Friday, March 2, 2012

Not What I Was Going For: "Thinking Like a Rat"

It's been a while since I cracked open the vault for a poetic effort from the past.  (As an aside: the vault thing TOTALLY works.  No one has EVER stolen one of my old poems.  I highly recommend getting one.)  This one is from my college days and is an example of what can happen when a procrastinator takes a creative writing class and is given actual deadlines for turning in a minimum number of poems.

Late one night, I started thinking about futility.  It seemed like a poetic enough topic.  Playing on the idea of the societal "rat race", I realized that actual, literal rats probably struggle with feeling like they're getting anywhere in life, especially while they're running on one of those wheel things.  I decided to get inside the head of a rat, and write from that perspective.

So I was actually going for something dark, disturbing, and profound.  After I finished, I realized it probably  wasn't quite at the level of disturbing as, say, "Seven" or "Lord of the Flies," but I still figured the tone would be clear enough.  I was curious to see if it would read like a dark comedy, or just dark, or even something else.

Turns out, it was "something else."  This was confirmed for me after the in-class, peer editing phase of the creative process.  Of the half-a-dozen or so comments on my paper, the one I best remember read, "I like it.  Rats are cool."

It didn't take long for me to come to the conclusion that if literally everyone who reads or hears my poem "misses the tone", then maybe, just maybe, it's actually ME who missed the tone.

So, I just kind of went with it.  I ended up reading this at multiple poetry slams back in the day, and it was quite the crowd pleaser.  I played up the comedic effect and really tried to "be the rat" every time I read it.  For a dark and disturbing social commentary, it turned out to be rather amusing.

Let this be a lesson.  Uh, I'm not exactly sure WHAT lesson.  But if you can somehow shape this reflection into a lesson of some sort, I'd say grab hold of that lesson and, for the love of all that's good, live it to its fullest.


     Thinking Like a Rat

Step, step, step
Hey, when I step, this wheel spins
Step, step, step, step
Oh my goodness, this is the greatest invention ever!
Step, step, step, step, step
The faster I step, the faster in spins!
This is so cool—I gotta sing
“We gotta get out while we’re young,
‘Cause tramps like us, baby we were born to run!”
Step-step-step, step-step-step, step-step-step
Step-step-step, step-step-step, step-step-step
OK, my legs are getting sore, weary even
But I can’t stop
I can’t stop running
I’m addicted to this stupid machine!
I can’t believe it!
All right, I’m stopping
Here I go
Right now
1 – 2 – 3
Geez, I didn’t think I’d flip over
Well at least it’s over now—that was scary
Hmm… What’s this?
It spins in the other direction, too
Step, step, step
Step, step, step, step, step, step…

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