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Archive for the ‘Oola’ Category

Unlike Oola, my previous cat Mokie was very easily affectionate. Mokie had lived in several different homes before finally finding her way to me; one might assume that the likely response to being passed around so often would be for a cat to become standoffish, and I assume one would assume this because it is, in fact, the assumption I made. Which is why I was surprised when, at bedtime on her very first night with me, Mokie comfortably curled herself at the foot of the bed, right by my feet.

This, as I said, was unexpected. Certainly, Mokie was obligated to spend the night in the room with me, as that’s where her litter box and food were, but I had anticipated an apparently unnecessary need for privacy on her part and purchased a small cat bed, placed as far from my bed as possible. I kept the cat bed for several months, thinking that it might be nice for Mokie to have options, but she made it quite clear that she had no interest in a small and cozy cat bed when there was a big-girl bed she could sleep on. And when I say “made it clear,” I of course mean that she peed on the cat bed and I had to throw it out.

Mokie never peed on the big-girl bed, although it was her preferred place to cough up hairballs, which is another story for another time, although I may have perhaps already shared that one at a previous time? Regardless. Mokie slept on the bed with me from the outset, which I thought was very sweet. In her gently needy way, Mokie would be persistently close by, but she wasn’t so needy that she needed to be any more than close by.

Or so I thought. Because, what I eventually realized was that Mokie was only sleeping down on the end of the bed because she didn’t quite know me yet. And I discovered this when, after several months together, Mokie began making her way up the bed in the evening and sleeping on the pillow. The same pillow I was sleeping on! She stretched out right above my head, a furry, affectionate hat keeping my head warm in the winter months.

This, clearly, was something special. Not only was there now trust between myself and Mokie – trust, I should make clear, I had no idea wasn’t there before – but, even while closing the distance between, Mokie still managed to sleep in such a way that my own physical presence was completely unimpeded. Increased affection, without increasing demand; surely, of what one could expect from a cat, this was the apex.

But it wasn’t, as I discovered several months later when Mokie began wriggling her way under the blankets. Her true goal all along, it turns out, was to curl up in a little furry gray ball right next to my stomach. The business of sleeping by my head or my feet, both of which had seemed like such achievements and ends in and of themselves, turned out to be nothing more than pit stops along her way; now that we had been together for almost a year, Mokie could finally trust me enough to put herself in a position where we were close but not touching, yet carried a risk that I might crush her if I rolled over during the night.

From that perspective, I felt a little silly for thinking that Mokie’s initial presence on the bed had meant anything at all. And, even if I’d actually preferred it when she slept on my pillow (so warm and out of the way!), I understood that this, at last, meant that Mokie felt at home. Which is really what counted.

Oola, of course, is different. Because it’s winter, Oola will now sleep on the bed. Unlike Mokie, she will actually plant herself right on top of my legs. But, also unlike Mokie, she will stay decidedly on top of the blankets, regardless of how much I encourage her underwise. Which, honestly, is okay – I do like to wake up and discover a kitten sleeping on me – but, especially when it’s cold outside, I think it would be great if she were comfortable coming under the blankets, at least for warmth. And also for affection.

But that’s not the kind of kitten Oola is. Which, as previously mentioned, is something people tend to find sad, that an utterly untrusting Mokie offered just about the same level of affection as an Oola who trusts no one but me, but, as previously mentioned, those people are weak and their cats are probably terrible. What I realized early on with Oola is that you have to play the long game. A game, as I learned from Mokie, that is a persistent campaign of affection, gentle correction, and reward, and that only one of us needs to realize is being played. A game in which, today, I came from yoga to discover I scored a major point from my opponent :

Sleeping kitten. Still fierce.

Sleeping kitten. Still fierce.

That’s right – Oola is now sleeping on my pillow. Sure, I’m not in the bed, but I’m still counting it as a victory. Peace in our time, and, more importantly, one day Oola under the covers. Today, we’re one step closer.

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A few months ago, I wrote about two songs that are not particularly good. And while that piece is undoubtedly the best press either of those songs has gotten at this late date in 2014, and is also undoubtedly considered long enough by anyone who actually read it, it does not include a few major points that I’d intended to make but unfortunately left out due to scheduling issues and poor time management on my part.

