Blog Du Jour

Don’t Dream It, Do It! How I Wrote ‘Madison Weatherbee-The Different Dachshund’

Do you harbor a secret desire to try something very different from what you are currently doing? It could be something on your bucket list that you never dared to disclose to anyone for fear that your friends and family might tell you it’s just a pipe dream.

All of us hold ourselves back from achieving our dearest desires. Isn’t that what Rhonda Byrne’s The Secret is all about? And before her, Norman Vincent Peale’s many self-help books on positive visualization like his acclaimed The Power of Positive Thinking? I am a professor of communications and I see this insecurity played out in my students all the time. For some reason, we burden ourselves with so many negatives that they become weights dragging us down into the deepest depths, suffocating us, allowing no chance of breaking through the surf to take in a big breath of fresh air.

What talents haven’t you allowed yourself to tap into? Have you ever wanted to draw or try your hand at photography? How about oil painting, acting, playing in a rock band or even writing a book? Have I peeked your interest?

Let me encourage you to jump in—the water is just fine and refreshing.

I took a chance, I dove in and this is what happened to me. I had an idea for a book, but life and work always got in my way. I taught high school English for many years. Though I loved my job, it held me back from accomplishing my writing. I was so busy doing research to prepare lessons for my classes. English teaching is overwhelmingly time consuming. Think about it.

Try to teach Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World—what’s up with his Alphas, Betas, Epsilons, Savage Reservations and World Controllers? I couldn’t tell from my first reading that he was warning the reader about the cost of Utopia, of a perfect society. I had to do my research to figure that out and bring it to my students. I will never forget when Frank McCourt, who wrote the novel Angela’s Ashes, was asked by Matt Lauer on the Today show why this was his first foray into writing a book. McCourt simply stared Lauer down and asked, “Have you ever taught English? If you choose to do it right, you have little time for anything else.” That response left me shouting at the TV screen, “Yes, you tell him, Frank! You are so right!” He verbalized what I had experienced for years.

The first thing I did the summer I left teaching English was to sign up for a memoir course at the Gotham School of Writing. I thoroughly enjoyed traveling to the city from my little hamlet on Long Island. I was immersed in writing with authors at various stages of completing their works.

I had my concept for writing my book, I had only to sit myself down and just do it. For the longest time, I had been inspired by my magnificent dachshund, Madison. She brought such love and light to my life. We got her from a pet store in Port Jefferson. I always wondered what her life was like before we met. Not that she had much time on this earth before we found each other. Madison was 3 ½ months old when she was placed in my arms for the first time and she was never too far away from me until she died at an early age.

All I knew about her time before we met was that she was born in Missouri. I didn’t know anything about puppy mills back then. I didn’t know that most pet store dogs come from horrific beginnings where dogs are bred simply for profit and breeders have no conscience about inbreeding and creating what will become very sick adult dogs. By the time the dog becomes terribly ill, a strong bond between dog and human has formed and that will leave the human willing to do everything to keep that dog alive. Many times, as was in our case, doing everything isn’t enough to save the beloved pet.

I briefly relayed Madison’s story in the “No-Kill Shelter” piece that I wrote earlier this past summer, so I will get right to the point here. For the first five years of Madison’s life, we lived a happy, innocent existence. Then the health problems started to appear. Madison was diagnosed with a decaying spine, and after two highly invasive surgeries, she ruptured yet again. The doctors said there was nothing left to do. My beautiful girl passed away January 27, 2012.

I had written my first draft and had started the arduous task of editing before her death. Madison played the part of my audience with each chapter that was written. I would complete a section, then sit on the floor of my study with Madison sitting opposite me and I would read it to her. She always listened, seeming to understand that this was her book.

Our connection did not disappear after her death. In fact, I feel that Madison helped me complete her book, Madison Weatherbee-The Different Dachshund. The monumental effort of continuing the writing process after her death was almost insurmountable. But her spirit swaddled me and she held my trembling hands over the keyboard as I crossed the finish line.

I thank Madison for remaining by my side. We have accomplished so much since she left this world. The messages from her book are reaching the public and the path I took to volunteer at an animal shelter has helped many wonderful dogs find true happiness in their forever homes. I look forward to the future and to exploring new uncharted frontiers with Madison at my side.

I chose to self publish in lieu of subjecting myself to the whims of some publishing agent or company. My desire was to get Madison’s message out to the public, and that’s exactly what happened once the published book was in my hands. Next came doors opening for my book. I got a reading/signing event at one of the most prestigious book stores on Long Island, the Book Revue in Huntington. The event is coming up this Thursday, October 9, at 7 p.m. Since I have a background as an actress, I intend to give the reading my all and hopefully entertain my audience. I will emphasize Madison’s message and the theme of the book.

You see, Madison was born with a “ridge” of fur that grew from the crown of her head down her neck, appearing like a Mohawk. That supposed “imperfection” made it difficult to sell her as a perfect American Kennel Club (AKC) dog. I have been told that such dogs have even been culled from their litters. I can’t even imagine such a horrific act for nothing more than a little scruff.

Madison's
Madison’s “ridge,” Photo: Barbara Anne Kirshner

The universal message in the book is that we should all celebrate our differences—the very features that make us stand out from the rest. We should appreciate our unique qualities. We may even learn from them and value our differences. “Madison’s Message” reads as a poem at the end of her story (see below). It’s actually a song with a tune. When I do readings from her book, I intend to end my presentations with an audience participation echoing the refrain.

The Book Revue event is but one stop along my Yellow Brick Road for getting Madison’s message out to the public. Telling you about it in this blog is another stop along the way. The readings and signings I will be doing at schools and libraries are also stops along the way. Other book store events might very well materialize, offering yet other stops along the way. I have been approached by theater companies on Long Island to adapt my book into a play—yet another stop for getting Madison’s message out there.

I do dream BIG, therefore I visualize a full-length animated feature film. Why not? I would delight in seeing my girl full of life projected on an enormous movie screen. Dream BIG! I’m doing just that and you should, too.

Barbara Anne Kirshner is the author of Madison Weatherbee-The Different Dachshund. She will be reading from and discussing her book at Book Revue in Huntington (313 New York Avenue) on Thursday, October 9 at 7 p.m. Visit bookrevue.com for more info.

Madison's Message

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