RIP, Sweet Tamino (Mar 30, 1999 – Mar 24, 2016)

Tam-2005-Full
He was the cat I anticipated all my life before him. He was the cat by which all future cats will be measured. He was loving, intelligent, funny, aggravating. He was my Tamino.

Growing up, we had a series of cats around. They’d show up, dropped off at the nearby barn by seasonal visitors who thought all barns needed more cats, and that all barn cats led healthy, happy lives. Or friends had kittens, and somehow one found its way to us. Or…I don’t know. Mom had a weakness for orphans and kittens, so there were generally up to a half dozen around at any one time.

But I loved the idea of having a Siamese. Their exotic good looks. Their intelligence. Their loyalty. I’d never met one, but I knew I wanted one someday.

Fast forwarding to adulthood, I spent four years in the Air Force, living in the barracks, where the only pets we could have were fish or turtles. For someone used to having dogs and cats around, that was rough. When I got out, I waited all of about two weeks before starting to look for a Siamese. I was going to take it slow. I was going to find just the right breeder, get myself onto a wait list. I wanted a female, I decided. A beautiful little girl. I dreamed of names. I poked around on the Internet, what there was of it back then. I made some calls.

The first place I went to with Mom was in Marshfield, VT: a woman who mostly bred and trained Schutzhund German Shepherds, but also had a few Siamese litters a year. Supposedly we were just going to visit and check out the grounds and meet some of her adults. She’d had a litter not long ago, but they were all spoken for. So…we went. And when we got there, she placed a ten week old kitten in my arms for me to see. A boy. He wasn’t a very cute kitten, honestly. He looked a bit like a white rat with a giant brown Jimmy Durante nose. His eyes were not the bluest of blue. He meowed and clung to me, and I vaguely heard her say something about another buyer backing out, so if I was interested, or she could reserve another kitten from the next litter.

Well. I was doomed.

We brought him home. I named him Tamino and called him Tam. He hid under the bed for several days and barely let me touch him. And then…he did. And didn’t want me to ever set him down again.

We both barely survived his first year. I had no idea, really, what Siamese were like in person. For one thing, he was a chatterbox. In general, when other cats meowed at me, I knew they wanted something: food, water, a check on the litterbox. They didn’t just casually interact via vocalization. I kept saying, “What do you WANT, cat?”

He also had SO MUCH ENERGY and curiosity, which he didn’t totally expend without me being a part of it. He wanted to play, but I was supposed to be involved. Always. Even at three in the morning. This was about when he taught himself to play fetch–or taught me, I’m not quite sure. I’d be typing away on the computer, and he’d bring his beloved tattered frog and drop it on the keyboard. When I tossed it aside, he retrieved it and dumped it on the keyboard again, until I stopped and played a good solid game of fetch.

He had to get to the highest point of every room, and woe to any fragile item that got in the way. In fact, watching things fall was pretty fun, especially if you could push them down for dogs to grab.

He learned to pull drawers open to retrieve noisy toys I’d hidden out of sheer exhaustion. I remember one time hiding his ball-and-trough toy in the freezer, because that was the only place he couldn’t get to it. Top of the refrigerator? No problem–he could leap clear from the floor and pull himself up there. Drawers? Oh, a fun challenge!

He was a crazy monkey cat, but he was also so very loving. All laps were for sitting in. He slept on the bed, sometimes snuggled under the blankets with his head on the pillow. When I was down, he’d headbutt me under the chin. He was always there. Even the very last night of his life when he could barely walk, he followed me from the living room to the bedroom and slept on the bed, and then crawled back out to the living room when I got up. He was my constant companion his entire life, and now I keep looking for a shadow cat who isn’t there. I suppose I’ll be doing that for a long time to come.

He made me laugh, made me yell, made my life so much richer than I could ever have imagined.

I said goodbye to him on Thursday, 3/24/16, less than a week before his 17th birthday on the 30th.

There is a hole in my heart so big I hardly know how to keep living.

The Tam cat in his youth

The Tam cat in his youth

Prodigal

Guercino [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Return of the Prodigal Son

On the surface, the story of the prodigal son is one of the most comforting Gospel readings: God portrayed as a gentle and loving father, waiting with open arms to welcome us home, no matter what we’ve done or how far we have strayed. So why do I find it such a hard reading to accept?

