As a writer, there is not much worse than staring at a blank screen and not having any words making their magnificent journey from brain to fingers, which is how I describe the process that happens so easily when you are writing from the heart. In 2018, having a lack of inspiration and nothing to say was way too common of an occurrence for me. Day after day, week after week, I stared at a blank screen with an uninspired mind and nothing worthwhile to share. For once in my life, I was without words, at least not ones that I was willing to share with the world.
The thing about blogging and being an influencer is that it seems as though we are supposed to portray a perfect lifestyle that inspires our readers, that encourages you to try new things and learn from our wisdom in our perfect little blogger worlds. Having a crappy year does not fit nicely into creating that sort of content, that image, and I found myself completely shut down creatively and overwhelmed with stress. Emotionally defeated and feeling both professionally and personally hopeless, I even thought about taking down Love, Laugh, Woof entirely and just going back into the 9-5 world for the easy paycheck and predictable lifestyle. I kept going through the same thing in my mind, "What the hell do I have to share with the world about dogs that someone else isn't already sharing?" I felt downtrodden, sad, hopeless and uninspired. As my favorite songwriter, Bruce Springsteen sings, "You can't light a fire without a spark" and I had no spark.
I don't talk that much about my non-dog life in this blog, although maybe that's an oxymoron since dogs are my life, but in addition to being passionate about dogs and writing, I love to read, mostly chick-lit books that I devour quickly in my swimming pool, since being in or near water and going swimming are among my favorite hobbies. I am also a die-hard, obsessive fan of Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band. It's basically in my DNA, this love of both water and Springsteen music, I suppose, since my mom spent a lot of time at the Jersey Shore before I was born, renting shore houses with her friends in the 1960s. After I was born, she shared that love with me and I have been beach and pool obsessed ever since.
Bruce Springsteen's music has been almost as therapeutic to me as my dogs have been, ever since my mom bought me my first record in 1986. It was not the Born in the USA album that lured me in for a lifetime of rocking out to earth-quaking, booty-shaking Jersey Shore rock-n-roll, it was the 5 record set called simply Bruce Springsteen Live 1975-85. My favorite songs are all from before 1985 and after 2000. I listen to Springsteen about 95% of the time with other music a mere 5% and I am drawn to the energy of his live performances over the perfect studio versions. Like I said, I am a huge Springsteen fan.
So this summer, as I struggled to write my own words, I did a lot of reading and floating when I was not working a few part-time jobs and trying to avoid reality. For the last several years I have been making my way through a stack of books on my own shelves. Many I purchased from used bookstores, and many I received free when I worked in the book business, so it has been a while since I needed to purchase books.
As summer faded into autumn, I ran out of summer beach reads and decided to start reading the non-fiction books that also lined my shelves, all of them purchased because of their promise to elevate me from dog blogger to badass business owner and boss lady. I had been uncertain about reading non-fiction in my pool, worried that I would not immerse myself in them like I could a great fiction title, but I read Jen Sincero's You Are a BadAss and Megyn Kelly's Settle for More and a little spark started to flicker in me.
One day I stood in front of my bookshelf, letting my sunscreen soak in for the obligatory 15 minutes before escaping to the sunshine of my happy place. I had just finished a book and needed something new, so I picked up my copy of Bruce Springsteen's autobiography, Born to Run. I had pre-ordered it when it was released, so the hardcover version had been on my shelf for a while. Normally I would not take a beautiful, brand new, hard covered book into my pool, given my propensity for fending off wasp attacks with whatever I was reading and dunking my book into the water, but I took off the cover and decided to take a chance. And so I floated peacefully in the sun and was transported not into a chick-lit beach town, but instead into Bruce Springsteen's world. It was amazing, an entirely other New Jersey than my beloved Sussex County where I grew up.
When I reached the final paragraph, I had to stop and read it multiple times. I had been listening to Springsteen's stories since 1986, back when I was a 15-year-old, middle-class Jerseygirl who had no idea what so many of the songs meant. Over the last 30 years, I have figured out most of the songs. Some I have applied to my own life in different ways than maybe Bruce intended, but they have helped me and saved my sanity on more occasions than I can count.
Between dogs and Springsteen, I have probably saved a whole lot of copays to therapists, knowing that I could transform most bad days with some Labrador kisses and singing along loudly to Badlands and Rosalita so that those words drowned out my own thoughts. But the last paragraph of his book was something else entirely. In that last paragraph, I felt as though Bruce were speaking to the exact place where I was at that exact moment in time: deciding whether or not I should tell my own story along with the stories of the dogs who I love so much.
