Now that I've finished the Golden Retriever book (a marathon that had to be run--I mean, written--at the pace of a sprint), I'm keeping a promise I made to myself at the beginning of the project: to clean up my office when the project was done. This office purge would be a daunting enterprise; I wasn't totally kidding when I said on Facebook that the room should be declared a Federal disaster area.
Today, Day #1, I made a lot of progress. I cleared oodles of irrelevant junk from my desktop, above-the-desk shelves, book bins, and desk drawers. But not all of what I cleared was junk. Some was good stuff I'd simply forgotten about, including an article that meant a lot to me at the time I wrote it.
The piece was about a team of rescued Shelties that competed in a team obedience event at the American Shetland Sheepdog Association National Specialty Show in King of Prussia, PA, probably in March 2000. The story was for a magazine that went under before the story could be published, but I was paid for the piece. However, the magazine bought all rights to the story, so I couldn't resell it elsewhere (and still can't).
But oh, how I loved writing that story. I interviewed each of the handlers and learned about the traumatic backgrounds of each dog before being rescued. One had lived in a cage 23 hours a day; another had been tied to a tree and kicked occasionally by her not-so-loving owner. Still another had a facial deformity and had been afraid of anything that moved. The fourth and final member of the team had been found on the street of a Long Island town, near death from malnutrition and pancreatitis. Each handler had adopted one of the dogs, helped each to regain his or her health, and trained them to compete in dog sports such as obedience and agility. Now, these former rejects were competing on a national stage against dogs who had far more experience than they did, not to mention far fewer issues.
I met and interacted with each dog (including the one with the deformed face, who showed no fear of me whatsoever), and I watched, heart in mouth, as they competed. No, they didn't win a blue ribbon. They came in third, just missing second place, among seven or eight teams. But they were winners in the eyes of everyone who saw them.
I just reread the hard copy of that story, and it brought a lump to my throat and tears to my eyes (judging by my previous post, I wouldn't blame anyone for thinking I've got the weepies lately. What can I say?). I wasn't reacting to my fabulous prose, although that prose wasn't bad at all. I was reacting to the story itself : to the bravery of those dogs, to the commitment of their people, and to the passion with which I wrote that story.
When I realized a decade ago that that story would never see print, I was pretty disappointed. But now, ten years later, I'm wondering whether it will serve a different purpose -- as a reminder that the best writing comes from passion for one's subject. Sometimes, as in the case of this story, the passion just flows from the heart through the fingers to the keyboard to the computer screen. Other times, one has to dig inside to find that intensity and bring it to whatever one is writing. That image of excavation powers one of my favorite poems, which is here (skip the poet's initial introduction and just go to the quote by Jonathan Galassi).