Friday, June 29, 2007

Cats I've Known and Not - new to the blogroll

In going through his slide collection, Larry has found a lot of pictures from his 30+ year associations with more cats than I can imagine -- he lived with 18 of them, at one time.

So what the heck, he figured, why not start a blog about them? Cats I've Known and Not is now up and running. I've guest-blogged already, sharing some very old pix of several cats who owned friends or neighbors, but deigned to associate with me.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Clapping for Tinkerbell

Down at the Caveat Christian Emptorium, you can get all kinds of weird stuff -- every home should have one -- including bumper stickers that announce: "Prayer Changes Things!"

This is not unique to Christians. Most of my New Age friends believe in an intervening God or universal god-mind, and the power of prayer. We ask for, and offer to others, prayers for surgeries and troubled kids and safe travel.

Unbelievers think we're delusional. That's OK. I'm not sure we aren't. After all, the other condescending sticker at the Jesus Junk-tique says: "God always answers but sometimes the answer is no."

Maybe so, but Cute Little Sayings are usually bullshit, and especially when they try to explain God. A deeply worried friend asked for prayers when her father was admitted into the hospital. We all prayed like crazy. Nothing stopped the relentless parade of medical malpractice that misdiagnosed a simple malady, mistreated him and caused both his death and maybe some suffering, too, though maybe God's one gift was that the man was unconscious for most of it.

It's a reasonable question. Is it delusional to pray to a God who acts like Lucy?

I was raised by two people who had each experienced some degree of childhood trauma, from being sent away during the life-threatening illness of a parent, to ugly abuse. They both believed firmly in a loving God anyway and maybe their understanding of life's full spectrum of joy and shittiness gave that belief plausibility for me. They may not have reconciled the concepts of a loving God and the things he allows, but they are willing to not understand. They were also OK with anger toward God, and this may be one of the greatest gifts one can give a child.

Mary Martin's Peter Pan aired every year. My first viewing was memorable. There we all sat, the folks on the couch and 6-ish year old me on my favorite cushion pile on the floor, in my nightgown and robe and clutching my chocolate milk, about to see this great event in kiddie television.

Something in it disturbed me at gut level. There's Tinkerbell about to croak because not enough of us believe in fairies. Um...God will let her die because we don't believe?! Clap, kids. Save her life.

I clapped and scowled. Okay, I was always a testy little kid. I certainly didn't think out all this stuff, but disquiet began blooming in my mind: Does God punish somebody over somebody else's disbelief?! God will favor the clapped-for?

When Peter Pan aired the next year I tested the waters. Here we went again, Tinkerbell flickering out, while my parents said, "Aren't you going to clap?" No, by damn. Already, at age 7, I was gonna divest myself of this responsibility and put it right back on God where it belonged. And as Tinkerbell's light began to blaze more brightly I realized two things:

ONE: God may not save us in response to each other's prayers, but he won't smite us over lack of them, either.

TWO was that it was a film. OK, video. Either way, burned unchangeably onto celluloid forever. Even if every kid in the US took a bathroom break right then.

It took Alcoholics Anonymous to tell me the real reason for prayer.

I quit drinking so that I would never have to go to AA, but ended up there anyway and learned a lot about how to stay grounded in a high wind.

I run into two common misconceptions about AA, and they are, interestingly, polar opposites. One is that it teaches us how to have power over the addiction.

Well, kinda. Well, no, not really. In the first of the twelve steps, "we admit that we are powerless over alcohol and that our lives have become unmanageable."

That leads some people to the other misconception: that we're dumping responsibility for our actions, calling it a "disease" and ourselves "victims" of it, excusing our behavior. Wrong again. A huge responsibility is demanded of us, that of self-honesty. It starts with the next step, that of "turning to a Power greater than ourselves."

AA does not presume to define that Power for us. Do you believe in any power greater than yourself? they ask us. Anything? I know a few atheists who did fine in AA.

I found that, however bad a job God did with the world, he could make better decisions than I could. This was not saying a lot.

I learned about letting go, about not using God to control outcomes. To slowly learn the balance -- a lifelong process that I earn about a C- in -- of seeing when I can make a difference, but never driving myself to drink over things I could not control or change. AA teaches neither passivity, nor the illusion of control. It teaches Reinhold Niebuhr's prayer: "God, give us grace to accept with serenity the things that cannot be changed, courage to change the things that should be changed, and the wisdom to distinguish the one from the other."

