When Cassie first came to live with us it became apparent very quickly that she hadn’t been socialized around other dogs much at all. In fact, piecing together the few stories we knew about her it appeared the most of her interactions with other dogs had never been very positive. We wanted to change that. We wanted her to be as comfortable and as confident around other dogs as we were.
First we introduced her to my brother-in-law’s dog, Circe. Circe is a high energy German Shepherd that truly never stops moving. Poor Circe was dying for someone to play with but Cassie, after a few cautious sniffs, preferred to stay close by our side. We introduced her to the neighbor’s dogs, a trio of senior citizens who barely came up to Cassie’s knees. One of them barked twice quickly sending Cassie back to her hiding spot behind my legs.
At the dog park Cassie would take a few steps toward a dog but then as soon as the other dog showed any interest in her, she backed away. Over time, on her walks around the neighborhood, she has run into some of the same dogs over and over again. Mostly one or two sniffs is enough for her but after 2 years she has, at least, stopped hiding behind us.
I’ve written all my life and whenever people ask me what I write I’m often a bit flip about it and tell them, “Whatever I can get paid for.” In later years I’ve amended that to say that mostly books for kids. And it’s true that I’ve written and published all sorts of things from working at newspapers to writing for parenting magazines to short stories and articles about the craft of writing. I’ve written books for kids of all ages. I’ve been published in a lot of places and a lot of countries. I’m a writer. I know that and I’m pretty confident about that (even if my confidence wavers from manuscript to manuscript.)
But I never said to anyone, “I’m a poet.” I’ve never claimed it. And the less I claimed it the more it grew to be something that belonged to other people and not to me.
I think that’s because most of my poetry has been written from an organic and instinctive place to help me sort out emotions behind some pretty intense life events. Through-out my career I’ve studied characters and plots and theme and setting. I’ve read poetry but I didn’t study the craft of poetry. I don’t understand a lot about rhyme or scansion or poetic forms aside from haiku. And when people blog or write articles about what it means to be a poet or a verse novelist or to even think poetically, well, I look at every article as though it were written about me, about my deficiencies as a poet. For some reason I felt like I had to learn more, write more, publish more before I could claim that title.
For the last few weeks the lady next door has been dog sitting for her brother. Mya is a lovely, small boned Golden Lab with sweet eyes and a hunger for playing catch. She’s been in the backyard a lot the past year and I’m sure she and Cassie have sniffed through the fence a time or two. Last week, when I had the front patio door open, Cassie starting barking like crazy. It wasn’t her “something scary is out there and I’m protecting you” bark. It was different. She barked loudly then stopped. A few seconds later there was an answering bark. They went back and forth a few times until I finally went to check it out. I figured someone was walking their dog and had stopped in front of our house and Cassie was just confused about what to do.
But no. It was Mya on the front lawn next door, straining to get to Cassie and Cassie at the screen door straining to get to Mya. They’d never met face-to-face before but they were pretty excited about the possibility. I let Cassie out into the courtyard and my neighbor brought Mya over to say hello. I’ve never seen Cassie so happy to see another dog. They sniffed each other quite thoroughly (something else Cassie doesn’t normally do or allow done to her) and Cassie even gave a play bow, the first I’d ever seen from her.
My current work-in-progress, like all of my stories, is a healing journey. Not an easy one as I mine my past for emotions to carry to the page. It’s written in verse because, well, because that’s the way the voices have come to me. Before I dug into the project in earnest, I reread many of the verse novels on my shelves. Some were free verse. Some were filled with a variety of poetic forms. Some were told in a single point of view. Some were told in many voices. Some made me cry and some made me laugh. At first each book I read made me feel like there was no way I would ever be able to finish mine. That I just didn’t have it in me to do right by the story in verse. But by the time I finished rereading about 30 of them I was filled with something different than confidence. I’m pretty sure it was acceptance. Acceptance that I am a poet and poems are one vehicle I use to tell my story.
For the past few days Mya has been coming over for short visits and each time I watch Cassie greet her new friend, I am amazed at her level of confidence in approaching and allowing herself to be approached by this young and very active dog.
As a writer I am always asking why. Why does this character do this thing in this situation? Why would that character react that way?
Why would Cassie decide this was the one dog she would let be her friend?
Why now, after writing poetry (and a whole lot of other things) all my life, am I finally willing to claim that being a poet is, indeed, one part of who I am as a writer?
Maybe the why isn’t really that important.
Maybe it’s enough to just be who I am supposed to be.