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Extended Absence Greeting 4 comments

Hey there – remember me? 🙂

So, the last few months of 2009 became a muddy blur during which time writing, and exercising, took a backseat to the following:

  • caring for the lovely Freddie as she recovered from surgery to repair ruptured discs in her spine (neck). My home became a baby-gated, cushioned, modified pet crate for seven weeks. My dog was in pain and I felt helpless. And then, shortly afterwards, broke. So grateful that Freddie’s Other Mom, and the lovely WWBA, were able to be such a supportive part of this adventure. But it did take its toll. Freddie needs to be carried up and down stairs and, at first, needed more, shorter walks. I live up two flights of stairs and my routine was tied more than ever, to Freddie’s requirements. I was exhausted.
  • … and thus got I ill myself with a persistent bronchial infection – several weeks of coughing and hacking and sleeping badly.
  • having my car vandalized, right here in the underground parking lot. Stuff stolen, car damaged. Much time and energy lost over a 10 day period, dealing with this. Not to mention feeling just a wee bit violated.
  • grading 174 really sub-par essay-like business reports in 3.5 weeks. That is a real number, 174. 87 in the first round that had to be done quickly and returned so they could have feedback to complete and hand in the second round. Second round to be graded to the grade submission deadline at the end of term. This activity will suck your brain out through the eye of a needle and will rip your heart out of your chest, tossing it away like last year’s PlayStation. Don’t let anyone tell you that teaching isn’t an emotional pursuit. After teaching plagiarism (how to avoid it, not how to do it) as a topic in class, finding students who persist in the behaviour is like getting smacked up the side of the head with a 2 x 4. I’m not sure I can explain why, it just feels … horrible.  It does get balanced out, of course, by students who really do make incredible progress and there were some really fine moments of this as well. Somehow, though, this term, the amount of grading and the roller coaster ride it took me on just about did me in.
  • ongoing negotiations with management on workload issues (see above) and the looming possibility of a strike that no one wants yet that seems difficult to avoid. Multiple meetings with management over next term’s workload. A workload review by a larger committee. Not much progress. Stress. Self-doubt. Worry.

As you can see, not a lot of writing took place. Furthermore, I actually have found myself daydreaming of the smell of my gym. What I’ve learned is that my mental and emotional health is linked to these two activities. Thus, I resolve to re-prioritize and get both disciplines back into my life. Although I’m going to wait until mid-February to actually step on the scales, I think. Yikes.

Anyway, thanks for your patience – all three or four of you. 🙂 Stay tuned for more … as for now, I’m off to the gym!

Catz 1 comment

Meet Sophie. Isn’t she adorable? 🙂

There should be red carpet for me to pose on.

There should be red carpet for me to pose on.

Bags-r-Us. Especially crinkly ones.

Bags-r-Us. Especially crinkly ones.

My PlayCat pose.

My PlayCat pose.

All in a day's play.

All in a day's play

Having Sophie around takes me back to two other times in my life. First, when I was little, I remember being “in charge” of the barn cats on our farm. This was a self-appointed position. I was probably four or five when I became kitty maven. I adored the semi-feral creatures and routinely spirited saucers of Mom’s precious Carnation Evaporated Milk, normally reserved for use in coffee, out to the shed for my furry friends. My Dad and brothers tried to discourage this, saying that hungry cats could catch more mice and rats in the barns, but I paid no mind to this absurd perspective.

There were usually between 10-20 cats at a time on the farm. The population would fluctuate. Cat Matriarch at the time was Sandy, an orangey-ginger cat who was likely mama to many of the others. She was pretty ragged around the edges, often appearing in the mornings with a chunk of fur missing, or a kink in her tail, or another scar on her ear. As rough as her non-domesticated life appeared to be, she was always, always, gentle and sweet with me. Immeasurably patient, never scratching or hissng or behaving aggressively, even if I got too close to any of her newborns. My main visual memory of Sandy is of her looking at me, sighing, and sort of half closing her eyes with a combination of exhaustion and resignation. She could always manage a purr for me, and some kneading.

Every year, there were several batches of kittens to be ooh’d and aah’d over. They would be born in the hay mow, well-hidden by clever cat mamas, to be discovered only after hours of patiently following the distressed-sounding mews. Or, sometimes, they would be born in a tool shed or implement shed, or in the garage behind the house. I was always on a mission to find the kittens, somehow thinking, god-like, that they needed my intervention. Not surprisingly, I also have very clear memories of cat mamas carrying their babies to and fro by the scruff of their necks, moving the latest kitten batch to a more secure hiding place, away from all self-appointed god-like creatures.

