Friday, October 20, 2017

Writerly Distractions by Jenny Gardiner

I was talking with an author friend about writing distractions the other day and it got me thinking about the biggest distractions to me over the years (er, um, besides Facebook, the time-suckiest thing ever invented), and I realized for me, hands-down, it's our pets. 
So I wrote this piece about that, which I thought I'd share with you:

For many years my household was a veritable menagerie. At one point we had our parrot (more on her in a minute), two dogs (one a complete reprobate), a cat and a rabbit, not to mention three kids at home. Back then I surprised even myself by being able to hone my focus despite the myriad distractions that were implicit with our many four-legged (and two-legged) creatures. The kids were the easy part--I got to be so disciplined I’d even whip out my laptop and work on my novels while in the pick-up line at school for ten minutes, or on the sidelines of soccer practice, which seemed to be pretty much every afternoon. 

The pets were the ones that gave me fits. Our cat, Sushi, has a free pass for life for being care free (except demanding endless head-scratches while I write, which does make it tricky typing, not to mention plenty of fur on the keyboard). Albert the bunny, well, the one thing going for him is that he’s quiet, which sort of makes him out of sight, out of mind. I’ve always joked that he’s not particularly engaging, which my daughter (his owner, though we’ve basically been saddled with him for the past 7 years) takes as a personal affront. But really, he is completely void of personality. But like I said, at least he’s silent.

Our Labrador Sassy, who passed away last year was mostly calm and cooperative except when nudged into naughtiness by our Australian cattle dog dingo-esque mutt Bridget, who we lost two years ago and almost until the end had a wild streak that knew few bounds. We called her the Pick-Up Truck Dog Living the Mini-Van Life, and she never met a containment system that she couldn’t evade.
What this meant was frequent interruptions from writing when I would get a call from the neighbors that the dogs got out “yet again” and were wandering the neighborhood, one terrorizing people and pets, as she had a glint in her half-blue/half-brown eye that spooked people, and a ferocious bark that ensured those nearby stood up and took notice. She was generally harmless but nevertheless, I spent many a writing afternoon piling into my mini-van, driving through the neighborhood with the door open, at the ready to shove wayward dogs into the car before they could evade my capture.

When home, Bridget spent far too many of her waking hours barking—at the wind, at blowing leaves, at doorbells, at delivery people, at cars driving by, at imaginary creatures, I swear it. I would often have to either don a pair of industrial earplugs or blast my iPod to stop dwelling on the shrill bark that pinned my ears back with its particularly annoying pitch.

We loved our Bridget but she was good at trying my patience and precluding my getting in dailiy word counts. But none of our pets has been quite as masterful at that as has Graycie, our African Grey parrot that was a gift to us in 1990 and has now, to all of our surprise, been with us for 27 years—some of them longer than others ;-). Greys are brilliant creatures, and are quite gifted in outwitting their keepers.

To be sure, I’m not a fan of keeping parrots as pets—I think they belong in the wild. But ours came back from Africa one Christmas as a gift and there she was, and here we are, about ten million parrot poops later, with a somewhat domesticated yet wild-at-heart parrot who more than a quarter of a century later thrills when she is able to clamp down her beak on my flesh and draw blood. It’s what keeps her young, I’m convinced. I know it sounds a little paranoid to say that she thrives on challenging my sanity, but at times it does seem that way. Because she will not ever allow me to just sit down at my desk—not particularly strategically located in our open floor plan kitchen/living room/dining room, where she, too, resides—without her demanding that she be freed from her cage to perch atop a large “tree” perch.

Which is all fine except that persuading her to go from said cage is no simple feat, and sometimes i just don’t have the time, desire, or inclination to do so. The rest of the family also got parrots that Christmas of yore, and not a one of them balks at being left in their large cages. But Graycie, ah….Graycie, she is wont to let her will be known. In the form of either dragging her beak across the metal bars of the cage like an ornery prisoner thrown in the drunk tank on an episode of Gunsmoke, or plucking the bars with her beak incessantly, like some audio form of Chinese water torture until she gets her wish. But granting that wish can take precious time, because she doesn’t just walk from cage to branch. No. She wants bribes, in the form of peanuts, and for me it is a test of wills to see who wins. Long ago our vet warned us to use peanuts sparingly, and that they’re bad for the bird’s health and can clog arteries. So I simply won’t give them to her except on rare occasion. But my husband chooses the path of least resistance and freely feeds them to her (which of course creates a mess of shredded peanut shells reminiscent of the concrete floor of a baseball stadium after a World Series match). So I try to lure her with veggies, and what self-respecting bird with the congition of a 3-year old would settle for health food when she can wield her powers of annoyance to win the junk food prize?

Instead what she ends up doing to climbing down the cage, onto the floor, click-clacking her little black clawed-feet across the hardwoods, walking backwards while looking over her shoulder, as if some cloak-and-dagger spy, ensuring she won’t be caught. Her goal? To get to the cabinet where the peanuts are stored. If she won’t get them from me, then dammit she’ll just have to help herself. I may have mentioned, parrot beaks are destructive. I have the scars to prove it. And they can do a number on hardwood cabinets, shoe-molding electrical cords, you name it. So while I doggedly refuse to accede to the demands of a petulant parrot, cutting my nose to spite my face since this interaction is cutting into my writing schedule, she has time on her hands and nothing better to do, so it becomes a test of wills.
 My family all shrug and shake their head at me, wondering why I engage with a veritable 27-year old toddler on such a regular basis. Particularly when I have deadlines constantly looming with my editor often drumming her fingers awaiting my latest submission. And I can’t even find a legitimate excuse for my own obstinacy, except that I refuse to be outwitted by a bird-brained, well bird. Even if that brain has the capacity to outwit me, like it or not. And when she decides to laugh in my voice, practically mocking my idiocy, or makes a kissing sound and says “I love you”, I really wonder why I can’t just let the parrot win, and get on with my writing. But I suspect the darker truth is its all part of my own inherent procrastination tactics, and she’s become a conspirator in my own efforts to sabotage my writing progress. Sometimes I just need to remind myself it’s best to ride the horse in the direction it’s galloping, and then maybe I’ll actually produce some copy!

Well--it turns out another writerly distraction for me is going through pet pictures! I couldn't even decide which to put in so I used lots of them! Hope you found them amusing!!!

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You can check out the first book in the Royal Romeo series for a limited time here:

And on Tuesday, the final book in the series, Big O Romeo, will be released! You can get it here
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I hope you'll have a chance to check out my Royal Romeos series, which is a spin-off of my wildly popular It's Reigning Men series--please do check them out!

Happy reading!



 Coming November 14! 

1 comment:

dstoutholcomb said...

what a life!