Confessions of a former cat man

The Book of Face can be downright Orwellian when it wants to be, but strangely it does not throw personal reminiscences down the same memory hole as certain political and scientific facts.

This week its “Memories” feature brought up a post I’d made in 2009, and it showed how things can change in 14 years. It seems we had a bad snowstorm that left me camped out at a hotel near work rather than driving 20 treacherous miles home.

“had a lovely night at the downtown Days Inn in lieu of driving through 10 inches of snow, but I miss my kitties,” I wrote that late February morning.

That was at the peak of my time as a cat man. We had seven (!) felines wandering around the house: Bam-Bam, Cody, Boop, Beeker, Hemi, Pumpkin and Blackberry. Yes, we had a couple of dogs, but the pointy-eared little fluff balls ruled the roost. I even wrote a song that spring, proclaiming me as a “Cat Man.”

But then our sweet golden retriever, Onyah, died just after Easter, and in May we introduced the menagerie to another golden, an eight-week-old puppy we named Willow. 

Oh, Will. The next 12 years turned me completely around. I may have mentioned her before. My voice may have caught just then when I said, “Oh, Will.” But that’s not today’s memory.

Blackberry — whom I found forlornly wandering a highway on-ramp during Independence Day weekend 2007 when she was four weeks old — is the last representative of her species standing in our domicile. She still has a fierce appetite, and she has taken to caterwauling in the middle of the night, yowling at the injustice of a world where she can’t get room service at 3 a.m.

She has never been one to climb into a lap or sleep on a shoulder, but Blackberry does allow a purr to escape when ears get scratched or a food dish is set before her.

She may be the last cat we ever add to our family. Of course, when Onyah left us, Red said she didn’t think she wanted another golden retriever.

It matters

Starfish © Santos06 |

Somewhere in all of this is a theme, and the theme encompasses an idea, and the idea might save the world if only people would —

“Oh Lordy, it’s another one with a savior complex,” said a voice with no name. “You can’t save them all, it doesn’t matter. Wait, wait, wait, I know this one. This is when you pick up another starfish and say, ‘It matters to this one.’”

Now you’re talking, actually, he thought, pushing back at the voice. If we’re to save people, it will be one at a time. If we are to meet people where they are, it must be one at a time. One at a time, because people are not masses. Heck, every dog, every cat is different when you get to know them, and so are people. 

How dare you make assumptions about “the masses” as if hordes are comprised of people who all think alike? Every person in every crowd had a different journey to get there, How dare we make assumptions about who they “all” are and what they believe?

It matters to this one.

And it matter to this one.

And maybe this one is ready to give up — and it doesn’t matter to this one — but if you help this one anyway, you both may find that it did matter after all.

There’s something to be said about slogging along even when you don’t know where you’re going, or you think you’re making no progress, or you think it doesn’t matter. You never know what might matter to someone along the way — so keep slogging.

Literally cant

© Haywiremedia |

The fairie looked back at the horse and grinned.

“You there, horse,” said the fairie. “Have you ever seen the like?”

The horse gaped.

“Nope, not in this lifetime,” said the horse. And if horses could smile, this horse would have.

Words can’t describe the sight, so I can only describe their reaction. Both creatures broke into widey-wide smiles bigger than smiles are expected to be, and their hearts swelled with a mad joy, and they would spend the rest of their lives remembering the sight and unable to put it into words. They were forever grateful for having seen it, as would anyone.

What do you mean, what did they see? I refer you to the previous paragraph, the one that begins, “Words can’t describe the sight.” As I am using words, it should be clear that I am unable to describe what they saw. Oh, but they saw it, make no mistake, and they were forever changed. One woman smiled for the next 46 years that remained of her life. 

And so, yes, if you ask if lives were changed that day, and for the better, yes, yes, yes. 

Our lives need wonder, and on that day of all days, wonder was in abundance.

Man and companion

“I get tired faster than I used to,” the old man said. “I remember looking at old guys and noticing how they walked, a step at a time, kind of stiff, like everything hurt at least just a little, and lately I’ve noticed myself walking like that.”

“Well, you’re old now,” said his companion.

“Really? I guess so,” said the man. “I do feel old, I guess, some days, and things look a lot fuzzier than they used to when I take off my glasses, and even when I don’t. And I find myself saying, ‘I’m sorry, what did you say?’ more than I did even a little while ago. It bugs me, because I remember impressing a girl when I said, ‘Oh, here’s Columbia Street,’ when we were still half a block away, because I really could read the street sign, my eyes were that good. Yep, I’m feeling old today, no doubt about that.”

“I don’t know what to tell you,” said his companion.

