Art has something to do with the arrest of attention in the midst of distraction.—George Plimpton
And what is writing after all, but art.
Betcha Mr. Plimpton’s right. It’s as plausible an explanation as any for my utter unwillingness to sit down on a Sunday and put pen to paper, as I’m wont to do most Sundays: distractions. Just ask any self-respecting dog about squirrels. The instant a squirrel shows up, whatever else was on the doggie agenda, Poof! gone with the wind.
I’m glad of the squirrel who’s taken to visiting us, me and Scout-the-Goldapeake Retriever, most Sundays when we sit out on the screen porch in the relative coolness of early morning and read. Well one of us reads, the other stands watch. I’m glad of the squirrel because s/he gives Scoutie a little excitement in his advancing age, while Chef David’s at work. Chef David is a sucker for the Scout bump—the gentle nose nudge that says hey, you, make yourself useful and scratch my ears. Also I’m glad of the squirrel because until this past Wednesday, there was no Dog Camp after an outbreak of kennel cough shut the place down for three solid weeks.
Back in Vermont, Scout started flagging on his runs with me about two years before we moved to North Carolina. A four-mile loop we once tackled without issue suddenly became a challenge for him, during which he slowed markedly at mile three, and then squeezed out another half mile before quitting entirely, sometimes just standing there in the road. Ultimately, we two dragged ourselves back to the car with tails tucked between our legs on these occasions.
When I mentioned this on the next visit to the vet, she shrugged.
He’s a heavily muscled adult dog who has a tough time getting rid of excess body heat, she observed.
He moved to Vermont from a rescue in Texas, I pleaded, hoping for a different explanation, one we could address with vitamins or some such.
He thanks you very much for greeting him when he stepped off the bus in New England, she quipped without missing a beat. Anyway, she continued, dogs aren’t really built for steady long-distance running. They’re sprinters—find somewhere you can take him off-leash. I do it on our farm property with our dogs. They sprint ahead and then stop and sniff awhile, and then I catch up to them and pass them by. Then they sprint ahead again, etc.
Easier said than done, if you don’t have the luxury of living on a farm. Anyway, I did manage this a time or two with a friend and her sweet Lagotto Romagnolo Alfie, who is impeccably trained to come the instant he’s called, and it worked fine. Scout was stoked to have a pal to nose around with, and I was equally thankful for the human camaraderie. First time I tried this alone with Scout, though, he took off into the woods after disturbing a chipmunk family and I had a time getting him to come back to me. Seems like peer pressure was the thing that kept Scoutie on the straight and narrow in the company of Alfie.
But when I reflected on what the vet said about heat, I realized she was correct, recalling the first occasion after Scout came into our family when the mercury dipped below zero. There was a solid foot of snow on the ground, and on our last nighttime outside visit, the moon shone on the snow and made the ice crystals shimmer in that exquisite way it does sometimes. Exquisite but painfully cold. He won’t want to pee, I was thinking.
I was wrong. Not only did he pee, he wanted to play. In nine degrees below zero, this Golden-Chesapeake Bay Retriever mashup from Austin wanted to play in the snow, a thing he did in short order, wallowing around on his back.
You can imagine what the heat and humidity are doing to this dog, now at almost ten and living in Wilmington, North Carolina. Those four-milers in the countryside are a thing of the past.
Which brings me to last weekend’s distraction: Scout was smelly. I mentioned this aloud to The Chef, who looked visibly relieved, as he prefers someone else point out the obvious when it comes to unpleasant things like stinky animals. Bawthtime, then.
But first, I decided to chance the heat and drive across town with one very excited mutt for a romp in one of Wilmington’s gorgeous parks. The good news is, the park was fairly empty last Sunday morning, with just enough other walkers and their dogs for some nice tail-wagging greetings.
The bad news: 83 degrees and humid. Scoutie lasted a mile before he told me in no uncertain terms he’d had enough. So we headed back home for the bath. Thing is, I couldn’t for the life of me get the tap to open in the tub upstairs where I planned to bathe him. I finally decided, it’s hotter ‘n heck outside—why not scrub him down on the patio? I filled a plastic tub with soapy water, gathered up towels and a brush, and went to work. About an hour later, Scoutie smelled sweet like David’s manly shower soap, and looked for all the world like a Ch-Ch-Ch-Chia Pet, as he does after bathing. He even allowed me to trim three of his toenails. (Toenail trimming aversion is a new problem with this Dog of the World, and a story for another day.)
Only a few days before this and the bath would’ve been impossible because the good people of Aqua North Carolina saw fit to cut off our water after a mix-up at the closing table, seems. Now there’s a distraction for you. While we were waiting on our first invoice, evidently they were waiting on us to request new service. Suffice it to say, we ironed out the problems but not before two solid days without water flowing from our taps, and untold phone hours on hold. (They asked via email, would I care to give them feedback about our recent “interaction” with them. I’ve been sitting on this request for several days before unleashing middle-aged Southern woman fury on the person whose job it is to read the feedback, if even anyone actually does.)
The distractions keep coming at warp speed. We’re still unpacking boxes and sorting through our possessions. On Friday we decided it was time to go on and buy the rug we’ve so desperately needed in our main living area, and so off the pair of us went to the store peopled by exotic folks from the other side of the world. We did this in part because the dog who only grudgingly allows me to trim one or two toenails at a time can’t get purchase on our slippery floors and lately has suffered some spectacular wipeouts that seem like they’d be painful. He’s none the worse for wear, but is visibly enjoying this new addition to our home.
Moving furniture around in turn prompted us to go on and try to make headway into emptying the big boxes still stacked on one side of our living room, especially since we’ll be entertaining one person for supper reasonably soon, and several others as house guests before it’s even time for Thanksgiving. The distractions come in layers: Open box, unwrap possessions, tote them up the steps to…someplace. Along the way, notice the thing you meant to finish earlier in the day. Plunk down the possessions in a pile with a promise to return to them shortly. Two days later, find them there where you left them with empty promises.
Sometimes the distractions add tasks to the list when they shouldn’t. A decision to place a particular piece of furniture is predicated upon emptying these two boxes full of things that will go inside or on top of the furniture. But once in place, the furniture looks all wrong. This instigates a ripple effect of decision-making and rearranging so that the furniture finds a new, better home, in a different room, but in so doing actually changes in part the original purpose of the room.
And on and on.
By some miracle, today I found enough focus to practice yoga, bake bread, and compose this almanac entry, at least. My journey into bread baking is still in its infancy, and does indeed require the P-word, as The Chef cautioned me at the outset. It also requires the T-word: There can be no hurry or urgency to bread baking. Distractions don’t help, either. It’s a good exercise to quiet the noise and refocus one’s efforts, I suppose. The boxes aren’t going anywhere.
Next Wednesday begins the annual birthday celebratory week for me and for Chef David. It’s a significant year for one of us. Could be a tad distracting.