This week I’m working on book proofs. And right at the start, in “prelims”, I noticed an acknowledgement I’d made. I’d written:
Charlie, our surly and eccentric elderly poodle, needed to be put outside at regular intervals; she ensured that I did not end up with completely overwhelming back and neck troubles from too much screen work. RIP Charlie.
This needed no correction. But I couldn’t help a moment of being sad all over again about the death of a much loved doggo, and even got a bit teary as I thought about her life partner who had died a year earlier. And then I realised that this was probably the last acknowledgement I would write, for a while at least, to a canine companion – we’ve decided not to get another pooch for just a bit. But life without dogs is strange after having spent most of my life in their company.
Then I began to think about the place of animals in academic life. And their importance, particularly during writing. My little thankyou to Charlie is hardly the only place or time where the importance of a furry friend is recognised in a scholarly text.
There are often pictures on various social media of academics walking their dogs – walking/thinking companions. I’ve seen lots of cats perched on computers, paws preventing the flow of composing. And various snaps of dogs in conversation with their “owners”, often asking for food, walks, or simply that their human step away from the books and come outside. I’ve seen the occasional guinea pig and rabbit too. We have had #academicswithcats and #academicswithdogs (but maybe we need more).
Now, of course living with animals is not just important to academics. But I suspect that they may play a particular part in our lives.
We spend so much time with our noses buried in books or seated at the computer, or puzzling over data. This is often time when we are alone. Well, we are connected of course to loads of other people through the texts we read and write. And as we read through transcripts or field notes or lab records, we remember the location, the people present, the physical surroundings, perhaps even the sounds and smells. So we are not necessarily alone in our thoughts.
But we are often physically isolated in an office at home or at work.
The presence of another creature immediately breaks this pattern. As we read or write or think, we are simultaneously aware of another being, perhaps sleeping, snoring, moving about, chewing, farting, sniffing, wriggling. Often, we are required to stop what we are doing and pay attention, fetch a toy, speak, make contact. Even as I write this post, I have been interrupted by our current house guest, Archer, a large black boy who usually lives with a cousin, but who is temporarily with us at the beach.
In moments of hound-induced disruption it is clear that my needs are not the only ones that matter. My work is not all that counts.
While these interruptions may at times be marginally distracting, they are equally often amusing, comforting, reassuring, playful, touching. They take us out of our heads and the little scholarly world we are creating/living in. They bring us back to our bodies and meaningful connections. We understand again that sociality and relationships are not just with our own kind.
So this week, it’s a metaphorical thumbs up and more public thanks to the various species that we live with, and the multiple ways in which they support our endeavours and we theirs.
And yes, yes, fill up the comments with your animal pics and stories.
Thank you for reminding me that I should not be irritated, but thankful when my dog Charlie interrupts me, or want to find a nice spot under my desk amongst cables!
Thank you for reminding me that I should not be irritated, but thankful when my dog Charlie interrupts me or wants to find a nice spot under my desk amongst cables!
Well this is a first for me (commenting) … our cat, who hates being picked up and cuddled (probably due to an earlier life of cruelty and neglect) is sprawled out on the floor next to me with her head resting on Steamers in the South and Australian Shipwrecks.
I think all of us in Australia are giving thanks to the gods for our pets when so many animals have suffered and perished in bushfires over the past few months. And reading of the creative efforts world-wide to knit, crochet and sew roo slings, wallaby pouches, nests, wraps etc, is an indication of how much (most) humans connect to and value pets and animals even when so remote from their own homeland and familiar experiences. It has created an enormous brother/sisterhood all over the world.
Now that dogs, cats and even chooks are becoming involved in aged-care facilities, people with PTSD, children with autism as so on, it’s really the beginning of a whole new appreciation of the companionship and emotional support that animals have to offer. For those of us chained to research that support is just wonderful 🙂
Such a lovely read and relatable message. My cats and dog have always been study companions, given me comfort during the stressful times and seized the opportunity for cuddles whilst I’ve tried to write.
They give an unparalleled company.
Probably the first scholar to acknowledge an animal companion was the Irish monk who wrote the lovely poem Pangur Ban, about his cat. There’s a translation here: https://www.ling.upenn.edu/~beatrice/pangur-ban.html
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Thank you Janice Pinder for posting the link to this! It is indeed something we can all relate to – the solitary writing process, the pet in the room and the silent interaction. I was in Dublin last year and this is quoted at the entrance to the exhibition of the Book of Kells – I have been wondering where to get it!