AA simplifies the wording:

God, grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change,
the courage to change the things I can,
and the wisdom to know the difference.

I keep praying because it reminds me to turn things over. To accept the burden of doing what it's in my power to do and to free myself from the burden of things I can't change. If I let go of the outcome, then, at best, I've added my drizzle of healing energy to the great river of light. And at worst, God seems to say, stay in touch with me but live your own life. Do what you can, then make a milkshake, do the laundry, cut your nails. You can't cure someone's cancer, but you can make a donation, help a kid stay in school, recycle, vote. Be fully in your life.

Pray for Callie, if you're inclined to do that sort of thing.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

So you think YOU had a rough day?

Are vultures gathering on your roof? Huh? Are they?

Merely a day of computer frustration.

These are turkey vultures on our roof -- not taken today, actually, but the picture illustrates the mood nicely. These guys are a common sight year 'round in the area, though finding them congregating on the roof was a little unusual.


Thursday, June 21, 2007

Cat story

Hey, the world has discovered a great website: Cats That Look Like Hitler! I only rediscovered it myself a little while ago, and meant to tie it in to a piece about my own dear Hitler cat. This means it's time to get off my duff -- or actually back on it -- and write about Alpo.

ALPO 1986(?) - 2001

By July 1995, I was ready for a cat and headed to the Wilmington, NC, shelter. Oh, they were adorable. I wanted them all. I nearly succumbed to the kittens crawling all over me, but since this was not a no-kill shelter, and adult cats were supposedly more likely to time-out their stay, I asked to see the adults. A sweet, pure white cat came right to me. We liked each other. I went to the desk to fill out the papers. And an shelter volunteer smiled: "Oh you're taking her? I was about to, if no one else did."

I rethought my plans. This dear pretty cat would not go homeless. I had met another cat who was sitting grumpily in a cage ignoring everybody, and likely would.

"What's his story?" I asked.

"That's Alpo. His owner committed suicide and neighbors found homes for 3 other cats but couldn't place him so they brought him here." They opened the cage and extracted Alpo, who did not want to leave it, and climbed out of the attendant's hands and across my shoulders to try and get back in.

He went home with me.

And stayed under the guest room bed for 7 weeks. Each morning there would be deposits in the litter box and withdrawals from the food bowl, but no Alpo. I tried to lure him out with catnip -- he was immune to the stuff -- and even a MacDonald's fish sandwich. No interest. I received a passing glance indicating that I did not exist.

Then I went to visit my friend-becoming-a-boyfriend in NJ for a week. When I got back I was reading in bed the first evening and was stunned to have Alpo jump up and settle...not exactly next to me. Down on the corner. Until I shifted my knee, sending him off like a shot. This became our new pattern. He would settle a couple feet away on the bed and I would try not to move till I had to. Slightest motion from me and the spell would break.

When Larry came to visit me, Alpo came out and sniffed him for a few seconds. On their first meeting! Alpo was pretty good at assessing hooman character.

Larry became Cat-Treat Man and Alpo decided I had Acquired Larry for the express purpose of improving Alpo's lifestyle. As Alpo thawed out toward people, he became a real companion, of the sit-with-you sort, rump mashed against my shoulder as he stretched out on the couch arm while I read or watched TV. He wouldn't play. No manufactured toy could engage his interest. Dangled strings evoked a "Yeah? What am I supposed to do about it?" look. "You're boring," I'd say. He'd yawn.

Alpo spent nearly 6 years with me/us. His age was unknown but his last vet said he was most likely about 10 when he came to live with me. The life he led with his suicidal owner may have been very weird. Alpo bonded with me and with Larry, and had moments of normality, but never ceased to be skittish and off in a world of his own -- not a terribly pleasant world, it seemed, judging by occasional panics and howls out of nowhere. I've wondered if his former owner gave him alcohol or drugs and skewed his brain chemistry.

But he loved us, and our wonderful Victorian house with its multiple levels and nooks and crannies. We came south again in 2000, and his new vet immediately convinced me that he needed teeth-cleaning under anesthesia. Like a fool -- no, like a cat-servant who thinks the expert knows best, I agreed.

