“Take the good, leave the bad, and try not to let it ruin your breakfast.” – Critter, on letting go of contempt for ourselves and others.
I am alone in the kitchen on a Saturday morning. My husband and kids have gone to visit his family, and I have 24 magical hours to myself.
I wander downstairs, breathing deep of giddy freedom. My tummy grumbles and I smile because I know exactly what I want to do first.
I crack a couple of eggs into a pan and rub my hands together. My mouth waters and my tongue already feels the buttery caress of molten yolk.
“These little snot balls will be WARM when I eat them!!” I announce to myself, clapping like a blissed-out six-year-old.
Since becoming a mother, I have surrendered my mornings to daughterly harassment. Hunger stabs my entrails by the time I reach my own plate, and my heart weeps while I choke down forkfuls of cold, rubbery disappointment.
I am prepared to endure this grief until my little chicks fly off for college. Or jail. Whichever comes first.
But today, the empty-nest has come early. Oh, thank you, Santa Claus! And praise to the great omelette in the sky!!!
Without a single distraction, I tenderly lift two perfect, over-easy ovum onto my plate. I sit down at the table, take a deep breath, and carve out a bite of sunshine with my fork.
Vivid yellow richness oozes out of the cut like golden gravy. I use my morsel of firm, white perfection to scrape it up, and then close my eyes.
I nestle that first, rapturous bite into my mouth.
Oh. My. Lord. My exquisitely edible avian mucus. My song of savoury satisfaction. My pleasure! My nourishment! My warm, runny-yolked eggs!!
I am so transported, I can’t hear myself moan. But I feel the sound vibrate in my throat.
I open my eyes and sigh with visceral contentment.
“Oooooooooh yeeeeeeesssss….” I whisper, fanning myself.
“I’ll have what SHE’S having,” comes a chimpunky voice from below the table.
I bend sideways to peer under the ledge and see that my imaginary raccoon has let herself in. No doubt, she was attracted by the sounds of carnal bliss.
“Actually, it was the smell of food that brought me,” Critter chirps. “Everything in the meal cans out there is frozen, and my belly wants something warm.”
She climbs up onto the chair opposite me and looks at me with huge eyes. Her mouth parts in an expectant smile. She glances conspicuously at my plate. Then back at me. Then my plate. Then me.
My brows knit together and I shake my head, “No fucking way.”
Critter’s face droops, and she presses her paws together in a humanlike gesture of supplication.
“Get away, Mooch!” I say, wrapping my arms protectively around my plate. “Find your own grub.”
Critter’s lower lip pooches out, and her shoulders slump.
I glare at her. I look down at my plate. The yolk that had spilt a moment ago is already congealing into an ochre glue. My heart sinks. This perfect morning is slipping away…
I look back up at my loyal fur-friend. I swear I haven’t decided yet, but her face suddenly blooms with a smile. She hops off her chair and trots eagerly up to my shin. She stands up on her hindfeet with one paw on my knee.
I sigh. Then I cut another chunk from my faded morning glory, and hold it out with my fingers.
Critter takes the bite gently and zips it down. Then she licks the residue off my skin and plops back onto all fours.
My little meal-grubber smacks her thin lips and her mossy eyes fog over. I watch the pleasure ripple outward from her belly to the tips of her claws. Her charcoal face illuminates with dizzy gratification.
My cheeks contract in amusement at the sight of her bone-deep bliss.
I’m glad that I shared my treasure.
I scratch Critter’s head, and she smiles dopily. Then, she hops onto my lap and curls up for a satiated snooze.
I stroke her back, breathe deep, and look around the room. All of a sudden, the clock on the microwave catches my eye.
“Shit!” I hiss. It’s already 9:30 am. How the hell did THAT happen?
I was supposed to be working. When the kids are away, I plan heavy-duty writing time. Today, it’s a desperate attempt to put down some chapters on Critter’s first book. My editing deadline is approaching. I’ve got to pound keys.
Careful not to disturb Critter, I grab my laptop from the chair next to me and flip it open. Then I do the one thing a time-crunched writer should NEVER, EVER do.
I open my email.
“Oops!” I say, immediately aware of my mistake, but before I can close the window, a message catches my eye.
“Finish What You Started,” is the subject.
“Aw, FUCK,” I mutter.
It’s the last video in a series about self-publishing that I have been hate-watching all week.
These videos started with some great tips about organizing your thoughts and gaining momentum with your writing. I knew they were a setup to pitch a book marketing course, and I was prepared for the content to transition from free advice to an ad campaign. This is standard in the online course industry.
Unfortunately, this particular webinar series trailed off into skeezy persuasion tactics. It left a bad taste in my mouth.
It was about 10 minutes into the first video where the speaker (we’ll call him Slick), lost my love.
While his overtanned hands made air-chopping power-poses, Slick swore that he was dedicated to making our self-publishing dreams come true.
Then, he revealed that he had recently witnessed the death of a friend in a tragic accident. He said the shock had shown him that life was short, and it inspired him to run this campaign. Helping us sell books would give his life meaning.
Now, I can appreciate genuine vulnerability, but Slick made my bullshit alarm howl bloody murder. It was the way that he relayed the details of the horrific accident with a smirk on his face like it was some juicy tip for the stock market.
