Mellow Out--Lessons Learned From Household Cats is a fun read that explores the influence cats have on our lives. The book delves into twenty areas where their behavior provides a calming effect. Each section begins with a quote that reflects mainstream thinking on the topic. This is followed by comments on how this concept plays out in society, and then, how the cats respond. Finally, there is a discussion on how to use the behaviors of the cats to improve our lives. The broad themes of the book focus on how to take care of ourselves, how to tolerate adversity and how to embrace our emotions. Topics include such things are dealing with getting high, being overweight, love, and brown-nosing at your place of employment.
I have studied many philosophers and many cats.
The wisdom of cats is infinitely superior.
I’m sixty-nine years old and when people get to be my age they start to look at the philosophical underpinnings regarding their lives and question their previous actions and behaviors. I could have begun my journey by reading the great philosophers and religious leaders like Deepak Chopra or Mother Teresa and trying to distill meaning from their essays, but it’s more my style to go the poster shop and reflect on such great sayings as “This is the first day of the rest of your life” or “A day without sunshine is like night.”
Please forgive me for the clichés. I was a high school teacher for thirty-two years and I had to put something on the walls so I bought those posters with beautiful graphics and trite sayings. Probably there is still residual “trite” in my brain because, in addition to the posters, I would have the students in my English classes write short stories. It was difficult during my final years as a teacher to read the fortieth story about teen love ending in roses on the grave or about the boy who wanted the girl, but her parents hated him.
Sorry, I didn’t mean to digress from my original point. I was trying to examine the philosophical underpinnings of my life, but I don’t have time to read lots of heavy material, plus my eyesight is going bad so I solved the problem the American way. I googled the statement, “Everything I know I learned…” Thirteen options appeared to finish the phrase. Of course, we all know the famous book, All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten. Following that were essays and poems about learning everything one needs to know in life from dogs, Batman, cycling, video games, Noah’s Ark, Buffy The Vampire Slayer, my teddy bear and Mr. Rogers. Unfortunately, all of these guides about life came out when I was older. The people that influenced me were Clarabell, Princess Summer Fall Winter Spring and Buffalo Bob. Romper Room and the Mouseketeers also influenced me. My favorite was Annette. She was so sweet. Then there was Circus Boy. I dreamed of living with the main character, Corky, and traveling with him as the circus went from town to town. We would have ridden the elephant together. The most memorable moment of my childhood was when Clarabell, the clown who never talked, told Buffalo Bob that he could actually speak. The camera slowly closed in on Clarabell as a drum roll grew louder and then died out. At this point Clarabell tearfully whispered, “Goodbye, kids.” I cried.
This trip down memory lane tired me out so I poured a glass of wine, a Burrell School Cabernet Franc, and sat in my favorite chair. Then, I started thinking. The problem with those books and TV shows is that they only focus on the good stuff. I am much more complicated than can be depicted in a half hour because, like everyone else, I have issues with anger, jealousy, self-esteem and a plethora of other emotions. Of course, these emotions have mellowed as I have aged. Things that caused me to be absorbed in anger in my twenties are ho-hum today. How did my ability to deal with the world develop?
After a few snores, I looked over on the couch and I saw one of my three self-indulgent, narcissistic beasts cleaning herself. All three of my cats live in my house and I feed them, take them to the vet and give them treats. When I come home, do they greet me at the door? No, they pretend that I don’t exist. They are not yappy and in your face like dogs, but they have a mellowness that defies conventional wisdom.
People have learned much by watching animals. For example, farm children learn about sex by watching the bull in the herd, scientists have learned about maternal separation from Rhesus monkeys and service dogs become the eyes of blind people.
As I thought about the influence animals have on our lives, I realized that my cats have inspired me in many ways to be mellow. I have narrowed their influence down to twenty areas where they have taught me to calm down. Each section begins with a quote that reflects mainstream thinking on the value. This is followed by comments on how this concept plays out in society, and then, I talk about my cats and the lesson I learn from them. Finally, I relate what I learned to deal with the problems in my life.
Observing my cats is like going to church. We all know what is expected by our religion and we attend services to be reminded of our obligations. Watching my cats reinforces my new mellow self.
Dieting is the only game where you win when you lose.
I love watching detective shows with female leads—Beckett on Castle, Jane Rizzoli on Rizzoli and Isles, and Teresa Lisbon on The Mentalist are just a few of them. The one thing that all of these women have in common is that they are slender, and many of us that are a little overweight envy them because they represent the norm for our society. Being overweight is not cool.
