So Long, and Thanks for All the Purrs

kinoko

Warning: Maudlin post ahead.

Back in January, I was having my brother and sister-in-law over for dinner, when C. noticed that Kinoko was dragging her paw.  The toes were curled under as though she was auditioning for “The Walking Dead: Cat Edition.”  I hadn’t even noticed–her gait was still pretty typical and she didn’t seem fazed by it.  But I made an appointment to the vet and then googled the hell out of it.  Was it diabetes-induced neuropathy?  Was it arthritis?  Cancer?  And what was I going to do about it?

I have pretty strong views on life and death, about how death is not necessarily the worst thing ever.  In a sense, it’s easier with a pet–after all, you can pay a vet to put an animal down if a lot of suffering is involved, and theoretically, it’s okay to do this.  I had thought I would be pretty pragmatic about it–with an old animal, don’t you have to be?

But we were able to treat her somewhat and she got better for awhile.  She enjoyed having wet food with prednisone-infused tuna oil (it was advanced arthritis).  And though I wasn’t going to spend a lot of money on end-of-life care, I did get x-rays after a month, because she seemed to be getting better.  I told the girls that she wasn’t going to make it to 2017, so in her end days, we should spoil her.

And then, about two weeks ago, it stopped mattering how much we spoiled her.  She’d pick at her fancy food, be unable to jump up to the laps she used to love, and ignore the open screen doors with their fresh air.  Yesterday, I heard her vomit in the litterbox–something that she never used to do, but is doing now–and watched her drag her lifeless back leg and herself into her box.  She doesn’t come out much now.  She doesn’t even meow much.  It was subtle because it was a slow regression, but when I started counting all the ways she is different now, I realized that it’s time.

That’s the sucky part about adulting.  I could just wait a few months for her to pass on her own, and let my own sadness stop me from making that appointment.  I could spend a bunch of money on a few more months, but that would be to make me feel better, not her. And though I feel a bit weird about paying someone to kill my cat for me, it’s up to me to do the responsible thing.  Because. . . what would her life have been like in the wild?  At 16, she’d already be dead, and probably in a messy way.

What I wasn’t expecting though was the emotional ride.  I knew back in January that we were in her end times.  I thought I would be ready.  I mentally practised.  But I find myself just crying.  Not constantly, but erratically, which makes it harder to predict.  I’d be fine for a few hours and then would break down.  I felt–well, I still feel–a little embarrassed.  K. came over yesterday and found myself not wanting to break down in front of my boyfriend–even though I’m pretty sure that’s what boyfriends are for sometimes.  All I wanted to do was just be alone.  So that if I wanted to burst into tears I could just do that, no imaginary judgment.  Because I know there’s no judgment but mine.

In the end, I took the day off and made the arrangements.  I’ve been spending this beautiful day either smiling at the chirping birds on my balcony (I’m a sucker for birds and their quantum movements–they’re just so darn cute!) and then crying over Kinoko.  Who sleeps in her box, unaware.  But when she slowly, slooowwwly drags her leg over the tiles to sniff her water and return back the box–I know it’s okay to let her go.

So this is my ode to old kitty Kinoko, who gave us a lot of years.  Her eyes are all atrophied crystalline fibers now, and she has the feline profile of a crotchety Bast.   In her youth, she had a mean volleyball spike that would bring down any bat that managed to make it into the living room.  She could jump 5 feet up in a vertical line.  Once she brought us a live garden snake, and once a live bird.  (Both survived to live another day).  She liked to meow-a lot.  A lot a lot.  If you stood between the kitchen table and the refrigerator, she would jump on unsuspecting people to launch herself on top of the fridge.  In the winter, she liked to cuddle in my armpit or between my legs.  She loved it when I took a shower so she could jump on my towel-clad shoulders and suck water out of my wet hair.

But my favorite story is the one where she got stuck in the goddamn ceiling.  Imagine, if you will, a refrigerator next to the doorway to the garage.  Above the garage is a storage cubby, high enough that even a tall person such as myself can barely reach.  Kinoko loved high places, so sometimes I would stand on my tippy toes to open up the cubby doors and let her jump up there.  But once, instead of sitting at the edge and crowing loudly (can a cat crow?  I’m going to say yes), she seemed unusually interested in the cubby.  So much so that I got off my lazy ass and pulled a chair over to see what was going on.

