Dog of the Morning

 —in memory of guide dog Corky

She brings me my shoes, separately, one by one

And drops them softly on the counterpane

As if to say: a day is here 

With all the colors of waking

Seeing I didn’t know

Knowing my tangled dream

A man in late middle age

Caught with Edgar Poe

His shadows moving to and fro

At windows

A day of high wind

So one by one

I slip my feet inside.

Stephen Kuusisto and HarleyABOUT: 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 University Professorship in Disability Studies. He is a frequent speaker in the US and abroad. His website is StephenKuusisto.com.

Have Dog, Will Travel: A Poet’s Journey is now available for pre-order:
Amazon
Barnes and Noble
IndieBound.org

Have Dog, Will Travel by Stephen Kuusisto

(Photo picturing the cover of Stephen Kuusisto’s new memoir “Have Dog, Will Travel” along with his former guide dogs Nira (top) and Corky, bottom.) Bottom photo by Marion Ettlinger 

The Dog Who Loves You

It’s always seemed to me that adults, by which I mean most adults, by which I mean many of those I’ve met, have difficulty giving thanks. I don’t mean just saying “thank you” when the barista hands you a latte, but worshipful thanks. I suppose I’m talking about praise where creation is concerned.  If you’re agonistic or an atheist you’ll see straightaway the predicament I’m in. I’m now standing on the thin ice of religious devotion and some might stop reading this because of it. But you see, what I’m really talking about is the love of dogs. Everyday I give thanks to creation for dogs.

The Dog Who Loves You Stephen Kuusisto

(Image: Young 10-year old boy, Stephen Kuusisto’s step-son Ross, is lying in the grass. Yellow Labrador and guide dog “Corky” is standing above him and is about to “kiss” his nose.”)

Tenderness, dog spirit, moves beside and within me. She has me talking to myself in the street. Stranger I am well. My hands, so often clenched fly open. I am loved by dogs.

This of course sounds ridiculous. The great dog spirit, Canis Tempus is walking me straight out of the profane world.

But this is so.

Shortly after I was paired with met first guide dog, a yellow Labrador named “Corky” I rode the subway to Coney Island.  It was April and cold but the famed Boardwalk was a great place for a brisk walk. Hardly any people were about. We pounded over the wood planks fronting the ocean and I talked to Corky softly. She held her head up, very high, to scent the Atlantic, and it was easy to imagine she was experiencing delight.

Aristotle defined happiness as “human flourishing” which he said involved activity and exhibiting virtue, and both should be in accord with reason. “Corky,” I said,“you are my virtue.” I wasn’t entirely sure what this meant.

“She can’t be my full virtue,” I thought. “She can only be the agent of my honor.” “But it’s lovely, Corky, walking this boardwalk with you and the ghost of Aristotle,” I said half aloud.

A policeman approached us and said, “Are you OK?”

“He’s seen my lips moving,” I thought. “He probably thinks I’m lost.”

“I’m just happy,” I told the cop who was taken aback.

“That’s a first for me,” he said. “I mean, no one ever says that, even at Coney Island!”

“You know,” I said, “I grew up blind in the middle of nowhere and never learned how to travel. Then I got this incredible dog! I just can’t tell you how happy I am.”

Of course I was more than happy. I was thankful. Now, 24 years later, I’m still mindful and full of praise for the dogs in my life.

The dog who loves you turns up in your dreams. Last night she was a woman on a train who said her name was “Evensong” (I kid you not) and she was old and dignified.

The dog who loves you is part of your soul (I kid you not) and she insists that mirth never dies. That is, as they say, how things stand.

Carl Jung had it wrong: the anima or animus is not the man or woman inside you but the dog who loves you; the one who first loved you; who loves you now. Sorry Yeats, here’s how the poem should go:

“Young man lift up your russet brow,

And lift your tender eyelids maid,

And brood on dogs and dogs who love…”

Stephen Kuusisto and HarleyABOUT: 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 University Professorship in Disability Studies. He is a frequent speaker in the US and abroad. His website is StephenKuusisto.com.

Have Dog, Will Travel: A Poet’s Journey is now available for pre-order:
Amazon
Barnes and Noble
IndieBound.org

Have Dog, Will Travel by Stephen Kuusisto

(Photo picturing the cover of Stephen Kuusisto’s new memoir “Have Dog, Will Travel” along with his former guide dogs Nira (top) and Corky, bottom.) Bottom photo by Marion Ettlinger 

Dog of My Travels

My new memoir Have Dog, Will Travel explores how being paired with an exceptional guide dog changed me into a more curious, adventurous, and trusting person. Corky, for that was her name, helped me become better, especially on the inside. I think it’s safe to say this is the most  interior book I’ve yet written. And while no one can really do such a thing, I try to get inside Corky’s head as well.

