Or “What the Cat Taught me” or “Why I Hate Cats all the Time.”
It was Christmas Eve, going on midnight, when a friend of mine reminded me that a host of animals, including my the cat, Poe, would be given the gift of human speech for an hour during that magical time.
I’ve heard this before, though I don’t know where. Maybe the Flemish, which I don’t really think is right, I just wanted to type “Flemish, you Flemings!” and put the word in your mind-mouth: Flemish. Phlegmish. “It was the Scuba People of Platypus Island!”
And to be fair, my friend doesn’t know my cat (aka “the cat,” aka Sinister Sweetums VI) very well, so as much as I might’ve looked forward to whatever the cat had to say, I wasn’t really expecting much.
No, it might be fair to say that minutes later, I had forgotten he was supposed to talk at all.
But if you know cats, which is the worst statement in the world since how can one fathom the minds of such psychopaths?, then you know if you have one, it’s always around. Somewhere. In my case, he’s moved into my room. His own apartment is undergoing construction, tomorrow, mind you, not last week, or the week before, so he needed a place to flee, er, stay.
It goes without saying that the cat is not married, so he can afford to be out for days. We have this, and only this, in common. To answer the question “Where is the cat now?” Well, he’s living in a paper bag down by the river in the dining room like your parents always warned you about if you didn’t stay in school.
And now that I’ve established that this is a true story, that I am merely recording the events of history, I should probably devote it to something so that it rings with the spiritual and resonates with the atma.
You know how people celebrate Christmas Eve, and so there I was – in my cap, getting ready to settle down for the long Winter’s nap, when with a clear of this throat, and a swish of his tail, the cat said, “Would you mind turning up the heat? It‘s colder than hail!”
“Cool enough for a cat,” I said cleverly, keeping in his theme and we chuckled together until he made a big scene. He threw up on my comforter, which got my attention, and after the scrubbing and cussing, he said he had something to share via rap session.
“Shirley, you wouldn’t!” I cried with the grace of a clown, a fistful of covers ready to smother the sound. “Shirley, you jest!”
And the cat huffed, the rhyming ended, and that’s the way it went.
Poe’s a black cat, getting thinner by force, with a tail that’s (usually) kinked in anger. He stretched, took up the entire bed so there was no where for anyone else (I mean me) to sit, “That was fun,” he began.
“If I believe this is happening,” I said, since I’m a master of hallucinations*, “then you’re supposed to have something important to say.”
* – Going for the PhD soon! (fingers-crossed, aka ‘fingersxd’)
“Yes,” said the cat, his tail kinked more than usual. “It’s…”
“Perhaps the summation of all your many years here or there, or some insight into cat-kind?”
“You know I want to write a book, sometimes about lions…”
“Enough, man! (That’s what I am, you know.) Intro-filler aside, the ‘important’ issue is the matter of mood.” I paused, probably because I wasn’t sure if he said “food.”
“It’s no secret that you’ve been on this quest to change your perspective. A monstrous task given your bent for pessimism and predicting pessimistic things.” He had my attention now. “Should I mention the ‘anthrophobia,’ or is that your excuse for all cowardice?”
“Whoa!” I protested, still standing at attention. “That’s…”
The cat swiped a vicious swipe which rent the air and left it rended on the floor! Since I breathe air, I had to repair it (by learning how to sew from Grandma the next day) before I could speak again.
“The growing amount of frustrations that you have are a result of this ‘quest.’ It’s a tale of ironies, you want to change your perspective, and when given the means to do that, you see only what’s wrong and how there’s no chance to change it, which is another problem. Frustrating.”
The tail swished with authority. Because the cat is a device, he knew me better than I knew myself. “Frustration is not a change in perspective. It’s nothing new for you, that’s for sure.
“I have only the precious hour to speak, and so you have. To. Pay. Attention!” Poe boxed me on the nose, chin, and forehead with his dainty paw to punctuate his seriousness. As this was actually a devastating barrage of daggers, there was no choice but to do what he said.
“From what I’ve watched of you while I’s sleeping, I can offer you this piece of advice. You have got to remain curious, old man.
“And you can trust me on this, I’m a cat,” the cat said. “If I know one thing, it’s wondering ‘What’s the angle, what’s the play, where’s it all fit in, how‘s it all connected, and where’s my place in it?”
“Yeah, I’ve seen your ‘wondering.’ It comes complete with the Snoring of Consideration.”
“An age old technique of getting vibrations into the brains!” (Cats have more than two.)
