Sep 3 2012

Take a Rat for a Ride

Melissa Crytzer Fry

I’ve become somewhat of a rat chauffer. Not by choice. But it seems that desert packrats enjoy taking rides in my car, up the quarter-mile driveway to the locked gate. On two occasions now, Fievel has accompanied me (okay – maybe Fievel was a mouse – and a cartoon character at that – but these rats aren’t the ugly, pointy-nosed Norwegian kind. They are pretty damn cute).

Meet the Desert Packrat (Neotoma albigula). Photo by Paul & Joyce Berquist, Arizona Sonora Desert Museum Digital Library.

I digress… Twice now, I have encountered large rats hopping from beneath my car after I’ve driven a good distance – most recently one that nearly skittered over my flip-flopped toes once I had gotten out to unlock the gate.

I was so startled by him, I did one of those monotone, drawn out “aaaaaaahhhhh’s” (not to be confused with high-pitched woman-like screams of terror). Well, apparently Fievel No. 2 was just as gob smacked, because he did a 180 and flew back under the car. When I pulled away, I saw him exit again, his chunky rump high-tailing it into the wash.

The first time: same thing, only Fievel No. 1 was already on the other side of the gate (closer to the road) and was especially happy to nose-dive into the protection of desert brush.

You cannot deny that this is a cute face. Another fabulous photo by Paul & Joyce Berquist, ASDM Digital Library. Click to enlarge.

While my rat tales seem rather humorous, these critters are a real nuisance. In fact, they are downright destructive. Lest you think we live in a desert dump, I assure you: rats are just part and parcel of rural Arizona desert living.

And they find cars to be very attractive housing and snack options. They have chewed my turn signal wires; they build nests on top of the engines of all our vehicles (prickly cholla cactus burrs, twigs, seeds); they poop all over everything, and, well – they’re just not fun to have around. Nonetheless, they did provide some fodder for my writing muse

Because they are nocturnal, white-throated woodrats are difficult to photograph. This brazen fellow was actually lounging under my car in the middle of the day. Yep - same car with chewed wires. Click to enlarge.

For Writers & Readers: You KNEW I’d go here, didn’t you ? You know, the whole writers-as-rats thing (well, packrats). Do you think writers have the propensity to be packrats?

In a conversation with author Ilie Ruby on Twitter, she told me, “My husband just made me throw away the last of my #roughdrafts. It was a painful parting. :)” [And by rough drafts, she is referring to printed draft versions. “I keep every shred of e-files,” she says). And author Jennifer Lyn King chimed in saying, “Sometimes the discarded rough drafts serve us well in another ms later (at least for me…)”

What do you think? Are you a keeper or a discarder? Are writers more prone to pack-rat-ed-ness, or is it a danger for everyone – writer, mother, reader, brother, accountant, doctor, astronaut?

A side note: Many of you know that a group of writer friends and I have started a book club blog and website called Great New Books and we have two very special things going on this week:

  1. A giveaway for our September book pick, Erika Robuck’s Hemingway’s Girl (beginning Wed., Sept. 5, 8 EST and until Sept. 7 at midnight); and
  2. A vote for our next three months of book picks at our Voting Page (We’re asking for input as we make our list of upcoming reads for the next five months). We have a Facebook page, too. Please join us in discussing Great New Books!

24 Responses to “Take a Rat for a Ride”

  • avatar Julia Munroe Martin Says:

    I keep everything I write (all drafts electronically, some paper copies)… I long ago threw out some of my very early writing (college and before) and have always regretted it. I try to be more selective with other things, like my kids’ baby and school stuff and family ephemera — I have whittled it down to several boxes for each of my kids and a couple boxes of family historical records. As for whether it’s a writerly trait or can be anyone…. my husband (an engineer) is much more of a packrat than I am. He has trouble parting with almost everything.

    I have to agree, I was very amused by this post, especially thinking of the packrat skittering over your toes — but easy for ME to say… I would’ve outright screamed, no question!

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    Melissa Reply:

    It is so difficult to look into the crystal ball and determine “what” will be of the most value later, isn’t it? I tend to want to keep it all, but know that the time is drawing near to thin out the hard copies of my various WIP drafts. Time to move on!

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  • avatar Annie Neugebauer Says:

    Oh they are so cute! But chewing on your cars? Naughty rats.

    I think you know that I have no packrat tendencies whatsoever. I discard, purge, clean, and organize even when there are more important things to do. I hate the feeling of old things weighing me down!

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    Melissa Crytzer Fry Reply:

    Oh I WISH I could be more like you with the purging, cleaning, organizing. I won’t DARE tell you how many messages are in my inbox waiting for a “summer” scrubbing. You’re right, though: clutter = stress!

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  • avatar Cynthia Robertson Says:

    Aww, they ARE kinda cute. Still wouldn’t want one running over my feet though. Have you tried honking the horn before taking off? Maybe that would roust the little beasties.
    I bet it’s nice and cool there on the pavement under your car. It is most definitely NOT cool to chew your wires, however.
    No. I’m not a pack rat! – all my neat stuff is totally necessary. Hehehe

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    Melissa Crytzer Fry Reply:

    Honking doesn’t seem to make a bit of difference, if you can believe it! Ha – gotta agree: “All my ‘neat’ stuff IS totally necessary!”

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  • avatar Erika Marks Says:

    Whoa! Those are cute rats! Growing up with chickens, we had the big ‘uns in our barn–long tails, eeks! These guys are positively adorable!