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(Photo of Stephen Kuusisto with his third guide dog Nira, a yellow Labrador, in the English-Philosophy Building at the University of Iowa.)

I started my writing life as a poet. I remember the afternoon I told my father I wasn’t going to law school but instead had chosen to attend the Iowa Writer’s Workshop. As Franklin W. Dixon used to write in the Hardy Boys books, my dad was crestfallen. After a day or so he roused himself and said: “well we probably need more poets and no one in his right mind believes we need more lawyers.”

At Iowa I studied poetry with several well known poets including Marvin Bell, Donald Justice, and Sandra McPherson. Studying poetry meant both writing it and revising it–living and breathing extraordinary words by others and trying, often inexpertly, to write some lasting words of one’s own. That’s the thing about poems: in order for them to be considered any good they should be original and if you’re lucky your poem says something no one else ever has or at least not precisely. Ezra Pound said famously “poetry is news that stays new.” We should be surprised by poems, both as readers and writers.

Here’s the thing: when I was writing poetry in Iowa City I had no idea how to travel safely and independently–surely a primary need for any blind person. In my new book I describe how I went to Iowa two months before graduate school just so I could walk the town like a crime scene investigator–I walked a grid, up and down the charming brick streets and memorized the steps I’d have to take to arrive wherever I needed to be. In those days I was play acting at being a sighted person. This is not an unusual story among the blind and I claim no special distinction. But its safe to say I was closed in, anxious, quietly desperate, and yes, inwardly guilty–for wasn’t I a sham? And of course, as the depressed imagination goes–wasn’t I a sham in all things?

In Have Dog, Will Travel (which is subtitled, “a poet’s journey”) I narrate how I grew tired of not knowing how to strike out on my own and go anywhere I wished, any time, yes, on a whim. Freedom is about many things but “whim” is surely central to it. In the book I describe how, as a college student living in western New York I wanted desperately to go to New York City and hear the poet James Wright read at the 92nd Sweet YMCA.  In those days I needed sighted friends to accompany me places or I couldn’t go. I found no willing co-conspirators in my quest to hear one of my favorite poets and I stayed home. I felt the disappointment bitterly.

Climbing out of that place, that self-imposed covert, took several years for me. My book about a yellow Labrador is a poet’s journey because with Corky by my side I was able to do what others freely do all the time–I could wander without goals in New York City; walk loose jointed and open; push my curiosity the way a child floats a toy sailboat in Central Park. The book’s most joyous passages have to do with trusting my canine pal, plunging into traffic, and pressing forward because I just wanted to go to a baseball game (I’m a Mets fan) on my own.

Except I wasn’t on my own. I had a poised, confident, upright, vigorous, and soulful sidekick, who happened to be one hell of an exceptional dog.

She made me a better man. More trusting. More flexible. Open to others in ways I’d never imagined. And you know what? She made me a better poet.

Stephen Kuusisto and HarleyABOUT: 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.

Have Dog, Will Travel: A Poet’s Journey is now available for pre-order:
Amazon
Barnes and Noble
IndieBound.org

With Thanks for the Kind Words

….its especially gratifying to have received some advice praise from some writers and activists I admire.

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.

Stephen Kuusisto and HarleyABOUT: 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.

Have Dog Will Travel by Stephen Kuusisto
Have Dog, Will Travel: A Poet’s Journey is now available for pre-order:
Amazon
Barnes and Noble
IndieBound.org

Have Dog, Will Travel: A Poet’s Journey (Simon and Schuster) Available for Pre-Order

Guide Dog “Corky” changed my life in more ways than one.  Thank you to Simon and Schuster for allowing me the opportunity to share our story.

“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 world through his blind eyes as well as through the ‘seeing eyes’ of his dog is this book’s amazing, paradoxical achievement.”  —Billy Collins, U.S. Poet Laureate (2001-2003)

Have Dog, Will Travel Available for Pre-order Now!

Have Dog Will Travel by Stephen Kuusisto

Overview

In a lyrical love letter to guide dogs everywhere, a blind poet shares his delightful story of how a guide dog changed his life and helped him discover a newfound appreciation for travel and independence.

