That sweet face there – that’s our rescue dog, Westy. She’s called “Westy” because the night before we picked her up from Main Line Animal rescue, my younger daughter dreamed she had a small white dog named Westy. Our Westy, real life Westy, is mid-sized, mostly brown with a white chest and a marking the shape of a martini glass on her right flank.
Westy was the most difficult of dogs for her first five years of living with us. She fought with our sweet little cocker spaniel, she hunted the cat (until the cat so bloodied her nose Westy found a modicum of respect for him), she whined at the door to go out constantly throughout the day – I let her out every time, but she peed in the house anyway. When we walked her she’d become so worked up upon hearing another dog bark, or seeing another dog in the distance, that she’d jump around growling and barking and biting at her leash. She bit through the heavy-duty woven one, so I traded it in for leather. She bit through that. Now we walk her with a chain-link leash. She is fierce and often terrifying to people who don’t know her. She has relentless energy. She is afraid of no one and nothing.
I want to be like her sometimes. No, all the time. I want to be like her all the time. I was not blessed with a level of intensity required to be the kind of writer I want to be. I don’t wake at five a.m. to write for an hour before everyone else in the house gets up. I don’t put 500 or 1,000 or 10,000 words to paper every day no matter what. I’ve let important opportunities slip away, when I shouldn’t have. I have no confidence, or not enough confidence sometimes. That’s a lie – my confidence is nil most of the time. Most of the time I think everything I do is crap and also that everyone I know hates me and thinks I’m a big fake. And annoying – pretty sure everyone I know thinks I’m annoying.
And, yet, I persist. Why? Why when I’m starting to feel the panic of being too old? Why when I have only a handful of published pieces? Why when the writing feels like I’m wading through sludge, when I feel like I have nothing at all to say that hasn’t been said a million times over and better?
Several years ago I gave up on writing. I thought, I’m never gonna have a book on Oprah. I will never see my name in the New York Times Book Review. Heck, I’ll probably never even write a book. I began a blog about feeding my family dinner. It was fun! I wrote about my love of cooking and my hatred for grocery shopping. I posted too many recipes for chicken, bread and pasta. But I was having a good time and I was not thinking about much else. And then I started writing stories again, and sent a few out and had a few successes, and started feeling like I could actually write something and then I abandoned my blog because I started teaching writing a various colleges as an overworked, underpaid adjunct and I started writing more stories and had a handful more published, and then, before I could make it stop all my old anxieties about writing, being bad at writing (or at least not good enough) and being overall disliked and annoying, started clamoring around in my brain again. Which means that once again instead of writing because it is fun, I’m just slogging.
This is my little exhortation to myself: stop caring. Do what you do and don’t be ashamed that you’re old enough to be the parent of the hot new writers of today. Be Westy. Do not care what the world thinks (because the world isn’t looking that closely, I assure you). Bite the chain, break the leash, get away.