As a writer, it’s easy to let myself escape into my head. I consider this a really important part of my job. Some refer to this as being in the flow, in the moment, or in the zone as if it’s a physical place rather than a state of mind. Wikipedia describes “flow” as the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. And this immersion is a good thing. Mostly.
According to Wikipedia, when I’m not in the flow I am depressed. To be caught in the ennui of depression or the agitation of anxiety is to be barred from flow.
Here’s me when I’m not writing: Carol drops by with a pan of brownies. She looks like a teenager in that halter top. She says, “I brought these for your husband to thank him for helping me fix that broken window.” I say thank you, but inside I’m thinking I really wish she’d wear more clothes. I wonder what she was wearing when Larry was at her house, for how long was that? I can’t compare myself to her—I had six kids and she has a cat. Maybe my abs would look like that if I had countless hours to spend at the gym. Does she work out at the same gym as Larry? Why does she call him all the time? He doesn’t even like brownies. But I love them. I bet she knows that. She knows that I’m going to eat this entire pan of brownies because now I’m so depressed and one or two or five brownies isn’t going to matter because I’m going to be divorced, single and fat. I better call Larry, although I just talked to him, and he’ll be home for lunch in twenty minutes. I need to hear his voice.
Here’s me when I’m writing: the doorbell rings but I don’t hear it because I’m deep into my story. Somehow Mercy has to stop Eloise from going on a drive with horrid Mr. Steele. What can she do—should she confide in Eloise? In the real world, my dog is pawing at me. No. Eloise is a blabber mouth. She can’t be trusted. My dog knows someone has come to the door and she pulls at my sock with her teeth. I shake her off, but she’s so annoying that I have to investigate. Someone has left brownies on my front porch with a thank you note. It’s from Carol, that darling girl from across the street. I consider the brownies and inspiration hits—Mercy will bake Eloise a pie laced with a draught that will make her sleep through her rendezvous with Steele. I put the brownies on the counter and save them for when Larry comes home for lunch. I hurry back to Mercy, Eloise and Mr. Steele, wondering how to make a sleeping draught.
(FYI- Neighbor Carol is fictional, used to make a point about my own lunacy and not a commentary on my highly respectable, modestly clothed and admirable neighbors or my good husband who always lets me eat more than my fair share of brownies.)
Being a writer isn’t an excuse for poor citizenship. Just because you’re thinking about your book and not about the road doesn’t mean you get to run red lights. Once while writing at the Mission Viejo library, I turned off my laptop, stood up, only to suddenly realize that a person on the other side of the glass partition, not more than eight feet away, must have had some sort of collapse. The room was filled with paramedics, a gurney, and a crowd of about forty people. As I left the library, I passed an ambulance pulled up to the curb, lights flashing. I don’t know how I missed all of this, but I’ve since taken it as a life lesson. I never want to be so caught up in my own private world that I can’t recognize and help someone in need.
This is why I need a dog. Sometimes I need someone, preferably someone furry, someone willing to tug on my socks with their teeth, to drag me out of the flow. And Grendel needs me to feed her, clean up after her, and take her for walks. I also need her for other things, like chasing the bunnies out of my yard and letting me know when the Girl Scouts are at my door to sell cookies.
Is it possible to become so immersed in the flow that I can’t get out? Sure. We all know the very real, gritty stories of the writers who lost their minds. It’s happened to the best of us. A flow so strong can carry us away and before we know it, we’re drowning. Hemmingway had cats, but cats won’t tug on your socks with their teeth. They just won’t.
That’s why every writer needs a dog.