A Tale of Four Possums… Or the End of Creative Procrastination

Sorry, I’m not going to rant about Final Cut Pro X or directing theater today – I have something more philosophical on my mind and it was all inspired by true events. Warning: graphic wildlife-in-domestic-homes pictures to follow.

Playing Possum

Nothing helps me to shake of the shackles of procrastination like a live possum in my living room. There’s no way to say I’ll handle this later or I don’t feel inspired to the marsupial, which is lying on the floor – apparently dead yet VISIBLY BREATHING.

October 19, 2010 - Possum #1

As owners of a dog with – shall we say, a healthy prey drive – my wife and I have been the unwilling recipients of a handful of squirrels, rats, mice, and even birds over the years. And as one would expect, they’re delivered to us after Wiley’s already had his way with them – something I’d prefer not to think about although I acknowledge it’s one-hundred percent natural.

This is Wiley. Possums should fear him more. And run faster.

Last October 19, Alicia woke up before me and walked through the house (past the possum, which she clearly was not ready to see), and on the way back I heard her scream in a way that she’s never screamed before. “Ben, you have to come out here RIGHT NOW,” she said. So I did. And I screamed. And we both shuddered to see that this time Wiley had brought something through his dog door that was going to be more than a normal chore of simple disposal. You see, Wiley had fallen for the classic possum adaptation of thanatosis, or “playing possum” where it stops moving and “plays” dead (not really – it’s in an altered state not unlike narcolepsy, we learned), and even releases a stench like that of rotting flesh from… (gag) Its anal glands.

But it’s breathing. And occasionally moving. If it didn’t look like a giant housecat-sized rat, one might comment on its angelic demeanor in repose.

So we called up a pest control company, they said it would be $80 to remove the possum. I would have paid $500. They said it could spring back to life, so we should close every door and block furniture under which it might scamper. Alicia and I armed ourselves with brooms, opened the front door, and waited. Eventually the pest control dude arrived with a cardboard banker’s box and a plastic dustbin, shoveled the critter into the box, looked me in the eye and said “will that be cash or check?”

I sheepishly wrote him a check.

Knock Knock. Who’s there? Possum #2. Possum #2 who…. Oh dammit!

Flash forward to a little more than a month ago. Alicia was shooting “House Hunters” on the road and I was home working on a documentary shoot for my friend Ben. More importantly I was working on the first project I was to cut in Adobe Premiere Pro, and finding myself personally resistant to learning a new thing. And it was weighing on me – I had another project, a very big one, that was coming up and I’d be using Premiere for that as well. But every time I’d go into the Premiere project, I’d hit a wall. Something wouldn’t make sense and I’d scour through manuals, books, online forums, etc. until I figured out how to do whatever. I wanted Premiere Pro to be Final Cut Pro 7 in every way except where it was better, but I wanted no learning curve. I was procrastinating.

And then the possum arrived.

I came home from the documentary shoot, feel asleep watching TV as I am wont to do, and woke up with Wiley licking my face. Out of the corner of my eye and by the light of the television, I saw what appeared to be a coil of extension cords on the floor. But there was no logical reason for an extension cord to be there and suddenly I knew what it was. This possum was small and apparently dead like the other, in a small pile, with its rubbery tail wrapped around its body. After loudly wishing I could explain to Wiley why this was displeasing, realizing that he had licked my face with a possum-juice-laced-tongue, and cursing my situation I gave up. It was late on a Sunday night, there was no pest control to be called, so I did basically what I’d seen the pest control guy do. I threw a box over the creature, slid the lid underneath it, and took it outside to the curb. By morning it was gone.

Two Days Later…

I was still slogging through Premiere Pro, as well as some other projects. And my new gig (which I can’t really talk about here) was about to kick in. I was stressing about work, didn’t know what to do, and that’s when possum #3 showed up.

Possum #3 - he's immune to my possum-ridding arsenal of one tactic.

My best guess is that possum #3 had spent the night in the house, or at least a good portion of it. I was getting ready for a checkup with my doctor (something I’d been putting off for some time), and I saw him sitting on top of Wiley’s crate out of my peripheral vision. And he was clearly waking up from his thanatotic stupor. My first thought was “I have to go get my blood pressure taken!” I pleaded with Wiley. I stared blankly at the critter who I’m sure was just as miserable to be in my house as I was to have him there.