Up in the cubby, behind the 10 quart lobster pot, was half a cat.  See, cats are built in such a way that if their head can fit in a space, the rest of them can too.  Kind of a like a snake, when you think about it.   Her head and her shoulders and her front legs had disappeared into a hole that led into the ceiling above the kitchen.  And as I look in shocked, the rest of her disappeared as well.

Let me tell you, it’s strange to have a cat stuck in the ceiling.  I felt a bit like I was calling to Carol Anne in Poltergeist, “Run to the light, baby, run to the light!”  Except it was more like “Kinoko!” “[from the southwest corner] Meow!” “Kinoko!!” “[from the southeast corner] Meow! ” “KINOKO!” “[from the northwest corner] Meeooowwwr!”  (Sadly, there was no green portal from another dimension.)

And just when I was going to get an ax to chop up the ceiling, she deigned to squeeze back into the cubby storage space.  After which, we boarded up the hole so no cat could get stuck ever again in the kitchen ceiling.  Never underestimate the shenigans a cat can get into.

So, goodbye Kinoko.  You were sweet.  Also, somewhat bitchy.  But I loved you.  I’m glad I could provide a good home for you.  Thanks for adding to my life.

 

 

 

 

 

Of That Which is Other

The interesting thing about dating a folklorist is that you get to borrow weird books from various academic presses.  We’re rather complementary – I like to read about possible futures and he likes discovering hidden things about the past.  Right now, I am reading Dark Shamans: Kanaima and the Poetics of Violent Death from his collection.  Roughly, it’s about cannibalism, but that word has its own connotations which are not always accurate or relevant.  Really, it’s about power, and what people will do to bend the world to their will, and their beliefs about how to achieve that.

The ritual itself is pretty much one of the worst ways to die–if you want to read the citation you can read it here, third paragraph,–but reading on, I had a couple of thoughts.  One is about switching the nature of things, and the power inherent in that.  The text talks about how in a typical person, the mouth is “incontinent” and the anus is continent–but this form of torturous death keeps the person from being able to speak, forcing continence, and unable to control their bowels, forcing incontinence.  And then the person dies from dehydration from horrible diarrhea–before being tasted to consume their force of life.

But the harder part to read was that this was a death that was inflicted on men, but now victims are often teenage girls or children because they aren’t able to defend themselves –they don’t typically have guns.  So, of course, the question becomes how could anyone do this to a person, especially a child?  It’s abhorrent and awful. (It should be noted that some of this information cited in the book came from a woman known as “Nurse”, who put her own life in jeopardy to shed light on this practice.  An act of courage, to be sure.)

The simple answer is that defining someone, or something, as “other” means that it is easier to hurt, or to kill, and to inflict prolonged death.  Even the Kanaima, the shamans themselves, will talk about their victims as animals.  But the type of “animal” influences the power gained by sacrificing one’s humanity in order to do such a thing in the first place.  It reflects the Western idea of selling one’s soul to the devil, except it’s more of selling a piece of one’s soul for power–feeding one’s devils, not The Devil.

In fact, we feel this power hierarchy even in our prison system – kill a child, and you are sick.  Killing a man is not the same.  Is it because of innocence and the loss of potentiality?  But when you look at serial killers, there is a complete lack of empathy.  Victims are “other,” the killing act is one of power, pleasure, and control over one’s environment, and power to disobey human laws.  It is an ultimate FU to society.

And of course, you can take it farther.  The inability to empathize with other humans makes it easier to wage wars and to segregate.  The inability to empathize with animals makes it easy to eat meat.  In Western culture, the idea of eating dogs, cats, or horses is an ugly one–we anthropomorphize and empathize too much with those animals.  Monkeys and apes are taboo, again, because they are too much like us.  And for people transitioning away from meat, there is definitely a hierarchy.  Red meat and pigs are worse than chickens which are worse than fish and shellfish.  The further away something is from human in the animal kingdom, the harder it is to understand.  The harder it is to care.

