Little Purring Heart

Loving

Let me address the Cheshire Cat, that creature from Alice in Wonderland. When Alice asks why the Duchess’s cat ‘grins like that’, she is pointing to something others before her had wondered. Before Lewis Caroll there was John Wolcot: ‘Lo! Like a Cheshire cat our court will grin.’ Thackeray also said something about Cheshire cats, so it was by no means Carroll’s or should I say Dodgson’s thing: the cat that grins.

I only have those words, the ones I have quoted to you, and the memory of the picture of the cat reproduced in the original version of Alice in Wonderland to go by, when I think of the Cheshire Cat. But it is enough for me to say something to it, this creature who leaves its smile behind long after the rest of it has departed.

The Cheshire Cat allows me to think of something fundamental about love: as does any cat, if I attempt to know it. Cats, in their mystery help me consider the difference between the who and the what.

When I first meet someone and feel drawn to them I notice details, from the colour of their eyes to the speed of their movements. The more time I spend with that person the more of these I notice, and when they are not with me I miss them for their ways, their special qualities, for the difference they bring to my life. These things I would call ‘whats’. The what of another is easy to define. If I spend enough time with someone, however, while I still notice these things I can begin to understand something else, if I allow myself. I find that when the person is with me I am connected to something other than the ‘whats’. I begin to know who they are (Fig 10). And this who, rather than the what, is what can stay with me enough for me to say I love somebody. I love somebody for who they are long after the ‘whats’ have done their business of drawing me in.

fig 10

The Cheshire Cats’ smile may be unique, but it is more than a facial expression. It is a way into something about the Cheshire Cat that cannot be defined: something indefatigable about the creature’s disarming presence.

All cats are like this, whether or not they come from Cheshire. I might recognise any cat once I have seen it enough, based on its lovely paws or its lopsided ears. Perhaps it has a white patch on its stomach; maybe it has a funny scuttling way of running. After some time, though, these things signal something about the cat I am about to meet which is beyond immediate recognition: these characteristics, these whats, are like hallmarks: to be loved by Tom. What it is that I love, a cat cannot tell me; but in the cat that I love, because I cannot ever know it, I can understand something of myself. All love, a cat will tell us, may relate only to ourselves in so far as we are able to recognise what is loveable; but real love comes from allowing ourselves to connect with what we don’t know, and to move beyond the what. Some of us try to love whats, and cling to these for our lives, only to find in the end we have never found out who it is that we say we love … we love only what we see on a screen; we love someone as we might love a hero of the silver screen. A cat, as I have already said, is a hero like a silver screen, not of it. If we allow ourselves beyond the screen, then what?

This is perhaps rather complicated.

Far more simply, allow me to tell you about the cat I used to know who belonged to a professional wrestler called Kendo. Kendo used to wear a mask when he wrestled, and at first, that is when I met Kendo after an accident that required me to treat him for a certain fear, and Kendo decided to get himself a cat, he tried to get his cat to do the same. He made his cat, Buttons, a small mask out of cloth and rubber that was supposed to make Buttons look like a fiery demon who would accompany him into the wrestling ring. Buttons didn’t look like a demon. Buttons looked like a cat wearing something very strange that it really didn’t want to, and only for a few seconds anyway as Buttons, like most cats, wouldn’t have it.

Kendo was disconsolate. He showed me photographs of Buttons in the moments before she (for buttons was a she) tore the mask off, and asked me: ‘Thomas, why does my cat not love me enough to be a demon for me?’

‘Kendo,’ I said, ‘Do you know at all whether Buttons loves you or not?’

‘But she is just like a demon, the demon I used to dream of when I was a little boy, who would breathe fire all over my parents and destroy them. She must love me, because I feel so much love for her, because she is such a little demon with her sharp little ears, burning eyes and bristling fur. I know her. She is just like me.’

