Saturday, November 18, 2017

Hillbillies vs. Rednecks: What’s the Difference?

One winter in Chamonix, a gaggle of Canadians and a Kiwi moved into the apartment next door to mine. They threw a lot of parties, as one does when one is young and living in the literal mother of all ski towns. Once, I was at one of those parties, and someone on the other side of the room shouted, “Hey, redneck!”

I turned around and shouted, “What?”

Everyone laughed because, to my surprise, they weren’t talking to me.

I grew up in West Virginia, where a lot of people I know use the terms redneck and hillbilly interchangeably. But I’m here to tell you that there’s a difference.

I once watched a program on The History Channel (I think) that characterized rednecks as country people from the coastal plains of the American Southeast, and hillbillies as the descendants of Irish, Scots-Irish, German, Italian, and Swiss immigrants who settled in Appalachia. See, you have to be bred in Appalachia to be a hillbilly; you have to be from the hills, it’s right in the name. It’s really nothing to do with your lifestyle or beliefs or political leanings or level of education or whether or not you wear shoes. It’s an ethnic term, sort of.

A stereotypical redneck is a white person from the rural American South; there’s some debate as to the origin of the term, which I’ve discussed before. It may have originally referred to poor whites who worked outside in the sun, but I know someone (and I have a good idea who) is going to jump up in here to point out that it actually refers to unionized coal miners who wore red bandanas around their necks to identify themselves during the West Virginia Mine Wars.

These days, the word redneck has evolved, as words tend to do, to mean any country person, or even any person who identifies with traditionally rural values, or enjoys traditionally rural activities, or even just thinks they would, because it turns out you don’t have to live in the country to be a redneck. You can be a redneck and live in the city, especially if it’s a Southern city like Atlanta or Houston. You don’t even have to be American. I spent a couple of weeks in Finland several years ago, and the people I met there were enormous rednecks. When I told them this, they swelled with pride, which is a key requirement.  

Friday, November 17, 2017

Fun Friday Facts #121: Procrastination

I’ve been putting the meow in homeowner since May 2012, and here’s what I’ve learned: To be a homeowner is to put things off. In my garage is a stack of flooring material that I bought two years ago, but haven’t installed yet, for example.

Psychology Today defines procrastination as “a downward spiral of negative emotions that deter future effort” which…sounds about right, actually. According to an Atlantic article appropriately titled, “The Procrastination Doom Loop and How to Break It,” procrastination is all about feelings. I, for example, don’t feel like tearing up the carpet in two rooms and replacing it with laminate flooring, so I find other things to do instead, like sleep and pity myself.

Procrastination is a circular problem. The more you procrastinate, the more “anxious, guilty, and even ashamed” you feel, so the more you procrastinate, so the more you hate yourself, and so on. While modern advances in technology have made procrastination, like so many other things, easier than ever, procrastination has a long and storied history. As long ago as 700 BCE, the Greek poet Hesiod rails against procrastination in “Works and Days”: Do not put your work off till to-morrow and the day after; for a sluggish worker does not fill his barn…a man who puts off work is always at hand-grips with ruin.


If you, like me, are prone to procrastination, you’re in good company; the great Leonardo da Vinci completed only 20 paintings in his lifetime, instead filling his spare time with doodle after fantastic doodle of helicopters, stunningly accurate maps, and naked men doing jumping jacks. It took him 16 years to finish the Mona Lisa because he worked on it for four years, then stopped working on it, then worked on it again, and…well, you get the idea.

English writer and possible founder of the English novel Samuel Johnson took seven years to produce an edition of Shakespeare’s plays, which job he was assigned in 1756, because he got another idea and got distracted. OH SAMMY, I KNOW THE FEELING. That distracting idea became his collection of essays, The Idler. Writers have always struggled with procrastination; some of us, like Samuel Taylor Coleridge, get interrupted by an opium delivery, get high and forget to finish writing Kubla Khan. I would never do such a thing, of course. Instead, I’m more like Margaret Atwood – I put off writing until late in the day, then when I finally get around to it, I end up staying up half the night, then sleep late the next day and wake up feeling like crap, both physically and emotionally. But at least we know that procrastination can’t stop us from achieving great things; even the Dalai Llama admits that, as a student, he’d only work “in the face of a difficult challenge or an urgent deadline.” Then again, Dalai Llama-ing is, as I understand it, one of those careers that chooses you. Perhaps, the next time you’re stuck in the doom loop, remember some of the other famous procrastinators that have walked in your shoes: Saint Augustine, Bill Clinton, Victor Hugo, Frank Lloyd Wright, Franz Kafka, Marcus Aurelius, and Hamlet, Prince of Denmark.

