In September of 2014, Bespotted appeared in the bookstores. My close friends, and both new and old readers, congratulated me on a job well done. To my surprise, Amazon recommended the book as a “Hot New Release,” my publisher took it back for a second printing, dog lovers bought it, and I received a lot of emails from those who found it intriguing and moving. After years of having written about the personal darkness with which I had struggled, I had discovered within me a new voice that spoke to the joys in my life, much of it given to me by my dogs. Though the message of the book was simple, it appeared that it nevertheless touched others in important ways.
During an afternoon just following the arrival of the New Year, I found myself looking back on some of the other surprises publication brought as I went along the promotional path. One of the highlights was a multi-state “radio tour,” covering more than thirty stations that reached far and wide.
The audiences and the hosts were always different: most of the latter had read at least a bit of the book, some had read only the jacket copy, a few had read nothing at all and thought Bespotted was just a collection of dog training tips. My most absurd and humbling experience was with a host who actually howled and barked at me four times during the live half hour. Momentarily stymied, I had no idea of what to do, so I barked back!
I surprised myself by laughing about this afterwards, surprised and pleased by my own sense of perspective. Fortunately, this interview was the exception to the norm: most of those who spoke with me were passionate on the subject of dogs and how they impact our lives, and truly “got” the book. My publicist had dug hard to find me the best in the business, and these hosts were a pleasure to talk with. The tour taught me a great deal about rolling with what comes your way, and about humility. Once again, as I am so fond of saying, this is a lesson I see reflected daily in the faces of my dogs: I am not the center of the cosmos, but just one more cog in the wheel of the “daily grind.”
As a writer, success and contact with my audience are fleeting. I generally labor in silence. Even as I savor the attention publication brings, I always know what lies ahead of me when it ends: the solitary work of finishing a new book, out of sight and on my own. I had thought that this task on the professional side of my life, which always requires self-motivation and discipline, would be the major challenge of 2015—until a significant personal development threw another one my way.
On Christmas day, amidst the gaily-wrapped presents and the lively family banter, a new and interesting situation arrived. I left Maryland for home with a great deal to think about. Over the ensuing weeks, this development introduced an important personal challenge for me, one that was accompanied by a roller coaster of emotion that ranged from elation to anxiety.
The happiness was easy to live with, but the anxiety was a different matter altogether. Upon reflection, I began to realize that love can be a powerful tool, one that I could use to combat this unwanted emotion. If I tackled my apprehension so that those I cared for so deeply could move on, unimpeded in their journey, I would not only have done something special for them, I would also have done something important for myself. Once again, I reminded myself that I was only one small star in the vast universe of our experience.
Just as I publicly barked back at the challenge of an audacious stranger a month ago, I privately bark back at the challenge of conquering my own angst now. Having crossed the mysterious border into 2015, I resolve to embrace whatever may come my way in the next twelve months. To my surprise, there is freedom and joy in this. I wish you the same as you embark on your own new year.