Point the first is that having a hit song, be it on the radio, the local music video station, or wherever it is music gets played these days (Youtube, I guess? I honestly have no idea where music happens anymore), takes a tremendous amount of effort. Even a truly terrible song represents sometimes years of hard work, of commitment to practice, of prioritizing the band, of just showing up, day after day after day, to play music or sing or perfect a chord progression (those are things, yes? chord progressions?) in front of a small audience of people you know and a handful of strangers who aren’t paying attention but are raising their voices so they can talk over you and all of your hard work. While we, the end-user, might be under the impression that the song we just heard for the first time ever is from a brand-new band, the truth is that the band existed long before we the public ever heard of them, and the fact that we’re hearing from them at all is an exceptional achievement on their part.

I admire the hell out of that. Even when I don’t like the end product at all, I have to recognize that these people have achieved something that I probably never will be able to do. I mean, I fully intended to write this follow-up post months ago, but didn’t get around to it because I’m so lazy. And even today, I’ve already taken about 5  breaks since I started 2 hours ago. Which, for those of you who did not flee to Kentucky to study math, means it’s taken 2 hours to write 2.5 paragraphs. That there are people – many of them! – who can sit still and focus on writing, every day, over and over and over again, is just amazing to me. That what they’ve written is terrible is utterly besides the point, because their terrible actual writing surpasses my brilliant imaginary writing, simply because it exists. Which is not to say that actual things can not be measured on their quality; it is only to say that there are real-world applications to getting an A for effort, just as there are to not living up to your potential.

Point the second is that while I will go to my grave insisting that those songs are no good (in a scenario where I am murdered by a crazed Deep Blue Something fan who, distraught that they can’t secure funding for a shot-by-shot remake of the video starring Avatar-style animated versions of the cast of the shot-by-shot remake of Psycho, holds me responsible for the failure of their Kickstarter but then, in turn, meets their own tragic end when my death at their hands is avenged by Oola, as is foretold), I never actually said that I don’t like them. In fact, the reason Breakfast at Tiffany’s was declared the winner of that particular scuffle is because I happen to like the song quite a bit : it’s catchy, the singer’s voice is pleasant, and I like thinking about breakfast. That might seem like faint praise, and it is; however, the point is, the song being objectively bad has no bearing on whether or not I like it.

In many circles, this would make Breakfast at Tiffany’s my guilty pleasure. Guilty pleasures have become increasingly popular over the past few years, for reasons I can’t begin to suppose although I do imagine some enterprising young cultural studies major will be writing a thesis on it. Guilty pleasures have become a niche market, especially on television, or at least it seems so to me because I read a lot about television, where, every season, some new show is being touted as “your new guilty pleasure”. And while I appreciate the level of effort that goes in to making these shows a success, I must admit it’s to finding it extremely interesting when they fail, as that usually generates at least one “Your new guilty pleasure – why did it fail?” article, as though the answer can not at least in part be found in a marketing campaign that considered the show being so terrible that liking it would be embarrassing a selling point.

To me, though, the concept of a guilty pleasure is a little weird. I’m not embarrassed by liking a particular song, or television show, or movie, or book, or whatever. Enjoying something that is definitely terrible is not the sum total of my taste, and even if that something is completely without merit, if I like it then I like it; it doesn’t make sense to feel bad about it, in the same way I don’t at all regret not liking something overflowing with merit. Which, considering how I don’t like just about anything (like Death Cab for Cutie; talk about your dumb band names), is really for the best.

Sometimes I feel bad for people who have cats other than Oola. For instance, as I was leaving work the other day my office mate said I should have a good night at home playing with my cat. I wasn’t feeling particularly well that day; I said all I really wanted was to lie down on the couch and have the cat sit on me. This, my office-mate clarified, is what she’d meant.

