Damn the electric fence.*

Years ago a friend told me about an event that happened one morning as he headed out his front door on his way to work. Getting into his car, he glanced across the street and noticed that the neighbor’s dog was sitting out on their front lawn. He’d been feeling a bit heavy-hearted for this pooch over the last several weeks, he told me, because his neighbor had installed an electric fence. Well-known in the subdivision for frequent wanderings that generated countless complaints, the dog now seemed subdued, maybe even depressed at his invisible confinement and my friend said he’d taken note of the changes in the dog’s disposition in the weeks since.

On this particular morning, though, he witnessed something altogether different. With fixed attention he watched as the dog suddenly stood up, almost as if responding to some sort of inaudible command. Then the dog began to walk in a circle, slowly at first but then with increasing momentum and velocity, spinning himself into a whirl, attempting, it seemed, to chase his tail at lightning speed. Is this what he’s doing, my friend asked himself? Is he chasing his tail?

And then it happened. My friend watched as the dog ran around and around, faster and faster and then, with an unexpected howl of emancipation and with sheer and unbridled delight he launched headlong, breaking thorough the electric fence. That pup bolted down the street, my friend described, running as if his life depended on it and never looking back.

There is no such thing beneath the heavens as conditions favorable to art. Art must crash through or perish.  ~ Sylvia Ashton-Warner

Many creative people come up against their own version of the electric fence—those elements in the artist’s life that create a forcefield which keeps the maker within familiar perimeters, commanding the creator to settle down, stay put. Sometimes the fence is invisible, but not always. This story has stayed with me over all these years, though, not because of the fence. I’m captivated by the image of the dog and the sheer force he brought to bear in readying himself to break through, to break free. I’m not sure we should expect it to be any easier or to require anything less as we move to respond to our own inaudible commands and I find it useful to remember that centrifugal force—that force that comes from one’s center—can often be an unstoppable propellant when it comes to breaking free and doing good work.
Some readers will be reminded of Cow Poetry, The Far Side® cartoon by Gary Larson. Larson asks fans to avoid using his work on the internet and so I can’t include it here… damn.