The Time I Brokered a Peace Accord

By Thursday, November 13, 2014 1 5

I’m pretty sure I can communicate with animals and one night while visiting my parents, I came across two cats in a kitchen stand-off.  The air felt like a gas stove had been left on; anything could have ignited it.  As a result, movements were slow and movements were calculated.

The two cats were seated stiffly on the counter with tails clearly fluffier than normal, signifying the presence of an imminent threat.  Low growls rolled like thunderstorms between them, as if each cat was saying “Make the first move, you pussy.”  I quickly calculated that it was up to me, and me alone, to mediate this cold war.  I knew because of my animal communication skills that I could fix this; it was my duty.  I was like the United Nations called to action.  Suit me up. Sergeant.  These cats were on the brink of very serious escalation and I couldn’t let them spiral to the nuclear option.  Not on my watch.

Let me describe the warring parties:

Sally, aka “Ding Dong”:

Defending her home territory and weighing in at ten incredibly flabby lbs. is Sally.  She is a black calico and the runt of her litter, but now she’s nine years old and completely in love with my dad.  Her nickname is Ding Dong because sometimes you wonder if anyone’s home at all.  Here are photos that capture Sally:

Things They Forgot to Mention, blog, photo, cat, kitty, Sally

The photo on the left is typical sweet, petite Sally while the photo in the center shows Sally’s preferred sleeping position.  The photo on the right with Luigi (our more regal cat) shows Sally in the background gazing with embarrassing devotion at my dad.  Here is a close-up of that shot because it’s just so ridiculous:Things They Forgot to Mention, blog, photo, cat, kitty, SallyOh Sally Ding Dong….

Sally enjoys meowing at the attic for hours until my parents take down the ladder for her to climb up.  She also enjoys sitting by the faucet for hours waiting for fresh spring water to appear.  Sally has never gone past the mailbox, often miscalculates jump distances, and has a muscle tone I describe as “sea cucumber-like”.  Regardless of this, she is ruthless.  Sally is a serial killer and leaves regurgitated evidence of her massacres as a reminder to all: this is Sally’s house.

Tibet, aka “Miss Buffet”:

The visiting invader from the Bay Area, the “de-clawed? no problem!” Tibet.  She is my brother/sister-in-law’s cat and her nickname is Miss Buffet since her trips to my parents’ house inevitably involve vomit due to her inability to control her eating in the “All You Can Eat (Cat Food) Buffet”.  Tibet is incapable of understanding consequences.  It makes no sense how bold she is — she doesn’t have claws, yet she is utterly fearless.  As a visitor, she is the territorial intruder, but she struts past Ivan, our 100-lb. German Shepherd (R.I.P. Big Boy) and Luigi, our 17-lb. cat who can only be compared to a majestic jaguar (shown irritated in the photo with Sally above).  Here are photos that capture Tibet’s “whatevs” attitude:

Things They Forgot to Mention, blog, photo, cat, kitty, Tibet

Look how chillaxed she is.  Mowin’ on a catnip “pick-me-up,” rockin’ the Santa look, and yawnin’ like you’re boring her.  She embodies the self-confidence we all strive for, but it comes with a lack of social awareness where she doesn’t see she’s in danger or being rude by not following the pecking order (inadvertent shout out to The Pecking Orders!).

Back to the cold war.  It was clear that both kitties were just looking to feel accepted, respected, and seen by the other… the cause of most wars, right? Sally wanted Tibet to respect her home and her status as head wife.  Tibet wanted Sally to welcome her as a family member.  I decided it was my job to show them this since I am way wiser.  First I had to establish rapport…

Starting with Sally, I pet her small head and said nice things like she has a really great rainbow of colors and I like when she timidly touches people with her paws.  To Tibet I said I admire her courage and although her meows sometimes last too long, I like that she expresses herself.  Both cats relaxed, gave me their trust, and a temporary ceasefire was reached.

Now that we had a suspension of aggression, I moved the negotiations forward.  I went back and forth between them, now gently telling each cat what they could do to help diffuse the situation.

“Sally, you could be a little more welcoming to Tibet.  She’s our guest and yes, sometimes a little intrusive and noisy, but she’s family.”

“Tibetsy, Sally feels you don’t respect her and her home.  Have a little more consideration and be more courteous to your hosts.”

The cats listened.  They protested at first with sullen meows to defend their actions, but I pushed on.  Soon enough, I saw Tibet steal a glance at Sally and I knew we were ready to proceed to the next phase.

I took a deep breath, sent calm waves through the kitchen, and pulled out the big guns: I pet both cats at the same time.  They immediately froze as if they could feel each other through my hands.  They were rigid and Siberian.  I continued talking, now addressing both Sally and Tibet as if we were all in a conversation.  I soothed and they slowly relaxed.  The meows started again but now they were playful.  The cats defrosted, their tails unfluffed, and they even made eye contact.

