Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Friendliness Protocol Implemented Perhaps Belatedly

Thelonious and her mother. No, there is not a white kidney-shaped thing in my hair. That is empty space and that is the natural shape of my hair. I guess this kind of thing is why people buy Photoshop.

Along with my improved cat diarrhea cleanup protocol, I have also implemented a new friendliness protocol, which involves ten minutes per day of metta practice (followed by 30 minutes of concentration practice, which is not directly part of the friendliness protocol).

It has been my custom to silently say metta phrases as I do certain activities, like filling a glass or bottle with water, or walking up stairs, one syllable to a step: “May all beings be happy and be free from fear,” for instance, gets me from one landing to the next at work.

I have just started doing the same when I walk around outside and am finding it extremely relaxing, plus outside the Container Store it briefly felt like I was losing contact with the earth, or perhaps it was a touch of vertigo, which can happen now and then.

When annoyance arises, I note my thoughts in detail: Having the thought that this person might in the next few moments do such-and-such. Having the thought that that will be annoying and then I will say this, that and the other. Oh, having the thought that the person didn’t in fact do such-and-such.

Having the thought that it is very irritating that this person is standing in the doorway through which I would like to exit right now. Cannot this person see I am standing here?

A huge number of my irritable thoughts begin with, “This person can see I am …” This person can see I am trying to get down the street here. This person can see I was approaching the water fountain.

So, anyway, having the thought that this person is very irritating because he is standing in my way. Having the thought that this is a bad person, and therefore deserving of my unfriendliness.

It’s kind of mortifying to see some of this, but it also affords the opportunity to inquire if I’m sure my thoughts are right.

This person might actually be very nice even if he’s standing near the elevator and even if he made a clicking noise.

Sometimes the irritation dissipates merely through being seen clearly. But if not, and this is the beauty of this plan, all I have to do is keep noting my thoughts, which, if nothing else, somewhat turns my attention from the object of my awareness to the process of awareness itself. Even if the irritation doesn’t lessen right away, I’m probably not so likely to give voice to it in a way I’ll regret later.

I did, unfortunately, yell at a pedestrian the other day. Jaywalking from between two cars, he walked right into me. Had I been moving faster, I would probably have fallen. My immediate startled reaction included an expletive or two.

He seemed very regretful, but then he remembered his rights and said, “Pedestrians have the right of way.” This caused me to remember my rights, and I’m afraid I said, in part, “Use the [expletive deleted] crosswalk, moron.”

He looked frozen and descended into the BART station without further comment. I felt quite awful about it right away, as he did look like a decent fellow, and posted an apology on Craigslist, which was about all I could do.

However, one thing to ponder is that one of the reasons the highly unkind phrase popped so readily out of my mouth is that it had been practiced mentally countless times, so part of the new protocol is to abandon saying that kind of thing even to myself.

By chance, I also have a new financial protocol, which is to wait until payday to buy anything that falls into the miscellaneous category that I don’t really need right away or that isn’t truly a minor purchase, and then to use money left over from the previous payday, and if there is no money left over from the previous payday, not to buy the thing.

To keep on track, I am writing down each day in my calendar exactly how much money I have left in this category.

This replaces the previous practice of having no idea how much money I have left, buying everything I feel like buying and then having a shortfall come payday which must be filled in with funds I would otherwise have invested in hopes of a plush retirement.

I love the feeling of knowing I am not going to overspend in this category, the last frontier, where vagueness can so easily rule.

Plus, by the time payday rolled around, I had concluded I didn’t really even want or need the things I had been waiting until then to buy.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

A Fair and Just Universe

Thelonious with her Aunt Lisa and Uncle David. David’s hair is shorter than usual due to the malicious attentions of a Chinatown “stylist.” As you can see, he looks very handsome, anyway, but let the record reflect that this is not his customary coiffure.

On Friday evening I bought Thelonious a little brush (at a wonderful store called Noe Valley Pet Company), piles of Fancy Feast and a supply of empty gelatin caps.

I started giving her slippery elm in gelatin caps, and switched to the new herbs, and sure enough, she is eating noticeably less again, so I have stopped the slippery elm and reduced the new herbs. If matters don’t improve, I’ll switch back to the old herbs.

On Saturday, David and Lisa came from across town to see their ailing niece, which was awfully nice of them. They said she looks frail but not at all unhappy. Tom was off on a bike ride, so the three of us had a tasty lunch at Herbivore.

Then I rode my bike to Rainbow for groceries, and in the evening Tom and I watched Owning Mahowny, in which Philip Seymour Hoffman plays a compulsive gambler.

Sunday morning Tom and I went bright and early to the Fillmore box office for Alice in Chains tickets (that is, ticket, as I will be attending unescorted). I was afraid there would be 500 AIC fans already there when we arrived (or, conversely, none at all, meaning I had the date wrong), but there were about 15 people in line.

I told the affectless broker that I wanted to sit near the front and center of the balcony, but on an aisle, so no unfamiliar leg touches mine. He said he wasn’t set up to determine whether the seat was on an aisle or not, and that for that kind of request, you need to call Ticketmaster (and pay the substantial service charge).

“OK, I’ll call Ticketmaster,” I said, not having taken offense, but he said, “This seat won’t be there. This show is selling out.” That was ten minutes after tickets went on sale, so I went ahead and bought the ticket, which is for a fantastic seat four rows from the front of the balcony, just not on an aisle. I feel very happy when I see my Alice in Chains ticket on the bookshelf.

Tom and I were early for our next engagement, so we walked from the Fillmore all the way to the Ferry Building, which took an hour. At the Ferry Building, we sat at one of the big square wooden tables outside the Book Passage and read until the ferry arrived, bringing Tom’s mother, who took him (and me!) out to lunch at The Slanted Door for his birthday. The food was extremely tasty, as always, and it was great to see Ann, as always.