Coincidence? Maybe, but his blood pressure shot up afterward, detached his retinas and he went blind. Blood pressure meds helped, and the retinas partially reattached but by now he had failing kidneys. He lived as nice a life as we could make for him for some months more, but we took him in (to our new and better vet) for that awful last visit in July 2001.

He had 5 great years of life with us (and one last not-so-great one). When I moan my "if onlys," which i still occasionally do, Larry reminds me that he had 5 years of happiness that he would never have had without us. But NO vet will EVER put a cat of mine under anesthesia for a damn tooth-cleaning, ever again.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

May I Scream Now?!

Background: messages between eBay members go through eBay's own message system. If someone asks me, the seller, a question, i use "Respond to this question" but other, unsolicited contact is made through "Contact member" which is a different function.


Dear eBay seller support:

I'm a US seller. Potential international buyers often ask about shipping charges. WHY do you ONLY allow me to use ''respond'' ONE TIME, to answer their question? With the recent USPS changes, i now must DELAY MY ANSWER until i can get the information.

And so, because my answer will be delayed, i respond first by telling the question-er that i will reply again with an answer tomorrow. I don't want to delay writing them back. Now that you have the enhanced feedback function, ''communication'' is something they can dock us points for -- but you make it harder to communicate!

Dear seller:

Thank you for writing in to eBay Community Support regarding the limit as to how many messages you can send to other eBay members. To protect our members from unwanted email, we have placed a limit on the number of messages members can send in a day that don't involve a specific transaction. These include "Contact an eBay Member" messages.

Depending on various factors associated with an account, we may also require additional verification from members attempting to send these messages. The best way to communicate with the seller of an active listing is to use the "Ask seller a question" link on the item page. The link is located directly below the seller's User ID. To contact your trading partner when the listing has ended, click "Contact the buyer" or "Contact seller" on the item page.

The maximum number of "Contact an eBay Member" messages that can be sent in a day is 10. Some accounts may have further restrictions placed on the number of messages they can send, based on the account history and various other factors.

I understand you are not happy with this limit.


Dear eBay seller support:

I complained that you do not allow me to respond to a member's question using the "respond" function, if i have already used it to tell them that my answer will be delayed. You sent the [above] COMPLETELY UNRELATED answer.

I do not wish to use "contact member" AT ALL, much less use it 10 times in a day. I WISH TO ANSWER A QUESTION that A MEMBER ASKED ME. And it takes research time, for me to find their answer, so I WISH TO "RESPOND" IMMEDIATELY as a courtesy...and then AGAIN when i have the answer.

I would like to understand this restriction. I am talking about "My eBay" "Messages", "Respond to this question." I am NOT talking about "Contact member." And i wish to contact a questioner TWICE, not TEN TIMES.

Dear seller:

Thanks for writing back to eBay. Please note that you can only respond to a member's question once. If you would like to contact the member again, you need to use the Contact Member feature. However, if you're not involved in a transaction with this member, the system may block your message from going through.


Dear eBay seller support:

Again, you do NOT answer my question.

Of COURSE I "note that i can only respond to a member's question once." What i asked was: WHY?

If i will be delayed in getting the information they request, why can't i tell them that?

And if i use "contact member" to answer them, "the system may block my message"????? What does eBay gain by these ridiculous policies??


(Okay, see, if they had answered "Your complaint has been noted," I'd have quit two rounds ago).

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Attack of the Glurge

It seems I have hurt some feelings among the female emailing circle of my family. I have failed to participate in glurge-forwarding. This was loaded with meaning, and with rejection of them, and I had no idea.

I mean, I knew they loved the stuff. It fills my inbox on a regular basis. But I thought glurge was offhand, casual. I thought it was something that even its fans sent with little serious thought, and with even less concern about getting a response.

We were amazed to find how dependent our kids are on text-messaging. They spend every spare moment on their cell-phones texting and sending each other pictures, and it isn't because they simply allow it get out of hand and then get a shocker of a phone bill. Nope, they know what it costs, but they'll work long hours to pay for it. The cost of dropping out is isolation. If you leave the loop, then the "world" --your circle-- drops you, not out of cruelty but simply because you aren't "there." You aren't "talking" to them.

And I've realized that glurge is the non-youth (This email circle is aged about 35-83) version of texting. It's the way you stay plugged in, prove you care. It's the way you show you've given this person some thought today. You have to participate. "You've been Angel-Kissed! Kiss 10 people within 5 minutes, including me - or it means you don't love me!"

