Rats, Writers, and Menial Magic

Last week, we began to hear things in the walls. At first, just gentle scratching and a smooth sound of sediment, like time passing in an hourglass. Then, the thumping and gnawing that sounded like roadside construction caught in our bathroom wall. We conjured up concerned neighbors who would dutifully report the noise before things got out of hand, and in our greatest flight of fantasy, imagined a landlord who would remotely care.

This week started off with the super unceremoniously beating a rat to death with our broom (we threw the broom away). I cleaned off the bathtub, most disturbed not by the blood but by the amount of fur left behind. The rats continue to swarm in the walls though, and we only have a thin layer of newly-applied plaster as defense.

This whole experience made me think of an animal studies class that I sat in on, where we discussed pestilence–animals are thought of as pests when their movements and lives interfere with human activity. I wonder what lives could be made, or buildings constructed, that could accommodate the gnawing of rats. There must be mountains of essays out there about rats as anti-capitalists.

My mind moves from rats to writers. The other day, a submitter’s cover letter included how many times they had been rejected from their local university’s MFA program. While I really do believe that writers need to stop constantly self-deprecating and/or fetishizing misery, there’s always something charming about these claims to rejections–they’re forward moving, with the lightweight seriousness of significance extended beyond the pinpoint of the momentous event, and often followed by a “maybe this time or next time.” I also love the sentiments that are something along the lines of “I hope, at least, these poems will bring some kind of joy to you.” If I have learned anything, it’s that the substance of living is constituted by tiny joys that seem to have no hope for surviving beyond themselves.

Finally, after conversations with a friend, I have been thinking about the menial and the magical, the menial as the terrain through which the magical surfaces. I’ve viewed tarot and other practices as a hermeneutic exercise that can reorient people or re-sensitize them to otherwise subterranean things. Much in the same way, I like the idea of significance being cohered around sirens, a passing dog, or pigeons wobbling in the street. I know nothing about actual magical practices, but I’ve been a longtime believer of what Kathleen Stewart calls “worlding,” trying to feel out illegible modes of being. Feeling in proximity can collapse linear cartography, time, all kinds of seemingly ossified boundaries for what is possible. I think there’s an interesting and generative homology between the two, so I’m continuing to learn lurk about more through friends.

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