When you’re writing a book, or I should say, whenever I’ve written one, there’s a moment when I don’t know what’s happening. I know the subject before me. I even know vaguely where I’m supposed to go. But the gloaming surrounds me, a Dante-esque “dark wood” and I’m utterly lost. No wonder Dickens said all writers are “ink stained wretches.”
My latest memoir, Have Dog, Will Travel: A Poet’s Journey was no exception. I understood I was writing a book about my first guide dog Corky and how training with her lead me to discover a new sprit of adventure. Before Corky I didn’t know how to travel on my own, or I didn’t know I could do it joyfully. I found I was writing a book about animal love and traveling joy. That’s not bad.
It’s in the writing one finds whatever we mean by depth psychology. My book about Corky became a spiritual narrative. I’d no idea it would become that when I started out.
So its especially gratifying to have received some advance praise from some writers and activists I admire. If my memoir became a poet’s journey (as I wished, had wished—that lyric hope) then what could be better than these words by the esteemed former U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins:
“Never before has the subtle relationship of a blind person to a guide dog been clarified in such an entertaining way.That Stephen Kuusisto enables us to see the wold through his blind eyes as well as through the ‘seeing eyes’ of his dog is this book’s amazing, paradoxical achievement.” ~Billy Collins
That is, of course, precisely what I was hoping to do—to become both dog and man—to inhabit two bodies and suggest how, by wandering, we shared our loves and fascinations. A dog is not a tool—she’s a tutelary spirit, or she was for me. Corky made me better. This is a book about how a yellow Labrador made me a better man.
I’m grateful to Billy for having seen what I was trying to accomplish.
A few weeks later I received still another testimonial from Temple Grandin who likely needs no introduction, but surely she’s been one of the preeminent global leaders in animal studies, disability and what’s come to be called neurodiversity. She sent the following:
“A perceptive and beautifully crafted memoir of personal growth, and a fascinating example of what can happen when a person and a dog learn to partner with one another.” ~Temple Grandin
I should tell you that when it comes to literary writing I’m as insecure as the next person. When I received Temple’s note I almost cried.
Dana Spiotta, a colleague of mine at Syracuse University and one of my favorite fiction writers wrote:
“Have Dog, Will Travel is both an intimate memoir of one man’s particular experience of blindness and a beautiful tribute to the devotional, unconditional love of a dog. Funny, moving, and joyful.” ~Dana Spiotta
Sometimes a writer just gets lucky—she or he or they manages to get through the gloaming and arrive at a place where others can feel the joys we’d imagined.
And as if all these fine words weren’t enough, the poet and essayist Ona Gritz (who has written amazing poems and nonfiction about disablement) sent the following:
“I fell in love with Corky, of course, with her goofiness and boundless affection and heart-stopping wisdom. Truth be told, I fell in love with Steve too for how he dove into his new, broken open, adventurous life with her, and the way he processed his experiences through the lens of his reading life, and his compassion for others and for his own late-blooming self.” ~Ona Gritz
In Britain they say if you have an amusing story you can “dine out on it” and judging by these kind and unanticipated words, I can at the very least order a bone for my dog and perhaps a bowl of excellent soup. To say I’m grateful to Billy, Temple, Dana, and Ona isn’t sufficient.
ABOUT: Stephen Kuusisto is the author of the memoirs Have Dog, Will Travel; Planet of the Blind (a New York Times “Notable Book of the Year”); and Eavesdropping: A Memoir of Blindness and Listening and of the poetry collections Only Bread, Only Light and Letters to Borges. A graduate of the Iowa Writer’s Workshop and a Fulbright Scholar, he has taught at the University of Iowa, Hobart and William Smith Colleges, and Ohio State University. He currently teaches at Syracuse University where he holds a professorship in the Center on Human Policy, Law, and Disability Studies. He is a frequent speaker in the US and abroad. His website is StephenKuusisto.com.