Magnificent Max

Max disappeared. My beautiful, affectionate, feral cat. It’s four weeks now and I have tried to write about it many times. If I can’t finish this tonight, I won’t try again.

He came to me in 2009, not long after I adopted Annie. A friend has a feral colony behind her business and Max was dropped off there. I stopped by for totally innocent reasons and she said, “Oh, you have to meet the new kitten. I can’t put him outside yet, he’s too little. Wouldn’t you like a friend for Annie?”

I turned to see the tiny tuxedo kitten in the huge carrier behind me. I stooped down and said “Hello, there.” Max looked up at me with enormous black eyes as I scooped him in my arms. He trotted up my arm and looked me full in the eyes again. Then he licked my nose. He stared at me and I said softly to my friend, “Oh, you bitch.”

When I got home, I casually sat the carrier on the floor, opened the door and said, “You have a new friend, Annie.” Then I walked away and began quietly folding laundry, watching the interaction. I never thought Annie would do anything to hurt him, but I kept a watchful eye. Annie jumped on top of the carrier and peered over the door. Max (as he had become on the way home) scampered out of the carrier and spotted Annie above him. Gleefully he turned over on his back and began pawing the air, inviting her to join him to play. Annie watched for a moment, as if trying to decide what the heck this thing was. Finally, she jumped down beside him and sniffed him all over. Max loved it. He batted at her legs, jumped on her head, purring loudly the whole time. Annie eventually calmed him down with a thorough washing. They fell asleep together on the floor in front of his carrier. The toys my friend had sent home are still here. Annie plays with them all the time. Max, once he discovered the outdoors…and real prey…completely lost interest.

That first month the weather was warm and Annie took complete guardianship of Max. I suppose she felt she had no choice; he never left her side. He jumped on her head, he gnawed on her ears, he washed her in return while she was washing him. She taught him all the things his own mother never had the chance to teach him.

One afternoon I heard Annie’s cry for me to come look (any pet owner will tell you there is definite language between animals and their owners.) When I stepped outside the screen door onto the front porch, I saw Max standing on the sidewalk at the bottom of the steps, his little face completely obscured by a Painted Lady butterfly. Annie mewed and walked up and down beside Max, obviously proud of her student. I approached Max, who was strutting with Annie. He growled, and I stopped, trying not to burst out laughing.

“OK, OK, I’m not going to take it away!” I stepped closer and Max darted down the sidewalk and under the car. Annie stayed with me, continuing to purr and coo. I looked under the car and was greeted with more growling. I went back to the steps and sat with Annie, petting her and telling her what a bang-up job she was doing with Max. Eventually, Max came out (the butterfly gone, of course) and sauntered up the sidewalk to the steps. Annie washed him and finally they dropped off to sleep on the porch, sun on their fur.

Max and Annie presented me with all manner of mice, moles and voles. I never worried about unwanted guests in my house. No, I wasn’t very happy with the “live shows” they sometimes brought inside but I also understood this was their way. They are predators and no matter how domesticated any animal is, the wildness is always there. I gritted my teeth and hid under my blanket until it was over.

Annie and Max were mates, friends, hunting partners, even though they often split up to do their own thing.  They slept together on the deck outside, the sun shining on their fur. They napped on the bed, on the floor while I was painting, on my computer (whether I was using it or not), on the hood of the car. Frequently, Annie hissed and batted Max when he got too rough. He never cared. He kept right on jumping out at her from doors, moving over to her food bowl when he’d emptied his. Annie never did manage to teach him manners in that area. She just moved to the side and watched him. When he finished, she checked to see if he’d left her anything. I saw all this and happily gave her another helping. Frankly, I prefer that to squabbling over food. Max grew to over 20 pounds, easily twice Annie’s size. And he was all muscle.

