In the last few weeks I’ve experienced writer’s block for the first time in my life. Part of my block seems to be related to the difficulty I’m having with the physical act of writing (due to the repetitive strain injury I’ve discussed before) and part of it is the grand expectations I’ve built up around this new blog/website.
I’ve planned this website for years. I’ve worked on it for months. Tons of thought and energy has gone into the appearance and setup of this site while in the back of my mind bubbled all the ideas and goals for the content. Not just ideas for this or that post, but ideas for series of posts on themes I wanted to explore on an ongoing basis. And because I’ve spent so much energy on making the site look as perfect as possible, I convinced myself that the writing has to be perfect, too.
I’ve been telling myself I have to cover Deep and Meaningful Themes in fresh, new, exciting ways that will cause readers to erupt in epiphanies left, right, and center. Readers must swoon over my intellectually and emotionally compelling posts — posts that will be perfectly proofread, too, of course.
No pressure there.
As a result of the combined physical and mental stumbling blocks to writing (more on the former another time) I’ve written the beginnings of a dozen new posts so far. Meanwhile life rolls on. I’ve wanted to share my life on my blog, but it hasn’t been perfect enough.
Instead, here’s an example of the kind of quotidian event that I like to write about:
A few days ago I was on the phone with my mom. It was a warm enough day that I didn’t need the heat on in my room, so my bedroom door was open. This allowed Barnum the freedom to roam about the house. I figured he was watching my personal care assistant (PCA) clean up the kitchen because PCA watching is one of Barnum’s favorite leisure activities.
Later, my PCA poked her head in to say she was leaving. I half-glanced her way and waved goodbye as I listened to the story my mom was telling me.
A couple of minutes later Barnum came into my room. I wouldn’t have noticed except that he went behind my door and began nudging it with his nose. I thought there was probably a piece of kibble behind the door he was trying to get to. But he didn’t snork anything up. Instead, he nudged the door till it closed — almost. It was shut but not latched. He knows the difference because if I cue him to shut the door he doesn’t get a treat till it latches.
This time, too, Barnum knew the door wasn’t truly shut and gave it a very purposeful, firm nudge. When the bolt slid home Barnum straightened up, looking very satisfied.
He turned and gave me a look that said, “All’s right with the world now.” Then he trotted over to his bed to curl up for a nap.
I burst out laughing, interrupting my mother’s story. “Barnum just came in and shut the door after himself!” I told her.
I don’t know why Barnum decided to shut my door without being asked. He didn’t look at me with that, “Where’s my treat?” face that I know so well despite the fact that closing my bedroom door is a job he gets paid for on a pretty regular basis. But since he apparently wasn’t expecting a reward, he did it for some other reason, and he seemed very satisfied with the results without any reward from me.
You might think that because Barnum has such a long reinforcement history of being cued and paid to shut the door that the open door would be an invitation in itself, an environmental cue. But there are other times the door is open — several times since, in fact — and he doesn’t just go and shut it without being asked.
I actually think he wanted some peace and quiet. It had been a full day for him. He’d had a long walk, done some training, and then spent time in the living room watching my PCA work in the kitchen.
I think he wanted to return to the quiet and comfort of our familiar routine: me in bed and him in his crate, napping. Which usually takes place behind closed doors.
For me, that one simple act of his was useful in a different way than when I ask him to, which, when he’s really in the game, looks like this video.
When I ask him to shut the door, I often feel satisfaction and pride at our teamwork and accomplishments. Frequently I feel relieved and grateful that I don’t have to get out of bed to shut the door myself, which can be arduous or at least tedious.
Not that it always goes as smoothly as in that video. Sometimes Barnum is more tentative — he has to do a few nudges instead of one big one. That’s how he learned the skill — getting clicked and treated for touching the door, then nudging once, then nudging twice. It took many, many repetitions of lots of small nudges to get to that one powerful, smooth push-and-slam!
But by shutting the door the other day for his own inscrutable reasons, Barnum helped me in a different way. He did something quirky and funny and unexpected which helped take me out of myself. He made me laugh. I thought, “I have to blog about this,” because it’s the kind of silly-yet-mysterious clicker-dog-thing that I knew many of you would enjoy. And it was so obviously not the stuff of Big, Weighty, Important Posts of Revelation that it let me off the hook. I could just do what I like to do best: tell a story.
This post isn’t perfect. It doesn’t have to be because it’s just a fun little anecdote about my dog. But now I will finally, finally, finally have a post up on this new site. A post that is me — a slice of my life, told in my own way. I can work from here. One little post at a time, I can build from here. I’ll get this new blog going, one nose nudge at a time.