This made me smile this morning, and really resonates with me. The cause of disruption for me has been my cats, and while I’ve at times been irritated by their attempts to sit on top of the laptop, and in fear of them deleting a whole load of text as they clumsily step onto the keyboard, they have made me smile and stop a while, and maybe that has been a good thing!
It’s pleasing to read about animal companionship being so appreciated and valued – somehow not only keeping us going, but also reminding that the isolating academic bubble *isn’t the whole world*. One elderly little black cat (now 21½ years old) faithfully kept me company throughout the prolonged (so-called ‘part-time’) saga of writing a horribly difficult thesis, and the long, lonely, writing days – punctually reminding me about the importance of food, and sleep! She is now ‘supervising’ the frustrating and tortuous process of a called-for revisionary rewrite. …
I’m wading through my data coding and analysis, knowing that my lovely greyhound Bran will need those trips outside at regular intervals as well as walks where I can clear my head and she can indulge in squirrel spotting. Thank you for the particular resonance of this week’s blog – I completely agree!
Thanks for this article Pat! The years of working on a PhD as a single parent were very isolating. Having my loyal Labradoodle beside me during the long hours of desk work, and the days painting in my studio, contributed greatly to my wellbeing and ability to focus. Walking my dog Milo each day meant I could breathe some fresh air, stretch, swap news with some neighbours and let my thoughts roam. I think everyone working from home would write better with a pet for company.
Wonderful to read your post and the comments – in front of my laptop for too many hours – my Labrador ensures that I do move – to provide food and water, or to let her out, and she has a way of indicating to me that I really should accompany her to the garden.
I wanted to post a picture of me and my horse Sprite (who is my reason to get up in the morning – I ride every day before work, I have trained him from a just-started youngster to Grand Prix dressage… this gives me the motivation to NOT get all back-achey and crock at the computer as I need to be straight and supple to ride!), and me and my dog Tegan, who keeps me company and gets me up from the computer and out walking when I’m working at home. But couldn’t seem to post pictures. O well. Animals are sooooo important in maintaining a balanced life and stopping me over-working!
It’s a big regret that I didn’t acknowledge my Westie in the thesis. He was the perfect research companion. He somehow managed to look (to my eyes) interested when I talked to him about the thesis and when things got too much of course he never minded when he was suddenly marched out for a walk. There were times when he was restless and disruptive – pawing at my arm to stop me typing, or jumping onto my lap so I couldn’t see what I was doing. But I could never be cross. Sometimes, when he decided to stomp all over the keyboard I even copied and pasted his ‘typing’ – it didn’t make it into the final draft but I still have it in a folder today! The research didn’t matter to him – he didn’t judge and he kept me grounded. So yes, he played a huge unsung part in that thesis!
‘looking in the mirror’ as I read this blog post, with my 10mth old Schnoodle ‘Daisy’ seeking my attention.
My condolences, Pat, for your loss of two very special fur babies who clearly witnessed many years of your generous penmanship: so many years of your generous sharing of wisdom with others happened because your fur babies shares you with us. They were very special.
My two doggos Poppy and Dougal are my faithful desk companions. One each of a black groodle and tan groodle, my tan boy Doogs lies right under the desk and after about 2 hours nudges me to get up and play. Very sensible doggo and helpful too, as my back needs stretching after a while. He’s not so helpful with the stretching bit, of course. But he keeps me moving about. My fur babes are my daily companions and I don’t know where I’d be without them. What a great idea to include a dedication to my dogs! If I ever finish the book, that is. 🤔👩🏼🎓
Totally essential to writing life. Pantalaimon likes to obscure the laptop at every possibility. Or chase the mouse around the screen… But it is great having her around when I am working, as a reminder that there is life around. Also Foucault had a cat called Insanity (pictured here: https://www.pinterest.co.uk/pin/321163017178788195/)
Does my son count as a pet? Additionally we have 18 chickens, three of which are cockerels, one of which is a house chicken. It is amazing what having a cock-a-doodle-dooooooo go off in the middle of a telephone supervision meeting can do for stress relief!