‘I see.’ I paused a while, so that I knew Kendo was listening to me. ‘Kendo, from what I have seen of Buttons, in your photographs and in the flesh, I do not think she is temperamentally anything like a demon. She seems placid and peaceful, apart from when you ask her to wear a mask like you do. I think that when you say you love her for being a little demon, that you know her, and that she is so much like you, you are doing what so many of us do: you are looking into her eyes and seeing the life there as something that burns (fig 11).

fig 11

I think she shines. And when you say she is such a little demon you are projecting yourself onto her. You are asking her to play the part of you, starring in the film of your life. But she’s a cat. You need to let her reveal herself to you. For her to be a screen to you, for sure; one that will allow you to see yourself.

From what you have told me can you already see how your younger, fiery little self needs to be loved in ways that it seems your mother and father were incapable of. You love her fiery little face, as you see it. She doesn’t have a fiery little face, Kendo. She has a sweet, restful face, open enough for her to be the screen you need, so you can start to love yourself. If you can’t see this, Kendo, you will spend your whole life loving people and things who stand for the you who wasn’t loved enough. I’m so sorry about that, Kendo. But let Buttons be free. Let her be herself and learn to love her as she is.’

Kendo, who was wearing his own mask, something he often did in our sessions together, tore it off and smiled at me as if he had won the greatest prize imaginable. I see,’ he said. ‘I see.’

‘And Kendo, I see you.’

Kendo never looked back. Occasionally, whenever I was passing through the Midlands I would arrange to see Kendo and Buttons; and it was during these sporadic visits that I really came to understand that part that loving a cat can play in a life. The more open Kendo seemed to become to Buttons, the less violent he himself became. I would visit their bungalow near Wolverhampton and find Buttons chasing butterflies in the garden while Kendo made jam in the kitchen. Kendo saw something of himself in Buttons which he would never have glimpsed if he hadn’t allowed that small ginger cat to be herself rather than the demon he had cast her as.

It was as if he had understood something without it having ever been said: cats are telepathy.

It was as if his life developed in ways he could never have imagined: cats are change.

It was as if he learned how to love by somehow losing sight of himself, letting go of that fiery demon he had imagined for himself as a child. The last time I saw Kendo he was about to become engaged to a young French yoga practitioner called Lulu.

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Little Purring Heart

Playing

‘Give a cat a piece of string, and a cat will play’. My friend Laura told me this not that long ago while she was arranging the blonde wig she had to wear for her part in a cult TV series directed by one the men most like a cat I have met, David. We didn’t have a cat to hand, but she was dangling a long piece of string.

I agreed. We’d been talking about how much like a cat David was, and somehow we’d ended up agreeing that, for him, a camera was his piece of string.

‘My cat at home,’ she’d said, ‘Whatever mood it’s in, you show it a piece of string and it’ll jump on it. Just like it is with David, you give him a camera and he’s on it. Any kind of camera, the more expensive, the better.’ And she dangled the string. Do you believe me?’

At that point I hadn’t agreed, and I wasn’t sure, in fact, what she meant – or where this might take us with cats. She knew I was writing a book about cat psychology, but Laura can be pretty mercenary when she gets hold of an idea; and because the whole point of me heading to an Irish pub in Los Angeles (we were actually in her trailer round the back of the pub) was to speak to Laura some more about some very interesting things she’d once told me about what happens when cats play, I didn’t particularly want to get sidetracked into talking about David and cameras.

‘Tom, you look worried.’ She took my hands and clasped them gently. ‘I know you want to talk about cats, and play, and trust me, that’s where we’re going. But do you think I’m right about David and cameras?’

‘Laura, I wouldn’t know.’

‘Do you want to find out?’ She squeezed my hands and smiled. I couldn’t help myself. I agreed. And I didn’t have time to change my mind because David walked into her trailer.

‘Hello,’ he said through a megaphone he was holding. I tried not to stare. He didn’t seem to need it just to say hello; but I knew he was an unusual man. I smiled and said hello back.

Before he could say anything else Laura asked him: ‘David are you busy?’

‘Laura I am no more busy than ever. We have a scene to do, so yes we’re very busy. Are you ready, now? Are you ready? Do you remember how we said you were going to do this, how you’d turn round and look into Albert’s eyes like he was an atomic explosion, or Rimbaud. You take your pick.’ He looked intense, full of whatever he was about to film; his eyes a little glazed, like he was overcome by something – maybe the scene. It sounded as if he had something special in mind for Laura.