All too frequently, I identify with the oldest son, not in that I resent a lack of goat roasting parties, but in my rigid mindset toward guilt and reparation, my struggle with the concept of unbounded love and mercy. How is it logical or just to forgive and reward the repentant sinner?

I speak primarily about how I analyze my own guilt. I stand as the oldest son, and I sneer at myself, the prodigal. Ask for forgiveness, and move on? How is that fair? I’ve done wrong. I know I’ve done wrong. I sometimes see life as a ledger, and I’m so far in the red, there’s no digging out. No hope.

This is part of why I have trouble approaching the sacrament of reconciliation. On top of having to say I did the same stupid embarrassing things again and again and again, on some level, it feels like a sham, a trick. It can’t really be that easy, can it? I just come back, sincerely say I’m sorry, and bam, I’m not only forgiven but welcomed with abundant graces?

This Gospel teaches us that yes, it is that simple. That beautiful. That…unfair. The truth is that God isn’t fair. If we all got what we deserved, we’d all get damnation.

Instead, God is merciful. Infinitely so. That’s hard for me to wrap my head around. It isn’t clean and tidy, it isn’t this plus this equals that. It doesn’t make sense.

And so, a lot of the time I am the prodigal son, but I get stuck at the point in the story where I’ve squandered my inheritance and am starving in a pigsty, miserable, afraid to go home. I tell myself I’m not worthy of even being where I am. I wallow in my shame, while my Father mourns. I don’t even give him the the opportunity to embrace and console me.

That’s pride. That’s foolishness. Do I think I can sin so big, God doesn’t have the capacity to wash it away?

It’s time–it’s always time–to dry my tears and go home.

___________

LUKE 15:11-32
Then he said, “A man had two sons, and the younger son said to his father,
‘Father give me the share of your estate that should come to me.’
So the father divided the property between them.
After a few days, the younger son collected all his belongings
and set off to a distant country
where he squandered his inheritance on a life of dissipation.
When he had freely spent everything,
a severe famine struck that country,
and he found himself in dire need.
So he hired himself out to one of the local citizens
who sent him to his farm to tend the swine.
And he longed to eat his fill of the pods on which the swine fed,
but nobody gave him any.
Coming to his senses he thought,
‘How many of my father’s hired workers
have more than enough food to eat,
but here am I, dying from hunger.
I shall get up and go to my father and I shall say to him,
“Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you.
I no longer deserve to be called your son;
treat me as you would treat one of your hired workers.”’
So he got up and went back to his father.
While he was still a long way off,
his father caught sight of him, and was filled with compassion.
He ran to his son, embraced him and kissed him.
His son said to him,
‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you;
I no longer deserve to be called your son.’
But his father ordered his servants,
‘Quickly bring the finest robe and put it on him;
put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet.
Take the fattened calf and slaughter it.
Then let us celebrate with a feast,
because this son of mine was dead, and has come to life again;
he was lost, and has been found.’
Then the celebration began.
Now the older son had been out in the field
and, on his way back, as he neared the house,
he heard the sound of music and dancing.
He called one of the servants and asked what this might mean.
The servant said to him,
‘Your brother has returned
and your father has slaughtered the fattened calf
because he has him back safe and sound.’
He became angry,
and when he refused to enter the house,
his father came out and pleaded with him.
He said to his father in reply,
‘Look, all these years I served you
and not once did I disobey your orders;
yet you never gave me even a young goat to feast on with my friends.
But when your son returns
who swallowed up your property with prostitutes,
for him you slaughter the fattened calf.’
He said to him,
‘My son, you are here with me always;
everything I have is yours.
But now we must celebrate and rejoice,
because your brother was dead and has come to life again;
he was lost and has been found.’”

Held

Love heart

The kind of day when you really need to accomplish something so you don’t feel like a total failure, but the idea of doing anything at all is so overwhelming, you feel like you can’t move.

The kind of day where you finally get up the gumption to cook something with ingredients, and then can’t get the lid off the kalamata olives, and instead of calmly trying various approaches, you break down in tears over how cruel and unfair life can be, that it would give you hard-to-open olives on a day when getting out of bed was hard.

The sort of day when you wander onto the Internet and are confronted with stories of people who have it so much worse than you ever will that they might as well exist on another planet: sweet mothers dying of cancer in their thirties, refugees with nowhere to belong, innocent children in pain…and instead of making you feel better about your life, you sob, because you feel so guilty about feeling so miserable.

