Learning to Wait: Walking the Dog as Contemplative Practice

Norval takes a rest.

This is pretty much how our outings go. I move, Norval doesn’t. If he’s not sniffing, relieving himself, eating sticks, or barking at Gus the Goldendoodle, he’s most likely defying me. He knows he gets rewarded for “good walking,” so when he loses the mood, and he doesn’t see me reaching for the treats in my pocket, he simply plants himself. Dog as immovable object.

“No peanut butter crunchies, no walkie-walkie, Lady Who Thinks She’s in Control,” he seems to say.

“Spoiled,” offers a friend.

“Stubborn,” declares Precious.

Just as with some other concerns in my life, I need to adjust my thinking about this daily routine. For if I continue to focus on my frustration, we’ll never make any headway, the dog or me. If I see only what’s going wrong—dog not training as fast as I would like—I won’t notice what’s going just fine—dog making some progress and spring on its way.

Lately I’ve been feeling put upon, what with Precious being sick, and my books not being published. Granted, I haven’t written them yet, but several authors just had readings in town and I’m hooked on the acclaim and the accomplishment, not the hard work and the hustle.

So this morning, while Norval splayed himself on the pavement, I listened to the birds and admired the trees about to burst. I gave thanks to God for the progress Precious is making with his cancer treatments, and for my writing that has been published. I waved at the new neighbor, and wandered down memory lane upon seeing the forsythia on the corner, as that particular yellow always takes me straight back to Grandmother Lyles’ house on South Ninth Street in Oxford, Mississippi.

These are simple things, and they may sound hokey to you. But such small shifts led to my looking heavenward and saying a prayer, instead of cursing under my breath. They reminded me how adorable Norval is most of the time, and what he means to Precious and me. They convinced me that pulling on the leash was not the answer. Waiting was the answer. And so I did.

Eventually, Norval deigned to move, and we made it back home at our own pace, one paw in front of the other, with our behavior, and our gratitude, intact.

“Do you work?”

Clark Gable: “Oh, Mr. Faulkner, do you write?”

William Faulkner: “Yes, I do, Mr. Gable. And what do you do?”

It’s a simple enough question, posed to me by the office manager at my dentist’s office this morning while I’m paying my bill. (I’m not really dressed to be out in public, so this may be one reason she’s wondering. Sometimes I forget that everyone doesn’t run around town in their sweats. Without makeup.) This, after just being told that one day my gum may separate from my teeth, bottom left, thereby allowing “stuff” to accumulate in the resulting pocket.

“What happens then?” I ask, not really wanting to know. I am still gripping the sides of the dental chair, even though the examination and cleaning are over.

“We send you to a gum specialist,” says the smiling dentist. Man does he have nice teeth.

“But let’s not worry about that just yet. For today, everything is fine.”

Obviously the smiling dentist does not know me as well as, say, Precious or my therapist. For worrying about instances that might never happen is my favorite hobby. Right up there with borrowing trouble and catastrophizing about events that statistically occur once every gazillion years if you live in the Outback and don’t have insurance. At least that is what the old me would do; the new, 2011-me is going to be laid back, carefree, a go-with-the-flow kind of middle-aged goober. So I smile back at the smiling dentist with the perfect teeth and sort through the basket of free toothbrushes looking for one with a purple handle. I have just read, in Move Your Stuff, Change Your Life: How to Use Feng Shui to Get Love, Money, Respect and Happiness (Karen Rauch Carter, Fireside, 2000) that purple is a color of prosperity. I can’t find a purple toothbrush, so I throw caution to the wind and go with red. The old me would have never done that. I’ll have to look up what red means asap. I’m hoping it indicates “bold” and “confident.” “Published.”

“Yes,” I say to the woman behind the counter. “I work. I’m a writer.”

I am terribly pleased with myself for answering her so directly, free of excuses about not being in the New York Times or not having been an Oprah Book Club pick when there was still time to be an Oprah Book Club pick.

“Do you enjoy your work?” she asks.

“Yes,” I say. “Yes, I do.”

“Then you’re lucky.”

“Yes,” I say. “Yes, I am.”

Rave Review for Festival of Faith and Writing

Last week I was surrounded by writers and word lovers and people who aren’t scared to ask questions about what it means to be faithful in the sense of religion. It was like being at Disneyland, only it was at Calvin College and there were no circling teacups or obnoxious songs about how small the world is.

One impressive voice of the many talented and brave speakers I heard is that of Sara Miles, a woman who took a bite of bread and tasted the grace of God. A woman who now devotes her time to being with those in need of food, fellowship, understanding, acceptance, or presence. And boy oh boy can she write.

I devoured Jesus Freak on the plane home from the Festival of Faith and Writing in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and I will be dashing to a bookstore this afternoon to pick up Take This Bread. A woman worth reading, and, more importantly, being inspired by.

Another fine example of what a woman can do with pen and paper and passion is to be found in Jo Kadlecek with me in the picture. She’s the one on the left who’s not holding a copy of her moving book, Woman Overboard: How Passion Saved My Life (Fresh Air Books, 2008). Talented, funny, kind, and willing to take me out to dinner when I visit Massachusetts in the fall. A winning combination…

A revised version of this post appears at HerNashville.com/spirit

Agent Angst

Writers often contact me asking, “How do I get an agent?” I often respond, “I’m not sure.” Because, like many of the curves on the path to publication, it’s tricky. It’s also competitive. Where I find myself is cheerleading the minority, those few publishing peers who think you can get a fair deal without an agent. I’ve spent most of my 25-year publishing career with small- to mid-list presses. Today I work in acquisitions with a nonprofit religious publisher. We do not offer what many would consider “big” advances. But nor do we, in my opinion, take advantage of authors.

I do not think authors should take “just anything” that is offered to them. And I agree with those who say having an agent is a great way to go. With the ever-changing landscape of royalties, as related to digital rights, etc., it will probably become even more advantageous to have someone who can help the author “figure things out” with regard to contracts. But I do want to encourage those who don’t have agents: They may be hard to find, but there are opportunities out there that can be beneficial for both the publisher and the author. As with everything in life today, or so it seems, you can find information online about agents. You could start here: http://guidetoliteraryagents.com/blog/

Takeaway Tip: If you’re not already following agents, editors, publishers, and writers–especially those related to your genre–on Twitter, and reading their blogs, get busy.

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