Stephen Kuusisto was born legally blind—but he was also raised in the 1950s and taught to deny his blindness in order to “pass” as sighted. Stephen attended public school, rode a bike, and read books pressed right up against his nose. As an adult, he coped with his limited vision by becoming a professor in a small college town, memorizing routes for all of the places he needed to be. Then, at the age of 38, he was laid off. With no other job opportunities in his vicinity, he would have to travel to find work.

This is how he found himself at Guiding Eyes paired with a Labrador named Corky. In this vivid and lyrical memoir, Stephen Kuusisto recounts how an incredible partnership with a guide dog changed his life and the heart-stopping, wondrous adventure that began for him in midlife. Profound and deeply moving, this is a spiritual journey, the story of discovering that life with a guide dog is both a method and a state of mind.

Stephen Kuusisto and HarleyABOUT: 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.

Have Dog, Will Travel: A Poet’s Journey is now available for pre-order:
Amazon
Barnes and Noble
IndieBound.org

It Takes a Village to Sell a Book: Tips to Help Your Favorite Author

If YOU know an author, or if you have a favorite author you’d like to support (hint, hint) what can YOU do to make a difference?  Here are some ideas for meaningful things you can do to help spread your enthusiasm for any author dear to you.

Help! It takes a village to sell a book

By C. Kuusisto

Now that books can actually be published online with a few key strokes (compared to bygone days) chances are you know someone who has written a book.  Or an eBook.  Think about it for a minute.  Browse the shelves of a library or your local bookstore or on Amazon.com and you’re looking at exceptional efforts made by some extraordinary individuals, each with a passion to share his or her message with the world.  Granted, some books are better than others but that’s another story.  Story – get it?!

Not everyone has the inclination or ambition to make such a mark on the world.  For those of us who don’t, unless you know an author personally, it is very easy to take their efforts for granted.  A book, just one book, represents hours, months, sometimes years of toil and trouble. While some consider it a labor of love, others may consider their book the worst “assignment” ever.

I know; I’m married to an author.

So if YOU know an author, or if you have a favorite author you’d like to support (hint, hint) what can YOU do to make a difference?  If you’re reading this post, I’m assuming you have an interest in doing so.  Well then, here are some ideas for meaningful things you can do to help spread your enthusiasm for any author dear to you.

• Check out the author’s web site and buy a book!  Buy another one and gift it to a loved one.  Or a friend.  Or both.

• Buy another copy and donate it to your local library.

• TALK about the book.  Word-of-mouth advertising is priceless!

• Follow his/her Virtual Book Tour.  But don’t just read the introductory blog posts.  Click the links!  Visit the hosts’ blogs; write comments.  Show some love!  Bloggers LOVE comments!  Internet search engines love links.  Follow an author on a virtual book tour, participate, and you’ll help make “noise” online.

• If he or she is offering a reading at a local bookstore or other venue,  GO!  And buy a book!  Ask him/her to sign your book.

• Bring a friend with you! Treat him/her to a copy.

• Help arrange for a reading at a local venue.

• Write a book review.

• Visit Goodreads.  “Like” the book.  Add it to your bookshelf.  Recommend the book.  Leave a comment/review.

• Visit Amazon.com. “Like” the author.  Like the book.  Recommend the book.  Leave a review.  Same goes for any other online book seller site…

• Are you a Twitter user?  Connect!  Then borrow the link from either Amazon or Barnes and Noble and share with your followers.  Or share your favorite quote.

• Are you on Facebook?  “Like” the author and/or the book and tell your friends why you like it.  Important: Leave Comments!  SHARE!

• Are you a blogger?  Ask your favorite author if he/she will provide a guest post.

• If you are a blogger, offer to interview your favorite author and publish it to your blog.

• Make a video of your interview and post it to YouTube and to Facebook.

• What other social media platforms do you use?  Google+?  Pinterest?  Instagram?  Use them to help spread the word.

• Share the book with your book club.  Ask the author if he/she will do a virtual online meeting with club members to discuss the book.

• Start a book club!

• Contact your favorite author and ask “what can I do to help spread the word?”

You may have some other ideas.  Please feel free to share them in the comments.

Oh, and just for the record, Stephen Kuusisto’s new book “Have Dog, Will Travel” is now available for pre-order on both Amazon and Barnes and Noble.  It will take a village to sell his book, too.  No doubt he would appreciate YOUR help.  Share the news, will you?  Steve’s book “Planet of the Blind“, a NY TIMES Notable Book of the Year (1998), touched a lot of lives; this we know.  The hope – the expectation – is that this one will, too.

