My Vermin Obsession

I can't help it. I love them. I didn't know I loved them growing up because I lived in vermin-free Alberta (yes apparently our border guards are very respected by the BC rats), and so I didn't yet know the joys of their tiny baby crook faces, but I do now. People who love me are genuinely disgusted with my obsession. My husband takes it personally every time I steal his phone to get videos of them (my phone's camera is broken because I may or may not have dropped it in the toilet and YES IT WAS CLEAN for every single one of you who asked!!). I know it's irrational, but the fact is- I. Love. Raccoons.

I know they are supposed to be gross- they literally survive by eating trash. When I first moved to Toronto, there was a garbage strike in August and the streets stunk like you wouldn't believe, and the first raccoon I saw was the size of a bobcat- having gorged itself on the buffet of waste lining the alleyways- it didn't even blink when I came across it, just sidled past me like a tired fat old man. That summer, while some people carried umbrellas and other sharp paraphernalia to ward off the particularly aggressive raccoons, the ones who looked like they'd snatch your baby from your arms if it was holding a Cheerio, I went looking in every dark corner for them, desperate to catch a glimpse of their grubby little paws digging through trash treasures. Once, while shining my phone light (pre-toilet) onto porches, trying to find them, I came across a massive one bent over a dog's water dish, washing its face with its paws in the exact same manner I do every night- splashing and scrubbing. When my light caught him, he looked directly at me, hunched over his bowl like Golem, and gave me a stare that made me feel as if I had rudely peeping-Tommed him in his own house, and how dare I. I loved him even more for it.

Things got to another level the year we moved into the third floor apartment of one of those typical Toronto row houses- long and narrow and very high. Our apartment was in the attic of the house, and the eaves of the house were directly behind our walls. The eaves, as most Toronto homeowners know, are where the raccoons most like to abide, since, like us civilized humans, they prefer to screw, sleep, and eat in privacy under the protection the eaves offer, and in a particularly good house, they'll even find a way to chew their way into the attic itself, where a good friend of mine once startled a raccoon who was midway through stealing her rolls of Christmas wrapping paper, presumably to finish his holiday shopping with.

In our attic, the bed was pushed up against the wall, and we soon came to discover (that first night, in fact, when the Papa and Mama raccoons decided to engage in a good ol' "Mommy Daddy Dance") that a whole raccoon family lived on the other side of it. I was, of course, delighted, and enjoyed every morning that I woke to the sounds of them returning grumpily from their night of errands, squawking and squabbling with their siblings. I found it calming at night to go to bed to the sounds of them waking up, preparing themselves noisily like girls getting ready for a party together. I was struck with the feeling that we were just two normal families, living in adjoining apartments, doing our lives.

This feeling of kinship was cemented on one particular night. I had stumbled out of bed to get a glass of water and was standing in the dark attic bathroom staring at the wall, until I realized with a start that I wasn't looking at my own face reflected back in the mirror, but was face to face with the sweetest looking baby raccoon through the screen door of the window. He looked at me as if HE was also confused not to be seeing himself in the mirror, and as I stood motionless with my glass of water in hand, he reached out and put his little paw on the screen, and I put my hand on the screen (just kidding, just kidding- I'm not that into contracting raccoon diseases, but a girl can dream okay?), and as we stared at each other, both of us out to do our nighttime rituals, I felt like we were on a level playing field- two mammals in the jungle, existing side by side. 

That's ridiculous, though. We aren't the same. They are dirty vermin and I am a relatively clean human. BUT, I must say, living in the city, I forget sometimes what nature does to us- how it grounds us, and humbles us, and reminds us of our place in the world. I spend a lot of time trying to keep nature OUT in the city- screening everywhere to keep the beast-sized mosquitoes out, buying fancy new garbage cans that the raccoons aren't supposed to be able to topple (a fallacy), throwing things at the squirrels-as-big-as-cats to get THEM to stop throwing things at me. We have beautiful parks in the city, both Toronto and Calgary, but I spend an awful lot of time in my car, my apartment, and my office, and not a whole lot of time in nature.

But the wilderness, along with all the things that live in it, is a place we should return to often as storytellers, at the very least to be reminded that we are small, and not as special as we think, and just another animal in the kingdom that will be here way past our lifetime. I know I'm supposed to tell you the opposite, as storytellers- I'm supposed to tell you how special you are, how influential, and how you rise above the noise, right? And I do, usually. But I think sometimes when we feel too special, too influential, too loud, we stop creating true things, because we start believing that everything we write must be as special, influential, and loud; sometimes we stop creating altogether. I get it, though- it's really scary to think everything we make must be special, and it's a ton of pressure to put on ourselves! It can mean we start holding our stories too preciously, and we become intimidated by them, afraid that we won't be able to do them justice.

That's why sometimes a good old reunion with the wilderness, even in the form of a tiny raccoon roommate, can help remind us that we are one creature in billions and billions that will walk this earth, and we should have the freedom to write as if that's true- write a ton of stuff, good and bad, not worrying about being perfect or measuring up to the standards that us haughty humans sometimes think we've attained. In reality, we're little lowly creatures- we wash our faces just like the beasts (and not even as thoroughly, let's be honest); we don't have to take our work so seriously; instead, we should let ourselves off the hook and just a play a bit. Play a lot. Play like I'm praying the raccoons are playing outside right now (and not killing each other... it sounds a lot like killing each other). If you're feeling too scared to write, or not prepared, or like your writing has to be perfect and brilliant and measure up- go find some vermin. And be reminded that we're not much different than them. Except we get to write. 

As Frankenstein's ill-fated lover, Elizabeth, would say:
"Adieu! Take care of yourself; and, I entreat! write!"
Alexa

P.S. The WRITING CLASS + BOOK CLUB is starting to fill up, even though it doesn't launch until October! More than just a book club for wine and gossip (though I will definitely be drinking wine), each month we will read a contemporary Canadian book and then meet together for a lesson on what writing tips we can steal from the author- from how to write fascinating protagonists, to how to use setting as a character, to how to bring your own style to new forms.
Anyone is welcome, so come learn how to read like a writer, and join our fun, inviting, and friendly Whitespace Writers community! Click HERE to register!