“But what,” you say, “should we do about procrastination?” Dear readers, what you need is a deadline, and here’s the thing: It has to be a deadline imposed from outside. Unfortunately for me, no one is going to march up in here and order me to finish my floors by a certain date, and don’t look at Jim, he knows what side his bread’s buttered on. If that’s not an option, you should convince yourself that the chore isn’t work. Hmmm, that doesn’t really sound like a feasible solution, either. What the hell, science.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Thanksgiving Post Round-Up the First

I’ve been writing this blog for so long now that it’s depressing. Check out my previous Thanksgiving holiday posts:

When I got the idea to do this, I thought there’d be more Thanksgiving posts. In my defense, I’m not very good at being a blogger. I have commitment issues. I’ll round out the list with a (recently requested by one of my readers) list of previous Halloween-related posts:

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

How I Keep My Cats from Scratching the Crap Out of My Furniture

Ha ha, I don’t. I took my new kitten to the vet for his final round of booster shots the other day and the vet asked, with visible trepidation, “Are you thinking about declawing?”

I explained that I don’t believe in declawing and she sagged with relief. “Good,” she said, and smiled. “I don’t believe in it either.”

I’ve discussed this before, but it bears repeating: Declawing a cat is form of torture. When you get a cat declawed, they just chop off its toes halfway. It’s as if someone chopped off your fingers in between the first and second knuckle. And they don’t carefully remove them at the joint, either. They use a guillotine clipper, which is a surgical tool that operates like a cigar cutter, and they just chop the toes off. It causes all kinds of physical problems for the cat, like risk of infection and crippling arthritis, and psychological problems, too, because it leaves the cat unable to defend itself.

But anyway, I digress. Jim and I got a new couch recently, after our old couch collapsed during a party. The cats have already scratched the sh*t out of a two-seater Lazy Boy that was left in the house by a previous owner. I still keep it half out of a need for auxiliary seating and half because I keep hoping that the cats will focus their furious destructive energy on it instead of on the good furniture that I actually paid money for.

I mean, I also bought a giant cat tree for the cats. 

This freaking cat tree is as tall as I am, and I’m fairly tall for a woman. It’s bigger than some apartments I’ve had, and it incorporates no fewer than ten scratching posts. Now, it’s possible to train cats to scratch only specific things. When I only had Fatty, I had him trained pretty well, but then I got Max and he’s stubborn. No matter how many times I tell him “NO!” and squirt him with the water bottle, he just keeps doing what he wants to do. I’m 79% sure he’s pretending to be stupider than he is so I’ll let him get away with walking on the counters. He’s stubborn about that, too.

This beautiful douche.

The problem with that is that Fatty immediately decided, “Hey, if he gets to do whatever, I’m going to do whatever, too!” So now we’re back to the ripped and shredded square one.

I’ve tried putting cat repellent on Jim’s recliner, but the beautiful, stubborn douche still scratches it. After we got the couch, I bought some of these cat scratch guards to put on it:

I’ve been pondering them for years, but I’ve always been skeptical. They’re just strips of plastic that you pin to the corners of your sofa, chair, or ottoman, and they’re supposed to deter scratching. I always thought they’d just scratch the whole rest of the couch, instead. But neither Jim nor I wanted the new couch scratched up. It cost us $300, and we paid an extra $100 to have it delivered and the old couch taken away. We bought it at Big Lots, and they don’t deliver, but they gave us the number of a guy with a pickup truck, which is every big as questionable as it sounds. When I first agreed to the price, I thought I was getting ripped off, but that was before the dude and his two helpers spent the better part of an hour shoving it through my narrow, narrow doorway. They had to take the doors off, and one of the guys had to lie down on my stairwell in order to guide the couch up the stairs as the other two guys shoved from outside with all their might. It was worth $100, is what I’m saying.

Anyway, I digress. Jim and I didn’t want the cats scratching the new couch, so I ordered the cat scratch guards on Amazon right away. They came in a giant box with lots of padding, just in case the thin strips of flexible plastic might get broken in the mail.

“If the cats scratch up this couch…” Jim began, while I was showing him the cat scratch guards.

“I’m not getting them declawed,” I interrupted him, even though we'd already had this conversation.

“…then we’ll just have to buy secondhand couches from now on,” he continued.

But I’m happy to report that I applied the cat scratch guards to my couch over a week ago, and so far, they seem to be working. Even the beautiful douche hasn’t scratched the couch, which is just as well, because my next step is to fit him with Soft Paws, since he’s clearly the problem.

Then he'll look dainty, like this fellow.
~ Image by Myllissa on Wikimedia Commons

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

I Got Fat, but That’s Okay

If you’ve been following along at home or know me in person, you’ve already noticed that, over the past few years, I got fat. I started getting fat when I stopped smoking cigarettes in 2012. I filled the void with food, which satisfies my ongoing need to put something in my mouth repeatedly. After the first fifteen pounds, I expressed concern about my weight gain to my doctor.

“You’d have to gain a hundred pounds for it to have the same effect on your health as smoking,” he assured me. He was confident, and pleased that I’d taken an important step towards better health. The poor fool didn’t realize I’d take it as a challenge.