I took Annie to my friend’s house when I went on the trail. Max ran off and I couldn’t catch him. Annie was much more domesticated than Max ever was. Max had me and Annie and never cared about anyone else. I tried several times before I left to find him. My landlord watched out for him and promised to feed him if he saw him. That was the one thing I always felt guilty about. I left because everything was in place and I honestly thought Max would be cared for by the man who he had seen (even though my landlord hardly ever saw Max) ever since he had come to live with me. When I came home, so did Max. He was clean, healthy and well-muscled. All the time I had been gone Max had taken care of himself, and obviously never ventured far from home. It was probably the most profound moment of my life when I opened the door the night I came home and heard Max’s cry. It was raining, he was wet and he and Annie and I had a tearful, wet reunion. We barely slept that night, the 3 of us. Max kept waking me up kneading my shoulders with his huge saber like claws. I didn’t care that it hurt. I cried every time I woke up. Annie and Max washed each other, and me. I promised them both I would never leave again.

I have been waiting for weeks now. I have waked in the middle of the night, thinking I heard his cry at the door. I jump up but there’s no Max. Annie has been edgy, eating more than usual, coming in at all hours. It’s been better the past week; she seems to be settling down. Maybe she has looked everywhere she knows to look.

Whatever has happened, I know this: Max was a healthy, happy creature. He was magnificent, my Max. He was strong and beautiful. He loved me. Sometimes, he jumped up in my lap and simply gazed at me, unblinking. I felt he was communicating with me. When I was writing, or reading, or working on an art project I would look up and see Max watching me. His gaze was always steady and calm. Max loved me, and I felt it.

Max was feral, the wild in him would not be denied, not by me or anyone else. He loved me, but he was wild. Because I knew this about him, I let him be who he was. No matter what has happened, Max lived a strong, happy life. I have many regrets, allowing Max to be who he was is not one of them.

Still, every morning I think, Today. Maybe Max will come home today.   

Goodbye, Leonard

I’m feeling terribly old right now. Leonard Cohen died. He was a genius. I know, everyone is saying that. I wish I could think of something brilliant and profound that hasn’t already been said.

I discovered him in my 40’s and wondered how I had missed him all my life! I became hungry for his music. His deep, almost guttural voice touched something in me that I didn’t know existed. I suddenly understood groupies. I wanted to know him. Of course I knew that would never happen..I’m a realist, not a groupie. Oh but I loved listening to him sing! He was one of my favorites when I had to drive any distance. His songs made me think. And often ache with sadness.

Like now.

Retirement

I retired officially, in December 2015. In the past  year I have learned a few things about myself.

1. My Social Security check ain’t enough.

Well, duh. I knew that going in. I knew I would have to find something part-time to bridge the gap. My SS check covers the bills. The bills that come every month no matter what, the bills that must be paid if I want to avoid living under a bridge. But, as we all know, there are ALWAYS other things that must be paid for. Tires. Car repairs. Art supplies. Books.

2: I love being at home. All the time.

I have a quiet, peaceful little life. The more time I spend on my own, with just my cats for company, the better I like it. I dread going to the grocery store, but look forward to time spent at the library. Eventually, I realized a part-time job might be a good idea if I didn’t want to end up a caricature of the anti-social “old cat lady.”

  1. I love winter…now that I don’t have to drive in it.

My new part-time job is going to be tricky this year, because I am still adamant about not going out in icy weather. The chance of wrecking the car and injuring myself is NOT worth any job. I had to do it before; I don’t now. Last year, I stayed home in January and February. I watched it snow, heard sleet on the roof, listened to the winter birds call. I drank a lot of hot tea, read a lot of books, did some drawing, hand sewing, watched Netflix (my new guilty pleasure) and petted my cats. They spent hours in my lap, purring while I nursed my tea and watched The Walking Dead. I still got out and walked every day, but I waited for the temperature to rise to 40.

  1. Relaxation training.

I don’t actually know how to relax, apparently. I find myself getting anxious for no reason. I flit from one project to another, frantically trying to find the one that will SELL. If I wake up and there is light coming through the windows I panic, thinking I’m late. If I’m sitting on the deck, watching the birds on the trees, I’m good for about 5 minutes. Then I start fretting, thinking I should be doing some mending, or drawing, or reading…something productive. Something I can SELL. I get up and make myself sit back down, force myself to continue to watch the birds and BREATHE. Relaxation depends a lot on breathing, I’ve learned. I finally figured out that a lifetime of poverty has trained me to worry about money. Not relax. And I think constantly about what’s going to happen to take away my new freedom.  I hold my breath every time I get in the car, hoping it will start. Actually, I find myself holding my breath while I’m driving anywhere, fearful that someone will run into me, wreck the car and a new financial apocalypse will be upon me. This is not a joke.