Have Dog, Will Travel: a Poet's Journey by Stephen Kuusisto

Notes:

First Image: The word HELP spelled out in red by a hand holding a pen. Underneath HELP it says “It Takes a Village to Sell a Book” in black letters.

Second Image: Cover of author Stephen Kuusisto’s new book. Light blue background with white lettering: Have Dog, Will Travel A Poet’s Journey. Included is an graphic image of a gold-colored dog wearing a harness and at the top of the cover is a testimonial by poet Billy Collins.

Dogs, Hats, and Faith

As the new year dawns I’m doing my best—that is, I’m drinking coffee. And since I went to bed last night at 9:30 (at the insistence of a small dog who thought it was the right thing when the outside temperature was 5 degrees Fahrenheit) well because of this I’m wide awake sans hangover.

To be fair the dog didn’t make me go to bed. It’s good to distrust people who say dogs make them do anything other than feeding them and taking them outside. I went to bed early because it seemed like a good idea.

I’ve been taking antidepressants for over twenty years. They help me stay “in the game” but they also make me tired at night and that’s just the way it is. By taking Celexa I live on dog time. Early to bed, early to rise. I’m Ben Franklin with pills and dogs.

What are dogs and antidepressants for? I imagine they’re about hope. Even facing the aborning year which cannot be promising, what with the looting of the planet, corporatized warfare, slavish and corrupt politicians of every stripe, human trafficking, the new slavery, which is old slavery tied to offshore banking—I’ll stop in a moment—even with the assault on the poor, the infirm—here I am again tossing my moth eaten chapeau onto a fountain of hope knowing one of my two dogs will retrieve it.

Dogs teach us to put our wet hats on again.

They teach us to avoid rising to the level of our expectations, but fall to the level of our training, as Archilochus would have it and which I’ve always taken to mean “get on with it brother.”

The wet hat has some toothmarks.

Lots of people sneer at hope. It is for one thing akin to faith and nothing gets kicked more often than faith, even the faithful do it.

I agree with Maxine Hong Kingston: “In a time of destruction, create something.”

Dogs say wet hats are better than no hats.

Dogs say you can indeed get there from here.

Dogs say even wearing that hat you’re not as bad as you appear.

Or they say, well, you might be as bad as you appear—so throw your hat again and we’ll bring it back. You can try for a new look.

A hat damp with hope is still a hat.

A damp hat is expectation halved, still wearable.

The hat your dog brings means you have a plan.

Essay Concerning Last Year’s Ashes

My dog of course, now in a can, who saved my life. She’s on my mantle, and I would scatter her to the wind but sadness presses down the tin box, my sadness akin to faith-paranoia, like the superstitious passenger who thinks his mind holds the plane aloft. I must keep my dog’s ashes close just as I maintain books on shelves and worn shoes in the closet.

There was a year in my youth when I was terribly lonely in a strange city. I knew very few people and the ones I did know were the quotidian kind—magazine seller, doorman, a severe librarian at the local university, which is to say they knew me as a creature, and I knew them as living beings but without true culture—we had no shared songs. One may live this way for a season or two. This was that kind of time. I arranged knickknacks carefully on my desk.

Sometimes I went to the botanical garden. It dated from Tsarist times and there were winding paths that seemed to lead nowhere—bafflements for clandestine conversations—and I walked in expanding circles among lilies, ferns, and flowers whose names I’d never know for vandals had long ago stolen the signs. Yes, there were flowers taller than men and they had no names and I liked them a great deal. It’s foolish to say it, but plants are silent the way you wish your friends could be, and this was especially true that year, when I was far from friends back home. The great, drowsy, half shaggy plants of the Tsars…how kind they were. They simply “were” and this was all I needed most mornings.

I had books. Stendahl, Neruda, Harry Martinson. In those days I smoked cigarettes and I’d light up in my imperial bower with its anonymous shrubs and think about what I liked and didn’t like about words. I saw I didn’t like “faith” or “rage” but I could do with “ardor” and “pique”—not because they were literary words but because they had nuance and unless you’re genuinely seasick this is how you want your feelings to be—of or pertaining to intuitions, gut gasps, solitudes in gardens.

Of course I’d put the ashes in my pockets along with the cigarette butts. It was best not to leave a trace. And here I am, forty years later, holding on to my lovely dog’s ashes because I can’t bear to part with even the starkest reminder. What coat might I carry them in? What knowing garment?

