Joint Exercise

shutterstock_500911915-2Saturday morning and it’s time to write. I would prefer reading, but Tchaikovsky chides me: “Inspiration is a guest that does not willingly visit the lazy.” I sit, pen tapping. Angel growls, camel leg in mouth. Prompted into action, I chase her around the house until she settles into her pillow. She’s my constant companion—whether I’m reciting poetry, playing my dulcimer, doing yoga. “Do you think you’re in charge, little girl?”

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An idea: why not write about yoga from her point of view? After all, Shih Tzus have Asian roots. Angel knows how to stretch one back leg and then the other. Carefully she watches me lift and twist. During the relaxation she also lies on her back.

Three hundred words later, the piece is done. Now, what? I have skilled writing companions, but I knew where to turn. My brother Alan and I are separated by three thousand miles—he lives outside Boston and I live outside Portland—but what unites us is our love for books and writing. And dogs.

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Sending my work to another is not my favorite exercise. How humbling to see beloved phrases sliced away. How painful not to justify why I inserted that particular paragraph. Our phone conversation, however, was fun from the start. Did I mention that my brother has a keen sense of humor? Collaboration occurred between two writers: replace the almost right word with the precise one. His challenges to me: stay consistent with the dog’s POV, let the dog be initiator, highlight yoga’s sublime aspect, and don’t lose the humor. Because of Alan, brother, published writer, and editor, the final piece is as follows:

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Downward Dog

I am Shih Tzu, Lion-Dog, whose ancestors enhanced Chinese Palaces. While I placate my human companion by playing tag in the living room, she recognizes that it is of my nature to favor Sacred Quiet and Blessed Repose. No wonder she honors my role as Yoga Guru.

Each night we begin with the Staring Posture. I sit, forepaws together, eyes fixed on her. She sits, legs crossed, eyes fixed on The Invisible Point. 

To direct her in the Twist Posture I lean into the carpet (tail towards the Heavens) and twist my muzzle north and south (advantageous for neck muscles and itchy eyes). She, mimicking me, leans her hand against the wall and twists her head one direction and her torso another.

 For the next Position, we face east. I crouch in the Downward Dog Position, and my companion rises in the Cobra (she’s much improved).

When it is time for The Corpse Position, we lie on our backs, my paws lifted, her arms extended. We breathe in Perfect Rhythm.

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Too soon, my companion settles into her rocking chair, book in hand. After initiating such Celestial Activity, I ought to be content with my three pieces of kibble, pillow, floppy orange tiger, and yellow camel. Instead, a primitive energy seizes me.

No longer am I Lion Dog in sea of silk. No. I am Wolf in mountain lair. My muzzle extends, my paws expand and take hold. Dig, dig! Dirt flies. I prepare my bed, pushing beneath layers, deeper, deeper. ‘Round, ’round I circle before huddling close to my pack. I sigh. I close my eyes. 

Sleep pulls me. I whimper in relief, eager to journey back in time, dreaming far beyond Palace, Quiet, Repose, and into Wilderness, Howl, and Chase.

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My writing life is complex: at once self-satisfied and defeated, dynamic and stymied. Perhaps that is why I sit at this desk each day, sometimes battling the blank page or succumbing to monologues with Angel. Miraculously, editors appear, like my brother Alan, like Molly Best Tinsley who helped me craft my memoir Far from Home. Readers like these believe in the beauty of the word, in the possibilities of a manuscript, in objective criticism, and joint endeavor. The result? Fresh ink muscles through my bone-dry pen.

molly-book

4 thoughts on “Joint Exercise

  1. Enjoyable piece, Toni. You captured Angel wonderfully. And the photos of her enhance the sense of the “searching guru.” Much fun to read.

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  2. Couldn’t have done it without you, my invaluable, talented brother. Thanks for the inspiration and collaboration.

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  3. Love this—feels like I’m right there with you and Angel, even though I live with two cats who seem puzzled when I go through my (limited) Tai Chi moves—since I’m moving too slowly and have nothing in my hands to throw 😊
    Angel’s beautiful, and her description of getting settled into sleep and dreams is wonderful—she’s very articulate!

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  4. Oh, Angel is such a clever girl! Glad to have her directing so much of my life. And what a picture you paint of your cats and Tai Chi–now there’s a children’s book.

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