a year ago. Learning to take my story apart, reworking it for Show not Tell is easier said than done, seems especially for me.
I understand that in the paper-thin chance this story of a Special Dog and an Old Boy ever becomes more than evolving pages in a weathered binder on my coffee table (and a bit on a blog) it will be run through normalizing software to Scrub out my Bad Habits, over-polish punctuation and trim off the rough edges… somehow making it no longer feel like it’s mine.
Perhaps what I’m writing is simply a record to be read aloud to an older version of me, staring out a window, trying to remember a life.
I must confess, I Never thought I’d be involved with blogging: not following any, nor especially having one.
I started my blog after listening to Nina Amir speak on “How to Blog a Book” at the 2013 Write on the Sound writers’ conference (another surprise from following the spirit of my dog down this writing trail). This trail is full of new experiences and literary adventures, most completely unforeseen to me, so I’m just going with it.
To back up a little, I always dreaded writing in school (hated might be more accurate). For my twenty-year – two-year college degree I took Writing 101 – last. From this class came something that I wrote called “What Happens”. Afterward I didn’t write much of anything until I needed something, something to help me while dealing with the loss of my dog dying. So I began what I call “Sharing Gifts with Sarrah”. This led me to taking classes, attending seminars, writing workshops and then blogging. I’m not sure about blogging etiquette or rules (which is just as well since I’d probably ignore them anyway), which leads to my motivation for this confession. I go back and edit parts of what I’ve posted about “Sharing Gifts with Sarrah”, mostly small tweaks, but edits all the same (I recently started tagging those significantly changed “Amended”). Blogging bits and chunks of the story actually forces me to make them better. I find that small improvements are needed to make a portion float on its own, rather than fall short. I also don’t Reblog. Certainly these edits go largely unnoticed, which is fine with me or at least has been until now.
I recently joined a Memoir Writing class, a group of writers (some of which are former classmates from the Hugo House) taught by Tara Hardy. The point you are looking for is that I turned in the chapter “FUgly” for the class to read and workshop in the next class on June 17th (Sarrah’s birthday). It is a difficult chapter that needs writing improvement. I reworked again it over a few days (and edited my post) prior to turning it in for critique. Certainly their feedback will lead me to many more improvements and yes more edits. Which makes me wonder if I’ll then repost it or perhaps make it be a new Version 2 (actually more like Version 5 or 7) for comparison. Who knows…
The true confession is that I don’t really know what I’m doing or maybe even Why, but I like it.
Having spent most of my almost half-century of living in the Pacific Northwest has given me the experience of watching people crowd into an area.
Observing as humans wade through the economic tides and refine the process of developing land, starting with the easiest and taking steps into the more difficult and less desired parcels.
A sort of reckoning takes place. No change goes unpunished. Our natural environment has evolved over time into one that had its way of dealing with rainfall. As human needs replace what was, weather dictates what will be. The more hilly earth becomes smooth and paved, the more concentrated needs become for dealing with excess water when the rains fall.
An evolving complex formula has come about for building water retention sites. These man-made ponds are camouflaged scars to the earth. Displaying some examples of human bargaining with a blend of indigenous “natural plant-life” (cattails, grasses and trees) for wildlife and often some kind of appeal offering to the local payer of taxes (landscaping, trails and/or a park) to gain the right to develop, creating monuments to appease the gods of rain. These places of reckoning are hotly debated for long periods of time, constructed relatively quickly, celebrated briefly and then quietly slide into being largely ignored. Not Sarrah, she always spotted these places of reckoning and insisted that we investigate.
Two of these places evolved nearby in Sarrah’s lifetime.
The first one is located at the low point of a community college campus hidden behind a tennis court; it has a labyrinth of paved trails through trees and a bridge over the fluctuating pond. I recall reading that some college classes were involved in the layout designing and choosing plantings, some studies probably continue.
Another was constructed so that a three-field baseball park could be flat and dry. This park is behind our re-located local Post Office. The land was probably swampy pasture with some scrub trees and blackberry bushes before our International Airport grew making it too noisy for human habitation. This water management creation has a fenced-in small pond, a rocky “dry river bed” and a much larger water retention pond below (we saw it seasonally dry out and fill to the top). At times a choir of frogs fills the air with hypnotic notes. The trails here are simple paths worn in the grass by shortcutting kids and dogs with people.
