Solitude is better with my dog in the room. I’m sure of it. I’ve tried it both ways, with my dog, and without my dog. And I don’t mind being alone if my dog is with me in the room. And let me clear this up: a man and a dog together is still solitude. Okay?
For one thing, Bobby’s not just in the room, on the floor, by the door.
He wants to be near me. He wants to be in my shirt pocket. And I like that.
See, there’s this way my squirrel dog Bobby has of making his amber eyes look a little sad. He comes over near my chair at the desk and sits down on my right side. I am aware of him, even if I’m typing like a legal secretary. Focused. Trying to hold some image in mind as I look for words that will describe it so you can see it, too.
And Bobby’s watching me. So, one more sentence, then I pause and look at him. Big eyes a little sad. But swimming right there just beneath the surface like a dolphin keeping up with the boat I’m steering, is this bliss just ready to surface, to shimmer and break the water into a scatter of sparkling sun. All I gotta do is slide my chair back and let him jump up.
I usually smile and shake my head. And of course I talk to Bobby. Like he’s a person. I don’t do the whole high-singing voice thing. I don’t care that research shows the baby babble and cooing makes a dog practically pass out from a flood of oxytocin. Okay, so I do go a little higher, like up half a register. But no more.
“Bobby,” I say, a little on the whiny side, “if I let you in my lap, I won’t be able to type so good. I might get distracted and let a metaphor of simile slip by me.” He doesn’t care. He conjures up a little more of the wounded puppy face. My resolve weakens. The tail starts side-to-side on the floor. If I smile (I do), he knows he’s scored. Now he stands on all four.
“Okay, get up.”
And he launches. Landing a perfect 10 in my lap, and in the same fluid motion turns facing me. The tongue comes out to plant a big lick and I curl my lips under so he only gets to graze the moustache and whiskers. A couple of times lightly.
Then Bobby does this tight little round ball of fur where his muzzle ends up on my left thigh. Always, the chin goes on the left leg. Now he’s happy. There’s always a deep sigh. Contentment, and, I’m thinking, if I leaned over so I could see his face, I’d catch him grinning. The lap is mine, dude!
And I like it. Twenty pounds of warmth spreading across both legs and my belly as I watch Bobby’s breathing slow. And I swear he gets a little heavier. The weight of love. Sometimes I close my eyes. I know his are. Now we’re sharing the bliss.
I’ve got a writer friend in Nashville, J. Wesley Yoder, who’s got a tattoo above his left knee. It’s upside down so he can read it. Says, SADIE, right where she used to park her muzzle. Strong stuff between a man and his dog.
I’ve watched the sidewalk artists in Jackson Square in New Orleans. I stop for the tappers. Sometimes sit for the guitar man. I’ve even seen quickie poems doled out for a few bucks. But a writer of pages and chapters set up on the street—not so much. Solitude is the lot of writers and their stories. And all the better if it’s scenic, say a cabin in the mountains, or a cottage by the sea.
I type this, and think of E.B. White, who placed his writing desk in the busy foyer at his New England farmhouse. On his 44-acre saltwater farm in Brooklin, Maine, there were ducks and sheep and pigs and some spiders. And he welcomed the distraction of children. So, lucky him, when he was led out to meet Wilbur and Charlotte.
But most writers hang a sign on the door warning no disturbances.
Our man Thoreau went out to his ten-by-fifteen cabin at Walden Pond to live “deliberately” and alone, mostly. When Ralph Waldo Emerson, who owned the land, came out to see Henry David and brought a gift, a rug for outside the front door, he found Thoreau sweeping the stoop. He told Emerson to take the rug back, please, allowing he’d come to lessen his distractions so he could write. “You see I’m already tasked with sweeping the porch,” he said. “I don’t want to also add shaking out a rug.”
He was serious. He did not even have a dog. Though he did keep close companions with nature, which also counts as solitude. I’m just saying. Test it. Walk a mile in the woods by yourself. Sweet solitude in company with living creation. (And, yes, a purring cat counts. Of course.)
Now and again, I think about what Blaise Pascal, the 17th century French mathematician and Catholic theologian said. “All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.”
But I’ve decided, with Bobby snuggled in, and one hand resting on his head and the other stroking his back, that we can edit that old saw, sharpen it a little. Let’s say it like this: “If we could, now and then, sit some place alone, undistracted by the nightly news, and a puppy in our laps, the world would be a better place.”
And all the pretty words can just wait their turn.