‘Almost David. First, though, I wondered if you’d like to see my new camera?’[1]

‘Laura, I don’t have time to look at a camera.’ His face, however, told a different story. David’s eyes shifted quickly around the room, and what he’d just said had not been said through his megaphone.

‘David, this camera records ten billion pixels per image.’

‘My God, Laura.’ David put his megaphone down. ‘Where is this camera?’

‘Over here.’ She went to her shoulder-bag, slung over the back of a chair, reached inside and took out what, to me, looked a rather small camera. She handed it to David.

‘Can I use it?’ he asked.

‘Of course.’

He hurried from the room with the kind of urgency you seldom see unless someone is ill or in danger. Laura nodded at me and we followed him; at least, we tried to. By the time we had left her trailer all we could see was the back of David’s car careering towards the highway.

‘He’ll be gone for the rest of the day,’ said Laura. ‘Like a cat with a bird. I won’t get it back off of him until he’s finished with it.’

‘What about the film?’ I asked.

‘When it comes to cameras, I told you. He’s fickle as a cat. Sometime this tomorrow he’ll turn up back here with some prints, and he’ll look grubby, like he’s been crawling around on his belly in the dirt, because he probably has.’

I could go on, because I stayed in LA for a few days. I ended up driving across the Mojave with David and Laura to rescue Kyle, who was also a star in the TV series, and who was as keen as David on cameras. After Kyle saw a photograph David took with Laura’s camera in Death Valley he insisted on going there himself to take a companion shot of his own. Unfortunately he lost track of time and seemed to go a little mad in the heat. A message Laura received by satellite phone was most alarming.

But I digress.

The thing I hope you notice in my account of my time with Laura, however fanciful some elements of it may sound, is what happens when a cat, or a man like a cat begins to play. Cats know no logic in their games. They don’t play in the way I might play cricket or sometimes tennis. Cat-play is almost automatic: an acting out of desire, an apocalypse of reason and an abnegation of responsibility. To play like a cat is to play without limit.

And with this in mind I would ask you to consider, however briefly, what I have come to call the ‘Joker’ role or function that cats have in groups of cats and people. The atmosphere a cat engenders when it plays is like one where a sudden typhoon might break out at any moment. People used to speak, less so now, of the ‘Bermuda Triangle’, an area of sea near Bermuda where aeroplanes and ships mysteriously disappeared. Supernatural reasons aside, there is much evidence that the weather systems in that part of the world mimic a human-cat grouping with the cat’s ‘Joker’ function operating similarly to the way in which a sudden shift of a weather front might swallow up an aircraft carrier or a jumbo jet without warning.

The ‘Joker’ function adds something ‘other’ to what John Rickman (xxxx) talked about as multi-body psychologies (‘two-body’, ‘three-body’ as in the oedipal relationship), of groups as collections of individuals. Wilfred Bion saw groups as something in themselves, rather than gatherings of people in various configurations. In either case, the psychologies of Rickman or Bion, the ‘Joker’ supplies an unknowable, volatile element as likely to end in tears as happiness.

What does this mean to us, as humans? I would suggest that the presence of a cat in any social group, in addition to the functions I have already suggested, presents us with a possibility for change. Cats are change (Fig 9), we could say, as equally as we might say cats are telepathy.

fig 9

Where does cats as change take us?

I am reminded of the paper I delivered at the 2013 UKCP annual research conference[2]. I admit that my initial premise, that the only valid form of psychotherapy research involves exploring transference, was contentious, but the boos which greeted my conclusion were hardly what I expected from even the worried looking individuals who’d done their best to ignore me since the start of the day. May I quote here, together with an exchange I had with a member of the audience, from my paper:

 

T: And if I remind you of our cat, the cat of my dream of eternal research, swimming the muddy channels of that once beautiful but now rendered deadly brown, I am minded to ask ‘where does the cat take us?’

Bearded Man in Crowd (B): This is shit mate.

(Laughter)

T: Indeed it is. From the acidic coffee served to us at 9.00 this morning, through the nasty croissants to the full stop I am about to deliver right now. The cat takes us, as it swims, to think of nothing less than the calamity which will overtake us if we succumb to a culture of research as prescribed by those forces we have today made so little attempt to describe, cowed as we are, super-egoically whipped into line. Ladies and gentlemen, here we are.

