Lessons from dog

IMG_1971 Last January, Adam and I adopted a gorgeous little Chesapeake Bay retriever/golden retriever blend* from Decatur Animal Services. Tessie's a rambunctious, affectionate dog who will bounce up and down next to you if she's excited, and loves playing fetch. She loves people, but will act out to test her boundaries.

As I've said before, she's taught me some important lessons about life -- and about writing. Tessie's older now, and as she's matured, she's taught me more about how to value the important things in life.

Go after big challenges. Tessie tries to pick up sticks that are longer than she is every time we go for a walk. If given the chance, she'll lay down and chew them into bite-sized pieces. Like sticks, challenges can be broken into tiny, manageable steps until it's doable. But you won't know that until you face it, pick it up, and carry it around for a while.

Show your people you love them. Retrievers are some of the most loving animals, and want to please you above all else. They will chew up your stuff, and maybe even some of your favorite stuff, but you'll forgive them for it. Even if you discipline them, they'll still want to cuddle later. People make intentional and unintentional mistakes every day. Love them anyways.

Don't forget to play. Everyone needs some time with friends to let off steam. Have fun. Make memories. Be silly.

Friends sit. There's a lot to say for just being present. Sometimes, it's not possible or appropriate to say anything at all, and being there can say more than anything. Your human friends might not pet you, but being there can be as comforting as petting your dog.

Everybody messes up. One night, Adam and I came home to a puppy that had moved an unopened bottle of Noah's Mill bourbon and chewed through the wax and cork. She had spilled most of the whiskey and lapped up a bit of it, and she was tipsy. I was pissed, but since we didn't know how much she'd drunk, I was more worried. We stayed up with her for a while to make sure she was drinking water, had food, and was OK. I checked on her a couple times during the night, and we took her running the next day. Friends, coworkers, family -- everybody makes mistakes.

Be unafraid. Even if a bigger (or more self-important) dog is in your face, it doesn't mean that you won't prevail. Stick to your guns, and don't let anyone push you into doing something that makes you ethically or professionally uncomfortable.

*That was the pound's best guess to her lineage. She was a stray, so they can't say for certain.

Writing lessons learned from my puppy

Tessie's first snow day. About a month ago, Adam and I adopted a retriever blend puppy from Decatur Animal Services. Our mostly well-behaved Tessie has adjusted well, and we've all gotten the hang of our new routine. During that time, I've also learned some valuable lessons from watching her play and grow.

Shit happens. Clean it up, set better boundaries and move on. There's really nothing to be gained except more stress from focusing on it for any longer than you have to.

Chase what you love. Even when it's tough or you just want to nap or it seems someone's stolen your ball -- er, idea -- keep chasing it until you've got a firm grasp. Then, play with it. Come up with a fresh angle of attack and carry it all the way back to your editor.

Multitasking is like trying to fit two toys in your mouth at once. The moment you've got a grasp on one, the other falls out. Personally, I end up getting distracted from one project any time I get an idea about the other and both end up jumbled and in need of a rewrite. Focus on one, and some of the distractions are gone.

Food is really, really important. Recently, time crunches have meant I've eaten too much junk and too few veggies. As a result, my energy levels, concentration and health have taken a nose dive. That's started to change for the better, but still can use some work.

Sleep is even more important. It's OK to flop over and nap when you've tired yourself out running after stories. Just set a timer, get back up and go after it.

Toys and stories are hidden everywhere. Yes, the possibility of rejection makes pitching difficult, but an unwillingness to dig for topics (or treasure or sticks) isn't an excuse. Keep looking and pitching and it'll come together. Promise.

Get out from behind the screen. If Tessie's up on the couch with me, she'll walk on my laptop keyboard and lick my screen if she needs anything. I've taken more productive breaks for a short burst of exercise or mental health cuddles since we adopted her than ever before. As a writer, these breaks prevent burnout and will, ultimately, make me stronger and healthier overall. It also never hurts to spend time with a puppy.