I have a puppy which is why I’m sleep deprived. He gets up with the dawn and there’s not much that can stop this. The first shafts of light appear and something in my puppy, his name is Max, is stirred deeply. I explain to him that dawn isn’t really all that exciting, it’s something that plenty of people successfully ignore, but he is focused on seizing the day and so I, too, enter in, throwing on workout clothes and flip flops and stumbling outside to greet the Brooklyn morning. We’ve managed to beat the paper boy, the garbage men, the pigeons. I stand in my little urban yard and look at Max’s unbridled glee; I yawn and reach for consciousness. “It’s still kind of dark,” I mention. This doesn’t matter; I open the front gate and we head down the street past two books left on a stoop about how to break into the music business, past a Twinkie wrapper — an icon of my childhood. Max marks his territory; with each pee, he looks to me satisfied.
And I realize this is what a writer does (most of us are housebroken); we write our books and stories and poems and put them out there, marking the spot. And then it occurs to me that having a new puppy is a lot like getting a new idea. Because a new idea will wake you up early and demand your attention and take you places you’re not always ready for. My life feels so hectic these days with deadlines and travel and checking off items on a TO DO list rather than living full. Max bounds ahead, straining at the leash. I remember when we first got him — he was among other puppies, but he out-cuted the others. He came up to us with confidence as if to say, Your search is over. I am the one.
The best ideas are like that, too — they crawl into your lap and lick your face and win your heart and drag you to the place where they can do their business. Living with urgency is one of the gifts of having a puppy. That, and a new sense of home.
“You know,” three neighborhood children said to me when we first brought our puppy home, “Max is the most popular name for a dog anywhere in the entire country.”
“Do you think if I take him to the park and call his name a hundred dogs will come running?” I asked.
Yes, they were sure of it. I explained to them that Max is a family name – in my first novel I named a pumpkin Max. But I smile at the greater truth. It’s taken me decades to become trendy.