The One with the Rat Metaphor

Dear Richard,


Finally touching base again after the holidays. Touching base in so many ways. Bizarre how quickly these morning letters have become habit – in the best sense of the word.

I read on Facebook that you had a night of writing recently. I hope the story poured forth like an easy birth. I know that is a purple bit of prose, but I like the metaphor. I hope that night has kept your primed for writing, moving into this new year.

I was talking to B. this Sunday on Skype. We agreed this New Year doesn’t feel shiny. It feels like an old woman rolling over in bed. Another perspective of the same musty room. This is not a good place to be just a little over a week into January. I look at all the plans I made a year ago. Long term plans. Five-year plans. Because we are supposed to have such things.

I’ve seen my dog summon puppy-like energy to chase a toy rat – just until she gets her teeth on the edge of it. Then she realizes it isn’t interesting at all, and she goes back, circles a little square foot of floor, and lies down again. Disappointed. I think, not as much in regards to her expectations, but in regard to suckering herself into expectations. She knows it tastes like cardboard and plastic. Not rat.

It’s not that I’m disappointed in not achieving my goals for the year. It is more about not understanding why I had those goals in the first place. They really were about accomplishments not process. Being, not doing.


She settles for Rilke these days.

These past few weeks of this term, I’ve been teaching acting techniques. Trying to explain the difference between the acting that involves standing outside oneself, and manipulating and maneuvering one’s own expressions and body like a puppet master would a marionette; and the acting that is “in the moment” – inhabiting an alternate world, but moving and reacting spontaneously within it. Both approaches are useful. Each to their own end.

The larger the performing space, the more necessary it is to have a layer of demonstration over the genuine impulse. To reach the cheap seats.

I am wondering how much social media feeds the subconscious assumption that we should all be playing to the cheap seats? We play the script will varying degrees of interpretation, wait for the applause and hope to die, memorably, on stage like Moliere*. Popularity as a measure of a “happy life”. Now we are all Croesus.

(It astounds me that people still teach that the primary needs are food and shelter. Maslow’s hierarchy and all that. We need to belong. I read that people in rural Africa will go hungry to pay for their cell phones. I’m convinced that what we think of as materialism is always nothing more than an oblique reach for belonging.)

It’s satisfying to back into theory like this. I have books on performativity, a few that I have understood well enough to metaphorically slap the heel of my hand on my forehead now and say, “duh”. Today I am thinking though, that the purpose of academic theories isn’t to impart knowledge. Knowledge itself is kind of useless: “academic”. Maybe the purpose of theories is so that, once we have gained the wisdom, we can look around and realize we aren’t alone in experience. It’s necromancy. Belonging with the dead. (And maybe, why we intuitively strive to “eternally” belong to the living through texts?) And at the same time, I am kind of thinking, “Really? It isn’t any more complex or exciting than this?” Like a kid figuring out that the tooth fairy really is your mother.

I am boring myself now. Sorry. I think I’m catching up with the woman I see in the mirror. And I am not as happy about it as I’d hoped to be. Don’t get me wrong. Back to my toy rat metaphor, I don’t believe for a minute that there aren’t real rats to be had.

I wish I hadn’t used a rat as a metaphor.

The old lady just wandered in. The alarm went off on my desk, but I know she can’t have heard it. Her inner clock is impressive. I need to walk her around the block before I leave for work.

I hope this letter finds you knee-deep in your arctic world, with the words lining up with just the right balance of exuberance and order.


P.S. It means a lot to me to be included in your family. And I believe you when you say so: who but family would put up with such navel-gazing correspondence.

*He didn’t really die onstage. But it makes for a good story.

Richard’s Reply

This is one of a series of weekly open letters to friends – friends who write back to me on their own blogs. Please click through.  Category: Correspondence.

If you’d like to catch up, read the letters in chronological order here.

4 Replies to “The One with the Rat Metaphor”


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