Orange cat and Little Cat - on one of the rare occasions they sat together

Cats. You Think you Know What’s Going On And Then ….

I have previously posted about Orange Cat, Little Cat, and Bonus Cat.

Things have changed. I think I may have started it. I chased Bonus Cat. Then Little Cat (ever the anxious sort) concluded she should be chasing Bonus Cat too. These started with yeowling matches at 1AM, and progressed to actual clawing and biting. Bonus Cat decided to use our litter tray. Orange Cat, who barely condescends to use the litter tray, then decided that under the bed was a much better litter tray. So I swopped where my head was. Which meant Little Cat had to sleep somewhere different.

And then we moved the furniture around downstairs for a thing, and then again on Saturday for a different thing. Saturday being the day I noticed the scratch marks and missing skin on Little Cat. Saturday being the last day I saw her. Bonus Cat, who is not actually our cat, has muscled in and scared Little Cat away. There is not much I can do about it. Even Orange Cat is displeased, meowing at me reproachfully.

Of course, I’ve never had an anxious cat before. And I do know that Little Cat had found somewhere else to get food from – she would disappear during the day regularly and almost never ate the food supplied for her at home yet somehow managed to put on weight. So I know Little Cat is happy. But that doesn’t make me any more impressed with the situation.

But I’m not cross with her. I’m not cross with any of them. Bonus Cat has gained territory, but not affection. Bonus Cat will soon find the cat flap closed on a night, and that will put an end to that. (Why did I not do this sooner? I didn’t realise how bad the situation had got. Why am I not doing it straight away? I’m hoping Little Cat will forgive all the changes and come home.) Bicarb, Febreze and some diligent application of plastic bags will sort Orange Cat’s toileting issue. Little Cat has already found her own solution to the problem.

Sometimes we don’t realise the consequences of our actions. When I chased Bonus Cat down the stairs, I had no idea I was actually chasing Little Cat out of my life.

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The Power of Your Story (Revised, because I made a mistake. A big one)

To those who liked the previous version of this blog. Sorry about that. I should not have written it. It was not my story to tell, anonymised or not. (I forgot where I was when I heard the things, I just remembered the lesson. Which is ironic.)

Here’s the thing. I’m a writer, and I love stories. I love stories so much, people often end up telling me stories about themselves, things that they might not have told me, except for the fact that I was so interested.

And people have incredible stories. Especially normal people. Stories of overcoming difficulties, of  making mistakes, and then coming right, of problems turned into blessings, of struggling on and on until something changed, stories of hopes and dreams, heartbreak and passion. Beautiful stories.

I am an idealist. I wish people could see the power of the story, and the power of not telling the story. I can remember countless occasions of people telling me things, and me sitting back and saying “I had no idea!”, frequently thinking, if you had told me that before, it would have been so much more helpful. So I like telling my story, because it helps people understand me. Most of the time.

And I like to help other people tell their stories, because often, it helps them to see themselves in a new light. It helps them see how far they have come, rather than thinking about how far they still have to go. And mostly, other people’s stories inspire me, and can give me hints ant tips to make my own life better. Your story can make the difference between me making a bad choice and a good one, learning the lesson, or wasting a decade of my life in the quagmire of depression, or anxiety, or addiction. (I have tasted the first, before you ask, and seen the other two close-up.)

So last week, I was at a thing, and somebody said something that struck me (because I’m a writer, and I remember these kinds of things). And then somebody else sent me a text along similar lines. And then somebody else told me her story, and I was inspired (“I guess I never get to hear my story for the first time,” she said when I told her). And everything came together in the beautiful theme of the importance of telling your story. And I thought it was brilliant, and I wrote a blog, careful to anonymise people.

And then I was told off. And it took me a while to realise I was wrong. Because stories are powerful things, and we need to tell them, but we need to tell them right. And we need to make sure that we don’t cause unnecessary offence, that we don’t invade confidential space for the sake of the lesson (this last is what I actually did). Because here’s the thing – I know you have an amazing and beautiful story, but if you don’t want to tell it, I can’t make you.

Even if I really, really want to know how you learnt the thing you learnt.

