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If it weren’t for clumsy opening sentences, I’d never write anything.

I generally avoid writing about writer’s block. It can feel lazy and self-involved, like a screenplay about a screenwriter trying to write the perfect screenplay, or a commercial about an ad agency pitching commercial ideas. (Oh, are you a rapper that raps about the awesome raps you rap? Because that would make you a very mediocre rapper!)

But what I find interesting about writer’s block is the desperation. And by “interesting” I mean “hilarious,” because desperation can make you do some really idiotic shit.

Like, you know those key chains that have a built-in sensor so that if you lose your keys you can clap your hands and the sensor will hear the clap and the key chain will beep and you can follow the beeps with your ears to find your keys? Have you had one of these? I have not. But sometimes, after looking repeatedly for my keys, I will clap my hands and hope that my keys will just know what to do.

And, once in a while, it works.

I know I’ve reached that same level of desperation in my writing when I start Googling whole sentences in hopes that the Internet will magically provide a literal answer, which it never, ever does. Say, for example, I am having trouble writing a joke about poodles (which is impossible because poodles are ridiculous and stupid and so easy to make fun of). When desperate, I’ll search, “How do I make a joke about a poodle?!!!”

And, once in a while, it works.

It delivers a needed distraction–my brain’s way of telling me that I am not interested in what I’m writing about, and helping me to connect it to something I do find interesting. So, searching for poodle jokes–searching for anything–leads me on a click-based voyage to Tangent Town, where hours later I’ll find myself reading Wikipedia entries about true crime stories that have been made into Lifetime movies. Then inspiration strikes.

“Poodle owners are like that lady that was engaged to the Craigslist Killer. Even after you show them piles of ripped up panties under the bed, they refuse to believe they live with a monster.”

And if inspiration refuses to strike, it doesn’t mean those hours spent wandering around online are a total waste. By running out the clock on my deadline, I can stop caring altogether. Out of time means out of options means I just have to just poop something out and move on.

“Poodles? Gross.”

Is it a perfect solution? No. Have I failed terribly? A little. Is it the end of the world? Of course not. (I mean, I hope not, for my sake. It would be very stressful to live in a world that depends on my constant supply of innovative and imaginative poodle jokes.)

I guess what I’m trying to say is,


Recently at the Random Writers Workshop in Bakersfield, Calif., we held a little creative nonfiction contest. Nothing big. I just promised to let the winner hijack my TNB account!

I got a stack of entries and carefully read through them. I wrote lots of chicken scratch in the margins. I crossed out phrases. I offered advice. I even begged for more detail and storytelling from some members.

One piece stood out. Joyce Kennedy’s “The Dog Whisperer” grabbed me as not only an interesting read, but one that enlightens us a little about who she is as not only an author, but someone who has special powers over talking to the beasties of the world.

I’ll let her tell you about it. Let the hijacking commence…

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I’m known as an animal whisperer to my friends.

So I wasn’t too surprised when a friend stopped by one afternoon with a pet carrier. “Please, take her,” she begged. “No one seems to be able to do anything with her.”

Opening the carrier door, I looked in at a raggedy mutt that not even its mother could love. I wondered how anybody could mistreat such a small bundle of trembling flesh. The poor thing was so frightened that we had to drag it out by brute force.

It was such a skinny little mite, that overpowering its timidity wasn’t all that hard.

Now, I already have two dogs and two cats, so having another animal to communicate with wasn’t high on my list of things to do. Besides, I had just brought my old Tom, “Duke,” home from the vets after surgery. It seemed he’d been “catting” in one of the neighbor’s yards who owned a Pit Bull that managed to tear his face and throat open.

“I can always put him down,” the vet said when I complained about the cost of surgery.

“Over my dead body,” I stormed. “This is my ninja cat. He took out an intruder who broke into my house. I won’t let him down now.”

My time was already taken up with caring for Duke. But who could resist those terrified, owl eyes that looked up at me from the tattered remains of a puppy now stripped of all its fur. It had been so filthy and matted, nothing else could be done.

She fell at my feet, too frightened to stand or move.

I’ve always been a softy, and I didn’t disappoint my friend this time. I reached for the trembling bundle and cuddled it up under my chin. “I won’t hurt you,” I whispered. “Do you want to come live with us?”

About this time Tiger, my two-year-old, tailor-clipped Maltese, had to have a closer peek. His curiosity had him bounding waist high to get a better look. He kissed her face, checked out her badly infected ears, and greeted her with a few encouraging nudges.

“I think she’s deaf,” my friend explained. “She doesn’t respond when you call her. And she won’t mind. She’s just a bad girl.”

“Well, it’s obvious you don’t understand poodles,” I said. “They’re a vain animal and she’s in disgrace with all her hair cut off, but I can fix that.” Rummaging through my storage closet, I located the box of critter supplies, and pulled out several small sweaters. “Okay, little girl,” I coaxed her, “Which one do you want to wear?”

She timidly rose and checked out my offerings and finally indicated she liked the orange sweater. “But of course,” I exclaimed. “She has a new orange collar. Told you she was a special lady.”

Her ugliness now covered, she rose to follow my boys about the room, although she didn’t seem to understand the art of playing. She didn’t understand much of anything that was happening. When I called her name, she stepped toward me, then stopped. Her big questioning eyes kept looking at me.

With mind-melding ESP, I listened to her mind chatter, but I didn’t understand her thoughts any more than she understood mine.

“What kind of a home did she come from?” I asked.

“Well, my neighbor kidnapped her from his grandparent’s back yard,” she explained. “They hadn’t been feeding her, or allowing her in the house. She’s had nothing but a bare, dirt kennel to live in. And they’ve never brushed or groomed her. He just couldn’t leave her there.” She also said four other people had taken the dog in.

I listened to the young poodle’s mind chatter again.

“Of course, she doesn’t understand what we’re saying,” I said, realizing the problem. “She doesn’t know any English. She only knows Spanish.”

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Joyce Kennedy writes as JoEllen Conger with her twin sister, Joan Powell. They have released seven books including two historicals, “The Queen of Candelore,” (2003) and its sequel, “The Future King,” (2009). Their latest book is a “true lies” type adventure. “Freedom to Ride the Wind (2009). Although they live far apart, their writing career keeps their twinship active.

I dreamed that I was walking through a graveyard with my girlfriend.

(I don’t have a girlfriend.)

But there we were, walking along. And then we came to this gravestone.

Only it wasn’t a gravestone; it was some kind of big stone sign.

You see, there was this poodle there, buried in the ground.