Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Ode To A Cat

I am going to tell you the story of Harriet.

Harriet is my cat. We don't know how old she is, where she comes from. I picked her up from a local animal shelter--the kind that does not euthanize their residents--in 2002.

She was older, she ended up being diabetic. She wasn't the type to cuddle up to you, she didn't want to be or look cute. She just wanted to be herself. She felt like sitting at the top of the stairs, so she did so. She wanted me to feed her, she let me know. She didn't like my boyfriend, she made that highly evident by using my living room rug as a litter box.

Although declawed and aparently sporting only one fang, she was a proficient hunter. In order to "thank" me for giving her a secure home--something I think she lacked for quite some time--she would take care of the mouse problem in my apartment. The first time I realized she had this talent, and this gratitude, was when she, while I was at work, killed an unfortunate rodent in my kitchen, cleaned it off, and spread it out nicely in presentation form at the top of the stairs leading to my apartment. When I got home, reached the end of my ascent, I look down to see this precious possession given to please me, and I completely freaked out. Harriet, on the other hand, simply looked at me in a confused fashion, and then, assuming that it wasn't in good enough condition for me, proceded to clean it off more just in case that was the clincher she was missing.

She graduated from this to actually demonstrating to me how she would catch and kill the unfortunate creatures. I awoke once in the middle of the night because I heard a wail...thinking she was ill, I turned the light on. No, she was there, sitting proudly on her haunches, with another victim dangling out of her mouth. Upon acknowledging my now awake state, she dropped it to the ground. Yes, it was still alive. It immediately started to jump about to escape, but Harriet had other plans. She, with lightning fast action that I thought was impossible for a cat her size, immediately pawed it down. Unfortunately, it buried itself in a pile of my laundry, but she insisted upon watching that hill of dirty clothing until I ended up washing it a week later, just in case it came back.

Harriet was queen. She did not like her authority being challenged. Her first test was Geronimo, my new roommate's cat. He was your typical "dumb guy" in cat form. He just wanted to play, she wanted him to get lost. I brought her back from a short sojourn home and he excitedly greeted her at the door when she came in. This good-natured welcoming patrol was met with a swipe with her unclawed paw across his face, and a resulting "what did I do?" look in cat bewilderment from him.

When I got my little ones, she tolerated them. She seemed to be happier in the company of her own kind. As one of them, Charlotte, got a bit bigger, she thought she was in a position to challenge Harriet for power. Charlotte made the mistake of hissing at Harriet once, and she received the same buffet to the face that Geronimo did in response. To make her point all the more clear, when Harriet saw Charlotte again in passing, she wacked her again...this time sending her clear across the floor.

Harriet did "crash" in the diabetic sense once. Since cats can gradually recover from diabeties, her body started to make insulin and we didn't know. Suddenly, we found her on the floor, completely collapsed. We took her to the vet and had to painstakingly look after her for a few weeks while she recovered. For a while, she couldn't walk, and my mother tried to wash her with the cat equivalent of a baby wipe. My father described the sounds she made as "nothing he had ever heard any animal make before....but they didn't sound good." After my mother finished, Harriet grabbed the discarded wipe in her mouth and shook it back and forth as if to teach it a lesson for its impudence.

During this time, Emily, another of my little ones, who loved Harriet very much, would jump into the laundry basket we kept Harriet in and sit with her. Somehow, Harriet knew she was there, even though her crash rendered her temporarily blind. Harriet purred, and so did Emily. All of the other cats were too afraid to go near her, but Emily stuck by her.

Harriet may have hated car rides, she may have been rather unfriendly at times, but she was probably the smartest cat I have ever had. She always "knew" something was going on---like she was just one step, as opposed to many, from understanding. She always tolerated other cats, save the ones that challenged her authority. The best part was that she seemed happy--she had a home, a secure home, and that was something she never had before. Someone abandoned her, and that made an imprint on her mind. When I moved out of my last apartment, she crouched in a corner, desperately worried that we were going to leave her behind. Anyone that thinks that these kinds of things do not affect animals--that animals aren't "smart enough" to remember them or for them to make a permanent imprint on their minds just like us--has never seen a look on a pet's face like Harriet's that day.

Now, she has an infection, and one of those that may indicate the presence of something much more dangerous.

For nearly four years of her being my companion and reigning queen of my house, I want to thank her for being herself. She didn't offer any apologies for being herself--for wanting things her own way. She knew that if we, or anyone else, didn't like that, she could make it on her own because she had.

