Why is Writing Fiction so Difficult?

by Matthew Lowes

Years ago I taught a creative writing course, and I began the first class by writing a mathematical equation on the board. I suggested that the great difficulties of writing fiction could be understood through this equation. It was partly just a way to shock students into thinking about and seeing something in a new way. But the equation itself was a result of my own inquiry into the question: why is writing fiction so difficult?

At first consideration, it doesn’t seem like it should be. A friend of mine once remarked when I complained about some writing difficulty: “What’s the problem? Just make something up.” And indeed, in some sense this is good advice. He was only joking, but his comment actually helped solve my problem. When all is said and done, we are just making up stories. But like any good lie, you would like it to be believable … and like any good truth, you would like it have an impact. And to do this, you have to keep your story straight.

A piece of fiction may start with a character, a setting, an event, an image, or any number of things or aspects of these things. The story then builds with another thing and another thing and all the interactions and connections of these various elements. For the sake of argument, let’s call each one of these things, be it big or small, a story point.

The first one is easy. Take anything — the queen of a small island that is sinking into the sea … a young artist sent to the front lines of long and futile war … an ancient city on the edge of the desert … a fleeting glimpse into a stranger’s eyes — or just make something up. Like flashes from half-remembered dreams, these points bubble up from the subconscious, and a thousand stories begin to form.

One point, however, does not a story make. You have to add another point and another and another. And not only do the accumulation of points have to build tension and conflict, but they also all have to somehow exist harmoniously with each other. Each point that you add forms another connection, not only with the previous point, but with all previous points. And it turns out you can express this with an equation.

What this shows (I think … I worked this out with some help many years ago) is that for each new point added, the number of connections increases by a number equal to all the previous points. So with two points you have one connection; with three you have three; with four you have six; with seven you have twenty-one; and so on. By the time you reach fifteen points there are over a hundred individual connections. It doesn’t take a math whiz to see that the number of connections increases exponentially as you add more points.

Furthermore, this equation is only accounting for single direct connections to all other story points. If you want to count all possible connections through other story points, the numbers get truly astronomical — mind boggling! But you get the idea. There’s a lot to keep straight as you move forward. Luckily, it seems our minds are somewhat tuned to do this narrative processing work. Nevertheless, in any given story, and especially a novel, there’s a lot to keep track of.

And that’s just the telling a good lie part. If you want to include the good truth part, we’re going to have to add another dimension — a dimension composed of layers, consisting of all these same points on the level of theme, voice, writing, metaphor, character change, plot structure, mythic underpinnings, and so on and so forth, up to and including the ineffable.

That’s why writing fiction is so difficult.

Reader Experience of Character

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The Instructor during A Relaxed Fiction Fluency Seminar Moment (Source: MK Martin.)

Reader Experience of Character; by Eric Witchey

First, an apology. I’ve been very busy working on consulting work and preparing a couple of classes, so I’m late on my volunteer, shared blogging commitment. Mea Culpa. To rectify that, I’m offering a few thoughts from the first class of a six month series I’ll be doing for WordCrafters in Eugene. A link to the class appears at the end of this little essay. The classes can be taken as stand-alone classes or as a coherent series at a discount. Regardless, they will be fun and applicable to both long and short form fiction.

Now, on to a few character concepts to consider. This is, essentially, the introduction to the first class and an invitation to join us.

Begin:

Character exists in the mind/heart of the reader. Given the same text, no two readers have exactly the same character in their mind/heart. Reader perception of character is made of up of 1/3 literal text, 1/3 implication, and 1/3 projection. Once the reader has internalized an understanding of the interaction of the thirds, the writer violates the reader’s perceptions at great risk of losing the reader. I’m not saying it can’t be done to good effect. I’m saying it is rare, risky, and should only be done intentionally or if the writer believes they are a god of luck.

Figure 1 shows the components that the reader combines to create their experience of character/story: Text, Implication, and Projection.

VennImpProjTextFigure 1: The Reader Creates Character in Their Mind/Heart through Interaction of Three Mechanisms

While the reader derives their perception of character from the above mechanisms, the internalized construct that is the imagined character in their minds can be described as a different three part construct.

