“Is There Some Indelible Link Between Dogs and Writing?”

From a post on lithub.com by Anna Bruno titled “Can Dogs Make Us Better Writers?”:

My dog has a carbon footprint. She loves food for one thing, especially meat, and sometimes I keep the heat turned up a few degrees for her when I leave the house. In a strictly economic sense, her productivity is zero. She has no measureable output—she doesn’t work, which is ironic because she’s classified as a “working dog,” bred to herd cattle. She is not a service animal. . .but she does have a job, and that job is complex and important, and therefore worthy of consideration.

Dogs, as Sigrid Nunez examines in her National Book Award winning novel, fall somewhere between idyllic and celestial-furry-guardian-spirits (as Nunez’s narrator muses). The Friend is, on its face, about Apollo, a dog left behind when his master commits suicide. But it’s also a meditation on writing and writers. As I read it, I couldn’t help but wonder: Is there some indelible link between dogs and writing? The sheer number of dogs in literature should tell us something not about dogs but about humans.

Dogs cannot be characterized by dialogue or thoughts, so why is literature so obsessed with them? Dogs change humans. Dogs reveal human wants and vulnerability. Dogs, ultimately, make humans more human.

So, if my dog’s primary job is to make me more human, then she is productive, very productive, even measurably productive in an economic sense. . . .

Time is the thing we all have but don’t understand how to value. American culture, in all its complexity, is still hung up on the Protestant work ethic. . . .

Steve Jobs famously parked in a handicap parking spot near his building’s entrance. Walking through the parking lot takes time! Meanwhile, a writer struggled to defend her “writing time” against all odds. Announcing to your spouse that you plan to spend all day every day working on a novel that may or may not sell in two to five years is a difficult conversation. On the other hand, telling your spouse that you’ll be at the office until 2am because your company is changing the world, so you’re sorry but you won’t be home to feed the baby and change the diapers and give him a bath and read him a book, isn’t a difficult conversation. It arrives in the form of a text: Stuck at work.

The thinking that underlies these dynamics is not magical. It’s economic. Value, in economic terms, is defined by scarcity, and people who work a lot believe their time is very, very scarce. . . .

The value of time is by no means a simple analysis and many socio-economic issues are at play. But for the average American who repeats “I’m too busy” like a personal mantra, time is not necessarily scarce.  As my evolved friend pointed out, it’s a matter of prioritization. Our value judgements are askew.

Ask the dog. She makes a single value-judgement: time spent with the people she loves is worth the most. This is a profound lesson in humanity. . . .

There is something else: dogs spend most of their time at home. Home is the place they love—the place they protect. The mailman is the enemy! In Ordinary Hazards, Emma observes: “A dog’s nose is a steadfast compass, always pointed towards home.” Dogs understand that long walks are fun but the real prize is coming home again.

In the end, dogs have one last job: they remind us of our mortality. My dog is eight, going on nine, and often I am struck by the notion that she will surely not live past fifteen. Fifteen would be a gift. This feeling has led me to rub her belly and kiss her forehead on numerous occasions. On the other hand, I don’t stroke my husband’s arm at the thought of potentially having, say, forty more years with him. . . .

A dog may not be aware, exactly, of her own longevity, though she surely feels her age. Time is binary but it is not infinite.  And any human who has ever lost a dog knows all too well that time doesn’t slow, but for a lazy afternoon or a long walk in the park.

 

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