B: Check your privilege, for Christ’s sake.

T: Sir, I have and I continue to do so. Can I suggest you check out your counter-transference in relation to all I have done my best to bring here, to you all, today. Or, as I will at some point go on to say: if you desire change, invest in a cat. If you would like things to stay as they are, get a dog and it will guard them.

With this, I left.

As you might sense from what I have told you, the day was bruising. My subsequent near-expulsion from the UKCP, also, was a tawdry affair; and I wonder if without an intervention from a certain Kleinian analyst, who pointed out the connection between the contents of my paper and my imminent ‘expulsion’, and UKCP’s reluctant climb-down, I might now be unaccredited. Once again, can I thank that analyst who, like most Kleinians, for better or for worse, found it so hard to say nothing.

I hope I have done justice here to the aesthetics of cat-play as they engender change.

[1] Perhaps at this point I should draw attention to the special kind of ‘atmosphere’ Laura was kindling. You may remember how my thinking rests on an appreciation of ‘atmospheres’ (and I shall say more in my conclusion)? Laura was building an atmosphere par excellence.

[2] So We All Want Faeces? Psychotherapy Research as a Profane Regression, 2013.

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Little Purring Heart

Haruki’s Cat

I feel I should now reveal my connection to the cat I shall call Haruki’s cat, and something of the circumstances that led me to visit Japan. Although I cannot go so far as to describe what happened to me in Japan I believe the reader will be able to sense, from what I write here, something of that experience: enough, at least, to feel the kind of wonder I refer to in equating cat + wonder. With that done … surely that is all that needs to be done?

It was late October and I was relaxing on my sofa contemplating, of all things, peppercorns. The peppercorn grinder I had recently bought seemed immune to reason when it came to actually adding the peppercorns, and I had just succeeded in spilling a good deal of them all over my kitchen floor. Outraged I had thrown the peppercorn grinder to the very end of my garden and slumped down on the sofa, thinking about the mess on my kitchen floor. At that moment my telephone rang.

I hesitated, sighed, and picked the receiver up. I did not feel in any way inclined to a speak with anyone but for some reason I decided to answer.

‘Hello?’

There was a moment’s silence, and then a man’s voice – a soft, foreign voice, Japanese, perhaps: ‘ Peppercorns are indeed a plague when they scatter.’

I nearly dropped the receiver.

‘What? Who is this?’ I glanced at the window, imagining I was somehow being watched – nobody. A camera? I had heard of such things. A camera hidden in a book?

The voice replied. ‘No, there is no camera. There are no eyes on you, only my mind. In my mind’s eye I can see you, although that kind of sight, I would say, is a very different type of sight from the one you have in mind. I am speaking with you telepathically.’

‘I asked, who are you?’

‘I am a Japanese cat.’

‘Don’t be stupid. I’m going to put the phone down.’

‘Please, don’t do that.’

‘This is madness.’

‘Perhaps telepathy is a form of madness, yes; but I am certainly a cat.’

‘Don’t be ridiculous.’

The voice, and I shall call it a voice for now, paused. I heard a rustle. ‘You heard that sound?’ asked the voice.

‘No.’

‘Yes you did.’ The voice sounded kind, something in me felt unable to disagree, especially when I had so clearly heard the rustle, like a foot being placed on dried leaves.

‘Perhaps I did.’

‘Indeed,’ answered the voice. ‘And these are in fact dried leaves I am lying on, speaking to you. I merely turned around.’

‘This is ridiculous. A cat cannot use a telephone. I know cats: a cat couldn’t dial a number, or hold a receiver. A cat’s paws forbid these things.’

‘An ordinary cat, perhaps. But I am Haruki’s cat. I speak into a receiver attached to my collar, that I activate with my breath. I breathe twice, heavily, to turn the telephone on – and when I say telephone I am referring to nothing more than a very tiny grey box attached to my left forepaw. It is almost weightless. I often forget it is there. So I activate the phone with my breath and then whisper numbers, only in breath, no words, which are dialed. Do not ask me how they are dialed as that part is beyond me. Haruki arranged for the telephone when he discovered my powers of telepathy. Haruki knows and I do not.

