Thursday, December 27, 2012

Rigel and the lost wallet

For a year in grad school, I shared an apartment with a Dutch rabbit named Rigel. I didn't set out to have a pet rabbit, though I had wanted one. Rigel was originally my friend Kate's rabbit. The summer after my first year, I moved out for dorms and into one of the apartments in Kate's building. She left for Naval Officer Candidate School, and I took over caring for Rigel until I, too, left Wyoming.

Rigel literally had been saved from the stew pot, or so the story goes, by Kate and her former roommate a year before I ever met her. Kate and her roommate were looking for an apartment-friendly pet and called a local rabbit breeder. The breeder didn't really breed for pets, but she had a young rabbit who she was willing to let them adopt. Rigel had a genetic defect that would prevent him from being showable. It was the kind of defect only a breeder would care about: his eyes weren't a uniform color.

After Kate's roommate moved out, Kate cared for Rigel. I loved coming over to Kate's place, which was far more comfortable than my small dorm room. Rigel made it even more homey for me. Kate often let him have free reign when she was home. I could have spent hours watching Rigel wander around the apartment. He would explore, then touch base with us, often nudging us for a scratch between the ears. Rigel accepted me as part of the family, dancing around and sometimes even circling me.

Rigel was a sweet, wonderful little guy, but he also had a streak of mischief. When he wanted to play chase, or when he wanted something he knew he shouldn't have (like a paper I was working on), Rigel would try to be stealthy. Instead of approaching the thing directly, he'd wander around, making a circuitous, but inevitable path toward the object of his desire. Kate and I jokingly called it the "lost wallet" technique because it seemed like Rigel was trying to convince us he was looking for SOMETHING ELSE. But, even though he appeared to be uninterested in the paper or other bit of stuff he wanted, he'd get closer and closer. Soon, he'd snatch the desired object and tear across the living room as if his life depended on it. One of us would give chase, and the game was on. When Rigel tired of the game, he'd drop whatever it was he'd grabbed, and flop over, letting us have our possession back and getting his favorite between-the-eyes scratches.

Today, as I folded laundry, did dishes, and tried to complete other more domestic projects during break, I realized that these were my own version of the lost wallet. Often, when I have a task that troubles me like writing letters of recommendation or reflecting on what I'm reading or teaching, I will engage in completely unrelated tasks as if I didn't have looming deadlines or self-created goals. Then, suddenly, I'll start whatever I was supposed to be doing and I'll tear through it, completing it much faster than thought I would.

Sometimes, it's avoidance. But sometimes, like today when I was having trouble forming a coherent response for an online discussion of Penny Kittle's Book Love, I need to take a more roundabout path toward my destination. My thoughts still haven't quite come together. But remembering Rigel and the sheer joy of the chase when he finally got his teeth into what he wanted, I'm ok looking around for my lost wallet for a little while longer.