I have no objection to laying on the couching being considered a game; if it could be considered a sport, I would be a world-class athlete. And there are certain challenges to having Oola sit on me for an extended period of time; for example, I have to stay very still so that she won’t be unsettled and decide to sit somewhere that is not on me. So, unlike regular sitting on the couch, where I might fidget or lean over or decide to get up and walk into the kitchen for more water or something, Oola sitting on me sitting on the couch means that I might not move at all for literally hours.

Even while staying perfectly still, there is a very definite presence to be felt when Oola is sitting on me. Unlike some of your fluffier cats, Oola is solid. Last we checked, she weighed in at 13 pounds, although you’d never guess it to look at her, in part because black is slimming, even in cats; and in larger part because it’s almost entirely muscle.

How does a tiny little kitten build up 13 pounds of muscle? In Oola’s case, it’s from play. Because, while sitting on the couch completely still is a perfectly enjoyable way to pass a couple of hours, it’s actually quite a different experience than playing with Oola. For Oola, there’s an element of destruction in play that cannot be achieved through stillness. In play, there’s activity : the chasing of an object, which occasionally explodes into running from room to room to room seemingly at random. Oola is not content merely to bat at things being dangled in front of her; Oola puts all of her energy into chasing these things, and she chases them because she wants to catch them. Oola chases things because she wants to catch them, and she wants to catch them because she wants to kill them.

What are the things Oola wants to kill? Anything, really. Feathers. Pencils. Plastic pull tabs from soy milk or orange juice cartons. Ribbons. Bed sheets, but only when they’re being changed. Hands and wrists. The red dot. Books and magazines. The corners of cardboard boxes. Occasionally, an official cat toy. Regardless of what it is, Oola brings the same level of intensity to finding it, catching it, and destroying it.

These tendencies toward destruction seem to invite frequent comment from others, and that comment is most often that Oola is very lucky to have landed in my home. From this, I have concluded that most people would not be happy with a cat like Oola. Which in part makes me sad for them, but mostly makes me realize how lucky I am that Oola ended up here. Otherwise, I might now be sitting here right now with some light-weight feline resting on my leg, and barely be able to tell there’s a cat in the house.

The plan for this week was that, every morning when I awoke, I should be greeted with applause. As with most plans of such obvious importance, this one evolved from a very serious conversation had while driving around a mall parking lot during the holiday season, at one point during which Dave firmly clapped his hands, creating a very authoritative and satisfying report. (Dave, it should be noted, was not driving.)

I should probably mention that Dave  and I have a long history of clapping in cars together. On our second cross-country journey, we announced our entry into every new State by lightly clapping then pulling our hands back as though ending a game of patty-cake in an abrupt but not unfriendly manner, while saying the same of that State. And I should probably further explain why we started doing that, but the origins of that tradition are lost to the hazy mists of time. All I can offer is that when you’re driving across the country, not to sight-see but simply to get to the other side of the country, you establish a lot of rituals to mark the passage of time spent in the car : not just for entering a new state, but getting back on the highway, turning the page  on your AAA map, making it to the next point on the unbelievably complex schedule of when to smoke without smoking; each accomplishment gets its own ceremony just to celebrate that bit of progress you have made toward your goal.

It was not this sort of ceremonious clap Dave issued in the mall parking lot; nor, I don’t believe, was it laudatory in the traditional sense. However it began, the clap moved quickly into the realm of hypothesis, becoming a potential way to solve all of your problems; not constantly, but if all of your problems could be solved simply by clapping once a minute (and making an accompanying exclamation), happiness could be within everyone’s grasp.

Of course, this would be impractical, and, especially when discussing a hypothetical situation, one must still consider the practical. What about over night? Would you have to wake up every single minute to clap and exclaim? How could that possibly lead to happiness? It probably could not. But we allowed that, instead of clapping overnight, one could simply start the day with a round of applause immediately upon waking, and that would suffice. And so, having so carefully worked out the formula for a happy life, we decided that we would put it to a test : every day for the next week, we would wake up and cheer and give ourselves a round of applause.

