The Artist’s Cray

I have been putting off writing a new blog post for weeks. WEEKS. Well, what’s the problem Lauren?! Don’t you literally have nothing but free time right now? Honestly it feels like I’ve been snatched up from Tokyo and barfed out straight into the desert. I’m surrounded by sand- literally NOTHING is holding me back from accomplishing all the creative projects I’ve ever dreamed of. Ugh but sand is so BORING. I want some obstacles?! Those are what make it feel like I’m choosing to do my art. Can I just go to Victoria or something?!

With nothing but freedom to do whatever I want, suddenly all these artsy things feel like chores. There’s nothing to balance it all out, no work to hype the play. To add to the craziness, I’m doing The Artist’s Way program by Julia Cameron, and I’m in week 4. Media deprivation week. Cooooool. So on top of being jobless until September 2020 at the EARLIEST, living alone and confined to my apartment except for tri-weekly trips to the grocery store or walks outside where I pretend everything is okay by focusing on all the dead-ass trees that STILL have no leaves, not to mention no contact with my friends aside from sporadic video chats where we just yell “YOUR SOUND ISN’T WORKING” at each other for an hour… I’m supposed to deprive myself of ALL THE THINGS THAT DISTRACT ME FROM THIS HELL ON EARTH?!?!?

Yeah, Julia, we all know social media, and Netflix, and the WHOLE FUCKING INTERNET are distractions from tapping into our inner artist *cut away to a waify white girl wearing a flower crown flailing like a gas station balloon to the music at Osheaga,* but I NEED THEM RIGHT NOW, OKAY?? I am on day #… I’ve lost count… of being alone 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. After my 2 hours of “creating,” what the hell am I supposed to do the rest of the day?! Stare out my window at all the happy couples going on walks with their screaming babies, and contemplate my obtuse loneliness? Listen to all the ambulances in the distance and flood my mind with visuals of BODY TRAILERS?!? Mmm yeah I’m gonna need to check the fuck out once in a while. You’ll have to write a new Covid edition of your book called The Artist’s Way: Watching The Great Canadian Baking Show Counts as Art when the Alternative is a Mental Breakdown.

I think if anything, I’ve been creating LESS during media deprivation week- I’ve just been finding way more inventive ways to procrastinate. For example, in my morning pages I’ve been going on and on about wanting to write sketch and learn how to edit video, develop some jazz improv chops on violin, and learn how to use all the electronic music equipment that came in the mail a week ago… What have I actually been doing? Well, this morning, I woke up, went back to bed for a bit, then dove STRAIGHT INTO MY COMPUTER looking for gluten-free dairy-free baking recipes (add that to the list of tragedies) and painstakingly adjusting my grocery list to include expensive-ass things like almond flour, coconut sugar and brown rice syrup. Then I looked up all my friends’ birthdays on facebook, and added them, one by one, into my phone’s calendar. Colour-coded. Very very important. So not only am I breaking the no media rule HARD, I’m not doing anything remotely close to my creative dreams. Well, I also made kimchi, Thai spring rolls, hummus, and salsa out of oven-roasted tomatoes; but yet… here I am finishing off a bag of Doritos. To be fair, my period is choosing the snacks. I have no say.

While eating the first half of said bag of Doritos last night, I did do something remotely creative… it’s not a solo show that combines electronic violin music and intricate storytelling that will win my future Pulitzer, or a polished sketch of me doing something hilarious in character; but it’s umm… something.

Enjoy your chips, friends.

For the Love of Rats

This little writing corner is my favourite spot in my long skinny apartment. I call my place the “rat maze” because contrary to the trendy “open concept,” it’s a series of little nooks and crannies, all wonderfully compartmentalized for an introvert who loves to nest. Every room is it’s own little universe, full of soft things and hidey-holes and materials to nudge me into creativity because I often forget.

Look closer and you’ll see the books are obsessive-compulsively organized by genre and height. I’ve gone so far as to divide the comedy section into male and female authors, and improv comedy manuals; which is an oxymoron to such a high degree that I’m waiting for the books to spontaneously combust. Peppered ever so carefully around the books are little toys curiosities I’ve accumulated in my travels, each one with it’s own significance. But the one that would light up my brain in an MRI like a group of ballerinas (ballerinas notoriously chain-smoke); the object that makes my heart ache because it’s a bittersweet reminder of “the one that got away,” is this guy.