“Me neither, come to think of it,” the man said. “It’s kind of neat being old. I remember old people talking about how it was when they were kids, and here I am talking about the 1950s and ’60s to people whose memories start in the 1980s and ’90s or even sooner, and most aren’t so impressed, but every so often someone will hear me talking about the first time I saw the brand new Ford Mustang — it was at the 1964 World’s Fair, if you want to know — and they’ll say, ‘That must have been something,’ and you can tell they honestly mean it. I said something about the summer of ’73 yesterday, and I was gobsmacked to realize that’s almost 50 years ago now, and I’ve lived through three times as many years now as I had then.

“Yep,” said his companion.

“Should I be imparting some kind of wisdom here, do you think?” said the man. “I don’t really know what I could say. Nobody would listen anyway. Oh, I suppose some might, but wisdom turns out to be something you have to find out for yourself, you know? I’m not sure I even ever found wisdom, and if I did and tried to share it, people would just nod and say, ‘That makes sense,’ while internally they would be rolling their eyes and not believing it until one day they realize it for themselves. That’s the only way anybody learns — for themselves — you know?”

“That makes sense,” said his companion.

“And now you’re just humoring me,” the man said. “Aren’t you?”

“Yep,” his companion said.

The wind blew, and the snow was falling more urgently now, and it was quiet for a long time.

We dig out

I downplayed it the other day, but we did get the predicted big hairy snowfall the last couple of days, and I admit I’m a bit weary from hours of snow-blowing and shoveling. The official measurement was 15.8 inches at the county seat, about 25 miles north of us.

Mother Nature wins this round. The schools and most routine activity were shut down, and the day revolved around pushing the accumulated snow out of the way. 

The crews on the snowplows cleared the main roads, at least, at a pace that would have seemed miraculous a few years ago, and the electricity stayed on throughout the cold and windy storm.

I’ve been daydreaming about how we would fare should all our modern conveniences and grids fail us. I expect I would wish I had spent more time learning how things work and how to repair what we have. But this time I didn’t have to face any such scenarios.

The spring equinox is about 25 days away. I have been ready for a couple months or so.

but you don’t know what

“I want to write something but I don’t know what.”

I was browsing Joanna Penn’s How to Write a Novel and found that line in a list of “common reasons writers quit.”

I know that feeling. Very often it’s when I sit down to compose something for this web log. I made this commitment to post daily, and that commitment has — more often than I care to admit — been the only evidence on a given day that I fulfilled the basic requirement for being a writer, that is to say, that writers write.

The blank page calls to me, and I have an overwhelming urge to fill it. I want to write something but I don’t know what. The best advice to myself I have ever conjured is: Write anything until you write something. Frequently all that comes out, at first, is gibberish. On occasion, all I end up posting is gibberish; the handful of you who check in daily are well aware of that.

But more often than not, as I scratch away at the page filling it with gibberish, writing anything, all of a sudden I will write something. There’s a fine line between anything and something, and occasionally I will look back at a stretch where I was just writing anything, and a passage will lift out of the context, and I’ll mutter, “Huh. That’s something after all.”

And so, my suggestion to you and to me is simply: If you want to write something and you don’t know what, just start writing anything. There are always words bouncing around in your brain: “Dammit, I’m going to have to shovel snow this morning.” “I guess I’d better let the dog out, she seems a little anxious.” “What the heck are those stupid politicians thinking?” If you can’t think of anything else, just write those words down. It’s only paper, or pixels on a screen, and there’s a near-infinite supply of those. Just move your fingers and set words down.

What the heck, write “I want to write something but I don’t know what.” And then write the next thing, and the next. Write anything! Don’t stop! Don’t think! Just. Keep. Writing.

I do not guarantee that suddenly you’ll write, “Call me Ishmael,” or “To be or not to be, that is the question,” or “Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.” But you might.

You may look over what you’ve written and conclude that it’s meaningless gibberish and not worth keeping. Keep it anyway. In a day or two, or more, you may look it over and see something in the midst of the junk and say, “Whoa. I wrote something there.”

Or maybe not.

But you know what?

Writers write. And now you have proof that, for one morning at least, you wrote.

You can build on that.

So: The solution to when you’re feeling, “I want to write something but I don’t know what,” is to start writing. Write anything. And see where it goes.

The most important advice

Rummaging randomly, I opened a journal and found a completely-out-of-context note from five years ago, when I was reading a book called Harvey Penick’s Little Red Book, a book about golf that somehow transcends the game while providing sound advice about playing the game, as I recall.

There, in all capital letters, I wrote this quote from the book:


What is “taking dead aim” as opposed to simply “taking aim”?

I imagine this is a concise way of saying what they say about “SMART” goals — Don’t just have some vague thing you want to accomplish; rather, write down a goal that is specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-based.

Taking dead aim is important because you want to have a clear sight of your target before you pull the trigger.

After you take dead aim, then go for it. Wayne Gretzky famously said, “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”

But first, take the most important advice in Mr. Penick’s book.