The kind of day where more than anything, you are trying to forgive and let go, but then you realize how bitter your thoughts are, and you cry out to God to teach you mercy, because you just don’t understand.

It’s been that sort of a week.

It feels like my whole life is falling apart and spinning out of control, and it seems counter-intuitive to “let go and let God.” I’m dizzy, I’m confused, I hurt, and I want to grab on and grab on, and there’s nothing to grab onto.

And as I write these words, I realize that’s OK, because even if I have nothing to grasp, I’m being held.

That is something to hold onto.

Little Matters

Saint Bernard Church (Burkettsville, OH) - clerestory, the Wedding at Cana, detail

There was a wedding at Cana in Galilee,
and the mother of Jesus was there.
Jesus and his disciples were also invited to the wedding.
When the wine ran short,
the mother of Jesus said to him,
“They have no wine.”
And Jesus said to her,
“Woman, how does your concern affect me?
My hour has not yet come.”
His mother said to the servers,
“Do whatever he tells you.”
Now there were six stone water jars there for Jewish ceremonial washings,
each holding twenty to thirty gallons.
Jesus told them,
“Fill the jars with water.”
So they filled them to the brim.
Then he told them,
“Draw some out now and take it to the headwaiter.”
So they took it.
And when the headwaiter tasted the water that had become wine,
without knowing where it came from
— although the servers who had drawn the water knew —,
the headwaiter called the bridegroom and said to him,
“Everyone serves good wine first,
and then when people have drunk freely, an inferior one;
but you have kept the good wine until now.”
Jesus did this as the beginning of his signs at Cana in Galilee
and so revealed his glory,
and his disciples began to believe in him.

JOHN 2:1-11

This Sunday’s Gospel was the Wedding at Cana. As you’d expect, much of Father’s homily was about marriage, and as the apparently perpetually single person I am, it was a little hard to glean what still applied to me. But as so often happens, despite myself, a few new insights poked through.

Father started out by speaking a little bit about wedding practices at the time. Weddings were huge celebrations, with the party sometimes lasting days, until the food and drink ran out. Running out quickly was, frankly, embarrassing.

But this couple ran out. And Mary noticed this, and quietly interceded for them.

They ran out of wine: it’s the sort of thing I’d tend to think too small and too human to pray about. What does it matter in the grand scheme of the universe if a party doesn’t go perfectly? What does it matter if I’m worried about driving home in yucky weather, or finishing a not terribly important project at work, or finding a budget-friendly-yet-flattering dress for my brother’s wedding?

But Jesus responds to their situation with preposterous generosity. Preposterous! Not only does he provide wine, he provides a LOT of wine. And not only does he provide a lot of wine, but it’s seriously good wine.

The Wedding at Cana is often interpreted to be a foreshadowing of the Eucharist, or Jesus’ way of establishing marriage as a sacrament, and showering blessing on both the specific couple and, symbolically, all couples and all marriages. And all those interpretations are valid. But it was also something very simplean overwhelmingly generous response to a very human and earthly problem: they have no more wine.

It gives me hope that it’s OK to ask for help when I’m feeling frustrated by ordinary problems in ordinary life. I find that very comforting.

Are You Good Enough?

Rose 1
A rose I drew awhile back, and almost immediately hid from public
 view, because it’s…shoddy. But you know? Shoddy is OK.



This post by Stephanie of Rhodia Drive really struck a chord with me:
Art Making is Accessible to Everyone

I am afraid to mess up. More than that: I am afraid of being found inadequate. In many ways, I’ve always felt like this. While my brothers happily doodled away as kids, I would set the bar impossibly high, and give up in frustration when I couldn’t reach it.

To some extent, I’ve gotten past this in writing and music–especially music. Yes, I do have moments of frustration. I wish I’d started younger. I wish I was more consistent. I wish certain aspects came to me more intuitively. But I enjoy music within my own limitations, with full knowledge that I’m never going to reach stratospheric greatness.

Writing can be a little more challenging. There are times when I wonder why I work at it at all, because I will never be able to write in the ways some of my favorite authors write. I don’t have Vernor Vinge’s scientific mind, therefore “I can’t write.” I don’t have Ralph McInerny’s grasp of theology and knowledge of academia, therefore “I can’t write.” I’ve never suffered extreme poverty or pain, I’ve not traveled to exotic places, I’ve not done x, therefore “I can’t write.”