If a cat could show you how to be more secure and be comfortable with who you are, she did. And if this is her time, she will be missed. But somehow, I know that she will be more tranquil, more peaceful about her own passing than I will, and she will probably be the one to comfort me in the end.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Let's Play A Game....

Ok, I was surfing around other blogs, and I saw this idea come up--then I was inspired to go visit a tarot card reading site, and I thought, let's combine the two activities into one.

How to play the game:

Put your music list on "shuffle" (no cheating, damnit).

Read each premise below and think about the song that the computer selected in relationship to it.

Now, to make this more interesting (the blogger had picked out random questions about life--the kind of stuff you ask a Ouija Board), we're going to combine this with two traditional tarot spreads.

Spread One: Celtic Cross
How to use it: Any general life situation.

Directions: Think of something going on in your life. This spread will go through the steps of analyzing it for you; however instead of cards, you get to use your own music.

Here, I'll do my own as a demonstration....

My life situation: Wouldn't you like to know.

1. What best illustrates me? (your divination card)
"What's Up" by 4 Non-Blondes (well other than the 25 years thing...)

2. What is the atmosphere surrounding this issue?
"Just Push Play" by Aerosmith (hmmm....well, if they're going to bleep it anyway)

3. What is the main obstacle in the way in this situation?
"Trouble" by the Indigo Girls (given it's an obstacle, I can't think of anything more appropriate)

4. What is the goal I can hope for without changing my priorities?
"Get Back" by the Beatles (at least I am not a man who thinks I am a woman)

5. What is the foundation of the situation?
"Follow Through" by Gavin De Graw (excellent, spot on there)

6. What is a passing influence in this situation, something to be released?
"The Best Is Yet To Come" by Frank Sinatra (so, I have to give up my plumb?!)

7. What is an approaching influence in this situation, something to be embraced?
"To Be With You" by Mr. Big (he, he, if only....)

8. What is my role or attitude in this/to this situation?
"Bad Day" by Daniel Powter (that isn't so wrong, either, come to think of it...)

9. What is your environment in this situation, including the people you are interacting with?"Scenes from an Italian Restaurant" by Billy Joel (ok, getting creepy, sort of...)

10. What are your hopes or fears, or an unexpected element that will be thrown in the mix in this situation?"Nuthin' But a G Thang" by Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg (well, this just broke the trend)

11. What is the ultimate outcome of this situation?
"A Message" by Coldplay (no comment....no)

Ok, now that I am sufficiently freaked out, here is spread two for you to try.

Spread Two: Relationship Spread
How to use it: Any relationship with anyone and your interaction thereof.

For me, I'll just go with something from a long time ago and see if this interprets it right.

1. Your song (your divination card again)
"The Summer Wind" by Frank Sinatra (hmmm...Frank, where is this going?)

2. How you see yourself in this relationship?
"Tabhair dom do Lamh (trans.: Give Me Your Hand)" by the Chieftains (not bad...)

3. How you see the other person/people involved?
"Daylight" by Coldplay (Ok, that may make a little sense there)

4. How you feel about the other person/people involved?
"Love Rollercoaster" by the Red Hot Chilli Peppers (I think that classifies anything along these lines anyway)

5. What stands between you and the other person/people?
"Bigger Than My Body" by John Mayer (ambition? Hmmm...maybe in that situation)

6. How the other person/people see you?
"The Fool on the Hill" by Paul McCartney (oh, gee, thanks a lot--dumbass)

7. What the other person/people feel about you?
"Wedding Bell Blues" by the Fifth Dimension (!!!!)

8. What is the challenge of the relationship?
"Breathe (2 AM)" by Anna Nalick (perhaps not so far off...)

So, people, give it a try--let me know how it turns out...

Wednesday, March 15, 2006


I was walking tonight--I just decided to walk and see where I ended up going. I didn't want to go to the library and do any work and I didn't feel like calling anyone up. I just put on a sweater, took out my music, and started walking.

I realized that I probably could tell the story of the last eight or so years of my life just through Indigo Girls songs. You know when you associate a song of some kind with a time or a place or a person--and whenever you hear it, if you're really paying attention, you can go back there in your head to a moment that would otherwise have been quickly forgotten.

I remember when I was first really introduced to them. I was a freshman in college at Holy Cross. This one guy, Brett, was a big fan, and he used to play their music on his stereo system as well as on his guitar. The first album he brought out to me was Swamp Ophelia.

