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  • Pamela S

Seeking an Old English Sheepdog

Updated: Oct 26, 2020

Near Worcester, England, 1991.

I wish someone would sit with me and help me focus. He could round up my thoughts when my mind goes astray. He could pull me back when my mood pushes me somewhere else. He could gently refocus me when I am off on another perfectly good task used to procrastinate a more pressing one. I need that someone. Like an Old English Sheepdog for my brain.

Why do I circle around what I need to do like a dog who spirals around his bed before he lies in it? As I approach a writing task that requires intense focus, I notice how I have a ritual of circling closer and closer, always with the goal of my pressing task, slowly getting closer to it until I am finally engaged. First I need to eat, then I need to clean up the kitchen. Once at my desk, I need to get comfortable so I jump up a few times to change, or brush my teeth. Then I need to clear off my desk and get a few emails off my mind. Then maybe I can look at the syllabus to be sure I know the full assignment, before I search for my favorite pen and something to write on just in case I need to scribble.

Once I am finally in the zone, time is warped. My energy is heightened, but encapsulated within my body with no place to go but into my brain. Sometimes I pace. Sometimes I try to run away, but I am drawn back. I wave my hands at the wrists to think, or place my fingers on my temples. I am full of vocabulary and metaphor. Words flow as quickly as my fingers will allow them, editing as I write—organizing, outlining, critiquing on the fly. The screen is too bright, now too dim; I need a break but ignore it. I am in the zone, and any distraction gets snapped at—leave me be. Loud music or television gets yelled at—I'm trying to write. Creativity flies at the screen, and there is no rest. When I am done, it is as sudden as the snap-shut of my laptop. I am spent: a vibrating shell with nothing but fumes where my brain once pulsated.

No wonder I fear the zone, and avoid it with all my maneuvers. It's the fear of plunging into cold water, or swinging too high. I welcome the zone when I am in it, since it gives me my best work. But getting there often requires patience and ritual, slowly leading my mind to prepare for intense focus for an extended period. It's like leading a dog to the vet—this is good for you, I promise.

Creative endeavors are in the moment, and the moments turn into hours, sometimes the wee ones. I have come out of the zone and looked at the clock in disbelief. I did not notice when the house became quiet, and the pug started snoring. My husband walks in and says, "You're still working?" I give him a tired smile. I stand up and my body is stiff from the sustained intensity. "We need a sheepdog," I tell him, as I close my laptop.

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Oct 29, 2020

This post speaks to me. I never thought of needing a sheepdog before, but that image sure does work for me. I too circle around and run away from the task of writing until I let go of the resistance and dive deep into the process. I end up loving the process (and agonizing through the process) until I am done and spent and usually satisfied. Thanks for this.

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