Fancy that! A cat
without a bottom – not even
Old Possum could out-do
your decapitating pose!
Is that a smile beneath your nose?
I’ve heard of a grin remaining
from a disappearing head;
but a disappearing body?
Please pull yourself together,
or you’ll end up quite dead!
She’s a stranger to correct etiquette;
here’s the proof:
the slack flick of her foreleg
the twitch of her tail
her silent step onto the sofa
the widening aperture of her eyes
the backward swivel of her ears
her faded tiger stripes
the sheathed weaponry in her paws
the alien growl at another cat’s smell
she’s the limit:
she turns her back on protocol
doesn’t know how to curtsy or kowtow
never grovels or curries favour;
a law unto herself; completely unskilled
at social climbing
My human cohabiter is acting strangely. He has changed my name from Catkins to Phoebus and says I can have my own blog. You may have already read a scandalous story involving me, a dog and a house mouse. I have to inform you that these two creatures are no longer counted as friends.
In this case it’s not my place to reason why my human associate has asked me to blog, although you will find, if you continue to read my blog, that ‘reason’ is indeed my main operative mode. You may have heard that one of our traits is ‘curiosity’, and that is partly why I have agreed to embark on this blogging business. I am curious about the world and wish to embark on an intellectual adventure with you.
My blog, I have decided, will be addressed to those amongst you who have asked the question, “There must be more to life than this.” The ‘this’ in this case refers to having a family, a job of some sort (or not) and the pursuit of various goals and ambitions – not to mention the consumption of various kinds of chocolate and cake, appearing on television talent shows, or being immersed in a virtual reality where the object is to annihilate your enemies. Before I dive into the not so deep end, I need to clarify something else. You may have heard the slanderous jibe that we sleep 20hrs out of 24. This is nonsense! Even those of you who agree to share your dwelling places with us, and have allegedly observed us in a so called sleeping mode are barking up the wrong tree so to speak. The appearance in this case, as in so many, is not the reality. We are not asleep during a large part of this observed ‘sleep’ – we are in fact meditating!
I’m afraid now I’ll have to bite the bullet and bring up the slippery subject of ‘philosophy’ as I was, you may already have guessed, trained in this discipline in ancient Greece. (How else do you think I’ve gained immortality?) I wish to illustrate a general point crucial to your so called ‘human condition.’ The subject in question is Plato’s Allegory of the Cave. I had the good fortune to be among Socrates’ students and can assure you that old Plato got most of his discussions down more or less correctly.
So, here goes; it goes something like this. (I’m recollecting the story in good old Platonic fashion, not reading from notes!) Imagine a group of humans living in a deep cave. They are restricted in such a way that they cannot turn their heads to look behind them. (I can’t hold a pencil very well in my paw but I’ve tried my best to illustrate the scene.)
The star-burst shapes represent an ever-burning fire. In front of the fire is a platform on which actors process and perform. Their shadows are thrown onto a large screen in front of the poor humans. These poor humans have never been out of the cave and take these ever changing shadows for reality. They know nothing of the actors behind them as they can’t turn their heads. Now this is an allegory so can be applied to your lives now. Please take a coffee break and contemplate what the allegory means to you.
Refreshed? Good. Well, this is what I think. You believe everything your senses tell you. For example you used to believe the sun circled the Earth because that’s what you saw; that’s how it appeared. You believe your thoughts without questioning them. A great many of you are under the delusion that you are your thoughts! The shadows in the allegory represent all the ideas and opinions you hold onto so tenaciously. Most of the opinions you hold have not been scrutinised to gauge their veracity. Another example: if you are asked to flick your wrist did you know that the action is preceded by almost a second of measurable brain activity? It’s almost as if your brain decides what to do before you do. In a nutshell, you think you have more free will than is the case.