Thanks go out to James N. Frey for first introducing me to this consideration of character aspects.

From text, implication, and projection, the reader builds up an aggregation of beliefs about the character’s psychology, sociology, and physiology. Each of these is equal in weight in terms of interaction with one another and impact on the reader’s experience of the character.

Even though the text may not present them as equal by offering each equal real estate, the mind/heart of the reader will create the missing bits as needed (up to a point).

Figure 2 shows the components that the reader combines to create their sense of character: Psychology, Sociology, and Physiology.

VennSocPsychPysThemFigure 2: The Reader Internalizes Three Character Components, which Are Inseparable from Story Thematics

Now, what I have said so far is pretty straight forward, albeit a little abstract. Even so, most writers can begin to see how they might build a catalog of physical character traits, how they might build up a backstory for each character, and how they might set both the backstory and the foreground story in a sociological milieu they have created. All good, and these are certainly things we will explore.

However, this is where it gets interesting and where many writers run into trouble, especially if they imagine story progressively in the same order readers read stories.

For a fully satisfying read, the reader’s perception of character must be loaded with elements that are either resonant with or in contrast to the thematics of the story. The nature of characters cannot be separated from the dramatics and thematics of the story. In a very real sense, character IS story.

One definition of story I’m very fond of is: Story is the demonstration of successful personal and social change as a result of stress.

In Figure 2, the three-part overlap at the center is labelled “thematics.” The reader’s perception of characters is critical in their eventual understanding of the themes of the story. If the characters are built with sufficient skill, the reader’s perception of them will be inseparable from the reader’s perception of the themes the story demonstrates.

The themes being demonstrated, or even just touched upon, by aspects of character may be explicit or implicit in the text, which is another way of saying the actual, literal textual representation of character may present or imply themes. Additionally, the reader will project their own life experience into the story and onto the character. Note that I said “will” and not “might.” No reader can divorce themselves completely from personal experience, and the writer must manage the reader’s projections by being very specific and appropriately vague. That last bit gets a lot of writing instructors a bit up in my face. It flies in the face of the “concrete details” and “show, don’t tell” adages. However, any selling fiction writer will likely agree that knowing how to let the reader’s imagination create a story is intertwined with knowing what words to put on the page and what words to leave off.

The first two classes in the six month series will explore the above theoretical interactions by practicing hands-on techniques for developing and managing characters in emotionally compelling fiction. The first class will focus primarily on how the reader builds their understanding of character, and hence story and theme, from what the character says and does. The second class will focus primarily on how the reader builds their understanding of character from the more subtle influences of the character’s social and psychological history as presented or implied in decision making and setting experience. Both classes will explore techniques for managing the reader’s contribution to character and story.

Here’s the link to the series. I hope we fill the room with highly creative, motivated writers who challenge the limits of techniques we play with. That is when the classes really sing for everyone involved.

https://wordcraftersineugene.org/ff_witchey/

Luck and skill to all who write and send.

End

To Purge or Not to Purge

By Cheryl Owen-Wilson

To purge, or not to purge, that is the question.  Whether ‘tis nobler to allow our minds to wallow in misery,  hoarding our past misfortunes, and sorrows.  Or to purge, to purge all from our being, so creativity may blossom and flourish in its wake.

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To Purge—The act of ridding one’s self of unwanted feelings, memories and conditions. In doing so, one hopes to experience a sense of cathartic release.

It’s a New Year, and along with the New Year many make resolutions for change. In order to do so, they look back at the past 365 days and resolve to make the new ones better. Some examples of mine would be—writing that novel, losing those pounds, taking that trip, and on, and on. However, I’ve discovered the old year will follow me into the new one unless I—purge. For me it was never a question, to purge or not to purge. What was my question for years was—how? I stumbled upon my answer over 10 years ago, when I wrote my first, end of year, Christmas Letter. Yes, I’m one of those people. But once again, through the power of the written word, a great mental purge was discovered.

I utilize the craft of fiction, poetry, and memoir in my annual Christmas Letter, and since I write about my husband, our seven children, five grandchildren, and myself you can only imagine the length of said letter. Our children have taken to calling it, Our Mother’s Annual, Award Winning, Best in Fiction, Family News Paper. I call it my, End of Year Purge, because, we’re a very large family, with many personalities, and lives, and my aging brain can’t possibly remember it all, no matter how hard I try.

