In Praise of Lab Rats

If it is considered inhumane to test products for humans on rats, I wonder how inhumane it is deemed for this writer to be testing her raw material on a faithful and cherished friend?  Unlike white rats in a cage, my lab rat has an opinion about what is foisted upon her and freely expresses that opinion. A lab rat that talks back is worth her weight in gold…or chocolate… at least, part of her weight.  She deserves it, she wades through everything from the first raw and disorganized series of words as they come from my head to the third, fourth and sometimes more, re-visions.

My lab rat exerts a curious effect upon my writing. The very act of sending her the day’s or the week’s offering of work, ensures that my creative streams will flow more freely, that overlooked ideas, plot lines, or dialogues must be included and she is subject to another re-vision. It comforts me to know two things, one she does not haunt the in-box of her e-mail and two, the last  offering shows up in said in-box as the first.  It is only cyber space that is wasted, hopefully not her time.  (Printing a chapter has a similar effect, and though the result is a waste of copy paper I print nontheless. The reason I do is a blog for another day.)  Hanging clothes on the lines, starting dinner, picking up the broom, or my favorite, closing my word processing program, often have a similar effect. None, though, to the extent and as consistently as sending off what should be a completed chapter to my lab rat.

I have tested the theory. The chapter is finished, my writing goals for the day, or week are finished also. I am free to turn to my attention to other goals that dance in front of  me. I let the writing go. It does not let go of me. My patient and long suffering friend receives a re-vision. I have waited, an hour, a day and several days, with the same result.

A scientist would be startled and dismayed to hear the rats in the cages offering advice or opinions on the testing process.  I can hear the comments  from the squeaky and irritated animals, “not so much please, that overdose yesterday really did me in.”  “What!! You want me to run the stupid maze AGAIN? You’re going to have to offer more than moldy cheese, bucko!”  “I’m not really feeling it today, whaddya say we wait a day or two?”

In my case, a vocal lab rat is necessary. The good, the bad and the ugly appraisal of whatever version she reads and offers is highly valued. The opinions she expresses are to be read, re-read, absorbed and heeded. Positive or negative, her reaction to my words help me analyze and evaluate what I have written, what I intended to write and how to mend the gap between the two.  When the lab rat speaks, I must shut my mouth and listen. When I disagree I must convince her of my viewpoint, or the character’s,  through the next re-vision. I must also have the confidence to listen to her expression of distaste and know we will disagree.  (The very words, plop, plop, send shudders of horror through her. I would replace that particular section of the story if something else presented itself. Nothing to date has and I should send her more chocolate because of it.) Our experiences of life differ widely. I must write my best to convince her to follow and accept the ideas and themes I express.

Although a  good lab rat is worth her weight in gold and chocolate both, at this point all I can offer is  words of praise. Thanks, a good lab rat is worth every penny, a GREAT lab rat is worth Lindts!

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