Writing for fun
If you want to be a better writer you need to write.
We are adopting a dog named Leppy. His foster mom calls him Leppy, but like most adopted dogs we’ll probably change his name. Leppy is a puppy, only 5 months old. But Leppy is very unusual in that he is blind and deaf. Leppy is white with mottled areas of gray. This mottled pattern comes from the merle gene and can be expressed in dogs such as Australian Shepherds, Border Collies, and Catahoula Leopards. Dogs homozygous for the merle gene can be blind and deaf. Leppy is a Catahoula.
Catahoula Leopard dogs originated in Louisiana. They were mixed with “bloodhounds, mastiffs, and greyhounds” brought by Spanish explorers per the AKC website. Catahoulas were bred to herd wild cows and hogs that were rampant in Louisiana in the 1800s. The dogs would form a “canine fence” to corral the errant animals. The origin of their name is not clear – it might be another name for Choctaw or it might mean sacred lake, from the Choctaw language. In 1979, the Catahoula Leopard was named the official state dog of Louisiana.
I had never heard of a Catahoula Leopard before coming across Leppy. As a family, we’ve had dogs for the past 20 years, including 2 labs, a lab mix, and a beagle. Our lab mix required a lot of care before he passed in July, and I thought it might be interesting to adopt a special needs dog. Over the years we’ve tended to gravitate towards animals that are hard to adopt. We adopted a cat who had been in the shelter the longest, and we recently adopted a black cat that is blind in one eye. Right now, we have 2 dogs, an 80 pound, super chill, couch potato named Big Ben, and a beagle named Tucker who has been with us for 12 years. Unfortunately, Tucker has an untreatable and pretty aggressive cancer, so he probably won’t be with us much longer. Although I was going to wait to adopt until he dies, with the Covid 19 pandemic shelters and rescues have become overcrowded. Also, I have lots of help at the moment since 2 of my kids, usually in college, are finishing out the semester at home. So, we are adopting now.
Catahoulas (or Houlas as owners call them) need a lot of exercise. I’m not sure how this is going to work out with a blind and deaf dog. His foster mom says he walks pretty well on a leash, but running around the yard isn’t an option because we don’t have a fence. Even if we had a fence, he might run into it so a leash seems like the best option. Google, the font of all knowledge, says there aren’t many blind and deaf dogs in the US, so resources may be scarce. What I’ve read so far is that blind and deaf dogs can be trained using touch – tap on the face, rump, etc. I’ve never been much of a dog trainer so this will be interesting. Blind and deaf dogs also navigate by touch and smell. Luckily, we have quite a few different types of floors (hard wood, tile, carpet) so these will help Leppy navigate. We also have a plug-in deodorizer in our family room/kitchen area.
We pick up Leppy today, so I’ll soon find out what it’s like owning a blind and deaf dog. I’m sure there will be bumps in the road, and a few “whose idea was this anyway” comments. Leppy was briefly adopted by someone else, but he cried all night and that was enough. Knowing this, we are prepared. Actually, the shelter owner, who specializes in blind, deaf, and blind/deaf dogs, says that crying in the night is common for blind dogs. Leppy’s foster mom is confident this will only last a day or two, and hey, we’ve had a beagle for 12 years so a little crying and barking won’t be enough to scare us off. I’ll report back soon, after we’ve had Leppy for a few days. Maybe he’ll have a new name by then!
Writing is writing. Ok, Instagram posts don’t count. Although I realize writing encompasses types, categories, subcategories, genres, etc. each involves putting words on a page in a clear and comprehensible order. If you want to be a writer you need to write, simple as that. If you’re an academic scientist, the ability to communicate your work in an exciting but concise way is critical to your success. However, if you’re like me, you might have gaps between a manuscript and a grant where you’re not writing. Hence, writing for fun. For me, writing for fun is a goal, not a process. I guess for some people, I’m not one of them, the words flow out with ease and they write huge chunks of text in a few minutes. I’m more of a grinder. Every word ekes out slowly, like watching my dog poop when he hasn’t been drinking enough water. My hope is that if I write every day, I’ll get a little more flow and a little less grind. Also, I’ve found a lot of surprising parallels between writing for fiction or marketing, for example, and academic writing. I’m the analytic, learn about it before you do it type, so I’ve read a lot about writing. In marketing, for example, you want to make sure your message is clear or your potential buyer will get confused and go somewhere else. The same applies to writing grants and manuscripts. If your grant is confusing, your reviewer will say “no” and your grant will hit the triage pile. In fiction, unless you are a highly skilled writer, you want one protagonist. In writing grants, you want one protagonist, the one solution that you hypothesize will save the world from a dastardly disease.
So, now that I’ve got you thinking that writing every day might be a good thing, what should you write? Well, whatever you want. Does journaling count? No. Journaling is great for self-discovery and might be a good way to get the writing juices flowing. However, I suggest that you write for public consumption. Writing for public consumption takes it up a notch. You have to think about what you’re writing, because you’re writing for another reader besides yourself. No need to torture yourself, though. Write about things that you’re interested in, ideally outside the bounds of science. Nothing wrong with science, of course, but expanding your horizons keeps you from getting stuck in the dreaded science rut.
Now we come full circle, as I introduce you to my practice of writing for fun. If it ever actually gets fun I’ll let you know. Hope to see you there.