Seriously, though, I didn’t mean to gain seventy pounds. It just kind of happened. Thirty pounds ago, I downloaded My Fitness Pal onto my phone and did a really good job of controlling my weight. Then I started grad school. I still did a pretty good job during the first semester. Then I met Jim, and started to put on happy fat. Then I lost my student ID and couldn’t get into the rec center to use the pool, and things went downhill from there. I was busy, and stressed out, and it turns out it’s really easy to eat while you’re studying and that eating is almost as soothing for the nerves as smoking cigarettes. Honestly, when Trump won the election I thought about taking up smoking again, but my friend Mark talked me out of it. “There’s no need to be piling on more bad things,” he said, so I kept not smoking and stayed fat.

But I don’t let it bother me. I figure if I’m going to make a major change related to my body, it’d better be “accepting it as it is,” because I wasn’t going to get better looking as I aged, anyway. My body is going to gradually deteriorate until it dies, and the sooner I accept that, the better off I am, probably. Mentally, at least.

Besides, I’m the good kind of fat. I’m Rubenesque. That means I still look good with my clothes off. Now, if I can just learn to pose for a photo without planting my feet super wide like a sumo wrestler, I’ll be set.

If there’s one thing that I regret about getting fat, it’s that it took me so long to realize I was attractive in the first place. I was thin and super hot from the ages of fourteen to thirty, at least, but I didn’t actually notice I was super hot until I was like, twenty-eight. I walked around thinking I was average-looking, at best, which is sad when you think about all the money I could’ve made as a stripper. Guess I wasted that opportunity. Way to go, Thin Me.

On the other hand, it’s in the past. Thin Me had some obvious self-esteem issues, which Fat Me has addressed by eating them. In all seriousness, I’m a lot happier as a fat person than I ever was as a thin person. I suffered from non-diabetic hypoglycemia, the cure for which is apparently gaining about thirty pounds (I’ve always been an overachiever). For years I was moody and really unhappy a lot of the time, and I never realized until I got fat how much of that was linked to my constantly-crashing blood sugar levels because, no matter how much I ate, I could never seem to gain weight.

Guess I solved that problem.

Monday, November 13, 2017

What Are You Wearing to the Nuclear Holocaust?

As of the writing of this post, Trump has been in office for 297 days, and presumably will be in office for another 1,162 days, although I don’t think anyone, at this point, expects him to last that long. Maybe he’ll be ousted. Maybe he’ll quit. Maybe he’ll be arrested. Maybe all three of those things will happen. Or maybe he’ll just drop dead – the man is 71 years old, and according to tweets I’ve read, Trump weighs 345 pounds, eats nothing but McDonald’s, never exercises, and only sleeps four hours a night because he has to burn the candle at both ends to make time for all his angry tweeting.

Ah, yes, the angry tweeting. Just the other day, Trump used his Twitter platform to publicly antagonize Kim Jong-un some more, calling him “short and fat”:

As a proud Millennial on the Oregon Trail cusp, I thought I’d seen the last of fearing nuclear annihilation, but I guess I was wrong. We’re in a race against time. Can we make it to the end of this presidency before nuclear war breaks out? Probably not. So, it’s time to plan your nuclear holocaust wardrobe.

I’ve watched several Netflix documentaries about the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. One woman interviewed had been exposed to the bomb’s searing flash of light, but she told documentary filmmakers that the long trousers and sleeves she’d had on that day had protected her skin from the burn others in her air raid shelter had experienced.

If you’re outside when the bomb falls and you manage to survive the initial blast, you should take shelter immediately, and if you have access to a shower, you should remove and dispose of your clothing and take a decontamination shower. Wash your skin gently, to avoid inflicting new cuts, tears, or irritation, and shampoo to remove nuclear fallout from your hair, but don’t use conditioner, as this can cause the radiation to bind to your hair.

Of course, once you’ve survived the initial blast and fallout, you’ll have to make a new life in the irradiated hellscape that once was our great nation, or, like, move, or something. FEMA recommends wearing long sleeves, long pants, and sturdy shoes. I recommend wearing a helmet of some kind, and leather jacket, if you have one, or a denim jacket covered in duct tape if you don’t, because there might be zombies, or Mad Max-style wastelanders, or bears or something.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

My Eyebrows Are Probably Out of Style by Now

Guys, I have a confession to make – I have a unibrow. Unchecked, it crawls across my face like a long, fat wooly bear presaging an especially harsh winter.

I don’t know if I always had a unibrow; I didn’t notice it until I got old enough for thick, dark hair to start growing in all kinds of strange and exciting new places, including on top of my toes and out of my belly button. At the age of twelve or thirteen, I started plucking the band of thick hair that grew across the bridge of my nose.

“If you pluck that too much, it’ll never grow back,” my mother would say in a warning tone that nevertheless gave me hope for the future.

