My husband and I are sitting on the couch, watching Food Network Star. Meanwhile, I’ve taken our rat, Oreo, out of his cage. I try to keep him on a little blue pillow on my lap, but he’ll have none of it. He climbs up to my shoulder, his little claws digging into my skin, and he licks my face. It makes me squeal with delight.
If left to their own devices, our rats would gladly hitch a ride on our shoulders all day. They love to be near us and are more affectionate than most give them credit to be. Unlike mice or guinea pigs, rats are social animals. They want you to be a part of their mischief (literally and figuratively, since that’s what you call a group of rats).
After a little bit of playtime, I hand him off to my husband. I watch as he walks back to the cage, a rat tail drooping over his shoulder, and when he holds his arm out straight, Oreo happily scampers down to the door. I take several deep breaths — I’m starting to feel winded. There’s a sensation on my skin where Oreo was rubbing, and I can still feel where his claws were.
When Josh sits down, I stretch my neck up. “Did he get me?” I run my hand across my skin, feeling where it has started to rise.
My husband – love of my life, partner of 4 years, friend of more than 10 – makes a horrible face and recoils. “Oh God.”
“That bad, huh?”
“Oh God, Katie. It’s ghoulish.”
I head upstairs and into the bathroom. Sure enough, my neck looks like it’s just watched the first ten minutes of Up. Puffy, red, swollen. I take an allergy pill, go downstairs, and we keep watching TV.
The things that we love are never awesome all the time – I think that’s why so many people set themselves up for failure when they get this image in their head of the perfect life, the flawless version of themselves. Even if you could do exactly what you want all the time, you could still have things happen that are outside of your control.
Writing is like that too. Sometimes, you love it — the words blossom before you, you hit the zone, you’re in love with the keyboard. But sometimes? You get a rash. There’s this itch – to do anything else – and you can’t scratch it.
But I love rats. And I love writing. Neither are perfect and sometimes I need medication, but it’s worth it at the end of the day.
This weekend I drove from Pittsburgh to Annandale-on-Hudson to Maryland and back to Pittsburgh.
In Northern PA, I passed alternating signs for rabies clinics and llama farms.
I stopped in Scranton to go to the Mall in Steamtown, hoping for an interesting small-town experience that would make me think of one of my favorite shows. Not so much. But it’s a story, and that is what counts.
I saw Neil Gaiman talk to Laurie Anderson about art and personal experience and creativity. I talked to people from Bard College, and I was struck by their kindness and their welcoming campus. The talk ended with a question I had submitted for Q&A; I had asked for Neil and Laurie to talk about their creative processes. I was expecting something about their day-to-day creativity, but instead listened as Laurie talked about her next project, how it was born out of tragedy, and how she was trying to push for legislation that would help soldiers decompress after active service. It was amazing and moving and very, very real.
In DC, I saw Amanda Palmer laugh and cry and sing about how fucking scary it is to face life. I didn’t get a chance to tell her how much I get scared of becoming boring, too. I didn’t get to tell her how much it meant for me to hear her admit that she was terrified of what lay ahead. I didn’t get to tell her how grateful I was for her music, for her experience, for her strength. I just told her that she was going to be an amazing mother. And she smiled tiredly and said, “I’m going to try.”
I stayed with my amazing aunt who I feel closer and closer to every time I see her. I drove home in beautiful, glorious spring.
It was amazing. I’m so happily exhausted.