You know that moment at 1:15 am. Even though you want to push through and keep going, you’ve been up working since 7:00 the day before on five hours sleep and you know you’re done for. You could keep going, maybe finish that paragraph and eke out just a tiny bit more. But you force yourself to shut down for the night because if you do keep going, you’ll spend the first part of the next day sitting there, in front of your document, saying “what the fuck does this even mean and this part, these aren’t actually words.”
That was me last night. I’ve been pushing and pushing to finish a big huge chapter, to get this whole thing done. I closed the lid on my laptop somewhere between 1:15 and 1:30 last night and got up to shuffle off to get ready for bed. About five steps away from the computer is when it hit me: The smell. It’s a smell I’m very familiar with, except not right there in that part of the house–far, far away from the litter box. The cat has never shit anywhere but in his box, but I was dead certain that smell was NOT coming from his box.
The hunt was on! I was freaked out and pissed. What if he was sick? What if he was just being an asshole? What if he does this more? WHAT IF I STEP IN IT OH GOD PLEASE DON’T LET ME STEP ON IT AND PLEASE DON’T LET IT BE ON MY PILLOW. I was going to find it, so help me, because the last thing I wanted to do was a) sleep all night with that stench slowly crushing what few brain cells I had left and b) find the errant turds somewhere, somehow, unexpectedly.
It was with an odd sort of gratitude that I discovered the cat had taken a crap in the bath tub. Of all places, aside from the litter box or perhaps the actual human toilet, if there has to be a weird accident, please make it the tub. There I was, mumbling to myself, wondering why he did this, and ugh why is it taking longer to clean than it should as it is in the frigging tub, and why specifically is this happening when I was already pretty zombie-fied and please, please don’t let this be a regular thing, and I was already thinking about how I could fix it, and maybe he can’t fit in his litter box because seriously, he is massive and there I was a little while later, at 2:00 am, googling “shits in the bathtub” and “maine coon litter box” and discovering that unless he has a medical issue the problem probably IS that he’s too big for his box. The cat is bigger than a lot of small dogs. Am I going to have to get a storage bin and a Dremel and make a humungo litter box? Is there one I can buy?* That would be convenient because, you know, I have to finish writing a dissertation and move an apartment and I have a job interview across the country in a week and a half that is very much something I want but you know, the switch from academia to industry!, and man, I am really, really tired.
*(There is. It is GIGANTOLOR.)
At that moment the cat walked in, his giant floof of a tail swishing around, and his purrs filled the room. He looked up at me with a “meep?” My grumbly poop-infested heart melted and I picked him up, squishing his enormous purring body against my chest. Luckily I didn’t have to worry any shit was going to come out. I squeezed him tight, holding that ridiculous creature and feeling like I wanted to run away by burying my face into the giant mane around his face. I wanted to be five again. I wanted to squeeze all the adulthood away.
If you know my friend Alison, you know she wrote a really great piece today on fear. On confronting your fears – rather than letting your fear squeeze the shit out of you, being the one to do a little of the squeezing.
This past year, I’ve had to face down a lot of problems. Big huge scary life problems. I’m not going to lie to you: They have taken an enormous amount of courage and strength, and if I could take a vacation right now I would do it in a heartbeat. But the problem with big problems like that is, if you’re in deep and focused on them, they’re a good distraction. You’re giving them your all. Once they’re settled or even solved, what are you left with?
You. You’re left with dear, lovely, same old you.
Now, chances are you’ve been affected by dealing with the big problems. I have! I’ve become a pretty different person after a year that included my mom’s near-death/illness/long treatment, my breakup, racing to the Ph.D. finish line, and more (PILE IT ON, UNIVERSE). I’m different – but the me-ness? There’s a lot of me still going on in there.
I’m not going to lie to you. I’m very tempted to lie to you, because I don’t want to be honest about this. Not in public, anyway. Shit, I don’t even really want to be honest to myself about this. But here goes and then it’s out there and then my mom is going to read it (hi mom) and ask me if I’m okay so IT’S REALLY REAL:
I’m scared. Right now, at this moment. I was scared yesterday and last week and I will probably be scared tomorrow and when I get on a plane to fly to my job interview and chances are I will be scared as I continue to figure all this stuff out. Not just “yes, life is scary!” but like, fear. Big fears. A lot of fears, all coming to the surface. The what-am-I-doings and where-am-I-goings and CAREER WORK ART PASSION LOVE LIFE MOVING AUGH big, big serious fear capital F Fears.
This is not one of those “how my life got tough but it wasn’t about me so I’m not revealing as much as it seems” stories. It’s also not “how my life got tough but I made it through and here is the narrative I’ve created after the fact about my experience and the lessons I learned because if I told you while I was experiencing it I might slip up and reveal a little more than I want to.”
No, this is right now. It’s as honest as I’m going to let myself be, which is honest-ish because, ugh, emotions on the internet are still kind of tricky.
Look, do you read the Communicatrix? No? You’re missing out if you don’t. Last year I had the good fortune of very briefly meeting Colleen, thanks to my friend Chris. I have a weakness for people who are funny and smart and who are also good mannered. I don’t mean people who don’t swear in public or who are proper regarding what to wear when: I mean people who are gracious and kind, who will look out for you as a friend and who will make sure you get inside your car safe and sound in a deserted area when they have known you for 30 minutes. Anyway, Colleen is one of those writers who is good and true and brutally honest, before-during-and-after, good times and bad. She has this post you should read, it’s one of the first ones she recommends you read, about how change sucks. And about how, when you’re in the process of changing, it’s the middle bit that’s the most awful. You know when you’re doing a big project, like cleaning your closet or, I dunno, writing your dissertation, you have to make a bigger mess than the mess you originally have? You’ve got stuff strewn across the floor because you’ve pulled it all out and suddenly it’s 2am and the cat is shitting in the bathtub and you start crying because now you have an even more horrible mess on your hands and you never should have started and your life is a wreck and now it’s a smelly wreck and you don’t have any idea how anything fits together, either going backward or forward, but if you quit now you’re really super screwed.
Anyway, I’ve been in the middle for a while now. I haven’t wanted to tell you because, like I said, internet honesty still feels creepy, and also because the middle is scary. It’s terrifying. It has been much easier to talk about a lot of other big problems because those are tangible issues or I get to be the caretaker or they don’t deal with Fear.
But you know what? Fear is real. And fear, like Alison reminded us while I was writing this, and like I am also reminding you now, is conquerable. I can smell it. You turds? You’re going down.
(cross posted to tumblr)