But, as I’ve already established, my mother wasn’t interested in teaching me how to, as they say, “be a woman,” so, aside from the removal of enough hair to grant them plural status, my eyebrows remained unshaped. This changed one day when I was sixteen. I went to the hair salon a few blocks from my house to get my hair trimmed; I wore it in a short, masculine cut that my mother approved of, but that wasn’t well-suited to my curls.

“I’m going to wax your eyebrows,” the hairdresser announced as he snipped away. I met his gaze in the mirror. He looked concerned.

“Uh, I only have enough for the haircut,” I said.

“I’ll do it for free,” the man replied, too quickly.

So this hairdresser, whose name I didn’t know, applied hot wax to my face using an implement that looked a lot like a tube of lip balm. I won’t say that getting my eyebrows waxed was the worst pain I’ve ever experienced; in fact, on the scale of painful things that have happened to me, getting my eyebrows waxed is near the bottom, above mild-to-moderate sunburn but below getting stung by the same wasp twice. 

Once the man had applied and then ripped away both little strips of fabric, the hairdresser returned my glasses and invited me to regard my new visage in his hand mirror. Unfortunately, I couldn’t see what my new eyebrows looked like; my eyes were watering too heavily. But I must have feigned delight convincingly, because the man said, “You can groom them at home with a pair of tweezers. Just always remember to pluck from the bottom of your eyebrows, never from the middle or the top.”

I walked the few blocks home, eyes still watering. When I let myself into the house, my mother looked up from her book and gasped. “What happened to your eyes!?” she said.

“I got my eyebrows waxed,” I replied.

My mother cocked her head to one side. “I think you’re having an allergic reaction,” she said.

I went into the bathroom and squinted into the mirror at my now quite-inflamed eyes. “I’m never getting my eyebrows waxed again,” I said to my mother, who was hovering in the bathroom door.

And I never did. But once the swelling went down, I found that it was easy enough to maintain the shape myself with a pair of tweezers, just like the hairdresser had said. For years, I followed the hairdresser’s advice, always plucking from the bottom of my eyebrows, and never the middle or the top. But in recent years, I’ve had to start plucking the occasional gray eyebrow hair. 

Besides, it turns out that puberty is just the start of novel hair growth adventures in this life. I’ve also started to grow really long eyebrow hairs – which I feel the need to pluck before they can grow more than an inch long. I used to know a guy with really long, bushy eyebrows, like Poirot’s mustache but if he wore it on his forehead. That’s not the look I’m going for.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

At the Age of 35, I Have Finally Figured Out How to Style My Hair

My mother, bless her heart, taught me many things. She taught me how to gut a fish and build a fire. She taught me how to throw a punch and how to open a jackknife with one hand. She taught me to shoot pool and she imparted basic carpentry skills. I’m confident she would have taught me how to kill a puma with my bare hands if there’d been one handy, but there wasn’t, so I had to figure that out on my own.

But my mother – my tough, tomboyish mother – did not teach me how to wear makeup or walk in high heels. As a young teen I managed to patch together some knowledge of cosmetics from my friends and from teen fashion magazines, which had me putting on so many layers of makeup that you could have staged an archeological dig on my face. When my mother – my foul-mouthed, tattooed mother – pulled me aside to tell me I was putting on too much makeup, she couldn’t much advice aside from, “For Chrissakes, kid, use less.

I hated my hair for a long time. I have curly hair and grew up with no clue how to style it or care for it. My mother has straight hair and she muttered a lot about tangles and broken combs. She insisted I brush my hair, saying it was too thick and curly for a comb. It wasn’t until I was in my late twenties that another woman with curly hair informed me that I shouldn’t be brushing my hair; I should be combing it instead. Now I don’t even do that; I just run my fingers through it every few days to pull the tangles out. If it’s nice, I do it outside so that little birds can use my hair sheddings to make their nests.

How did I learn to style my hair? Through a combination of independent research and busybodies butting in when I’m grooming myself in a public setting. How often do I groom myself in a public setting, you might ask? Not that often; I’m not homeless. But take, for example, this wedding I went to several years ago now. It was a campout sleepover wedding, because that’s either the done thing now, or my entire circle of friends is as poor as I am. The day after the wedding, after having camped out, I was standing by my car brushing my hair – this was before I was told to stop brushing my hair – when some rando lady who was standing at the next car drinking from a bottle of water butted in and said, “Wow, that sure is some frizzy hair,” whilst giving me, ironically, the hairy eyeball.

“Yep,” I said, by which I meant, You don’t say. I hadn’t noticed.

“It sure does seem tangled,” Rando Lady said, by which she probably meant, You obviously don’t know how to take care of your nasty hair.

“Yep, it’s pretty curly.”

“Isn’t there something you can put on it? Like some mousse or something?”

“Maybe,” I said, by which I meant, I’m on a fucking camping trip, lady. Lower your expectations.