I decided, when I was five, that little wee tiny kittens don’t “meow”. They squeak out a syllable that sounds like”at”, like they are trying to say “cat” but can’t quite get the whole word out. If you listen to a wee kitten, you’ll hear it, perhaps – or maybe your inner five year old will be able to. I sat with multitudes of cats and kittens, for hours. They were my friends, out there on the farm, miles from other five year olds. I adored their serious expressions, their oddly squared-off noses. How some cats always look shocked or surprised or vaguely scandalized by the activity around them. Some will relax, some never do.  The behaviour that I interpreted, as a child, as “playing” is really “learning how to stalk and kill things.” I liked being greeted by a flurry of upright tails. Watching a kitten transform from a cumbersome, innocent, slightly stupid fluffy ball into a sleek hunting machine was an amazing thing.

My Mom was very clear – farm animals, like cats and dogs, are not allowed in the house. Ever. Period. This wasn’t even up for discussion. The closest the cats and kittens got was the attached rickety garage out the back door of our house.

Some kittens lived, and some did not. Some were born strong, some were not. Some cat mamas were very good at raising their young. Some were not. I’ve buried a lot of cats, from new born to very aged. One of our cats, JB, a calico, got hit by a car. My Mom and I discovered this at twilight one summer’s evening as we returned from a dip in the pool at the local conservation area. Her body was intact and had stiffened but her face had contorted into a grotesque almost aggressive expression before she died. I felt responsible for getting her off the road and buried, so I forced myself from my state of shock and sadness into action, fetching a sheet of plywood veneer from the shed, sliding it under her body and carrying it carefully to a hole I’d dug behind the garage. It felt necessary, respectful, dutiful, sad … I remember I also felt scared, a bit, this one time. Something about the unexpected sudden death and the painful last look on her face.

I saw that same look again, some 20+ years later, when I had to have my beloved cat soulmate, Sid, euthanized. I understood, then, that this is just what happens to muscle structures in death and that it was my own anthropomorphizing that projected unwarranted meaning onto the expression.

Sid, like Sophie, was a child of the streets. A kitten foundling from my first summer in St. Catharines, we bonded. Our initial bonding probably had to do with me tucking him into my shirt to take him to work with me on my moped. (I was trying, unsuccessfully, to conceal from my university roomies that I had taken a kitten in.) He would peek out, just under my neck.  He was an ornery guy, a sort of one-person cat. He grew from a tiny kitten into a 21 lb behemoth. It should be noted that at 21 lbs, he was not “obese”, just very large. A huge tom-cat head, giant paws. An industrial strength purr that could be heard throughout two floors of almost any house. The many adventures of Sid probably deserve their own blog posting, but safe to say that once he was gone, I found it really hard to imagine having another cat. He died in 1998, after we spent almost a year battling feline diabetes. He was quite done with the insulin shots and dietary restrictions, I think. He was 15.

Sid, wondering when I'm going to take that stupid Christmas bell off his collar :-)

Sid, wondering when I am going to take that stupid Christmas bell off his collar

In the intervening 11 years, I think I’d forgotten much about these creatures. I also think that my tendency to excess analysis and thought needs to be reined in by the presence of a creature whose needs are more clear, immediate and lacking in alternative agendas entirely.  Needs for food, water, cleanliness, affection, attention and stimulation.  These needs snap me back into a concrete reality because, suddenly, I am the sole source of these for this one fur-person. No analysis required.

I think Sophie is part dog. Last night, after falling into bed exhausted and turning out the light, I heard quite the commotion downstairs. None of it sounded damaging in a permanent way and I was too tired to get up to investigate. There were some crinkling sounds which I presumed originated from the crinkly bag I put on the floor for Sophie to enjoy. Then I heard some bounding up the steps and felt her land on the bed, still making crinkling sounds. “Whaa …?”  On went the light. There she sat with her bag of treats in her mouth which she then dropped, pointedly, in front of me. The messaging was clear and unambiguous. “WANT TREAT NOW – PAY ATTENTION – PLAY WITH ME”.  I wish all the humans in my life were this clear!

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