So while the children’s title is all in jest, as I can attest that every word I write in the letter is the absolute truth, how do I accomplish this without giving away family secrets? I’ve found a collision of fiction, mystery, and memoir accomplishes my goal quite nicely.  It is all in the arrangement of words you see—such as saying—Betty (names have been changed to protect the innocent) spent a year exploring the many avenues available to a young woman in her 20’s. This would be my way of saying, without actually saying it—Betty, spent the year either jumping from job to job, or boyfriend, to boyfriend—you choose, as I’ve used similar phrases for both scenarios. There have also been a multitude of boyfriends, girlfriends and even the occasional husband, who’ve been featured in the letter and shown in photos only to be completely absent the next year, or replaced by another name and face entirely. This is where mystery comes in—are they buried in the back yard or been abducted by aliens? No one ever asks, and we never say. However, even with my creative narrative, the magic of the letter is that year after year it captures a chronological story of our family’s lives. Through the letter, I am able to celebrate the sweet memories and accomplishments of each and every family member, while also purging the nasty bits that occur with humor and cleaver word choices.

The second half of the Christmas letter is a poem. The poem is my way of embracing the positive world events of the past year, while purging the negative, and also remembering those whom we’ve lost. This year’s poem is shared below.

So dear readers I say purge.  Write it all down, and burn it if you must, but purge none-the-less. My purging not only frees my mind of clutter, it also creates a recorded history of both family and world events for my grandchildren to look back upon and read, many moons from now. I would love to hear what rituals you use to purge in order to clear the clutter, and begin anew.

Let Hearts Grow and Bells Ring Out                              

Let bells ring out while snowflakes fly, and let tinsel and glitter fall from the sky.

Let mystical enchantment surround us, one and all, while peace, love and happiness, hold us tightly in its thrall.

Once again our home has been transformed into a storybook, fantasy world, where even tiny, Grinch-like trees can bring magic, when unfurled.

For the Holiday Season, is upon us once again dear friend.  So let us take a moment over a hot chocolate, or perhaps a hot toddy laced with gin.

As we look back at the event filled year of Two-Thousand and Seventeen, where future historians, I am certain, will proclaim, “How could they’ve not seen?”

There’s a reality star twittering rants from within the hallowed halls of our highest house.  Facts have become “fake news”, while with nuclear weapons, he plays cat, and mouse.

But within the red and blue swath of these our United States, there is still much to be applauded; fueled by our many debates.

We marched by the millions, pink hats in hand, and from that momentous occasion, the #metoo movement began.

Thus, all now know, we do have a choice, as we stand speaking loudly in one, strong, united voice.

Then on to a lighter note, for the perfect stocking stuffer, we have a winner, but do we really, truly need, that double, fidget spinner?

I much prefer the momentary craze dedicated to the Unicorn’s vibrant rainbow hue. As it has given us, color-laden Frappuccino’s, bagels, and of course, Unicorn dip poo!

While here in Eugene, for those of us “Ducks” who bleed yellow and green, this years “civil war game” was an orange and black defeated, scene.

And Mother Nature chose this year to give us quite a display.  We watched in throngs—as day became night—what more can I say?

Other than, let us not forget the YouTube sensation, followed faithfully online, when April the Giraffe, gave birth live before millions, for the very first time.

Alas, many new beings entered this realm throughout the past year, but there were also those who left us. So, let’s give them a final, good cheer.

For Mr. Tom Petty, I know he now has wings, and has Learned to Fly, and is Free Fallin’ though a starlit night sky.

And Mr. Monty Hall is making heavenly deals, while listening to Fat’s Domino serenade him with Blueberry Hills.

Then Gentle on My Mind is a Rhinestone Cowboy riding through the clouds, heralded by the applause of adoring, heavenly crowds.

Finally, I throw my hat to the sky in memory of Ms. Mary Tyler Moore, and to Jerry Lewis, I hope funds for MDA continue to ever pour.