But, I have started putting mousse on my hair. I don’t think I’m doing it right; most of the mousse seems to end up caking my hair to my scalp, but I’m trying. I used the Internet to learn what a diffuser is and, eventually, through trial and error, I learned to use it. And my fourteen-year-old self would be pleased to learn that, at long last, as a grown damn woman, I can style my own hair.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Fun Friday Facts #120: Service Animals of World War I

Longtime readers will remember when I blogged about Sergeant Stubby, Hero Dog of World War I.

Well, Sergeant Stubby wasn’t the only animal to answer the call to arms. Since tomorrow is Armistice Day, I thought today’s Fun Friday Facts would be a good opportunity to honor the 16 million animals who served in World War 1, including horses, donkeys, mules, camels, elephants, dogs, pigeons, and glow worms. Nine million service animals were killed in the war.

Two German soldiers pose with a horse that, you will notice, they have equipped with a machine gun. Why not.

Horses were especially vulnerable in combat conditions that straddled the line between modern and ancient military technology. In just one day during the Battle of Verdun in 1916, 7,000 horses were killed, including almost 100 who died from a single blast of French naval gun. Horses served on both sides of the war as beasts of burden, hauling artillery and supplies, but also transporting soliders; they were viewed as vital to saving the lives of soldiers on the front. Throughout the course of World War I, the Royal Army Veterinary Corps treated more than 2.5 million horses, returning 75% of their patients to the service. American Red Star Animal Relief distributed over 80,000 pamphlets on equine first aid to soldiers, as well as supplying veterinary ambulances and medical supplies to the war effort.

Homing pigeons were vital to the war effort. 100,000 homing pigeons carried messages on the front lines from 1914 to 1918. They were so successful that the Germans brought hawks to the trenches intercept enemy communications. Homing pigeons nevertheless prevailed, with a success rate of 95%. One brave bird, Cher Ami, was struck by artillery fire, but pressed on through the pain to deliver her message anyway. Blinded in one eye, with one of her legs dangling by a tendon, and suffering a large chest wound, Cher Ami flew 25 miles to deliver her message to Allied forces. The message read: "WE ARE ALONG THE ROAD PARALELL [sic] 276.4. OUR ARTILLERY IS DROPPING A BARRAGE DIRECTLY ON US. FOR HEAVENS SAKE STOP IT." Thanks to Cher Ami's heroism, the U.S. Army was able to redirect its fire and rescue 194 soldiers who were stranded behind enemy lines. Though he died of his wounds, Cher Ami was awarded the French Croix de Guerre as well as the ultimate honor for service animals, being stuffed and displayed in a museum.

Cher Ami

The use of mustard gas made the trench warfare of World War I particularly brutal. Dr. Paul Bartsch of the U.S. National Museum (now the National Museum of History) made the vital discovery that slugs could detect mustard gas before it rose to levels lethal to humans. The slugs reacted to the gas by shrinking up to close their breathing pores. “Slug brigades” saved countless lives by giving soldiers the advanced warning they needed to don their gas masks in time.

In the dark of the trenches, men enlisted the help of the European glowworm, which emits bioluminescence. A mere 10 glowworms can emit as much light as a streetlamp. Soldiers collected thousands of these insects into jars, where, grouped together, they emitted the light men used to read and write letters from home, inspect maps, and pore over intelligence reports.

Many regiments adopted animal mascots of all species, including lions, dogs, monkeys, alligators, raccoons, bears, goats, and foxes. Many of these animals, like Sergeant Stubby, a terrier named Rags, and an English bulldog named John Bull, played a crucial role in their regiments, running messages, carrying cargo, and warning the soldiers of incoming artillery fire. While many of these animals fell in battle, some of the lucky ones, like Rags and Sergeant Stubby, survived the war, went on to live long lives with loving families, and are considered heroes to this day.

They had no choice.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

UNPOPULAR OPINION: Coloring Stresses Me Out

I’m not exactly sure when the adult coloring fad started. According this website called, which might be biased, the first adult coloring book was published in 1961. It was a satirical work called The Executive Coloring Book. It poked fun at executives. Other coloring books published in the Sixties and Seventies included 1964’s The Gay Coloring Book, which included coloring pictures like this one:

The caption says, "This is my uncle. Color him fabulous." OH. MY. GOD. argues that adult coloring books were very popular during the Sixties and Sevenries, and that they’re just coming back into vogue as things tend to do. I think the current adult coloring trend started in 2013, with the publication of Secret Garden: An Inky Treasure Hunt and Colouring Book, which may be the most popular example of its genre.

I’m going to admit, I jumped on the adult coloring bandwagon with everyone else. I bought colored pencils and markers and a big box of crayons. I bought a coloring book called Outside the Lines: An Artist’s Coloring Book for Giant Imaginations, which inexplicably has one page that is completely black:

Uh, this is not a coloring page, guys.

Followed by a second page that was only mostly black:

Also not a coloring page.

But I didn’t just buy the one coloring book. I went overboard and bought several coloring books. Jim also bought me a couple of books. My psychiatrist at the time, who I’ll call Dr. Coloring Book, was really invested in getting me into adult coloring. He spent almost every session trying to convince me that coloring would relieve my stress and improve my anxiety, even when I told him that I was trying it and it was adding to my stress and anxiety.

