My Take on Thomas McNamee's Book
I wanted to read more about Augusta. From the wintry opening scene in which she appeared – tiny, lost, and alone – I loved her story. I relished every detail Thomas McNamee so beautifully wrote about the tiny black kitten who trekked along a tire track in the snow until she found refuge on a pile of rags in his rural Montana barn.
For the first few pages of The Inner Life of Cats, I really was hooked. But not far into the first chapter, my attention began to lapse as the story veered away from Augusta. Was McNamee writing about his cat or was he giving a natural history lesson? Clearly, I hadn’t done my research before selecting my reading material.
Throughout the book, I found my interest fading in and out as I was unable to determine the point. At moments, the book is a lovely memoir about Augusta, the cat who was equally content to snuggle in bed with McNamee’s wife, Elizabeth, or to follow bear cubs at night on the ranch.
But at other times, The Inner Life of Cats is an entry-level cat-ownership manual, complete with snarky comments about Jackson Galaxy’s appearance. Not cool.
A chapter about feral cat colonies managed to hold my attention with a rich account of Rome’s well-to-do cat ladies and their volunteer efforts to care for the city’s street cats. But when McNamee went off on a tangent about the damage that free-ranging cats wreak on ecosystems in the US and Australia, my enthusiasm faded again.
One night as I neared the end, I flipped ahead to see how many pages remained, expecting a few acknowledgments or author notes. I wanted to determine whether to keep reading or to save what was left for the next night.
There were acknowledgements. And endnotes. Followed by a twenty-page bibliography. And finally an index. If only I had seen all of that before I started reading.
I don’t blame McNamee. Had the book been a pure memoir about Augusta, I would have been spellbound. But it branched off in too many directions for my taste. So who’s to blame? Myself, probably, for uninformed expectations and a lack of focus. Or I can shift the blame for my disappointment to someone I don’t know: McNamee’s agent. In his acknowledgements, McNamee credits his agent for advising him toward “More science, Tom,” and "less of you and that cat.”
That cat: Augusta. Also known as Little One, Dummy, Doodoo Head, Beauty Kitty, and Stoopie. I couldn't get enough of McNamee's love for her, playing with her pipe-cleaner spider toy and hunting mice. I guess when it comes to cat books, I prefer memoir to science.
I did learn one important lesson, though. Check the bibliography before starting any new book.
I have a lot of jobs around the house. I hold down papers, so a breeze from the ceiling fan can't blow them away. I hold down pillows, blankets, and furniture. I hold down laptop computers, cell phones, and remote controls. I hold down shoes, socks, and shorts. I can hold down just about any household object. I hold down my people so they don't disappear. I wait silently in another room until I hear the TV turn off. That's the sound of my people getting ready to leave the comfy chairs, and my cue to pounce on one of their laps and hold them down. So yeah, I’d say holding things down is my strongest skill.
My second-most valuable strength is food control. Over the years, I’ve helped dispose of mountains of kibble. No matter how often my people fill the bowl, I empty it. It doesn't matter if I'm full, because I take pride in doing my job. Sometimes I even beg for more, just to be a team player. I wonder where all that chow comes from and what would happen if I stopped eating. I suppose my people would be buried beneath several tons of cat food.
I do a lot of other things around the house, like marking all the clean windows with nose prints so birds don’t accidentally fly into them and get hurt. I love birds, and I know my people would be pretty freaked to see them crashing into our windows. Sometimes, just to be sure, I make a clicking sound in my throat to warn birds about the windows. This job is pretty awesome. I love what I do.
And now, after all these years of reliable service, I’ve landed a promotion. I didn’t even know I was being considered, honestly. But it's official: I’m going to be a mentor, with my very own kitten to train. I don't know her learning style yet, so I’m going to try to play it cool and let our lessons progress naturally. I’ll lead by example and hope that she's open to suggestions. I've got a lot of material to go over. Her success as a cat is in my paws.
Wish me luck!
