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A Great Writing Companion
My sweet old dog Sidney Morris Attenberg passed away this past week. I am sad. I already wrote about him a bit and posted some pictures on instagram, so I won’t turn this into an obituary for him. (Although would anyone blame me?) But I can tell you a few things: I had him for eleven years, he was funny, noisy, known for his snorts and sneezes and wheezes, he’d steal food off your plate if you weren’t paying attention, and if he liked you he’d sit by your side forever. He really was so beloved in this neighborhood, in this world, and everyone who met him got a kick out of him and his goofy little face.
I have appreciated the remembrances, notes, gifts people have sent. It has warmed me deeply. Thank you for caring for him, and for me.
This probably will seem obvious to anyone who has or had a pet themselves, but I can’t imagine a scenario where I would have stayed as sane as I did (the little I did) during the pandemic without my dog. I live alone, work from home, and my job essentially dictates that I do not engage with people regularly. (Unlike many people I know, I had very few professional zooms or calls during the pandemic.) It is a quiet life I lead, which suits me, but for years it suited me as a contrast to a noisy world.
But what happens when that whole world gets quiet for months and months at a time. When there is no contrast, just merely quiet? Who was there for me to talk to, to check in on me all day long? Hang out with me, play with me, keep a watchful eye over me? Pose for dumb pictures I could post on the internet just to try and connect with the world a little bit? This little dog did. We were there for each other, but truly, he was a real presence in the silence. For many things about him I was grateful, but that seems worth mentioning most now that this house feels so empty without him. He was a true companion to me during the roughest, quietest of times.
Not just a great companion, but a great writing companion. In the time that I had him, I read five books out loud to him as part of my revision process. The day before he passed away, I finished reading to him the last book I was writing. I definitely thought he was saying to me, “All right, I’ve listened to enough books, lady! You’re on your own now.
Now I will have to read my book to someone else, or I suppose just to the air, or maybe I will imagine a listener. (Or maybe I will get a new dog someday. Not soon, I don’t think, though.)
Weirdly the last piece of the puzzle I was working on for this book was on the topic of writing through grief. I was struggling with writing it, nailing the point I wanted to make. I thought the reason I was having trouble with it was because I was already living in it, knowing that it was just a question of when my dog would pass. I remember staring at that section every morning and then saving it for the next day, every day, until it was the only thing left to write. I could do nothing but face it if I ever wanted to move on and finish the damn book.
I am going to heed all the advice I gave in that chapter. Write at the grief, not around it. Give myself the time I need. And when I get to the place where I’m ready, let it all go and move on.
I will not forget him though. I will not forget this special dog. (All dogs are special, yes, but we are allowed to think ours is the most special.) I think it’s good not to forget, it’s good to honor, it’s good to remember. To hold onto a particular feeling or memory that can make us feel safe and less alone. Why would we ever want to forget that?
You are reading Craft Talk, the home of #1000wordsofsummer and also a weekly newsletter about writing from Jami Attenberg. I’m also on twitter and instagram. I try to answer comments as best I can, which are open to paid subscribers. You can subscribe here or give a gift subscription here. (If you are a teacher let me know, and I will give you a free subscription.) Fifty percent of the proceeds will go to various cultural, educational, and social justice organizations in New Orleans (and sometimes elsewhere). This week’s donation went to Animal Rescue New Orleans.