Dogs and the Writing Life

Kris Rothstein

Is there something about sharing your days with a dog that complements the writing lifestyle? This is just one of the many questions Helen Humphreys ponders in And a Dog Called Fig: Solitude, Connection, the Writing Life (HarperCollins). The immediate occasion for these thoughts is her acquisition of a new Vizsla puppy, Fig. During the challenging first weeks of puppyhood, which include separation anxiety, difficult training sessions and intense biting, Humphreys keeps a journal, reflecting on a lifetime spent loving dogs and what she has learned about art and creativity through their companionship. Humphreys has plenty of time to reminisce while she is bonding with Fig during the coldest months of the year. It is not just a gimmick to ask what we can learn about writers through their relationship with dogs. By scrutinizing a photograph of Virginia Woolf’s dog, Grizzle, Humphreys feels she knows everything there is to know about Woolf by how her dog returns the gaze. This thought experiment about dogs illuminates much about the process of writing: the capacity for surprise, the necessity of discarding what we think we know. Repeating the same dog walks daily teaches Humphreys that nothing is ever the same if you observe it closely, a lesson she has incorporated into her writing process. Unlike some other books about dogs, this is not an exercise in humour or romanticism, but rather a quiet, slow meditation. It’s about recognizing the interconnectedness of order and chaos, the many unexpected events that come with dogs. She also sees how nurturing and growing a book is like establishing a relationship with a dog; each book and each dog has its own temperament and complexities.

Kris Rothstein

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