Deb Tawna finds her goldfish inspiring

We’ve been talking about mentors & inspirations this week, and I have to say, mine is a bit of a cold fish.


I acquired Shirley the goldfish four years ago as part of an employee benefit package I negotiated for a new job. (As a sidenote, the fact that my most significant compensation demand was a goldfish should tell you why I’m lucky to have a smart agent handling contract negotiations for my writing career).

When the economy tanked and I got laid off, I brought Shirley home and symbolically released her from her little glass bowl into the splashy fountain in the entryway of my home.

Bindi gets a drink and greets Shirley.

Like goldfish are wont to do when presented with larger surroundings, Shirley began to grow. And grow. And grow.

In four years, Shirley has gone from being a skinny little one-inch gray fish to a  fat, six-inch orange fish with a swishy tail.

You read that right – Shirley changed colors. I didn’t know goldfish did that, but apparently it’s quite common.

I can’t attribute the color change to my great goldfish caregiver skills. I’m ashamed to admit, there have been times I’ve forgotten to feed her. For most of one summer, I thought she was dead and didn’t bother to toss in any flakes at all.

But Shirley was alive and well (and hiding behind a plant, as it turned out).

She has continued to thrive despite my failure to clean the fountain more than once a year. She’s also adapted well to the fact that all other household pets consider the fountain their personal water dish. Instead of cowering in fear when cats and dogs come to drink, Shirley swims right up and plucks tasty bits of kibble residue off their faces.

None of the pets seem interested in devouring her, perhaps suspecting she’s toxically stupid and therefore not worth eating.

I admire Shirley for a lot of reasons. She’s adaptable. She’s resilient. She’s survived crappy conditions, owner neglect, and a hostile environment surrounded by potential animal kingdom enemies.

Matt the Cat with Shirley.

I’ve tried adding other goldfish thinking Shirley could use company. Without exception, I find the new fish floating belly-up within a few weeks.

But Shirley perseveres.

I can’t explain it, but I do know I’m inspired by it. I admire any creature that thrives despite less-than-ideal conditions. I feel fairly certain Shirley would still be alive if I lit my house on fire and doused the ashes with sulfuric acid.

Are there any animals in your life worthy of such admiration? Please share!

And if you come to visit, please don’t pet Shirley. She’s not a fan of physical affection.

18 Replies to “Deb Tawna finds her goldfish inspiring”

  1. At this point, does Shirley go from being a goldfish to being koi?

    And if so, can you just walk by her fountain every day and say, “Don’t play koi with me, Shirley.”

    Mainly because that would amuse me a lot.

    1. LOL, Elise! I have to confess, I don’t really know the difference between koi and goldfish except that koi are really, REALLY big (but that goldfish will also get really, REALLY big if you stick im in a big space). But I’ll have to start calling Shirley that just to make you happy.

  2. Got another fish story for you, but **warning**!! This gives a not so pretty insight into the twisted humor of my family.

    One of my brothers is a fisheries biologist. When he was a kid he LIVED fish. I remember seeing him standing in the lake at the cottage up to his armpits in the water holding his fishing pole. Wouldn’t be funny, except it was October (in northern Michigan) and he was in there with leather boots, jeans and flannel shirt. His concentration was that great….

    Anyway, as a teenager he got interested in piranhas. He got a great big sucker from a friend. This thing had teeth as big as a cat’s. It was dubbed “Ugly”.

    Ugly lived in an aquarium in my brother’s room for many years. He liked to wait until people were around, then he’d go to the surface and swim (noisily) around and scare folks. Ugly particularly loved to terrorize Mom. I swear, that fish could laugh. One time my brother bent down to pick something up off the floor and Ugly sailed out of the tank overhead. Because of the teeth, my brother just let him flop around gnawing on the carpet ’til Ugly passed out, then flipped him back in the tank. Ugly grew into a legend. Friends came to visit at feeding time (although you never knew how long those goldfish — sorry Tawna — might actually last, sometimes days, before they became lunch.

    Okay. So, as with all living creatures, Ugly eventually went to the big fishbowl in the sky.

    Except not. Ugly got deepfrozen. He has “lived” in a block of ice inside a ziploc bag in my brother’s freezer for decades. Seriously. My brother has grandkids.

    When my first (deceased) husband came to meet my family the first time many many years ago, my brother said, hey, ya wanna see my fish? to which my fiance said, yeah, sure, and stood up. Naw, said my brother, I’ll bring him to you. He came back with a bag of ice with a fish-shaped shadow in the center and stuck it in my fiance’s face. (I think my fiance had a moment of reconsideration about what he was getting into).´

    For a long time I thought Ugly had made his final trip to the big pond in the sky, as my folks had had a power outage which resulted in the stuff in the deepfreeze thawing out.

    But then I found out that Ugly had “survived”, since he was so far back in the freezer, and so deeply embedded in an ice block, that he was “rescued”.

    And survives on to this day. When I was there with my second husband not so long ago, Ugly was once again whipped out and put on display…

    I am not sure which of my brother’s four kids will inherit Ugly, but I am sure it’s in the will somewhere!

  3. I am impressed with Shirley’s persistence! I believe I shall borrow her as inspiration, since my pets have all gone on to their great rewards. (Well, except for my part-time cat. I hope. But she’s been scarce since our weather got sucky, so who knows?)

    1. Linda G, your part-time cat gets admiration points for her resourcefulness. Pretty impressive to have a big string of homes that feed her!


  4. We have a tiny stocking on our tree every year. It belonged to Cheech. Or maybe Chong. Our Goldfish when I was growing up. I don’t know how I came to be in possession of this fishy heirloom, but darn if I don’t think of that fish (whichever one it was) every Christmas. And it almost makes me want to smoke pot. But that kind of happens a lot lately – especially after now 10 snow days since January 1st. And I don’t really smoke pot. Yet.

    1. Larramiefg, hey…I think you’re onto something! Think it’s too late for me to call Sourcebooks and ask that they find a way to put Shirley on the book cover?


  5. I’m currently housesitting for my parents. Last time I housesat, the night before they left, one of the cats got out. We looked to no avail – put up posters all over the neighborhood.

    Two weeks later, the phone rang at 2 am. One of the neighbors had found him, matted and dirty and very, very thin. I took him to the vet – he was fine.

    I admired his resilience – until I read your story. Now I am disappointed that he did not change colors.

    1. Eleanor, thank you for my first laugh-out-loud moment of the day (literally — I just startled the cat). A cat who, it should be noted, also does not change colors.


  6. Inspiring story! How funny, I just posted about a fish too as a lesson in character motivation. My daughter was home for a month-long semester break from college when her roommate called and asked, “Um, do you have Beanie?” No, neither girl had Beanie the betta fish, so he was still sitting in his container in their dorm. A dorm that probably wouldn’t smell too great when they returned. But by some miracle, Beanie survived. Yes, he was still swimming in his bowl after his month of abandonment. It was quite inspiring, until he had the nerve to DIE just as he was rescued and given food. I would love to know why. There are many possibilities, I suppose, but I’m thinking Beanie was really passive-aggressive, clinging to life just long enough to gaze up at those who abandoned him and say, “Thanks for the food, bitches.”

    1. Lynn, that is hysterical! I’ve always had tons of fish in aquariums and bowls and fountains, nand the one thing I’ve learned is that they can survive a lot longer than we think they can without food!


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