“Uh-huh, and the Sighs of Reason-and-Energy Exchange? Exhalations to rid the body of the wrong considerations…?”
“You got it, and if you don’t stop it, one of us is going to die.” The tail was a Boy Scout’s ribbon of kinks, a few whiskers that could be bothered swept down, and the ear that wasn‘t lazy flattened. “To continue,
“When your mood is down, and it is often, there has to be a way to restore it, right? Don’t answer, dummy. Curiosity is that way for you.
“You know how good it feels to learn something new? How do you learn something new? You ask questions, more questions, and more questions. And what do you get with questions?”
“You don’t answer,” he added a ka-smack! “It’s ‘answers.’ Questions bring answers, and here’s where you get the double-benefit of practicing creativity. Since you’re the one asking all the questions, you’re the one gonna have to give all the answers.
“An example? You know how a cat slumbers through loud noises and commotion? How do you think he does that?” The cat paused, an invitation to disaster. I stayed silent.
“That’s right, he isn’t bothered by something so mundane as that because he’s a transcendent being. And now that you know who naps better, you can trust the rest of what I say.
“For yourself, that noise represents interruption, of sleep, of peace, of duty, and it makes you mad.”
“Mad means ‘crazy.’” I’m always quick to point out. But the cat didn’t play along and so I was finally defeated.
“When it makes you mad, and you’re one step short of foaming at the mouth, ask yourself questions about it. ‘What is the noise? How might it be stopped? What if it were giant, lumbering beasts after the food dish? How could I fight those?’
“Yes, I know it sounds asinine, but with each question you’re obligated to answer (since the brain hates an incomplete), it’s something new to bubble around in there, which feels good, which lifts the mood.
“And yes, that is why wicked thoughts can sometimes feel good, since it’s not only imagined vindication, but something new beyond one’s original brain. Still means that brain is growing, which is far better than stewing over the ‘facts’ you know. ‘The noise is loud. The noise is constant. I hate the noise…’
“It makes sense,” I said and the cat tensed, ready to claw at my stupid answer. “It’s ‘noise,’ there’s no way I won’t hear it. If I question every thing about it, I can turn it into something else, that’s what the imagination is for!”
“Even starting with the negative, adding new information, fake, unbelievable stuff that won’t stick, fantasticisms of fanaticism, or even just logical sense if you’re a pansy, will lighten your mood. Soon the source of bother won’t be, because you won’t even be thinking about it anymore.
“And I know you; the Justin, you can do that part in your head, even while performing other tasks, so at any time for any reason doing any thing, you have no excuse to be frustrated. As a person, you don’t ask nearly enough questions…”
“Whoa!” I protested again.
“…as a writer, you don’t ask enough questions by thousands.”
“Because I’m a device, I know you better than you know yourself. And the truth hurts!”
“But you’re right; can it be that I’ve taken curiosity for granted?”
“That’s a completely different topic, but you know, by applying this method to frustrations and so on, and it can apply to everything, you’re already working on that problem.”
“Huh.” I said in deep thought.
“Well, that was exhausting, and as you know, I only had the hour to get that through to you…”
“It’s 12:21! There‘s almost forty minutes left!”
The cat sighed. “All right, well, I wish you’d stop improvising song lyrics about me. You aren’t very good.”
“But Carry on my Wayward Cat is a classic!”
“Yes, but ‘…there’ll be peace when you are fat’ is rather insulting, don’t you think?”
“My best work!” I gasped.
“Especially if you’re forcing me to diet.”
“Oo, well, that’s just one song.”
‘“Twinkle, twinkle little cat, how I wonder why you’re fat?’”
And it’s true, not just this story, but ever since then, I haven’t sung a song. About the cat, at least. Not about him being fat, really. I’ve moved on to his being smelly, like another famous cat – a skunk.
All jesting aside, the technique suggested above via cruel proxy is that of being mindful. It doesn’t matter what of, but in my case, being mindful of why it is that I’m angry now, what it is that’s wrong, and how I can fix it, and if I can’t, why not, and so on.
In terms of practicality, it’s a bore to have to be pragmatic about it, and so using the imagination to test the limits of the “same old” is good exercise, since it feeds new information from an old source. Whether a frustrating thing, a smelly cat, an uncomfortable situation.
I would imagine that this sort of thing is the kind that behaves in the way where you don’t get it right until some time later, when you finally start asking the right questions. “Is there a babbling river? Do rivers have to run all the time? Can you teach a river not to run? Maybe just jog to the yogurt shop instead for once…”