I used to enjoy coloring when I was a girl. I had a big shoebox full of more than 400 crayons. I know how many there were because I got a lot of satisfaction out of counting them; even then I was rather obsessive. 

But I don’t remember it taking me forty-seven hours to color a freaking picture when I was eight years old. I bought a book of mandala coloring pages and I couldn’t find the time to finish even one of them. Some of the designs are so intricate that staying in between the lines is impossible. I spent a good ten years learning to color inside the lines, and now you give me lines that I can’t color inside? That’s freaking adulthood for you. Instead of a meditative and relaxing new hobby, I have a bunch of sloppily incomplete tasks and a feeling of mounting frustration.

So I bought some kid coloring books. One has pictures of dinosaurs, and the other has pictures of cats.

Dr. Coloring Book did not approve.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

My Cats Won't Share (My Lap)

People say cats aren't social, but my cats like each other. The two older cats, Fatty and Max, grew up together as kittens. I got Max when Fatty was about nine months old. I was struggling, at the time, with Fatty's behavioral issues. He liked to bite. Don't get me wrong; he still likes to bite. For the past five-plus years, the following scenario has played out over and over again when a guest has visited my home:

Fatty: *approaches guest with friendly body language and rubs up against them*

Guest: Aw, what a nice cat! *reaches to pet Fatty*

Me; Be careful, he bites!

Guest: Oh, this cat wouldn't --

Fatty: *bites*


Me: What did I just say.

I got Fatty when he was only about three weeks old, and I brought him up myself as an only kitten. From my research, I have learned that only kittens tend to get bitey because they aren't properly socialized with other kittens. That is, they don't have the opportunity to get bitten back. This valuable experience teaches them that biting hurts, so they learn to knock it off.

So, when Fatty was a kitten, he demonstrated what they call play aggression. He bit me, he bit my guests, and when he thought I wasn't paying him enough attention, he crept up behind me, leapt up into the air, and sank his teeth into my slowly-expanding ass. The solution, I was told, was to get another cat, so that he would have someone else to bite instead of me. I resisted this for a while, because I didn't want another cat, but finally I got Max. Max was three months old when I brought him home, and for Fatty, it was love at first sight.

Fatty and Max love each other. They can often be found cuddling together in the coveted easy chair. They play together, racing around the house, wrestling, play-fighting. Though it took a few weeks, they both eventually warmed up to the presence of their new baby nephew, Little, and now respond to his exuberant and frequent flying tackles with exasperated resignation. But for some reason I still can't fathom, they refuse to sit together on my lap.

If a cat is already on my lap, it will get up immediately when a second cat appears. Though they constantly cuddle with each other, cuddling with each other *and me* and the same time has always seemed to be taking things too far. But things are changing. 

Little has been monopolizing lap time lately, and I can tell that the big cats are considering the loosening of lap restrictions. Fatty has no shame; if he wants to sit on my lap, he'll sit on my lap, and if there happens to be a kitten already in my lap, he's sitting on a kitten, too. Little, for his part, interprets this as affection. It is not.

Max is more reluctant to abandon the status quo, but I can tell that he's been thinking about it. At my coaxing, he jumps into my lap, lets himself be petted for a minute, and then stares with disgust at the sleeping kitten before running away. Maybe someday soon, he'll come around.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

My Kitten Is Starting to Trust Me Again

About seven weeks ago, I adopted a kitten named Little. He’s absolutely perfect in every way, except for his lethal intestinal gas.

My little Stinkerbell.

At his vet checkup two weeks ago, the vet prescribed some ear drops to treat a yeast infection in his ears. “Just put the dropper as far into his ear as you can – you really can’t get it in too far – and then squirt a healthy amount of liquid in there,” the vet instructed me. “These infections start really far down in the ear, so you want to make sure you get plenty of medicine down in there.”

Little hated the drops. They had to be refrigerated, so twice a day, for ten days, I had to catch him and fill his ears with ice-cold liquid.

In order to do this, I got out the bottle, got the cap off, got it ready, and then called him: “Little Little Little Little!” I’d call, and then he’d come galloping, ready for love from his human. For the first couple of days, this worked. Then he started to recognize the bottle and I’d have to chase him. As the treatment period progressed, he started to get squirmier when I picked him up to administer the liquid. As soon as I put the liquid in his ears, he’d shake his head, flinging droplets of ear medicine all over my face, and when I put him down, he’d run away and sit on the other side of the room, shaking his head and glaring at me balefully. The whole process was emotionally difficult for both of us. 

After a few days of ear drops, he stopped letting me pick him up at all. Every time I tried to pick him up, he’d meow pitifully and squirm until I put him down. Meanwhile, he was happy to let Jim pick him up. Jim had never squeezed cold liquid into his ear canals.

