WRITING THROUGH HARD TIMES

HPIM0064I lost my writing buddy at the end of February. My nearly-16-year-old dog, Jake, passed away. Even though he was getting older, it was somewhat unexpected. (Then again, maybe deaths always are–even when we know it’s coming, we always think, Not today. It never seems real until the moment that it happens.)

I’ve been thinking lately about writing through hardships. I’m not sure I’m much of an expert on the issue (I’m still working through it, feeling pretty good one day and utterly awful another). But as I was trying to figure out if I had any advice, I realized that I’ve been writing through hardships all along. I’ve worked through illness (even if it’s just a sore throat or an injured back), the heartache of 1-star reviews, and the gutting that comes with the loss of a relationship (whether it’s a friend or a romantic partner). I’ve had to figure out how to calm down from a fight or push worries away or act as my own doctor so that I can get my head back in the game.

Of course, right now, none of it seems as bad as the loss of my writing buddy. But we do write through hardships. All the time. Every single one of us. Minor and major.

How have I been handling this particular hardship? I’ve been reorganizing my schedule; I took some time away from a copyediting project to clear my head. I’ve been trying to be kind to myself–Jake was always with me, and especially as we head into spring, I’m having to do things without him for the first time in more than 15 years. It’s hard and disorienting at times. I’ve been taking deep breaths and moving forward, one step at a time.

One thing these past few weeks reminded me is that everyone knows what it’s like to lose something important to them. We’ve all done that. I’ve been so surprised (and heartwarmed–is that a word???) at how many people have reached out to me about Jake, letting me know they were around if I needed to talk. I can’t say enough how much that’s helped these past few weeks. Sometimes, just letting people know what’s happened to you means the exact-right person is suddenly on your phone or shooting you an email.

The past few weeks have been awful, but they’ve been also been wonderful.

Life goes on, one step at a time.

This morning, I’ll be uploading my new copyedited book.

WINNIE AND THE TERRIBLE, HORRIBLE, NO GOOD, VERY BAD HOTELS

In honor of ALL ROADS, my latest release (a mysterious story of family and, yes, dogs), a post about childhood dogs and book vacations:

This is Winnie:

winnie

Actually, her full name was Winnie D. Pooch, and she was my childhood dog (like that name didn’t already totally tip you off).

And she is the reason why we stayed in the nastiest, scariest, weirdest hotels on the planet.

We never boarded her. Not once in 17 years. It honestly never crossed anybody’s mind. She was just always with us. She was in the car when Mom picked me and my brother up from school—or dropped us off in the morning. She went to the grocery store (weather permitting), she went on weekend camping excursions in the RV (which is where she’s standing here), and she was along for the ride on every extended family vacation we ever took. She went to Texas and Fort Gibson, OK and Branson, MO—etc., etc., etc. She was a Maltese, really small (maybe 6 lbs at her heaviest), easy to carry, totally innocent looking, and she was allowed into every single museum or shop we ever went to. Every. Single. One. Once, we took her to an outdoor restaurant in Texas. It was hot as hades, and all we wanted was something to drink. At first, waitstaff was going to kick us out (just couldn’t have a dog in a place where food was being served), but after about thirty seconds, we were getting bowls of water all around.

It wasn’t like she was an angel. She was prone to mad barking fits (once, she tried to “kill” a lifesized concrete buffalo on a trip to Oklahoma). She wouldn’t have known “sit” or “stay” or “c’mere” were ever words that applied to her. She sure knew “go,” though. (As in, “Do you want to go?”)

Always.

Anyway, when we were on the road (sans-RV), back in the ‘80s, we generally ran into dog trouble when it came to finding hotels. Honestly, part of the reason for that was that my dad would never push it when told “no dogs.” He would never explain she was housebroken or wouldn’t bother anyone (as long as there was no concrete wildlife in the room or walls of mirrors—THAT was a disaster, don’t get me started). He never even offered to pay a pet fee / deposit. If someone told him no, that was that. And we were on to the next place down the road. Which was every bit as likely to say no dogs, too.

Where we wound up? Oh, man. Places where headboards fell off, where no one was allowed to walk barefoot on the carpet, where the cleaning crew once left this note for us taped to the bathroom mirror: “THIS PLACE SUCKS!”

Yes, it did.

But the thing is, I remember every single one of those places. I remember every shady character I met at an ice machine. I remember every long-winded story one decidedly wacky guy told me poolside while Winnie dog paddled (actually, Mom said she was just walking on top of the thick pool sludge). We still joke about that housekeeping note and about being sure, in Wentzville, that the stuff on the rug was actually leftover chalk (from a recently deceased body’s chalk outline).

Maybe you do remember the bumps in the road more than you remember the times of smooth sailing. Well—the bumps and how you dealt with it, or the sheer fact that you all got through it. Maybe we all even get hungry for disruptions and surprises working their way into the everyday humdrum—and that’s part of the reason we go on vacation in the first place.

Maybe, too, that’s why we gravitate toward fiction—maybe that’s also a trip, a vacation from the norm.

Maybe, in the end, we most like winding up in the places we least expect.