I lay in silence, staring at the receiver in my hand; my mind returned briefly to the peppercorns, and then I spoke.

‘Who is Haruki?’

‘He writes books, very good ones. He runs. He cooks lovely food to which I am partial.’

‘You’re speaking in riddles. He’s a man, I take it?’

‘Yes, he’s a very special man, with a great understanding of things about which many men choose to remain ignorant. And of those who do not choose ignorance, very, very few are actually capable of comprehending the truth. He is one of those men. He has, for example, made it possible for me to speak to you.’

As the voice said this, something happened to me, like a tug, as if someone had taken me by the arm as I was walking along, a little lost, and set me on the right route. The effect in me was a softening; a believing. Whereas until that point I had been incredulous, so much so that my incredulity might have led, if it has continued, to the telephone in my hand joining my peppercorn grinder at the end of the garden. Instead I felt inclined to take the voice seriously.

I spoke slowly, the harshness gone from my voice. ‘If I accept what you are saying, I am still at a loss to understand why you would want to call me after I had spilled some peppercorns. Why would you want to speak to me?’

‘So I can invite you to Japan, where I live, with Haruki.’

Was I mesmerized? Was I under some kind of spell? Was I subject to some strange form of delusion? No, I was not. But I can say little more.

I went to Japan where I met this cat and Haruki. I have decided, however, never to reveal what emerged for me there unless to do so would benefit Haruki and his cat – whose name I learned, but swore never to repeat. Currently I do not see that it would.

From what I have written here, however, but to which I will not add, you may deduce that my ideas of a new aesthetic approach to the psychology of cats, and of what this reveals to us of ourselves, not least in relation to the science of telepathy, runs more than skin deep.

I shall proceed now to discuss my approach without reference to Haruki’s cat, although that cat’s little purring heart remains at the heart of this text.

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Little Purring Heart

Communication

My friend Judi, a feted actress, once told me about her cat, ‘M’, who would sit on a small leather pouf by the fire eyeing her as if she were the Queen of Sheba, or perhaps Cleopatra, who Judi could well on occasion be, until someone else walked into the room. When this happened M would fart like a pig and roll off the pouf as if she were drunk. ‘From Cleopatra to Falstaff, Tomasz,’ Judi said to me. ‘It’s as if she wants to humiliate me.’

‘And what do you do then?’ I asked her.

‘What do I do?’

‘Yes, when that person walks into the room, what does Judi do?’

‘You know, I’ve never really thought about that. I apologise, I suppose. But of course I laugh, and I can’t remember anyone coming into the room who hasn’t laughed as well because all they have to go on from before the fart and the fall is the description of Cleopatra I provide …’

‘Which is like what?’

‘Oh, over-the-top I suppose. Very over the top.’

‘You go to great lengths to describe yourself as this outrageously beautiful woman?’

Judi laughed. ‘Well …’

‘You might say,’ I suggested, ‘that your cat gives you permission to describe yourself as outrageously beautiful.’

Cats do this. They enhance communication rather like one might turn up the volume on a record player, apply a highlighter to a memorandum, add a haunting bass line to a rock song, or emit purple smoke from the back of an aerobatic jet-plane as it loops the loop.

Think of situations where your cat has been present and the effect of that cat; and then think: what would happen without the cat?

I pass a house each day, a very lovely blue house, rather wild looking, more of a country cottage than a house, right in the centre of the city where I live. I never forget to look, and to sample its uncommon beauty, because as I pass it my attention is invariably drawn to a rather elderly, gallant looking black and white cat that seems to spend most of its life sitting on the pavement outside the gate to the house. If I didn’t notice the cat I would trip over it.

And I have seen other people fuss over this cat: pick it up, feed it, stroke it, photograph it; and every time they pay attention to the cat they are also forced to take notice of the house. It’s a subtle house, but one whose presence is quietly announced by the black and white cat which sits there. Black and white cat, I salute you.

