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Find your rat people

opinion  Paul Jarvis · May 19, 2014

This post was originally published on my now-defunct personal site. It’s been republished here on Fathom as the ideas found within it have informed and inspired our approach to business, privacy and philosophy.

When most people think about rats, they shudder in revulsion. Rats are often associated with thoughts like: dirty, skin crawly, Halloween decorations, unwanted house guests or even laboratory subjects.

“Eww!” is probably the most common reaction for the majority of the population - let’s call it 99%, because the actual percentage doesn’t matter here.

The other 1% are the people that love rats and even have them as pets. They’re the ones that share cuddly photos of their rats on Instagram or exchange nutrition and medical advice on rat message boards (there are over a dozen thriving boards for pet rats, none of which the 99% have ever heard of). They’re the ones that treat rats with compassion and care.

I have had rats that I treat like family (9 total, although they've all passed on now). I would have done anything for them.

Ohna’ (which means “skin” in Mohawk) was a wrinkly little hairless rat with a saucy disposition. She was more interested in sitting as close to you as possible without actually touching.

Ohna’s sister, Awe:ri (which means “heart” in Mohawk, because she’s got a heart-shaped patch of fur on her back) was the opposite in personality. She was a rough and tumble tomboy rat who enjoyed a good cuddle session and even squealed in delight when her belly was tickled.

They mostly sat on my lap while I worked at my computer all day (Awe:ri was sitting on me as I write this. Ohna was climbing up my leg to join her).

I’ve used them in my branding (the pink rat at the top of this site has been my logo forever). I’ve dedicated books to them and am one of those rat people that posted photos of them doing funny or cute things online. Ohna’s even got a dedication and illustration that looks like Jabba the Hut in my one of my books (no one can resist her rolls of skin).

And I’ve got flack for my pet rats, too. People called them gross and called me disgusting for having them. We have friends that would’t come into the same room as them. And I’ve often been told what a bad idea it is to use a rat in my branding.

There are even some veterinarians that won’t bother treating rats.

We took Ohna’ into an emergency clinic because her breathing went downhill when she was a year old, and the vet said there was nothing she could do (after giving us a $200 bill)—and we now know that what she was suffering from was a very common, very treatable condition.

Some vets are part of that 99%, either by specializing with their practice or just not caring about “exotics” as much. But, once we found a vet clinic that would treat rats, we got the right medication and figured out a treatment plan. All the vet techs and reception staff there fawned over her like she’s a celebrity. They treated her like she was our family. Because she was.

I realized early on that there’s no reason to listen to those people that loudly hate on rats at me. Those people can unfollow me on social media or choose to buy my products.

They’re not going to change my mind about rats and I’m not going to change theirs by arguing with them (I have changed the minds of a few folks about rats, simply by showing them how awesome rats really are).

If you don’t feel the same way as I do about rats, that’s cool. We are all passionate and interested in different things.

But for those people that actually call me out or sling insults at me for the type of animal I spend my time with, those are the people I give zero craps about.

One of the reasons I love rats so much is because most people hate them. They’re the underdogs, the Panchamas, the “little guys” (literally). They're tortured and tested on, and generally regarded as exterminatable vermin. Too many people dismiss rats without knowing how smart, affectionate and loyal they are.

This has created a semi-secret club of “rat people”. We support and help each other. There are special handshakes, but obviously I can’t tell you about them if you aren’t already a member.

Bringing this back around (in the most obtuse way) to you, the reader, and your creative work:

You need to find your rat people

Not literally “rat people”, unless rats really are your thing as well. I’m talking about the people that get what you do, appreciate it, and love you for it. Everyone else? You can safely ignore.

The ones who think your work is useless or worse, disgusting, don’t truly matter at all to what you do. Their dissension should fall on deaf ears because they’d never support you, pay you, or join your secret club. When you give up trying to please everyone your work becomes much more focused and valuable to the people that matter.

My was full of my rat people. My customers and the people that pay attention to what I do are my rat people. The folks I connect with on social media and become friends with, even though we may be thousands of miles apart, are my rat people.

For your creativity to support you, you need to find your rat people.

These are the people who should get your attention. These are the people you should listen to, cater to and serve with your work.

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Paul Jarvis

Paul Jarvis, author + designer

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