While I was serious in undertaking this experiment, I noticed on the first day that I might have to modify the parameters a little bit. Because, although I do have an alarm clock, I actually wake up every day to Oola Belle reminding me that it’s breakfast time, and one of my sterner methods of disciplining the World’s Most Wonderful Kitten is to clap loudly in her face, which she does not enjoy. It cannot be that the secret to happiness is to begin each day by upsetting one’s kitten, and so instead of applauding, I raised my arms overhead exultantly and said yay. With, you know, more gusto than one normally would upon waking.

Ridiculous as I’m sure that sounds, it did actually work. Perhaps because of its ridiculousness; it’s difficult not to enjoy yourself when you’re purposely acting the fool. Briefly, at least. It didn’t last, but even on the days when I was ill, I was still happy to be awake at the outset of the day.

Now that the control period has ended, I must consider how to proceed. The results clearly indicate that, as we supposed, there is a link between applause and happiness. However, confining applause to the morning does not yield sustained happiness. It may be that the original hypothesis is correct – that one must clap frequently throughout the day – but I fear working in a library will make that difficult to test. Or it could be that we had the right idea on the road trip : that I should establish not only more points of celebrations but also more methods. Fortunately I have the research skills necessary to further this experiment; you can expect infrequent field reports on my progress.

One interesting thing I learned in college that I still remember is that when asking for advice, a person will overall get the response they were looking for. As one of the readings from the Sociology class I took in the Spring semester of my Freshman year went on to explain, before asking for advice, a person will run through a mental inventory of the people that they know; in choosing who among these people they will ask, they choose the person or persons who will give them the answer they most want to hear.

While the scope of that article was strictly on advice (I think – that was kind of a long time ago; if memories aged like people, that particular interesting fact would be in college itself right now, just beginning the Spring semester of its Junior year, and might even be at a frat party celebrating the new semester, drinking out of a red Solo cup and wondering why the floor is sticky), it can easily be extrapolated that, when in search of information of any sort, people will endeavor to find something that supports their own already established decisions or preferences.

This is not necessarily to say that people are close-minded. Rather, the belief in one’s own correctness and the urge to reinforce that correctness is, itself, self-reinforcing : it’s unlikely that a person would – or even could – believe things that they believe to be incorrect. One of the great challenges of life is to keep oneself open to other possibilities and different beliefs. Another great challenge is to remain respectful of others whose beliefs conflict with ones own. And perhaps the greatest challenge of all is to remain polite in the face of someone adamantly sticking to a belief that you know is incontestably wrong. This last challenge is one I faced recently, on a day very much like today, in so unlikely a place as the Market Basket.

The setting is unusual due not to any especial grace of the clientele; for example, on my first visit to the Basket this year, an older woman crashed her Rascal right into my shopping cart, then drove off muttering about how I must not have seen her and offering rather a depressing glimpse into the twilight years of Jordan Baker, while I attempted to conceal how startling it is to walk forward into a shopping cart that has been propelled backward into you and your abdomen. What makes the Market Basket an unusual setting is that in spite of the many ways shopping there is a wretched and soul-crushing ordeal, none of these have ever been due to the staff; in fact, the staff  has always been impressively helpful and considerate, not to mention far more friendly than I would be if I worked at the Market Basket; in fact, I don’t work at the Market Basket, and they are, on the whole, still considerably nicer than I am to anyone on any given day.

Even the recent unpleasant encounter itself began as an attempt on the part of a Basket employee to be helpful. She had been dispatched by another customer who was waiting in the parking lot for a friend – wearing a green hat – inside the store, to inform the behatted individual that the individual in the car was waiting still, but, for reasons unknown to me and which I have been unable to reconstruct, was waiting in a location other than the location the friend in the green hat was expecting, but would be easy for the friend in the green hat to find once given the directions to that other location, which had been  entrusted to the Market Basket employee by the individual in the car.

The reason that I know all of this is because, of course, I was wearing a green hat. And because of that, and because the Market Basket employee was on the lookout for a woman in a green hat, I was approached and informed while in the checkout lane that my friend was now waiting in the far left corner of the parking lot. Having discharged this vital information, the Market Basket employee stood, almost rocking back on her heels ever so lightly, spine straight, awaiting the accolades that were clearly her due. It should come as no surprise, then, that she was not pleased to be presented not with a shower of rose petals, treasure beyond imagination, and promises of everlasting gratitude, but with this:

“Uh. . . I didn’t come to the store with anyone? So there’s no one in the parking lot waiting for me.”