The final phase was risky, but I knew it would work.  I poured two bowls of crunchies and set them side-by-side.  Tibet and Sally didn’t even hesitate and happily ate within swatting distance of the other.  The war was over!  I was proud of myself, and of Sally and Tibet.  I knew I had the way to find peace and was proud of my mediation.  I left them so I could do research on how to join the United Nations.  The world needed my skills.

An hour later, I went to the kitchen and my heart sank.  There was Sally and Tibet seated in the same spots as before.  Low growls, tails fluffy, back on “imminent threat” alert status.  I had accomplished nothing.  We did not have peace.  They were still on the brink of a terrible war and there was nothing I could do.

I saw in that instant that I did them a disservice by trying to fight their war for them.  I saw that this wasn’t a war at all.  This was just Tibet finding her place and I couldn’t force her into a place, she had to find one on her own.  She had to find it with Sally.  I could tell them over and over again what they should do, but nothing would resolve this struggle until they both stood up for themselves, until they decided where they fit.  Real growth happens when you fight your own battles.

The next morning I woke to find Tibet engaged in another stand-off, this time with Luigi, the black panther of all panthers.  Oh Tibet, you naive daredevil you, will you ever learn? I knew that as long as I tried to save her, the answer was no.  This was her conflict, not mine.  Luigi was going to crush her, but that was OK.  That’s what cat fights are for.  I didn’t intervene this time, I left them to figure it out for themselves.

Things They Forgot to Mention, blog, photo, cat, kitty, Tibet, Luigi

Things They Forgot to Mention:

Sometimes being saved doesn’t mean you were saved at all.   Being left to fight your own battles is when you learn to save yourself.  That’s when who you are really shows up.

Also, cats are the rulers of the internet.  All hail to your rulers.

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Javalina Girl

By Thursday, September 4, 2014 3 5

When I was 23, I spent a year at the Biosphere 2 Center outside Tucson, Arizona getting my masters.  The Biosphere is a huge greenhouse meant to simulate the Earth, think Pauly Shore in 1996‘s Biodome.  For cliff notes of our year there, just watch the first 25 seconds of this excerpt from the film.  I advise you to not watch more than that though, as it may cause brain damage:

Yup, it was pretty much exactly like that.  Life at the Biosphere deserves a story all its own, but that’s for another day.  Today I would like to discuss one particular person from that year.  Her name, as it came to be, was Javalina Girl.

Throughout the summer, groups of high school students stayed at the Biosphere for a month to do science things.  In one of these groups was a pretty, petite, loner girl with pigtails and a stuffed animal backpack.  She carried a notebook in which she scribbled aggressively.  By this time, us grad school students had already morphed into weird desert people, so we were intrigued by this girl.  We heard rumors about her and we sought them out.  We heard she had uncivilized breakdowns.  We heard she threw herself out of a moving van.  We heard she stole her housemate’s ice cream.  We were very intrigued indeed.

This girl would wander off alone into the remote desert surrounding the Biosphere.  She would carry her notebook and be gone for hours, oblivious to the panic her wandering caused the program counselors.  It was on one of these walks that she came across the javalina.

For those that don’t know, javalinas are boar-like animals found in Arizona.  They can be vicious with inch-long canines, and roam in territorial packs at night.  Here are some photos I stole from the internet:

Things They Forgot to Mention, blog, personal, javalina, Arizona, Biosphere 2

We had all come across javalinas at some point and quickly learned to show them respect.

Lucky for her, the girl came across a recently dead one and this is how she became Javalina Girl.  No one knows what thoughts went through her wild mind, but something convinced her to drag that sizable javalina over a mile back to her group house.  Once at the house, she proceeded to construct an outdoor cage for the carcass.  (This is where it gets a little graphic, so ladies, cover your eyes.)  Javalina Girl then took a small knife from her communal kitchen, carefully removed all of the javalina’s skin, and returned the knife to the utensil drawer.

Naturally, one of her housemates was a little freaked out by this, so the counselors were called to intervene.  They found Javalina Girl with the javalina, which was now fully skinned and enclosed in the chicken-wire chamber.  She was wearing her usual pigtails and stuffed animal backpack.  They asked her what she was doing and she explained she was conducting an experiment to see how long it took for a corpse to decompose, and the chicken-wire was to protect it from large scavengers.  She was going to record the observations in her notebook.

The counselors were stumped by this one.  Technically, Javalina Girl had done nothing wrong.  All she had done was take the initiative to create something her fellow students could learn from and “enjoy.”  As scientists themselves, the counselors felt maybe they should encourage independent scientific experiments.  But then again, there was bloody carcass in the front yard and they just could not let her get away with this behavior.  Just like that, Javalina Girl was sent home.