Of course cats do much more than enhance communication. Cats can be communication (Fig 8).

fig 8

What do I mean by this? Well, people have puzzled over the notion of telepathy for many more years than since Myers first named it in 1882. Thought transference has always been an attractive idea, and in many cultures, at various different times, something approaching it has been accepted as almost commonplace. Even Freud was inclined to believe in it and, as a psychotherapist, I must say I have experienced more than enough of it to believe it happens to us all without us ever being able to actually realise it[1].

What I aim to propose here, though is that cats are telepathy; or, to be absolutely precise the science of telepathy = cats + wonder.

If I wonder about a cat, or a cat seems to be wondering about something, a thought will invariably enter my head. What is so special about that, perhaps you ask? If I think of anything at all, doesn’t a thought enter my head?

Of course a thought will, but this will be a simple, interior thought, rather than a thought born out of cat + wonder. A telepathic thought. When I contemplate a cat I take in some one else’s thinking – whoever else I associate with that cat. If I go to visit my grandmother, Delphine, for example, who is now very old indeed, and I see her cat Montgomery sitting in the sun on her veranda, I take in something exquisite about the old woman usually sitting sewing in the background. Without her I would not know Montgomery. There would be no thought of a cat named after a wartime commander, the ‘Spartan General’, a figure from another time: the time of my grandmother. Montgomery leads me to remember my grandfather, Bill, himself a military hero, and the love of Delphine’s life. Delphine, the beautiful young French woman that saved Bill from a hail of Nazi bullets by throwing him, from the window of her third floor appartment, a heavy metal bathtub in which he hid, turtle like. Montgomery puts me in mind of the superhuman strength she exhibited in tossing a piano from that very same window, crushing those Nazis.

[1] ‘New Thoughts from Old Minds’, 1999

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Little Purring Heart

Synchronization

If I walk into a room where there is a person, or people, and a cat, or cats, I always try to notice the forms of synchronization taking place. Often this is hard because cats seem to detect the presence of a new party entering a room very quickly, and they adjust to that extra presence almost at once. So, when trying this at home, I would advise you to carry a notebook and note down what you see independently of an observer. Also do this without a notebook because doubtless your cat will adjust to being noted and perform some kind of feline intervention of her or his[1] own.
Perhaps the best example of synchronization (Fig 7) I can think of involved a friend of my mother’s, a very famous Tory politician better known for her handbag than her cats. She had two cats, in fact, whose names I have forgotten. Depending on how she was getting on with either her home secretary or her chancellor anyone visiting her house would find one of these cats sitting dejectedly on the doorstep. I imagine few people noticed this; but on the occasions I visited her I witnessed this performance being played out with impeccable accuracy.

fig 7

There was more to it.
My mother’s friend terrified me. She would make a habit of interrogating me about how my university studies were going not to get into conversations about the subjects I was studying, but to query me about where I bought my weekly groceries.
Enough of that person. Let me tell you instead about someone else and his cat, and something about synchronization. Cat-Cat was the companion of John, who at the time sang with a notorious punk band. I had rented a first floor flat just off the Kings Road, and below me lived John. One day there was a knock at my door. I opened it to find John standing looking very aggravated, although I have to say I have never seen him not look like that, even when we have been discussing things I am sure he finds soothing.

‘Do you live here?’ he asked me.

‘Yes I do,’ I replied.’

‘You’re very quiet,’ he said. ‘Unnaturally so, and my cat doesn’t like it. Nor do I.’

‘Oh dear.’ I struggled to understand why he was telling me this, and to adjust to the way in which he was telling it to me. ‘I do live on my own.’

‘That’s not the problem.’ John looked impatient. ‘Can I show you the problem?’

‘Of course.’

‘Thank you. It’s downstairs.’

‘What is?”

‘The problem.’

So I followed him downstairs, into his flat. It was a minimalist affair. His front room had only a rug, a couple of pictures on the wall, what looked like holiday snap-type photographs, and a large couch.

‘There,’ he said. ‘You see the problem.’

A shaggy black cat sat in the middle of the rug staring up at the ceiling.

‘When you’re quiet, especially when you’re completely silent, as in when you aren’t at home, he just stares upwards.’

‘Are you sure that’s about me?’