I now gaze out my kitchen window at our newly planted, crooked Dr. Seuss Tree, and it reminds me that by allowing your heart to grow, you can begin to see.

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So like the infamous Grinch of old, let all our hearts begin to grow, and grow, then perhaps through this great expansion of human compassion, seeds will sow, and begin mending not only fences, but also the divided borders across this earth. For isn’t that the true reason for this season, of renewal, and rebirth?

Love, conquers all they say, so let’s, let bells ring out, and let’s let love, have its way!

A Turning of the Wheel

By Cynthia Ray
We have come once again to the end of the year, the turning of the Great Wheel, a new

cycle of life1cycle. There is the sowing, the reaping and the resting. During this time of rest, we can choose to look back at our experiences, the fruits of our labors, our life and determine what we would like to continue, to discard what did not serve us, or what new things we would like to plant in the new year.

Questions I ask myself:  Did I create to the full extent that I wanted to, or that I could? Did I procrastinate or put aside my true calling in service to some idea of “should”?  Did I sacrifice joy on the altar of worry, perseveration or illusion?  Did I spend time with those that I wished to spend time with–the people I love and care about?  When I spent time with them did I show them how much they meant to me?   Did I do things that took me in a direction I did not want to go?  How did I respond to the trials and tribulations of life?  Did I see the gifts in every moment?

Do you remember Marley’s ghost in the Christmas Carol? He wore miles of heavy chains that he had forged in his lifetime. These chains were forged with his thoughts, his actions and deeds of both commission and omission.

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Perhaps we are also dragging around chains of bondage that we ourselves have created – but the whole point of Dickens story is that our past does not have to dictate our future. It is the choices we make right now in the present that change our future. Scrooge, when confronted with possible futures being created based on his current actions, chose to change.

In the Tarots Deceiver (Devil) card two figure stand draped with chains. The chains, however have no lock and key, are not bound tightly. All they need to do is choose to lift them off, and their self-imposed bondage is over. It is always our choice, in this very moment to abandon old patterns, old ways of being and step into something different. It all comes down to free will, choice and our own will and desire for aligning ourselves with our highest possible strivings.

Tarot Keys 1-29-06 008 The Deceiver #15

Scrooge was helped by intervention outside himself and so are we. There are friends, books, inspiration of others, mentors, teachers that have gone before us, or surround us now that we can turn to for guidance.   There is our own inner voice that constantly whispers to us, if only we choose to listen.

So, I wish you in this new year, the joy and strength of breaking old patterns, of putting aside chains of bondage that no longer serve you, and doing that which gives you joy.

breaking the chains

The 2017 World Fantasy Convention

by Elizabeth Engstrom

This is a follow-up post to Christina Lay’s experience of the 2017 World Fantasy Convention. I was there, too, and my experience was a little bit different.

I was there because I had been a judge for this year’s World Fantasy Awards. That experience warrants a blog post of its own, but I won’t go into that here. This is about attending the convention.

WFCAward

World Fantasy Award

When I was young and in the hunt, I used to go to this convention all the time. It is a professional convention, which means it is heavy on professional writers, editors, agents, and booksellers, and light on fans. There are fan conventions, where people wear costumes and write fan fiction, etc. This is not one of those. It is smaller, quieter, and to me, more meaningful. Professional.

I haven’t been to the WFC in many years, but I went to this one in San Antonio because I had judged the awards. I saw many people that I haven’t seen in years, and those relationships had not changed. We were all happy to see one another. I went to panel discussions, I participated in a surprisingly rich panel discussion of one of my favorite authors, I dined with friends old and new, and had a nice time.

But the minute I stepped into the convention hotel, I had a familiar feeling. These conventions bring out two emotions in me. One is envy. I tend to castigate myself: Why hadn’t I finished that book that’s been sitting on my desk for the last six months? I could be celebrating its release along with everybody else who was celebrating a release. (In fact, I had a book released this year and was celebrating its release.) The other is a feeling that I have become irrelevant, last-week’s news. And yet, I had a book released this year, and was a judge for these prestigious awards. Why would I feel like that? I don’t know, but both things plague me at every WFC.

