Notes from Atlantis

Random Thoughts from the Crescent City

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Notes from Atlantis 32

Dear Folks,

BIG NEWS: There’s new life in Atlantis. And the old life here will never be the same, and is more than a little miffed at the change.

No, friends, this isn’t a metaphor...we really do have new life here, two new kittens, Hootkins and Tiny Alice, and our older cats, Mudbug and Boudin, have been giving me the cold shoulder ever since the interlopers moved in last Tuesday. And by the way, you don’t know from cold shoulders until you’ve been shunned by a Siamese cat...icicles practically grow from their whiskers, and those blue eyes? Think Rosa Kleb in “From Russia With Love” or Laurence Olivier with a dentist’s drill and you get the general idea.

In any case, I know in time (I hope!) that our two middle-aged ladies will come to accept the mindless dynamic fur-balls we’ve introduced in their midst, and the mindless dynamic fur-balls will grow into sleek, sociable younger siblings, but it’s still got me thinking about this whole matter of change and loss and death and rebirth and hey, given the season and the approaching end of the year, here goes with my pronouncement on at least this one element of THE BIG PICTURE.

Change sucks. Am I right? I think we’re all generally on the same page as the old cats here. Just when life is okay, when we know where everything is and pretty much what’s going to happen next, why does something always have to come barging in and screw everything up? Even when life isn’t okay...even when life is in fact pretty damn’s at least KNOWN. We know what we’re up against, whether it’s a lousy job or a bad relationship or a lonely life. It’s there and it’s not going to surprise us. Change comes and brings with it the unknown, and we don’t know what to expect and we don’t know where anything is and we get upset and since there’s always an element of death in change (at least the death of that “known”) we mourn it at least as often as we celebrate it.

And yet change is life itself. It’s (okay, bear with me, because now we ARE talking metaphors) a mindless little bundle of synapses and fuzz that’s doing its own thing a mile a minute: butting into everything and knocking things over and making you chase after it, and in the middle of all that you realize, you’re happy. This isn’t what you knew: it’s vastly more complicated. It isn’t safe (beyond reasonable precautions of preventing wild scratching matches): it’s unbalanced, and there’s an element of risk. It isn’t quiet or easy, and if it makes you fearful well, join the club, because my old cats have spent the better part of the last five days hiding under the beds and there are a few citizens of this New Atlantis who I’ll bet know exactly how that feels. Just talk to US come next hurricane season if you have any doubts about the matter.

In other words, change makes you know you’re alive, even if it hurts. You’re surprised, even if all the surprises aren’t always good ones. You DON’T KNOW what’s going to happen, and you realize that’s always been the case, we never DO know what’s going to happen and maybe that’s what change really does for us: it reminds us how life is always changing every single minute, and even when you think you’ve got perfect stasis it’s only an illusion and the best you can do is go “Wheeee!!!” like you’re on a roller coaster, because you are, we all are, and even if you don’t like roller coasters you’re signed up for the ride with the first breath you draw and you’d better damn well sit back and enjoy it.

Do I sound too sanguine about all this? I’m not, at least not entirely. Hootkins and Tiny Alice are named after two dear friends we lost in 2005, Bill Hootkins, actor and bon vivant extraordinaire, and Alice White, actress, activist, and extremely evolved Zen soul. I miss them both enormously, and naming the kitten after them is a bitter-sweet pleasure: I still haven’t known the new cats long enough that their names don’t conjure up for me, every time I call them, the persons who terribly, stubbornly, sadly and forever AREN’T there anymore.

And 2006 has also been a hell of a harvest year. I guess we’re getting to that age, all of us Boomers (are you as sick of that word as I am?) when we move to the head of the line and the previous generation, once so seemingly immortal, is gone or frail or fading. Bill lost his mother Elle this spring, his aunt Mary Dora this summer, and his uncle Smith a few weeks ago. I just learned last night that our dear friend Eric Zwemer had lost his mother, Jane. Each year brings its litany of deaths, sometimes huge (loved ones, marriages, friendships, levees, cities) and sometimes small. We’re a year older and grayer and it can seem like our options are diminishing like the business end of a funnel (which is a quote from ME, in case you’re interested... ain’t I lit’ry?) and whether you’re contemplate a quagmire war or a city still mired in bureaucracy and corruption (although we’re working on it) you can feel an impulse to throw up your hands and say, not “Wheeeee!” but “To hell with this!” and simply retreat into a corner where no change or hurt or loss can ever touch you.

You can, in other words, retreat under the bed full time, and some people have and some people do and guess what, ladies and gentlemen, there have been times in Your Humble Correspondent’s life when that’s been exactly what she’s done. There have been times when the lure of NOT feeling anything seemed preferable to feeling pain, and I’ve thought, that’s it, I’m just pulling the covers over my head and becoming unconscious until all of this blows over.

But you know what? It doesn’t work. Change comes up and bites your toes, and asks to be fed, and meows and butts its head against you and jumps on your dresser and knocks things over when you don’t get up fast enough. Or you get hungry yourself (for all you’ve been hiding in the safe dark corners) so you get up and (grudgingly) ask Mommy to feed you, and then you eat and use your box (because you’re still a cat) and then, well, MAYBE you get up in Mommy’s chair and sit behind her back while she works and that’s what Boudin is doing right now, she’s curled up behind me while I’m writing this, and you know what? It’s very quiet, but I can KINDA tell she’s purring.

She’s coming to accept change. Maybe not all at once, and with the best grace, but she’s learning it’s not such a bad thing and in fact, when it’s cold, and maybe Mudbug isn’t around anymore, Hootkins and Tiny Alice could be awful nice to cuddle with. Mudbug’s sleeping on the bed behind me and I think she may be allowing the thought to OCCUR to her that sleeping there with a couple of buddies might not, at some point, be too completely terrible.

It’s a thought, anyway. I have no idea what cats think or dream about, but I think they’re growing accustomed to change, and realizing that a world in which change occurs can still be warm and safe and wonderful. It takes us all a while, after all. We’re born into seeming stability, and realize like quantum physicists it’s all an illusion, and matter isn’t solid, it’s a humming, impermanent lovely web of light. We realize the roller coaster’s going to do its own thing, and cities will drown (and be reborn) and wars will be fought (and resolved eventually, like all wars), and there you go. Change STILL sucks. I intend to resist it with all my might, and embrace only those changes I instigate (like buying new kittens, which I then inflict on other people). But I know I can’t stop change. As soon stop the world, or water flowing, or kittens turning into cats who purr, and fight, and then sleep safely in the sun.

I wish you all a period of lovely stability and creative, life-affirming change this Christmas/ Hannukah/Kwanzaa season, and as the earth moves past its shortest days and the sun comes back, may we all celebrate the return of the light.

Happy Holidays and All My Love,