‘Oh yes. If you make a noise he goes to sleep in the corner. But if you’re quiet, and you’re there, or you’re quiet because you’re not there, that’s what he does; and it’s driving me crazy. I keep tripping over him.’

‘But when I’m not there … that isn’t me being silent.’

‘Tell him that. He’s a nosey little bastard.’

I wasn’t sure what to make of this, although I think without doubt it meant something, and so I thanked John, told him I would think about how I could make more noise, and returned to my flat.

Whatever else it is true to say about cats I would round this section of by saying this: cats adjust themselves to the presence of those around them. Whatever a cat is doing, this in some way interacts with the humans (and other animals[2]) it regards as its immediate clan[3].

What does my tale of John and Cat-Cat suggest to me? Imagine if the scene of John and Cat-Cat was action on a stage. What would this tell us about John’s mind? Cats allow us to synchronize ourselves with something in our minds (as I shall describe more fully when I write about Kendo and his cat Buttons, later).

[1] I use the feminine and masculine pronouns here and in other places, you will notice. What maleness or femaleness means to a cat is still subject to investigation. All I can say is that when I used the word ‘it’ on one occasion I was bitten not by the cat but by its owner, a young girl called Isabella, who found the term very unfriendly to her cat. She refused to let go of me until I promised never to use that word again. I agreed. ‘What shall I use instead?’ I asked her. ‘Him or her will do,’ she told me. ‘A cat would be happy with that, I am sure’. And I am a man of my word, so Isabella if you are reading this you can see I respect the promise I made.

[2] I have seen cats develop meaningful relationships with rabbits, a tortoise, dogs and cattle. These creatures tend not be ones a cat can eat, the problems of which are self-evident. I have seen a cat cavorting with a field mouse, in what appeared to be, in that moment, a non-threatening encounter. I wouldn’t however, have liked to bet on the relationship being especially enduring.

[3] I deliberately intend a ‘Scottish’ inflection. There is something unimpeachable about the sight, for example in a lowly Highland croft, of an old cat dozing by the fire while the owners go about their humble routines. A Scottish cat will always be welcome in ‘the clan’. Conversely, in Mississippi I once saw a small black cat maul a member of ‘the Klan’ so horribly I could only conclude that the animal’s psychic mechanisms were somehow unable to tolerate the behaviour of a bigot wearing a tablecloth. I have seen cats also do this to spiders.

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Little Purring Heart

But Now How About Those Atmospheres?

Let me repeat those categories I mentioned:

  •  Synchronization
  • Communication
  • Playing
  • Loving

I intend now to take us very carefully through an overview, if we may call it that, of each category, involving specific, illuminating anecdotes I have accumulated. In each case I would ask you to think about the ‘loving’ relationship between the cat and its owner, and how that might relate to the original loving relationship between mother[1] and child.

[1] It may be a little late in the day, but I would of course point out that some of us do not have mothers who we know. The person who raises us may be different from our biological mother, and the acts of mothering someone experiences might be from all manner of sources. I am moved, for example, to think of Tarzan of the Apes.

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Little Purring Heart

But, You Say, He Does Not Believe in Psychology!

Indeed I do not: at least, not of the ‘this happened to person X once upon time, thus shaping the mentality of person X now.’ My new aesthetic approach doesn’t discount the effects of our childhoods, or in fact the impact any event may have on us. It is, rather, an attempt to look as closely as possible at what is happening to us now, by registering dynamics, to register those effects we see playing out right now, rather than to speculate on the effect of past events. In this way we must read the aesthetics of our lives: the ways in which we look for pleasure in life and attempt to order our existences in a way that I believe we might call beautiful, even if one person’s sense of what is beautiful might amount to something gross in another.

Cats, I contend, in their mysterious unknowability[1], allow us to read our lives in extraordinary detail (Fig 6).

fig 6

We humans have however forgotten that this gift cats grant us does not mean that our lives are somehow privileged from other forms of life. On the contrary, our lives are nothing without the lives of other animals, and while we have forgotten this not only have species after species passed into extinction but the world has become less able to support us in our generally stupid and selfish endeavours. Climate change is a reality many of us continue to refuse to accept.

[1] Although it would be true to say that anything at all might possess this quality in some quantity.

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