This year, however, as I was sitting the ShadowSpinners table in the Dealer’s Room, I saw a very successful author I have admired for years. We have met, but I don’t know him well enough to approach (oh yeah, I also have to fight the introvert in me who wants to sit in my room and watch television), so I just watched him walk the floor in the dealer’s room.

I saw in him what I was feeling in myself. He looked exactly like he felt like he was irrelevant, last-week’s news. To me, he was anything but. And with that astonishing revelation, I started looking around the floor, the halls, and I saw it everywhere, on many people’s faces. There were the young hungry authors, networking their hearts out, but those of us of a certain age weren’t as aggressive. We’ve been well published. We’ve paid our dues, but somehow that wasn’t enough.

Knowledge is power, and once I realized that I was not the only one who felt like that, I stood a little taller, felt a little better, enjoyed myself twice as much and was bolder in all my interactions.

I used to teach an advanced novel writing class—mostly about marketing and getting published—and one year WFC landed in Seattle in the middle of the course. Almost everyone in the class decided to go. I gave them an assignment: Write down three goals for this trip. Those who did as I suggested had a much better, more productive, time. And each of them achieved their three goals. Those who did not stood in the shadows, feeling irrelevant.

Here’s the takeaway for me: Make three goals, and actively and aggressively pursue them at a convention like WFC. I could have made my time more productive, I could have had a better time. I could have made these my goals: Introduce myself to three authors whose work I admire (I actually did that); Make three new friends to connect with at future WFCs (introvert that I am, I mostly hung with old, familiar faces); More aggressively market my new release (Benediction Denied, a Labyrinth of Souls novel, from ShadowSpinners Press) by making sure that certain editors and reviewers had copies.

World Fantasy Convention is the best convention for me, despite my personal demons. I always enjoy myself, I always have fun, I usually buy art at the astonishing fantasy art show, and the big Friday night booksigning is beyond imagination. The East Coast conventions have a completely different personality than the West Coast conventions. Baltimore is up next year and after that, Los Angeles.

I am a big believer in attending conferences and conventions. If you’re a professional writer, or want to be, this is the convention for you to attend, get to know, and frequent. Find me on the convention floor. If we’re not already friends, we soon will be.

World Fantasy 2017 ~ Stealth Version

by Christina Lay

LoST Command Central

 

This November I had the interesting experience of attending the World Fantasy convention in San Antonio as a vendor. This is the first time I’ve attended WF, and my first time as a vendor, so there was a lot to learn before I even set foot in the convention hotel foyer. Luckily, a chair behind a table in the dealers’ room is an excellent vantage point. True, I missed 99.9% of the programming, but I did get to watch all 900 attendees walk by and was able to speak to quite a few.

Preparing to present the new series of Labyrinth of Souls novels from ShadowSpinners Press  at a large convention like WF was daunting and there were about a hundred and one details to figure out as I stumbled along. It would have been helpful to have attended WF before so I could have observed how things worked. For instance, I had no idea I could sign up the Labyrinth of Souls authors for a reading. Luckily, Stephen Vessels new all about such matters and arranged a reading for us on the fly. And I didn’t find out there was a hospitality suite serving free lunch until Elizabeth Engstrom stopped by and filled me in. I also didn’t know that just by virtue of having books at the convention I was signed up to participate in the big author signing. Good thing Nina Kiriki Hoffman was there to sit beside me and lure people close with her sweet smile and multi-colored pens. I also thought that sitting behind a table for eight hours a day, four days in a row wouldn’t be much different from the day job. Wrong! Someone has to be there just in case- heaven forbid- someone wants to buy a book. I was doubly blessed to have Matt Lowes and Pam Herber there to relieve me and make sure I didn’t pass out from a lack of hot coffee. So the first and most important lesson I learned is this: have friends who know stuff. I was extremely lucky in this respect. If you’re on own at WF or any big con, be sure to make friends (aka future minions) fast.

Me and Nina at the Author signing.

