Thursday, October 30, 2014

Reevaluating expectations, beagles & writing

Let me preface this post by stating that I love my dog, because it might not be clear further in...

Some people choose a dog because of aesthetics. They like the narrow, dainty grace of a whippet, the silky beauty of a golden retriever, or the hypoallergenic non-shedding quality of a poodle.

Some choose based on size appropriate for their lifestyle. A big dog for a big yard or to take along on hiking trips, while others want a low maintenance lap-sized apartment pet they rarely have to walk.

Some choose based on personality. The goofball bulldog, the family-friendly lab, the big-personality-tiny-body of a chihuahua.

Eva was chosen by my ex because he'd always wanted a beagle -> so, mostly based on the aesthetics of the breed.

I grew up with big, easily trainable, happily playful retrievers and retriever crossed breeds, german shepherds, etc.

...which are about the furthest thing away from a beagle I can imagine.

My expectations of a dog pretty much did a 180 the moment she came home. I actually remember bursting into tears several times because I was so frustrated. To put this in context, I have trained cats, I have trained fish, I have trained chickens... who are, arguably, one of natures less intelligent creatures. Patience is not something I lack. Creative work-arounds are not a problem.

But Eva? Wow. Yeah, she frustrated me.

It took months to housetrain her. I'd have her outside for 45 minutes and all she would do is sniff the ground. I'd finally give up, bring her inside to try again later, and almost immediately there'd be a puddle or a deposit on the floor.

I'd walk her 4 hours a day, invested in a weighted doggie-backpack, and she was still so crazy hyper she'd tear around in circles, literally bouncing off the walls and furniture.

She didn't want to retrieve a ball, chase a frisbee, or get in water deeper than her toes. She completely ignored me when I called her - whether I was 3' away or 30'. When I walked her, 'heel' was impossible. She'd alternatively yank at the leash, or I'd have to drag her. Anything within reach would go in her mouth. She'd dart into traffic if given half the chance, and more than once I had to chase her down the street or apologize to neighbours after she had run inside their house. A couple times, she even escaped and ran right into crowded restaurants.

With Eva, I had to reevaluate my expectations, then revise them. And keep revising them.

After six and a half years raising/training Eva, these are my expectations:

She needs at least 2km of walking before she can be trusted off-leash, and even then I can't let her out of sight and have to always be aware of what on the ground might be considered tasty.

(note: my latest discovery is that bear poop gives her diarrhoea. yeah, this is my dog...)

Nine out of ten times she'll come/respond when I call her, unless it rained the previous day, then it's about 50/50, and if there's a child in the vicinity, there's zero chance she'll listen unless she's on leash. Eva will chase a ball or frisbee 6-8 times before getting bored and wandering off. If she finds an escape hole in the fence when I visit my parent's house, she won't find her way back, she'll invite herself into the first open door she sees and make herself comfortable. She has three phone numbers on her tag depending on the city she might escape in, which is especially helpful when this happens.

Yes, I do love my dog, but she is very high maintenance and never 100% trustworthy.

I find any new story is the same way. It never quite works like the last one, and even when it is working, it may not last.

Characters come differently, voice comes differently. Plot explodes in a mess of jagged phrases, or is pried out sentence by careful sentence.

But just like I love my dog, I love writing. And a big part of it is because it's not easy.*

There's a line from SCARLIGHT which might be one of the 'truest' things I've written, something that reflects back a little too much of myself:

Things aren’t better when they’re free, they’re just easier to discard when you use them up.

...and like Eva, I'm not looking for easy, or free. There's little-to-no worth in something that doesn't take hard work, that doesn't take a little bit of sweat, of soul, of blood.

I've known people who throw things away. Who constantly chase that ephemeral oasis called 'happiness' on the horizon. And they are the unhappiest people I've ever met.

Sometimes I joke that nothing I write is publishable. Sometime I even believe it. But I never give myself an excuse to slack off, to expect anything less than the best I can give it.

In everything, not just in writing.

I think that's the greatest gift dyslexia has given me.

I don't want the excuse.

I don't want free.

I don't want easy.

I want to know I've done my absolute best, that I've worked to the frayed edge of my ability.

For me, that is the ultimate validation, so if-and-when I fail, I'm going to reevaluate my expectations, continue to move forward, and I'm going to appreciate every small win along the way.

So thanks, Eva, for many tears of frustration and for testing the limits of my patience and sanity for every single one of the (approximately) 2,300 days that I've owned you.

I think you've prepped me well :)

So, until my arm/back is healed and I can sit at my desk (without my ribs popping out) and I can type (without my arm going numb), I'm still going to smile, I'm still going to take the high-road, and I'm not going to take the excuse and give up.

My mind/brain still works just fine, and that's not a small win -> that's huge.

*I also have an extremely temperamental rescue cat, who I picked out... so yeah, I'm always going for the challenge :)


  1. Hah. I always figured people got dogs like that as a test-run for having children, myself :)

    1. I thought buying a plant was the test-run and buying a dog was instead of having children...

  2. I love the way you worked this post into writing. I feel you on the dog training, sounds like Eva is a lot like ours, Mugsy. Last week he escaped three times and had to be brought back. We finally figured out where he was getting out and covered it up. He is so exhausting and there are times I really want to kick him, but he's ours and I've worked really hard to get him to this point and I'm not ready to give that up. The same can be said with anything I write. Thanks for this post, it's all very true!

    1. Oh my goodness, dogs you love to hate, and hate to love. They drive you crazy, but you still don't want a replacement.

      ...and yes, it's certainly true with stories as well ;)

  3. SUCH a great comparison! I have heard that that breed has challenges when it comes to training. I think the harder you have to fight for something, the more worthwhile it feels in the end. I love your positivity! <3

    1. One of the most stubborn breeds out there, and because they're just so gosh darn cute, most people let them get away with murder :)

      You and me both, always looking for the silver-linings, right?

      high-five to not giving up!


Type me out a line of Shakespeare or a line of nonsense. Dumb-blonde-jokes & Irish jokes will make me laugh myself silly :)