Note from Lisa: Special thanks to the volunteers at Friends of the Mustang Animal Shelter, who fostered our kitten until we adopted her.
If I ever go to cat college, I’ll probably skip class to play with twisty bread ties. Then, eventually, I’ll get my act together and focus on a subject I’ve always found most fascinating: people psychology.
I’ve been studying the behaviors of my people most of my life. The things they do range from quirky (eating with utensils) to troublesome (showering). Through my studies, I’ve noticed that people are individuals with unique flaws. For example, one of my people has claw-strophobia. When it comes to small spaces, her thoughts get jumbled.
Cats, fortunately, do not suffer from this condition. The smaller the space, the more exciting it is to squeeze in and get comfy. I love a good box, don't you? And for good reason: small spaces provide safety. When danger threatens, nobody wants to be left exposed in an open area. But imagine being my poor person who, in her mixed-up thinking, gets nervous at the thought of being in a tight spot. And so she puts herself at risk.
I hope to learn more about this condition one day and discover a cure. I’d love nothing more than to take a nap with my person – not on the bed, but under it.
Until next time,
An unexpected benefit of being without Wi-Fi is having an excuse to go to Starbucks. When I moved to the Oklahoma City area from Virginia in March, I was working on a blog with friends and it was essential that I log in and contribute to editorial discussions. While I grumbled at how long the cable company was taking to hook up my internet, I liked packing up my laptop and entering the world to do my work. A change of scenery can be refreshing.
Before moving here, I had an office job. Now, I’m a freelance writer and editor, which is a fancy way of saying I blog in my pajamas. I don’t miss the schedule or the long commute, but I miss the sense of structure going to my old job gave me. Working from home comes with distractions. I lose track of time, rearranging things on the kitchen counter or checking social media. The boundaries between work and personal life are blurry.
Last year, a friend had suggested a coworking space in Virginia as a way for me to meet like-minded people. But because I’m good at making excuses and resisting new things, I never got around to it. So, as I was checking out my new surroundings in Oklahoma, I noticed Rise Coworking in Moore. I put Rise on my mental to-do list. But the weeks went on, and I made excuses for not going in or even contacting them. When I recently saw they were offering a free week, I knew it was time to stop procrastinating.
I had no point of reference for the goings-on at such a place and I wondered what type of people I’d find sharing the office. Would the other members be successful graphic designers or computer programmers? Would they be firmly planted in their seats from eight to five, every day? I hoped I would not be out of place.
The sign on the front door put me at ease: “All are welcome here. We are a workspace for the business owner, entrepreneur, creative, you."
Founder and co-owner Jordan Mobley showed me around and assured me that all sorts of people use the space for a variety of reasons. I assessed the modern area, which was decorated simply with messages like “good people are all around you” on a main wall and “we rise by lifting others” on a sign in the kitchen.
I settled alone at a table large enough for several people and opened my laptop. I wasn’t distracted by my household clutter or interested in social media. I was there to write. After a few hours, though, I was ready to get home to my own coffee maker and pantry full of junk food. Of course, members can bring their own snacks and drinks and keep them in the kitchen area. There’s even free coffee. But I wanted to be back in my own space. I also like to run a load of laundry while I write.
The next day, I had some editing to do. I was tempted to do it at my kitchen table but I decided to get dressed. After receiving a warm welcome from a Rise staff member named Tyler, I got down to work. I was aware that the simple change of scenery had helped me make a mental switch from homebody to professional. But again, I found myself restless after a few hours. I’m fickle that way. I think that’s the beauty of a coworking membership. You have the option to spend the entire day if you’re inclined or an hour if it suits you. Like at the gym, people come and go and nobody cares what schedule you keep.
I haven’t decided whether a membership is right for me at this moment in my journey. In addition to being a fickle homebody, I can be pretty stingy with my money. But for a more reasonable freelancer or entrepreneur, I think a membership could be a justifiable business expense. Bottom line: If you’re curious, a one-day pass and a tour will give you a pretty good idea whether it’s right for you. Getting dressed never hurt anyone.
