My Dog Is My Agent

Maria Shine Stewart presents a paean to the adviser who, wordlessly, helps her navigate the world of professional writing.

September 3, 2010

How to get a dog an agent? Should I get an agent for my dog?

These days, one can Google almost anything. But life has taken me in another direction entirely.

My dog is my agent.

In the doggy-dog world of professional writing -- an expression I read in a student paper well over 20 years ago -- I crave a faithful friend, a nudge, a noodge, a confidante, an advocate.

And fortunately, I live with mine.

Some people might counter that it takes a human agent to help a writer move from obscurity to renown. I beg to differ. I sit at the feet of my master. Her name is Robin, she weighs twenty pounds soaking wet and she is ahead of me 100 percent.

Good author-agent relationships can last a lifetime. Robin has already given me seven years in the single year I have owned her. Talk about giving more than you get. Through thick and thin, high and low, sun and shadow, dry food and table scraps, Robin has been there.

She demands no fee other than feed, food, fodder. Her tastes are simple.

She has taught me to cherish the basics -- eschewing (that’s not chewing) hype in favor of substance. She is my double, my right-hand paw. She offers the stability of four legs when I struggle on two -- and walks on two when she wants to meet me eye to eye. Or, in her case, eye to navel. And, at the same time, she prevents me from the navel-gazing self-absorption, even narcissism, to which writers can fall prey.

If I risk taking myself too seriously, she will ground me in the present: demand to go out, to come in, to go out again. She brings me back to the base of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, without which my higher aspirations will topple.

Not long ago, we were on a walk at dusk, and my agent spit out a frog. It all happened so fast; I did not know at first what happened. I looked down and saw two tiny black eyes looking up at me. A mole? A vole? Robin intuitively knew that this venue was not for her. But she sampled it. She took a risk.

That savvy frog played dead for a few minutes, then hopped away, marveling at the inner light and voice that said: “It was not your time yet.”

As a writer, I learn deep truths from such encounters.

Another thing that makes Robin an excellent agent is that she has never eaten, destroyed or defaced any of my manuscripts, although she has sniffed most of them. If a piece is ready to go, she nudges me with her nose. If it needs more revision, she nudges me with her nose. Some might say that she just wants her nose scratched.

But I know that the message is, as author Natalie Goldberg, in the aptly titled Writing Down the Bones, puts it, “go further.”

If someone rejects my work and I seem dejected, my wise agent speaks mainly with her eyes. “I may not read much, but I think as humans go, you are more than adequate,” she beams from across the room.

Then she may circle around, acting out with her whole body the mandala of the publishing process -- even of life itself -- and take a well-deserved break.

She forces me, likewise, to take a break from that odd box that I stare into for hours on end and the tablet I pound with my claws, risking permanent damage. She usually keeps her distance as I write but perhaps will come close if I play a soulful ballad to comfort myself -- something along the lines of Dan Fogelberg’s “Longer.” My agent has a sentimental streak and shows great forbearance if I tease her (only a little) by playing barking sounds from the box. She is concerned with my overall and immediate welfare, not just ultimate rewards.

At such moments, she will jump in my lap, with her swishing tail that clears away any rough drafts that have stopped halfway to the ground on the pyramid of papers in my office. They were not ready for publication anyway.

Robin has the style I lack; a good agent needs that, too. I may resort to wearing a sweaty gray T-shirt underneath a brown, cotton jumper, pale pink socks and clogs -- but she remains fresh and elegant, with glossy brown fur, sparkling white teeth that need no enhancement and permanent high heels. A high-protein diet keeps her slim, and she has perfected a growl that surprises those who think they can take advantage of her/us.

A Brittany spaniel-labrador-terrier lineage allows for her roving spirit, nose for news and show-me attitude. She epitomizes research passion, and the day she broke free to swim through an icy creek in pursuit of deer, I learned to never give up. She just might have a novel in her.

Favoring a clean life and with habits any writer seeking longevity might emulate, Robin only drinks water and -- rarely -- milk.

And she needs no prodding to support me in my writing. How does she do it? She runs toward me enthusiastically when I approach, she begs to accompany me on interviews and research trips, and she never has a cross word. Dang, I must be good.

A dog/agent named after a bird also offers a degree of symbolism. Robins are known for stunning blue eggs, but my Robin will lay no egg -- nor will I. She would never abandon me to run down the street alone, as I did as a child who believed that if I ran fast enough, I would fly with the birds. And yet, if I do take off on an imaginative whim, as poet James Dillet Freeman put it in his moving, inspirational poem that was taken to the moon, she too will “be there.”

Robin knows that I have potential -- she knows it in her bones, even if she has eaten most of them. She does not harbor a gnawing doubt. No, if she’s gnawing anything of mine, it’s because she likes it.

Other lessons from the master:

  • Aim high. Don’t let that chattering squirrel intimidate you. Self-doubt is for puppies. You just might make it up the tree if you keep jumping on two legs.
  • Know your place: In the presence of superior talent, back down.
  • If you’ve got it, flaunt it. Leave your calling card around the neighborhood.
  • Communicate nonverbally. A well-timed tilt of the head can elicit important information.

Not bad advice for a dog who shrank at her own reflection when I brought her home from the pound.

I do not know if psychologist Carl Rogers had a dog as an agent, but “unconditional positive regard” emanates from Robin’s heart. She does not care about my breath or how deep are the shadows under my eyes. She will guard me vociferously from anyone who could distract me from writing -- the mail carrier, for example.

Amateur psychologists still reading might marvel: “Classic projection. She puts on her dog her own aspirations, even complexes.” To this, Robin delicately ponders the origin of the phrase “pooh-pooh.” It’s well-known in the canine world that Sigmund Freud himself, stroking his dachshund one afternoon while mulling over the mysteries of human nature and the English language, rearranged the dozen letters of I-SEE-DOG-GRO[W]-UP to create his ID-EGO-SUPEREGO paradigm that rocked the world. advises me that “A good agent will help edit your book, get it into the hands of receptive editors, and make sure that you get the best possible deal.”

Indeed, Robin will help me trim the deadwood from my writing. The sooner I do that, the sooner she can go out. She will accompany me on any journey -- over land, sea and cyberspace -- as I hunt for editors, readers, the right word.

And she will not settle. She has taught me to wait, and wait, and wait in pursuit of that single moment of inspiration.

With an agent like that, I cannot lose.


Maria Shine Stewart teaches and writes in South Euclid, Ohio.


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