Friday, September 28, 2012


Sometimes when you are working well into the night or when you have begun at an early hour, your attention is caught by the sound of your dog, Sally, engaged in the primal meme of moving about on one of her sleeping venues in what appears to be a slowly narrowing circle.  This behavior has been explained to you as going back to the outdoor dogs, making a nest for themselves in the snow or frost.

Although the explanation makes sense in a functional way, you enjoy the picture for a number of reasons that have less to do with the specificity of dogs in the snow and more to do with language and writing.

Because many dogs who perform this circling gesture are from breeds that have little or no association with snow, this explanation may have a greater content of verbal inventiveness than fact.  Although Sally is a mix of the Australian cattle dog and the Australian Shepherd that is American rather than Australian and may not have as many shepherding instincts as commonly believed, and she is by design an outside dog, you’ve not seem her performing this circling behavior outdoors. 

The notion of a dog making a nest for itself in the snow has enough plausibility to sound right, but it also has a tad too much plausibility to the point where the explanation could be a great canard.  The transmitting medium is word, either spoken or written.  Words can make absurd things sound plausible.  Words also have the power to make things with solid background in scientific or practical applications sound absurd.

When you see Sally in this kind of frustrated action, pawing at her blanket or bedding, you are aware of her seeking some kind of comfort and balance, which reminds you of your own occasional circling.  You at such times are not trying to make a nest in the snow.  You are in fact trying to make a comfortable sentence, brimming and fresh with energy and clarity.

Sometimes you despair of writing your way out of this morbid sense of narrative quagmire.  You circle endlessly, in your head, on notepads, on the computer screen, attempting various word orders in your attempt to capture the seemingly hopeless task of bringing a sense of living presence, order, and excitement to ground in a single sentence.

At one time, your circling produced a rat-a-tat of short declarative sentences, not so much with the same intent as Hemingway as the hope of building some kind of bridge between the inner and outer causes and the realistic effects on the persons crossing the bridge.  At the time, you were losing your fascination for Hemingway and gaining a different kind of fascination from your mentor, Rachel Maddux, and from Thornton Wilder.

Whether the explanation for why a dog circles is spot on accurate or fanciful to the point of daftness, Sally does it often and you try often enough to rearrange the furniture of a sentence until it works its way into the save column and, in its way, out of your system in the manner of a passed kidney stone.

When she is successful with her circling, Sally has earned an hour or so of naptime.  When you have done with your own, you have earned a temporary return to the orderly flow of narrative information.  For a time there is a sense of quiet, comfortable industry in a room fraught with potential for misadventure.

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