The songs I liked the best on it were "Least Complicated" and "The Wood Song," but like in most other cases concerning their music, I quickly saw the CD as a whole and ended up enjoying it from beginning to end.

"Least Complicated:" On top of Mount Saint James in Worcester, MA in December--dark, cold, night out, emotionally wrecked by another one of John's mood swings and looking for freedom from that horrible feeling.

"The Wood Song:" New situations, new people, lots of adjustment and wanting things to settle down. Wanting the needless drama to end in favor of more stable relationships with people, in favor of creating a real community.

"Shame On You:" In a car, on a main road, in Connecticut. Person singing in the back seat. Then again, in another car in Boston with John telling me about all of his other relationships.

"Mystery:" Singing in front of the mirror in my bathroom. Liking the unique connection with someone else, but secretly craving that it was more grounded.

"Galileo:" Brian sitting at his computer in his room with that look of cartoonlike anticipatory delight on his face.

"River:" When John went away to Iowa--sitting in my room at home in RI writing in the summer. Wished he was there, knowing it wasn't going to last much longer--directions diverging.

Few years hiatus....

"Get Out the Map:" Any trip on the road, especially in Kingston, MA on the backroads around Route 3--usually winter or early spring, always sunny. My apartment in Plymouth, dressing to work on the Mayflower. New people at work--an overused mix tape in the deck, taking the long way to get coffee on a day off, repeating the best songs.

"Land of Canaan:" Kyle Parrish (unknown reason on this one), living in downtown Plymouth, the party that happened when I moved in there.

"Walk Away:" Finally deciding it was over with John, but with the complete awareness that I didn't want it to be over and would keep looking back anyway.

"Perfect World:" Working out in RI over the winter because I had gained about ten extra pounds--very dry and cold for a long time. Trip to the gym then to get a smoothie, walking around my neighborhood in the cold with a book on tape in the deck, counting the days to resuming work.

"Watershed:" Sitting in my car after finishing the Interpreter's Test talking it out with Chris. Very nervous, very tired, not certain how well I did on it.

"World Falls:" Myself, my philosophy, what grounds me. Seeing the simplicity, seeing the complexity and how beautiful those things in life are.

"Chickenman:" Sara Mahoney (again, unknown reason on this one, too), driving down Route 44 to Plymouth in the morning, few cars out, sunny, road stretches out interrupted ahead of me.

"Kid Fears:" In the office in my apartment in Bridgewater--horrible feeling of nervousness. Knowing what was eventually coming, knowing what I was going to eventually lose--or maybe never actually had.

"Hey Jesus:" Finally losing it--or giving it back perhaps. Alone in my apartment in the living room wrapped in a blanket with my cats, the music on the TV on, needing to sleep, bottle of chardonnay.

"Rise Up:" Walking back from class, needing to be picked up by something--long walk, played it several times. Coming back after my loss--talking to myself in the rear view mirror of my car on a break in the library parking lot. Putting a list of quotes up on the wall at the Mayflower.

"Let Me Go Easy:" Hearing the words you know you need to say, being too weak to say them. Wanting it close and pushing it away by necessity. Anticipating the pain when you cut it from you, and it's so much worse when you're in control because you rip yourself away and create it.

Thank you, ladies, it has be a fantastic ride so far, and I hope you'll continue to be there as it goes on. Couldn't have done it without you.

Songs for anyone else? Any similar phenomena for you? Please feel free to share.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Sailing Off, Hoping For A Good Sunset

Classes for this program just officially finished up this past week, and now we embark on the open, unpredictable seas of working on your own project...well, on your own. It's like taking a sailing course with a bunch of other people. You each get a small, individual basic sailing vessel. At first, you're all reasonably close together in the water. Someone on a larger, easy to see boat is yelling orders to you from a central vantage point and you are taught to raise the sail, haul the right lines, and not crash into each other while at the mercy of the elements on the ocean. Then, eventually, it becomes a "free sail;" they let you go, and you start moving in whatever direction is appealing to you (or maybe whatever direction the wind happens to be taking you).

So, what happens now? Well, you've got to take what you know now and go for it. This is what you showed up to do ultimately anyway, isn't it? You're going to go off in your own direction. Some people you'll never meet up with--they were more attracted to the harbor in the other direction. Some won't go very far at all, and if you're intent upon really going on out there, you're going to leave them behind. Then again, there are going to be a couple of people who you may lose sight of at first, and then later on, you find again a little farther along in the journey--perhaps people you didn't expect to be there. And then, of course, there are the people who want to go to the same place you do. Some of them are aware of it and stay fairly close by, others are also aware and make an attempt to sail a different route on purpose. Regardless of who or what is around you, one thing remains the same--it really is you in that boat on the water, and you're going to have to expect to find yourself alone out there a good portion of the time.

