Tag Archives: essays

Our Mutual Friends

Some say animals do not have a faculty of mind that translates the sense into meaning.  I always find it ironic that educated people can sometimes be heartlessly benighted, belittling a simplicity of nature. That they do not have the emotional spectrums, ranging from guilty to remorseful, and to resentful, gives free rein on arbitrarily judging animal behaviors according to human rational thinking that supersedes instincts common to all living creatures. Nor does it sound sane to cosset pets with outpourings of maudlin sentiments out of anthropomorphism for our convenience. We are fortunate to live in the age of the Brilliance of Science. Still, the overflux of information sometimes begets counterproductive results. Amid the deluge of information on animal behaviorism available on the Internet, I am often doubtful, if not fearful, of the way I am raising my cat.

I observe how my 14-week old tabby Toro behaves from defecating in the litterbox to drinking from the water fountain, playing with his toys, and to watching his new finned friend, Hope, a Betta fish. Although they do not have the faculty to produce physiologically-driven emotional effects as complex as humans, my observation has yielded that cats exhibit a feline version of a continuum from pleasantness to unpleasantness. For instance, when I discipline Toro for not behaving, he does about-face and hides under the bed or goes to a corner of the room, sitting there like a mini sphinx statue, sulking and avoiding my eyes. Then in about 10 minutes or so, he slowly (and stealthily) approaches where I am while still keeping his feline pride in a way he doesn’t want to ingratiate himself with my favor. When finally arriving at his destination of Me, he announces his arrival with the unmissable “Meow,” with his eyes pleading for my petting. Cats may not have the same kind of grudge that we humans secretly harbor as in William Blakes’ ‘Poison Tree.” Yet, they possess the tactile feelings at the primary level, which can be akin to those exhibited by infants. Also, I don’t think raising a single cat will prevent her from socialization or emotional well-being. Most cats do not like to be with other cats unless they are littermates from birth.

My a posteriori opinion about a myriad of scientific theories and expert dos and dont’s about raising cats happy and healthy is an intelligent hypothesis of feline nature. It attempts to explain why they act the way they do so that we, as caretakers, should take care of them better and more effectively. From my personal experience thus far, it is really up to individuals’ discretion to respond to their cats (or other pets) because each animal has different characters with particular likes and dislikes. So I try not to read more than I need in terms of feline care. (i.g., Toro likes no cat tree, no chasing ball but likes to climb on chairs, shelves, and tables that humans use.) Cats are solitary and egoistic, but that is why they are so affectionate toward us.  As the Victorian British writer George Eliot said, “Animals are such agreeable friends, they ask no questions, pass no criticisms.” Therefore, I would treat my furry little friend as he is, rather than turn him into an obsequious, listless pet whose existence depends on the mercy of his master.

 

Pets are not of a fad but for life.

I read the Guardian article “A dog is for life, not Just lockdown” by Donna Ferguson (September 13, 2020 issue) with intimately acquainted feeling shared by our understanding of pets as family members with care, not as luxurious commodities treated with whims and caprice. Her search for a Poochon puppy for her daughter reminds me of my own story of the recent adoption of a tabby kitten from a shelter.

As I was going to move into a pet-friendly apartment, I was excited to bring a dog into my new home to share companionship. However, during my search for a canine company, I became aware of the ugly reality of “pet business” intent on swindling and ripping off naïve would-be pet owners. Ferguson’s experience of encountering sellers of puppies suspected of scamming or deceiving chimed the bell of my experience in which a dubious welsh corgi breeder insisted on “shipping out” a puppy to me in the convenient pretext of Covid-19 protocol. Even legitimate ones are not exempt from my continued disappointment: Shiba breeders in Southern California had their waiting lists closed. One pet shop owner on the phone revealed to me that since the outbreak of the Covid-19 and California state made it difficult to sell and buy a pet at a pet shop. Hence the supply and demand for pets have become disproportionately unbalanced, skyrocketing the price of dogs immensely. Worse, the procedure of adopting dogs from shelters makes it excessively challenging and disheartening for bona fide would-be owners disappointed with the requirements of a near-perfection environment for dogs.

