Friday, 31 October 2014

a rat's guide to survival 1

A perfect storm of circumstances conspired to shape me into a ‘survivor’. First, but not necessarily in this order, I am an artist. As my peers will tell you, you need to be tough to ‘be’ an artist – for a number of reasons - among which the lack of money figures predominantly. But also because you have to be a bit belligerant and cultivate a thick skin – everyone is an art critic, whether they know anything about it or not (usually not).

Second – I was raised by my Dutch grandmother who lived out the second world war in occupied Holland – very close to the German border. She grew up in a middle class family and learnt about frugality the hard way. She was a young woman with 2 small children when the war broke out - that 5 years shaped the remainder of her life. She passed the lesson onto her children. Most of them didn’t take it on board but I took it to heart – probably because it resonated with my own nature.

Third and maybe most critically, I was born in the Chinese Year of the Rat. Rats are born survivors and I am no different. I am always aware of my surroundings, I sit facing the door and have worked out all the exit routes before most people know there is anything going down. If there is a whiff of trouble, follow the rat – they don’t get their reputation for being the first to leave a sinking ship for nothing. At exhibition openings I am the first to head for the grub and get stuck in before I go and look at the art. You have to get your priorities right if you want to be a survivor.

Although I am definitely not wealthy by Western living standards I can afford to buy new clothes. But I much prefer Op Shops – there is something very satisfying about tracking down that unique little treasure at a bargain price. Where’s the challenge in heading for a rack of boringly similar items? I don’t want to wear what everyone else is wearing anyway. I am also in the habit of salvaging other people’s lost items. The thongs I am currently wearing were found at the beach. I haven’t bought a beach towel for – well – ever! I don’t steal things, I give it a couple of days to see if anyone claims the item before I take it home and add it to my stash.

This is a very Rat thing – which you will know if you have ever found a rat’s nest under your house or in a cupboard. Rats will collect things that seem absolutely useless to anyone else – but that’s where the resourceful bit comes in – you never know when something will come in handy – and it has on many occasions. When I lived with my mother as a small child she used to regularly clear out my stash when I was at school. I would come home and wail that someone had ‘froan out all my good stuff’ and head to the bin to retrieve it. As a mature person I have trained myself to curb this natural tendency, but I will often still pick up bits of blue plastic on the beach out of habit.

I am resilient and resourcful and, at times, I can be ruthless – these are good Rat words because they also begin with R. I am calculating but not because I want to take advantage of anyone. My code for life is that, where possible, any transaction should be mutually beneficial to both parties.  I love working out ways to make that happen – it’s the best kind of problem solving – doing the sums, negotiating – it is creative and maybe that’s why I like it so much.

Finding creative solutions is in a Rat's blood, it is essential for making art and for survival as well.

The great image is called Rat Survivor, by DizOider (Petar Jokic) on Deviant Art


  1. This is a lovely post Michelle. I now more things about you! (Like the blue plastic thing). It made me smile and I could do with smiling today ... This war thing is wearing me down. I've been in town all day for two days. Today I spent under the doona, having a weird, weepy kind of hibernation.

  2. Strangely though, I got at lot of writing done while in town, at my uni office. I'll post a few thoughts about Anzac tomorrow. It's been intense.

  3. Thanks Sarah. It occurred to me that I write about myself too much, but it is my blog I suppose.....and if I don't immeduiately follow the urge to write, it just doesn't happen these days.

    I guess there is a collective emotion about this sort of thing (celebrating war) which would be hard not to be affected by. And just being around a whole lot of people is wearing. Intense for sure.