A Country X update

Today, we have another religious festival. We don’t get a day off for it though. This year, it fell on a Sunday, but in other years when it fell on a weekday, the school still didn’t give one. I don’t really know why this is. Maybe you can only declare so many holidays, and our principal is a bit severe and maybe not the holiday-declaring type. So this holiday does not mean any extra time for thinking about anything or trying to do anything about parts.

But there are various bits I should update you on.

First, I had a visitor to lunch today. This is the first adult I’ve invited home—although a few students came last weekend for tuitions and the neighbor kids came over some time ago, curious about my house and my stuff. My colleague got a migraine and I burned the curry, so I wouldn’t say it was a great success, but perhaps it’s progress towards a social life. It’s easy not to have one here—somehow easier than back in the States. And that probably isn’t such a good thing.

Then I blocked up the kitchen sink and broke the tubing that leads to the drain in the course of trying to unblock it. I think it is more or less fixed now. It is definitely unblocked. So I have a functional kitchen sink again.

I have a mouse or at least I used to. Last Sunday, it ran around the kitchen and then into the livingroom, where it disappeared. I have not seen it since, but maybe it’s just become more sly.

I also had a cat visitor last week. At 5:30 in the morning, an orange kitten came yowling at the door. Curious, I opened the door and it ran in, looked around, and went to sleep on my bed until I kicked it out before leaving for school. I have not seen the cat since either. Maybe it is somewhere running after the MIA mouse. But it was nice to have a cat around again for a little while. I should probably tell you the cats look different here. They are not usually either striped or splotchy (although there are some splotchy cats), but an almost solid color somewhat like a puma. They are mostly tan or gray. My visitor was orange.

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Another Not-a-Cat Post

It also means you sometimes put up with people taking stupid-looking pictures of you.
It also means you sometimes put up with people taking stupid-looking pictures of you.

I may or may not have mentioned this, but my cat is 17. She’s in remarkably good health, but she’s old. She’s got some of the same problems she’s had since she was a young cat plus some new ones. (As I will have also when I get to that age.)

She had an accident when she was young that involved falling off a roof. I know cats are supposed to survive falling just fine, but it turns out a lot depends on what you land on.

I’ll spare you the details, but the poor thing has had fecal incontinence and mild constipation for the last 11 years at least. (It turns out this is mostly a good combination.) It’s a little like living with a deer.

And now that she’s 17, she’s developing a tiny, tiny hint of bladder incontinence. If I had no sense of smell, I wouldn’t notice this. Unfortunately, I do.

Luckily, she's very small. And there's usually only one of these at a time.
Luckily, she’s very small. And there’s usually only one of these at a time.

Consequently, the bed is swathed in an easy-to-wash polar fleece throw.

There are some other annoying things she’s too creaky and arthritic to do anymore. For example, she has overcome her obsession with water, and I can now for the first time in more than a decade leave a water glass anywhere in the house that I feel like.

The knick-knacks on the upper shelves are safe as well.

My cat, in other words, is really, really cute. And a bit like living with a deer.

I love her to pieces.

She is not, however, anyone’s idea of a trophy cat.

I’m not a trophy person either. Although, so far, I seem to be able to stay away from the top shelves, and restrain myself from knocking over vases just to see where the water will go,

But I do have my issues. Some of them make me hard to live with, even for myself. (Luckily, none of them involve washing the sheets more often.) But they aren’t by any means all charming.

Miss America has her flaws too.
Miss America has her flaws too.

Just like the cat. And like the cat, I don’t really adore everything about myself. If you lined me up next to a bunch of other people, some of them might have fewer issues than me, some of them might be more beautiful or more socially adept. Some of them will probably know how to dance or how to play sports well. Some of them might be doing more to benefit our world. If you had to spend 24 hours a day with someone, it’s possible there might be better choices than myself.

But there’s this thing called unconditional love. If you practice it enough, you might learn how to do it. You might even figure out how to give it to yourself.

Unconditional loves means you might get annoyed sometimes. You might get frustrated. You might even get really, really angry. But day in and day out, you continue to care and to take care. You continue to think that in the larger scheme of things, this whole business might be worth doing. And you keep doing it.

