Chelsea Hodson & Magic Know Every Trick in the Book
The writer of bewitching essay collection Tonight I’m Someone Else waxes nostalgic about raising, training, and pampering a Poodle.
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With her debut essay collection, Tonight I’m Someone Else, Chelsea Hodson made an impression on readers everywhere through her ability to poetically capture her lived experiences. The book went on to be lauded widely — in Longreads and LitHub, PopSugar and Buzzfeed, among many other publications — and celebrated by celebrities: Kendall Jenner was seen reading the book on a yacht and Emma Roberts shared the text through her book club, Belletrist.
Since the release of Tonight I’m Someone Else in 2018, Hodson has further proved her literary adeptness with her book-length project I Could Live Without Speaking, in which she used at least one word from each sentence of Edouard Levé’s book Autoportrait in a sentence of her own, amounting to a totally original work. Last year, Hodson and her fiancé got a Standard Poodle, Magic, and have since moved to Arizona after a long stint in New York City. Below, we talk to Hodson about the place for a dog in a writer’s life, the difficulties of the puppy life stage, and adjusting to Arizona life.
Tell me about how Magic came into your life. Did you always want a Standard Poodle?
I worked for someone in LA who had a Standard Poodle, like 10 years ago. I was always taking the dog on walks around the neighborhood, to the vet, to the pet store. I was in love with this dog, and I felt like we had some sort of psychic connection. She would just pick up on the littlest things in this way that other dogs that I had met never had. She had this extreme sensitivity about her that I really related to — I’m overly sensitive, too. I was like, This is kind of a different dog experience.
Once everything shut down with the pandemic in 2020, [my fiancé and I] started thinking about [getting a dog]. We had been thinking about it a year prior, but I was traveling a lot and we were still living in a tiny apartment. I called this breeder in upstate New York, and she told me she had a couple of puppies left in a litter that’ll be available on May 30. That’s my and my fiancé’s 10th anniversary to the exact day! It just seemed meant to be. At first I panicked about if we were ready or not — I knew it was gonna be intense. It kind of hit me how hard it was gonna be to have a puppy.
The day we picked her up, she stood out right away. She was a little bit calmer than her siblings and we liked that. Poodles are pretty high energy and some of them were just, like, coming at us. She had a different energy about her. She was so sweet and so cute — it was a pretty clear decision. We drove back and we had a dog! She came back to the apartment and just laid down and slept, and we were like, “Oh, we have a little angel dog.” Then it was six months of basically hell...
Have you been doing anything fun with Magic in Arizona that you weren’t able to do in New York?
There are better parks here, but she’s not really good off leash because she’s so independent — if she sees something she wants, she’s going straight towards it. We tried when she was a puppy and we could still catch her, but once she started to outrun us, I was like, “Yeah, this is a problem.” One time I chased her across a park when she saw a kid that she wanted to go kiss. Obviously she wouldn’t hurt anyone, but you don’t want a huge dog barreling towards your toddler. We got this 50-foot leash so she can play fetch but can’t run away. It sounds ridiculous but it’s actually perfect; she loves it.
As she’s gotten older, though, she kind of acts like a house cat now. She sleeps, like, all day long. In the morning, I have to wake her up to go outside. That’s actually amazing and it’s so different from when she was a puppy, when it’d be like 4:35 a.m., and she’s all, “Let’s start the day!”
I saw on Magic’s Instagram that you groom her yourself. What’s that like?
My fiancé Mark and I do everything ourselves now with her, which is kind of crazy if you know what it’s like to groom a Poodle. It involves so many different skills that we’ve had to learn and understand. When she was little, she was wild and I don’t think it was possible for us to groom her because she wouldn’t stay still. We took her to a groomer every six to eight weeks for the first year, but Poodle hair is so curly and coarse that it requires a certain brushing technique, and even with your best effort, they can still get these crazy mats and you have to totally shave them off.
So we were really trying our best, but the groomer would shame us sometimes. I maintain that she was not in bad shape — she just was a little curlier than she should have been. At one point, she came back worse than when we left her (they did a really bad job), so we watched YouTube videos and learned to do it ourselves. Every week we do a bath and blow dry. Then once a month, we do the clippers and shave her down to give her that little poof. That takes like two hours.
Do you follow other Poodles on Instagram for inspiration?
I 100% do. I follow all of these show Poodles and other pet Poodles. At first I was like, This is so lame to have your own dog Instagram. I would make fun of people that did that, then I got my own dog I was like, “Okay, I totally get it and I’m going in and I don’t care who follows it and who doesn’t.”
I think of you as someone who has a bit of a distance from social media, so it surprised me to see Magic’s Instagram.
Yeah, I think you’re right. I feel like I am distant from social media in certain ways — I use it to promote any writing or teaching things I’m doing, but I’m not someone who’s on social media all the time. I think with everything going on last year, it seemed like a fun thing to do. I would just do a post of the day of Magic — she was growing so quickly that it was fun to have this public archive of her growth. You can kind of hear in my tone in the early posts how annoyed I was with her. Like, “She woke me up again!” So I just started to appreciate it as an archive or a journal of dog ownership. I have received feedback from some of my friends who follow it and are, like, “I hate Instagram but whenever I go to Magic’s account, it always makes me feel better.” That’s kind of how I feel: I don’t always like to be on Instagram, but if I’m following a bunch of Poodles it’s kind of fun.
Has Magic inspired your writing?
It’s funny — in the early puppy days I read about Gertrude Stein’s Poodle who was named Basket. She had this quote about how listening to the way Basket lapped up water taught her about the rhythm of sentences versus paragraphs. She was like, “I suddenly understood paragraphs as a unit made up of circumstances.” I think I may have tweeted something at that point, like, “I’m still waiting for my Gertrude Stein / Basket moment” because this dog does nothing but interfere with my writing! I was like, I’m waiting for that kind of epiphany with this dog — not that she owes me anything. In the early days, it was a lot more than I expected — as we were getting her trained and accustomed to everything, my writing suffered a little because I was sleep deprived from her barking through the night. It was just intense for the first couple of months, then it really calmed down.
Now, having a dog has helped with keeping a routine. I feel like that’s what’s helped me. Keeping a strict routine, which is what we generally do with her, helps her behavior a lot. She knows what time we’re doing things, so she’s not like, “Hey, are we playing now?” She knows that she gets a walk first thing in the morning, and that gets me outside and helps me wake up. Now that we’re through the puppy phase, having a dog definitely helps me with writing, and just kind of helps with my mood and stuff. I like having to be outside with her so much because I’m not really the type of person who would do that on my own.
“They gather around when they see us setting up a sound bath — they can sense a calming energy and want chill-out time with us.”
“She’s been to my shows where I was trying to focus on my witchy mood, but I also wanted to just laugh because she was doing her head tilt.”
Rachel Davies is a writer who has written for numerous publications including Vox, Wall Street Journal, and Architectural Digest and the parent of a beautiful Cocker Spaniel mix named Thea.