Tom and I parted company outside the Ferry Building because he had to finish some gelato and then he was going to go to Safeway rather than straight home. I went into the Embarcadero station to wait for a J train and sat while several trains went by and several announcements were heard. I finally heard an announcement saying a J would be coming in nine minutes.

Holding my Harper’s magazine and sitting due upright, I closed my eyes for the merest moment, and then was awakened by another announcement. “Did she say J?” I inquired of my neighbor, who replied, “The J just left.”

The next several announcements made no mention of a J train, and yet I couldn’t believe I’d been asleep for nine minutes, so I concluded there had been no J, and after 20 or 30 more minutes, I went up one level and told an agent that I’d been waiting for a J for an hour. He said to tell the other agent. The other agent said to go back down and tell the inspector. I went down; there was no inspector. Just as I was going up again, I heard an announcement saying, “The J is coming right now!” or words to that effect. I barely caught it.

When I got home, I could hear Tom already in his apartment overhead. He said he’d gone into the station and seen a J right away, so decided to skip Safeway (as the J is the only train that goes to our neighborhood, whereas any would go near Safeway).

So either I was asleep for nine minutes sitting bolt upright and clutching a periodical or, and this is much more likely, Muni said, “J coming in nine minutes,” and then it arrived in ten seconds, just as Tom put his foot on the platform.

By the way, I wasn’t meaning to suggest that my father was a patsy when I said he was susceptible to logical arguments when I was younger. On the contrary, it was soothing to my youthful nerves and upheld the illusion of a fair and just universe to hear my father say, “You won the argument, so I guess you can … .”

Friday, September 22, 2006

Pre-Apocalyptic Garlic Toast and a Pleasing Dab of Doo

Today is Thelonious’s 19th birthday, and the best one of all, since I was afraid she was going to die right before it. With much pleasure did I sing the birthday song this morning and call her Uncle Tom to notify him of her impressive longevity.

After wringing out a poop-infused sponge several times too many, I have developed a new diarrhea cleanup protocol which uses Wet Ones, previously disdained as not environmentally friendly, for cleaning the floor, walls and edge of the litter box, once I’ve gone as far as I can go with wads of toilet paper. They’re very handy and more hygienic.

But wait! Isn’t there a nearly identical product at Whole Foods for which I could pay three times as much? Well, there is. Avalon Organics Flushable Biodegradable Baby Wipes (Certified Organic Blend of Chamomile, Aloe & Calendula) is the item you’ll want. These are supposedly fragrance free, which could be a plus, as the smell of Wet Ones plus trace amounts of cat poop is faintly nauseating.

Feeling a bit concerned about my landlords’ plumbing, I also got some gallon-size ziplock bags in which to put clumps of the aforementioned substance, along with the accompanying pile of cat litter. Certainly a firm cat turd, should I ever be lucky enough to see one again, is not a problem to flush down the toilet, all the more so because it isn’t followed by 500 yards of toilet paper, like the turds of some.

Up until recently, it was my feeling that anything with a dab of cat poop on it needed laundering. How very innocent I was. After having to do seven loads of laundry two weeks in a row, my requirements have tightened. Now I think, oh, well, how can it hurt me? It’s on top of the blanket, whereas I’ll be under the blanket. What’s a dainty dab of doo among friends?

This week I did wash one of the blankets that is draped over the comfy chair, putting it in with the diarrhea-splotched bath mat, and it came out of the dryer smelling extremely strange. I assumed it had become contaminated, but the bath mat itself smelled fresh and clean, so I think I must have burned the blanket in the dryer. The smell of cooked polyester is actually rather more unpleasant than the smell of Wet Ones plus cat poop.

I ran Thelonious’s current state of being by Dr. Fong and he suggested that we switch to different herbs (the new formula has the lovely name of Anemone Combo) and he said I should go back to giving her the slippery elm powder, which is supposed to help her intestines.

I stopped because I swore off anything to do with syringes. Syringe feeding is out, certainly, but maybe eschewing syringe medication was going too far. However, I noticed, thumbing through the Eating Log, that her appetite perked up during the week she was off the slippery elm, so if she starts eating less again, I’ll cease administering it.

Last night, I gave her a dose, mixed with water and via syringe. She doesn’t mind it too much, but the Anemone Combo was much worse-tasting (judging from the smell) and it made her foam at the mouth a bit and was obviously very unpleasant.

It occurred to me that maybe I could just put it in a gelatin capsule and give it to her as with any other pill. The vet’s office confirmed that today, which was very welcome news, because I can give her the slippery elm the same way and we can say goodbye to the syringe again.

It seems you can also give liquid medicines in gel caps if you do it quickly, before the gelatin melts.

I am really happy about this because it will take much less time, be a lot less messy, and ensure that she’s actually getting the whole dose and not losing some due to it being spit out, dribbled down her face or escaping as foam.

Rainbow sells empty gelatin capsules in several sizes, so I’ll go by there this evening. At the hardware store, I got two itsy-bitsy plastic funnels, which is perfect: one for each medication, thus no need to rinse between uses. I could also have made funnels out of little pieces of paper.

I must as well go to Safeway for more Fancy Feast and to a pet store for a little cat brush with soft bristles, as I have recently become racked with guilt over never having bought her one. I guess I never bought her one because she never minded being combed and I just used the comb to remove superfluous fur, but now she is very bony and might enjoy being brushed even if it doesn’t actually achieve anything.

I tried making vegan garlic bread with Asti Meyer Lemon olive oil, which I bought recently at Whole Foods, and which is a gorgeous color, and it was wonderful. Until the apocalypse, that’s the only way I’m making garlic bread.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Cat Chronicler Misnomered as "Beavis" By Own Mother

Thelonious's toys, with beloved cork third from right.

I know "misnomered" didn't used to be a word, but once upon a time I referred to Frank's dog "Poppy" as "Poggy" and he said people have died for lesser offenses than "misnomering" his dog, so now it is.