On August 10, 2010, we received a desperate call from my wife’s sister. “Sherry has a problem, and she can’t keep her two cats. I’m driving up to Oregon to get them. Will you take one?”
A few days after that simple request, a black and white medium-haired cat arrived on August 14. Her face was snow white in the area around her mouth and up to her nose. Above that was black fur, and it was difficult to see the two very wide eyes in this area through the fur. It looked like she didn’t have any eyes! She had the strangest face. As for her body, the ribs could be easily felt under her coat of fur. This cat was underweight.
The cat was only eighteen months old, extremely thin and had already had two litters. Her name was Marie, and she did not like to be held, possibly because the daughter of her former owner kept her tied up at night.
Fear embraced us. What if she were pregnant? Since we have a huge yard with many cats in the neighborhood, we wondered how long it would take for her to have another litter.
We put her in the spare bedroom, and she was cool and calm. As happened with Mitsy, when we let her out of the room, hissing matches ensued—with both cats now. The next day, I took her to the Humane Society complex that was located on the other side of town. Marie howled as I drove to her appointment. While she howled, I prayed that she wasn’t pregnant. It would be impossible for me to handle a litter of kittens. You should have seen me when my own kids were born. I was a nervous wreck. Strange thoughts raced through my mind. How do you use the Lamaze Method on cats? Can you teach cats how to breathe?
I waited in the lobby while the techs checked out Marie. My prayer was answered. She wasn’t pregnant. We then scheduled another appointment. The next Wednesday I repeated the drive at 6:30 AM and the howls continued as I drove her back to the Humane Society. She was spayed and at 4:30 the howls resumed as we drove home. Three weeks later, we returned for our final appointment. Marie was completely healed, and there were no complications.
Each morning the cats would receive half a can of delicious cat food—mixed grill, turkey and salmon with cheese, etc. I made sure that I bought a variety of flavors, but, in reality, the cats didn’t care. A bowl of dry food would be out for them to eat whenever they were hungry.
The first thing Marie did was to eat more than she could handle and then vomit. This was a recurring pattern. Eat as much and as fast as possible. Eat the leftovers from the other cat dishes. Vomit. By way of explanation, Marie could get away with eating from the other cat dishes because when Samantha hissed, she just ignored her. Of course. Mitsy just ran away.
While this was going on, Marie became friendlier. We would turn on the bathroom light, and there she would be, staring at us from inside the laundry basket. Her other favorite place to hide was behind the flat screen TV. We could see only her tail hanging out. We were becoming very endeared to her.
Mitsy and Marie became good friends as they bonded against Samantha, who was larger than both of them. Samantha did not like this new arrangement, and she let everyone know that. As their friendship grew and their relationship with us changed, we ended up calling Mitsy, the Mitzer. In the weeks after the operation, Marie just swelled up and we renamed her Chubby Wubby. She went from 6 pounds, 12 ounces, to 10.15 pounds.
Before anyone gets angry, please note that Chubby is now 9.2 pounds and according to the Pet MD calculator, her weight is perfect. Our love for Chubby continues to grow and she has become my good friend. Every time I go into the kitchen, she jumps up on the counter and snuggles next to me. When I watch TV, she sits on my lap. We love our Chubby Wubby.
Chubby was always calm and cool. It didn’t matter to her what she weighed. In contrast, we humans have a great fear of gaining extra pounds and that fear is exacerbated when we jump on the scale at the doctor’s office. When I left high school, I weighed 155 pounds, and that number kept creeping up. I met my doctor about fourteen years ago. She had just joined my HMO after graduating from medical school. This woman was Vietnamese, very short and very thin. After our first meeting, she started complaining about my weight—diet and exercise, exercise and diet, were her mantra. A year letter, she went on maternity leave, and I knew that I would get my revenge.
Most woman, like Chubby, keep the weight after they had children and I knew that she would come back from maternity leave with lots of extra pounds. I was wrong; she was as skinny as a rail. Over the years, this happened two more times, and in each case, she didn’t gain a pound. Last year I ballooned to 240 pounds. Even I thought that this was bad, so I dieted a bit and now I am almost content at 230 pounds and with a BMI in the obese category. I can’t give up wine, desserts, and pasta.
In reality, I have a family heritage to maintain. My mother was fat, my brother looks pregnant and I am pleasantly plump. Our whole family has been fighting weight issues. Like Chubby, I’m content with my weight, even though I am trying to lose a few more pounds. My cat has helped me to realize that it’s okay to be a bit chubby as long as you are cool about it.