  1. I love playing.

I’ve wanted to experiment with so many art forms, all my life, but there never seemed to be enough time, or money. Since I retired, I have spent embarrassing amounts of money on art supplies and books. (Which has added to my anxiety about money. See above.) Instead of working on things that I’m pretty sure will sell, I’ve been playing. I spent time with Papier Mache. It’s a great medium, but it gets so humid here in the late summer that drying things, and KEEPING them dry, is a challenge. I played with shrink plastic-another fun medium and I made some interesting, lovely jewelry. I may keep working with that, but I just wanted to experiment with other stuff, so I have a lot of jewelry and bits and piece of projects sitting in my little plastic bins until I’m ready to get back to them. Now I’m knee deep in polymer clay. I’ve messed around with this off and on forever, but now I’m doing more than ever before. Still nothing to sell… My brain is turning over ideas and designs when I should be falling off to sleep at night so that’s a good sign.

  1. I am not drawing like I should be. Or writing.

These two activities have sustained me all my life. What is with the sudden lack of activity in the two things that I love most? I think (hope) it’s because I have time I never had before. Poverty is still with me, and I doubt seriously that will ever change, but time…time has become something entirely new to me. I’m still not used to it. Suddenly I’m not on deadline. I don’t have to get this or that done in the next hour. My hours are my own. I’m off the leash. I’m wildly running through tall grass, leaping at butterflies. Every time I set myself a schedule a little part of me says..I don’t want to!

Maybe all this freedom has scared me. All these years I’ve been convinced if I had the time I could make something, or write something, that would provide me with a living. Well, here it is! And still I run through the tall grass and leap at butterflies. I know me, and success was never in the cards. I never believed I would succeed at anything and I’ve been right. Yeah, probably more than a little self-sabotage going on there, and now is the time to rectify that. But I‘m still running and leaping. So instead of doing the 2 things I know I can do I’m playing with everything else. Is that a good thing or a self-sabotage thing? I honestly don’t know. I could make arguments for either opinion.

I struggle with anxiety every day. I have trouble with my entire digestive process. This is what goes first with me when I’m upset, anxious. There are days I can’t swallow. Some days, EVERYTHING gives me heartburn or sits in my stomach like a brick. I have trouble swallowing WATER. It has eased off some since I took this part-time job. I’m starting a fund for another car. Until then, I still hold my breath and hope the car will start, or that it won’t suddenly STOP while I’m driving. I hope it will get me to work and back home. I guess that’s the last big problem. For someone who is poor, a decent car is a huge problem, so don’t sniff and say, “is that all you have to worry about?”  I’ve got plenty of other stuff to worry about…swallowing, for one.

In the meantime, I’m reading. And reading. And reading. I’m reading Val McDermid and Elizabeth George crime thrillers…and slowly making my way through The Rise and Fall of The Third Reich. I am! I’m reading for hours sometimes. Oh, that’s truly liberating.

I’m watching all the movies I ever wanted to watch. Yes, I have a list of books and movies and I’m slowly checking them off. I’m watching Netflix. I’m relieved to know the term “binge watching” wasn’t invented just for me. Hey, I’m retired. I can binge watch without guilt…it’s part of my relaxation training.

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And I am making art. I know, I know, not as much as I should.. I found these chairs ages ago and recently came across a small table that fit perfectly between them. SO, after weeks and weeks of cleaning and sanding and cleaning and more sanding I started to draw. I call it my “bistro set.” There should be better pictures of this, and as soon as I can afford them, I’ll replace these. But look, I’m making art!

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Happy New Year

NIGHT
I usually try to write something on New Year’s Eve and even though I’m at work this year, I still feel the need to post.

What I most want to say has nothing to do with resolutions, or the year in review, or regrets or hopes-all the things we usually write about in the waning hours of the year.
I spent almost an hour in the doctor’s office this morning with two of my residents. No, I’m not complaining about the wait. We were early and that’s what happens when you’re like me-I’d rather wait than be late.

