More lessons from Shadow implies there have been previous ones, right?
That’s because this guy has taught me innumerable lessons. The most recent? He provided a map for the plot of the novel I am currently writing.
Perhaps you think I exaggerate? At least overstate?
I’ll start with some of his earliest lessons. Then maybe you can understand.
That Shadow declined the rescue invitations of the entire neighborhood was providential. Abandoned as a puppy, the starving nine or ten month old puppy adopted us. You would think that two big male dogs would fight. But Shadow and our red Doberman Ally loved one another from the start. In fact, that last year of Ally’s life was filled with joy because of new best friend, Shadow.
When John caved in and agreed to another Doberman, it was the best Christmas present he could have given me. Dobies are not his preferred type of dog…too hyper, too excitable, too needy, too…everything.
And Shadow took on the role of becoming this little guy’s protector. I think the namesake Ally puppy reminded him of the best friend he had lost early one Sunday morning.
Protector to the point of appearing out of nowhere to plunk himself between Ally and me and a humongous Rottweiler who loved to stand in the road when I was first training the puppy using a long leash.
As Ally grew older and a lot bigger, the three of us began to hike in the mountains behind the house. There were no cars up there, no traffic and Ally obeyed… most of the time.
When Ally was close to a year old,
a friend staying with us asked if he could take the dogs on a hike in the mountains behind our house. We agreed.
He came back. The dogs did not.
“When did they take off?”
“Didn’t you notice when they were no longer with you?”
“Where did you last see them?”
He had no answers.
All the rest of that afternoon and evening, I searched and called and searched and called. Increasingly panicked.
Just before midnight, I went to bed, certain I would never see either dog again. One or both had been attacked or injured or…
About a half-hour later, John called out, “Come see who’s standing on the porch.”
Shadow and Ally. I knew what had happened. Ally got lost. Instead of sticking with Shadow, he went off on his own up there following something irresistible- Dobies are sight hounds- and got scared. Could not find his way home.
But Shadow? He stayed up there in those mountains all that night, among the mountain lions, bears and coyotes, until he found that silly puppy. And he led him home.
Roll the years forward to nine PM March 13th, 2014, when Shadow and I watched our beloved Ally boy drop dead, it was Shadow who helped me cope with the loss of this oh- so- special Dobie-boy: more lessons from Shadow.
Okay, got it, but how does all this relate to my writing? This is some super cool stuff, hang on!
Our fourteen- or so year- old dog Shadow has developed sundowner’s syndrome. Meaning when the lights are out, and the rest of us get ready for sleep, Shadow’s anxiety amps up, and he becomes extremely restless, continuous pacing, nails clicking on the wood floors and therefore long nights with very little sleep. He who braved Rottweilers, coyotes and bears now suffers from his internal demons.
“Recent surveys have revealed that intuitive breakthroughs have occurred during times when people are tired, their minds the opposite of alert and focused. Rather, sluggish and just plain wiped out. Counter-intuitive, I know. If you wonder why this may be for a minute, you can come up with the same rationale as did the researchers. When we’re worn-out, we’re less prone to distractions. That foggy feeling can be a signal for the unconscious to reveal itself. A good thing because some of our imagination resides in our unconscious.”
I wrote those words a few years ago while pondering some surprising aspects of creativity. Recently though, I have experienced firsthand the truth of what had been a wholly intellectual understanding.
During the height of those endless nights, before John and I figured out some methods to help him-and us-get rest, and my days were little more than going through the motions, my tired, foggy brain provided the map to complete my current novel.
For this new novel, I have taken a considerable risk and jumped into a wholly new genre of historical fiction. Indeed, I cannot speak for all fiction authors, but most of us begin our stories with research. Maybe a ton of research for those of who find themselves mesmerized by the topic or era. Like me.
Since the characters in this novel are infamous- Pontius Pilate and his wife, Claudia- there is a surfeit of available nonfiction books, novels, articles, about these two historical figures and the times during which they lived.
That’s a good thing, right?
Yes and no.
Yes because we need to see the people we write about. They need skin, bones, expressions and unique personalities, natures, and motives.
Yes, of course. But there’s a rub, isn’t there? That innocuous word unique: the profoundly exclusive view that only our mind and psyche can conjure up.
Consequently, there’s a point at which we must stop reading and studying what others have written, how other authors explained the why of the event catapulting the person into endless history. But it’s a razor’s edge because, by nature, researchers want-─no need─ to be accurate.
Is the description of this palace plausible?
How would Claudia have dressed for her marriage to Pontius Pilate?
How did people travel 2000 years ago?
The list is endless.
One of the worst of those exhausting sleep-deprived days, when it was exceedingly hard to like Shadow, never mind love him. I thought of the dog he once was – the guy pictured in the image at the top of this page after happily sloshing around in the mud of the mountain stream, no white hair on his muzzle, no internal demons-and I resolved to make however long he has left with us, matter.
And so we have resumed our hikes. Climbing that mountain path behind our house in northern Nevada is an endurance test on the best of days, but when wiped out due to lack of sleep? You can imagine.
But, here’s the thing: it was during those two tiring hours that Lucius Pontius Pilate and Claudia Procula separated themselves from the hundreds of thousands of words I have read and studied.
Claudia became, “the woman who is alone, overpowered by the weight of a wisdom for which there are no words, and yet erect, undaunted.” And Pilate? A man wholly different from any account I have ever read or heard.
Finally, I’ve arrived at the place I need to be to complete this book.
“We attempt to re-create the thing and in so doing we can feel Something else taking shape. With the power of our words, we do our very best to make it real and adorn it with Truth. In this work, we are alone; editors, friends and other readers can make suggestions, recognize the need for technical corrections but the essence of the message is ours alone…There is an audacity necessary in loving and in writing. The audacity to do it and then to hope that it matters.”
The list of more lessons from Shadow keeps growing: patience, gratitude, endurance…and how not to complain when I’ve not gotten enough sleep.