Here is an imaginary conversation I had this morning with my sister’s dog, Dallas.
DALLAS: Would you mind throwing this ball once more please?
ME: Okay but this is the last time. We’ve been doing this for five minutes and I’ve only been awake seven.
Dallas drops the ball on the lawn, ten feet away from me, and runs to his hiding place behind a small fir tree, to wait for the throw. I see him crouching beneath the low broad branches, fixing me with eyes shining in anticipation. His tail wags a morse code of unqualified zeal.
I don’t know what that thing is called, that orange plastic thing with the handle on one end and the cupped ball holder on the other, but that’s what I use. Holding a blue ceramic LA Dodgers coffee mug in one hand, the Dog Ball Thrower in the other, I walk over to where Dallas has left the saliva-covered tennis ball. The ball, punctured, swollen, abused, fits perfectly in its holder. I see dark bits of pine needle and dirt woven into the synthetic hairs.
I reach back and hurl the slobber comet far into the woods. It whistles. Dallas explodes from under the tree in the direction of the sound. The ball careens off a white birch and lands in a thick clump of dead branches. The dog dives into the pile, no hesitation.
The ball found, Dallas breaks into a full sprint across the yard, toward me. He drops it on the lawn, ten feet away.
DALLAS: That was AMAZING! Your best throw yet!
ME: Why can’t you just drop it at my feet? Why always so far away?
Dallas pretends not to hear.
ME: Before I throw it again —
DALLAS: That would be very exciting.
ME: — I want to know, do you notice anything different about me?
The look on Dallas’ face changes. Is he annoyed? He returns his pink tongue to its place inside his mouth.
DALLAS: To be honest, humans all look the same to dogs. Two feet, two legs…we really don’t notice much above the knee.
ME: Well I’ve been working out.
DALLAS: Good for you! I’ve always been a fan of self-improvement. For instance did you see how fast I got the ball on that last throw? I think it was my fastest time EVER.
ME: You were amazing. Anyway, I’m a fan of self-improvement too. Though I hate talking about it out loud.
DALLAS: I agree, it is a tedious subject.
ME: I was just curious if it was paying off.
DALLAS: I don’t understand what you mean by paying off. What are you doing it for? Are you trying to be a muscle person or something? Because that would be dumb.
ME: Why dumb?
DALLAS: Because, well, I don’t want to hurt your feelings, but that’s not who you are.
ME: How do you know who I am?
DALLAS: Because I’m a dog. Dogs know most everything worth knowing.
Dallas turns his attention to the ball. He takes it in his mouth, chewing thoughtfully. I take a sip of coffee. The morning wind rustles the branches of a tall cedar behind us. Dallas drops the ball and snaps to attention. He scans the woods for a long moment.
DALLAS: This time of year there are a lot of deer in the woods. Very exciting. Anyway. Have you considered this fitness stuff might be a displacement of effort due your frustration at the slow progress of recent creative pursuits?
ME: Say that in English maybe.
DALLAS: Well, you’re in the middle of recording this new album. You’ve experienced some setbacks along the way. Not being able to sing for instance. Kind of a big one.
ME: I’m okay now.
DALLAS: I heard. Happy for you! But in the meantime, you got scared. You started considering other avenues.
ME: If you mean acting, it was something I had been considering for more than a year. Ever since I started writing my TV show.
DALLAS: Okay. I’ve been meaning to ask you about this. Why a TV show? What is the deal there?
ME: Can I say, why not?
DALLAS: You can, but it wouldn’t be a very satisfying answer.
I take a sip of coffee. Still warm but cooling fast.
ME: I’m going to try to answer this as succinctly as possible. But bear with me.
DALLAS: Okay, but this ball isn’t going to chase itself. We’re about due for another round.
ME: The short answer is, I guess I’m tired of playing the game the way its being played. Spend a few years writing a bunch of songs. Record the songs on an album. Release the album and spend a year touring and trying to get people to listen to it. It’s a bankrupt model. It’s always been hard to get people out to shows. And CDs, well there’s an endangered species. Fewer and fewer people even have CD players now—you can kiss those sales goodbye. Everyone listens to spotify. We live in the age of free music.
DALLAS: You certainly paint a dark picture of the current state of affairs. Trump much?
DALLAS: Nevermind. Dog humor. So the TV thing is your way of figuring out how to get paid for playing music?
ME: No. I mean, yes. But that’s not the real reason. It’s a lot of things. It’s more like, well for one I’m bored of touring, at least the way I’ve been doing it, and for another, I want to tell a bigger story. I feel like I have the tools to tell it.
DALLAS: Go on.
ME: Okay so I wrote a book. Maybe it’s good, maybe it’s bad, it’s not for me to say. But, well it has a few things going for it. One is, I have a unique voice, a perspective worth sharing.
DALLAS: I’m going to overlook the fact that you are complimenting yourself.
ME: But it’s just a collection of short stories. Compelling little vignettes, okay fine, but no cohesive narrative. I want more. I want to create a causal arc. I want characters who interact with each other, who change over time in response to the challenges standing in the way of the things they most desire. I want to tell a big story.