Maybe all the disappointments and disillusion of having a dog meant to lead me to the world of cats because now I have a 12-week old brown male tabby named “Toro,” a masculine form of Tora, meaning in a little tiger in Japanese. I brought him from Ventura Animal Services three weeks ago. He is a smart, capricious kitten charged with a sudden pop of energy to stalk and play with the toy rat and anything moving from the frills of my skirts to dangling straps of my iPhone cover. Watching Toro peacefully cuddle up on my laps or my desk when I read or write, I can’t agree more with Ferguson that our cat and dog are not for our pandemic solace but our wish to share our homes with the lovely creatures.

I say Meow.

I am a dog person. I like their playful innocence and adorable artlessness. And I still believe all dogs go to heaven because of their innate goodness that brings joy to our overtly complexed human life. Also, dogs and humans have been living together for about 15,000 years as family members. Remember Argos, the loyal dog of Odyssey, who was the only one who recognized his old master in rags and tatters? Also, there were the dogs who saved the lives of soldiers during historical manmade wars in the expanse of their own lives. So, if the circumstances give me the green light, I would love to have a dog at home. Who wouldn’t anyway?


Then, given the express affection toward the canine race, how could my living with a cat be explained? The truth is still a mystery as  I still can’t believe I have Toro, an 11-week old male tabby I adopted from a shelter two weeks ago, at home with me all the time except when I am at work. Toro, which is a masculine form of ‘Tora”, meaning a tiger in Japanese, is a curious paradox of a beast; he is a little cutie with lovely big green eyes but shows all the characteristics of a predator just like his wild cousins. Toro shows he will grow into a formidable hunter contrary to his small and thin body with acute audibility and olfaction. Watching Toro playing with toys and the frills at the bottom of my skirts fluttering underneath the chairs, I wonder if Toro will turn out to be a Gremlin one day when I wake up in the morning. But his cuteness dominates fear, and he likes to sit on my laps when he feels like it. Toro seems to have crafted Ovid’s the Art of Love with innately feline caprice and whims turning it into an irresistible magic spell. What a kitty.

Toro and I moved from the pastoral Ventura County to the heart of Los Angeles during the inferno heatwave of the labor weekend. We both suffered a sense of vertigo in new urban surroundings and a little bit quizzical about how we should adopt to smaller spaces in an apartment. Maybe Toro doesn’t like our new den because he does not wake me up by climbing on my back and meowing in the morning any longer. Besides, he seems to suddenly develop attention deficiency by frequently stalking, jumping, scratching, and biting. Worse still, Toro hissed a lot and aloud for the last two days. Although I force myself to think that it’s due to the diabolical heatwave, I cannot stitch up a little hole in my heart to the immaculate condition.

Freud said the time spent with cats is never wasted. I want to believe it even if these days I spend most of the time tending Toro, instead of reading and writing. Certainly, unconditional love toward a living thing is noble and esteemed. Yet the Bard sums my state of mind thus: “Love sought is good but love unsought is better.” Still, there is a long way ahead of us to live according to the natures of our different species. Our inclinations are contralateral as our needs are egotistical for our own ends of the survival of the species. If so, then let it be – with pleasure.

Maybe, I am more feline than my kitten. Who knows? Meow.

 

poesie – i dream myself alive

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Awake I know I dream not

As the sense still alive

Tells what is seen is not

A fancy but a reality alive

Of the wonder of the mind

Working wonders of creation

Of a fiction of the mind

In a mind’s reservoir. 

 

Awake I think when I dream

As the pulses of sense weaken

And the images seen past seem

All but phantasmal panorama seen

In a mind’s theater of illusion – 

Fantastic beasts, wailing ghosts

Enveloped in the cloud of dreams

Lurking in the stupor of the sense. 

 

Awake, awake, awake I become

When the sense divorces fancies

As the mind calls dreams hokum

And claims a seat of imaginations

Till it clears the clouds of ignorance

Darkening the light of the mind wondrous

Of creating the reality of its sovereign own

With no assistance of chants and spells. 

