Some days, I look over at the dog snoring on the couch and the strangeness of my choice consumes me: I brought an animal into this house because I wanted him to live here. Otto’s presence most amazes me when he’s sleeping but still animated, woofing and pawing the air as he dreams. I’m next to him, especially in the non-teaching freelance-heavy summertime, for hours at a clip, and this particular glimpse into his vulnerable wildness, his soft animality, guts me each time it happens. The dog is dreaming. The dog has imagination, and it literally moves him.
I didn’t set out to adopt Otto as a writing companion—and when we first rescued him as a puppy, his teething and hyperactivity impeded writing more than his presence facilitated it. But as he’s grown older, Otto will sleep or idly play as I write if we take a few long walks around the block each day. And the walks and idle play—the company—have become an inseparable part of my writing process: the animal’s gotten into the poems. He fits there.
Part of Otto’s writing “help” comes from the schedule he provides, and those who freelance or adjunct or write full-time might understand the terror I feel when faced with an “unscheduled” day and a simultaneous massive list of deadlines to fill in those 24 hours. I now think in three-hour blocks, because that’s how long the dog will sleep at a stretch before his bladder or boredom punctures the work time. Eight to eleven, one to four, six to bed. Procrastinator to the core, I need these blocks to move forward, to keep my momentum sustained, and Otto’s temperament powers this schedule’s engine. At home, we call it the “animal calendar:” we’re living on dog time, driven to productivity by the biological needs of a forty-pound mutt.
It’s what Otto grants, not what he needs, that ultimately keeps me on the calendar. He’s thrilled-thrilled-thrilled, all windmill-tail, each time he welcomes me home, and he often army-crawls across the couch to rest his head in my lap while I’m writing. I don’t know if humans can sustain this sort of unflappable, unchecked communion. We’re not quite bred that way. But Otto’s empathy is instructive, and his patient wildness contagious. When I’m writing and he’s beside me having another dream, barking and imaginary-squirrel-chasing from the depths of his sleep, I feel sanctioned. I’m allowed to exist, like him, in my own unrestaint: I’m approved in the outlandish and necessary act that is the writing and making of more poems. In a climate where the poet often makes her own safe homes, because the larger world might not care what she’s up to, this approval proves enough to write the next poem, and the next, and the next.
—Rachel Mennies (Find Rachel on Twitter, too.)