We have a new living room rug! It’s enormous and soft. I’ve already rolled around on it so it smells like me. You would love everything about it, especially my aroma. Only cat noses can detect it.
Everything here (except the new rug) holds your scent. The pillows you loved to nap on, they smell like you. The cat bed and the people bed, they smell like you. I press one nostril and then the other against the living room chairs and I sniff for you. Your scent is everywhere but you’re gone.
Your buddy fur-ever,
Life on the run is hard. I don’t know what we’re running from or why, but after all these years with my people, I’m in pretty deep. I’d rather cut off my whiskers than let them do it alone. They need me.
Our first family escape happened only a year after my adoption. I got the feeling my people had done it before. Our home was emptied and abandoned. I knew we must be running from something awful and that I had to grow up and adapt. I tried to imagine what was chasing us.
I still wonder what's stalking us. Could be the law. Or a dog. Maybe a lady wearing high heels. I get pretty scared thinking about anything worse. So many things scare me. After seven years and as many houses, not to mention all those hotel rooms, I’m pretty sure this isn’t going to end soon.
But, I’m almost eight. If you do the catmatics, I’m not a kitten. I’m as old as my people. Maybe older! They treat me like a tiny baby kitten, but I've endured the life of a fugitive and now I must step up and face whatever darkness is chasing us. The time has come. I’m the big kitty now!
I’m sharpening my senses and quickening my reflexes. No more napping. I have to practice my crouching and running. I need to visualize the monster while I peer around a corner, wiggle my back legs, and POUNCE! I need to eat more crunchy food to strengthen my teeth so I can bite. Food also builds muscles for wrestling. I sit at the window and I watch. I’m ready.
But the sun feels so warm and it makes me sleepy. And what good is a sleep-deprived attack cat? No good at all. My people need me to be well-rested and fresh. Just a small cat nap and I'll be ready.
My person has lost her mind. She thinks she can predict the future. As a cat, I recognize that the future is a myth right up there with unicorns and Bigfoot. Unfortunately, it seems that the majority of people believe the future is real.
At this very moment, I can feel my soft bed. I can hear the refrigerator humming. I can see and smell my person’s shoes lying in the middle of the floor. There’s no denying the present.
Before my people, there was a cage. Before that, I had another human home where I learned my best habits, like scavenging for people food. The past is as real as the present but I don’t dwell on it. What’s the point?
But the future, what an illogical concept. If it hasn’t already happened and it’s not happening now, how can it be real? But when you love a person, you have to respect her beliefs and so I don’t mock mine for believing in the future. But lately, things have gotten out of hand.
She’s really losing it. She’s gone past simply believing in the future to claiming to see it. She has a bottle of nasty pills that she says can alter the future. They taste bitter; that means they're bad. Swallowing one feels weird. Translation: bad. But her belief in these pills' future-altering powers is so strong that she uses physical force on me. It’s almost an unfair fight.
“Honey, you have to take this medicine,” she says. “It will make you feel better.”
Try as I might, I cannot understand a belief system in which eating this pill creates positive future change. Because it’s not real.
It's gotten to where I'm refusing on the grounds that my person is delusional and possibly dangerous. I can tell by her eyes and her voice that she means well and that she really does want the best for me, but being the only sensible one in this scenario, I refuse. I know it pains her when I clamp my jaw shut and spit that pill out. It breaks my heart to see my person so upset. But she's lost her mind and I'm stronger than that.
Sometimes I wake up alone. It gives me a scary feeling that almost reminds me of my early months as a stray. In another life. When my people first brought me home, I was less than a year old and they gave me one name: Padron.
My people chose that name for me and I could tell they were trying it out at first, saying it a lot to make me understand that it was mine. Padron. Puh-drone. Got it. They were in the early stages of loving me, so that was my only name.
