Lola.

Almost a year ago, Molly and I decided it was time to think about getting a dog. Knowing there are so many pitbulls who need homes, we decided we would rescue a pitbull from the awesome Northeast Ohio rescue group Live Love Rescue. (I can’t say enough: They are completely great. Support them. If you live in the area, get your next dog from them. There are so many dogs — pitbulls, especially — in need of homes!)

Lola was five months old when Live Love Rescue got a hold of her. She was rescued with her siblings from a house in Columbus. Cops had arrested her “owner” in a drug bust of some kind, and when they saw five pups in a cage, fighting over food that was apparently just dumped on their heads from outside the cage, they called Animal Control. Animal Control didn’t want to euthanize these pups, so they began reaching out to rescue groups. None of the groups in Columbus could handle five pitbulls, so they reached out to Cleveland groups and LLR sent a volunteer to get the dogs.

Molly and I were early in our dog search. We wanted to meet some people from¬†LLR and see what kinds of dogs they might have, so we took my daughter Rose to an adoption event LLR was having. We met lots of cute dogs. We played for a while with Lola’s brother Blue, who was really cute but far too “couch dog” for our tastes. We saw Lola’s sister Apple, who was sweet, but still not for us.

And then we saw Lola. Lola was not with her foster mom or dad like most other dogs were. She was too rambunctious for a leash. She was chained to a tree under a shade tent. She kept using her chain to nearly topple the tent. When volunteers let her play with other dogs, she was uncontrollable. She was within sight of a porta-potty (we were at an orchard), and every time somebody used the potty, she would potty-shame them, calling attention to them by barking. (I found this hilarious.) She was not a settled, composed dog.

Molly, Rose and I went inside the orchard store to discuss the dogs. We unanimously agreed we all liked Lola best. We wanted a high-energy dog, and Lola was most definitely that. We began the adoption process, and a few days later, we had Lola at our house.

At first she seemed unsure. She definitely did not know how to be socialized in a family of people. (And cats!) But she learned quickly. During her year with us, she has become a sweet, smart, funny, playful, obedient, helpful, loveable girl. We adore her. I cannot imagine life without her.

Below: Lola, (almost) a year with us, in pictures.

Defended!

I just successfully defended my thesis.

Yes, it’s really true. My thesis is done, I passed my defense, and I’m going to graduate.

In the end, as always, I got it together. I wrote. I set aside the angst and obsessing and the panic and the fear, and I wrote. I was able to hand a workable thesis to my committee. No, I’m not happy with it, and no, as a novel, it is most definitely not finished. (It’s not even a complete first draft.) There are parts of it that totally suck. But it’s the biggest project I’ve ever attempted. It’s 150-some pages of fiction that I actually wrote. And I don’t hate it. (Well, I don’t hate it all the time, and that’s progress.)

Until my committee brought me back into the room to tell me I passed, I didn’t believe I would. But I did, and I’m going to graduate.

It was actually one of the best afternoons of my life — to sit in a room with my committee (and Molly, of course, my spectator-supporter) and talk about my writing, to engage with a community of writers about my own work — it was pretty incredible. It felt really good. The defense was a perfect capstone to my MFA years. It was a total rush.

Afterward I got to have lunch with awesome Amy — who also graduated this summer, and who defended her thesis yesterday, too — and Molly, at Newdle! A celebratory drink never tasted so good.

I owe a huge debt of gratitude to my thesis committee: Chris Barzak, Eric Wasserman and Catherine Wing. Thank you, thank you, thank you. You are awesome.

Thesis?

I’m trying to finish writing my goddamned thesis.

I say trying, but I really mean, not writing. I’m avoiding. I’m stressing out.

I’ve done a lot of thinking, over the years, about “writer’s block” — more specifically, about my own specific brand of it, my own inability to write. I am not sure this thing called “writer’s block” even is a thing that exists, but I’ve done a lot of reading, over the years, about other writers’ processes. I’ve read more books about writing than I can count. I think about this issue every darned day. I’ve puzzled over my slow pace, my lack of productivity. And I’ve beaten myself up about it for years. Boy, can I be hard on myself. You don’t even know.

Inside my complicated head are two simultaneous ways of thinking. One:

You should write, and look at how much other writers manage to write, and why aren’t you writing? What’s wrong with you? You’re lazy.

And then, two:

You do not have permission to write. You aren’t supposed to be a writer. Writers cause trouble. Writers tell the truth. You suck, anyway. You couldn’t ‘tell the truth’ if you tried. Stop it. Who do you think you are?

In books about writing, many authors say they owe their success to discipline. They get up in the morning and they sit down and they write. I do not mean to make light of that discipline — nor do I mean to suggest it’s easy for those writers. I know it’s not easy for anybody. But I possess an amazing amount of discipline when it comes to other things. I am by no means a lazy person. Yet I cannot sit down and write as a daily habit. There is something bigger than “discipline” or “habit” standing between me and writing. My inability to write is a lot harder to untangle than those “butt in chair” proponents would have me believe.

Although, on the other hand, it is true: my butt is not in the chair, and if it were, I might be writing.

I’ve long described myself as a writer who does not write. I’m a writer — that is who I am, who I have always been. “Writer” is part of my identity. I think about writing every single day. When I am falling asleep, I am writing stories or poems in my head. When I am running or stuck in traffic or folding laundry I am stringing together sentences. This is how I live. I have a writer’s brain, for sure. But I so rarely sit down to write.

It comes back to that permission thing. Why do I feel like I’m not allowed to write? Of course, I know that permission isn’t out there somewhere, it’s not external. It’s somewhere inside my crazy writer head. It needs to come from me.

I just wish I could figure out how to unlock that, how to tell myself: It’s okay. You can write. Go. Finish that thesis.