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Friday, December 18, 2015

The Books that Resonated in 2015

I love lists.

Everyone does. Admit it. There's a post on Facebook about the year's top movies, coffee shops, the ten best-dressed celebrities—or the ten worst—the twenty best songs of the year, or the ten cutest dog breeds, you eat it up, right? Lists are fun.

So, that said, here is my list for 2015. The books that RESONATED the most in 2015. Not necessarily published in 2015, just resonated for me—personally—more than any other.

I have a short list of the three and brief reasons why.

What books meant the most to you this year? That's the subject of our two-part special of THE BLEEDING TYPEWRITER. Episode 8 is below and downloadable at iTunes. Feel free to subscribe. Part-two of the duo comes in Episode 9.

Oh, yeah, those books...

1. A Moveable Feast, Ernest Hemingway

The recent terrorist attacks reminded all of us that we are all Parisians, and that what Hemingway brought to life in this book is the Paris we all want to remain forever.

2. Beatlebone, Kevin Barry

A book that blends reality and fantasy and the Beatles. But, for me, what is so impactful is how Berry shines a light on the universal need to understand ourselves. It truly is a book for our uncertain times.

3. Love and Other Ways of Dying, Michael Paterniti

The essays in this book were not written in 2015. But no matter the date of publication, the words in it tell lyrical, ultimately uplifting stories about the wonder of everyday people. And what better time to celebrate the everyday.

Part-2 in Episode 9...

Friday, December 11, 2015

Hop a Train

There are train tracks near the home where I grew up in Western Pennsylvania. They snake through the hills and valleys and part of a dense forest. These are not the rails for passenger trains, but rather freight cars, mainly carrying steel and coal.

As a boy, I desperately longed to ride those trains.

I  wanted to jump on like Jack Kerouac. I never did, of course. I was too scared. But I watched the trains rumble by, chugging and squealing through train crossings, and I listened for the occasional piercing whistle.

Living in Chicago now, train travel is a part of daily life. Commuter trains are the landscape and the EL trains clatter around the city 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Amtrak leaves regularly from historic Union Station. More than ever I want to be on one of those trains leaving for long rides across the country.

There is an incredible draw to train travel. It's in the American DNA. And it's in mine. As a writer, it seems entirely natural to possess the desire to travel and Amtrak knows that's likely true for anyone who tells stories. That's why it continues to offer the Amtrak Writers Residency.

Some doubt the intentions. "It's a PR move," they say. "It's just a way to promote Amtrak,"  they say. But as one former Amtrak resident told me, "Wouldn't you like more of corporate America to support the arts?"

Erika Krouse lives in Boulder, Colorado. She was thrilled to be selected as an Amtrak Writer-in-Residence. Her summertime ride was an opportunity to indulge in observation, thought, journaling, and yes, as you might expect, it informed her writing. Still does. And, she wants to do it again.

I spoke with Erika in this episode of The Bleeding Typewriter. Listen, and then go get on a train.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Soon to be Famous

Do you want to be famous?

Before you answer that I would suggest considering what it means. What it REALLY means. And how do YOU define famous? There are more definitions we can count right now. 

But if it's about recognition for your artistic self, acknowledgment of your work, and not fame defined by money or the Kardashians, then this is for you.

Write a book during National Novel Writing Month? Want now to get it published? Plenty of nontraditional ways to do that these days. I did it early on in my career with what is called a hybrid publisher. The process got my memoir Accidental Lessons out there. A good editor, a good designer, and good marketing plan sent me on my way.

Did I become famous? Again, back to my first inquiry: Depends on what you mean  by famous.

But, despite your thoughts on fame and all of its meanings, the Soon to be Famous Author Project has to be a consideration.

This is a wonderful initiative to give self-published authors a chance to shake things up, to make a mark, to get recognition for their writing. And who better to review these works and judge them than your local librarian? Who better to champion the self-publisher?

We are no longer in the world of your father's publishing. Librarians are no longer the geeky spinsters of the community. And writers are no longer keeping their manuscripts hidden away in desk drawers.