While all the introverts in the room shudder over the idea of mingling with a herd of strangers, I’ll point out that being a vendor was a very handy thing for me; introvert extraordinaire. I had a place to be and a reason for being there. Nothing like a wall of books to sit behind to 1. Give you an instant topic of conversation and 2. Make you look like have a clue. Although I could not totally avoid the dreaded “small talk with strangers awkward whirlpool of death”, I did find it much easier to interact with the people who stopped by and showed interest in the books.  I even got to pretend to be nonchalant when Terry Brooks came over and looked at our books because I was busy processing a payment! So much better than standing there with an idiotic grin and a bad case of brain freeze.

Naturally there were just enough last minute gremlin-in-the-works type issues to keep me anxious and hyperventilating up to and through the first day. For instance, as we rushed to get the fifth book published and shipped to San Antonio, the printer inexplicably rejected the cover file was  over and over. Eventually they shrugged and said, “yeah, it was our mistake, but we don’t know why.” Nice to know, but not helpful as you end up paying for expedited shipping without having seen a proof and then waiting at the table for the last-second, unseen books to arrive. Second most important lesson, never leave things to the last minute. The last minute being…say…three months before you think you actually need the things.

Other issues/ opportunities that might come up: using the Paypal app on your sure-to-be-surly-and-uncooperative new cell phone, getting a sales permit and forgetting to collect sales tax in Texas, the timing of shipping hundreds of books to a hotel at the same time as 900 other people, negotiating the underground labyrinthine world of a convention hotel, figuring out how to have your corporeal self and fifty books in two places at once, and so on.

So mine was a sort of behind the table, tucked in a corner view of World Fantasy. I got the impression that it was it a pretty awesome con for those attending as readers and writers. I met a lot of interesting folks, heard about some great speakers and panels, sold some books, was given a pile of books, received a lot of compliments for the look and concept of the series and generally had a good time. Was it worth the time, expense and serial headaches? Definitely. The third important thing I learned was that the World of Fantasy is in good shape, and I’m very proud to be a contributing part of it.

 

 

Three Lessons in Writing from a Blind Dog

GoldenPupFace

(Image Source: By Golden Trvs Gol twister –
Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,
https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=18521767)

Three Lessons in Writing from a Blind Dog

Eric Witchey

Today, I give thanks for the lessons of a blind dog named Bud.

For eleven years of my life, I was lucky enough to be the companion of a blind golden retriever named Bud. He was a smart dog—a really smart dog. One of the reasons I picked him out of the litter was that I watched him develop. The dogs were boarded where I was living, so I knew him from birth. He was the first to figure out how to get out of the birthing kennel on his own. He was the first to figure out how to get back in to get a free meal from his mother when all the pups were out romping. He was the first of the pups to learn to come when called by name.

We became inseperable.

When he went blind from progressive retinal atrophy at about two years old, I was devestated. I thought my little buddy, Bud, was going to have to be put down. The breeder recommended it. My vet recommended it. My friends told me he would be too hard to care for.

I couldn’t do it. I kept him.

Thank God.

Bud taught me a lot about writing. He wasn’t much of a writer himself, but he was wise in the ways of creativity.

For example, he figured out that if he wanted to go for a run, he didn’t have to wait for me to take him on a harness. He walked around the back yard until he found the fence corner, walked some more until he found another fence corner, and slowly but very methodically triangulated on the center of the yard. Once he had found center, he began to walk in a circle around that center point.

I know. This sounds quite unbelievable, and I have to say that the first time I saw him do it, I was shocked. In fact, I thought maybe something else was wrong with him. He walked in a circle for a little bit. Then, he expanded the circle and broke into a trot. Finally, he expanded it a little more and ran full-tilt-boogy around and around and around the yard. He ran full out like he was wearing his napkin, carrying a knife and fork, and chasing a road runner.

This blind race would go on for a while, and with each lap around his running circle, the center of the cirlce would shift ever so slightly. Little-by-little, the center would shift until Bud the Blind Dog ran at full speed into the fence that bounded the yard. After he hit the fence, he stopped running, rested a bit, found his corners, went to the center of the yard, and started again.

Usually, he’d hit the fence a glancing blow and stop immediately running. Occassionally, he’d hit nearly head-on. Once, he ended up with a bloody nose and a cut on his cheek.

My friends suggested I tether him. My vet still thought I should put him down. Still a bit worried he was maybe a bit sick in the brain, I watched for a while to see what the hell he was about.