Oh hi rat

Before I met Harry, I thought rats were disgusting vermin, a view shared by most of the other people on this planet. Rats were creatures to avoid; the bottom feeders of the animal kingdom. Calling someone a rat meant this person was filthy, untrustworthy, sinister. But Harry is a Neuroscientist, and spent most of his time studying rats because they are actually very similar to humans in terms of genetic, biological and behaviour characteristics. Harry loved his work, but hated studying rats, because they are wonderful. It pained him to keep them in small cages, inevitably having to sacrifice them for the test results. Aside from being super intelligent, they are adorable, silly, and extremely loving. While many a mouse bit Harry during his studies, rats were only ever happy to see him because they crave social interaction even more than treats. Even when the treats are actually DRUGS. It’s been scientifically proven!!

Harry and I started going to pet stores just so we could visit the rats. I was looking at them through Harry’s eyes now, and couldn’t believe how anybody could look at them and not squeal with delight. Those curious little faces with their glossy eyes and forests of whiskers and tiny little ears… Sometimes they would come up to the glass to say hi, but more often than not you could find them in a glorious pile under a miniature log cabin, the shape of which their bodies would maintain once removed. Rats LOVE to cuddle; a trait I share with them. At home wherever Harry was, I wanted to be near him if not fully integrated with him, our bodies molded together like play-dough. So I started affectionately calling him “Rat.” And it stuck. I loved that we had something nobody else had. He wasn’t my “babe” or my “honey;” he was my rat, soft “r.” The word took on this whole new meaning that only we understood.

When I moved to Montreal to pursue a Master’s degree in music, he stayed in Ottawa to continue his studies and I missed him terribly. While living together, we couldn’t get pet rats because it would have interfered with his work; but in Montreal, there was nothing stopping me! So I adopted Lucy and Taco, two female ratties from the SPCA. Having rats would help ease some of the pain from being apart.

Lucy and Taco are two cuties in the middle!

Reunions in Montreal were extra special because we not only got to see each other, but Harry was able to interact with rats in a way he had only ever dreamed. It felt like we were a family, with weird little rat children. We would make them rattie castles out of cardboard boxes and egg cartons, and hard boil eggs so they could play rattie soccer; they would sit on our shoulders while we cooked (Ratatouille is real, guys!! Though they were more interested in eating the food than cooking it) and as they got older they mellowed out and cuddled in our laps while we watched movies. We created little rat voices for them, obviously, and would narrate for them when they’d find a new exciting hack to get even higher up in the apartment; or steal a cough-drop out of my pocket. It was pretty much just the voice of Consuela, the housekeeper from Family Guy. “No, noo. I take.”

As Lucy and Taco aged, Harry and I started to grow apart. We couldn’t help it. Of the 6 years we dated, 4 of them were long-distance and I was becoming a new person in Montreal, with new friends and habits and interests. Around the same time Harry was accepted to a post-doctoral position in Houston, Taco started to get sick. Harry spent his last summer before moving to Texas in Montreal with me, and we tried with all our might to nurse her, and our relationship back to health. I knew deep down that neither would survive the summer.

A part of us left with Taco when she passed away. These rats are what kept us together despite our distance and now with one of them gone, our hearts were starting to break. We tried long-distance for another month, but I just couldn’t stomach it. Another 3 years of this relationship purgatory, getting the worst of both worlds. No intimacy, and no freedom. I ended it. The day before he had an appointment to buy an engagement ring.

Thinking about it 4 years later as the woman I am today, a survivor of multiple soul-crushing romantic experiences, sends a wave of remorse crashing through my body. Why couldn’t we have just worked a little harder? Gone to therapy, chosen one city to live in, or even tried an open relationship. But I know realistically, none of that would have worked. I did what I felt was right in that stage of my life, and I have to respect that. I actually told him when we broke up that I wanted to know what it felt like to date a jerk. Like that’s some sort of essential female experience in our fucked up society. Boy does the Universe ever fucking DELIVER!

When I look at bookshelf rat, I’m reminded of what I once had. I’m grateful to have experienced what true love feels like so I’ll know when I’ve found it again. Next time though, I’m not letting it go.