Check out the project. Pull out that manuscript, brush it, up and get it out there.
 
The Soon to be Famous Author Project is the subject of the latest episode of THE BLEEDING TYPEWRITER.


Friday, November 27, 2015

Creating...Because You Have No Other Choice

You've heard or read this quote in a lot of interviews with writers: I write because I have to. 

That has to be true for other artists. In fact, I would claim it is woven into the world of any artist. You write, you paint, you sculpt, you create music not because you want to, but because you MUST.
And this is especially true for artists who are just beginning to find their place in the world.

The members of Railway Gamblers, in many ways, seem as if they've been around a long, long time. These four musicians from Chicago's South Side are old souls; you'll find their creative hearts seeped deep in the traditions of blues, traditional country, Americana, and the passions of the best of the singer-songwriter generation. They are offering up their second album soon, recording it now at Kingsize Sound Labs where Wilco and The New Pornographers nurtured their early works.

I like Railway Gamblers' music, but what I like best is the band's spirit, their artistic sensibility and passion. These are the essential ingredients of creating an artistic life. And with that, anyone in any genre and discipline can learn a little something from Railway Gamblers.

They are the focus of episode five of THE BLEEDING TYPEWRITER. 

Friday, November 20, 2015

Books in a Bar

Martinis, beer, Manhattans, tequila — Rock-n-Roll, guitars, microphones — all these things go together well in a good music tavern, a venue rough around the edges but just right for edgy, down and dirty indy music.

Now...let's add literature.

If you're from Chicago, you know The Empty Bottle, a unpretentious corner music spot on the northwest side. Grungy, but inviting. And if you're from this Earth, you know that bookstores have a tough time making ends meet these days. So, what does an independent book publisher do to get its authors' works out there? It takes them to a Rock-n-Roll bar.

It's called a Pop-Up Book Fair —— a handful of indy publishers inside a gritty bar, selling stories. So different, and so, so right.

It's all pulled together by Curbside Splendor in Chicago. Earlier in November, I took part with my publisher Dream of Things. Four hours in a bar full of books.

It makes complete sense.

Hear more in Episode 4 of THE BLEEDING TYPEWRITER. 

Friday, November 13, 2015

A Museum...for WRITERS!

I've been to my share of museums and I'm not always satisfied when I leave them. Either I don't have enough time to immerse myself in all of its wonders, leaving me unfulfilled. Or the museum itself just doesn't ignite my curiosity for whatever reason.

There are big exceptions. The Art Institute of Chicago and The Louvre in Paris, to name a couple.

And without it even opening its doors yet, I'm certain the new American Writers Museum will be another one of my exceptions. In fact, I'm certain I will completely geek out on the place.

The AWM will open in the spring of 2017 in the second floor of the 180 North Michigan Avenue building. A prime spot with a lot of exposure. It's expected to be an innovative digital design and a museum dedicated to literacy. And although it will showcase and celebrate American writers, it hopes to inspire people, especially young people to put pen to paper, fingers to keys, or hands to a keyboard.

Museums, for some, can be boring or considered too academic. But the modern museum knows it must compete with an array of options for the consumer. Hell, you can Google an author's name on your smartphone and find massive amounts of information without ever stepping into a museum. But a well-designed venue for the curious can be like no other, providing an experiential space that can't be duplicated anywhere else.

Episode 3 of The Bleeding Typewriter is all about the American Writers Museum and why for a writer, a lover of the written and spoken word, this place is likely to be a Disney World for anyone who loves books.

Friday, November 6, 2015

The Randomness of Creativity

Where do ideas come from?

How the hell would I know! I laugh when I say this, of course. When I'm writing fiction, it just kind of flows. I never know where the story is really going until I start to write it. No outline. No plan. That's a dangerous way to write, some believe. But Joan Didion said, "I don't know what I think until I write it down." I subscribe to that. It's still dangerous.

