Last week I looked out my office window to see three huge, lime-green panel trucks with pictures of rodents and insects parked a few houses up the street. Nothing puts the mind at ease like thoughts of infestation. After some neighbourly nosing around, I discovered that the house up the street did indeed have an infestation. Raccoons—in the attic! I didn’t even know raccoons could access attics.
I turned to my husband. “How do they get up there???”
He replied, “I’ve seen them scale shingles and gutters. Or climb trees and jump onto the roof.” Like an old factory window meeting a baseball, my sense of security shattered.
The day after the green panel vans left, my husband was out weeding our backyard. He stepped out onto the back deck, and a chorus of adorable underfoot chirps rose up to meet him from under the wood planks.
A bunch of baby raccoons had taken refuge under our deck. (“At least twelve of them!” he said. I’m going to say it was more like four or five.) He couldn’t see them through the little hole they must have climbed in through, but he put his face down close to it and recorded their cute little peeping noises in the dark with his phone. He was mid-thinking, “Aw, they’re so cute!” when a tenor growl started up like a thunderstorm rolling in, followed by a hiss. That’s when he realized his face was very, very close to an angry mama raccoon.
The next day, the raccoons were gone. Our guess is that they were part of the neighbouring attic crew, got scared off by the exterminators, and were seeking temporary shelter under our deck before moving on.
That night, lying on my back in bed and looking at the ceiling above us (and considering the attic above that), I thought out loud, “Man, I’m glad we don’t have raccoons in our attic. That would drive me crazy. Just the THOUGHT of them up there bugs me.”
The idea of raccoons in the attic, skittering around, pooping, eating, doing whatever it is raccoons do—just the idea was anathema to me. Even if it is, I suspect, pretty common. But as I realized while chatting to a friend about something else this week: “Just because it’s common doesn’t mean it’s not hard.”
We all have ideas that drive us crazy. Much like attic raccoons, they are often out of sight and may or may not be real. I bet there’s an idea you have about yourself that you absolutely torture yourself with. I bet whatever it is came to mind unbidden, right away, when I said that.
Take me, for example. This week I must have sat down at the computer half a dozen times to try and write this short story I’m working on. I’d sit down, squirm about uncomfortably for five, ten, fifteen minutes. Stare at the screen, type a few things out before hitting the backspace. But I just couldn’t get things to move along. Everything I wrote looked like garbage. A real raccoon fest.
Don’t you want to write this story? my brain asked.
Yessss, of course! I replied.
Then why don’t you just write it down? my brain asked, exasperated.
I don’t know!!!
I threw my hands up in the air and then lay down on my carpet and stretched out like a dead starfish, waiting for some toddler to pick me up from the sand and show me to their mom who would coo and then put me on her bathroom shelf where I wouldn’t have to make any decisions again, ever.
Why am I like this?
The age-old question we all ask ourselves. Why can’t I do this thing? Why am I not doing this thing? Surely if so many other people can do it, I have no excuse other than that I must contain some horrible, inexcusable, floggable defect in my very being???
For you, it might be procrastination, forgetfulness, apathy towards exercise, your resting bitch face, the permanent presence of your foot in your mouth—whatever.
The mere fact that we’re not perfect often drives us as crazy as our imperfections themselves do. We torture ourselves for being tortured in the first place. Behold, our brains are full of raccoons and they’re up there doing whatever they like.
If it’s any consolation, like I said, at least it’s common.
So many of us give ourselves such a hard time. About everything. I’ve seen everyone along the spectrum at some point or another internalize (or externalize, loudly) the novel idea: “I suck.”
I’m just throwing this out there, but if we’re going to be tortured and haunted by our attic raccoons, we might as well stop being mad at ourselves about their existence. People with attic raccoons don’t suck. They just have attics that looked so cozy that raccoons wanted to settle themselves in there.
Like my neighbour up the street. I’m sure she didn’t ask for raccoons to come and live in her attic. I’m sure she wasn’t up there leaving sandwiches for them to make them feel at home. No, they, like so many other things in life, just happened.
Raccoons make a nest in your attic. You forget to buy your partner a birthday gift, you find yourself constipated with a story you’re unable to write. It happens. It sucks, but you don’t suck. You just have attic raccoons.
If we’re going to be tortured, we might as well stop torturing ourselves about being tortured.
It’s a classic matryoshka doll of feelings.
For example: “I’m mad that I didn’t go running this morning. And I’m mad that I’m mad about it because I know being mad doesn’t help me go running.” Little angers seated inside bigger angers.
So how do you deal?
Well, one strategy was put wisely to me by a friend who was chatting about how to deal with performing at work while also balancing new parenthood.
“I find the key is to just care about 30% less.”
There is a real underrated pleasure in moving through life without caring too much. And I say this as a very in-my-head, faux-smart person. It is possible to care too much. It can be stifling. It’s like the Aldous Huxley poem I shared on my birthday. The key is to tread lightly.
Don’t stop caring. Never stop caring. But can you maybe care 30% less?
You know that game you played when you were a kid, where the floor is lava? Despite the ostensible thought that the ground beneath you could take your leg off if you fall into it, you never see kids worrying about jumping from couch to couch or stressing out about whether there are no-slip pads under the chair they’re about to bombard. There’s a certain amount of confidence that comes from not overthinking it.
I see the same thing at the skate park. I’ll be lining up to try a new move or technique on roller skates and getting totally in my head about it. And then these kids will just throw themselves into the bowl and wipe out without a second thought. That’s the kind of energy I want to harness.
True, as a thirty-something woman, if I wipe out I’m going to feel it a lot more in the morning than these nine-year-olds, but it’s not going to kill me. I might even be a little proud of the bruises and battle scars I accumulate in the field, if only I could just get out of my head about it and just do the damn thing.
So it’s not that the stakes don’t exist. But being human means you can’t always control what’s going on. Accept that there will be days where you sit and cry; that sometimes you don’t have a clue; that sometimes the princess is in another castle; that you have attic raccoons.
The floor was always lava. Thinking about it too much doesn’t change the fact that it’s still lava. Whatever your tortured brain treats you to, turn towards it with a sense of compassion and fun. It’s hard enough dealing with raccoons in the attic without beating yourself up about them. The raccoons don’t care how tortured you are—they’re having a blast up there.
Accepting that yes, the floor is lava and yes, there are raccoons in my attic, but I’m only going to care about them a little bit. I’m going to keep going and cannonball over to the next couch and see where I get with a solid 70% effort. If I fall in the lava, I’ll deal with it. I’m going to do what I need to do to keep playing the game. I hope the attic raccoons are enjoying the show.
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