Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Clarice's Original Mother

In 1988 Thomas Harris published a novel titled The Silence of the Lambs, which was a sequel to his earlier Red Dragon. In 1991 Silence was made into a movie and was a major success, both in the box office and critical acclaim. With Anthony Hopkins and Jody Foster one would expect that – particularly with Hopkins.

In 2003 a struggling artist named Richella was working in her studio. She rented a large warehouse space – 5,000 square feet or so. She had a cat named Fitzgerald with whom she traveled across the country to art festivals. Fitzgerald was a very large orange tabby, and he was very comfortable on the road. He kept her company while she worked all hours of the night on her pottery, her miniature collectibles fired with a Raku technique.

Richella was a very good friend of mine and I feel that she was troubled sometimes. She told us that she needed the amount of space she had in order to be able to work, due to claustrophobia. So, she worked alone in her studio surrounded by her pretty things and in the company of her cat who enjoyed nothing more than being her entire world.

At some point, though, another tabby peeked in the garage door of the studio. She gave the new cat some food and put it back outside. But, the cat came back, as cats are wont to. She took the cat in to get it fixed and if you've noticed a lack of gender-specific pronouns in this paragraph there's a reason for it. She couldn't tell if it was a boy or a girl. She thought girl, so she named her Buttercup. The vet told her it was a boy, so the name was changed to Butternut. When the vet discovered that the cat was pregnant, he used deductive reasoning to establish that she was, indeed, a she. Thus, the name Butterbean was given and finalized.

This caused a bit of an upset in Fitzgerald's life. He only had room in his heart for one woman and that woman was Richella. He could see no reason for the presence of this other cat in their life, regardless of what gender she was before she was neutered. Butterbean was street savvy and could kick any cat's ass that got in her way, so there was a bit of tension as the two got to know each other. (In all honestly, Fitzgerald never got over the betrayal.) But, the ball was rolling and there is no stopping the course of fate.

I think that it can be said without too much argument that Richella was in an unlucky phase in her life with regards to romance. She had a boyfriend at one point around this time. He wasn't much to write home about, so I tried not to pay attention. But, any person has a space in their heart for another human being and sometimes we let somebody into that space whether or not they are truly worth it. It's difficult to say what would have been appropriate for Richella. She loved the movie The Silence of the Lambs and all of the prequels/sequels. She also read all of the books. One might not think too much about that, except that she found it to be the most remarkable love story she had ever seen. It touched her in a place that had never been touched before. For those who haven't heard of it, the two main characters in SOTL are Hannibal and Clarice. Hannibal is a brilliant psychiatrist, and he also happens to be a cannibalistic murderer. Clarice works for the FBI and is sent to enlist Hannibal's assistance in stopping another serial killer. Thus begins their strange relationship.

So, when yet a third cat showed up to Richella's studio and it was clear that she wasn't going to go away, this new black cat was named in honor of Richella's favorite protagonist, Clarice. Clarice, the cat, was a timid little thing at the time, and Butterbean was quite the fighter. Butterbean was generally locked in Richella's bedroom, but occasionally the door was left a crack open and Clarice would sneak in to see what was in there (because what cat can leave a closed door alone?) She had her little black butt handed to her on more than one occasion that way.

There has always been something a little different about Clarice. Some cats are nervy or skittish, and that's natural. Clarice, though, has always wanted attention; she was just always a little put off by being touched – even when she requested it. She lived her life among other cats a bit like that. She wasn't certain that she wanted to be there, but there didn't seem to be anywhere else to be, so she abided. Asserting herself had only caused physical harm, so she meekly asked for attention, even though she didn't particularly like it. She spent a great deal of time lying quietly, trying to blend into the background until her need for affection overcame her distaste for it.

Years later, she has come into her own, living in our home now. (This is the same Clarice that I recently wrote about – our cat who has diabetes now.) She sits on her corner of the kitchen table and proudly announces that she is in need of attention. It is my job to pick her up (yes, she allows me to pick her up now!) and pet her and coo to her and tell her what a beautiful kitty she is. I have to pet the back of her head, rub her whiskers and this must go on for at least five minutes. She uses her front paws on my arm to perch up and receive her due. She closes her eyes and imagines a life without so much heartache; lets herself forget how far she's come and just live in the moment with me.