It's the same when I write memoir or personal essays. I really don't know what I'm trying to say until I say it. This can lead to long roads down dead ends.

And this led me to thinking about the randomness of creativity.

In a recent interview with Karl Ove Knausgaard—the Norwegian author of My Struggle—he suggested the writing of his groundbreaking autobiographical novels was steeped in abandon. He was simply writing it all down. No story. No plot. Just the randomness of his life, in many ways. And other creatives have talked about how ideas for stories or art or songs have come to them out of nowhere, from the act of living, and sometimes the ones that resonate the most are the ones that they created just for the fun of it, for themselves, for their own amusement.

The Wild West of the Internet seems the perfect place for this kind of random creativity. Take Kevin Droniak—an 18-year old web sensation who started a YouTube channel of videos based on the time he spends with his grandmother.

He has more than 35 MILLION views.

How he get started? He simply liked videotaping his time with his grandmother, introducing her to new things, teasing her, and in an odd way capturing this sweet and interesting relationship. It's funny stuff, yes. But it's also heartwarming.

A random idea, produced because he loved doing it. And now Kevin has more views on his YouTube channel than some cable television shows have on their networks.

Whatever it is you do—write, paint, dance, play music—don't dismiss doing it for you, doing what you love,  and embracing a random act of creativity.

More on this in the latest episode of THE BLEEDING TYPEWRITER podcast.

Friday, October 30, 2015

The Bleeding Typewriter -- The Podcast

A new adventure is underway. It's the debut of a new podcast entitled THE BLEEDING TYPEWRITER.

The title is a riff on the famous Hemingway line about writing not being so hard—you just "sit down at the typewriter and bleed."

However, THE BLEEDING TYPEWRITER podcast is not all about writing. It's about the creative process, about what it takes to pour your heart out—bleed, if you will—and be an artist, whatever that might mean to you. Part time, full time, freelancing, or maybe you've jumped right into the Bohemian lifestyle and are the real thing—a true starving artist. Maybe you're a musician, a painter, or photographer. Maybe you keep a journal and you see it as your creative output. Any of this requires a little blood, right?

That's what THE BLEEDING TYPEWRITER celebrates. Take a listen. See what you think. You can subscribe at iTunes or listen right here. And certainly, drop a comment here or email me. Love to hear from you!

Best,
David

Monday, October 19, 2015

Are You Really Going to Read That?

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All of us have confided in a friend about something we did or experienced that we know was—how do I put this—not so flattering, maybe incriminating, illegal, dumb, something we are not proud of. But what happens when you write about that “something” and then you read it out loud at a literary event in public?

Been there. Personal essay writers are goofy people, you know.

Tonight, I’m planning to read a story at a live literary event that doesn’t shine the judgmental light on ME, but on someone else. Someone I love.

Yikes.

The story is part of a manuscript, a creative nonfiction book. At this reading, I’m segmenting a part of the bigger project to offer up a 10-minute story of music, love, and weed. Marijuana. Ii think it’s a good story. But what responsibility do we have as writers to tell these stories, especially read them, out loud receptive people when the stories are not solely about us—the writer—but about someone else?

We have tons of responsibility. We have to ask. We have to let the person who is the focus of the story hear our side, read our work, and allow them to respond. Do they want this out in the open? Are they okay with this? I’m not saying you have to change what you write. After all, the story is yours. It is your recollection and memory. But they have every right to tell you they don’t like it or don’t want it read to a large crowd at a bookstore. Then, you—and only you—have to decide what’s next.

Luckily, in my case, the person in question is quite willing to be the focus, to take the heat, to be the center of attention in a story that, well, doesn’t necessarily flatter her.

All of this on my mind at the Hemingway House as I write in my borrowed attic office. Hemingway penned mostly fiction, but much of it was autobiographical in many ways. And yes, he made plenty of enemies using real people as characters. And in his creative nonfiction work—Death in the Afternoon, A Moveable Feast, and others—he wrote about real people and real events, and many of them loathed him for it.