 

P.S.: Thomas Hobble (1588-1679), an English scientist and philosopher, excoriates in his essay “You and Your Dreams” the knavery of sham magicians and magical folk claiming to deal with supernatural beings to induce naive people to believe in superstitions and the power of magic for the promotion of their trades. Hobble enlightens readers that superstitions arise out of the ignorance of distinguishing imaginations, a second-hand reality, from dreams, a detritus of agitated part of the mind. The gist of his argument is that ghosts and haunted places ensue from an intractable combination of the images of the seen and the second-hand images that become distorted imaginations made look real.  In sum, Hobble’s theory of dream interpretation corresponds to the postmortem dream theories of Carl Jung. Hence this poem is my understanding of Hobble’s essay on the aforesaid subject. 

‘Papillon (1973)’ – film review

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From Shakespeare to Hemingway, the resilient human spirit rising above life’s challenges is always a high human drama. Nietzsche said: “What does not kill you only makes you stronger.” This paean to a noble human spirit against the existential strains of life has been a paramount theme for masterpieces of arts, especially in literature and cinema appealing to the universal audiences, touching the deepest valleys of human consciousness and pulling at the heartstrings all in a polyphony of humanity. It is this very reason that Papillon (1973), directed by Franklin J. Schaffner, still evokes ineffable inspiration and indelible impression so powerfully displayed on the screen with the authenticity of a true story of a real-life character.

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Papillon, a butterfly in French, is a nickname of Henri Charriere (played by Steve McQueen), a safe-cracker framed for having murdered a pimp because he has a butterfly tattoo on his chest. Henri was sentenced to life imprisonment in French Guiana and decides to escape from the man-made inferno where death is the only way out of the murderous maltreatment doubled with dysentery and hard labor, which makes me wonder if the Nazis, especially Himmler and his ilk of the Final Solution, adapted the French Penal Colony system into concentration camps during World War II. And yet, Papillon’s will to escape and to live as a free man supersede the hellish daily realities fraught with endlessly cruel labor, inhumane solitary confinements, prolonged starvation, and deaths of his fellow inmates, all of which seem to conspire to break his will to live to conform to the totalitarianism of inhumanity in the name of punishment of his crime that he didn’t commit. Escape after escape, hope against hope, and betrayal after betrayal is fortune’s malice trying to overthrow his sovereign state. Still, Papillon’s sturdy mind exceeds the compass of her will, even if it takes him to the furious watery main and the murderous cliff in the Devil’s Island.

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The stellar performance of Steve McQueen, playing the role of Henri Charriere, renders a sense of verisimilitude of the character and the story so convincingly that you dive into his emotions without realizing a boundary between a screen and yourself. Upon watching the film, you feel that you have contracted a severe biological strain of Stockholm syndrome with the Henri character on whose biography the film is based, which bestows the power of reality and the authenticity of truth upon your mind. Steve McQueen, often referred to as the King of Uber Cool, is excellent in portraying the convict with extraordinary feats of endurance and rebellion against the totalitarian penal system that wrongly imprisons his free spirit. McQueen’s abilities as a character actor shine when he commands his presence in a way that seems wholly authentic without overt gestures and contrived charisma but with his eyes sparkling even in the filthy prison uniform that speaks a thousand words surrounding him like a radiant halo as a token for his strong will to freedom.

This film is, in a way, reminiscent of Ernest Hemingway’s ‘The Old Man and the Sea’ in terms of old Santiago’s indomitable burst of pep to fight the shark appropriating his hard-won big fish. The old man might look feeble and weak in comparison with the mighty power of the vast sea. Still, it is his will to win the battle against the force of sea that is sublimated into a victory of the human spirit with the resounding  dictum of this feat of humanity: “Man can be conquered, but cannot be destroyed.” That’s what comes to my mind while watching this excellent film about an ordinary human being with an extraordinary power of will to freedom. Hamlet uttered: “To be or not to be, that is the question.” To Henri Charriere, such contemplation is a meaningless echo of a defeatist. Henri is more of Macbeth working out on his plan for life as a free man with stubborn courage: “We fail! But screw your courage to the sticking-place, And we’ll not fail.” And Lo! Did he not take the advice of the Bard! And so, splendidly!

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Author’s Note: I watched the film last night and was immersed in the characters and the story. Not that I am an admirer of Steve McQueen but that he’s one of the greatest actors who vanished like a meteor gives a special meaning to this film. It is one of the best performances in his acting career and will always linger in our hearts.