I ended up getting in a fight with my building manager after all, when I told her I might end up adopting two kittens instead of one cat. For one thing, the SPCA’s web page has an ad that says, “Take two—they’re small!” and the kitten professor had mentioned that they encourage people to adopt two, though they won’t twist your arm.

For another, when I showed an attorney at the Tenants Union my lease many months ago to make sure I’d be able to get another cat after Thelonious was gone, she pointed out that my lease allows for multiple cats.

Having two kittens sounded fun, but also like kind of a hassle. How would I take two cats to the vet? Would I need two litter boxes? I started doing some research and found out that one litter box is often fine for two cats and that many people take two cats to the vet without undue strain.

I also came upon several articles that said it is a myth that cats are solitary and aloof, and that often cats are happier with another cat for company and even stay healthier longer. Also, two kittens can occupy each other, while one kitten alone is more likely to get into mischief.

So it sounded great all around: it would certainly be good for me to have two cute kittens, it would double the number of souls rescued from homelessness, the cats would be happier, and it could potentially be less injurious to my landlords’ property.

Most important of all, I had thought up fantastic names for two little black girl cats: Hammett and Hetfield. “Hammy, time for dinner,” I pictured myself bellowing into the living room. I was looking forward to 19-year-old guys, if I ever talked to any, saying, “Cool names, dude.”

I sent the building manager an email letting her know of the possibility of dual cats, and hoped she would write back, “Well, if it’s in your lease, I guess that’s that.” But she got ticked off and said, “Doesn’t your lease say such-and-such?” I said it does, and that that’s the part that means I can have two cats. She said, after having inquired about the wording of my lease, that she didn’t want to argue about the wording of my lease, that I know how the landlords feel about cats, and that she felt like I was taking advantage of her having been nice about it.

I wrote back that while it’s fine that the landlords’ feelings have changed, they can’t expect people to go by their feelings as opposed to by the lease. Just in case, I called my mother to see if she thought I was being a butthead. She loyally said, “No, of course not—you’re Beavis.”

When she heard the whole story, she said I was being a butthead, though I eventually argued her into seeing it my way (I think). A key difference between my parents when I was a teenager was that one of them was wholly susceptible to logic and would say, “Well, you’re right. OK, I guess you can borrow the car and drive to Chicago,” whereas the one who now thinks I’m a butthead would say, “You win the argument, but you still can’t do it.”

Later my mother suggested trying to find out what the landlords’ actual concern is, in order to put their minds at ease, if possible, but by then I’d gotten an email from the building manager washing her hands of the whole affair and suggesting that if I plan to get two cats, I should notify the landlords myself.

Later I wondered if maybe the whole thing was simply to divert my mind temporarily from Thelonious's state of health. In many ways, she is doing fine. She is more or less active depending on the day, she is eating probably enough to keep going for now, and she seems to be finding some enjoyment in her life. She is getting thinner, but the main problem is the never-ending diarrhea.

I ran it by Dr. Press, who said the blood in her poop is “not concerning,” but he thinks the chances are pretty good that she has a significant cancer.

Along with Prednisone, she’s been taking a Chinese herb formula that is supposed to banish diarrhea, but if a patient reacts adversely to it, one tell-tale symptom is diarrhea, plus it’s homeopathic, so it works by providing a hair of the dog that causes the problem—in other words, something that causes diarrhea.

I don’t know if the herbs are prolonging the bowel problems, or if the herbs have improved her appetite, or if they’re doing nothing at all. I left a detailed message for Dr. Fong, but have yet to hear from him, so I stopped the herbs and will see if that seems to change things.

If the change is for the worse (and I wouldn’t say there’s that much leeway for experimentation here), I will put her back on them and increase the dose a tad, as had been mentioned.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Scandalous Enjoyment of Purloined Red Lentils

Thelonious ate almost all of a 3-oz. can of food yesterday, and of all things, it was Fancy Feast, which the lady at the animal hospital had indeed said many cats like, even though it doesn’t have quality ingredients. Thelonious likes fish flavors, but has hated almost all of the Fancy Feast fish flavors I’ve tried.

What she ate yesterday was “chicken.” Fancy Feast is horrible-looking stuff due to the highly unnatural color. You’d think the smell of the chemicals would outweigh the allure to the cat, if any, of the sickly pink hue, which is evidently meant to suggest fresh meat.

Come to think of it, it’s probably not meant to entice the cat but to conceal the appearance of the “meat” from the cat’s owner.

MaxCat, on the other hand, features nice solid cubes of real meat in thick gravy and smells so good that the only reason I haven’t tried it myself is that I’m (more or less) a vegan, not because I’m not a cat.

She likes MaxCat, too. She likes to slurp up the gravy most of all, but also ate some of the food over the weekend, on top of eating almost the whole can of Fancy Feast, and this morning was looking so relatively robust that instead of calling the euthanasian, I went to work.

I heard something hideous on KQED last night: that “bemused” has come to mean “amused” lately. I am bemused to hear that, and I don’t mean amused. It is just wrong that one of the best words in the English language, along with "goiter" and others that I'm forgetting, can be dragged down into the mud like that, no doubt by the kind of people who were offended by the guy saying "niggardly."

I also heard an interview with a man who found a solution for his debilitating panic attacks.

Frankly, I thought he was going to say he does the exact same thing I do, because if there was a better way, I would have thought of it. But he said, of all things, that he concluded he needed more fun in his life and took up Zydeco dancing. More fun in his life? What kind of crazy idea was that?

However, he found it extremely exciting and made 40 new friends, plus met his wife, with whom he now has two kids who enjoy Zydeco music.

Dancing to Zydeco music or even having to hear 10 seconds of it sounds horrible to me, but the point about finding something fun to do was, in fact, well taken. Maybe I should even go do some Zydeco dancing, just in case. I did hear a funny country song about a woman who works at a snake farm. Its lyrics were, in part, "Snake farm! It just sounds nasty."