Maine Woods: Pure Nostalgia

She never does those eyes for the camera.
She never does those eyes for the camera.

This is a cat post. I’m sorry to those of you who hate the cat posts. But it’s just that kind of day.

I’m feeling nostalgic this morning. Packing will do that to you.

My cat doesn’t like new things. She doesn’t like new people, new sounds, new animals, or new places. She adjusts to them, but she doesn’t like them when they are still new. She’s like one of those kids who loves to swim, but never wants to go in the water–she always thinks it will be too cold. But if you throw her in, she’s happy as a clam the rest of the afternoon.

Which is why, after more than a decade of never putting a paw outside except to visit the vet, my cat is afraid of the outdoors. She is actually afraid of the hallway of my apartment building. Standing in the doorway with the door open is deeply distasteful to her. She’d rather run away.

That's not my studio, but it looked pretty much like that.
That’s not my studio, but it looked pretty much like that.

But I used to carry her up the hill every day on my shoulder from the cabin where I stayed to my studio across the road where I painted. This was in Maine. I spent a couple of summers there–in Skowhegan, in the middle part of the state–maintaining the library for an artist’s residency. It was a part-time gig, and I had a shared studio. So in the afternoons, I took the cat up the hill with me and I painted, while she stalked mice.

Before dinner, I took the cat down again, still on my shoulder, and went for a swim in the ice-cold lake that made my hands turn blue and numb. And she went on stalking mice.

Coming home to the cabin in the evenings was sometimes a messy business. I remember the day she brought home four little rodents–a mouse and three baby moles, with their big, pufffy paws. All headless, blood oozing out. My cat is small, but she’s a vicious hunter. It’s only been in the last few years that flies have survived in my home for more than a few hours. Now, she just watches them. It’s a shame. All that instinct and biology gone to waste from arthritis and just fatigue, I suppose.

roadThe walk up the hill and down again was always invigoratingly risky–sharp claws. Because, like I said, she doesn’t like new things, or new people, and she does not like cars. So all would be well so long as we didn’t see anyone. She was used to the woods and the walk. That was fine. But if someone happened to drive past at the same time–well, think of those headless moles and my shoulders. Same claws. Sharp little devils.

The worst were the people who wanted to come and talk to us. She is cute, my cat, I’ll give you that. She has these enormous, beseeching eyes, and what’s funny about this is that they go away when she’s not feeling well. They aren’t just like that. Anyway, if we ran into someone and they liked cats, “Oh, she’s so cute,” they’d say, and come closer. And my cat would make a dive for it. Off my shoulders.

I heal well though. No scars.

Don’t Read This

There is a reason cats have been on my mind lately, and it’s not just that my cat has been unwell, or that I’m in that horrible position of knowing I will need to leave and not take her with me. Or even that in the larger picture I know she’s dying–just rather slowly. I’m not sure how slowly.

No, it isn’t only that. And it seems to me it’s time to deal with it.

I know I’ve made little stabs at it here and there. But not enough to make much difference. Not enough to cut this monster off at the neck. Just enough to annoy it.

Because otherwise it is going to affect every portion of my life. You know, the way trauma does.

I killed a kitten when I was about four. My dad told me to strangle it, and so I did. I think that is the worst thing he ever did to me. Except maybe the other time, when I was about eight. Maybe six. And he poked a cat’s eyes out in front of me.  Or maybe I did. I can’t remember it very clearly.

The thing is I know I did the wrong thing in those situations. I did the best I could, but I did the wrong thing.

I was distressed. I think I cried.

The right thing would have been to look and act like I didn’t care. That would have taken the fun out of it for him. He might have stopped then. Or he might have stopped with the first incident, and never gone on to the second.

I was tiny, and I felt all of this responsibility for the welfare of another creature. And that is what has remained with me.

Another Post That is Not About Cats

Today did not start off well.

The cat used the litter box 7 times in two hours, which clearly can’t be a good thing. Also, she seems to have made friends with a small alien and left it in there.

The alien.
The alien.

The gray gunk on top is cat litter. I am keeping the alien in the fridge for the vet to examine and possibly send off to the FBI for further analysis. No, today is not a good day to drop by for a snack. Or dinner. Or any other meal that might involve taking things out of the fridge and giving them to you. Even if the alien is in a plastic bag. You won’t want anything else in there either.