    Are we EVER packrats. I don’t kid myself, Melissa; I say I’m not a packrat but I STILL have slush pages (housed digitally) from drafts of manuscripts ten years old that I can’t part with! Ack! 😉

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    Melissa Crytzer Fry Reply:

    At least your slush pages are compact — not in tons of binders like SOMEONE I know, er, um, hum….

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  • avatar Jolina Petersheim Says:

    Such cute little critters, Melissa, but I would certainly be screaming bloody murder if one ran under my foot while driving! As for being a packrat…well, I’ve been trying to get away from that. I used to keep ticket stubs and napkins from weddings, birthday cards, anniversary cards. Now I just chuck them all, unless the cards are from my husband. 🙂

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    Melissa Crytzer Fry Reply:

    I’ve gotten better about the ‘trinket pack-ratting” – but confess that I still have a difficult time parting with anything WORK or FICTION related. Sigh.

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  • avatar Laurie Buchanan Says:

    I’m a dyed in the wool minimalist. The only thing I collect is wide open space.

    Like Julia, I keep electronic drafts (I would also have screamed!)

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    Melissa Crytzer Fry Reply:

    I long to be a minimalist when it comes to hoarding my ink-paper printouts.

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  • avatar Jennifer King Says:

    I can’t believe your rats, Melissa! Wow. What do your cats think of them? And the question burning in my mind is — are you going to get a couple of outside cats to mind your cars’ wiring? 🙂

    I’m a neat-freak kind of girl. I like to get rid of stuff that takes up space. But, like you said above, I also like to keep my writing to steal from later or in other projects. So, sometimes there’s value in keeping an organized file around.

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    Melissa Reply:

    Unfortunately, cats do not survive outdoors in the desert. Too many predators: coyotes, bobcats, mountain lions, hawks, great-horned owls. Plus rattlesnakes, poisonous lizards, scorpions. So – our cats are NEVER allowed out. We just have to “live” with our rat problem.

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  • avatar Nina Says:

    Oh my gosh–YES, I am a WRITING packrat. I’m not a packrat in any other realm. I’m actually pretty ruthless about getting rid of things. BUT, I do hold on to drafts, etc. JUST IN CASE!!!

    And P.S. I would FREAK OUT if I ever saw a rat of any variety in my car.

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    Melissa Reply:

    Had to laugh that your post this week was about cleaning your closets! But, yes, you HAVE to hold on to those drafts… just in case.

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  • avatar Natalia Sylvester Says:

    I never thought I’d say this, but those rats are adorable! They remind me of one of my favorite books growing up: The Mouse and the Motorcycle.

    I’ve always been a bit of a packrat, but I’m trying VERY hard to get better about it! We’re moving soon, and that’s always a great chance to clear out the clutter–so far I’ve donated clothes to Goodwill, recycled piles and piles of magazines, and gifted books I’ve already read (but probably won’t reread) to the library. One thing I absolutely can’t bring myself to get rid of is my previous drafts. I have hard copies of most of my work, along with notes from critique partners and scribbles on napkins or notepads, tucked away in bags and boxes somewhere. I know that’s where I draw the line on purging.

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    Melissa Reply:

    If you think these guys are cute, Google Kangaroo Rats. They’re even cuter! 😉 And I LOVED Beverly Clearly’s The Mouse and the Motorcycle (Plus Ralph S. Mouse)…

    Yes, moving is the great cure for packrat tendencies. Good for you for donating your books, recycling, etc. But I’m with you when it comes to even paper copies of WIPs… Keep, keep, keep.

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  • avatar Shary Says:

    We have rats at our house, too, but they’re not the cute kind. Our dog doesn’t like them either and she’s pretty successful at catching them. Ugh.

    Personally, I like to keep everything, but we’ve moved a lot, so I’ve been forced to purge. A couple of times I’ve gotten rid of something that I later wished I’d kept, but mostly I’ve managed to streamline effectively. I do try to save only the best version on paper and I save the earlier versions on my external hard drive where I have TONS of room.

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    Melissa Reply:

    A rat-catching dog? Now THAT is impressive! I wish I had your purging capabilities, too.

    Saw one of those pesky rats in action over the weekend.

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  • avatar Lisa Ahn Says:

    I’m like Annie — purge, organize, rinse and repeat. Sometimes I get rid of things in a frenzy and then ask my husband later where they are. He patiently reminds me that I’ve tossed/donated/burned the item in question. That’s rare though. Usually, I relish the cleared space and simplicity — Laurie’s “wide open space”. It’s also true that my husband, both kids, and the dog love to collect and keep. So I’m outnumbered.

    I’ve never been a fan of rats, but those are cute!

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    Melissa Reply:

    I have this strange guilt complex about throwing things away (that I’m wasting something) — or the great fear that I will need said item in the future. I SO wish I were like you and Annie with the purge, organize, rinse and repeat cycle!

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  • avatar Christine Grote Says:

    My mother threw EVERYTHING away, so I have a tendency to keep a few momentous. Besides, sorting through things to discard them takes a lot of time. Every now and then I do conduct a major purge.

    It’s probably time to start thinking about doing that again. What I really need to do is clear my compute files. Especially the photos.

    Next time I have some free time, I’m going to do just that.

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  • avatar Christine Grote Says:

    That should be momentos or momentoes. Or however it’s spelled. Right now nothing looks right.

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