Write the truth to the best of your knowledge. But tell your story as you see it, as you remember it factually and emotionally. Be honest, be fair, and offer it up for scrutiny. But always go out and tell it with everything you got—confidence, meaning, and passion. It is the only way.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

If Ernie Could See Me Now

It's been a couple of months as the Writer-in-Residence at the Hemingway Birthplace in Oak Park, Illinois outside Chicago. So far, no ghosts.

Sort of.

I love the space I have been fortunate to take on as mine for one year. Private. Quiet. I feel hermetically sealed in it. In a good way, that is. It's a bubble and a comfortable one. So, if there are ghosts—namely Ernie himself—they'd have to break the seal and slip through the walls like real ghosts. Something ghosts are apparently good at, right?

But, even though I'd love to tell you there have been spirits in the old house, there have not been. It would make such a good story, wouldn't it? Ernie showing up to say hello, maybe with a few writing tips, offer to take me deep sea fishing, or buy me a drink. But so far, Ernie hasn't shown himself to me in any sensory way. And I can't fake that. You see, I'm one of those creative nonfiction writers who tries really hard to tell truths, at least how I see it.

Still...

And here's the explanation of the "sort of" I wrote in the second paragraph above.

I have this old typewriter I found in an antique shop many years ago. I snatched it up because it is, I believe, the same make of typewriter Hemingway used at his writing space in Key West. Now, I know he was known for writing standing up, and frequently, if not always, in longhand. But he did do some typing, mainly when drafting his stories. And in Key West, the word is he used a Corona portable.

Now, there is some debate here about the exact model and whether the typewriters in his museum-homes in Key West or Cuba are ACTUALLY HIS or just replicas or copies.

But that doesn't matter.

Here's what matters.

In my home on a small side table sits the portable Corona I found years ago. And the other night, I had a dream. Now, I have a lot of dreams and to be honest most are very odd. Remind me sometime to tell you about pigs dressed as Nazis, or the knife fight with a fish, or the ability to wave my hands and create magnificent gardens, like the ones in the psychedelic Beatles cartoons from the movie Yellow Submarine. The single dream I want to focus on, however, is this...

I heard that typewriter. Someone snapping at the keys. Tap, tick, whack. The writer was manic, attacking the keys. I could hear the keys and I thought, in the dream, they were coming from that typewriter. The Corona in my house. The dream was one of those mini ones, the fleeting kind you get in the misty space between REM sleep and awakening.

Ernie?

There was no other context to the dream. No narrative that made sense. Why would this dream be like any of the others I've ever had? Still, it was very real.

Ernie, is that you?

No ghosts yet at the Hemingway House, but maybe at mine.






Monday, August 31, 2015

Ghosts?

It's 6:10 AM Monday morning. I'm in the attic office at the Hemingway Birthplace home, my new writing space since being named the Writer-in-Residence here. I have a cup of French roast. One light shines in the room, just enough to illuminate the corner of the space. Miles Davis' So What plays softly out of my laptop's speaker. I write.

And I wait.

I've been in the house alone many times now. Early mornings are best. It's a cool, quiet, and a unique place to be and work. But I can't help wondering about the ghosts.

No one has said anything about any spirits, evidence of any Hemingway apparitions. But I wonder.

I write some more. It's going well. The story takes me places I wasn't sure I would go. I am being pulled along by something uncertain.

I sip coffee. I lower the volume on Miles Davis. I listen to the sound of my fingers tapping letters on the keyboard.

A few years ago, I was the Writer-in-Residence at the Jack Kerouac House in Orlando. It was the home where he had lived with his mother and where he wrote The Dharma Bums. A poet who had been a previous resident once wrote of the scratching sounds she would sometimes hear in the home, the branches of the massive old oak tree just outside the front door moving in the wind and scraping along the home's tin roof. The sounds of Jack's pencil writing words from heaven.

There is no tin roof here at the Hemingway home. No big old oak touching the roof. But there is something in this space, something I can't put my finger on just yet. A force, a simple presence. A ghost? Not sure about that. It seems silly to consider. But, well, maybe.