One thing the counselors were particularly confused by was where the javalina’s skin went.  Javalina Girl reported she threw it out, but they never found a trace.  A week or so later, us grad students began to notice the sweet smell of death in our classroom — you can see where this is going.  The odor started as faint, almost pleasant whiffs, but it matured into the overwhelming perfume of rot.  Maintenance came to find the source, and they found — drum roll, please — the javalina’s skin.  The skin, along with a few bones, was sealed in a cardboard box hidden in our classroom closet.  Javalina Girl’s name was handwritten on the box.

Needless to say, we were obsessed and dissected all we knew of Javalina Girl.  We constructed a cage around her made of assumptions and talked about her like she belonged in an institution.  We all agreed she had many screws loose.  The skin and bones, however, we could not come to consensus on.  It could be explained by multiple theories: (1) a mean gift because she hated our guts, (2) a nice gift because we were kindred explorers, or (3) left temporarily to get later for further analysis.

We never found out and we never heard of Javalina Girl again.  We talked about her all the time though, and I even dressed up as her for Halloween.  To this day, she remains one of my favorite stories to tell.  Something about Javalina Girl shook me up.

I’ll let you in on a secret: I don’t think Javalina Girl belonged in an institution at all.  I think she belonged in the desert.  I like to believe she was a brilliant, artistic mind.  I believe she was just curious about what happens in life…and in death.  She was a thinker, a pioneer, a lone wolf who wandered the desert.  She was also possibly batshit crazy but that isn’t always a bad thing.  Many of the biggest minds in history could have been called batshit crazy too and I think Javalina Girl walked among giants.

I hope I find her one day, to see who she turned into.  I hope her spark hasn’t been snuffed out by how she’s supposed to go about life.  I hope she still wanders and carries a notebook.  I will tell her that she changed my perception of batshit crazy and she taught me that being divergent can be preferred.  I know now that we all have some Javalina Girl in us and we should let it glow through.  Maybe not through a bloody carcass, but you know what I mean.

Things They Forgot to Mention:

Not all who are crazy belong in an institution, because many times crazy is an asset and possibly a compliment.

Things They Forgot to Mention, blog, personal, desert, Arizona, Biosphere 2

(To the Biospherians, if you know of corrections/missing facts from this story, let me know in the comments below)

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Always Read Your Labels

By Sunday, August 10, 2014 0 5

The other morning I was making breakfast for my husband, a bacon aficionado, when I looked at the package in my hand and saw a weird phrase. The phrase was so weird, I took a picture.

Here’s the picture:

Things They Forgot to Mention, blog, bacon

And a close-up of the phrase in case you missed it:

Things They Forgot to Mention, blog, bacon

Wait, what? Is this really something we do now? Have we come to a point where something treated humanely is special enough to write home? Where it’s the exception to the rule? I’m not that naive and am aware of the reality of the livestock industry, but something about this printed as a marketing point for everyone to see was tragic.

Here’s how I imagine the company meeting went to come up with product points:

Boss: “So, what makes this bacon stand-out?”
Employee: “It’s organic! Pesticides stink.”
Employee: “It’s gluten-free! No wheat additive in something that should have nothing to do with wheat additives in the first place.”
Employee: “It’s Canadian!! Canadians are really nice.”
Employee: “It’s humane! The animals are raised in a stress-free environment that promotes natural behavior and socialization.”
Boss: “Brilliant! Let’s include all of that in our message.”

It honestly says the stress-free, natural behavior statement verbatim on the package:

Things They Forgot to Mention, blog, bacon

The more I stared at that sentence, the weirder it became. What an odd sentence to have to write. It made me mad that it existed. It made me want to stop looking at packages and go blindly about my breakfast. But no, I looked at that package and spiraled from there.

I tried to guess the Department of Agriculture’s official definition of “humanely raised”. I pictured the task force assigned to come up with the definition. Those poor people, what a crappy task. I bet they used the following phrase a lot: “Nope, [legally-sanctioned activity X] wouldn’t be considered humane, so that’s out.”

I wondered what is allowed for those that don’t meet the “humanely raised” definition. What levels of stress and unnatural socialization are acceptable? What’s the line they’re allowed to cross? Why are they allowed to cross it?

Let me be clear: I don’t mean to belittle this particular bacon company. I mean to belittle the companies that couldn’t qualify for the “humanely raised” stamp. While I understand the effects of bacon mania on supply conditions for the livestock industry, it’s still weird to me that being humane is an elective.

I’ll have you know I cooked the bacon that morning and it was delicious. I added a little maple syrup, some cayenne pepper and *muah*! Just as the package promised, my breakfast was free of stress, full of natural behavior and somewhat reminiscent of Canada, as all things should be. Well, not necessarily the Canada part, but definitely all the rest.

 

Things they forgot to mention:

Always read your labels because if you don’t…being humane is apparently optional.

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