Which means that it will be really interesting to see how current AI work pans out.  We are just starting to understand that the first aliens we may ever meet are one that may spring into existence here on Earth.  We are so used to thinking of ourselves as individuals, that our bag of skin is a demarcation of what constitutes the individual, but with connected internet and new AI work, those ideas could be seriously questioned.  Many philosophical questions come down to “Who am I?”  We can analyze a brain, but the mind is still just an idea we create.  A construction held aloft by synapses, but we still don’t really know.  We are still creatures of ape habits.

As robots become more like us, our ideas of “other” will change.  Perhaps the Buddhist ideals of nirvana are inextricably linked to robotic AI.  Perhaps, in a parallel to Babylon 5, the idea of human souls reincarnated into a different form will surface as philosophical questions of how uploaded memories could constitute a true human existence.  And perhaps, veganism will finally get wide appeal as people chose to protect biological life over mechanical life and extend their circle of empathy.

But the fact will remain that while we are bound in mortal life, we will see things through a biological filter.  There may be intelligent life on other planets, but we can only see what we have receptors for.  Technology may change the world we live in, but we, ourselves, are not much different from our ancestors thousands of years ago.  I think it will be fascinating, frankly.  I’m kind of excited to see what happens.  It’s a new frontier.

Of Rust Cohle and Njall’s Saga

Gunnard

I recently finished watching the first season of True Detective.  Wow, what a great show.  I really enjoyed it.  I like the murder mystery aspect, but also the relationship between the two detectives.  The character of Rust Cohle was the perfect epitome of Chaotic Neutral–or of the King’s Fool.    He was calculating and smart.  He had been good once, but in fighting evil, he had sacrificed part of his humanity.  He was willing to play the part of the bad guy in order to achieve his objectives–objectives for the greater good.

Often, that’s the way it goes.  There is good and evil in the world, and some of each in all of us, but the ratio varies.  I am grateful to live in an island of light, where my children are not exposed to violence or cruelty.  I wish that was the way of all children, but sadly it is not.   And because it isn’t, there are people that take on evil to spare others not just of evil acts, but also of losing some of their humanity in the process.  But those that live on the border between both often have the most power to sway the balance.

In True Detective, there is a saying, “Time is a flat circle.”  That similar events have occurred and will always occur.  That in our four-dimensional lives, if you understand not just the space component, but also the time component, you would see patterns, the patterns that rule us and bind us all.

I am not quite so pessimistic.  I believe in a slow outward spiral, personally.  I think things are getting better, that humanity is improving, even if in a jagged and stilted manner.  That we are like a toddler learning to walk, but taking a step backwards in other areas–because a large improvement in one area means a small step backwards in another.  It is the pattern of the stock market, you cannot get obsessed with small time progress, you have to look at the big picture.

However, understanding the big picture means knowing who we are and who we’ve been.  How can we avoid the sins of the past if have no insight into our true nature?

I was reading this article about “Ask a Jihadi,” about an ISIS fighter.  What they’re doing is horrible, and yet it useful to understand why.  And perhaps it is harder to understand, because I for one, have not grown up in a war zone.  My childhood involved no bombs or war, so I feel unequipped to understand all of the threads of this.  But as the human race proceeds, we have to decide which road to take–that of vengeance or that of justice.

A truly just society feels uncomfortable, more than what you would think. Justice is not about the individual, but what is good and rational for society for a whole.  That is why in response to a murder, capital punishment is not always the answer.  It may fulfill individual justice, “an eye for an eye,” and all that; but it neglects the price paid by society to lower ourselves to that level.  Every life taken takes also a piece of our soul.  That is why you have iconoclasts like Jesus saying, “Turn the other cheek.” It is only by removing ourselves from the emotion of it all that we can change the future.

We have seen the past.  Just look at Njall’s Saga from a thousand years ago.  It’s widely seen to be historical in nature, but, of course, those who write history also get to define it.  One of the main themes is that of violence masquerading as justice, every victory demanding a price of money and blood.  This is our true animal nature, one that cannot see the long-term consequences, only satiating what we feel in the here and now.