And, then it's time to put her down and we both go about our business.

A sketch of Richella demonstrating her art

Saturday, February 13, 2016


Last week my partner, Barry, called me as I was getting ready to go to work, asking me if I could drop off one of our cats at the veterinarian’s office so they could see her that day. I dropped her off on my way to work, then later they called Barry and said that the doctor would like to speak to him that evening if he could come by. That is never a good sign. I've had my share of "the doctor needs to see you urgently to discuss the results" conversations. It generally means that what you were afraid of is true and possibly more. Sometimes you are worried about several possibilities, so upon hearing that request you get to spend the rest of your working day wondering which one of your worst fears is about to become reality.

So that evening Barry and I report to the vet's office promptly at 5:30, braced for what might be to come. Barry had noticed that the cat, Clarice, had been drinking more than usual and eating more. He also noticed that she was going to the cat box more often, but that she wasn't always able to urinate. Was it renal failure? Just a UTI? (Some cats get these so often that the antibiotics become like candy.) Was it diabetes? Last year we lost a dog to congestive heart failure. We have become well versed at caring for geriatric animal patients. (Which is good, because most of our cats are about the same age and they're all becoming geriatric at the same time.)

We were taken to a room and told to wait for the doctor. I'm certain that there were very good, logistic reasons for all of this, but it did seem the slightest bit melodramatic. Not that they weren't friendly. The people at our local vet's office are all very lovely people and they took such good care of our dog while he went through his ordeal. Some of them cried as much as we did at the end of his life. So, here we were again in the same exam room waiting for the veterinarian that Barry has been seeing since before he met me 15 years ago.

She came in as friendly as ever. She told us that Clarice has diabetes. Barry breathed a sigh of relief. He has had a diabetic cat before, and he's also had cats who have gone through renal failure. The former is manageable; the latter is more or less a death sentence. The doctor explained how the pancreas and insulin work in cats, showed us the results (blood glucose of 633!) and explained what would be needed if we wanted to go forward with treatment. Of course we did, so she brought Clarice in and had a kit of needles with a disposal canister with her. She taught us how to keep and handle the insulin, how to draw up the proper amount and how to give the injection. She let us practice on Clarice with saline, which Clarice was not fond of. Clarice is mostly black, with the common white patch on her chest (though it's not a heart-shaped heart like The Bear.) She grumbled threats under her breath as we practiced with the saline and then we put her on the floor and all we saw was her tail disappearing as she escaped into the carrying case. She was having no more of this nonsense and please take her home immediately. Thank you, and good day.

So, that was all for the moment. We set up a follow-up appointment, took our insulin and needles and came back to this old house that has seen more cats than any of us will ever know. We are just characters in the story of a house in a small town in Central Texas. Now we have a new commitment – insulin injections twice daily at twelve hour intervals. At the vet's office Clarice told us in no uncertain terms that this was not going to be acceptable. But, when she is faced with a bowl full of her favorite moist food I have found that she doesn't even notice when I pick the skin up between her front shoulder blades, make a tent and poke a needle at a 45 degree angle and inject 1 CC of insulin while she noisily eats on food that she was not previously allowed. Now she comes to us and let's us know that it's time. It only took her one day to learn that when we go to the refrigerator and take out that little bottle, when we arrange the needle on the counter, all of this means that she's getting Fancy Feast moist cat food, which as it turns out has few carbohydrates than most others. (Our vet told us this.) Rather than grumbling growls and threats, she makes happy kitty sounds and takes very little notice of what I'm doing with the skin on her back.

And she is, after all, such a sweet cat.

e A r n i e

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

The Lonely Gate

Something I saw on a walk a few mornings ago - a gate who has lost his fence. If you've seen his fence, please tell her that her gate is lonely and misses her. Tell the fence that the gate is sorry.

