Here we are again, back on a Sunday night. The hottest one so far this year, too – the true start of this Detroit summer.
I’ve had Matisse for two and a half weeks now, and every day is a new challenge. He’s shy around strangers, easily startled. He doesn’t like eating while I’m in the room so it’s been hard to motivate him with food. The only treat he’ll take or lick from my hand is peanut butter, which the vet and I discovered when she smeared some on his lip and he licked it off. All I know about his history is that he was transferred at nine months from a shelter in Louisiana. Other than that I have only clues. He prefers small confined spaces – was he kept, as a puppy, in a tiny cage? Abused by a previous owner? Forfeited by someone who worked all the time and was never around to take care of him? Or did he bounce around from shelter to shelter, get used to eating in between visits from volunteers and potential adopters.
When I’m writing, the development of a character starts with a voice or bit of dialogue, and then the voice suggests a personality, a whole personage. From these clues I come up with theories (not always consciously) for why they are the way they are. And, I mean, we all do this with the people we know, or with strangers, or with people we read about in the news. We derive character from actions. We hold up the things they do as proof of who they are (but it never is, fully). The challenge in both life and writing is to not let the theories become too rigid. It’s listening for and imagining other ways they can speak, respond, love, be angry, kind. It’s leaving room for mystery. Room for you, the writer, the human, to be surprised by the other beings in your life.
Room for surprise – not a problem yet with Matisse. A week after I got him we went on a walk with some other pups in the building and he seemed like a completely different dog. He wagged his tail furiously, reached up to get scratches from J and K and M. He was so happy that, several times during the walk, he put his legs flat against his side and planked head-first into the grass, a move that I’ve come to call his torpedo move.
Now, when I take him outside, Matisse refuses to go on walks unless we go with other dogs. And as soon as we’re back inside, he crawls into his spot on my bookshelf again and doesn’t want to budge.
A completely different dog, but also the same dog.