But our potential lies in the boundary of reason and emotion.  Our strengths are our tools–we make machines be stronger than us, and computers to memorize data.  Wisdom, though, is all our own.  Knowing how to make tools, how to interpret data, how to feel our emotions without being ruled by them.  We have the potentiality of greatness if we can navigate all of this.  Otherwise, we’ll simply doom ourselves.

Of Dreams and Fantasies

johnalden

I have recently been watching Salem on Netflix, due to a recommendation.  I’ve really been enjoying it.  It’s definitely not historical – it deals with an alternate history where there really were old-school witches and not just mass hysteria – but I love the sets, the light horror, and the men.  The hot men.  The character who plays John Alden, Shane West, omg.  The longer hair, the beard, the dark rasp of a voice; oh yes, it takes me back to my vulnerable teenage years.  Just to see him walk with that furrowed brow and those dark, purposeful eyes–well, mind if I don’t get the vapors.

It can be fun to get lost in fantasies.  For women, there are many classic ones; the rape fantasy (which is really about giving into dark desires without being responsible for your libido and without the trauma of real rape); the fantasy of the guy who’s pined and waited for you for years;  and the fantasy of the man who’s mostly wolf but only tamed by the right woman.  The man who is always in control but only loses it to you because he cannot control his desires–the facade of civilization crumbles away, and you know, dear god, it is me that rouses him so, it is I that has that kind of sexual power.  It is why romance novels are very explicit about their description of the man (so that you can choose what you like) and the description of the woman is purposefully vague (so that you can insert yourself easily into a fantasy).

But all fantasies grow tired and old in the end.  How many of us are a 10?  By definition, we are all mostly average.  I came from a different perspective so I am very grateful for where I’m at.  I grew up thinking of myself as Mary from The Secret Garden or Jane Eyre.  Wanting to be wanted and wanting to be seen.  When I was younger, I was also afraid of censure, but the nice thing about not being in my 20’s anymore is that I’m more afraid of not being heard.

The funny thing about when you end a long term relationship, such as ending up divorced, is that you go back to who you were 10, 15, 20 years ago, and try to see how that fits.  I thought a lot of it would no longer fit.  In fact, after my divorce, I vowed to date someone totally different from the kind of man I dated at 22.  And I did. . .for awhile.  I had some great sexual fantasies come to life.  In those moments, I was ecstatic.  I am different now, I would think, I have learned from my mistakes.

But sometimes our 16-year-old self knows us in ways that we don’t want to admit.  At 16, l had just read Stephen Hawking’s “A Brief History of Time.”  I loved it.  It broke open my mind and I was in love with feeling the perimeters of things I didn’t know.  I wanted to be an astrophysicist, but I wasn’t as smart as half the people in my class.  What could I even contribute?  So I gave it up and went into Chemistry instead.

I also read tons of fantasy novels, all about beautiful exotic women and wild, yet logical men.  Mostly men with pointy ears and long, flowing hair, and then I would wake up to the reality –what could I possibly give a man?  Look at me, I am tall and gangly with big feet and a big nose and no boobs.  Wow.  I’m really going to win the American Beauty Pageant on this one.  But I did not realize how much control we have over our own reality.

What I wanted at 16 was a life that was full of interesting possibilities.  I wanted to unlock the secrets of the universe and I wanted to be desired.  And I figured it was useless to want either of those things because I knew so many beautiful and smart people, and it either arena, I was merely average.  Always average.

But most of us are in the same boat, and we all have the same problems.  We are flawed, but we want to be loved and respected regardless.  We are not a Nobel Prize winner, but we still want to feel smart.  We are not as hot as Hollywood, but we still want to know that we are sexually desirable. We want a life worth living, and if we are honest, worth envying.

The problem, of course, is that life is messy.  We focus too much on results and feelings.  There is a lot of life that is just slogging through annoyingness.  Life doesn’t owe us anything–not to be fun, or hot, or interesting.  We have to build that into our life by design.  We have to know that we are animals just reaching sentience–it is wonderful and horrible because we now we can see and interpret patterns beyond facts.  Each of our internal lives is different.