I, of course, had expectations of my own how the Market Basket employee would respond : surprise, perhaps a touch of chagrin, and, of course, there was no question that the word “sorry” would come in to play. So it should, again, come as no surprise when, instead of any of these, the employee dug in:

Actually, I don’t remember exactly what she said; this would probably be a better blog if I could, but, like that long-ago Sociology class, time has passed.  What’s important is not her precise words, but her insistence that the message was for me. Ever the model Market Basket employee, it was clear that, even though she was irritated, her effort in repeating the message to me was to jog my memory about my friend out there in the parking lot, and that it had to me because I was wearing a green hat.

Briefly I considered responding that it couldn’t be my friend out in the parking lot because no one knew I was at the Market Basket, but I’ve seen way too many episodes of Criminal Minds to think that’s a good idea; while Oola knows that it’s her responsibility, as it was Mokie’s before her, to avenge my death, and I know that her vengeance would be swift, terrible, and just (seriously; I love Mokie, but the worst thing she ever did was pee on my slipper – which, yes, was gross, but it’s not like I was even wearing it at the time; Oola, on the other hand, will rip your face off for no other reason than your face is in front of her and she feels like it; of the two, she will clearly be the more effective vigilante), I’d rather not go missing and unleash her adorable fury on the world just yet, so I simply repeated that I had come to the store myself. As additional evidence, I mentioned that I walked to the store, so there couldn’t be a car waiting for me.

At this point, another Market Basket employee, the woman in charge of bagging my groceries, tried to chime in in my defense, but her words were lost in the increasing volume of the original Market Basket employee who was irritated and frustrated and only trying to do someone a favor and again these were not her exact words but how could I possibly not understand that someone in the parking lot was looking for someone wearing a green hat and I was wearing a green hat so it could be proven mathematically that I was without question the person being looked for and also, did I mention, green hat?

That I was wearing a green hat can not be argued (although, honestly, I would never describe that hat as “green”; it’s a shade of green certainly, but a yellowy green, like a celery heart, rather than the nice, vibrant pea green that most people think of when thinking “green”) (and obviously, in that last aside, by “most people”, I meant “me”). The issue then, was this : did her knowledge of me, which extended no further than “wearing a green hat,” outweigh my knowledge of me, which encompasses my ENTIRE FUCKING LIFE? In a word : no. No, it did not. Nor did the fact that I was wearing a green hat mean that there were no other women in the store wearing green hats; that what you are looking for is always in the last place you look for it because once you find it you stop looking does not always mean that once you stop looking you’ve found it.

Yet there was no way to explain this to her, not that I could see, and not without profanity. Any argument that lasts through three iterations with neither side yielding even slightly is not one that anyone can win, as each side will simply become more and more entrenched in whatever stand it is that they’re taking. Which, in this case, although we each were using more words, basically boiled down to “are too/am not”. And even though I – the “am not” half – was unassailably right (see above comment re: entire fucking life), it was not a dignified position, nor one I could maintain if I wished to extricate myself from the discussion.

Were my life a hilarious sitcom, I might have done something clever like pulling the green hat of contention off my head and stuffing it in my bag, while saying “Look – no more green hat! Now do you believe it’s not me?” (or something like that; I’d probably hire better writers.) Or I’d tell her I wasn’t the droid she was looking for, while gently waving my hand in front of her face. And if I ever get a time machine, I’ll probably go back and do both of those things.* But since life is not a sitcom, I realized that my only way out was to go into the crevasse. I looked the Market Basket employee square in the eye and said as genuinely as I could “Thank you; I’ll keep an eye out for her in the parking lot.”

Whether she believed that I had come around to her way of thinking or not, the Market Basket employee recognized this as the end of the conversation, and took this as her cue to walk away. Though briefly a relief, this quickly turned out to be kind of a shame, since about 27 seconds later a woman wearing a green hat walked by uncertainly, clearly in search of something but not knowing where to go. I considered approaching her to let her know where in the parking lot she could find her ride, but I had had more than enough of green hats for the day, so I chose to leave instead. Like I said above : I don’t work at the Market Basket, and I’m still not that nice.

