Tag Archives: dogs

Rattled: When the Home Office Becomes a Construction Zone

Until recently, I’ve always loved working at home because it’s so blissfully quiet here. Our apartment backs onto a ravine, so we don’t hear much more than the birds singing and the wind gently rustling the leaves.( It’s a far cry from living next to a nightclub and enduring the rants of belligerent drunks, which we did for a couple of years.) My office window looks out on the rest of our building, a beige-brick low-rise built in 1956. It’s the kind of building a friend calls “a granny building” since the residents stay for decades. The only excitement to be had is the occasional neighbour coming out to water the plants on a balcony, or birds flying back and forth to feeders. It’s an ideal set-up for happy productivity–at least it was until balcony reconstruction began the other day.

I don’t particularly mind strange men on the balcony, and I can tolerate the sounds of sawing through metal railings. But I cannot bear the jackhammers. The men started drilling through the concrete last Thursday, and as soon as they began, I thought I would fragment right then and there. It was not just the noise, but also the vibrations, which were enough to send a glass bottle flying out of a cabinet (I have since moved my glass and pottery collection to safer realms). The noise and vibrations combined threatened to reduce me to a useless, incoherent, quivering mass of jelly. And our rescue dog Trinka, who has always greeted disturbing noises such as fireworks and thunderstorms with equanimity, was whimpering in distress. I grabbed her leash and whisked her away to the safety of the nearest dog park.

Now, I certainly don’t mind whiling away an hour or so in the dog park on a nice summer day, but not in the middle of an extreme heat alert. Temperatures were soaring to 34 degrees C with a “real feel” of about ten degrees more. Fortunately, we found refuge in that rarest of establishments, a Toronto cafe that allows you to take your dog indoors, Williams at PawsWay. From there we visited family in a nursing home. Mercifully, the following day was cooler, so I spent more time honing my lady-of-leisure skills by lounging at both the park and on the patio at Starbucks, where in a fit of nervous tension, Miss Trinka chewed through her harness. I could hardly blame her, as I felt like gnawing on something myself.

What I really should have been doing instead of drinking lots of green tea was working, but the construction nixed any chance of being productive. Unfortunately, I’m incapable of working in cafes or even libraries, since I get distracted by just about anything; as my concentration suffers, my frustration level rises accordingly. Since I am already at the mercy of the strange men on the balcony, I have decided to work around their Monday-to-Friday, roughly nine-to-five schedule. I start work at 7 a.m. so that I have a solid two hours before they begin their daily assault on my senses (although today they began early, which made me want to bark at them, just as Trinka did). When they finish sometime between 5 p.m. and 6 p.m., I can work again. It’s possible to get in about four to five hours of editing each day by following this schedule. And then I work on the weekends to make up for additional lost time.

As I write, the men are working late, and there are chunks of concrete literally raining down from the third floor onto what remains of our balcony. I keep imagining one of the chunks whizzing right through the window, and although the jackhammering is now further away than it was last week, my ears are buzzing and my nerves feel not just frayed, but shredded. It’s definitely going to be a long, hot, most aggravating summer.

My Writing Has Gone to the Dogs

I consider myself primarily an editor, but every once in a while, I cross over to the other side of the great divide and write. It’s seemingly for pleasure, if you can call fussing over your own words instead of someone else’s pleasurable. Mostly, I write blog posts, but I also write fiction. Part of the reason you haven’t seen a blog post from me over the last couple of weeks is that I have been absorbed in writing a short story for a contest. It has been a sort of exquisite agony for me.

Writing fiction when I’m much more accustomed to editing it is good for me because it deepens my appreciation of what my clients go through when they’re developing their plots, characters, and settings. I’ve always been in awe of those who seriously undertake the daunting process of creating fictional worlds, and when I struggle to create my own, it reinforces my respect for the process and reminds me to tread lightly and tactfully upon the manuscripts that writers submit to me for editing.

But of course, I don’t just write fiction because it’s good for me. Certain themes spark my imagination. When I discovered that there was a short story competition dedicated to dog-themed fiction, I knew I had to enter it. I puzzled over the challenge of creating my canine protagonist, who could express his thoughts and emotions only through body language, behaviour, and vocalizations (but as stated in the contest rules, he was not allowed to speak). I struggled over how to make the dog the engine that drives the plot and how to make him upstage his human companions and take the spotlight. I agonized over how to make my furry main character show the same depth of character and emotion that any human protagonist should have.

