Freddy, The Cockroach of Perfection


I returned to a very quiet house from a family trip to the Pacific Northwest. It’s quiet because Cami and the kids have reunion duty in California while I pay the bills and tidy up a few stories for publication.

Saturday. The silence is deafening here. I can hear the thunder of our refrigerator and the steady tick-tick-tick of the mantle clock in the absence of exuberant children.

It’s almost quiet enough to hear Freddy, the dead cockroach. He’s on the floor of Cami’s office, begging for a fitting burial, legs up in the air, as poison (or starvation) takes its toll. I try to ignore him each time I check the parakeet, but he’s getting into my head. Did he just move?

On Tuesday he’s still there, and still dead, and now he’s invited a friend, also dead.

Those of you that haven’t lived south of Waco should consider yourselves lucky. There are few things creepier than reaching into a dark cupboard and feeling the skitter of cockroach feet across the sensitive part of your hand. That’s the feeling I get every time I walk past Freddy and wish my kids were here, because they love finding cockroaches. “Dad, you owe me five cents. I just cleaned up another one!”

Nobody’s going to clean up that roach.

On Wednesday I give him extra space, going outside to eat my Jimmy John’s sandwich. The 90 degrees Fahrenheit is a welcome change to my freezing office. The lizards are running across the deck, doing pushups and flaring out a big orange throat flap they use to get the attention of the opposite sex. Not unlike Facebook I suppose.

I relax into my favorite deck chair and enjoy the show, sitting so still that a lizard crawls up the plastic back and onto the collar of my shirt. Unaware of the passenger, I bring it inside with me once I’ve finished my sandwich. He sits on my collar for 20 minutes until the AC starts to cool him down. That’s when I feel the tiny little claws on my neck. For the split second before launch, all I can think about is Freddy and his dead buddy crawling about my neck. The lizard flies through the air and lands among the plants gathered for vacation plant care (another story).

After that, I sweep up the dead roaches. It’s not worth carrying that kind of burden.

I do this too often.  I shy away from things that irritate, intimidate, or feel unclear or difficult to me. Last week I made a comment on one of my favorite podcasts about Fantasy and Science Fiction storytelling, Writing Excuses. For several days my comment stayed in comment moderation limbo. In the back of my head I wondered: Am I not good enough to have my comments accepted? Did my website link offend someone? Was I supposed to do something differently? Eventually I made the effort to reach out to a few people who are familiar with such things. I’m not sure what they did, but within an hour, my comment had been accepted. It’s a small thing, but it reminded me that starting small is sometimes better than waiting until you can see the end from the beginning.

This struggle manifests in my writing. I don’t want to write anything down that’s not brilliant, so I chew on my pen cap or write seven different opening lines and discard them all. I’m trying to be perfect before I’ve even finished draft one. To combat this, I wrote a crappy post this week, start to finish. I slept on it, rewrote it, and sent it to my brother for a second opinion. I took hard feedback, and worked on it some more. Each time, the path became a little clearer, reminding me that sometimes the best advice is to start small.

Right now I’m working through the sixth draft of my novel Plague Runners, and I needed this advice more than ever. “Keep writing Ben. You’re planting ideas that won’t be ripe until tomorrow.” A special thanks to Diann Read and Peter Ahlstrom, who each encouraged me this week in their own way.

Call to Action:
Write a short poem about a preferred topic (lizards, cockroaches, or turnips?). Let it sit overnight, and then rewrite it. Ask a friend to critique it. For the especially brave, post the final poem in the comments here or on Facebook. I’m particularly interested in how your concept changed after a good night’s sleep.

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6 thoughts on “Freddy, The Cockroach of Perfection

  1. Solid post Ben!

    From: “” Reply-To: “” Date: Wednesday, July 29, 2015 at 10:50 PM To: ed hewett Subject: [New post] Freddy, The Cockroach of Perfection BKHEWETT posted: ” I returned to a very quiet house from a family trip to the Pacific Northwest. It¹s quiet because Cami have reunion duty in California while I pay the bills and tidy up a few stories for publication. Saturday. The silence is deafening here. I can he”

  2. So funny. I think I’ll take up the challenge in the form of a drawing and see what happens.

    1. Sometimes when the eraser marks start to cloud the paper, I import my drawings into an online photo editor (Pixlr). Drawing with a mouse isn’t ideal, but it sometimes make iteration easier.

  3. Successful launch, Ben! I don’t know which made me laugh more:
    ~ your Freddy story (which by the way, I would have been so tempted to box up Freddy and friends into a perfect little gift to bestow upon Cami upon her return – claiming it was a little welcome home gift you found for her. Hehe…pranks can be so perfect…can’t they?)
    ~ or the vision of this alien stowaway (lizard creature) that you launched into orbit – how gracious of you to aim it towards friendly environmental terrain, as it is accustomed to.

    As for our natural man tendency, as humans, to shy away from challenges…I totally agree with your take to just start…even if you start with small efforts on your path to perfection. I will leave you with the thoughts from one of my favorite authors [Twain] who said, “If you get up in the morning and you know you have to eat an elephant…you might as well eat it first thing. If you get up and know that you have to eat two elephants…eat the ugliest one first.”

    1. I especially like your tongue-in-cheek assumption that I would be gracious enough to aim for the plants. Thanks for the laugh.

      I get the jitters just thinking about your prank, and it spawned another evil thought. Do you ever get those postage prepaid credit card solicitation envelopes? I bet a few of the little beasties wouldn’t mind an expense paid trip to credit card solicitation central. Turn your enemies against each other, you know. Just sayin. . .

      About elephants: I wish I’d understood this earlier in life. I always know when something requires real effort by how badly I want to put it off, or how often it “slips” my mind. I need a sign on my desk: “Eat the Ugly One First.”

  4. I’ve decided to be brave and share. Better than being fearful and not going forward.

    Nighthoughts Electric

    Key clasping firmly
    breath tightly folds
    Wheel gripping, reeling
    turn steering bold

    Engine grows growling
    brights flashing, tossed
    Road mounting over
    Exhaled exhaust

    Distance swells swiftly
    sharp aching sigh
    Pressing, pursuing
    shadows swing by

    Wind chasing window,
    Muse soothing me
    Clutching no(body)
    Clear Open Free

    Nighthoughts electric
    fierce driven fire
    Wind-kindled lighting
    Free flowing wire

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