riding bitch

The life of a writer and survivor of loss.


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The Key to (this) Writer’s Happiness: Organization + Routine

I think the key to happiness is… staying organized. At least, for me. I’m not one of those writers who works in a cluttered office. I like things to be neat and in their place, so I can find them when necessary, so I don’t have to think about the mess. I’m obsessed with lists, making them, crossing them off.

Lately, I’ve been taking care of things that have been on my To Do list for months. New brakes on car, repaying loans, sending thank you cards, organizing my office papers, making and showing up for doctor appointments, etc. It feels good to check things off, to not have them hanging over my head, to have order. I actually enjoy paying bills and balancing my checkbook.

I’m also easily distracted. So, routine (i.e. organized time) is my friend.

The other day on Instagram, @instarlodge (a residency center that I follow) posted the following: Louise Bourgeois was very habitual with her morning routine. She would drink a cup of tea “with some jelly straight out of the jar,” her assistant recalled. Afterwards, he explained, “she’d have a bit of a sugar high and be ready to roll.” Her morning Routine was so set and connected with her assistant she created 10 am is When You Come to Me (2006). Which all goes to say, we’re interested in your morning routine, how you set up for the day, the week. 

I responded in the comments: Wash dishes. Make coffee. Drink coffee and think while outside throwing stick for dog. Feed dog. Take shower. Dress. Review lists, make lists. Get to work.

(I forgot to add Make bed. Like, I can’t leave the house with an unmade bed.)

This basic routine rarely changes. Sometimes the dog and I will go for a walk or hike instead of playing fetch, but that’s the only variance.

In fact, the dog knows the routine so well, she doesn’t even get out of bed (on the second floor) until she hears my spoon stirring the milk into coffee. It’s like that movie Get Out, when the guy has an automatic reaction every time he hears the tinkling of a tea cup being stirred, except with the bionic hearing of a dog. I’ve tried stirring the coffee silently… but her four feet still thump-thump-thump down the stairs.

Once I tried feeding her before going outside; she looked at me like, “who are you?”

So, yeah, organization… and routine. This is my happy place (my dog’s happy place too). Because when life throws those curveballs, all that organization and routine get shattered like broken glass, and it’s so difficult to put the pieces back together, to find that steady rhythm again. Even good news can do this… but definitely bad news, stress and grief.

When I maintain my routine and stay organized, in control of things, that’s when shit gets done. My head is free to wander and roam. My writing is more relaxed and confident. I can focus on the task at hand… and I treasure this.

What’s your routine?


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Writers and Dogs

Ruby snow cone nose

My dog, Ruby

I think every writer should have a dog (if possible).

Dogs are the ultimate companions for people who like to be alone. They’re quiet enough to let you work, but active enough to unglue you from the chair every now and then. They’re more demanding than cats, but less demanding than children or other adults. You can concentrate with a dog in the room. You can read with a dog outside (I do this every day). They open your eyes to things, and take you outside of your head. They keep you grounded.

Dogs also give us the opportunity to love and nurture another being. Initially, I was worried that owning a dog might be too distracting, but I actually enjoy the responsibility. Sometimes it’s frustrating, like the other day when I had to stop a really great writing flow to take her to a vet appointment. But ultimately, it’s always rewarding (I was glad I took her to the vet).

Their loyalty is good for the soul, perhaps even the ego, which we all know is fragile with writers. Dogs never get mad at you, or criticize you, or even question you. All they want is to please you, to be near you, to love and be loved by you. People have told me that when I leave a room, Ruby will stare at the door until I return. That loyalty is another reason why she’s allowed to be off-leash so much. She might run off to chase something, yes. But she would never just run away.

Ruby and farm2

Ruby brings so much into my life, it’s hard to put it into words. She has helped (and continues to help) me heal from loss. She makes me laugh. She reminds me to play and be curious, to stretch and get plenty of rest. She provides me with companionship and affection. She protects me better than any alarm system. She also provides structure to my day, which is broken up into three-hour stretches of work followed by a 30-minute break outside (longer when it’s warm out). She sleeps while I’m working, but when I’ve worked for longer than usual, or past a certain hour, she will come over and put a paw on my leg, like “okay, it’s time to stop now.” Sometimes I feel like I belong to her, not the other way around.

The other day I told a friend that “if I were to die before my dog, she would be my main concern.” I try not to think about it very often, or of the more likely scenario that she will go before me. But every now and then I remember that Ruby and I only have a relatively short time together (hopefully, the long end of short). My next thought is always the same, “That’s why I’m giving her the very best life I possibly can.” Whenever that day comes, I will mourn her terribly, but I will also know that she lived a great life, full of fun and love, and we gave each other all that one could possibly give to another.

Here are some photos of other writers and their dogs (many of which I got from here):

Amy Hempel

Donna Tartt and Pongo (photo by Jill Krementz)

Dorothy Parker and Misty (photo by Roy Schatt)

E.L. Doctorow and Becky

Edith Wharton and her pups

John Steinbeck and Charley

Kurt Vonnegut and Pumpkin

Maurice Sendak and Herman (photo by Tim Knox)

Maurice Sendak and Herman (photo by Tim Knox)

Stephen King

Virginia Woolf and Pinka (photo by Gisele Freund)

William Faulkner and pups (photo by Henri Cartier-Bresson)

For those of you who own cats, you’re also in good company.

Tennessee Williams and Sabbath

William S. Burroughs and Ginger

William S. Burroughs and Ginger

More pictures of writers and dogs: https://www.tumblr.com/search/writers%20and%20dogs

A fun post about pets who were loved by famous authors: http://www.brainpickings.org/2013/04/29/literary-pets/

A site that shows writers at work – some with their pets: http://writersatwork.pfauth.com/

Happy creating!