I love looking through magazines because they are a rich source of ideas for art, writing, cooking, etc. Of course, this is the holiday season so the magazines were all loaded with Christmas decorating and cooking ideas. I love holiday magazines for all those reasons. Except this morning I got so bored, looking at one color coordinated Christmas scene after another. The children were outfitted to match the tree, which was decorated to match the furniture, and the accents in every room were so well coordinated that all I could think was…

“Everything’s so beautiful, so PROFESSIONAL, so cold, so expected, so PROFESSIONAL…” and after the third magazine I was aching to see one tree-just one!-that actually boasted handmade children’s ornaments mixed in with ornaments bought on memorable vacations mixed in with ornaments saved by our own mothers and handed down to us for our trees…and ornaments from the office and ornaments from our first tree when we moved out into the world on our own…ornaments that prompted stories as they were reverently removed from drying, yellowing tissue paper.

I wanted to see a room with a fat tree bursting with meaningful ornaments in all the riotous colors of Christmas. I wanted to see colored lights-not just the sane, elegant everywhere-you-look tiny white lights that “hold all the elements together.” I wanted to see old toys-real old toys, our own old toys mixed in with gaily wrapped presents in lots of different paper, in lots of different colors and patterns. I wanted to see all the physical proof that we come together at this one time of year to show each other we care.

I wanted to see a room full of people in individual clothes that spoke of their culture and hope and enthusiasm for being there.

I understand why magazines make these photographically perfect displays. I worked in the publications industry for years and those color coordinated rooms are agonized over for months. I know that. I understand. I don’t care. I still felt famished after looking at hundreds of pages of “Christmas Celebration.”

I was hungry…hungry for color¬–real color, not sea foam and pink, not sage and peach. I wanted to see hundreds of colors-not three shades of two colors. Texture! Give me metallics and flocking and velvet and satin-make me want to touch the person wearing the red velvet dress, pick up the shiny package with the sparkling bow. Make me want to be there, interact, experience the season!

I do have something to say about hope, though. I hope that next year, someone out there in publication land has the courage to stage a Christmas scene that speaks to those of us in the real world.
I don’t have a family much anymore, and I make things for Christmas for my friends and the residents where I work. I read these magazines to get ideas, as do many other people. I take one thing, one DIY ornament idea, or decorating tip, and I go with it. My room, my ornament, usually doesn’t look much like the designer version. That’s OK; it looks like I made it. And the person that gets it will hang it every year from now on, even when I’m not there.

I know I’ll be remembered and there will be fond (I hope) comments about the year I made and gave the ornament. There are grown people out there who got that ornament before they could drive and have hung it every year. One niece keeps hers out all the time in bowls because it keeps me close to her even though we live hundreds of miles apart.

Oh, I doubt I’ll ever see a REAL Christmas scene in a magazine. They’re just for ideas and they just offer guidelines about how to decorate for the most anticipated season of the year. Still, I had to say it.

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Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas!

December 22, 2013
3 days before Christmas. Now there’s an original opening.
I’m at work because my coworker is sick. I’m happy to do it-I can use the extra money. I’ve finally found a place where my coworkers are ADULTS so anything I can do to be supportive, I’ll do it. Happily.

Still, watching the approach of my 60th Christmas is sobering. My birthday, on the 5th, was a quiet affair. My landlord went with me to buy tires for my car and later he took me to lunch. Actually, it’s the best birthday I’ve had in about 10 years. Really. We talked about the world, about being older, about lessons learned, and not learned, about giving ourselves permission to relax…finally. My job pays my bills and the occasional sale of my art gives me a little extra to buy supplies, the odd reference book, and a new coat from Goodwill. Sometimes, like this week, I’m needed at work to relieve my coworker and there’s a little spike in my paycheck. My car is in good shape, the cats are healthy, and I’m healthy. I have art projects I’m working on, but I’m taking my time to explore new techniques, or mediums, ideas.

I have tossed deadlines. No more. I will finish my art-and my writing-in my time. I’ve lived my life on deadline. No more. When I finish an art project, when I’m happy with it, when I decide it’s done, it goes out. Not before. No more getting it done as quickly as possible to make the most of whatever season is coming to an end. Same with my writing. I will finish the story and then look for a publisher. If there’s a call for that story, great, if not, eventually there will be. In the meantime, I have a story I’m proud of. No more deadlines.