I used to play the trumpet in bands, which was very fun, but I don’t have time to do the requisite practicing any more, and also practicing is not fun when it is undoubtedly tormenting a number of neighbors.

I launched my metta practice last night with the aid of the handy Invisible Clock II, which allows you to set a timer to go off after 10 minutes and then 30 minutes after that, or whatever you want, up to six different alarms, plus it can be used as an alarm clock, and you can set it either to beep or vibrate, and you can adjust the volume of the beep. I wish the quietest beep were still quieter, and more melodious—it’s a bit croaky—but on the whole, it’s a great little item.

Then I went to sleep and, just as I was falling asleep, a frisson of fear arose, which was unexpected; it usually happens after I’ve been asleep for a time. But I welcomed it heartily and assured it I was there with it and it passed very soon.

Dropping the story and feeling the feelings is working very well in regard to the impending bereavement. It doesn’t allow the mind to take one on a train to who knows where, but it also doesn’t mean ignoring what is happening. It’s just processing it in a different way, one that tends to be surprisingly easy and brings the flavor of liberation, whereas the “proliferation of thought” approach can create endless misery.

I went to Whole Foods today for tuna for Thelonious, just in case (it’s very good that she’s off it for now), and lemon olive oil and fruit and cookies and so forth. For a large number of items, the total was $21, which surprised me, because usually a small number of items is $30.

It turned out the checker hadn’t rung up the olive oil, which I brought to his attention, as I could hardly enjoy ill-gotten olive oil, though when I was leaving Rainbow on Saturday, when I was back at my bicycle, I noticed they hadn’t charged me for some red lentils, and for the first time in my life, I just let it go, as I recalled that a few weeks earlier, I’d gotten home to find they’d charged me for 13 Australian chocolate-covered toffee bars when I’d only gotten 10, so it probably came out about even in the end.

The red lentils, ill-gotten or not, were discovered today to be particularly delectable with buckwheat, fresh garlic, soy sauce, lemon olive oil and chopped, steamed broccoli.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Everything You Need to Know About Darwinism

Another thing I did yesterday was go to kitten kindergarten at the SPCA. I felt like staying home, but I was unable to reach the kitten professors to cancel, so decided just to go do it, and to go to Rainbow for groceries on the way back, so I wouldn’t have to go out for the rest of the weekend.

It was an utterly gorgeous day, sunny and bright with a fresh breeze, awash in promise.

The SPCA is in an industrial area and I wasn’t sure where to lock my bike. Another cyclist advised walking to a nearby Safeway, not far, and locking it there, which was a good idea.

The class was very informative. Sixteen and a half years ago, I went to the SPCA to adopt a kitten, but came home with Thelonious, who was already two and a half. This time I may actually get a kitten. I might even get two.

The tidbit I thought was most interesting was that there are more black cats up for adoption not only because people are superstitious about them, though that’s part of it, but because there just are more black cats, period. They tend to be successful hunters because they can’t be seen in the dark, and so they thrive long enough to make more black cats.

I said to my mother on the phone this morning, “I can’t remember how Darwinism doesn’t work.” She knew what I meant right away and explained, “If a cat learns how to do embroidery, that wouldn’t be passed down.”

I had called my parents to say I’m afraid I will know when it’s time to call the euthanicist but I won’t be able to bring myself to do it and Thelonious will end up suffering. I described her current condition—sitting in her nest much of the day, as always; purring when she’s petted; playing a bit with the blind pulls but not chasing other toys; drinking plenty of water; eating very little but somehow enough to produce diarrhea two or three times a day. My mother asked, “She can still hop onto the chair?” I said she could and my mother said then it probably is not time.

My friend Amy said yesterday on the phone that one might think of Thelonious as an incontinent elderly relative.

Good news: I got an extremely nice note back from my building manager saying she hopes Thelonious and I are well, that she knows how hard it is to lose a cat, and that she hopes I enjoy my new companion. What a relief, and how kind that was. We are getting along very well these days, which I know is due to effort on both of our parts.

I’m not sure how she’ll feel about two cats, but as the lawyer at the Tenants Union pointed out, without my asking, the way my lease is written, it allows for multiple cats.

There was quite a decent article on Buddhist meditation in the latest Psychology Today, which said that people “freely gorge on oversize portions of mental anguish, what Stanford neuroscientist Robert Sapolsky calls ‘adventitious suffering—the pain of what was, what will be, [or] what could be.’”

There was also this inspiring bit, about Matthieu Ricard, a Buddhist monk and scientist: “Ricard may be his own best argument. Many who encounter him are struck by the sense of well-being he projects.”

I think my meditation practice has, over the years, made me happier and more peaceful, but the detailed thought-noting a la Ezra Bayda (that which caused my fundamental childhood anxieties to re-appear so blatantly in the past couple of months) has made it embarrassingly clear that a lot of free-floating unfriendliness remains.

When I encounter a roomful of strangers, such as in NERT class, as a rule, I take an instant disliking to all of them and then, perhaps, learn to like them one by one. I’m afraid my default setting is that a new person is presumed unlikeable, and of course if the slightest objectionable thing occurs, the person may as well be Satan. The people disturbing my Sunday morning with their radio are bad people.

It’s also helpful to investigate what my requirements are: I require people to follow the rules. I require them not to make noise when I’m taking a nap. At root, I require people not to do what I don’t like them to do.

Is it possible I can be happy even if someone is doing what I don’t want them to do? Is it possible the cars around me are mostly filled with kind and friendly people? In fact, that is virtually a certainty, so why do I assume that any stranger is someone I won’t like? I even do this in rooms full of Buddhist meditators!

Seeing thoughts and requirements clearly is helpful—I can’t address something I don’t know is there—but an antidote can also be helpful, and that is metta or lovingkindness, the cultivation of friendly feelings.