I’d never had people before but since they cared enough to name me, I tried to name them too. Problem was, they’ve never been able to hear sounds like I do. No matter how many different names I gave them during those first months, they never understood a single one.
Names doesn’t matter. What matters is the love behind those names.
When I wake up from a nap overcome with fear that my people have disappeared, I call out to them. Desperately, I try out the long list of names I’ve given them over the past seven years, just in case one has actually stuck. From room to room, upstairs and downstairs, I call out the vowels I wish they understood.
Sometimes, I don’t find them and it turns I have nobody but Oliva, the boss cat. Other times, my silly people laugh and call out to me so I can find them. They don’t even know all the beautiful names and smart nicknames I have for them. The more I love my people, the more names I dream up and wish they understood.
My folks have done the same. P-Kitty is their latest name for me. They think it’s clever and they love to say it. I adore the attention, even if the name isn’t brilliant. What matters is how they keep giving me new names. That’s how you know someone really, wholeheartedly loves you. They give you more names.
My people find me impatient. They don't understand.
If you've ever watched a patch of sun move across the floor while waiting for your human to return home, you know what I mean.
If I were to be impatient with anything, it would be the hyperactive habits of my people. They're always moving, unable to focus. They leave the house way too often and for too long. Being a patient cat, I wait. I sleep and I wait. When a person finally returns, I'm well within my rights to raise my voice. Politely but firmly, I request lap time.
When your purr is charged and all you ask is that your person sit still, that's not impatience. It's called knowing what you want and going for it.
Of my two people, the worst offender is the one who doesn't sit on the couch immediately when she comes home. She moves things around while I wait. She changes clothes while I wait. She even makes a cup of coffee. In disbelief, I wait. I don't want things or clothes and certainly not the outside world. All I've ever wanted are my people's laps.
Neither of my people sit for long enough. They keep jumping up. As if I'm not firmly seated on one of them. As if I can just be relocated to a lonely cushion. But I forgive them. I can't fault them for an undiagnosed condition that causes such fitful behavior. For all I know, it's a couch allergy. What can I say? I love my people.
A reader named Jester the Cat recently queried me on how to "get my human to get off the couch once she has warmed it up for me without hurting her."
Jester, I lost an entire cat nap mulling over the concerns your question raises. Like, why do you want your human off the couch? And how could you hurt her? Are you a wild puma? Despite these worries, I want to trust you and give you some advice.
If you're trying to get your person off the couch, you're missing the point. Every moment your person spends on the couch or in bed is a moment not to waste. Quickly, jump up there and hold your person down. Sit on his chest if you must. Now! This is the beginning of a whole new lifestyle for you.
My people had become complacent. It was up to me to remind them of their true purpose in life: lavishing me with adoration. But I went too far. Listen up, all you cats with supernatural abilities to control human minds. Use your purrsuasive techniques with caution.
A little vomit will get their attention, no problem. Feigning more than the customary 100 hours of sleep per day is an easy but effective way to get extra cuddles. But withholding the purr can land you in an urgent care facility. I'm talking thermometers, needles, and all manner of invasive tests. Whatever you do, keep purring.
Being unable to purr themselves, humans attribute all sorts of magical qualities to the purr. Should you go so far as to stop producing this hypnotic rumble, they will freak out. Believe me, seeing your proud human reduced to a shaky, emotional wreck is the worst kind of embarrassing. It's just not worth it. Take it from a cat who knows.
You've been warned.
About Me (and my cats)
In January, 2018, my sassy tortoiseshell cat Oliva hijacked my blog. Padron, my easygoing tabby cat, soon followed her example. I did nothing to stop them because I thought they had some pretty interesting things to say. In April, Oliva died. To say we miss her is a pathetic understatement. She was sweet and bossy and unforgettable. And while I'll allow Padron to continue blogging from time to time, I think he needs to share this space with me. It's my blog, after all. Stay tuned for posts from me, the human running this site.