by Judy Merrill Larsen
I have a dog who howls at sirens. It's very sweet and hearkens from somewhere long ago in his ancestry. I asked the vet about it; I was worried it meant the noise hurt his ears, and while we live in Mayberry, our house is on one of the main streets and we have our share of fire trucks roaring past. Our vet assured me it wasn't caused by pain, but rather, when Ernie (our dog) hears sirens, he thinks it's another dog somewhere looking for his pack. So Ernie howls to try to call him home. It's fun to watch. He'll usually be sprawled on his back in a deep sleep (I mean, he spends at least 20 hours a day snoozing) but when a siren sounds, he jumps up. (We joke that he resembles George Bush at a press conference at that moment of startling.) And then, it's as if he goes into a trance of sorts--he tips his head up (to open his throat, I guess) and howls. It's mournful, it's eerie, it's a sound that comes from his toes and from thousands of years ago. And then, he looks around as if to see if we noticed. And I wonder if he ever feels sad that the dog he was calling home never arrives. But he'll do it again, every time. He can't help it.
Sometimes, I feel like Ernie, howling away, wondering if anyone hears. As a writer, much of what I do is very solitary. I write, never sure anyone else will ever read my words, much less come home to them. I send blog posts out into the ether and am more tickled than I probably should be when someone leaves a comment. It means we've connected in some way. But, like my dog and his howling, writing is in my blood, in my bones. I don't have a choice to not write, to not howl out and hope I'm heard. In reading a variety of blogs, I don't think I'm alone in this wondering. Books are released to much fanfare (or not). We earn out our advances (or not). We garner scads of reviews (or not). But what it's really about, at least for me, is to wake up and check my e-mail, like I did this morning, and open a letter from a reader who just finished my book. And who said it made her love reading again. And in tears, I write her back. I howled, she heard me. As writers, that's a power we all have. Sometimes I think that's all we can do. Let out a howl. See who answers.