I gave him the last dose of ear drops on Friday. “This is it! This is your last dose of ear drops!” I announced beforehand, even though he doesn’t speak English very well so I don't think he got it. In the days after the last dose of ear drops, he still wouldn’t let me pick him up. But yesterday, I grabbed him and forced him to love me.

When he started meowing piteously and squirming, I just held onto him tighter, and kept petting him. “It’s okay, it's okay, no ear drops,” I said. After several minutes of this, he finally accepted that I just wanted a cuddle. He relaxed and started to purr.

I think we're gonna be alright.

Monday, November 6, 2017

Here We Go Again (And Again, and Again, and Again)

In January 2015, I was in France when the Charlie Hebdo shootings shocked the country and the world. I was Chamonix-Mont-Blanc, in the Swiss and Italian borders, and some amount of chaos ensued as France closed its borders and friends who had gone to work in Switzerland or skiing in Italy that morning found it more difficult than usual to get back into the country, although, as far as I know, they all eventually did get back in by the end of the day.

I went to my favorite pub that day, Monkey Bar Chamonix, and just as they had a few years earlier during the England riots, the bartenders had turned on the TV and everyone was watching the news coverage. The owner, Steve, was there, and when he saw me walk in, he said, “Are you seeing this, Marjorie?”

“Yeah, I heard,” I replied, but what I couldn’t say was that, for me at least, a shooting was nothing out of the ordinary. Twice in the previous three years, in both of the neighborhoods I’d lived in in the U.S., there’d been an active shooter incident. In my senior year of high school, on the first anniversary of Columbine, the school received a shooting threat and the entire student body was moved to the gymnasium “for safety reasons” (Although I never understood this – wouldn’t congregating in one room just make us all easier targets for a shooter?). As we were filing through the halls, a classmate opened the door to the stairwell too hard and it banged against the concrete wall behind it with a loud BAM that had all of us screaming and some of us running before we realized it wasn’t a gunshot. In the Monkey Bar in 2015, I could see that everyone around me was shocked and shot through with a pain and terror I recognized. I had seen it for the first time when I was 19 years old, and a college sophomore. It was a morning in September when I, returning from the university’s lap pool, had walked into my dorm and heard the sound of hundreds of TVs, all tuned to the same channel. Every door to every room was open. I walked into the room next to mine, and found the girl who lived there sobbing. I watched the second plane hit the second tower and thought, Well, it looks like we’re fucked.

I thought so again in that French bar fourteen years later, as I had done many times before and have done many times since and will continue to do again and again and again, and again, until the day I die, when it may very well be my last thought. Yesterday, a gunman in Sutherland Springs, Texas, killed 26 people at a church service. Not long before that – not long at all – a gunman opened fire at a concert in Las Vegas, killing 58 and injuring 546. Before that was Orlando. Before that was another, and another, and another, going back to what feels like the beginning.

And those are just the big shootings, the really bad ones that kill dozens. There is a literally a shooting every day. Thirty-two Americans are murdered with guns every day. Fifty-eight more commit suicide by gun every day. Two-hundred-twenty-two are shot and survive. Ten years ago, when I was living in Asheville, North Carolina, my house was burgled while I was out of town. When I discovered the crime and reported it, a kindly police officer came to take my statement.

“What do I do now?” I asked when he was done.

The officer looked at me in a fatherly way. He was an older man, portly. He wore glasses and had blonde hair combed over the top of his bare scalp. His mustache drooped down over his top lip. “You can’t live in fear,” he said.

And I wanted to tell him, Yes, I can. Because we do.

Almost three years ago now, I was sitting in my favorite bar in France, watching the news coverage of the Charlie Hebdo shootings. While they watched, a British friend and a French friend sitting nearby discussed it.

“This just goes to show that this country isn’t as safe as you all thought!” the British friend said to the French friend.

I was baffled. “But it is that safe,” I said. “It is, because this only happened once.”

But the British friend didn’t understand me, and I didn’t understand him, either.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

My Signature Is a Mess

When I was nineteen years old, my boyfriend at the time told me that he had what he thought was a really smart strategy for signing his name to things.

“I just make everything after the M a squiggle,” he said. “That way no one can read it. If anyone asks, I can just say it’s not my signature.” He had a very serious look on his face as he explained this.

“So you have plausible deniability?” I said, using two words he didn’t know.

He looked confused but went with it. “Yeah!” he said.

I sat there, reevaluating my life choices. Was he really that good in bed? “Um, I don’t think it works that way,” I finally said.

“Why not?” he wanted to know.

“Why even sign in the first place?” I countered. This seemed to stump him.

I don’t remember why the topic came up, or even what, if any, specific document he’d seemed so reluctant to sign. I remember being baffled by the man’s logic, because I intuited that a signature doesn’t necessarily need to be legible in order to bear legal evidentiary power. In the U.S., at least, a wide variety of marks can count as signatory, including rubber stamps, digital signatures, a personalized symbol or even an X.

