“There’s a tick crawling on your head,” I said to the tot. I picked the little arachnid beast off her bright blond hair and watched it do the insect version of running. Down my finger it scurried, eager to figure out where it was going to bite me.
Once outside in the darkness, dog leash in hand, I disposed of the creature with one flick toward the forest, where it would be in good tick company. I raked my hands through my hair, suddenly very itchy.
Big Dog and I, both itchy for our own reasons, began our walk into the darkness. There was a strange contradiction in the air—one moment the heat of humidity weighed us down, then the next the coolness of an evening breeze. Hot, cold. Hot, cold. Hot, cold. Human step, canine step. Onward.
Oncoming headlights lit up the blackness in an uncomfortable way, but my thoughts were elsewhere as we moved onto the grass.
I was born in the wrong era, Big Dog. We need to go back home, pack up the kids, and move back fifty or sixty years. Back to a time when people still read.
Big Dog seemed to read my thoughts when he lifted his nose to smell the air, like maybe he could smell the dog-approved stenches of the past.
We all have a calling in life, Big Dog. Clearly yours is to smell gross things and scare people. Mine is to be creative. Every human’s calling is to be creative. Creativity is the path to enlightenment. Inner peace comes from exposing that build-up of emotion and mental processes that are unique to your existence to all the other human existences. When we do, our minds expand. It is like when you catch a whiff of dog poop, and suddenly you are bursting with energy as you follow that poop trail all the way to the source—the thrill, the satisfaction—that is how creative expression feels.
On cue, Big Dog stopped to do the dog version of getting creative with a mailbox post. The street ahead was silent, and sleepy, as I was the only human in the vicinity that was outside pondering the meaning of life. I looked at a few houses with warm glows coming from within the living room windows. They were snug and inviting looking, but empty compared to the stretch of wildness set before me. Nighttime has a way of draping everything in darkness so that it is all reclaimed as wild.
The problem, Big Dog, is this: my creative expression is writing, but nobody wants to read anymore. Just think of it all, Big Dog. While you are dozing on the floor all afternoon, most people are working routine jobs that don’t require any new brain power. Then, most people come home from work and sit in front of the TV to stare mindlessly. And then, before bed, most people scroll their Facebook feed, mindlessly looking at memes and short videos, but definitely not reading. In a way I don't blame them. Everyone wants some mindless downtime. The evil isn’t in the downtime, but in the downtime habit.
Something rustled in the brush nearby. A raccoon, or a possum, or an armadillo. Big Dog raised the hair on his back, sniffing with snout pointed aggressively in that direction. I tugged, ushering him onward. Up ahead a thin tall shadow stood in a ditch. It vaguely looked human, but I knew it wasn’t. Big Dog paid it no mind. Above us the crescent moon flickered from out behind the heavy cloud cover for just a moment, like that one brief instant that someone on Facebook clicked on an article with more than two hundred words in it.
So, Big Dog, all the humans are so overstimulated by the memes and the silly videos and two sentence paragraphs and the bad habits of mindlessness, that they have no energy to read. It’s a rough time to be a writer.
We turned the corner and caught sight of a workman loading up tools into his truck. He was shirtless, and his skin was that brownish-red color that comes from being sunburnt over and over and over again, until the skin takes on an impenetrable look. He looked towards us cautiously, wondering if the 120 pound woman was going to be able to hold back the 80 pound dog. Big Dog let his lip rise in that junkyard dog sort of snarl, with the hair rising up on his back. We did a nod, and I patted Big Dog as my thoughts rolled on.
Good boy, you just fulfilled your need to be scary. I’m sure that gave you much happiness, but just trying to be scary would have made you just as happy. Writing, whether or not it is read, makes me happy. Writing isn’t a choice. When creativity calls, you have to respond.
I let out a slow sigh as we rounded the corner, circling back toward our house. Inside, a sink of dishes sat, a watermelon waited to be cut, hungry dogs salivated, and a matriarch was needed to enforce toy clean up time, baths, story reading…and then, finally, sometime around midnight, writing. Because writing isn’t a choice, it is something that must be done by me.
Big Dog snorted at the doorway in expectation of his dinner. I remembered the tick, and I scraped my fingernails across my neck and abdomen as the psychosomatic itches settled in again.