*If I ever do get a time machine, I’ll be so busy issuing witty retorts that I’ll completely forget to do the important things, like preventing bad hair cuts and investing in Apple in the ’80s.

Dear Scientists,

When this article was recently brought to my attention, I thought it would occasion nothing more than the 3rd in my series of Why Scientists Should Stop Fucking Around with Woolly Mammoth DNA Already. As it has been a while since last we spoke on the subject, let’s begin with a review:

1. Nature has already filled the void created by the extinction of the Woolly Mammoth, and it wasn’t with more Woolly Mammoths; which is to say – there is no place in the modern landscape for such an animal;

2. It is beyond cruel to resurrect an animal that can not survive in the wild and would therefore spend its entire existence in captivity;

3. If you were to ask 1,000 people who don’t work in natural history museums what they want out of life, none of them would answer “More interactions with Woolly Mammoths”; to bring back the mammoth is to spend an exorbitant sum of money on something that is neither necessary nor desirable to the world at large; it is to create a new New Coke for a new generation.

4. Since you are not working on anything of value, scientists who are “working” on the Woolly Mammoth “issue” could better serve society simply by becoming trainers for seeing-eye dogs. Or even garbage men;

5. There are actual issues of scientific importance that need to be addressed out there.

One of these issues, you may recall, is the Tasmanian Face Cancer. Yes, I am still moved by the plight of  our adorably ugly little friend, the Tasmanian Devil, spreading cancer amongst themselves at an alarming rate.

I know I’ve been bugging you – for years – to get on this, so you might think I would have been happy to discover this. Sure, that’s a couple months old – and horrifying, with the tumor-riddled face of a Tasmanian Devil [in all seriousness, that picture is rough; you may not want to look, and you wouldn’t be wrong] –  and it does seem to be good news:

After years of unrelentingly dire news, biologists have found a possible hope for Tasmanian devils, which are threatened with extinction by a contagious, highly virulent form of cancer.

A small group in Tasmania’s northwestern tip appears to have survived the scourge largely intact. It’s the first population to do so, and represents the first real sign — however tentative — that the beloved marsupials may survive.

Certainly, it’s good news that there are some Tasmanian Devils that are resisting the spread of the cancer. And, even considering that Tasmanian Devils who appeared resistant in the past did eventually succumb, it’s encouraging. But, I do question the idea that “biologists have found a possible hope for Tasmanian devils,” since, having read the full article, it sounds like the Tasmanian Devils did it all on their own:

The new findings describe what they [scientists] found: a population [of Tasmanian Devils] that, four years after the disease arrived, looked much as it did before, though the populations around them have been decimated. They still contract the disease, but in lower numbers, and to far lesser effect.

You want credit for what now? Honestly, I’m not seeing evidence of anything that the Tasmanian Devils didn’t do on their own. I do, however, have some concerns about what you’re planning on doing in the face of this progress:

“The best outcome would be that some devils in this population are resistant,” said McCallum. “We might be able to spread the resistant genotypes,” repopulating Tasmania with devils bred from the West Pencil Pine survivors.

Do you know what Dr. Frankenstein’s error was? It wasn’t that he made the monster wrong; it was that he made the monster. Period. Full stop.You getting involved in this situation, now that the Tasmanian Devils seem to be making progress on their own, it just seems like a bad idea to me.

Which, I know, is a complete departure from what I’ve spent years saying. And I do understand your impulse to help them; no one wants them to be cancer-free more than me, especially now that I see a resemblance between their horridly wonderful faces and my Oola’s sweet and beautiful face; (certainly, they are alike in temperament.) It’s tough to sit on your hands when something you love is dying and you think you can help. I’m sorry I was so pushy for so long, I really am. But please, let’s hold off on the spreading of resistant genotypes until we’ve given the Devils a chance to spread it themselves. You can use the time to work on other projects! Really. Anything but Woolly Mammoths, and I won’t say a word.


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