I take another sip of French roast. I write some more. Davis has now shifted to Coltrane on my Spotify playlist.

I do not feel alone.

I write some more. And I will write again.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

At Hemingway's

It's been about a month now of writing off and on at the Ernest Hemingway birthplace house as the new Writer-in-Residence. And although I keep expecting to discover a ghost, a spirit, that hasn't happened yet. But, I must say, it's a wonderful spot...and maybe, in some ways, otherworldly.

Morning is best for me. Quiet and cool in the house. No visitors. Although it's also appealing to be writing in the upstairs attic office when visitors are touring the home. Nice to know history is being relived, retold just below me.

And yes, I am getting some writing done. Completed the rewrite on a new creative nonfiction/memoir and will soon be working on rewrites for new novel, Night Radio. But also picked up on another manuscript that had been abandoned and it's now finding its way. I think partly at least because of the Hemingway house experience. The story is about a writer, struggling with fame, but knowing deep down he may not be worthy of the attention, the notoriety. I think Hemingway struggled through a similar period. Some scholars believe his machismo and ego needed to be big and bold for him to overcome his self doubt. Ah, the writer's scourge!

The experience at the Hemingway house also makes me think a great deal about a writer's space. Why it works or doesn't? I thought this new office at the birthplace might be a bit tacky, hokey. It was said to be decorated in a Hemingway safari theme. Oh my, that could have been one big cliche. But no! Thanks to the Hemingway Foundation of Oak Park and the board's attention to detail, the writing space is remarkable. Those behind it clearly studied the Hemingway writing spaces in Key West and Cuba and without copying, captured the feel of both. It's -- you might say -- "a clean, well-lighted place."

One more thing...if you come to visit the Hemingway birthplace...be sure to eat here! (See bleow) Just down the street. It's like breakfast in France!

P.S. I'll keep you posted on the ghosts. 



The Hemingway Birthplace Writer-in-Residence Office









Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Pilgrim Soul

I have always loved William Butler Yeats' poem. "When You Are Old" is a beautiful, melancholy verse to a long time relationship and to the journey that relationship sparked. But what I love most is not that the subject of love in this poem, but rather its nod to the concept of pilgrimage.

A pilgrimage is mostly defined as a spiritual journey. But not necessary a religious one. Pilgrimage can come in may ways. Still what it means to me is the search for an essential, authentic truth about our lives, our reason for being here, our desires and wants and the long road trip we take to discover all of this.

How many loved your moments of glad grace,

And loved your beauty with love false or true,

But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,

And loved the sorrows of your changing face;

Recently I have been so very fortunate. I was named the Ernest Hemingway Writer-in-Residence at this birth home in Oak Park, Illinois. I signed a new deal for my very first novel. And I have been blessed with a new release—There's a Hamster in the Dashboard—which has been getting a wonderful response. But as I journey through this fortunate stretch, I know there will be times—both professional and personal—that won't be so fortunate. Still, I possess a pilgrim soul and through all of it—the good, the bad, and the ugly—I will stay on my road. I will keep believing that what is ultimately important is to keep moving on, keep truckin', keep writing, living, loving, and caring. I offer this belief to you in all that awaits you.

The pilgrim soul—the one who forever searches. Not because they are lost,  but because they want to be found.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

The Utimate Book Tour/Road Trip.

Started a new Blog Tour this week. It's so fun to do this—talking to so many writers and readers through the Internet and virtual travel. Below you'll find the tour schedule. I certainly realize you are not going to hang on every virtual mile...but there may be some good stops along the way for you.

But the other night I met thriller writer Jenny Milchman at a bookseller event at The Book Cellar in Chicago.

Jenny is on a book tour to rival all book tours. She has packed up the car with her  husband and kids and stacks of books and has headed out to all the great independent bookstores all over the country! It will take MONTHS! Talk about a commitment to her work, to the indie book seller, to her craft, to the art of writing, and...and to the great American road trip. The road trip is an iconic part of the American landscape in so many ways...film, art, literature, music. It is a thread through so much of our existence and Jenny has embraced it, taking to the highway like Kerouac or Whitman or Tocqueville or Charles Kuralt.