Sunday, February 7, 2016


[Possible-Spoiler alert]

After having heard an interview by my favorite interviewer in the world, Terry Gross of Fresh Air, I had to see this movie. I don't, for the most part, watch movies. And, it is odd that I would choose to see a movie about lesbian love. (I'm of the gender that does not have ovaries.) I am, however, quite impressionable and Terry and the people she interviewed (Todd Haynes, the director, and Phyllis Nagy, the screenplay writer) made it seem so fascinating with their stories about the making of the movie, the novel that it was based on (The Price of Salt, originally) and the author of that novel. It was irresistible, even. I thought about the movie constantly before I saw it. I carried it around in my heart for days, like an amulet.

Cate Blanchett is incredible. She is not a classic beauty. Her eyes seem to close from the bottom up. Her cheekbones are pronounced and her mouth always seems like she's about to cry – not in a pouty French way, but in a way that kept me on edge. Is she going to smile? Is she going to laugh? Is she going to cry? She played the part of Carol Aird to the point that I believe this is what she's really like – a severe, intelligent, determined (wealthy) housewife and mother in the 1950's who is an agent of her own destiny and perfectly capable of making her own life given the resources available to women in 1950's United States. In scenes involving men she is 100% in control of the situation (at least in appearances). She has grace and composure that people naturally respond to. With Therese Belivet she is always more focussed. But, she also lets her guard down so that Therese sees emotions and insecurities that men would not be privy to.

I don't know that I've seen Rooney Mara before. She plays Therese, a timid yet competent young woman in New York City who falls in love with Carol, a customer she sees at the department store where she works. She reminds me very much of the character Am̩lie in the movie by the same name. Her dark hair and timid personality are reminiscent of that character. Therese knows she wants to be a photographer, but it takes some prodding from others to convince her to pursue it. She's subservient in the roll of a department store clerk in a rather abusive environment and she loves to hang out with the guys. She's at an age where she can, and does, accept whatever adventures life throws at her. So, falling in love with a another woman, while it may not be what she expected, she is predisposed to go along with it, without resistance. She does, however, intercede meekly in destiny. For example, when Carol Рaccidentally or not Рleaves her gloves on the display counter Therese mails them to her using the address from the order she placed for her. From there Carol invites her to lunch.

There were a couple of scenes that stuck out to me. In one, Therese's boyfriend is walking her home. He has declared that he loves her and wants to marry her, and as they walk she talks about her photography. When she says she is thinking about putting together a portfolio, he abruptly changes the subject to their trip to Europe (which he's paying for.) He is a 1950's man and her world is supposed to revolve around him. She can have her little hobbies, but he's there to keep priorities straight. Compare that to the scene in which a friend gets her a job at the newspaper where he works, almost insisting that she pursue photography. Also, compare it to a scene in which Carol buys her a nice camera.

In another scene early in the movie Carol is brushing her daughter's dark hair in front of a vanity mirror and teaching her to count by counting the brush strokes. Later, in a motel, Therese is sitting in front of a vanity mirror and her dark hair is so like Carol's 4-year-old daughter that the similarities in the scenes cannot be an accident. Carol is much older than Therese, and sophisticated. Carol has experience and Therese is learning her way in this different world.

The cinematography in the movie is incredible. I don't even know where to begin to analyze that because I know nothing about the art. But, I can say that it is captivating, it is beautiful and it makes me happy that there are people making movies like this, (as opposed to blockbuster films.) If you didn't speak English I would still recommend seeing the movie, and without subtitles or dubbing (*shudders*). It would still be a captivating movie, and I'm not certain how much you'd miss without understanding the dialogue. (I wouldn't recommend turning the sound off and watching, because the ambient noise is very much a part of the experience.)

Somebody heard me talking about the movie and asked if she should go see it. That's a tricky one to answer, but my thought is that if you find yourself asking that question, then yes, you should see it. As for everybody else... well, it is not a blockbuster movie, it is not action-packed, it's more or less an artsy movie. But, it is such a good movie that I couldn't stop thinking about it for days after I saw it. The passion is still there when I think about it even a week later.

So, do consider seeing the movie, either at the theater or at home. Terry Gross didn't let me down on this one. It is amazing.

Thank you for reading. Do come back.


e A r n i e