I’ll try to keep this between 500 and 800 words, and appropriate for a general audience. Let me start with a Newfoundland joke:
One Newfie says to t’other: “Hey b’y! Guess what I gots in the pawket o’me trousers.”
“Aw, b’y, I dunno.”
“C’mawn! Just guiss! I’se’ll giv ye a clue. It starts wit an ‘N’.
“Awl roight. Is it ‘napple?”
“Nah, guess agin!”
Is it ‘norange?”
“Nah, I’ll tell ye–It’s ‘negg!”
I’ve decided that except for one remarkable quality, I prefer the cat that’s lying at my feet to her near relation, the simpleminded, lovable male. This one, Starlight or Star, for short, is dainty and small, very quiet, making only the sound of quiet purring, and not all the time, which would annoy me. Although she enjoys an occasional stroke in the quiet of an evening or morning, she rejects excessive touching yet enjoys company of the parallel presence type. Her home is at the foot of my bed, even when I stretch my feet down below her under the covers. She keeps her thoughts to herself, except occasionally when she runs into the food area and looks up at me with plaintive hope.
Juno the male is bigger, more the tom around town, and simple minded, as I said. For example, when he runs to the food cabinet in the morning hoping I’ll feed him, he sticks his head in front of the cabinet so that I can’t open it without either pushing his face back or bonking him on the nose, Every time. I’ve tried both pushing him away and bonking his nose, but he never learns. He never sees the threat coming. As I explained to several classrooms of kids, he shows less of that kind of intelligence than did the garden spider who moved her web two feet up after I walked into it two mornings in a row.
Which brings me to his other quality, which I believe is one of the proper applications of simple mindedness. The other threat Juno never sees coming, and therefore does not react to, is our dog–our young, high prey-drive Siberian husky, Sadie. When Sadie sees quick movement of any kind she reacts–with playfulness toward dogs and humans, and with bloody murderous intentions toward small animals and well as large prey species. Once when she escaped through our decaying fence, we tracked her to where she had cornered a deer, and when we startled it and it tried to plunge away, she leaped and got a hold of its leg and would have taken it down (I might have let her in a less public location) if we had not jumped on top of her and got her to let go. Despite two years of leash training, she still lunges and leaps whenever we pass through a region smelling of squirrel, rabbit, or deer, and once she grabbed the carcass of a fawn that had been killed by a car and started dragging it away before we took control. All very natural behavior, and in case of alien invasion or foreign takeover I think she’d keep us in wild meat just fine if we had to retreat to the woods.
Sadie will tease Juno to try to get a reaction, even takes his head in her mouth as he naps on a chair, but he only bats her away, or if excessively irritated with these efforts to get a rise, gives her a quick rake of his claws. When Juno moves from one place to another he strolls, and though Sadie watches intently for that provoking quick movement that stimulates her to lunge, he rarely brings out that response. Starlight,on the other hand, is a nervous cat and deathly afraid of Sadie. When Star has to move to the door to be let out, we have to keep a sharp eye out to keep her in one piece, because Sadie invariably gets excited by some twitch of her tail or darting movement. Although Sadie does exhibit a veneer of family loyalty and we believe she is not really intending to kill.
There may be a metaphor here, probably something about expecting the best of people so they will respond in kind. But I’m over six hundred words and I still have so much not to say.
What I really need is a reality check. No, I take that back, I just want someone to tell me that I’ll not a terrible, awful, no good person. That this is just a stage, and that some personality conflicts are inevitable, especially–and you must be sensitive about how you say this–at my stage of life, and combined with the stages of life of the other people in the house. You can tell me that there are bound to be misunderstandings, and not to take anything personally. I am a good person, I am, and of course they will realize that in ten or twenty years. Of course there is a certain implied encouragement to be a good listener, in between the lines, at least, and try to use these difficult interactions as an opportunity to grow. Like the father down the road who, his wife said, before she left him, would shout, “Thank you for helping me to grow!” at such moments. And then go teach that principle the next day to his counseling clients.
The following is a brief personal insertion made after writing the rest of the piece: For ten or twenty minutes I was just curled up trying to survive. I could hear the people talking, as I always can in this small house, and some of their words were not healing. Then I got back to my keyboard and started sidling in…
Perhaps I am just feeling frustrated at how much I can understand, but how little I can remember, create, or express. I do so love to read Mark Twain and Annie Dillard, to read poetry and philosophy and research articles, and once I even enjoyed the very density of Heidegger on Man’s relationship with Nature. But I cannot think of anything to say or write that is not just sentences one after the other, mostly unrelated to what’s inside of me. It does not seem to reach to the place inside my soul that I am supposed to “tap into” in order to “get closer to the felt experiences of my life”. When I even suspect have glimpsed a rustic, overgrown launch into “the sea of no limits”, even when I am allowed to witness the beginnings of the forays of others, I recoil.
That’s why, when I came up with a plan to write a book before I was forty, I thought I’d start with something straightforward like How to Clean the House, for Young People, When You are Told To. I’d start from a position of objective inexperience, research heavily, interview experts, distill essentials, and put it together with lucid, economical prose, supplemented by drawings and helpful spreadsheets, lists and recipes. Because, that way, it wouldn’t be personal, or stimulate expectations of depth or profundity.
The other idea was a recipe book, entitled, thanks to a comment dropped by my younger sister (though she does not recall saying it), Recipes are for Wimps.
Except (and I hope you will forgive me for exceeding my word count), I am starting to hear “the voice of tenderness”. And I am interested in the hopeful balance between, “Be yourself, please! Please!” and sometimes writing to the voice that is not my own. That seems safer. The best I will be able to do, mostly, is to tell it slant.
[The last two words have been removed in the interests of propriety]