Fuel up, Jenny...and go, go, go!

In the spirit of Jenny Milchman...here's the virtual blog tour for THERE'S A HAMSTER IN THE DASHBOARD.


Monday, July 13 @ The Muffin
Stop by for an interview and book giveaway!
http://muffin.wow-womenonwriting.com/

Wednesday, July 15 @ Choices with Madeline Sharples
"The Best Way to Submit Your Creative Nonfiction to small publications and literary journals" is today's hot topic at Choices. There's a Hamster in the Dashboard: A Life in Pets.
http://madelinesharples.com/

Thursday, July 16 @ Mari McCarthy’s Create Write Now
Today you're in for a special treat with a giveaway and guest post at Create Write Now. Win a copy of David W Berner's latest book There's a Hamster in the Dashboard: A Life in Pets and read his guest post titled "So, Your Life is Not That Interesting. http://www.createwritenow.com/

Friday, July 17 @ Building Bookshelves
Jodi Webb reviews David W Berner's latest book There's a Hamster in the Dashboard: A Life in Pets  at Building Bookshelves today! Don't miss this great blog stop!
http://blogs.republicanherald.com/bookshelves/

Monday, July 20 @ Hott Books
Today is a special treat with a review and giveaway at Hott Books! Head on over to find out more about (and possibly win a copy of) David W. Berner's latest book There's a Hamster in the Dashboard: A Life in Pets.
http://www.hottbooks.com/

Tuesday, July 21 @ All Things Audry
David W Berner writes today's guest post at All Things Audry. Today's topic is" Mini-Memoirs: How to tell your story in fewer than 1000 words". Don't miss this fabulous blog stop and opportunity to learn more about Berner's latest book There's a Hamster in the Dashboard: A Life in Pets.
http://allthingsaudry.blogspot.com/

Tuesday, July 21 @ I’d So Rather be Reading
"Tell True Stories, Not Sentimentalized Ones" is the hot topic today as David W Berner guest authors at I'd So Rather be Reading. Don't miss this opportunity to learn more about Berner and his latest book There's a Hamster in the Dashboard: A Life in Pets.
http://www.idsoratherbereading.com/

Thursday, July 23 @ Cathy Hall
David W Berner is today's guest author at Cathy C Hall's blog and the topic is " Staying Disciplined.,.. Write, Write, Write!". Read this great post and find out more about Berner's latest book There's a Hamster in the Dashboard: A Life in Pets.
http://c-c-hall.com/

Friday, July 24 @ Words by Webb
Jodi Webb interviews David W. Berner about his latest book There's a Hamster in the Dashboard: A Life in Pets.
http://jodiwebb.com/

Monday, July 27 @ Bring On Lemons
Educator and avid reader, Cathy Hansen reviews There's a Hamster in the Dashboard: A Life in Pets by David W Berner. Don't miss this insightful review as well as a giveaway for your chance to read this great book for yourself!
http://bringonlemons.blogspot.com/

Monday, August 3 @ Sioux’s Page
Sioux reviews David W Berner's latest book There's a Hamster in the Dashboard: A Life in Pets.
http://siouxspage.blogspot.com/

Tuesday, August 3 @ Lisa Haselton
Join David W Berner as he writes today's guest blog post at the blog of Lisa Haselton. Today's topic is: "How the Story of Your Pet Can Tell Your Story." Learn more about this and Berner's latest book There's a Hamster in the Dashboard: A Life in Pets.
http://lisahaseltonsreviewsandinterviews.blogspot.com/

Thursday, August 6 @ Selling Books
"Is Your Writing Space the Right Space" is today's topic as David W Berner writes the guest post at Cathy Stucker's Selling Books blog. Don't miss this great post and wonderful opportunity to learn more about Berner's latest book There's a Hamster in the Dashboard: A Life in Pets.
http://www.sellingbooks.com/

Thursday, August 13 @ MC Simon Writes
MC Simon reviews the latest book by David W Berner There's a Hamster in the Dashboard: A Life in Pets and offers readers a giveaway of this fabulous collection of essays.
http://www.mcsimonwrites.com/

Thursday, April 9, 2015

A Peek Inside

New book, There's a Hamster in the Dashboard, will be out in June. I'm thrilled and honored that Dream of Things Publishing in Chicago sees this book of essays as meaningful and unique. Of course, I hope you do, too.