Foolish again. The ashes in every instance.

 

Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright, or, Traveling with a Guide Dog

When, as I do, you travel everywhere with a guide dog public space becomes a confessional of sorts. It’s a rare day when a stranger doesn’t approach to say, “I had a dog like that once, but he died,” or, “Labradors, they’re the best dogs in the world, but mine’s dead.” The first time this happened I was a newbie guide dog user, alone, in the Pittsburgh airport, and a woman said, “I had a dog like that once, but someone poisoned it.” She had an overpowering minty odor and kept snapping her fingers. My dog and I ran away from her.

It took some time but I began to see these encounters as having nothing to do with dogs. Or the dog was simply a calling card. My guide dog Corky meant in the eyes of passersby that I was approachable and might well have a heart. A more sinister variant was that being blind they might believe I couldn’t escape—like a hapless passenger on the Greyhound. I chose not to believe the latter. I am, essentially, a boy scout, (OK, not really) but I do believe in kindness and I’m as naive as the next man, or woman, and what the Hell, I thought, it costs me next to nothing to talk to wounded, anomalous weirdoes.

Of course “next to nothing” is just faux metaphysics—it did cost me. You can’t absorb the griefs of subway riders and ballpark fans without grinding your bearings. Three years into guide dog life I understood that the village square is filled with Tennessee Williams characters, lots of Blanches and Stanleys whose hearts are so broken they’ll think nothing about approaching a blind man to talk about the deaths of their pets. And I saw that behind the stories of doggie demise were divorces, run away children, job losses, car accidents, so that I wanted to weep for our strangeness. This is a high gravity world.

As a poet this wasn’t big news to me. About suffering they were never wrong, the Old Masters. Not only is it always occurring, but we’re invited to look away. Unless, that is, you go absolutely every place with a dog. On the airplane. In the shopping mall. Riding escalators. Then all bets are off. A guide dog user becomes a mark. In effect I became a walking minister. A circuit rider. My Finnish grandfather was a Lutheran pastor who preached to immigrant congregations in Minnesota and Wisconsin. I saw Corky was my Model T Ford. The common street was our patch of souls.

I’m an irreverent fellow. But I couldn’t laugh at the unbidden, constant sadnesses of happenstance people. And I couldn’t let them dominate me as the price of listening. Nor could I let them ruin my days. Her dog had been poisoned. His dog lived to be fifteen but succumbed to joint disease. Her dog got stolen. His was shot by hunters. You’re sipping coffee. You’re sitting on a bench. The sorrowing come to you like birds.

The trick as I saw it, was to abandon belief in fairy tales. The guide dog schools like to say that with a dog the blind have newfound horizons, freedoms, opportunities, etc. They’re right. But one aspect of freedom is that you’ve become a citizen like anyone, and yes, because of your dog you’re interesting. I listened. Still listen. Just enough. Then I say, “I’ve got to get back to reading,” and put on my headphones. Or tap my talking watch, then say, “nice talking, but Ive got to go.”

My guide dog brought me love. It cuts both ways: I’ll be your confessor, I’ll be on my way.

More About Teaching with a Dog

I knew one in five of my students likely had a disability; that one in four had probably been assaulted sexually; that approximately 40% had alcoholic parents or relatives. One can’t teach without knowing such things—at least not be teaching properly. Could being disabled “before them” and working with Corky foster communicative possibilities beyond merely inserting my life, my story—the professor as “other?” I wasn’t sure at first. You walk into a classroom with a dog, it’s like a joke.

Since service animals can’t be ignored I said: “for Corky the past is prologue.” “She’s more well adjusted than most of us.”

“A guide dog’s childhood is impressive,” I said. “Love, encouragement, modest rules, then more love, more encouragement…”

“Who among us gets to have that?” I asked. No one raised a hand.

So here’s what I did. I invited students to coffee klatches with Corky. It was kumbaya. And so what?

We created a small circle around a dog.

I took the harness off.

Corky circled putting her head on people’s knees.

“In order for ideas to have value,” I said, “one must feel secure enough to be inquisitive.”

My coffee drinkers agreed this wasn’t easy.

We were newly minted adepts of John Dewey’s pragmatism, hugging a dog, insisting our everyday experiences mattered.

I will not tell my students stories.

But sometimes at night walking to the bus I thought of them bearing up under their burdens and of how they still desired lives of trust.

This is no small thing when you feel it. No small thing….