Iowa State University

When I started this blog, my intention was to post something — a column, musing, photograph, video, etc. — every day. Knowing where my travels often take me, I knew it wouldn’t be wise to promise a daily entry. But I will always make my best effort. For the last two days, I’ve been without internet at my house. Electrical power, cell service, and internet can be “iffy” in Martinsdale. High winds knock out power lines. There are no cell phone towers in sight. Maybe the cold weather and snow up high had something to do with it? Naw, probably not, but when it snows in mid-June it sure seems like a good thing to blame your problems on… not that being out-of-the-cyber-loop is a true problem. And, no matter the season, I LOVE snow! So all is well.

Chloe says, "How many times do I have to hear this???"

Chloe says, “How many times do I have to hear this???”

Although, Chloe does seem bored by my decision to write (indoors) instead of walk (outside) in the chilly rain/hail/snow. I took a break from the memoir-writing to work on a piece of short fiction, and I’m enjoying it. I can’t say the same for Chloe — when I write, I read everything out loud over and over again. If Chloe’s snoring is any indication of my foray into fiction, I’m in real trouble.

People have been asking about my decision on grad school, so I’ll give you a quick update here. Because of too many unknowns in my life at the moment, I decided to defer admission to the Iowa State University MFA program. The offer is very exciting, and the school has a one-of-a-kind “creative writing and the environment” focus, so going through the pros and cons of relocating (when I already have two houses 1800 miles apart to maintain) was challenging. But I do feel good about the decision. And it’s good to have an option in place for next year.

Since I applied for the traditional MFA programs way back in December, I’ve learned about low-residency MFA programs from several professional writers who have attended these schools. I am looking into this as another option which would allow me to write from anywhere (Indiana, Montana, Texas, Bolivia, you name it!). My desire is to write, and I want as much direct guidance as possible. I have heard these programs have an intensive focus on both the quality and quantity of writing put out daily, pushing and supporting writers through the entire book-making process. Most of these programs require students to come on site for 10 days to 2 weeks in January and July before the start of each semester (working year-round for 2-3 years depending on the program). During those hard-core workshopping sessions, the writer picks a mentor to work with for that semester (or for the entire program). After the writer leaves campus, they send in packets of work to their mentor. Most of the programs require at least 40 hours per week of writing to complete the MFA in 2 years. Right now I am looking at schools such as Stonecoast, Vermont College of Fine Arts, the Rainier Writing Workshop, and the University of Alaska. I am still researching all of these and more. Many of the programs have both fall and spring deadlines so I hope to get some applications in by September, and then, once again, wait and wait for acceptance letters (why not be optimistic?). Acceptances to these programs are just as competitive as the traditional MFA’s so I am aware I will need patience in the process. If I can get a short story completed by September, I might apply in both fiction and non-fiction. I also need to write a critical essay — I am reading Rick Bass’ “All the Land to Hold Us” right now, hoping to write about literature and a sense of place. It’s been YEARS (University of Montana, 1994) since I wrote an essay like this. We’ll see how it goes.

I began this blog a few weeks ago to help with my memoir-in-progress. I hoped writing quick “bits” about my relationships with my dogs, my parents, the outdoors, friends, etc. would help give me new direction. Writing about being a caregiver for my parents has been difficult. I miss them so much, and putting myself in front of a computer in their lifelong home to reflect on our last years together guts me… over and over again. I thought the blog would be a good change of pace. I wrote a column for the Great Falls Tribune in Montana for 10 years, and I loved it (thanks, Mike!). Coming here to a String of Dogs takes me back to those column-writing days. And it feels like home. I thank YOU for reading!

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A magnet stuck to the bottom of my refrigerator door says: “It’s all fun and games until somebody ends up in a cone.” When my friend, Brenda, and I spotted this Truth next to a photo of a terrier haloed by the giant white “cone of shame,” we both laughed. In my world, this scene is all too familiar. I, literally, own 13 e-collars (FYI… it’s never a good idea to spay or neuter 13 crazy sled dogs all on the same day… but that’s another story). Sadly, my 25-lb. German Jagd Terrier, Jigs, has ended up in the “cone of shame” more times than all of my sled dogs combined. “You need this…” Brenda said, pulling the magnet off the counter display at the bookstore and handing it to the cashier. “Hang it really low on the frig… so The Terri-orist can see it.”

I’m always amazed how one small (adorable) dog can throw such a big wrench in my plans. Jigs is known for making poor choices — he’s a terrier, he can’t help it — and I have to watch him.

This last Monday as I was preparing to leave Indy for Montana the next morning — doing laundry and gathering camping gear and loading my car while visiting with Brenda —  I left Jigs and Chloe and Lolo in my 3/4 acre backyard. Jigs turned 12 years old in March so sometimes I forget that my little gray-muzzled man can turn into a steel-eyed predator at any moment. Just as I was walking Brenda to her car, we saw a snarling tornado of fur and teeth moving across the grass. I recognized bits and pieces of Jigs and Chloe and Lolo in the twisted mess. Thankfully, Brenda and I were right there. As always I went straight for the terrier, snatching the wiry beast from the pile (please, SERIOUSLY, do not try this at home), and carrying him — still squirming and growling — back to the garage by his scruff.

“What the heck was that about?” I asked Brenda, as she looked over Chloe and Lolo for wounds. I did the same with Jigs, finding several punctures on his back leg. Jigs usually starts things, but then ends up the only dog wearing “the cone of shame.” I wish he’d learn, I always think after a scuffle. Dog fights evoke terror. For an hour, my heart pounded in my head, my hands trembled. I worry for those I love.

A plump, drool-drenched squirrel found in the yard answered our questions. Without a speaking witness, it’s difficult to know who caught the rodent; all three of the dogs are skilled hunters (lucky me). It’s a dog’s nature to want something so pungent, warm, bloody. My dogs are animals — I know this. I must remind myself to treat them that way. But sometimes they’re so cute I forget…

I decided to postpone my trip for a day to make sure Jigs did not need vet care. One hole about the width of a pencil could have taken a stitch… or not. I gave Jigs a painkiller, some antibiotics, and we plopped down on the couch. He slept in a ball on my lap as I read, checked emails. That’s when I experienced the second shock of the day. A message in my Inbox read: GOOD NEWS FROM THE IOWA STATE MFA PROGRAM! I was asked to contact you right away because we have good news for you. We are able to make you an admission and TA offer to join the MFA Creative Writing and the Environment program at Iowa State after all…

For the second time that day, my heart surged in my chest, my hands shook — but this time for positive reasons. I postponed my departure date for several more days.  So much to consider…