The 1987 romantic comedy Moonstruck, about a thirty-seven-year-old Italian-American widow (Loretta Castorini) who falls in love with her fiancé’s estranged brother, is a cinematic gem, how it presents family life in all of its marvelous messiness and unwraps love’s loony sweetness. It’s one of my favorite films.
Loretta’s mother is Rose, played by Olympia Dukakis, and this woman has some of the best lines. She tells her husband who’s having an affair, “I just want you to know no matter what you do, you’re gonna die, just like everybody else.” And when Loretta admits she doesn’t love her fiancé, Rose doesn’t even blink, just says flat-out, “Good. When you love them they drive you crazy because they know they can.” To Perry, a professor who repeatedly dates and gets dumped by his students, Rose delivers this suggestion: “Don’t shit where you eat.”
I especially like that last bit of advice. Perry is in the bad habit of mixing business with pleasure, and his particular pleasure is foolish (at best!). When his relationship with a student/girlfriend sours, he still has to face her in the classroom. Rose’s warning makes Perry’s problem plain: he keeps creating a crapload of trouble where he “eats”—or works.
Eating and employment relate in that it’s work that lets a person pay the bills and put food on the table. With his unsavory lifestyle, Perry isn’t only making his work environment awkward and uncomfortable (not to mention—holy cripes—ethically unsound); he’s also jeopardizing his means of securing life’s basic necessities.
“Don’t shit where you eat” more broadly suggests a person shouldn’t endanger—or sully—the aspects of life that he or she considers precious, essential, or sacred. Who’d be stupid enough to do that? Um…a lot of people, unfortunately. Probably all of us, at one point or another. Lying to a spouse, overcharging a loyal customer, stealing from a relative, cheating on a good partner, making fun of a friend: all shitty behaviors, all ways to turn beautiful relationships ugly fast.
Sometimes I think about this phrase with regards to my work: writing.
What do I need to do to keep my vocation clean? What could trash the lovely landscape of my endeavor? What has the power to muddy the healthy well of creativity and poison inspiration’s pristine magic? What might jeopardize my passionate profession—my good fortune?
In short, what could make me feel shitty?
Well, I’ve got a few ideas. And I only have them because I’ve made mistakes. Spending too many hours on Twitter, reading books I don’t like (yes, I’m a must-finish-this-book kind of reader), visiting Goodreads or Amazon to find out how people feel about my publications: so many ways to kill my focus, squander my writing time, muck up my imagination, dampen my skills, undermine my confidence, and inflate my ego.
Shit, shit, shit.
Unleaving, my YA contemporary novel, comes out on March 26, 2019. Of course, I hope people read it and love it. Of course, I hope it reaches—touches—readers. But whatever happens: I have no say. No influence. My part’s done.
All I can do is move on.
In one scene of Moonstruck, Perry the professor joins Rose on her walk home from a restaurant and flirts with her along the way. He hints that a fling could be fun for them. But when they reach her brownstone and he asks about heading inside with her, though she admits, “the house is empty,” she tells him, “I can’t invite you in because I’m married. Because I know who I am.”
I know who I am.
Her conviction is admirable. I’m going to try to emulate Rose when my second novel comes out and remind myself, You’re not a professional tweeter, Melissa, or an own-name-Googler or a review-reader or a self-flagellator. You sure as hell don’t want to turn into an egomaniac. You’re gonna die, just like everybody else. Get over yourself. Now go write another book.