DALLAS: Pardon the obvious, but why not write another book?
ME: Well, I’ve been working on one, but, I don’t know, I think I want to tell the story this way. This new way. Visually. Musically. Along with the action and dialogue. I want to use everything at my disposal, you know? Plus I have all these songs. But more than any of that, I want to do something different. Something that hasn’t been done before.
I empty the mug of cold coffee into the grass. Dallas watches. He moves to the spot where the coffee disappeared into the earth and makes a show of sniffing at it with his long black nose.
ME: I also want to scare myself. And acting scares the shit out of me.
Dallas pauses, looks up at me.
DALLAS: I don’t know what acting is. I’m always completely myself wherever I am.
ME: Now who’s boasting?
DALLAS: I’m just telling the truth. How about throw the ball yeah?
I had forgotten I was still holding the DBT. Dallas runs to his hiding place behind the tree while I press the plastic cup around the glistening sodden contour of his wet tennis ball. The ball whistles its way deep into the woods, missing all trees, bouncing over a rotting log into a dry yellow patch of tall grass. The dog’s pursuit is fast, sure and direct. He disappears into the grass for less than three seconds, remerging triumphant, sprinting back to me, this time dropping the ball directly at my feet.
DALLAS: Did you see that?! Did you see that?! I totally got it!! You threw it all the way out there and I went and I got it and brought it back to you! Honestly I think that was my fastest time ever. Man we make a good team.
Holding the empty coffee cup I watch as Dallas presses his tooth into a small tear in the seam of the tennis ball. Pinning it to the ground between his paws, he lifts his head, tearing the skin from the wound core inside. He looks at me proudly, the core hanging like rubbery viscera from the disembodied cover. The dog shakes his head violently back and forth and now my shins are covered in spit.
DALLAS: Anyway what’s it about?
ME: What’s what about?
DALLAS: The show. Your TV show. I was thinking about it just now and, well, I’m worried you might be selling out.
ME: I’m like, the poorest person I know. How could I be selling out?
DALLAS: If you’re the poorest person you know, you need a wider circle of friends. Selling out because, I don’t know, TV. It’s not exactly Hemingway is it.
ME: Everyone says we’re in the golden age of television. I don’t think I’m selling out.
DALLAS: Wait, did you see how I just tore the cover off that ball a second ago? Just checking. Awesome right?
ME: The show is about an indie folk singer who tours around meeting weird people, having adventures, trying to make it in the actual modern music business while balancing a love life at home.
ME: That’s why I’m not selling out. The show is a loosely fictionalized version of my actual life. In a way, it’s an extension of the book, definitely in spirit, but in some particulars too.
DALLAS: What’s it called?
DALLAS: I see. And what makes you think people will like it?
ME: Well. Because it’s funny and has characters you root for. It’s good storytelling. Plus the music is rad.
Dog and man pause at a sudden knocking sound coming from the woods. They both turn toward the trees and look. The sound repeats. Dallas returns to the conversation.
DALLAS: Woodpecker. Okay, so this is all fine and good and while I’m not doubting you, let’s play Devil’s Advocate for a second….how are you going to get this made?
ME: I don’t know yet. I’ve got some friends in Hollywood who produce for TV, and my book publisher set something up with this other guy…but I don’t know, it may end up being a web series for a while.
Dallas seems to consider what I’m saying.
DALLAS: I can see how there might be some good reasons for doing it that way — the creative freedom mostly. But, like, how are you going to pay for it?
ME: I don’t know. I’m not too worried about it.
DALLAS: It seems like there are a lot of things you don’t know.
The dog and I exchange a long look.
ME: But I’ve thought a lot about it — mostly about the excitement of pursuing something wild and unlikely versus the safety of continuing to do things the way I’ve been doing them. And, the excitement wins. I don’t know what else to say except that trying to make this show happen feels like the right thing to do. Most of the big decisions I’ve made in my life were based less on data and more on guts and I guess to be honest, it’s worked pretty well. I’ve had an interesting go.
DALLAS: More interesting than mine, I’ll grant you that.
ME: Oh, I don’t know. Apples and oranges.
DALLAS: Dogs and people. But yeah, I’ve got it pretty good here. I mean, look at that tennis ball. It’s completely destroyed. I did that.
ME: Yes you did. You’re a good dog.
DALLAS: It makes me SO happy to hear you say it. Let’s have another throw shall we?
I gather the guts of the ball into the cup. Dallas watches closely.
ME: Before I throw this, I want to know something.
DALLAS: Okay. As long as the throwing of the ball follows immediately afterward.
ME: Do you think my show will work?
DALLAS: Well manperson, if there’s one thing I’ve learned from my eight years disemboweling countless round objects of recreation, it’s this: you’ve got to do what feels right. If you’ve thought about it and gutchecked it and cross-referenced your gutcheck with what you know has worked for you in the past, and everything says you’ve got to make a TV show – or chew a brand new Wilson DoubleCore in half – then nothing else matters. Listen to your heart.
ME: You might just be telling me what I want to hear, but thank you anyway.
DALLAS: You’re welcome. Now let’s see if this will be your best throw ever. I bet it will!