I believe I’d better add a bit of it to my daily meditation practice.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Fulfilling Post-Euthanasia Chores Envisioned

Cheery photo of shelves. Eagle-eyed family members will spot visual representations of themselves from earlier eras. To the right is a box with many little compartments in it that my father made for me out of a beer box decades ago.

This morning I began to make some plans in regard to the euthanizing of Thelonious, such as things to do to help myself through the day of the event. I think it will be a good idea to do what they call “bookending” in 12-step programs: I will call someone before I call Dr. Bolivar, call the same person after I talk to him, and once again after Thelonious is gone.

I made a list of some things I need to do afterward: Maybe go to the SPCA’s pet bereavement group. Notify her longtime vet. Give Tom yet more food, including meat that is in the freezer and eggs that are in fridge. Donate a hundred cans of cat food to the SPCA. Put opened cat food into the compost bin. Wash the bathroom floor with bleach.

Even there isn’t life after Thelonious, there will be chores.

I have been taking many deep breaths and observing the very noticeable difference between telling myself, “Oh, my god! My cat’s little white Melmac dish, never to be used by her again,” as opposed to, “It’s OK. Everything will be OK. You will definitely survive this. You will be happy again, I promise.”

As always, I think there is a place for encouraging or kindly self-talk. It does help and can completely change the emotional tone of a moment. But Steve Hagen’s book cautions against relying on thoughts, as they so easily flip from one point of view to its opposite. It will probably be most helpful of all, after a bit of cheering self-talk, to drop the story and feel the feelings instead.

This evening Tom and I got together to watch a couple of DVDs. Usually we pick out two together, but I proposed that we each just pick one, with one party watching the other’s and suffering in silence if necessary.

But the one I picked—The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things—made us both suffer so much with its scenes of child abuse (is it possible that doesn’t mess up the child actor?) that we had to abort and go on to Tom’s, which was Grand Prix, with James Garner, Eva Marie Saint (why is her name not Eva Saint Marie?), and, of all people, Brian Bedford, a stage actor I saw with my family at a Shakespeare festival in Canada about 35 years ago.

I had a crush on Brian Bedford after that but never had any idea he was ever in a movie. He had a prominent role in this one, but I had trouble getting fully invested in it, plus I became hungry, and lonely for my cat, so I went home. So I’d have to say like-it-or-lump-it movie-picking was a failure.

I woke up terrified in the middle of the night a couple of nights ago. There have been many episodes of this in the past couple of years, always in the middle of the night, easily handled mainly by noticing physical sensations (switching my attention to a neutral body part like my hands or feet, if necessary) and reassuring myself, but this was a diabolical one, with Mara whispering, “That thing you say to comfort yourself? It isn’t true. You’re all alone.”

It passed, as they always do. Probably not one of these lasts for longer than 30 seconds (except for the first one, which lasted for hours).

I realized later that perhaps the severity had been due to resistance on my part. I was sound asleep and it caught me off guard; when I woke up, it was in full swing, and I felt that I very much didn’t want it to be there, and employing my customary techniques was clearly about getting it to go away.

I’m guessing that the night fear (which is not fear of the night; it’s just fear; if anything, I guess it’s fear of losing my mind or somehow being irretrievably engulfed) may happen more than usual right after Thelonious is gone. (Thelonious gone! It still seems impossible, no matter how much I try to get used to the idea.)

The next time it happened, I said, “Welcome, fear. Come in and bring your friend,” and it was an easier experience.

Later today, after all the planning in the morning, I realized that, as with cheery self-talk, plan-making has its very useful place, but that I didn’t have to worry about the right time to summon the euthanasian (euthanacist?), because at some point it will become clear.

I had a wonderful phone conversation with a friend this morning who reminded me about Anne Wilson Schaef saying, “I don’t decide, I discover.” Exactly.

I told my friend about welcoming the night fear and she said she does a very similar thing with physical pain, describing the sensation to herself in detail—burning, throbbing, dull ache—and then saying, “OK, thumb, I’m here with you.” Next time I will try that with the fear.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Speakerphone Addict No Match for Crafty Colleague

Thelonious Atkins gracing arm of chair a couple of weeks ago or so.

Here is yet another coworker story. I have a neighbor, not seen but heard, who works for another group. Sometimes when he is on the phone, he uses his speakerphone rather than using his headset, which means the other person can be heard loud and clear, which would be fine if that person were there in person, but the tinny amplification is quite annoying.

I went over and asked him to please use his headset and he agreed. A couple of weeks later, I had to ask him the same thing. This time he glared at me.

Lately there has been a tremendous amount of speakerphoning and it became clear that he has a buddy who comes over and also needs to hear whomever is one the phone. However, presumably the buddy has a cube somewhere or other and could call into a telephone conference line and use NetMeeting to see what’s on my neighbor’s PC, as the civilized do.

I was working myself into a thing over it (as always, prodded along by the thought that he should not be doing this), but feared to mention it to him again. I told a coworker of mine about it and she suggested talking to him one more time and offered to accompany me. Brilliant idea!

After he got off the phone (and it really was loud; I could hear it over at my coworker’s palatial cube, which is not near mine), I strolled over there with my coworker in tow and said exactly the same thing I would have said if she hadn’t been there, namely that I didn’t want to be in a fight, but that the speakerphone was driving me crazy and perhaps he could, if possible, use his headset, and if he needed to collaborate with someone else, perhaps NetMeeting would be an option?

He looked rather alarmed to see there were two of us and he didn’t glare at me this time; maybe he thought my coworker was someone he should be scared of, or maybe he assumed he was bothering at least two people.

That was a great idea on my coworker’s part: subtle, yet with a certain psychological force. We shall see if it does the trick.

