What I learned about life (and writing) from a puppy

Our puppy Sherwin is four months old today. During our first few days together, I seriously didn’t know if I had the chops to raise a pup. Rather than being overwhelmed by Sherwin’s cuteness, I was overwhelmed by a deep and strange depression. You see, I grew up with dogs and have always prided myself on being a canine expert. I was so very wrong. And this realization of my foolish hubris made me start doubting everything about myself, including my rash decision to get a pup (I pounced it on my husband as his “birthday present,” when in actuality, I’d been the one who’d longed for a dog).

Sherwin had major separation anxiety. He would howl and cry whenever we were out of sight and he would screeeeam into the night. His screams sounded like a human being tortured, and the painful sound would send me into a deep, dark spiral of agony. I’m not exaggerating. His anxiety stressed me out so much that I couldn’t sleep and I lost weight (I guess that’s a bonus). And he peed everywhere when he was out of his pen! His favorite pastime: hiding under our kitchen table to lay stinky surprises. We were tired and worried all the time for a period of two weeks. We even hired an expensive private trainer to come over to help us. We were that desperate.

Whenever I leave Sherwin in the backyard for a few minutes, his separation anxiety is what I come back to.

Side note: I want to thank (and blame) my parents for protecting me from the truth all these years: dogs are super high maintenance. The potty breaks, multiple (expensive) vet visits, the endless chore of training. My parents did it all without complaints. I just enjoyed the fruits of their labor by having fun with our dogs, blissfully unaware of the massive amount of work involved.

Fortunately, Sherwin’s gotten A LOT better. He grew up, we grew up, we got to know and trust each other. And yes, he’s still a lot of work, but at this point, his delightful aspects outweigh the burdensome ones. And now that I actually have time to think again, one thing I’ve been thinking about is what Sherwin exemplifies.

  • Live (and write) with gusto. Sherwin lives with gusto. He’s a passionate little guy. He eats with joy and gratitude, he plays with fervor, he loves with all his heart. He never ever holds a grudge and he’s mastered the art of enjoying the moment. I want to be more like Sherwin. And as a writer, I have to remember to write with joy, fervor and heart. When a writer is passionate about his or her craft, the story is that much more compelling and that passion sweeps the reader up into the journey. Sherwin lives with all his might. You should see the way he fetches a ball. You’d think that fetching balls was the most exciting thing to do in the entire world.
  • Focus on the essential (in both life and in writing).  When we first got Sherwin, he was teething. So we ran from pet store to pet store, collecting chew toys that would captivate our pup and distract him away from shoes, furniture, etc. Going against my love for decluttering, we ended up with a mountain of chew toys and our living room looked like a doggy daycare. And you know what? Sherwin focuses on precisely three of these dozens of toys: a squeaky hedgehog, a rope ball and a fuzzy mouse. He loves what he loves. He ignores the rest. This is another good lesson in minimizing material possessions. To quote the fox in The Little Prince (Le Petit Prince), “what is essential is invisible to the eye.” And it also tells me to be spare in writing, cutting out inessential details and descriptions that don’t serve the story, and focusing on the “meat” rather than spouting long observations and meandering internal monologue (which I have a tendency to do — can you tell by the length of my blog posts??).
  • Love without reservation. In modern American life, so many are practiced in guarding their hearts, protecting themselves from being too vulnerable for fear of being hurt or disappointed. Sherwin only knows how to love one way: unconditionally, without reservation. As prideful humans, this is hard to do. Many just give as much as they’ve been given, nothing more. And yet, loving without reservation is the key to allowing your heart to grow. Loving unconditionally is the only path to true love. And in writing, I find that I gravitate towards writers who are generous and openhearted, those who treat their characters (even the most flawed of the bunch) with compassion and understanding, rather than harsh judgment. I think of R.J. Palacio’s “The Julian Chapter,” which is a companion novella to her amazing book, “Wonder.” The Julian Chapter is entirely devoted to redeeming the bully of the story, Julian. This book made me cry — it was written with such tenderness for a character whom everyone villified. Anyway, love is truly the greatest gift any of us can give and receive, and Sherwin seems to have an endless supply of love to give. I have never seen so many people smile and laugh in my presence as when this little guy is in tow (and I think I’m already pretty charming ;).

Merry Christmas and happy holidays, everyone. And to all fellow writers and artists out there, may 2018 be filled with projects created with joy, passion and love.

Sherwin is all grown up — both ears stand now, but I miss the floppy one 🙂 Folks have asked if this photo was taken in a studio. Uh, no. In our house, actually, with an iPhone. I was holding a treat above his head, which is why we had several seconds of intense concentration from him. Normally, he’s a squirming sausage. What a lovable little guy. I never knew that jowls could be so adorable.