You can’t Reason with Cats

It’s 6:30 a.m. on a Sunday and a cat is crying on piteously on my porch.
I have lived with cats long enough to recognize the sound of terror versus hunger, versus general surliness. This is fear, the kind that wells up when you realize you’re lost outside and can’t get back home and there’s nowhere to hide.
I’m not very much awake and the cat on the porch is begging to come in, squeaking out her confusion and helplessness, so I shut my cats in the bedroom and invite her in. She acts like she belongs here, crying in relief and skittering into the bathroom. I go ahead and close the door, shutting her in there. She’s huge, orange and white, with long hair drooping from her tail and draping over her body like a shaggy blanket. She’s clean, without scars or scratches, and her teeth (which I can see clearly every time she opens her mouth to squeak out little cat sobs), are nice and clean. She’s not interested in being comforted, but neither is she losing her mind and trying to escape after realizing she’s now contained in my bathroom. So clearly not feral. Someone will be missing her in the morning.

Porch Cat

The animal shelter can check for a microchip to identify her owner, but it doesn’t open for 4-1/2 hours. I tuck towels against the doors to keep her from snagging my heel or spooking my own cats with her snakelike white paws searching under the gaps. Quinn stands guard in the hall long after I turn out the lights and return to bed, just in case the stranger tries to escape. When she doesn’t escape and eventually stops crying, he trots over to the bed and curls up beside me. Clearly he thinks that’s that and we can go back to our normal lives now.
Three hours later I wake and slip into the bathroom. Porch Cat is sleeping on the floor beside the toilet. She stretches and rubs against my legs as I brush my teeth, letting me know she was lonely. Since we’re being warm and friendly I scratch her ears lightly and she pushes her face into my hand. After a few moments of this congeniality, she hops onto the counter making gurgling, chirping noises I take for curious vocalizing—until she growls and slaps my hand away.
Stop. Touching me.
So…not warm and friendly, then.
I have three friends in Austin, and one of them kindly agrees to shuttle us over to the animal shelter (making the trip by bicycle is an ordeal I don’t want to attempt). I leave her alone and get to work making a carrier large enough to hold her. It’s a cardboard apple crate left over from moving that says ‘fragile – crockpot’ on the top. I line the box with a small blanket and venture back into the bathroom.
Porch Cat huffs at me. She wishes I would knock before entering. I try to coax her into the box, first with my bare hands and then donning thick work gloves and Jeremy’s long-sleeve winter biking shirt. She is now positive I’m going to murder her. She becomes an amporphic mass of white fur, golden eyes and lighting-fast claws. She evades my grasp, squeezing impossibly into the crevice between the toilet and the wall. She must be cramped, yet manages to ignore physics and her bone structure, clawing at me from whichever direction I approach.
We agree to take a break. I sit back against the door while she eyes me with one pupil visible over the lid of her toilet fortress. I question my first assumption that she is not feral. I slow blink at her, and after a moment she blinks back. Not feral, just scared. Scared of the human with huge hands who trapped her in this tiny room and keeps grabbing at her.
I can sympathize. I explain the situation to her: I mean no harm, I’m only trying to help her get home. She blinks at me some more.
Feeling better after our heart-to-heart, I approach again but she refuses to participate in any more peaceful exercises. She enters some fourth dimensinon of space, practically disappearing into the wall. She is taking no chances and states her position firmly. Meanwhile, Quinn sits outside the bathroom door, wondering loudly what’s going on and why can’t he come in too.
Fortunately I know where my towel is.
Porch Cat is unprepared for towels, which pop her out of the fourth dimension. She zips up onto the counter, where a towel dropped over her from above ends the struggle. I set her, towel and all, into the box and close the lid. She protests this treatment, shooting claws through every airhole simultaneously. I pointlessly apologize for helping her like this and tape the box shut while she calls me bad names through the airholes.
Once I return from the animal shelter where Porch Cat (who was microchipped) waits for her owner to take her safe home, Quinn meets me at the door, most irritated. I’ve been unfaithful, he claims. I left the house with a strange cat, and he’s always petitioning to go outside and why should a stranger get to go outside and that’s not fair.
I explain the situation and cuddle him and he calms down. But he spends the rest of the week staring at me accusingly. Finally I earn his forgiveness with a tuna offering, and life returns to normal. You can’t explain to a cat, but you can solve most problems with tuna.
Or failing that, with a towel.

You Must Move Forward

There is no perfection.

I pull books off the shelves, stack them on the floor, shove the stacks out of the way with my foot when I need to sit down.

There is no perfection.

I run, outside, down sterile suburban streets that make boring straight lines to the horizon. I’d rather run on trails but today I’m stuck in civilization.

There is no perfect time, way things happen, arrangement of circumstances so everything is easy. Because that’s what I mean when I say ‘perfect.’ No obstacles, bumps, no struggle.

In reality, perfection never happens.  Cut through anyway, and do the thing you need to do.

There’s no easy way in–or out–of some situations. Things happen; you make choices and give big effort; it adds up to experience. The experience continues in you, helping you navigate in the midst of book piles and laundry piles and dirty sinks and long, boring runs and chaotic work schedules.