Today I stayed home from work with Thelonious. She was quite lethargic all day. She can’t have eaten more than a quarter-ounce of food, if that, but she licked up some gravy. TMI alert: There is now blood in her poop, which apparently is not that uncommon for cats, but it doesn’t seem like it can be a good thing.

I’m thinking that I will be calling the euthanasia doctor on Monday. If so, that means she has had her last Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, and soon her last Friday.

I took away one of the kinds of food that is out and washed the bowl. Then I realized I was washing her little white Melmac bowl for probably the last time and burst into tears.

How many times have I heard her eating chow out of that bowl, that faint clattering sound in the next room? I estimate twelve thousand times, but it still seems way too soon not to hear it again.

My Marine friend sent out a rather vitriolic essay on illegal immigrants the other day. I replied saying that many illegal immigrants pay taxes, that they do crap work that we don’t want to do, and that I don’t really care what side of an arbitrary line someone is standing on. I said as far as I’m concerned, anyone who has managed to make it here should be given citizenship. I especially think that after reading Enrique’s Journey.

He wrote back requesting my source material. I told him to Google “illegal immigrants taxes.” Today I found I’d gotten four emails from him on this topic, and just as I was noting that, I received yet another, titled something like, “One more supporting document.” Then I’m afraid I lost my temper and wrote back and told him not to email me again, period.

(Not long ago, he sent out an essay that turned out not to be written by the person it was attributed to. I pointed that out, and he went more or less completely off, so there has unfortunately been a bit of ill feeling recently, though he apologized after that; he said he’d been having a bad hair day, which I thought was rather charming.)

I regretted my outburst right away and wrote again to say that I’d actually love to receive any note from him just to me and to keep in touch, but that I didn’t want to be on his distribution list, and I didn’t want to receive two or more emails in a row on the same subject because then it no longer feels like a back-and-forth discussion but like lecturing or browbeating, which are not welcome.

I had somewhat appreciated the chance to see what’s on the other side’s mind, but if we’re going to get in an argument if I dare to air my views in return, then this is not so good.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Unhand Those Ratt Albums!

Cat in what she believes is a syringe-free zone. I used to sit on this same chair when I was three years old. Tom, not normally one for gloomy predictions, says it is going to fall completely apart one day and I will crack my head open.

I realized this morning that I was kind of enjoying all the tasks I have to do to take care of Thelonious and myself, just being at home and washing this and washing that and washing this again.

I also realized I didn’t feel miserable even though something is happening that I don’t want to happen. It reminded me of reporting to a teacher during a meditation retreat that even though I was in physical pain, I was perfectly happy.

I have been feeling peaceful about the fact that things are as they are with Thelonious. Of course, that may be because I have been focusing on my domestic tasks, but I do have a sense that everything is really OK.

The syringe feeding is so miserable, I began to feel quite uncertain today about continuing. I told my father on the phone that if someone were to say, “Try another five days of syringe feeding. If things aren’t better, then you can re-evaluate,” I would say, “OK. That sounds reasonable,” and if someone were to say, “Don’t put the little feller through any more,” I would say, “You’re right.” So which is right?

I have just made this decision: I will not subject Thelonious to syringe feeding even once more; nor will I give her the slippery elm via syringe. I will keep giving her Prednisone and the other pill, as taking a pill doesn’t bother her much and the Prednisone may help keep her comfortable.

He and my mother have been through many cat illnesses and deaths, including syringe feeding, and while he didn’t want to tell me what to do, he said if it was his cat, he would abandon the syringe feeding and he would probably have his cat euthanized fairly soon. Only one cat that required major medical intervention survived, and that cat, Eloise, was only seven.

My father will be held blameless if Thelonious does happen to call down from heaven, “Hey! Another month of syringe feeding and there would have been a miracle! Now I’m up here with your grandmother and I get to have tuna morning, noon and night, and we play bridge every afternoon with nice-smelling ladies and then go for a ride in the Caddy.”

I called Thelonious’s new vet and said I am not doing any more syringe feeding and I canceled next week’s appointment. His assistant was very nice and said he was sorry about Thelonious, but that the decision made sense.

Just as when she ate less, there was some relief about having less diarrhea to clean up, I admit this decision also comes with some relief, primarily: No more syringe feeding! No more syringe-related cat misery! No more acupuncture. No more shredded towels and clothes stained with cat food. No more bed covered with cat food. No more getting up at 6 a.m. to do the first round of pills. I might even stop keeping the Eating Log, the Poop Log, the Medication Log, the Barfing Log, and the Log Log.

While the Barfing Log is venerable, I’ve been keeping the Eating Log for just three weeks and now that it’s a matter of ounces and half-ounces, not having a digital scale, this morning I was drawing little pictures showing the needle’s position on my postage scale, so I could tell exactly how much she’d eaten, so I’d know how much syringe feeding to do.

It has been an ordeal for both of us and I imagine the worst part is still ahead, saying goodbye.

One of my relatives once said it was harder to lose her favorite cat than it was to lose her mother. I confess that I sort of thought, “Surely you can’t mean that.” But if the measure is tears shed, then I imagine that was the plain truth.

I just sent my building manager a note letting her know I plan to adopt another cat after Thelonious is gone, just in case Thelonious is gone in a week and I want to adopt a cat right away. I’m also going to go to the SPCA’s Kitten Kindergarten this weekend, where you learn all about caring for a kitten.

I don’t mean to sound like, “Get lost, Thelonious, so I can get a kitten!”

I would have liked her to live forever. I would have liked her to live so long she had to fret about when to euthanize me. I would have liked her to have to hold off family members trying to make off with my Ratt albums before I was even cool in my urn.

But I’m her mommy, and when you’re someone’s mommy, you have to call the euthanasia guy before there are only bad days left, and you have to usher your little cat out of this world even if it’s the worst thing you ever had to do in your whole life.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Doting Cat Mother Nearly Dented by Exploding Turkey Baster

Here's Tom with his eyes sort of closed keeping Thelonious Atkins company.

