Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Actions Speaking

Dixie is sniffing around the edge of the yard, scavenging for a sweet gum twig or a fallen tulip, stalking stray moles or chipmunks who errantly wander into the open. I am sipping weak, caramel-flavored coffee from a black Disney mug. Archie is sitting at the edge of the patio, his tail crooked sideways. His creased ears flop across his tiny forehead like fallen leaves. He is in pain.

From somewhere beyond the grove of vine-like trees that line the edge of our backyard, a male voice echoes. Archie and Dixie spring to action. Hair bristles on the back of Dixie's neck. Archie waddles to the edge of the fence, stares toward the voice and begins barking a broken warning. Dixie howls, growls, and runs along the fence barking.

There is no other sound. The dogs quiet. Archie rests on his haunches staring out the side fence. Dixie stares out the front fence. A sparrow chirrups. The upstairs air conditioner rattles its filtering hum.

The voice sounds again. It is the gas man, making his rounds, calling out for entrance into an old garage, a chance to read the meter. He is circling the neighborhood, soon to arrive. Archie, resting again on his haunches, his tail still coiled like a broken slinky continues his barking, continues to do what he sees as his job, continues to protect his house, his pack, from anyone who might intrude, who might be unwelcome.

It doesn't matter that yesterday morning Archie was in a crate at the vet's office, waiting for minor surgery. It doesn’t matter whether or not the biopsy of the small lump that the veterinarian removed from the left side of Archie's trunk comes back negative. It doesn't matter if I've forced him into a tiny dog t-shirt that he seems to loathe, just to protect the stitches that have closed the incision. Archie has a job to do.

Yesterday, as I drove Archie to the vet, catching thick traffic on the sloping curves of Montana that stretched several miles along I-74, I quelled a storm of mounting imaginings about his upcoming surgery, by listening to NPR and a story, like this one about the differing expectations from workers from Generations X, Y, and Z. The commentator suggested that, unlike our parents, we choose to define ourselves in terms other than what we do for a living. According to the story, our "real" lives are lived during evenings and across the expanse of the weekend.

Even though I fall into late Generation X, and I imagine that my wife thinks of her work as an interruption from what matters to her, I still find the notion almost antithetical to the way I think. Of course, I never thought of myself, exclusively, as a copyeditor, an instructional designer, or even a teacher. Instead, I always maintained the notion (even if it may have been slightly delusional) that I was working dual careers, with poetry and fiction as the worst-paying second job imaginable. Nevertheless, those money-making jobs, to this day, play a massive role in my own self-definition. I am, alas, a copyeditor. More, from that simple description, I suspect you could envision pages upon pages of prose describing my character. You would not, of course, manage to capture the totality of my psychology with those pages, but I have no doubt that you could glean far more insight than you would from a brief conversation with me about motorsports.

More, like Archie, who knows instinctively that his job is to protect his yard and his house, I feel as though I know, instinctively that my job is to write, to manipulate language, to observe the state of the world, to consider what I see, and to communicate those thoughts.

I do not doubt that this is an illusion. After all, when I began my freshman year in college, I was certain I wanted to be a medical doctor. Then, after miserable results in freshman chemistry, I was certain I wanted to be a physicist. More, if a poker tournament happens to be on ESPN, it is not difficult, despite my limited knowledge of the game to imagine myself as professional poker player.

Even still, two weeks ago, I sent out 40 submissions to literary magazines. Amazingly, I've already gotten one rejection. Since I chose to send my work to some of the best literary magazines in the country, I don't know what to expect. Who knows, maybe all of the poems will get placed. Maybe none of them will.

For now, it doesn't matter. It's time to wait, to have patience. I'll keep working on the poems and stories at home. I'll keep coddling Archie as he tries to sleep through much of the pain that must radiate from the incision site. I've learned this much, at least. Without patience, which often seems in short supply these days, I'd never reach my goals. Without patience, I'd agonize over the results of Archie's biopsy, perhaps sacrificing the attention he needs now. And every once in a while, I wonder if that isn't everyone's job—to have patience, to know when we need to wait and when our waiting should be done.


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