I called the pest control company and they informed me that California had changed the licensing for trapping live animals, so I needed to call Animal Control. After fifteen minutes in the labyrinth of Animal Control’s automated phone system, staring at the groggy creature on top of the crate, unable to use my box trick (because it would harm the possum since he wasn’t on a flat surface), I decided to improvise. I grabbed a broomstick to drag the whole crate to the back door – and the broomstick snapped in half immediately. So I found another suitable jib-like-pole and dragged it to the door and successfully dumped the poor guy in the back yard and closed the dog door so Wiley couldn’t just bring him right back in.

And like Keyser Söze, possum #3 was gone.

The Allegory of the Possum

And I realized that if I was the subject of a short story or a horror film, the manifestation of possums was operating a lot like my tragic flaw on four  stubby legs. Like procrastination, the possum-in-my-house is disgusting, unwanted, and somehow both fearful and fearsome at the same time. And it smells like death (thanks, anal glands!). It’s been brought right into my space where I live and work and has stopped me from doing everything else all at once and will not go away on its own. I must take care of it before I can proceed to the next thing.

But like Adobe Premiere, the possum situation was getting easier and easier to deal with each time. After possum #3, I really sat down and had it out with Premiere Pro, and that weekend I finished my first cut of my friend’s short film. I’m not a spiritual person, but I’d learned a powerful lesson from a plethora of possums.

Adobe Premiere Pro Icon

Image via Wikipedia

But after each great lesson there is always an even greater test…

Epilogue: Possum #4

What did Arnold say when he first saw the face of The Predator?

After finishing up the cut of the short film, we brought the project to his house and worked on tweaks at night after I’d worked on the unnamable project all day. So a little less than a week ago, I came home at about 12:30am after an edit session only to find possum #4. Simply the largest, fiercest-looking, ugliest possum we’d had our of all of them. Although I know that possums don’t really attack people except as a last resort, tell that to his mawful of razor-sharp teeth which lined its open mouth.

Door opens. I shriek, waking Alicia up (which nicely book-ends this story if you ask me). She runs out, I go into the storage room and grab a banker’s box and a lid, scoop the varmint up carefully, take it out to the porch, turn off the porch light. We both take many photos. I’m disgusted and sick of dealing with this problem, and have vowed to keep the dogs in at night at least until our fig trees are no longer bearing fruit, but I handled it. No reason to blame the dog, no reason to curse the situation.

I wish I could feel as sure about my creative pursuits, the things which truly inspire me as I do about something like this which only serves to gross me out. I think it’s pathetic that it’s harder for me to carve out as much time in my life to push my own agenda as there is to take care of a live possum when there’s no other choice. Beyond procrastination, it’s important to know that there’s always time when we don’t have a choice of whether to deal with something anymore, but until then we’re choosing to not do the thing which we most want/need to do with our lives… And then the possum shows up and suddenly our mission is more clear than it’s ever been before. You box it, you drag it outside. You let it go.

And after wondering if this one was REALLY dead (Alicia pointed out that it was breathing too), possum #4 scurried off into the night about ten minutes later. I hope it’s alive and well.


6 comments on “A Tale of Four Possums… Or the End of Creative Procrastination

  1. I have two responses to that post:

    1. Um…wow….

    2. Um…ewwwww!

  2. I love the vicarious excitement I get to have through your life. And I’m so glad it’s your life.

  3. I. too, have recently stopped procrastinating on a project that has been incubating for over 2 years. It did not require the arrival of something almost dead. Nor dead-dead for that matter, which for me as you know, is the currency of my profession.

    No, it only required a self-inflicted, utterly STUPID stab wound to my left index finger (with a side of hand surgery, please).

    Nice piece, anyways, Ben. Wait til you get to take care of YOUR DOG’S anal glands. Joy.

  4. @Ben- Hey! Great post! For comment reply or next post, please share the untold answers to Premiere. I’m starting to cut on it, and would appreciate building off your experience. Working with all formats on this project. Thanks! Hello @Brian! ISO 4 EVER!

  5. @ Anthony. Love the Fb photo you have. We are avid butterfly gardeners down here in Naples, and we have lots of photos of many species in all metamorphosis stages – including lots of swallowtails like the one on your Fb page.

    ISO ftw! Man – I was such a douchebag back then. I am officially 63% less douche-ey now.

    Yo Ben – it’s getting to be good back-porch weather down here now. Don’t forget your boy.


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