Yes, syringe-feeding the cat is as unpleasant as expected, but I did learn a few things from Tuesday night’s exertions.

I went that day to Walgreens and found that they do not sell syringes (minus the needle; they probably don’t sell them with needles, either, therefore), so I stopped at Mission Pet Hospital on the way home and picked up one 3cc and one 6cc syringe.

I also bought a turkey baster, the implement recommend by Dr. Fong.

He told me to put half a clove of garlic in the food, and a bit of cinnamon. That seems like a lot of garlic. It’s half what I eat per day, but I weigh 27 times as much as she does.

But I dutifully minced the garlic and combined it with wet Eukanuba Low-Residue and a pinch of cinnamon. I spread towels on the bed and on myself and tried to administer this mixture to Thelonious using the turkey baster, but the pieces of garlic clogged up the end of the baster, and when I squeezed the bulb, instead of food coming out the small end, the tip was so thoroughly blocked that the bulb blew off!

Back to the kitchen to puree the mixture in the food processor.

I think the baster is probably too big and unwieldy for this operation, anyway, so next I tried the 6cc syringe, which is not really great, either; while the tip of it is very tiny, it soon and abruptly becomes much larger, so it doesn’t really go into her mouth smoothly.

While she liked Eukanuba Low-Residue fine a month ago, she does not like it now. She really doesn’t like it when it has garlic and cinnamon in it. There was a great splashing and flinging about of cat food, vigorous efforts to get away (on her part), a mild feeling of despair (on my part), and pronounced gulps that made me wonder if I’d gotten the food down the wrong pipe.

The extra towels I'd bought for this purpose immediately started to be pulled into shreds. That’s OK. They were really cheap. Later I can put them in a bag labeled Dying Cat Supplies, along with the stack of cheap Corelle plates, the containers for refrigerating leftover cat food, the containers for storing dry cat food, the syringes, and so forth.

It turns out the best thing to use for syringe feeding is a 3cc syringe, because its body is only slightly bigger than the tip. It’s not hard to put into her mouth, but of course it then takes about 30 squirts to get the job done.

We did this in several phases. After the first or second, she lay under the meditation chair recuperating for some time. When I’d gotten it almost all down her (and it was only two ounces of food!), needless to say, she pooped it all out and barfed for good measure.

All in all, she probably got the minimum three ounces of food that day. I have cancelled my unnecessary engagements, as I can see this is going to be the evening project for a while.

I also am having to get up an hour and a half earlier than usual each day so she can have her slippery elm early in the day, but a couple of hours after her morning Prednisone.

But of course it’s worst of all for her: being under the weather to begin with, and having to take a small pill and a big pill, then have slippery elm mixed with water squirted into her mouth, then have yucky food with garlic and cinnamon squirted into her mouth, and finally another small pill and a big pill.

If I have ever used the phrase “squirted down her throat,” please disregard. It is not good to squirt anything down a cat’s throat, as it might end up in her windpipe. Instead, introduce it into her mouth and give her a chance to swallow it, but far enough back that she doesn’t just spit it out.

(This reminds me of my mother demonstrating what it’s like to feed a baby, how the baby smiles winningly and lets all the food dribble out of its mouth. It made me laugh. My mother is extremely funny, if I haven’t mentioned it.)

I’m afraid Thelonious is going to start thinking something unpleasant is going to happen every time I come near her. She has been remarkably stoic, and I guess she forgives me, because the next morning, after I was back in bed after the 6 a.m. pills, she came and lay on my leg, and when I woke up again at 7:30, she was lying on my chest.

Last night she remembered that she has hands for pushing away the undesired. She wasn’t trying to scratch me, but inevitably there was scratching, so I ended up having to wrap her in a towel. Then she can’t swat my syringe-bearing hand away, but it is fairly painful to sit on my knees for so long.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Blanket Carry, Dark Room Search, Victim Extraction

This is the tree outside my apartment. It looked like this for one day, two at most. Behind it is the house that used to be short and unobtrusive and then was raised so that if anyone ever moves into it, they'll be able to look right into my windows.

Great NERT class Monday night covering search and rescue. We heard a lecture and saw slides in the first half, and in the second half we got to practice carrying a person using a blanket, doing a team search of a dark room, and extracting a person from underneath something heavy.

Here’s how you carry a person using a blanket: Roll two of the edges in until the blanket is about the width of a person. Turn the blanket over so the rolled part is underneath. Place the person on his back, roll him to one side, push the blanket as far under him as possible, lay him back down, roll him the other way and adjust the blanket. Then, if you have enough people, it’s easy enough to carry the person. It’s good to have someone support his head.

Here’s how you do a team search of a dark room: If going counterclockwise, the leader puts her right hand on the wall and feels her way along. (If going clockwise, use left hand.) The other members of the team also feel along the wall with their right hands, and hang onto the shoulder of the person in front of them with their left hands. Any team member should announce any topographical feature of interest, such as anything sticking out of the wall or things people might hit their heads on. Test the integrity of the floor before stepping forward.

If you have some sort of a light source, even just a cell phone, that can help keep the leader from sticking her hand into a nest of live wires. To search the center of the room, the team can form a chain, holding hands and maintaining contact with the wall at one end of the chain. If you smell gas, leave the area, going back the way you came, like a millipede reversing direction.

The fireman giving the lecture said to consider the type of building and the time of day. If it’s a residence and it’s 3 p.m., most people might be out at work. If it’s a church and it’s Sunday, it might be full of people. He said if a sewing class is taking place, then you know there will be lots of “young guys” in the room. That was a nice touch.

Here’s how you extract someone from underneath something heavy: First you assess the general situation for hazards: Is a nearby wall about to collapse? It was pointed out that a brick building was once a pile of bricks and that’s what it wants to be again. Is there a smell of gas? Are there live wires?

