The short narrative below emerged out of a panel during the Week of Writing at Drexel University. This is one of my department’s signature events, and I’m always impressed (and slightly concerned) by how much my colleagues do to promote the many roles of writing in our lives.
Brutus is much smaller, which always worries me because a small dog can’t get away from a medium-sized dog if they get into a fight. I’m an overprotective dog parent–not because my dog is fragile or can’t take care of himself but because the fact that he barks *all the time* embarrasses me. It occurs to me that this is just dog shaming; ask a three year old what sound a dog makes, and they’ll not only tell you they bark, they’ll actually make the sound a dog makes: woof woof. That’s what a dog says.
The panel in question was organized around the topic Healing & Writing. The writing activity was devised by Dr. Ted Fallon, a psychoanalyst. Other panelists included poet Lisa DeVuono and my colleagues Ken Bingham and Jill Moses. At Dr. Fallon’s prompting, we took a few minutes to write about any salient moment from our everyday life — at first I was going to ask what salient meant, in case the students present felt the need to know — to demonstrate how our conscious and unconscious mind work together to organize our sensory impressions, thoughts, and memories, like a filmmaking endeavor, using the raw material of the “day residue” we encounter in our waking hours. We perform this in a purely imaginative way in dreams, but we also utilize these same processes in order to turn the moments we experience into memories, or narratives. This becomes especially evident when we write our experiences.
So, I see my dog sniffing and being sniffed by this four- (five? fifteen?) week-old Yorkie puppy, and at first I’m worried, so I go stand near him to make sure nothing happens. As usual, my dog stands really close to me, because he’s saying “mine! This is my dad!” But the puppy is doing the same, probably because he’s very gregarious and hasn’t yet developed a fear of humans. He’s probably from a breeder. My dog is a rescue–he’s been through some things. Long story short, I hold my dog by his harness so that he can bark and growl all he wants but not bite, and then he and Brutus end up rolling around on my feet, and Banneker’s* loud, growling bark changes over to a high-pitched, friendly bark. They’re friends now.
All of this resonated pretty strongly with what I’ve been teaching my students over the past couple weeks in the Literary Theory course. I don’t subscribe to any singular school of thought when it comes to literary interpretation (as you can tell from my book), but I can appreciate how psychoanalysis provides a set of tools for understanding how we think, learn, feel, and communicate, individually and socially. Dreaming, and some forms of writing, ostensibly involve free association processes that connect the “day residue” with imagery derived from the unconscious. The dream-image (or the sign) mobilizes materials from the unconscious in forms that are allowed to move past the censoring bar of the superego by forming arbitrary, but potentially meaningful iterations of our deeply-felt desires and fantasies. In this case, writing about the small dog’s hyperactive attention to my dog and my dog’s surprisingly good behavior under the circumstances provided a way for me to associate the events of the morning with my anger at the neighbors who used to complain about my dog barking and my underlying wish to prove to them, and really anyone, that I am a good enough dog dad.
The Week of Writing and other programs and traditions emerging out of the Drexel Publishing Group have their online presence at 5027mac.org. They publish The Painted Bride Quarterly literary magazine and The 33rd, the anthology used in the first-year writing program at Drexel. I’ll have something in print in The 33rd in the coming months. Stay tuned.
*My dog is named Benjamin Banneker.