There is no perfection and that’s okay, I tell myself daily.  You are doing this for you. Because you love it and because it brings you a great deal of pleasure and because you know someday it will bring pleasure to others. Every time you cut through the chaos and write you’re confirming to yourself that you can, despite whatever is happening. Despite a pending move across the country. Despite work chaos. Despite all of life, for your own life’s sake. You must move forward and do what you need to do, period.

Putting In the Time

This week I wrote a guest post for a fellow author, Khaalidah, who wrote a story for the Grim5Next anthology I’ve been helping with. I got to read her story in advance, and loved it. She has a wonderful, clean style, and she handles science fiction with class, even reptilian aliens about to eliminate humankind. I was honored when she asked me to post some thoughts on her blog about time management. You can read the post here.

General Mitchell Airport, Milwaukee Wisconsin

General Mitchell Airport, Milwaukee Wisconsin

5:45 am

I don’t quite stumble down the broad hallway leading to the security check. It’s more like almost tripping past lighted signs displaying neon letters and happy business men, beneath bleached fluorescence swimming in the lofty ceiling. I can’t tell if I’m sick or just asleep on my feet. Of course, now is when I need to be assertive about who I am and what I’m doing in the airport to begin with. Not to mention tying and untying my shoes while people wait in line behind me, calculating the liquid measure of my portable toiletries and remembering on the spot if I removed my favorite pocketknife from my jeans pocket.

Every time I perform this travel strip-down I shake my head; we’re disarming on purpose, so in the event of an attack, we just made things a little easier for antagonists. Well, I still have my Sharpie pen. Continue reading

Pick a favorite

“Tell me your three favorite words,” someone requested, “and use all three in a sentence.”

Hooboy. I’m in trouble. Whenever I try to answer this sort of
question, it turns into a mental argument with myself, beginning with an
avalanche of ridiculous quotes and ending (in frustration) with ‘bezoar,
rheumatoid and polymethylmethacrylate!’

“Medical terminology doesn’t count,” I chide myself. “And those terms
are unrelated in any case.”
“Fine, I don’t have any favorites!” I huff.
“You can’t pick three favorite words? Inconceivable!”
“What? Being impartial makes me a derelict?”
“You’re just borrowing from the Decemberists. Learn to use your words.”
“What’s the superlative of curmudgeon?”
“You’re better off using ‘quark.'”
“I suppose ‘timey-wimey’ is unacceptable.”
“Only when used in conjunction with ‘ding’ and ‘stuff.'”
“How about David Tennant?”
“No names.”
“So…not Wilhelmina. Because that’s a favorite. How about syzygy?”
“When do you use that…ever?”
“But it’s fun to spell.”

And so it goes. Chalk it up to being a speculative fantasy fiction writer I
suppose. Nothing fits into the norm, not even my words. Most of the
oft-used favorites are in there, however, including Decemberists,
Tennant and Wilhelmina. (I do love them.) There I suppose are
favorite three words in one sentence at last.

As if I could

If I could talk sense into someone, I wouldn’t waste time on a random celebrity. That would be like trying to pick up the ocean between thumb and forefinger. I’d rather talk to someone who, in fact, wants to listen. That strikes out about ninety-eight percent of the customers who visit the drive-through Starbucks that employs me currently. I’m old enough (which is sad, considering I’m not yet 30) to remember when coffee shops were homey places that instigated conversation and quality over speed and quantity. If you’re smart, you’ll take the former over the latter, and make your to-go coffee at home (here’s a hint: French press. Better coffee, every time. Google it).
I worked in a coffeeshop in Nevada where one could hold an actual conversation with a customer and learn something interesting. I don’t vouch for the cultural depth of Nevada, because last I lived there, it didn’t much exist (unless you like rocks. There’s lots of rocks. And bull riding, and wind and fires and sage). However, into that little shop would walk some of the most interesting people. Some were drunk, stumbling in through the glass doors looking for something to kill the afternoon buzz they’d found in the bar two stores down the sidewalk strip mall. Not much culture out of them, unless the ferment in light beer counts for something.
Some were friends of the owners, who dropped by on occasion to admire the brown flagstone floor and the coyote mural painted across two walls, and drink a caramilla (pronounced cara-mee-ah) made to order by yours truly.
One of my favorite customers was a wiry, pepper-haired man from San Francisco, with a Van Dyke also peppered gray, tapering over his narrow chin. I have no recollection what he was doing in the desert when he could have stayed by the sea, but nevertheless. He introduced me to Coltrane, even brought his CDs in so I could listen to them while I worked. He knew his coffee, and I was just learning what riches lay below the corporate-glazed surface, so we had plenty to talk about. He came to the jazz nights, when we had live music playing and the whole store was a hum of bodies amidst the high walnut tables cast in the yellow glow of fan-shaped wall sconces. He liked lattes steamed extra hot with the shots poured in last: Upside-down. I began to drink my lattes upside-down, and I learned to appreciate the nutty bite of espresso, perfect tamped, hot and dark in the first sips, smoother and lighter with the last. I learned more from listening to that man than I ever would have debating brewing technique and music theory on a forum.