I decided he was fine when I realized that Bud the Blind Dog did this every day that we lived in that house with that yard.

I learned my first writing lesson from watching him run. Even though he couldn’t see where he was going, he could still run like the wind. When you he hit the fence, he returned to the center and started again. I also noticed that even when he was running in circles, he was actually covering different ground with each lap.

At another house we lived in, I came home one day and discovered that my helpless blind dog had climbed the willow tree in the back yard.

Yes, really.

He didn’t climb high or far, but he was up past the second split and out on a foot-thick horizontal limb nearly five feet off the ground. There, he stood, nose high, sniffing the breeze. There, he stayed for some time. Initially, I thought I should go save him, but some impulse held me back. Again, I watched. He did not seem to be distressed at all. In fact, his tail was high and wagging. Eventually, he carefully and slowly backed up along the limb and tried to back down past the place where the branch joined the trunk and down to the first split of the trunk. The effect was less than graceful. I ran to help, but before I got there, he slid, scrabbled, and fell to the yard below. He jumped up, wagged his tail, and trotted off across the yard.

I remember thinking that he had gotten up there accidentally and it wouldn’t happen again, but it did. A few days later, I watched him nose around the base of the tree, move back a bit, and bolt up to the first split and right on up past it to the second. He had a little trouble getting around and onto the limb he seemed to like, but he managed it like he had done it a hundred times.

Watching him, I realized had indeed practiced this bit of doggy gymnastics. It wasn’t accidental. It wasn’t random. He knew exactly what he was doing, and he knew why.

I did not, but I decided I didn’t need to know his reasons. He seemed very happy up on that limb. My best guess is that he could get his nose into the breeze better from that position, and he liked to smell the world beyond the yard. Mind you, I’m just guessing.

From his tree climbing, I learned that things that are supposed to be impossible are sometimes the best things to do because they let us find new perspectives. Even if doing them is a little painful when we have to back down or move forward, they can still be worth doing because they expand the edges of the world we live in. I also learned that practicing technique eventually leads to the ability to climb trees we can’t even see.

The third lesson, but certainly not the last, I learned from my blind dog was actually a lesson I learned from two dogs. The group of friends I hung out with during that time included a whole pack of various dogs. One was a young yellow lab named Corey. Corey and Bud were good friends. When the whole crew got together, we would put all the dogs out in the fenced yard to play. At supper time, we would call them all in through the back garage door. However, the rule was that no dog got fed until all the other dogs were in and sitting in their places.

Normally, this would be fine. However, Bud the Blind Dog had a little trouble finding the back door. The other dogs all came in and lined up, but they had to wait for Bud to fumble his way to the garage wall and nose his way along to the open door.

Now, I don’t know if Corey was naturally kind and helpful or just hungry and impatient, but I have good reason to believe the former rather than the latter. Anyway, Corey figured out that if she went and found Bud, gently took his ear or his scruff in her mouth, and tugged at him, he would follow her.

We would call the dogs. Corey, normally very obedient, wouldn’t come. Instead, she’d go find Bud, grab his scruff, and tug him to door, through, and up to his place next to the food bowl. Then, all the dogs could eat.

Bud seemed truley grareful, and the two dogs developed a lot of trust and acceptance of one another. Corey was the first self-trained dog’s seeing eye dog I ever met. She helped Bud find food, helped him find water, ran in circles with him sometimes, and even blocked his impact on the fence. She helped him hike with us, and she made sure she always knew where he was when we were in the woods.

From Bud and Corey I learned that sometimes, we need someone we trust to bite us on the neck and pull us through doors we can’t see if we want to succeed.

Looking back over the years, these three lessons have served me well. I have learned to run fast and hard even when I can’t see where I’m going. I’ve learned that when I hit the fences of life, I only need to rest a few minutes before finding my center and starting again. I have learned that doing what other people think is impossible lets me rise high enough above normal to experience new smells, smells that help me live life more fully. The new perspectives have been worth the bumps and scrapes and practice it took to perfect the techniques needed to climb. Perhaps most important of all and most difficult for me, I have learned the importance of trusting a few other dogs to see well and to help me find and move through doors I need but cannot see.

-End-