It is fun to read books, or to watch movies about interesting lives that our not our own.  But at the end, we each get our own reality, bounded by our beliefs.  We have to wake up into who we are, and make due with who we are.  But it is satisfying, and often surprising, what we can do with our own mundane lives if we just give it all we’ve got.  That the boundaries we give ourselves are mostly imaginary.  That we live in story-tale fables and give up on our own greatness when the only difference about who we are and who we want to be are our own blockages and glass walls.

 

Of Gratitude and Thanks

Magical forest

I have been musing lately on love, like, and sacrifice.  This time of year is one of my favorites – the grey skies, the sharpness in the air – but it is not yet the unending cold of winter.  It’s a time for watching sunsets and moonrises from within a warm house, grateful for the beauty of the skies without and home within.

I went and had Thanksgiving with my proxy parents.  They are really my brother’s in-laws, but then again, I consider my brother’s wife my sister, so it all works out.  I have family by blood and family by spirit, and both are important.  I try to spend my time with people I love, in whatever strength of love that happens to be.  I hear horror stories of people having to get together during holidays and faking intimacy and I feel grateful that there is little of that in my life.  The people in my life now are mostly there of my design, the result of my conscious yes or conscious no to spending time.  I don’t want my life to unspool one thread at a time in unconscious decisions.

But what is love?  What does it mean to love?  And I think it comes down to whatever you are willing to give for the person you love.  My girls, for example, I love them beyond all.  It is the curse and the grace to love children the way parents do.  In the beginning, I didn’t even know them, and yet even then, I would have died or killed for them.  My life or my humanity, the most I have to give anyone.  Luckily, I have not needed to give either.  Instead, I give my time, my patience, my silence when my brain is too annoyed to be nice, and my smiles and kisses when I cannot hold back on how much I adore them.

Taking that as the upper boundary though, everything else is a gradient.  I am graced and fortunate that I have good friends – friends I will gladly give my time and my effort.  I can say that I love them – not to the extent that I love my daughters, but it is still love to me.  It feeds itself, because I want to feel good about the person I am, and some of that is taking pride in making other people happy.  I want to make the people in my life happy.

And all of life is like that – what is it that you want?  To be altruistic, to be a visionary, to be smart, to be rich?  What is it that you’re willing to give?  Your time, your money, your weakness, your morality?  And are you disciplined enough to hold on to what you want most rather than giving in to what you want now?  Are the people you love the ones that build you up, make you more of the best of what you are, or do they bring out the worst of what you can be?

 

 

Sex is Your Minimum Viable Product

Bandhan

You know you’ve been a Product Manager too long when you start to think of everything in terms of what your offerings are.  (HA! I jest, I love being a Product Manager, no regrets there.)  And in general, it’s a lot less frustrating to think of how you can help other people rather than how other people can help you.  After all, the natural tendency of humans is to be innately selfish because it is simply easier to see the universe through your own eyes than through the eyes of others.  By trying to anticipate the needs of others, you have automatically differentiated yourself.

I was hanging out with one of my female friends, talking about things.  Which, for me, is talking about sex because it’s just so damn fascinating.  It’s still a bit of a taboo subject, which of course means I have to poll people to see what they really think.  She was talking about a friend of hers who is approx. 30 and complaining about how hard it is to date – because she feels she has to do all the work.  There’s been a lot of hand-wringing about hook-up culture and how Tinder is ruining us.  I’m not convinced about that, and not just because my anecdotal existence refutes that – I truly believe you change your reality by what you choose to focus on.  So if you are looking for a “hot guy” with the six-pack abs and are on something like Tinder where all you can judge on is a photo – well, then, you get judged back.  Not to be crass, but pretty faces attached to a vagina are a dime a dozen, especially when you’re young.  It’s the same for men, except that most young men can handle a one-night stand far better than most women.