Getting beyond that, to find my own voice, to accept my own style…this is difficult. But, at least on an intellectual level, I know “all God’s creatures got a place in the choir.” I’m not, for example, Gene Wolfe. But neither is David McCullough. Neither is Elizabeth Berg or Terry Pratchett, or Jasper Fforde, or Elizabeth Moon, or a multitude of other authors (or bloggers) I’ve enjoyed. Some writers create extravagant and scientifically perfect worlds. Some expose, through meticulous research, a particular period in history. Some simply make you laugh. Some help you to see plain old folks just a little more clearly. Somewhere in that spectrum, there may just be room for me. It may not always be the room I’d prefer at given moments, but…there’s room.

Art–as in visual art–has been more challenging still. And I think it may well be key to overcoming what is really a false sort of pride: this fear not even of complete failure, but mere inadequacy. Because it’s OK to create art for fun. It’s OK to create art imperfectly. It’s OK to create art with no larger purpose than simply creating art: for the joy and childlike wonder of exploring artistic expression.

I like this quote from the post on Rhodia Drive. “…they learn to be OK with the quality of their expressions and do it anyway. This was my path. I wanted to make art and so I did.”

This post was originally posted on my old blog on 6/8/13.

Dad, Dust, Ditz

GOOD: Dreamed I was on a road trip with Dad and some of my siblings.

BAD: As we were driving, the clouds behind us turned black, then billowed orange, and ash fell from the sky. (Yes, I did just finish reading Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn.)

GOOD: Dad drove as fast as he could, and we at least got ahead of the main thrust of the blast, and though we had to pull off the road when the ash cloud hit, we were able to dash into a temporary office building. It wasn’t much more than a metal box on a concrete slab, but enough that the air inside was breathable. AND it had wi-fi.

ALSO GOOD: Thanks to the wi-fi, I checked my e-mail, and found I had a response to a short story I’d submitted recently.

BAD: It was a rejection.

GOOD: It wasn’t a form rejection. There was a good amount of constructive criticism.

BAD: It wasn’t a story I’ve actually written, so the criticism wouldn’t do me much good even if it was from someone smarter than I am, which (being as how it came from my own subconscious) it wasn’t. Also, the only part of it I remember was about a character named Tanya, who was supposed to be a totally ditzy bimbo, but apparently I don’t fully understand the bimbo mindset.

GOOD: The editor provided some helpful tips for improving future bimbos.

BAD: I don’t remember the tips, except that there was something vague about nails and matching purses, neither of which I would take my own advice on. So.

Anyway, I can’t help but feel this dream sums up much about my writer brain and my limitations as a writer. Other sci-fi and fantasy writing friends would have dreamed they led an intrepid band of volcanologists, spelunking deep into a cave on the outskirts of the seismic ring, there to battle past Bigfoot and set charges to release pressure and end the eruptions and save the Pacific Northwest.

Or they’d be an up and coming ice mage destined to defeat the flame mage who has turned a green and fertile kingdom to fiery desolation.

Instead, I dreamed I was alternately whining about slow Internet, yelling at Dad for going outside without covering his mouth with something to keep from breathing dust and ash, and hunkered over the screen trying to understand why Tanya was insufficiently bimbo-esque.

Sigh.

So this is Christmas….

2014-12-25 21.02.52I didn’t get Christmas cards out this year. I didn’t find every present I feel like I should have found, and most of the ones I did get home aren’t going to be nicely wrapped. I never got Christmas lights up, beyond a few LED candles in a few windows. I didn’t get around to baking or candy making or any such thing last weekend, and I work until five, so it ain’t gonna happen today, either.

It doesn’t feel much like Christmas.

But you know what? I doubt that first Christmas felt much like Christmas at first, either. On the surface, nothing went the way it “should” have. The first Christmas took place in a stable. There weren’t multi-colored cookies all laid out, perfectly wrapped presents heaped up, everything all well thought out and organized. I know I’ve harped on that a bit already this year, but in a year where I’ve spent Advent struggling to find joy, it helps to know that God can bring light out of darkness, and that there is often a deeper plan.

And hey, the wise men didn’t make it there with gifts until sometime later. So I guess I’m in good company all around.

Merry Christmas, everyone!