When I was young, I was conscientious about my signature in a way that I wasn’t about my love life. I wrote my signature carefully, forming each letter in cursive as I had been taught to in grade school penmanship class. Whenever I signed my name to anything I did so while looking sweaty and shaky, because I was worried that my signature wouldn’t look right and the cashier at the Circle K would think I was impersonating myself.

As I got older, my signature became sloppier and sloppier – the degeneration of my signature occurs in direct correlation to the decline of my ability to give a f&ck. You know how they say, “Correlation does not equal causation”? Well, in this case, it does.

The first casualty was the capital A in my last name. At some point I stopped making a large, round, cursive capital A and just started putting in a printed A. Then I ditched the c in my last name, making it smaller and moving it up, and then finally turning it into an apostrophe. Sometime later, I turned the cursive Ms into printed Ms and then into big squiggly lines. Meanwhile, the Es on the end of my name gradually flattened more and more, until they became a flat line. Finally, a few months ago, I was signing my name to a credit card receipt and I decided, “F&ck it, life’s too short, but my name isn't short enough," and just lopped the Es off altogether. Now my signature reads, Marjorie M’At.

I think the Rs will be the next to go.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

In Which I Brag About My Non-Traditional Engagement Ring

It's Day 4 of NaBloPloMo, and I have some exciting news -- I'm getting married!

I guess I could've scratched the little bit of polish off my pinkie nail before I took this picture.

Jim and I have actually been "soft engaged" since last weekend, when I informed him that I'd picked out my engagement ring. He proposed in the car, while we were on the way to buy groceries. It was very romantic. We announced the engagement at our Halloween party the next night, and although we swore everyone to secrecy, my friend Mark told his dad. THANKS MARK. >:(

I decided to go with a "diamond alternative" ring, for two reasons: 1) the exploitative diamond industry, and 2) the marketing ploy that normalized diamond engagement rings in the first place. Actually, there's a third reason: price. I know I'm not supposed to brag about how cheap my engagement ring was, but it was very affordable, which is important because we're adults and we have mouths to feed. Cat food isn't getting any cheaper.

At first, I wasn't really sure I wanted an engagement ring because, you know, it's an outdated and sexist tradition. I mean, engagement rings were originally meant as a kind of financial deposit on a woman's virginity, so that even if the man decided to break the engagement the jilted fiancée would still have some means of support even though she would now be spoiled, like old produce, and unable to find another man,since who wants a used vagina, right?

I explained all of this to one of my girlfriends, and she countered with, "But, sparkly!" which I found to be a cogent and convincing argument. Besides, it's not like anyone believed I was a virgin to begin with, anyway. To even things out, I offered to buy Jim a mangagement ring, but maybe I shouldn't have called it that, because he wasn't interested. 

ANYWAY, I chose a moissanite ring, because they're supposed to be shinier than diamonds,  and although I can't really speak to that because I don't have any diamonds to compare it to, I can say that it is pretty sparkly. Also, it comes from space!  Moissanite is very rare in nature; it was discovered in 1893 by French chemist Henri Moissan, who found it in samples of a meteorite from Canyon Diablo, Arizona. It has also been found in upper mantle rock, and as inclusions in other minerals, including diamonds and less glamorous rocks, like kimberlite and lamproite

Friday, November 3, 2017

That Time My Mother Got a Perm and Looked Like a Man

When I was a little girl, about six or seven years old, my mother got a perm. I don’t necessarily feel qualified to say that it was a bad perm, but it left my mother with a big, blonde, white-woman ‘fro, so interpret that as you will.

One day, my mother, her ‘fro, and I went to the store. While we were in there, I got separated from my mother, as kids sometimes will. I didn’t really realize that I’d gotten separated from my mother, however, because I thought I was standing right behind her. I wasn’t standing right behind her. I was actually standing right behind a young man who had the same big blonde Afro, cut-off jeans, and calf muscles as my mother.

The fact that my mother had the same hairstyle, outfit, and musculature as a young man tells you…well, not all you need to know about my mother, exactly, but, like, half of it.

In retrospect, I’m sure there were many differences between the young man’s appearance and my mother’s, but I was a kid, and kids aren’t exactly known for their attention to detail. You’d think that, surely, I would have noticed something was off when I followed the young man out of the store and got into his car, which was almost definitely a different make and model of car than that driven by my mother.

As it happened, it wasn’t until I actually got into the young man’s car and saw his face that I realized he wasn’t my mother. I looked at him, and he looked at me. I’ll never forget the stunned, terrified look on his face as he stared at me for a few moments before blurting, “Who are you?”

I stared back and responded, “Who are YOU?”

This spurred the young man into action. He took me by the hand and walked me back into the store, where my panicked mother was standing by the customer service desk, describing me to the store manager.

The young man must have seen my mother standing there and instantly understood why I’d accidentally followed him out of the store. He handed me off to her, saying, “I’m sorry ma’am, your son followed me out of the store.”

My mother wasn’t the only one in the family who looked like a man.