Designate a leader, a safety person (to continually assess the overall situation), and a medical person. Next, build a crib. This is an improvised structure that fills in the open space next to the person. That way, if things shift, the heavy thing will rest on the crib rather than flattening the person.

Several identical two-by-fours make a lovely crib, but you will often have to improvise. You might use a car jack or put car tires in the open space. If you did happen to have several two-by-fours, you would place two of them parallel to each other leaving a space in between, and then place two others crosswise at the outer edges of the first two-by-fours, and then place two more in the original direction, so you build a box. A crib that collapses due to poor design or sloppy construction is not very helpful.

To avoid having your fingers mashed or cut off, don’t stick your hands under the heavy thing you’re trying to get the person out from under. Push your cribbing material underneath it with some other object.

Then find a long thing (a lever) and a fulcrum (the thing the lever rests on). Put the fulcrum near the heavy thing you need to raise, put the lever over the fulcrum, push down on the far end of the lever, and raise the heavy thing a wee bit. You don’t have to raise it far, just enough to drag the person out. However, as soon as you gain a bit more space, fill it in by making your crib higher. The crib can then do the work of keeping the heavy thing raised while you concentrate on the person. Have your medical person assess the victim for breathing, bleeding and shock, as in triage.

Besides being very instructive, these were good team-building exercises, and occasioned the most conversation among class members to date. After the class ends, you can join a neighborhood NERT team, if you want, and do drills now and then.

I walked partway home along Valencia St. with a woman from the class.

As Tom observed, Valencia St. seems to be more populated with panhandlers lately. It seems a bit seedier. Of course, it was extremely seedy 20 years ago, but the dot-com boom swept all of those elements out. Now they are returning.

Vexed Cat Comes Out Swinging

Photo of Thelonious Atkins proving she's actually red.

I did go to Drewes and buy some meat and thus can add these items to the list of things Thelonious won’t eat: cooked turkey, raw ground turkey, cooked ground beef, raw ground beef, and raw chicken. Nor does she drink half-and-half, eat Campbell’s Chunky beef stew, or eat chicken broth with flour and white bread in it. She also doesn’t eat crab meat or baby shrimp (but Tom is eating quite well lately, as Thelonious’s rejects have gotten fancier).

She wants to eat. When I show her a can, whether or not it’s open, she says, “Yum, that looks good,” and follows me into the kitchen. But when she smells it, then it’s, “Oh. No, I don’t like that.” When I eat, she stands up puts her front paws on my leg, hoping for a sample.

I had scheduled a massage for this past Saturday morning and, until 9:55, was under the impression it was at 10:30. Then I looked at my calendar and saw it was actually at 10, so had to rush out of the house in a panic.

The first tui na massage I had was really excellent, but the couple since then have struck me as perhaps a bit too therapeutic (i.e., painful), which is also what shiatsu is, in my opinion.

The compact fluorescent bulb that died did not say ENERGY STAR on it, so I remained just bemused. I took it to the hardware store for disposal. Special message to the Skipper: I did end up replacing it with another CFL, despite saying I wouldn’t, because I happened to have one around.

This thing where Walgreens gives you a CD of your photos in digital form along with your prints is very good, allowing those of us with film cameras to show off our cats without investing in scanners.

I am reading Emily Raboteau’s very fine (first!) novel, The Professor’s Daughter, which has a mixed-race main character and achieves one shock after the other in its examination of racism. I remember seeing David Cronenberg’s Dead Ringers, which is partly about drug addiction, and really feeling the horror of it. The Professor’s Daughter is like that, and also hypnotic and vivid. (Requiem for a Dream, another movie about drug addiction, belongs in the same category.)

Saturday evening, Tom and I saw a collection of Bill Maher’s New Rules segments. (“New rule! Each piece of fruit does not need its own individual stick-on label.”) We also saw Apartment 12, which was pretty terrible, but Mark Ruffalo was in it.

The new issue of The Sun featured a good interview with Sam Harris, who wrote The End of Faith. He says that some percentage of Muslims do want to kill us and we’re naïve if we think being tolerant will make them like us, but that the answer is not war and that whatever the solution is, we can’t do it by ourselves.

In the end, he thinks moderate Muslims will rein in the others. Therefore maybe the best thing is to go make friends with a moderate Muslim or two. That would probably be a good antidote to thinking there’s only one kind of Muslim. (I suppose one could make friends with a moderate Christian for the same reason.)

I did hear an irritating thing on KQED yesterday. A woman who is the head of a big Muslim organization here in America said that part of her group’s work is to assure Muslims that Americans aren’t godless, even if we aren’t Muslim. That seems quite insulting to atheists, and rather condescending.

I think we’d be much better off if we had less religion, period. When is the last time an atheist beheaded someone on webcam?

Maybe it was the interview with him that said that when people feel religious fervor, they assume it confirms the existence of God, which (I say) is exactly the same thing as saying that feeling scared proves there is something to be scared of. There might be, but feeling scared isn’t the proof of it.

Thelonious had her second acupuncture session today. It wasn’t as easy as the first one. She took a swing at Dr. Fong and yowled some, along with hissing. But after the needles were in, she eventually relaxed.

Yesterday and the day before, she ate almost nothing. I took a photo of her standing in front of eight plates of food. Dr. Fong said to syringe-feed her during this crisis period: squirt food into her mouth. That will probably be rather traumatic for all involved. I bought more towels today (on sale), as this will be messy, judging from what it’s like to give her a small amount of slippery elm mixed with water.

There are two good things about this development, however: I can give her whatever food I want, so it will be wet Eukanuba Low-Residue, which is what she really should be eating. Also, I didn’t have to put out a million different kinds of food when I left for work today. I put out one kind that she has eaten a bit of lately, and mixed it with warm water to make it gloppy, and that was that. If she eats it, great. If not, it doesn’t really matter, because I will (at least attempt to) squirt food down her later.