Usually I walk her off leash on trails behind my house, but this day she was leashed for a trip around a paved walking path at a park in town.
We’d get moving along nicely, hitting a sweat-inducing stride that felt great, and suddenly Stella would have to stop and sniff. Urgently. As in planting-her-feet-and shrinking-her-ears-to-slip-her-collar urgency. It happened at mailboxes, sign-posts, parking curbs, even clumps of weeds. I was patient for a minute each time it happened. Then I’d urge her forward with enthusiastic chants of “C’mon, Sweetie! Let’s go, Babe!” But she’d have nothing to do with my timeline, barely looking up from the engrossing business of investigating what other dogs had left behind. Fortunately, she mostly sniffed pee spots, but still…
I tried to make the best of it, in the spirit of self-improvement, by demonstrating patience. I observed the details of her using that black button instrument of discovery – her highly sensitive nose, which I’ve seen pick up scents in a breeze – as it twitched and sniffed rapid-fire, then expelled air in a quick flush, and took up the speed-twitch-sniff again. I found the humor when she squatted to squirt her scent on the scene for the eighteenth time (how did she have any pee left?). And I dug out the metaphor: Stella was communicating with other dogs, reading their scents and leaving hers, without actually sniffing a single behind, and never rubbing necks with a potential friend, and without ever growling a warning to a bigger, meaner-looking male.
Sniffing pee is canine virtual networking, I decided. Social media, doggy-style. Standing there, I chuckled at the thought: She’s just like me, losing momentum on my writing by hopping on Facebook or Twitter or Writers’ Café, or Goodreads, and getting lost down the rabbit hole of links and cool sites and intriguing articles and curiosities… until I’ve forgotten the reason I turned on my computer in the first place. I chastised Stella for procrastinating on the internet instead of pounding out a sweaty workout.
Then I dug a little deeper and got honest with myself.
I’ve launched positive changes this summer. I’ve added some healthy foods to my diet, nearly eliminated alcohol, and completed two big landscaping projects in my yard (having never been much of a gardener). And for the third summer in a row, I set a goal to improve my fitness, because I want to beat that monster in my closet. This time I decided to try to tone up and lose weight doing exercise that I could maintain year-round (such as walking with ankle weights on) – as opposed to doing more intense, longer spurts of exercise in the summer and then lagging (and gaining weight) in the winter. So far, so good.
But as for my writing, I have not been so focused or dedicated. I hope to launch my second novel in the fall, and I’m “working on” revisions. However, I need to face the truth. The reality is that I find ways to avoid the work when it gets hard. When I can’t figure out how to fix a rough spot, I jump on the internet. It even happened with this blog entry. Yesterday I sat down to write, it seemed hard, and I clicked myself away from the difficulty. Sure, I’ve always done that, but this summer it’s become a problem.
As I’ve improved in other aspects of myself, this part of my life has devolved. Internet procrastination has replaced old unhealthy outlets I used to escape unpleasantries: the glass of wine, brainless television, naps. I tightened up in one area and the ickiness just oozed in another direction.
So the internet has become more than a bad habit for me. It’s the thing that makes me feel bad about myself. It’s the stumbling block that makes my goals seem unachievable. It’s the dark voice in my head – the one that wants me to think I’m not good enough and I can’t do it – finding a way to stay strong after I thought I’d gotten the upper hand.
It’s the hurdle I place in front of myself.
Starting today, internet surfing joins potato chips and chocolate chip cookies among the temptations I need to actively manage in my daily life or risk failing at what matters most to me. However, I’m thinking I have deeper self-improvement work to do. While my efforts have focused on removing self-imposed hurdles, perhaps what I need to do is figure out why I sabotage myself in the first place and work on fixing that root cause. Otherwise, I may be doomed to press on one side of the issue and watch it squeeze out in another direction.
I appreciate Stella for inspiring my soul searching. Now it’s a new day. Time to strap on my ankle weights and head out to the trails where my dog can run free and sniff all she wants, and I can move closer to being the person I want to be – one step, one thought, one metaphor at a time.