When Sarrah discovered this place it became part of going to get my mail, the best part.
If it were up to Sarrah we would explore both of these typically quiet places on the same day, when freedom from commitments allowed, we did.
At first I was Pissed Off!
Nissa ‘set me up’ with an email link to a sad story. I was not ready for a dog, let alone another Dalmatian, I honestly believed that I would not have another. This caused my mind to race and all of the emotions Hit me, I was completely Consumed by this conundrum, for a couple of days.
The story was put out on the web by Jodie Ray Kelley, who founded and runs the Dalmatian Rescue of Puget Sound organization. This posting was about a dog who was rescued for a financially impacted family in California, who could not keep the five-year-old Shelby and her brother. Seems California has a quick death penalty for dogs without homes so Jodie went down and brought a few back. Two of these dogs had been together since birth, so efforts were taken to find one home for both of them. After a few months of issues, the male was adopted, but not Shelby. Apparently she liked living with Jodie and learned that causing problems… got her returned. The post had a worn tone and a few pictures.
There I was mentally; standing in a deep puddle of thick Sadness, heated by Anger and shouldering a heavy damp blanket of Guilt (for a dog I had never met, but could help).
I went for a few long walks and tried to calm my mind, enough to let me find the best reactions. Later, I did let Nissa know that I was Irritated. We talked and I did some more searching… While trying to sleep on it, my mind worked over the situation.
The next day I decided to let fate decide, a little. I typed up an inquiry and the required application for the possibility of adoption. I sat there and stared at the computer, with damp eyes. I went for a walk and talked to myself a little, came home and much like a; cliff dive, gnarly new ski run, first skydive, bungee jump or other self inflicted adrenalized moments that make palms sweat, I pushed the “Send” button. Instantly it hit me, I asked myself out loud “What did you do!?” Later a reply came back that “Shelby already had an interested family”. I felt some relief and at the same time a little disappointment, but told myself that it was for the best. A few days later I got an email briefly explaining that the family didn’t think that it would work out, was I still interested? I went for another walk and replied, “Yes”. This time I felt better about it, but still apprehensive. We set a weekend day for the first step, to met the dog and go from there. The Friday night prior, I got a call that “The interested family had re-changed their minds and wanted to try again”. This hit a little hard and hurt, but I was still going with fate. Almost a week later, I got another email with a longer explanation about how Shelby definitely was not working with the indecisive family and was there any chance that we might still be interested? This rollercoaster process was excruciating, but I found the energy for one last turn, I replied and another semi-blind date was made. Looking back, being put through these sudden painful ups and downs sort of helped me work things out in my mind and show me that at least in part; I knew that I felt some desire to meet this dog.
Rescue dogs have history, who really knows neither what nor how they interpret it. Shelby came with a reserved mellow attitude, like a foster kid, as if suspicious of the world. We shared a look and she showed a willingness to give me a chance by rolling over onto her back to let me rub her belly. Our meeting went well and while we were in the backyard, Jodie quietly left without a “Goodbye” in an attempt to make it easier for Shelby. I have no idea how she can handle this emotional part of her rescue service, but we are all better off because of people like Jodie.
We agreed to have her stay for the required “trial period” of a couple weeks, to see if living together would work out. She did not bring whatever issues had kept her moving and homeless. Maybe Shelby found a sense of belonging, or a purpose that the other places lacked. As I suspected, she chose to keep us and we eased forward. It turns out that Shelby and I made a good pair; both worn down by realities of life, skeptical and unenthused. We drew some energy from each other and got a little better, we continue to get better.
Sharing with cats is never easy for a dog, let alone later in life. With a little quick feline toughness, stubborn human guidance and canine willingness, in time… our animals friends learned to live together. Again, Rah occasionally tests his game, but in a much appreciated awareness of the noticeably greater risk.
Shelby did not find the first beach weekend road trip and stay to be special; she seemed a little on guard. Perhaps, thinking that she was being handed off, yet again. Her first few walks out to the beach surprised me a little. She acted aloof, as if to be wondering, “What’s the big deal?”