So I am not in a good mood.

It is not just that I don’t want my cat to be harboring small aliens. And not just that I am not in the mood to take her to the vet–and neither is she. It’s also that then they will give me yucky medicine that she won’t want to take and will probably have some kind of unpleasant side effect that will make her feel even worse. And I will come to think that I am ruining the last few weeks of her life.

In other words, I don’t want her to be sick because I don’t want to feel guilty. Yes, I am in therapy. No, it’s not to work on my relationship with my cat. Perhaps it should be.

Nonetheless, I intend to persevere with a post.

Which, as it turns out, will not be about cats or aliens, but about bullies. I’m on a roll.

The reason a belief that the world is made up of winners and losers is so important is that usually, along with that, is a belief that it is acceptable to treat losers differently than winners. It is, in fact, acceptable to treat them badly. They are, after all, losers. Who cares about them?

On the one hand, those beliefs, taken together, cause some people feel entitled to harass others just for being who they are. And it causes others to tolerate poor treatment because they think they deserve it.

It isn’t low self-esteem alone that puts us in the line of fire. It is the belief that it is acceptable to treat some people with less respect, courtesy, or kindness just because of who they are. Because they are annoying, or overweight, unfashionably dressed, emotional, overweight, disorganized, have bad breath or bad hair. Or because you just don’t like them.

Actually, it shouldn’t matter.

Although as a species we seem to still be of two minds about this, for the most part we do not punish people for who they are. We punish them for what they have done.

We do not punish bad people. We punish people for doing bad things. And everyone, absolutely everyone, has the right to courteous, humane, respectful treatment no matter who they are or what they have done.

Everyone has value. It’s pretty simple.

A Post that Seems Like It’s Going to Be about Cats, But Isn’t.

It’s really not fair.

imagejpeg_6 - Copy

Old age has made her weirdly docile. You’ll see there’s a stuffed elephant there also. That’s because I tried the elephant first.

In fact, the fire alarm went off twice in my building–they’re doing some work and messed about with the wrong wires, I guess. Anyway, it was screeching away. I didn’t know if it was a “real” alarm or not; the guy who used to put things on the stove and then wander off to sleep or shower or have sex seems to have moved out, and they hadn’t warned us about testing anything today, so it might have been.

So I picked her up, covered her ears with one hand, and set about putting on my shoes with the other. That’s when the alarm went silent.

But in earlier days, she would have been under the bed in a heartbeat. With a loud noise screaming in her ears, she would have clawed her way right around my neck and down the other side of me.

It’s totally unfair of me to see what stuffed animals she’ll let me put on her back.

But I don’t feel bad. I’ll tell you why. And I told this to a friend of mine yesterday after lunch, after her cat hissed at me and fiercely batted my hand with her right paw. My cat hisses at me every day. Sometimes, several times a day.

I know exactly when she’s in pain or even just irritated, because she tells me. And if don’t stop–because, for example, I’m trying to get that nasty hangover-like feeling to go away with a little syringed food and water–she bites me. Not hard. Just enough to let me know I should cut it out. And if I still keep at it, like I did when injecting subcutaneous fluids seemed like a good idea, then she starts seeing about how to remove one or both of my hands.

Which is why we have that deal about needles. I won’t stab them in her neck, and she’ll let me keep all my digits and limbs.

In other words, my cat sets boundaries. She tells me clearly and in no uncertain terms what is not okay. She tells me when she thinks I’m causing her pain as well as when she’s deeply annoyed. And that means I know when she isn’t.

That is the foundation for trust between us. That is what boundaries do.

I’ve heard boundaries explained as knowing the difference between ourselves and others, and I suppose that’s one way of looking at it. But it doesn’t work for me. I am pretty sure my cat knows the difference between us, but I also thinks she’s not smart enough or social enough to have a self-image that might be separate than mine.

Cats following the "my dish, my food" rule.
Cats following the “my dish, my food” rule.

