A Writing Partner

Peg Boyle Single pays tribute to the four-legged friend who helped her complete so many projects.

February 26, 2010

My dissertation was dedicated to Mom and Dad and my book was dedicated to Rich (my husband) and Robert Boice (my dissertation adviser). One other ended up being listed in the acknowledgments and was vitally important to the completion of both. He was so notable he could go solely by his first name: Felix.

When he first came into my life, I would awake to his big brown eyes and thumping tail telling me it was time to get out of bed and take him for a walk. Every morning we would walk through the woods to a school yard where we scoured the perimeter for scents of little critters that had scampered through the fence the night before. Often he would find a squirrel to chase but never catch. These chases ended up with him leaning on the bark of a large tree with his tail wagging furiously — the squirrel safely perched on an overhead branch.

When we got home, I poured his kibble into his blue bowl and made myself some breakfast. He often waited — he was a social eater — and then we would eat together. Next we’d go into my bedroom where I had an old, large wooden desk with a computer on top. I would start up my computer and open up my dissertation document. He would circle around three times and snuggle into his bed, making himself as comfy as possible. He would lay his head on his short little legs (he was part corgi) and watch me for a while and then close his eyes for his daily beauty rest. I would work on my dissertation until 10:00, when I would call Julie (my other writing partner), which would inevitably disrupt his beauty rest. And since he was awake (although his being asleep never stopped me), I got down on the floor and cuddled with him just long enough for a break but not so long that I would have to confess it as procrastination to my writing group.

At noon we had another long walk and then a stop at the apartment gym. The gym consisted of a Nordic track, some weights and just enough floor covered by rug that my comfort-conscious pooch could make himself comfortable for the 45 minutes that I worked out. After lunch and a shower (mine, not his), we headed to campus. On the walk across campus from the far graduate student parking lot to my office, he would pull me towards the Math/Stat building and I offered very little resistance. Felix had already adopted Rich as "The Man" and dashed any hopes I had of being a feminist and the alpha dog. We walked into the large room that was a communal office for a group of graduate students and Felix would pull hard enough so that I dropped his leash and he could greet Rich with a joyful tail-wag and a slobbery kiss.

Years later, as I wrote my book, we kept a similar routine. Rich was still The Man and now my husband. Felix and I walked him the 15 minutes from our home to Rich’s office at the local university. As Rich walked into his building, Felix would halt and wait until he was sure Rich wasn’t going to play hooky that day and return home with us. Only as the door closed would Felix turn to walk home with me.

Now he took his beauty rest in a plush bed I had made to match the curtains in our second-floor study. Since I had replaced the old, large wooden desk with a modern, ergonomically correct one, Felix slept in his bed under my desk. On the hot Burlington summer days, he eschewed snuggling into his bed and did "the pig" on the wooden floor — while it made him cooler it also made him look cuter and so susceptible to many more disruptions of his beauty rest — that, yes, there were often blatant displays of procrastination.

While I was editing the final version of my book, we moved ourselves to the first floor as the stairs had become too much for him. I got myself a small portable desk and moved only my laptop downstairs. After I settled in, he would lie on the rug to my left, put his head down on his short legs and fall into a deep sleep. He had taken to snoring recently and the sound kept me company through final readings of my book, checking style sheets, and triple-checking Chicago Style formatting. I even took on the torturous task of self-indexing so that I could make sure that references to my four-legged writing partner made it into my book, something most professional indexers would have rightly skipped.

For 16 years he was my writing partner. When I didn’t want to get out of bed to face writing my dissertation, grants, articles, or, most recently, book, he gave me a reason to get out of bed. After a walk filled with squirrel chasing or romps in the deep Vermont snow, my lethargy was replaced by readiness, at least most of the time. The long hour-length walks that morphed into short hour-length walks gave me the time do to prewriting and framing in my mind. Since I had written the day before, the thoughts were still fresh. When I was getting sucked into writing binges and hypomania, a nudge on the leg by a cold, wet nose got me to take the regular breaks that I would have otherwise skipped, and so he helped to make my writing routine sustainable.

And now I miss him. To say that my writing routine is disrupted is an understatement. My life — our lives — are disrupted. He was a constant companion in our everyday routines. Our evening walks gave Rich and I a chance to talk about the day as Felix caught up on the latest doggy news from the neighborhood. While walking, Felix’s cute face and goofy gait spread joy as people smiled or petted him along the way, and often stayed too long at the stop sign while watching him through their car window.

And for all that I am a proponent of regular writing routines, I am more committed to the belief that life comes first. I am appreciative that other, very accomplished writers share this same sentiment. In On Writing, Stephen King wrote, “Life isn’t a support system for art [referring to writing]. It’s the other way around.” And Irvin D. Yalom, a psychoanalysis and author, admitted in Staring at the Sun that when he deemed it important for his clients, he broke his morning writing routine to meet with one of them.

I don’t know what my future writing holds. I know it will never be the same. Felix was my writing partner during my entire writing life. I do know that writing about him is one of the things that is keeping me going. As is viewing pictures of him with my husband and watching video clips of Felix not listening to our "come" commands ("come" was considered a suggestion in Felix’s vocabulary).

So this column is a tribute to Felix and to the four-legged writing partners that keep many of you company as you are writing. Please give your writing companion a pat on the head or a scratch under the chin for me. Replenish the stash of treats by your desk and be extra generous this week. Value, love, and appreciate them as they support your writing and bring joy to your lives.

I had planned to start writing a series on writing blocks, but as you now know, that plan was not to be. Taking care of Felix the past few weeks while struggling with when would be the right time to say goodbye took priority over writing. Although he will no longer be snoring by my feet as I am writing, he will continue to show up in these columns from time to time, as he taught me many lessons about writing, myself, and life.

As of my next column, I will return to my plans to write a series on writer’s block.

Thank you for being part of my tribute to Felix. You can see a few pictures of my beloved pooch at www.pegboylesingle.com by clicking on Felix. I wish you much joy and happiness in the new year. Take care, Peg.


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