Library Haul, Mid-Dec. 2015 Edition

Books I’m all but certain to enjoy (Neil Gaiman’s new short story collection, Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn), plus a couple of wild cards from the new books shelf. Rain, do your worst.
2015-12-13 14.27.28

Advent Reflection: Finding Joy

Adventwreath

Early Wednesday mornings, I spend an hour in adoration before the Blessed Sacrament. As part of my prayer, I typically say a rosary, and since it’s Advent, today I said the Joyful Mysteries.

As I was going through them, it struck me: every “joyful” mystery also came with a double helping of sorrow or anxiety.

I mean, think about it:

The Annunciation
Mary is a very young woman, not even married yet, and first of all, she comes face to face with a VERY SCARY angel, who has to start off by telling her not to fear, and THEN tells her she is going to be the mother of God’s son. No pressure. Yikes!

The Visitation
Immediately after the above, while still in early pregnancy (not pleasant, from what I hear), she sets off on a long journey on foot to visit and assist her cousin. I mean, it’s wonderful that Elizabeth is having a baby, but…man, how tiring and miserable would that have been?

The Nativity

I imagine Mary preparing a space for the baby. Maybe Joseph made a beautiful cradle. Maybe she had little clothes laid by. And then? She ends up giving birth in a stinky stable, far from home, likely without many relatives around. Poor Mary!

The Presentation at the Temple
A few weeks after Jesus is born, Mary and Joseph, as good Jews, go to present their child at the Temple. There they are reminded that they are poor (meh, turtledoves are fine–we know you guys are broke), and THEN hear a bunch of scary prophesies about their new son.

The Finding at the Temple
If you’ve ever been somewhere very crowded–the mall, an airport, a fair–and had a child disappear for even a few minutes, you can identify with Mary and Joseph’s panic. Except it wasn’t a few minutes! Jesus disappeared on them, and they searched for DAYS! Granted, they did find him, but…goodness!

Yes, there is also joy in each of these if you look deeply, but mostly the joy came not from the situation, but from their acceptance of God’s will for them, not getting riled up by the circumstances.

Advent can be tough for me. I’m single, I don’t have kids. I get melancholy remembering wonder-filled evenings as a kid when we’d light the Advent candles and turn off the lights, and read a prayer by candle light with all of us elbowing and jostling to poke at the candles.

I miss all the saint days for which we had fun traditions: putting out our shoes for Saint Nicholas on December 6th, making pinatas for Our Lady of Guadalupe on December 12th, candles for Saint Lucy on December 13th.

I miss baking cookies as a family, making fudge, making Christmas decorations.

I’ve spent long years wishing I could see all these things through the eyes of my own children, which doesn’t seem likely now.

It’s hard.

Maybe I’m crazy, but it helps a little to realize that even some of the most wonderful happenings in all of time weren’t untainted by loneliness and anxiety and sorrow. It also makes me a little more inclined to look deeper at my own days, to find that kernel of beauty and joy that I might otherwise miss. I want to value the moments I do get to spend with family–nieces and nephews and siblings, instead of burying myself in envy. I want to pick up an Advent wreath and start a few traditions of my own, even if I do so alone. I want to value the freedom I have to stop by the adoration chapel before or after work now and again this month.

Sometimes, joy is where you find it.

I’m a Social Being! Ish.

I’ve been pretty withdrawn lately: stopped going to Wednesday night Irish sessions and other jams, didn’t manage even the social aspects of NaNoWriMo, which honestly was what I was most looking forward to. My story crashed and burned this year, so I felt like I’d be an impostor, but I really should have just gotten out there.

As a result of all this, I’ve been feeling…lonely.

Despite my dislike of small talk and my tendency to portray myself as an antisocial people-hater, I really make a lousy hermit. It really isn’t people I hate. It’s crowds. People, I like, so long as I’m not forced to interact heavily and on-the-spot. People, I start to miss, especially living alone as I do.

So I want to start writing at my favorite coffee shop again in the mornings before The Day Job.

True, part of that is because I need to get back into a regular writing habit, which has kind of gone by the wayside in the midst of my recent move. I have one novel in the editing stages and a few short stories that need polishing before I send them out again.

But also, I miss being part of a world outside of work and home.

I’ve referred to coffee shops as bars for introverted morning people. You’ve got your regulars, your bartenders (though they have a fahncier name–baristas), the comfort of familiar background noise, conversations you can take part in, but don’t have to. They’re a great place to be alone, but not. And I need more of that in my life, especially around the holidays.

BONUS! Great coffee. Who doesn’t need a little more of that in their life?