In the second video, Slick bragged about how he had written his book in a weekend.
In the third, he boasted about having lied in an interview for a business magazine. He had claimed that his months-old company was on-track to break seven figures by the end of the year.
“It wasn’t true,” he beamed with his orange-tanned face, “but it was like issuing myself a challenge. I went for it, and I actually did it!”
He made me grind my teeth. I paused to yell at his image on my laptop screen, but I didn’t close the media player.
Now, on this morning when I have so much better shit to do, I am paralyzed by that “Finish What You Started”, like it’s some kind of word-taser.
“What the serious fuck am I doing?” I groan as I click on that final link.
The video promises to reveal the Slicks’ patented strategy for a six-figure book launch… but it ends up being just a re-hash of his earlier tips, with one last memorial parade of his dearly departed integrity. I mean, friend. His dearly departed friend.
I spend half an hour staring at Captain Manipulation with my face cramped in disgust. I shout at the screen like an elderly Jeopardy fan telling off Alex Trebek.
When I finally grab ahold of myself and slam my laptop shut, Critter wakes with a start.
“Puritan Stew!” she shrieks, pawing at her eyes. “The can is stuck on my head!”
I stroke her back, chuckling.
“Whoa there, Critter” I soothe. “It’s okay; you were dreaming.”
She blinks at me, then sighs relief.
“You gonna finish those eggs?” she asks.
“Huh?” I respond and look down at my plate.
Sure enough, there sits 7/8 of my former breakfast heaven. Critter and I had only got to revel in ONE luxurious bite each before I flushed my sacred morning down Slick’s bowl of ethical turdmanship.
I’ve let my warm breakfast grow cold.
“Nooooooooooooooooo!” I whine. But it is too late. The yolk has run all over the plate and is cracked and flaking like a neglected splort of yellow tempera.
Critter’s eyes crinkle with concern.
“Oh dear,” she says. “Are you alright?”
I want to say, “Of course,” but I can’t. I just stare at those lost moments on my plate and feel something collapse inside me.
“I can’t, Critter,” I say. “I can’t control my brain. I got sucked into something that I hated, and I couldn’t get out. I lost my amazing breakfast! I’ve wasted my morning. I feel like a fucking idiot.”
I slouch forward, feeling my neck strain as I crumble toward the core of my self-contempt.
“Hey,” says Critter. “Hey! Look at me!” She climbs onto the table and braces my face with her paws.
“They’re only eggs,” she says, “and they’re still perfectly good! Just stick your fork in there and eat them; you’ve had cold eggs before.”
A fat tear pools in the corner of my eye, making Critter’s bandit-markings blur. I blink, and the tear slides onto my cheek, where Critter’s paw softly wipes it away.
“This is about more than eggs, isn’t it?” she asks gently.
“What’s happening?” she asks.
I take a deep breath and push the air out until I am empty. Then I take another breath into the free space, and the fog starts to clear.
“I am ashamed,” I say, “Because I waste so much time. I worry and complain constantly about how busy and overwhelmed I am, but when I have an opportunity like this, to just rest, and enjoy, and work quietly… I waste it. This is my life, Critter. And I’m wasting it.”
Water starts to flow steadily from my eyes, and I alternate between wiping them with my left sleeve, and my right.
Critter pats my shoulder and nods.
“I understand,” she says. “Even raccoons get sucked in sometimes. Once in awhile, I follow a trail to what I’m sure will lead to a beautiful piece of rotted fish, but then I find out it’s just a stinky homeless guy. That mix of musty sweat and dribbled urine tricks my nose, because it promises everything I ever dreamed of.”
I wipe my nose and chuckle.
“In the back of my head,” Critter continues, “I know that I’m being misled. But I can’t give up the trail until I get to the end. I’m compelled. I need to know for sure.”
“Here’s the thing,” she continues. “Maybe when we make these mindless detours, something good happens along the way.”
I look off into the distance and consider this.
“I guess I did get something useful from that grease stain,” I say. “As much as I abhorred his dishonesty, I was actually inspired by his encouragement. He kept saying, “You CAN write a book!” and I needed to hear that.”
Critter smiles and pats my head.
“We all need encouragement,” she says. “And it’s easy to get pulled off-course by someone who boosts your confidence.
People are a swirl of good and bad; Slick is a flake of buttcrust, and you are a flighty writer. But you don’t have to obsess about his faults, or yours.
Just keep going. Take the good, leave the bad, and try not to let it ruin your breakfast.”
With that, Critter hops off my lap. She waves goodbye and trots out the doorway to the living room.
I smile to myself and open my laptop to finally start writing… and then Critter’s face pops back around the corner.
“So, ARE you done with those eggs?”
Whatever hunk of wrongness is sticking to your shoe, whether it is yours or someone else’s, Critter and I hope you can scrape it off and carry on. Because you have a metaphorical warm breakfast to get back to.
“And don’t be hasty about tossing it away,” Critter adds. “Always give your goop a sniff, ‘cause you never know when you might have stepped in something good.”
That’s just… gross, Critter. Super gross.