One of the biggest contradictions is the idea of a "community." When you're thrown somewhere with a bunch of other people, you inevitably create a community through that shared experience. What happens when those common elements disappear? Maybe the point is effort-based--this means that you're going to have to take common bonds, common experiences, and then create opportunities to sail side by side for a little while. Someone may turn off on the way to explore something that doesn't appeal to you at the moment, but that doesn't mean that when you spot them on the horizon again, you won't point your boat in that direction and sail on over. You aren't side by side anymore desperately trying to distinguish between the tiller and the rudder. You know what those are, and you're off to discover other things in other places with new knowledge of the trade. However, in the end, you are all doing the same thing, albeit in different places and by different rules--you're all going off to find something. Maybe it's worth remembering that no matter what the differences are, that common basis remains the same.

So, as we all sail off....let's hope for a good sunset.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Elusive Silver Lining

It's always hard when you have to admit to yourself that you're not happy. I don't see that so much as giving up as really just coming to terms with what is your reality. The most difficult thing is knowing that the environment that you're in isn't going to present you with what you're looking for--and maybe being in a place where that isn't present actually enlightens you to what that thing or those things are.

It's not that you aren't willing to do what it takes to find it--it's just that regardless of the leads you have followed and the efforts you have made, nothing has really materialized. And, I think the toughest thing is not really being able to talk about it either because no one is going to have a clue what you are trying to express, you just don't have that kind of relationship with anyone, or you just don't know what to say in the first place--or all of those, or maybe none of them.

I wish I had something enlightening to say. Unfortunately, I don't.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Stuck in the Middle

Have you ever felt like you don't have a place? That you fall in between two or more "realities" or "conceptions" of something, and as a result, you try to fit into one or the other, but neither really feels right?

Maybe times like these force you not to pick a "one" or the "other." Maybe they make you think about the similarities and differences that you share or don't have in common with those other realities.

And, in the end, there is always a choice. You can either choose whatever is readily available--choose between what is around you even though you know that those options aren't quite right or you can choose to exist outside of them. The harder choice, of course, is choosing to stay true to yourself. Here you are, you've got nothing but you, and that has to be enough--it may have to be enough for a long time or tomorrrow may change everything. It's always the most difficult to stay true to something when you're not quite sure what that is.

Or, the one good thing is that these kinds of experiences force you to take one more hesitant step in the direction of knowing yourself. But, let's be honest, they're not enjoyable to go through.

Up on the watershed,
Standing at the fork in the road,
You can stand there and agonize till your agony's your heaviest load,
I'm going to fly as the crow flies,
Get used to a country mile,
When you're learning to face your path at your pace,
Every choice is worth your while.

But ending up where I started again makes me want to stand still.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Sometimes, You Just Don't Know What to Ask For...

...so, you don't ask for very much at all. Or maybe, you're asking for everything.

The thin horizon of a plan is almost clear,
My friends and I have had a tough time,
Bruising our brains hard up against change,
All the old dogs and the magician,
Now I see we're in the boat in two by twos,
Only the heart that we have for a tool we could use,
And the very close quarters are hard to get used to,
Love weighs the hull down with its weight.

But the wood is tired, and the wood is old,
And we'll make it fine if the weather holds.
But if the weather holds, will I miss the point?
That's where I need to go.

No way construction of this tricky plan,
Was built by other than a greater hand,
And with the love that passes, will I understand it,
Watching closely over the journey?
Yeah, but what it takes to cross the great divide,
Seems more than all the courage I can muster up inside,
But will we get to have some answers when we reach the other side?
The prize is always worth the rocky ride.

But the wood is tired, and the wood is old,
And we'll make it fine if the weather holds.
But if the weather holds, will I miss the point?
That's where I need to go.

Sometimes I ask to sneek a closer look,
Skip to the final chapter of the book,
And maybe steer us clear of some of the pain it took,
To get us where we are this far,
But the question drowns in its futility,
And even I have got to laugh at me,
No one gets to miss the start of what will be,
Just holding on for the ride.

But the wood is tired, and the wood is old,
And we'll make it fine if the weather holds.
But if the weather holds, will I miss the point?
That's where I need to go.

It's funny how a whole decade later, the meaning still applies.