Sunday, March 16, 2014

On dead pets, romance, and the upside of uncertainty

Saturday afternoon, we said goodbye to our 16-year-old cat, Ivy. She spent her final moments on earth rolling in a big pile of catnip, purring her big, drooly, toothless purr, and thrusting her butt at us for scratches.
Ivy is now raising hell in kitty heaven.

All things considered, that's how I'd like to enjoy my last living moments.

I've gone through the aging process with a lot of pets over the years. More than once, I've had to ask the tough question of whether it's time to say goodbye to a furry companion. More than once, some well-meaning acquaintance has given me a look of intense compassion and declared, "you'll know when it's time."

You know what? I haven't. Not usually, anyway. The last two times I've made the decision to bid farewell to an elderly pet, I questioned my choice up to the last minute. I think this is the kindest most merciful thing right now, but I'm really not sure.

While I've never regretted the decision, it's come with a lot more uncertainty than those friends insisted I'd feel.

There's a quote often attributed to Voltaire that says, "Doubt is not a pleasant condition, but certainty is absurd."

It reminds me of my early days when I began writing fiction and rushed into those first books with the zealous certainty of a horny ram let loose in a pasture of ewes in heat. As I made mistakes and learned from them, my pace slowed considerably. Now, with half-a-dozen published books under my belt, I can sometimes find myself paralyzed with uncertainty. What happens next? Does my heroine visit her grandmother or dance naked on the bar at a karaoke club? Or maybe she and grandma both dance naked on the bar?

While I occasionally annoy myself with all that second-guessing, it's empowering to know I've honed my craft enough to grasp the importance of small gestures, characterizations, and decisions. Those little details can be crucial to the big picture of a novel.

As a romance author, I'm a sucker for any book that explores love and marriage. As a slightly jaded divorcee engaged to an amazing man who's also a bit jaded by divorce, I'm a sucker for any book that explores those subjects beyond the level of two people who meet, boink, fall in love, and get married (not necessarily in that order).

On of my favorite books of all times is Elizabeth Gilbert's non-fiction title Committed. Here's the interesting thing about that book: if you search "Elizabeth Gilbert + Committed," you'll discover two versions. One is subtitled "A skeptic makes peace with marriage." The other, simply, "A love story." Same book, different marketing spin.

But in either case, there's a section where Elizabeth Gilbert describes the words spoken between a mother and daughter in the dressing room before the daughter's wedding. Gripped by a case of last minute jitters, the daughter asks her mother if all brides are this terrified before walking down the aisle. "No, dear," the mother replies. "Only the ones who are actually thinking."

Whether we're talking about the demise of my beloved pets, the path of my romantic comedy novels, or the plans for my upcoming nuptials (which, come to think of it, are three odd things to discuss in the same breath) I can say for certain that the only certain thing at all is that I'm quite uncertain most of the time.

But perhaps that's not a bad thing. Age and life experience and a whole lotta mistakes along the way have taught me a few things over the years. I won't always make the right decisions. I won't always know the best path to take. Sometimes I will screw up so abysmally that no amount of unscrewing, rescrewing, unscrewing, rescrewing, more screwing, harder screwing...wait, what was I saying?

Right. I'm going to screw up. That's one of the only things I'm certain of in life. At the risk of sounding like a pessimist, you're going to screw up, too. The upside of recognizing it is that we learn to move a bit more cautiously. We learn to work harder and smarter. We learn the value of balancing our uncertainty with the fervent desire to get it right. Though we know sometimes we won't succeed, we hope like hell we often will.

What areas of your life do you forge ahead with confidence and certainty? Which areas call for a bit less self-assurance? Has it changed as you've gotten older? Please share.

I'll be honoring Ivy's memory by rolling in catnip and waiting for someone to scratch my butt.


Kristina L. Martin said...

Good post and a great way to honor Ivy. {hugs}

Unknown said...

We're not nearly close enough for me to scratch your butt. Otherwise, I'd totally offer. That said, much sympathy on the loss of your beloved kitty.

I'm typically very confident when it comes to handling my children. I've been doing this for 18 yrs, with four children, so 96.3% of the time I know what I'm doing. We won't discuss the other times.

Everything else in life is up for grabs. Like you, I've screwed up enough to be cautious. Especially when it comes to big decisions. Buying a new car is enough to make me break out in hives.

Great post! :)

Raquel Byrnes said...

That was sweet and funny. Sorry about your kitty. :( I am very confident in my wife/mother mode but faced with career decisions regarding my writing and I'm not so solid. Better than when I first started, but still. Glad to know I'm not the only one who struggles. :)

Skye said...

Sorry about the loss of your kitty. I know how hard it can be to make that decision and to let go.

I am at a place right now where I am uncertain about everything. It used to be I was 100% certain about my career, but very uncertain about everything else. As I have been unemployed for a long time, I'm uncertain about that now too.

I'm hoping that means there's nowhere to go but up! :)

Anonymous said...

Aw, I'm sorry for your kitty loss. I had cats all througout my life growing up. Now, the kid just has a hamster, but I love animals so much and this critter is getting quite old.

Luckily, there's going to be a new life in this house soon, because I'm pregnant. Not that I think of my offspring as pets. Har.