My inspiration for the character came, not surprisingly, from my own dog. I began observing Trinka’s body language and behaviours and thinking about them in relation to what she was trying to communicate. She’s an amazingly vocal dog who apparently wants to have conversations with me–if only she could figure out how to speak English. After this period of careful observation, my plot seemed to come effortlessly to me one night, a genuine bolt from the blue. But getting everything down on the page was, of course, another story.

I fussed and I fiddled for days; you know how it goes. I had the whole thing packaged up and ready to mail today when it occurred to me that I’d forgotten a small but crucial detail. So I opened the envelope, only to find that I was also missing an important word, right there in the first paragraph. Even though I had probably read the story fifteen times before, I sat down and read it out loud, determined to catch any other niggling little errors that remained.

The tweaking could have gone on forever, but it was time to put a stop to it. I was well and truly done and, I admit, rather pleased with my work. When I finally sealed the envelope for good, I experienced a rush–or rather, a fantastic big whoosh–of elation that made the thought of all that fussing and fiddling fade away into nothing.

Trinka, the inspiration for my recent foray into fiction

Fear Not the Drear

Here in Toronto, it’s the time of year I like to call the drear–that period in late autumn when the leaves are off the trees but the snow has not yet begun to fly. The drear feels like a limbo state between autumn and winter and is characterized by days and days of unrelenting overcast skies, rain, and mud. Last year’s drear was mercifully short because the snow arrived early, but this year, we’ve been subjected to what seems like an extraordinarily long drear–long enough to test the fortitude of even the most diehard optimist.

One thing I should say before I continue is that drear is actually a literary adjective that dates to 1629. It’s the sort of word that makes me think of a 19th-century poet wandering lonely o’er a dank and drear moor pining for his lady love, who has either spurned the poor poet or succumbed to consumption. Drear has Gothic literary connotations for me. Editors could legitimately take issue with my use of it as a noun, since the Canadian Oxford Dictionary regards it as an adjective only.

Noun or adjective, drear captures both the prevailing weather and how it affects me perfectly. As a freelancer who works at home, I find the drear particularly difficult to cope with. As far as I know, I don’t suffer from seasonal affective disorder (SAD), yet if I allow it to, the drear will sneak into my home office, robbing me of energy and taking energy’s close relatives, motivation and inspiration, with it as it flies out the door (I imagine it uttering a diabolical laugh as it flees). Perhaps if you work at home and spend many hours alone writing, editing, or doing whatever else you do, you’re finding that the drear is affecting you too. What to do?

I’m not normally the sort of person who needs to give myself rewards to motivate myself to get a job done unless that job is so challenging that it’s threatening my sanity. However, I do find that rewarding myself helps me combat the drear. My accomplishments needn’t be immense and the corresponding rewards needn’t be elaborate–something modest like “When I finish editing this chapter, I’ll get up and have a cup of tea (something fruity and caffeinated like blackcurrant) and some dark chocolate (70 percent)” works just fine for me. Of course, finishing an entire project is cause for celebration, meaning a much splashier reward awaits. Keeping that reward on the front burner of my mind as I’m working certainly keeps my momentum going. If I intend to splurge on a sweater, I keep looking at it online to remind me that it will be my present to myself for both achieving my goal and surviving the drear.

Exercise and fresh air are also essential to coping with the drear. Fortunately, I have the 50-pound mutt to take me out for walks every day, usually just when I desperately need to stretch my limbs and get the oxygen flowing to my brain so the synapses will start doing what they’re supposed to again. The daily dog walk has many benefits, both physical and psychological. Watching my dog wrestle with her best friend (an Airedale) and fly around the park–outrunning most of the other dogs with superlative ease and grace, I might add–lifts my spirits and makes me smile. And there are inevitably other dog owners to talk to. When you spend much of your day in front of a computer screen, the joy of talking to human beings face to face should never be underestimated. After an outing to the dog park, the score is once again in my favour: Caroline 1, Drear 0.

Dangling rewards before myself and doing the mutt promenade are two things I do when the drear threatens to turn me into an unproductive, useless lump. But I have to ask: What do you do to fight the drear?