Take the Plunge

Afternoon, late July. The heavy veil of fear shrouding my latest creative project, a sketchbook tribute to my mother’s artistic talent told through her artwork and my words for the Brooklyn Art Library, has floated away. A wisp of memory now, like early morning mist on the cove.

Fear that it will look cluttered and junky, like a child’s coloring book. That I will miss the deadline. That I’ll lose my motivation. That my once-nimble fingers will ruin her delicate sketches. That my limited skills as an artist are just that.

Fear. A residual effect of the pandemic? Maybe. Yet, left unchecked, it corrodes confidence and ambition. Immobilizes my spirit.

But, like all the unnerving things I’ve had to do in the past two weeks—venturing up to the attic after the summer’s first sighting of mice; trudging through the flooded stone-and-mud-cellar in too-big rubber boots to reset the furnace; jumping off the rocks into the 58-degree sea; scrubbing the old-man-living-alone- grunge from my father’s apartment; two-a-day writing sessions with an online global community of other creative types—taking the plunge turns out to be remarkably freeing.

So what if the sketchbook is a cluttered jumble? Or if I emerge from the cove, teeth chattering, ready to curl up in a flannel shirt? So what if my dad’s a hot mess? If I’m out of my comfort zone among other writers? Or whether the mice are now the official mayors of the attic?

My talent—like my mother’s–is painfully, creatively chaotic. The ocean refreshes my soul. My dad is almost 90. Most writers share the same self-doubt.

And the mice were here first.

Of mice and wo(men)

September. 1972. On this tiny island where I spend my summers now, my parents and I moved into an old farmhouse. We drove across the country in the old black Mercedes, my father at the wheel, my mother as co-pilot and me in the backseat with our dog Jack.

Snapshots from the road trip are still firmly embedded in my mind. The Sinclair gas station dinosaur. Travelodge’s Sleepy bear. Pecan logs from Stuckey’s.

That first winter, when it snowed in October and all we had was woodstoves to keep us warm, the walls told me bedtime stories. Turns out what I heard was the scurried click of squirrels’ claws running laps along the two-by-fours.

Eight-year-old me, untroubled by squirrels in the walls. From the time I was born, I was an animal lover. I had tea parties with stuffed animals. No dollhouses for me; instead, I built a mouse house from shoeboxes, fashioned furniture from match boxes.

In simplistic harmony with our island surroundings, we coexisted with the natural world. Deer nibbling crabapples out back; wild turkeys in the front yard. Foxes and fishers at the edge of the woods. After that first winter fifty years ago, the squirrels took up residence elsewhere.

All these years and I’ve never seen a mouse in the house. Until last weekend. Three, to be precise. Like the nursery rhyme.

After a few panic-filled hours, I sealed off the room where I’d spotted them. Set traps. Said a prayer for any rodent souls who might take the peanut butter bait.

Days later, the traps sit untouched. No further sightings, no scampering of tiny feet across the 175-year-old pine floors. The exterminator comes tomorrow and I’m torn between eradication and coexistence.

I can jam their radar, confuse their sense of smell with dryer sheets and bowls of Pine-Sol, so the mice know the difference between their space and human space. I can allow the Orkin man to target the source of the infestation. I can do both.

Earlier this morning, a squirrel peered in window of my writing studio. He knows his space. And I’m learning mine.