Eventually the persistent magical powers of the ocean and its beach took over, suddenly. on a sunny walk Shelby’s eyes lit up and she launched! into a full speed gallop. It felt good to observe this shared passion come alive in her.
To my relief, Shelby and Sarrah have little in common other than obvious similar instinctive traits, looks and a bond with me. Where Sarrah was a smaller version of “perfect”, Shelby is a much larger version. Shelby’s additional twenty five pounds give her much more power and torque, pulling me forward. Shelby is mostly quiet. She does not have the range of vocal expressions, and would rather quietly observe with silent strength. She fiercely feels a need to protect me from, well, the rest of the dwellers. It is as if she senses that I am distracted by damage and commands respect for our space.
I am certain that they would have not liked each other on the same life plane, but maybe a Spirit Dog has an advantage, a power to overcome. Perhaps Shelby had help holding out to find me.
This life experience reminds me of another lasting question, “?Who Saved Who”.
If you see a guy walking a Dalmatian, talking to two, he may not be crazy.
A friend with a valuable opinion suggested that I try to write something a little Happier.
I do have Happy moments, lots of them, but apparently they don’t move me to try and write anything (lately anyway). Perhaps I get too busy simply enjoying those moments.
I don’t know much about writing, it’s rules and terminology (I took just enough classes to get by) but there is something called “Voice”.
Perhaps someday a happier voice will find this aging mind. Like hitting my head on a low beam and spilling my coffee or tripping over an uneven sidewalk and throwing everything in my hands, like lots of changes it will probably hurt.
Time may tell.
Years ago I drove by a little pond nestled between an outside bend of the Green River and a busy four-lane road. This little pond surrounded by trees somehow maintains peacefulness despite having another two-lane road beside it cross the other and a small bridge over the river. I drove on these roads to and from work two or three times a day for a few years. Then my job changed and I only drove by two or three times per week, for a few more years. I never stopped at this little pond with a totem pole, fishing docks for kids, couple of picnic tables, some benches and a gravel trail around it.
One day, driving by with a very young Sarrah she looked out the window at it (as I had more than two or three thousand times) and then at me, she began to get excited, we stopped.
Sarrah delighted in what I thought was harassing the ducks and geese that always seemed to be there, sending them swimming from one side to the other, two or three times each visit. Perhaps she was simply intrigued by their freedom.
We continued to discover and frequent gems of common interest. A favorite was a park, nearby. We became regulars to Salt Water State Park, a nice mile plus round trip walk from home. Here, the small public beach is choked by privately owned beaches, sea walls, rock cliffs, logs and rules. The semi-sandy beach is about forty yards by twenty at high tide. Currently it’s more than half covered by the naturally occurring, growing log pile gifted by storms and kept in place by law. In the summer months the tide recedes further and if lucky enough or planned you can carefully walk out another fifty yards or so on the Barnacle covered rocks amongst the tide pools. Here at an edge of the Puget Sound, where the ocean’s water works its way around the San Juan Islands, the small waves are more like swells. These tired waves sort of heave themselves, splashing, thudding and pounding against the rocks. Despite its shortcomings, Sarrah loved this place instantly. She would often insist on going there by taking a hard right, instead of the left turn on our usual daily trek down Marine View Drive. I am certain that my occasional “giving in” further fueled this action, but making time to enjoy small victories is good for all. We probably hoofed that all terrain trek at least five hundred times over the years, and around one hundred shorter versioned, driven in stops.
Sarrah loved the Puget Sound, especially all of the creatures and smells that come with it. She happily stole bits of clam, crab and mussels from harassed crows and seagulls, who had dropped them onto the paved pathways to break them open. We walked the beach in search of sea glass (to collect) and sand dollars (to throw back), along the gurgling creek looking for fish, around the grounds and trails for less crowded nature.
Sarrah seemed to have an affinity for salted air, in all of its forms: warm and strong, crisp and bright, cold and damp or even the bone soaking driven by wind. She led me to find and appreciate the less popular versions of marine air, which are highly addictive and ultimately better.
* * *
On her last day here I carried her down to the beach, sat on a log and held her so she that could see the view and smell the air one more time.
* * *
Saltwater Park was one of Sarrah’s favorite places to taste some freedom.