When it comes to writing my novel,Charging the Jaguar, of late I've changed my bark. At first, I was not a happy dog. Then I had a series of insights when my dog, Coco, licked me on the face as I awoke from a meditation. I saw my purpose as a writer and the way I wished to spend the rest of my writing life in a new light.
It hasn't been exactly pork chops and gravy since, but thanks to Coco's intervention, I'm now a happier, more fulfilled writer.
I was not always a happy dog.
My novel was not going the way I had hoped. I had reached what appeared to be an insurmountable obstacle in the middle of it.
The first third of the novel is a chase. The last third of the novel is a thriller. The second third had elements of fantasy and farce. It's no wonder the novel seemed to come off the rails in the second third.
Two years ago I nearly stopped writing my novel at this point. Now I was at that exact point in my novel again, and, guess what? It seemed to be an all-out contest between my writing grit and my desire to quit. I was a very unhappy dog, indeed.
But this time, my wife and best friend, Gina, suggested that I take ten days and decide whether I want to continue writing this novel or give it up altogether.
The story behind my novel.
My novel, Charging the Jaguar, tells the story of Jake Lancer, a young Peace Corps Volunteer in 1967 Colombia who is riding on a bus when it is attacked by the FARC*, a Maoist-leaning revolutionary group. Jake is wounded twice in the attack; nevertheless, he administers first aid to some of his fellow bus passengers who are also wounded. In the process, he undergoes a near-death experience.
Although Jake has always been strictly heterosexual, on this day, directly after the attack, he falls in love with a young man named Jesus who bandages his wounds. Indeed, Jesus and Jake are very compatible, and they share a great deal in common.
It soon becomes apparent to Jake, however, that Jesus, the humanitarian with gauze and tape, is an undercover FARC soldier. (Later in the story Jesus reveals that he was sent by his FARC commander to investigate the Peace Corps Volunteer and determine if he is an undercover C.I.A. agent, and to murder him if he decides he is.)
It turns out Jesus isn't exactly the greatest FARC soldier. (That's why they could "spare" him to intercept Jake.) Neither is Jake the greatest Peace Corps Volunteer. In fact, the novel opens with Jake's Peace Corps supervisor placing Jake on probation because he's such a screw-up.
Jake's purpose is prove he can be an effective Peace Corps Volunteer, knowing that if he's ultimately sent home before his time he'll be drafted into the U.S. Army and sent to Vietnam where misanthropic-Jake is certain he'll die in combat and be sent home in a body bag.
At a deeper level, Jake's challenge throughout the novel is find a new way to live, to relate to the people around him in a new way so he can become a successful Peace Corps Volunteer, avoid Vietnam, and, ultimately, survive.
Coco intervenes and I become a happy dog.
It was a Saturday morning. The immediate issue before me that day was deciding whether Gina and I would see a movie; also deciding on the fate of my novel. My ten days were up.
I lay on my bed in a meditative state, something I do daily. Just as I awoke, Coco, our Toy Poodle, began licking me on the face—vociferously, lustily, enthusiastically. Coco knew I had been hurting. As many of you already know, dogs are extremely intuitive, healing souls. They heal by licking.
As she licked me, Coco looked into my eyes. I looked into her eyes from only inches away. And I experienced a conversion of sorts. I came to believe Coco was telling me that all I had to do to be a happy writer was to be happy. And to be happy, all I had to do was follow my story-telling instincts wherever they led and ignore the gloomy voices in my head insisting that the story made no sense and would never work out.
Coco was saying: Just follow your story. Tell your story. Your story material is rich, raw, vital, creative, entertaining and funny. It's inspired. Coco was telling me that when I follow the story, my story will not only make sense; in the end it will make perfect sense.
(In fact, since this happened, the first and third parts of the story have begun to sound increasingly like the second third, so the entire novel is beginning to come together very nicely.)
I awoke from my meditation convinced:
I would complete my novel;
I would never again lose sight of what a lucky dog I am just to be able to write my novel;
I would never again get so torn up about writing my story that I would live my life in the throws of indecision.
I would become a happy dog, and a happily decisive dog;
And I would see that movie with Gina.*The FARC is the same revolutionary group that the current President of Colombia, Juan Manuel Santos, has been negotiating a peace deal with. As it goes into effect, I pray that the FARC violence Colombia has had to live with for more than sixty years will cease. Amen.