The very last paragraph of Born to Run reads, "This, I presented as my long and noisy prayer, my magic trick. Hoping it would rock your very soul and then pass on, its spirit rendered, to be read, heard, sung and altered by you and your blood, that it might strengthen and help make sense of your story. Go tell it."
Go tell your story, it said.
The first part of Bruce's magic act had already worked on me. I have felt my spirit rendered by his music, I have heard the lyrics, I have sung along while my very soul was rocked and transformed. I have taken his lessons, entwined my own experiences into them, and come out stronger and clear-headed.
What I have not done, at least not completely, was tell my own story. It is a theme I have heard from many sources throughout this entire year, actually. Tell your story, the experts and business coaches say. Tell your story, my friends have said. And now here was my literary and rockstar hero, a regular guy from New Jersey who could not only write words more powerful than any of the authors and poets who I read while earning my English Literature degree but who could also put those words together with a kick-ass band that rocked out a unique sound night after night after night for concerts that lasted three to four hours. Here was this man who was also telling me to go tell my story.
If you've already read it, you know that I already wrote the story of my life with dogs in chapters 1-3 of my first book, Love, Laugh, Woof. The problem is, it's not the full story.
Don't get me wrong, it is a true story and it does its intended job, which is to set the stage for the rest of the book, the educational part of the book, but it is not even remotely the entire story. There are people missing, deliberately left out because of the chaos that they caused, the hurt that they caused me. I left them out because I did not want to give them the satisfaction of being in my story, but without them, you cannot get the full picture of why dogs are so important to me, of how dogs saved me time and time and time again.
If you are reading this blog, you love dogs like I love dogs. And at some point in your own life, you have probably been through the type of shitty year that I described earlier in this blog. It might not have been last year, but I bet you can tell me when it was and how it felt. And you most likely got through that shitty year with a dog by your side, just like you have gotten through every shitty moment in your life, just like I have. With dogs.
The magic of dogs is that they help us through the shitty moments of life. Yes, they also celebrate the beautiful moments of life with a pure and uncomplicated joy that is unique to their species. But they guide us through those shitty times without judgment. While we are analyzing our stories and wondering what the hell was happening, they perform their own magic trick of just being dogs.
So why am I telling you this? Why don't I just start up 2019 and pretend that the big creative slump of '18 never happened?
The thing about being a dog blogger instead of a fashion or a beauty blogger is that I have realized that I don't have to tell you that my life is perfect. I am not perfect, my life is not perfect, my dogs are not perfect, and none of us have to be. The non-blogger part of me is 1000% happy with my imperfect life. I would not trade it for the world.
However, the realization that my blog can also be imperfect is somewhat new, but the more I think about this idea of imperfection, the more I realize that this is the beauty of blogs and this information age that we are in. Our information needs to be correct, it needs to be accurate, but the way we share it with you can be more personal and less perfect. We can teach you by telling our stories and telling you why we learned what we learned instead of always putting it all in a perfect shiny document like other delivery methods might require.
If Springsteen had not shared his full story, he might have just been a guy with a ton of songs about cars. If he had worried that he had the perfect singing voice or guitar playing method, we would not have his unique sound that fills huge concert venues night after night. But he did tell his story, and he wound trials and tribulations into those stories of cars, he brought characters to life and worked through the nuances of life and love and so much more. By telling his story, the story of a normal guy from New Jersey with flaws and imperfections, he has helped his fans more than he ever could have imagined if he had kept those things inside and tried to be some perfect rock-n-roll star.
So to go back to that question I struggled with all through 2018, what do I have to share with dog owners that nobody else is sharing? Well, I'm just a normal person with a shit-ton of information about dogs to share, both from personal experience and from never-ending research and a desire to know about dogs. I'm just a normal person with the professional and literary skills that make it possible to put it all together in a blog that's part entertainment, part educational. I'm just a normal person with a unique background and a lifetime of stories about the beauty of a life with dogs and the observations that I have made through those moments with dogs. That is my own magic trick, my reason for doing what I am doing, the thing that I can offer up to the world. By telling my story to you, I pray that it can help you in some capacity so that you can go forth and lead a happier, healthier life together with your dog.