I do think she understands rights. Because part of being a cat is sometimes negotiating one’s rights with other cats–when there are other cats around. Whether you have the right to eat from all  of the cat dishes, or just your own. Whether you have a right to sleep in the favored spot in the sun. Cats work that kind of thing out. No, they might agree. Someone else can only eat out of my dish when I’m finished with it. Or, they might agree that alpha cat can eat out of whatever dish she damn well pleases, whenever she feels like it. It depends on the cats.

But rights are rules we agree on. Sometimes they are fair and reciprocal, and sometimes they are not. But they have to do with with our security, our well-being and our comfort.

I’ve taken my cue from my cat. For one, you don’t need to jump all the way to drawing blood if someone challenges your boundaries. Try hissing first. Use your words.

Months back, I was sitting on the bus next to a young man who had that familiar problem with his knees. You know, that difficulty young men seem to have in keeping their knees anywhere within 3 feet of each other. He was all up in my space.

Irritating. And I didn’t have brothers, so I’m not all that great at dealing with it. I have a tendency to assume that someone who violates normal social boundaries (like you don’t touch people on the bus if you can help) does so because they don’t care. Which is sometimes the case. But sometimes people are distracted, or just a bit stupid. You know, like me thinking it was a good idea to put stuffed animals on my cat’s back.

And I asked him, “Would you move your knee please?”

“Sorry,” he said. And did. Just like I would have taken the elephant off the cat’s back if she’d hissed at me. I was a person just being a bit stupid, but not malicious.

And I wonder if that’s part of why it’s so difficult for abuse survivors to trust. Our rights have been violated so often and so profoundly, that we don’t know how to stand up for those rights. We don’t know what they are or what we would want them to be. We don’t expect to be allowed to assert them if we knew.

And when we have set boundaries, no one listened. If we started at the hiss, we had no choice but to move onto biting, and then to drawing blood. Often enough that maybe now we start with drawing blood. With an end result that then we both are hurt afterwards.

Why I have so many stuffed animals is a different story...
Why I have so many stuffed animals is a different story…

That process of developing trust doesn’t have a chance. There is never that moment when someone we are starting to care about violates our boundaries and we tell that person to stop, thereby getting to see that he will stop. And this person we are beginning to care about never gets a chance to see that we will tell him when to stop before he’s really hurt us.

You end up with one person who feels continually trampled, and another who is a bundle of nerves wondering when he is going to put a foot wrong. That isn’t trust.

That’s an attempt at mind-reading, and regardless of our amazing capacity to transmit emotions just like looking at each other, we just aren’t that good.

I owe a lot to this cat.

Fool the Cat

This is evidently the species that has moved in and taken off. (So to speak.)
This is evidently the species that has moved in and taken off. (So to speak.)

I have been playing recorded bird calls this morning, mainly because I had no idea we had more than one species of sparrow in this region. I had assumed that all of the native species had been over-run with House Sparrows. Not so, as the birding walk I went on over the weekend claimed we could see up to four if we kept our eyes peeled.

I have no idea if we did or not because, frankly, I am just not really any good at birding. But I am completely fascinated. Now, I want to see all four.

They are just sparrows, but I live in a major city. If we hadn’t been colonized by exotic parakeets, I don’t think we would have birds at all. Except pigeons. Pigeons are everywhere. Pigeons are inescapable.

A fact made painfully clear by Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge.

Same birds. Other side of the world. There is something actually a little bit wrong with that. Nonetheless, this brings me to the point of today’s post.

Click the image to be directed to a webpage where you can listen to the Spotted Towhee's call. Photo credit: Steve Ting.
Click the image to be directed to a webpage where you can listen to the Spotted Towhee’s call. Photo credit: Steve Ting.

The cat, who displays no interest in recordings of cats and dogs whatsoever, is completely taken in by recordings of bird calls.  She looked out the window first, since that seemed logical, and then later at the speakers. I’m afraid by now she may have sorted out that there are no birds in the house. But I am not sure. If you have cats, it is a really spectacularly fun game. Fool the cat.

You should try it.

That said, I must add I am not suggesting this out of a cruel desire to tease my cat. However, having spent a lot of time in zoos over the years (because I’m weird like that), I am quite convinced that keeping our minds busy makes us live longer and better lives. That goes for cats too.

Oh, and she seems to be entertained by this as well.