So my story is this – I wish you knew how amazing your story really is. I wish you would tell it.

(And now I’m going to go and edit all the tags to this post.)

Description: Person (Not Otherwise Specified)

Within psychology literature, there’s a book that (supposedly) describes all the psychological conditions and their diagnostic criteria. IT’s been around a while, and revised a few times. We’re currently on the DSM-5 (I really should be able to remember what that stands for, but I don’t), but we still have sub-categories within conditions that are described as NOS – not otherwise specified. Which would be used when the diagnosing professional reckons, yes you have something that pretty much looks like this condition, but you don’t quite match our checklist so we’ll just call you that. It’s not very helpful. It speaks more to who you are not, rather than to who you are.

We can treat people like that. We can say that they don’t match our expectations, they don’t do what we would do or what we would want them to do, they don’t view life from our (narrow?) perspective. Therefore they aren’t a valid member of our group. They are a person, but only just, they’re a Not Otherwise Specified. I know. I live there.

I recently took Little Person for some assessments, and it’s been hard, describing all the things that she does differently, or doesn’t do at all. I have had arguments with her teacher about her homework, but the system rolls on, and she keeps getting the work that she cannot do, and she keeps getting frustrated. Because they have a checklist, and they teach to the average, and children aren’t allowed to be different. So now I have to fight to get the support she needs to be able to cope in a world that wants to put her in a box, until she is old enough to see that the box is the wrong shape.

I have a lifetime of experience of not fitting in the box. I have had people accept me for who I am – The Dude is one – and value how my difference adds a dimension that they would not otherwise see. I do things differently because I see things differently. I try to make the best use of that, to see it as a talent that can enrich the lives of others and help them achieve their potential, but today? Today I feel like it’s a diagnostic condition. Today I feel like that person (Not Otherwise Specified). Barely there, barely matters.

[And before all of you tell me to buck up and stop being so melodramatic, there are people in your world who feel just as different, just as ostracised as me. Reach out to them, why don’t you? I’ll be better tomorrow. They might take a bit longer.]

That Time I Sat Still

“Nobody move.”

We did as we were told. The group of strangers crowded together oh-ing and ah-ing, giggling and taking photographs fell instantly silent, instantly still. No movement, save the trembling of fingers, the pounding of hearts in chests. Maybe it was something in his voice that commanded our instant obedience – that firm but somehow tense tone replacing the chatty bonhomie of moments before.

But I suspect it may have been the elephant. Grumpy, ears splayed wide, peering at us from beneath heavy eyelashes. I may have enjoyed the experience more if it wasn’t a bull elephant within a trunk’s length of our open-topped vehicle, and it hadn’t just appeared from behind a bush as if from the ether.

For at least 30 seconds we sat there, in fear and awe of this amazing animal – beautiful and terrifying in equal measure. Until it decided that we weren’t worth the bother and went back to its meal. Needless to say, the game ranger was quick to remove us to a safer location, where we could enjoy the beauty of the animals without the close encounters becoming too close.

That was the day I realised I would not have made a good game ranger. But there were other lessons too.

Sometimes it is not the environment that causes the problem, but our response to it. Similarly, our response to a problem can cause it to cease to be a problem. We could’ve shouted, the ranger could’ve started the engine and raced off – and that would’ve encouraged a very different outcome. So choose your response. That can make all the difference.

Sometimes you get what you asked for. We wanted an encounter with elephants – and we certainly got one! But we got the visceral be glad you live in the 21st century and not in a prehistoric times version, and personally, I wouldn’t have it any other way. Even if it took me a long time to calm down. I still get goosebumps thinking about it.

We are all game rangers in life. We all have to live with elephants (and predators too – but that’s for another time). We can choose to stay on the roads, or go off-road; look at the elephants from afar and not appreciate their true beauty, or see them up close and be amazed by their dexterity; stay safe definitely with an excellent and obvious escape route or run the risk of things being uncomfortable and maybe even dangerous. The decisions we make don’t just affect us, but affect all those that are in our vehicle with us.

So if you want go within a trunk’s length of a bull elephant, make sure the people going with you can sit still when required.