And I’m sort of dating. Sort of. I’ve posted one of those perky, chirpy profiles and a picture. That takes a lot of nerve for me. I’m gaining in self confidence all the time, gaining clarity about life in general and mine in particular. Yet I still have that moment of “WTF???” when I pass a mirror because I’m still the same in my head. I haven’t aged. I’ve gotten smarter, I’ve gotten calmer, I’ve learned a lot of lessons but I don’t feel any older. I still love hiking for hours at a time. I still clean my house with the same passion and energy I always have, I still move around with the same enthusiasm. What’s with the sagging neck? The lines around my mouth? My friends remind me that we EARNED that proof of life on our faces. And then I think, “That’s right.”My face isn’t 30 anymore, but I still run circles around most of the people I know-even those half my age. Then I stop and say, wait a minute; it isn’t a contest, is it? AM I still trying to prove something? AM I still trying to be good enough smart enough, pretty enough to be accepted? Is that shit still happening? Then I wonder if it’s wise to even try dating. I definitely don’t want to get into that awful anxiety about who I am, what I look like. I LIKE not caring.

I met someone who, so far, seems very nice. He seems to think I look fine. It’s early days, and as I’ve said before ‘They’re ALL nice in the beginning.” To be fair to him, I don’t know what he thinks, whether he’s just curious to see where it goes. Maybe he’s reminding himself we all get better looking once we get to know each other. And maybe he’s curious about me, what’s in my head, what I think about him. Maybe he’s interested enough to want to show me he’s attractive enough, smart enough, nice enough to keep doing whatever this is we’re doing. Then again, maybe he’s just tired of microwave dinners and wants regular sex. The only real way to find out, it seems, is to do this dating thing. Or not. I’ll see what happens for a while; see if it’s worth giving up my precious free time. If I decide it isn’t, I can decide I don’t want to date and that’s that. I don’t HAVE to do this. So we’ll see.
Sigh.
Merry Christmas.

Cat Thoughts

I get into a lot of trouble with cat people when I say this, but here goes. I try to allow my pets as natural an environment as possible. I have a cat door, so they can come and go as they please. I’m gone a lot because of my work, and my landlord checks on them every day, changing the litter box and putting out fresh food.

My cats have a rich, active life. Yes, they bring in moles, voles, mice and the occasional bird (not many, though. Apparently mice are more plentiful.) In the spring and summer, they keep my little home mouse and mole free. They have also extended their work to my landlord’s garden. We refer to it as “paying the rent.”

They are both neutered so there is little fighting with neighborhood cats other than the occasional territorial yowling. Max is an outdoor cat. Big and strong, he loves to spend his days outside, but comes in to check on me periodically when I’m home. Annie is perfectly content to stay inside. She does go outside, just not nearly as much as Max.

I get a lot of terrible feedback about how many birds my cats kill every year and I have to stress that birds are probably killed by strays more often than house pets. I think it’s more important that we work toward eliminating the number of strays. My cats are familiar with their home, inside and out. When they are outside they know what, and who, to watch out for. Cats that are never let outside are vulnerable when they accidentally get outside. Believe me, they will get out- it’s a matter of when, not if. I know too many people who have terrible stories about the cat that got out.

Mine are happy and have no weight problems. Max is big and loves to go outside, regardless of weather. The boy is all muscle! Annie is more petite but is active enough that she’s well within her weight ratio. And they are both very healthy.

I recommend allowing your cats lots and lots of activity as well as watching their weight. We have to increase our exercise routine when we want to lose weight; they are no different. If you live in an area where it really is dangerous (busy thoroughfare, for example) I understand your reluctance to allow them out. I used to have a cat tree when I lived in the city. Make room for it. They LOVE it and they can busy themselves all day.

These are Nature’s creatures. They need activity and healthy food just like everything else. They’re not pretty things to plop on the sofa. And they aren’t just there to make us feel better-we owe them an environment that allows an active, healthy life even when we’re not around.

Gallery

New photos of previously published art. Eli Warren, photographer and graphic artist, has been photographing my work for years. When I took my own pictures because of time constraints or money issues, I always regretted it. Good photography is so important. Now we’re back on track and I have these new shots to illustrate my work. Thank you, Eli! Go to his website for more beautiful art.
eliwarren.com
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