Here's a little bit to give you a taste:

There's a Hamster in the Dashboard: A life in pets.

Preface.

There’s a moment in the early morning, just before the sun rises, when my yellow lab arrives at the side of my bed, rests her nose on the mattress, nuzzles her snout into the sheets, and wags her tail so vigorously it wildly collides with everything in its way. Rhythmic thumps strike the wall and reverberate throughout the house. She’s knocked books off the nightstand and once whacked a table lamp to the floor. And every time, she is completely unaware of how this exuberant flailing is a rather discourteous wake-up call. To her it is simply a joyful “good morning,” an involuntary signal of how happy she is to be alive, ready for a walk, and to be with me.

Pets are so pure. They are undeniably honest, so utterly real. And every morning, with the beating of that tail, I am reminded of this.

My dog and all the pets that came before her have shown unwavering love. And with every one, I’ve tried my best to show it back. I’ve gone on hundreds of walks, thrown dozens of Frisbees and tennis balls, and given in to sad-eyed puppies whining to be allowed into my bed. I’ve picked up truckloads of dog poop, mopped up K9 throw-up, cleaned filthy litter boxes. I’ve held dying dogs in my arms, helped bury cats, and even organized a funeral for a hamster. I’ve scraped out the muck in fish bowls, watched ants escape from an ant farm, and carried a turtle home in a golf bag. And all of it—the good, the bad, and the misguided—was absolutely worth it, even if I might not have believed it at the time.

But there were moments when I should have known better.

It’s not as if someone forced me to own a pet. I accepted, purchased, or adopted each one with complete free will. I never entered a relationship with a pet at gunpoint. And, I don’t believe I’ve been an inadequate, inept pet owner, although I could have done better in what now seem to be achingly obvious cases. The thing is, I’ve been fascinated by animals, all kinds, always have. But as with caring for children, I could have used some guidance—and I think that’s probably true for anybody who has cared for a pet or raised a child.

As mothers and fathers, we all have our anxieties, doubts about this most important job. We attempt to do the very best we can. We read instruction books from the so-called experts. We ask lots of questions. We make regular appointments with doctors and dentists. We escort our children to school, play groups, and soccer practice. But sometimes, even with the best of intentions, we screw up. We should have thought something through, tried harder, been more attentive, more responsive. It’s not that we don’t love them—our kids or our pets—it’s just that we are helplessly human.

Each of the stories in this collection touches on an accidental revelation or challenging moment that could only have been experienced while being an ordinary and not-so-ordinary pet owner, probably just like many of you. Yes, like you, I’ve tried—sometimes not very well—to care for a bevy of creatures and through that process have learned plenty, more than I could have imagined. Not in some formal educational way like the lecture of a professor or the homily of a preacher, but more like an unexpected gradual awakening, like the sun burning through fog. You don’t even know it’s there, until it’s warming you and lighting the way. But most important, I’ve experienced that beautifully simple, yet immensely profound instant when a pet owner connects, almost spiritually, with an animal in an unparalleled bond of man and beast—clear evidence that the creature you’ve allowed into our life is really an extension of your self. That’s what these stories are all about—those magnificent relationships, the love of family, and the uniqueness of each existence shared with the living and breathing. They are the personal stories of a life with pets, those remarkable companions that so uncannily allow us to catch ourselves being human.

— David W. Berner, There's a Hamster in the Dashboard: A life in pets. Dream of Things, June 2015