So if the sex part is easy, why bother having a relationship?  Because, yeah, sex is pretty fun in its own right, but it’s like eating junk food.  Eventually you want something more, something substantial.  Something healthy and good for you.  And what’s good?  Even for the young hot men who mostly grow up eventually?  That holy grail of true connection.  Of being one, of being true and naked, not just in the physical sense.  Because it’s not just women who want the security that love can bring.  Sexual healing is a real thing, if you can bear to be that vulnerable.  But to get there it often involves showing your cards, letting the chips fall where they may, knowing that regardless of the outcome – acceptance or rejection – that you will still be okay.  That acceptance is great and that rejection is just clarity into a different direction.  And that takes a different love; self-love to stand alone and sit with yourself.  It takes connection into the greater good and stillness within to listen.

Our hunger to connect cannot exist without that first acceptance of ourselves, flawed as we may be.  The greatest thing we have to give is ourselves without giving ourselves away.

Inside Out

I went and finally saw that Pixar movie, “Inside Out,” over the weekend.  The girls and I went with our friends in Milwaukee and their three boys.  I was surprised at how much it moved me.  Of course, it’s been a rough summer and I’ve been introspective, and that usually means I’m feeling things and don’t want to admit it.  So I’m sitting in this sweet movie, crying because of the feels – the feels!  Crying so much that I can feel my lips trembling, and the rational, distant part of me going. . . wow, guess you needed that.  But it must be a split sex thing – the boys and one man were not as impressed.  All of the girls, young and old, lost it at least a little.

For me, it hit a chord because it’s about a girl who moves from one state to another and the turmoil she feels, though she tries to hide it.  And it deals with how you can feel such joy and such sadness at one event, something I am very familiar with.  The duality of emotions.  In my present existence, I find that my oldest girl’s slow journey through puberty brings back memories of my own about that duality.  We have a lot of talks about feelings and emotions – simply because they are not all good or all bad, and I want her to know how to deal with them effectively.

In middle school and high school, I was close with my one friend whose birthday was the day after mine.  She was 364 days older.  She loved horoscopes and Billy Joel and Elton John and would tell me how my behavior was that of a Cancer – and she was Cancer too.  Certainly in my teens, I was shy, withdrawn, intensely passionate but intensely private – I wanted no judgement.  I was afraid of being seen as I was, flawed and imperfect.  I am still flawed and imperfect, but my desire to connect on a deep level trumps any fear I may have.  Plus, having already endured hell, there’s the part of me that thinks, “What could anyone possible do to me that I haven’t already done to myself?”

I work with a lot of intelligent, rational people – more men than women, but the women are rational too.  And you know what I find?  Rationality does not preclude emotions.  Some of the angriest and most bitter people I have ever met are men – men whose hearts have been broken, people who let themselves be vulnerable, and they were let down.  Women and men may express their sadness or disappointment differently, but we are all human.  Being mature and a grownup doesn’t mean that you feel nothing – it means that you channel your emotions in healthy ways.  We all want to be known and accepted as we truly are – full of goodness, but imperfect.

When I was aching over the end of my first love, a man who was a consummate artist but also happened to be gay (!), I finally asked him, “Why did we ever get together?  Did I. . . seem like a boy?” He laughed, “No, you were and are the most feminine person I have ever met.”  My reaction was one of anger, because I equated femininity with irrationality and emotions that had no justification.  I didn’t want to be like that.  Then I was confused, because hey, why would a gay man ever love me?  It was just so odd.

Nowadays, the best compliment I can ever receive is one on my thinking and intelligence, though of course, I also want to be sexy in a geeky sort of way.  I feel this churn inside of me – I love talking about physics, metaphysics, religion, spirituality and I still want to be wanted in that animalistic way.  I want to be hot in someone’s eyes, and then I feel guilty, because that should be below me.  But humans are that way!  Even the uber intelligence in men I adore is tempered by their base (i.e., dirty :)) side.  And rationality is tempered by. . .well, all the emotions that make us human.

I feel like I still don’t know myself – so I could I know anyone else? Life IS this – the confusion, the chaos, passion and grace, thinking and fitting puzzle pieces together.  I am continually fascinated and in love with my friends, my children, souls somber and flaring – I can’t even really capture it in words.  But I am happy to still have a heart that can be moved by a good movie, by a full moon, by a heartfelt hug.  We want to be great and important; but life is made of a thousand mundane moments.  We only see the backside of the tapestry.