I do some of my best work on the streets. When my legs are moving and my lungs are filling with fresh air, words and ideas seem to flow more freely through my mind than when I’m seated in front of my computer, when the former copy editor in me questions every little word before it’s allowed to hit the screen. Those words that do make it down run the risk of being deleted within nanoseconds by this scornful critic.
But for some reason, when I’m walking the tree-lined roads of my neighborhood or the bike path by the Potomac River or even busy streets downtown—as long as I’m putting one foot in front of the other—it’s easier to cut my poor writer self a break. I turn the words and ideas and problems over and around and inside out and upside down and play with them. I dare to try crazy things, to be silly. I talk aloud a lot. If I’m working on a biography, I sometimes address my subject and ask him or her for help. By this point he or she has probably already crawled under my skin. How in the world, Professor Einstein, can I explain special relativity in a way that 10-year-olds will understand? Tell me, Annie Sullivan, how am I ever going to meet my deadline for your book if I can’t come up with a lead? I still get goose bumps when I think of the impatient voice that broke into my thoughts shortly after I asked that question. It was female, with a light Irish accent, and it upbraided me for being such a pitiful procrastinator: "Sure, if you'll stop lingering over the newspaper every morning for hours wasting time on things you don't even remember reading about later, then you'll have time to write my story. And be sure you do it well." Ouch. Annie would have reminded me about BIC, no doubt, but I think she would have also been sympathetic to my need to walk. She was a great lover of nature, and she built much of Helen’s early education around exploring the countryside together.
Lately I’ve had a new partner along for my WOW time. (I just created that acronym and I’m overruling copy-editor self to let it stay in this piece. It stands for Walk Out Words. What do you think? Maybe it should be Words Out Walking?) Anyway, two months ago my family got a new dog, a wonderful 14-month-old golden doodle named Hucksley. He came to us from ICAN (Indiana Canine Assistance Network), a really cool nonprofit organization that my sister works for. ICAN trains and places skilled service dogs to assist children and adults who are managing various health conditions, including such things as cerebral palsy, autism, multiple sclerosis, spinal cord injuries, arthritis, and neuromuscular disorders. The actual trainers are offenders in Indiana correctional facilities. (I guess I should make it clear that my sister is NOT an inmate.) Only about 40 percent of the dogs who start the training program graduate from it and go on to become service dogs. The rest are “released” to “assume other roles,” including that of family pet. Hucks, shown here watching squirrels and chipmunks outside my office window, was deemed too distractible and goofy (my word, not ICAN’s) to be an assistance dog, but he’s perfect for us. Now, if only Hucks can help me remember my brilliant walking ideas long enough to get them back home and written down... Perhaps I should call it BOW-WOW time?