But...but....<sputter>! these are smart, educated, professional women. Surely they don't take the stuff seriously! Surely they don't think that my failure to send back the little praying Precious Moments child with the animated head nod and blinking eyes really does mean I don't care about the sender!

There was a big clue, though, and I missed it. The clue was that these ladies also believe every fake sick-or-missing-child plea that makes the email rounds. I made an earlier gaff in sending them the info that the Little Missing Girl thing was phony. In my naiveté, I thought they'd feel relieved that there is no poor little Penny, much less an imperiled Penny. Unfortunately, it seems they may be feeling rebuffed by my pointing that out, too.

Now this, I understand. When someone shows you how gullible you've been, you want to smack them upside the head. Heck, I'm an idiot on a regular basis, and my immediate thought is "I hate this person for knowing I'm an idiot." That's my old brain talking, and the new more logical brain takes over and helps me realize that it isn't the other party's fault that I'm an idiot, but I understand the feeling.

I didn't think of that when I sent back the "It's a hoax" response. Okay, I can be kind of dense. A small good thing came out of it: no matter how much you hate having your dumbness pointed out, you tend to look out and not fall into that particular dumbness again. Or not often. No more heart-rending pleas for fictitious abducted or hospitalized kids have arrived.

But the glurge is what really matters to them, and it keeps coming. It matters to these women. Teachers, accountants, entrepreneurial women, people with advanced frikkin degrees. Who knew?!

And I have to face it. I was kind of an insensitive clod. If I'd loaded their inboxes with lots of loving delightful stuff all along, then this one "Yall fell for a hoax" response wouldn't have seemed quite so cold. But while I've occasionally emailed the group with news or jokes, it's been infrequent.

So I need to give my cousins/in-laws/nieces/etc more email attention, and I need to find ways to do it that do not involve pretending that I agree with "Things would be fine if we had prayer in the schools!" and "Mail this flapping flag cartoon everywhere to support the Iraq War!" and "Jesus wants you to be sad and think about death!" There's lots of amusing stuff I can mine the internet for. I run into cool stuff all the time, thanks to several newsgroups and bloggers, and I've been less attentive in sharing it via email than I could have been.

I'll still need to spin a spoof once in awhile, but I'll keep 'em quiet.

Jesus wants me,
this I know,
to be sad depressed and low!
Wipe that smile off, chill that cheer!
Sick tots, lost dogs, death and tears!
Yes, He is maudlin!
Yes! He is maudlin.
Yes, He is maudlin -
for my email tells me so.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Storm Day

You know it's been killer-dry for too long, when two ordinary rainy days seem like heaven. We didn't have the wildfires that have plagued Georgia and Florida, just endless dry that approached drought status. Yesterday, thanks to Tropical Storm Barry, it broke. Day One was a soaking blustery Saturday, with a wonderful sleeping-night of gusting wind pelting the walls with rain. Today the center had moved a little north of us, and the tatters it dragged behind swept over, one after another, alternating with bright blue sky and sun.

But, like typical self-centered hoomans, we failed to appreciate What Really Matters - it has inconvenienced Scooter.

Here, he reluctantly takes a walk with me during a break between rain spatters, but he's not happy about it. While he is very Tough and Manly, he does not care for wind, nor does he wish to endure the discomfort of Becoming Dampened.

He lived indoors for a year, but could not be integrated with The Colony. We're reluctantly facing the fact that Little Graymatter, the Queen of Everything, hates cats. All of them.
Which is fine with Scooter, who'd rather be out roaming the woods around us. He's never far away though. He's verging on elderly, and likes to bed comfortably down on blankets in the garage at night, safe from raccoons and other gangster-types, and provided with fresh water and kibble. It works for everybody.
The garage is our work area for the business so he sees a lot of us, but in nice weather it's more of a check-in. "Scratch me. Thanks, gotta go chase squirrels." But during inclement weather he is in all day and we are expected to entertain him accordingly. My failure to revolve around him today was noted. In his opinion, the least I could do was to walk around continuously and let him trip me.

Oh forget it, you're much too boring.

I've bid the storm a reluctant farewell, but tomorrow will be made-to-order for Scooter and that, after all, is what really matters.