I put it to you that many of you are still cave dwellers. All is not lost though. I hope to show you a way out of the cave in my subsequent blogs. It will be a long journey however, so I hope you will be patient with me. Those of you who insist that you have escaped the confines of the dark cave may also enjoy coming on our intellectual journey. I can’t promise to find happiness for you but I’ll do my best to lead you along some interesting paths. (Remember I’m over 2000yrs old so have a little of what you call ‘life-experience’ and am an expert on climbing walls and following interesting-looking paths.) That’s all for today. Hope to catch you again soon.
Present: Catkins, a cat; Douglas, a dog and Mixy, a mouse.
Douglas: Catkins, what’s up? You look even sadder than usual. You haven’t even hissed at me today!
Catkins: Dougie, I’m beyond mere sadness. I have come from the funeral of my esteemed companion, Sheba.
Mixy: Sheba? Who is Sheba?
Catkins: Sheba was my cousin, you ignorant little apology for a quadruped!
Mixy: Oh, well, I can’t be expected to keep track of all your relatives, can I?
Catkins: Oh, what is cat? A frail perishable thing. What is our little life? Is it a glory or a tale told by an idiot? Is it a mellifluous melody or a primeval scream? A gift or a curse? Less than an hour ago I beheld the stiff remains of Sheba; not the faintest miaow came from her thin lips, not the faintest twitch from her whiskers. What is the point of climbing walls or licking my tale any more. All is unprofitable and stale. Oh, all has been stolen away by cruel Death.
Douglas: Come now Catkins, that’s no way to talk. I thought you were a philosopher. Surely you realise that birth and death are part of the great scheme of things?
Catkins: You are no doubt correct to remind me of the eternal verities Dougie and I thank you for it.
Mixy: If you ask me there’s a lot to be said for cheese, girl-mice and song. Live for the moment; that’s what I say.
Catkins: Well, Mixy you are condemned by your own words; I always knew you were shallow.
Mixy: Well, I may be shallow but at least I’m happy. Now where’s that cheese?
Catkins: I put it to you both that the unexamined life isn’t worth living. I mean, Dougie, no offence, but you do live a rather animal existence don’t you; food, sex and sleep! Surely you must realise there’s more to life?
Douglas: I rather resent your arrogant attitude Catkins. I’m happy chasing a stick, or lying asleep in the sun. Look at you moping about. It’s natural to feel sad at the death of a loved one, but if you ask me I always thought you were much too melancholy for your own good. I’ve seen you sitting on the dustbin hardly lifting a paw except to lick it. You just don’t have a life, do you? You’re far too aloof. I recommend wagging your tale at humans and occasionally gazing into their eyes.
Catkins: Give me patience Douglas! That would be beneath my dignity. I can’t do with ingratiating myself with humans like you grovelling dogs. I mean a cat has to be his own person. I have standards to keep up!
Mixy: I don’t know what you’re complaining about. I think you’re a bit of a hypocrite if you ask me. My grandfather told me before the peace treaty that you used to torture mice. And I heard that you personally have welshed on the treaty on numerous occasions!
Douglas: Now Mixy, I think that’s going a bit far. No one is casting aspersions on poor Catkin’s moral character.
Mixy: Well, I’m just saying what I heard in the no 43 bus queue.
Douglas: What were you doing in a bus queue Mixy?
Mixy: Just hopping on a bus for a lift, what do you think dumbo?
Douglas: Alright, no need to be sarcastic. So, Catkins have you broken the treaty?
Catkins: Now, that does it; who needs enemies when I’ve got friends like you! Friends? Not anymore! [begins to walk away in a huff]
Douglas: Where are you going?
Catkins: To see if I can make an amendment to the Peace Treaty to exclude dogs and mice. Then I’m going to finish my memoirs, The Life and Opinions of Tom Cat Catkins, or Cat is the Measure of all Things. Goodbye!
Inspired by The Life and Opinions of Tom Cat Murr by ETA Hoffmann and a certain well-known English playwright and a couple of Ancient Greek philosophers.