Wisdom is …

“Wisdom is making decisions today for the benefit of your tomorrow.” I heard that quoted the other week, but forget the source. But wisdom is more than that.

Wisdom is knowing when that definition doesn’t hold true – when you need to be brave, and do the unexpected thing.

Wisdom is not thinking, but it is not action either. It is more than strategy or skill. It is knowing how your knowing is relevant to the situation. And sometimes more importantly, knowing when all your previous knowledge doesn’t apply.

Wisdom is knowing the time – is it a time to speak up, or a time to be silent? Sometimes the best answer is to say nothing at all. Sometimes you will be the only person who can (or will) stand up to right the wrong.

All the knowledge in the world is useless if it is applied rashly and inappropriately.

But all the wisdom in the world is pointless if it is applied harshly and without grace. (Okay, maybe not completely pointless, but the benefits are severely downgraded.)

Wisdom is not really wisdom unless it is partnered with love. And then it becomes something truly powerful.

Grace.

Six Weeks – A Poem (For Tiny Boo)

Six Weeks

(For Tiny Boo)

Six weeks your limbs stretch after the womb,

Like a butterfly ready for flight;

Six weeks your eyes blink and blink in wonder

At a world of colours and light;

Six weeks your scent fills our hearts

With milky sweet promises of alright;

Six weeks your rosebud mouth crinkled and close-

Maybe that smile will come tonight.

Six weeks we have loved you;

Six weeks watched you grow;

Six weeks we have cuddled and held you so tight.

And six weeks is ended, and yet -

And yet.

We will always remember. And love you all night.

 

 

(please contact me if you plan to use this poem.)

Lessons From A Bonus Cat

We have 2.3 cats (approximately). First, there is Orange Cat (not her real name). Big, fluffy. Somebody applied a fader filter to her underside and she dipped her tail in it. Likes sleeping in cupboards, particularly on shelves storing expensive jumpers.  Then there is Little Cat (well, you wouldn’t want me to name all my cats for their colours – that would be colourist). Shiny black fur, yellowy-green eyes. Ginormous ears. Excellent fly-catcher and all-round hunter. The first time we let her out into the garden of our new house , she got trapped in the neighbour’s garden.

And then there is Bonus Cat, who represents the partial cat in my ownership figure. He/she is as big as Orange Cat and as shiny black as Little Cat, on the topside. I know this because we’ve had regular visits. I’ve been awoken by strange noises in the night, decided it was just my imagination and gone to the bathroom (as you do – I mean, I was awake anyway), and been temporarily confused by the fact that there was a cat that had all the properties of my cat but somehow it didn’t quite fit. In fact, it took two such encounters for me to work out that my confusion was not due to my sleepiness, but actually due to the cat not being my cat.

Bonus Cat (henceforth, BC) is a beautiful cat – black on top, cream underneath, with a brown patch by the nose. I’m torn between wanting to make friends and harass it, but currently we have a stand-off. BC creeps into the house once the kitchen light goes off, and the upstairs light goes off, not checking the lights in the front of the house. BC fails to take account of noises upstairs. BC has in the past tried to creep past The Dude while he watched tv (and thought better of it). I have chased BC down the stairs a few times. Little Cat once woke me up just as I was dropping off to sleep to deal with BC. And BC has learnt to only exit via the cat flap if I actually go down the stairs and turn the light on.

In our last encounter, BC hid under the bed where I sleep while I went bounding down the stairs to chase the intruder.

But we only have BC because we have a cat flap and nice food. And we only have a cat flap and nice food because we take care of our cats. Sure we could have the magnetic cat flap, but neither cat is particularly fond of collars, and Little Cat in particular is tree climber. I wouldn’t want her to get her collar snagged on a branch. And actually, I suspect BC and our cats have an understanding, because for all the visits that that cat makes, our cats very seldom kick up a fuss.

So this is the lesson of Bonus Cat – if you are going to share your life, you are going to end up with unexpected consequences. Choose how you respond to them, or you might find yourself outwitted by a feline.

(My thoughts and prayers go out to my family in South Africa at this time. It hurts too much to write about, and the words crumble in my heart, so I wrote this instead. )