ecchi – a memorial

Last night, my beloved feline companion of 15 years, Ecchi, died. I want to tell her story now. The associated picture gallery is mostly in chronological order, and covers her entire life.

Ecchi was born sometime in 2002, most likely, though her adoption papers guess that she was born in 2001. If I had to guess, she probably spent some time in an attended feral colony, or in a house, before making her way to the Toronto Humane Society. (Later in my house, whenever I’d open a can, she’d come running…though I never fed her regularly from them. I always wondered why she thought there was food for her in a can.)

My ex and I went to the Humane Society and looked at the cats. She picked out “Toshiba” right away – it didn’t take me long to realize she had a way with matching cats to people. The Humane Society told me she was “about 2 years old,” which I suspect was a way for them to get out of their commitment to spay or neuter any under-1 year old cat for free. (grr! She took a few months to come into heat before I could actually get her spayed, which is why I think they were lying to me.)

I adopted her into her “forever home” on 20 May 2003. Picture 1 was taken that first night at home. Just to the right of her in that picture was a mattress against the wall. She used to chase paper balls being thrown at it up the mattress to grab them, then bring them back to me. She loved that game; she played it throughout her life (Picture 7) right up until earlier this year.

For the first year or so that I had her, I fed her a home-made BARF diet – bones and raw food. I went to some effort to mix up ground meat, taurine, and other supplements in a vet-approved fashion. She would try and sleep on my chest, which was adorable, but also gave me terrible nightmares and triggered apnea, so I had to stop her from sleeping on the bed with me. It took a few years before she learned she could sleep at the foot of the bed; this is the one thing I wish I’d done differently raising her. She was very cuddly and loyal during this time. She learned that she could get my attention, then lead me to what she wanted attention with – her litter box needing cleaning, food, water, opening the door, etc.

I wish I had a picture, but that house had a front door with a very tall screen door on it. It had no A/C so I’d leave it open during the day during the weekends. Sometimes, an outside cat would come by and Ecchi would get very defensive – and she’d end up climbing the screen, and getting stuck up there. I’d have to run and get her down. It cracked me up every time. Over time, she started climbing the door just because she could…and I had to stop leaving the door open.

We moved a couple of times before settling down in a large house on the west side of the city with 4-5 other people. Ecchi didn’t really like all the people; during those years, she spent a lot of time hiding out under furniture. Everyone loved her, but they knew you had to be careful petting her, lest you get a nasty scratch or a bite. The pictures I have from her from that time are few and far between, but she left a very good impression on everyone I lived with.

I moved into my house a couple of years later. Between all of my trips, I had to board her for a couple of weeks once. She went off to a “cat house” run by a sweet old lady and her staff on the north side of the city. (The owner died, and the house shut down a couple of years later.) Ecchi spent those two weeks in close companionship with 30+ other cats, and it changed her. She became more gentle, more sweet, like she’d been when I first adopted her. The staff didn’t want to let her go!

Not long after that, she started acting weak, and I had to take her into the vet. She was diagnosed with fatty liver disease, which required a tube to be placed into her stomach and for her to be force-fed for a short while. She stayed at the hospital for a week or so (Picture 2), and when she came home, she took another couple of weeks to get back to normal. I always got the sense that she knew we took care of her; she seemed grateful, or at the very least, happy to be in a comfortable and secure place with people who would cater to her every need. Once the cone came off, she loved lounging on the couch, especially during those long MST3K Marathon parties I used to throw (Pictures 3, 5, 16 & 17).

She loved spending time in the garden (Picture 4), eating grass (Picture 12) or sitting in round things (Picture 11). Her time there was always supervised. She even chased a squirrel up the crabapple tree once! (Picture 8) But without anyone to watch her during the day, I wouldn’t let her out, and she pined at the window. So the cat walk was built (version 1: Picture 6, version 2: Picture 22) between the living room and kitchen windows, which let her experience outside anytime she wanted. She spent many a sunny afternoon out there soaking up the sun and watching the squirrels run back and forth.

Eventually another cat came to live with me – Mu. They never got along amazingly, so the few pictures I have of them near each other are kind of rare (Pictures 13 and 14). They didn’t fight seriously – though they did inspire a song on my last album with their nightly wrestling – but they did seem to appreciate each other’s company. Ecchi was always the smart one, an extremely clever cat.

She was a constant companion. The same day I got my Canadian citizenship, she was hangin’ on the couch, waiting for me to get home (Picture 9). She’d hang out in the music studio (Picture 18) or next to your computer (Pictures 19, 20, 21) waiting to be scritched. When you went away and came back, she’d immediately perch herself on your bag or clothing (Picture 23) to make it clear you were Not To Do That Again Anytime Soon. She wasn’t especially a lap kitty; she preferred sitting or sleeping right next to you. She even enjoyed sleeping on your head in the winter in bed, which took some getting used to. In this way, I always saw Ecchi as faithful, yet not *dependent* on me (except for basic needs). When I adopted her, I needed that influence in my life; she taught me a very important lesson.

The last picture I have of her is from a month ago, October 2017 (Picture 24). She had started to lose weight and was a little dehydrated; she got to spend time on that pillow as a treat. Her weight went up and down, some days better than others. Then last night, after I came home from dinner, she’d pulled herself under the couch and was mewling unhappily. She seemed to have lost all function in her hind quarters. The 24/7 vet said it was probably a saddle thrombosis – like a stroke – combined with kidney and heart failure. It was time to let her go. The last time I cried that hard was when my (grand)mother died – something else that Ecchi helped me get through, shortly after she joined my life.

I’ll never forget Ecchi’s gentle licks – she’d lick a finger if you put it in front of her face, so you could use it to smooth down her fur that she couldn’t get to easily her self, mostly her neck and head. It was a sweet gesture, one that could be counted on to let you know that all was right in the world. It’s one of the special things about her that I’ll miss most.

She was loyal, gentle, and cautious. That’s how I’ll always remember her. Thank you for reading this and sharing in my memories of her.

i don’t hate you.

A friend recently told me he thought I was upset with him because I “defriended” him on Facebook. Remembering similar drama that came with LiveJournal’s friend system, I wanted to post this picture:

FB login screenshotI deactivated my Facebook account a few years ago. (I needed to cut down distractions in my life and focus on being productive; it’s not a slam on the service at all.)

About a year ago, much to my surprise, someone hacked back into that account from an iPhone somewhere in California and spammed the former list of “friends.” When that happened, I recovered my password, logged back in and filed a formal account deletion with Facebook. I then did the same with my old LiveJournal account.

So no, friends, I didn’t “defriend” you, don’t worry :)

the story of a cat

I keep forgetting to post this story from February 2009.

My friends and I were on a small trip to central Italy (Umbria). We were staying in a small villa in the middle of nowhere, by ourselves, and making day trips to various nearby towns to explore whatever they had to offer.

One bright day, we were wandering the sloped streets of Spoleto on a Saturday when we happened across a cute cat outside of an art/framing shop:

The cutest little cat...

She pranced back and forth, demanding attention. Each of us in turn gave her a scritch, which she accepted proudly before moving down the line to the next person.

During this action, we attracted the notice of the shop owner, who had been sorting his collection lazily. I looked up and noticed he was looking at us petting the kitty, realizing it was either his, or one he at least looked after regularly.

He put down his framed poster, smiled the largest smile I’d seen that trip (and there had been many!) and shouted two words through the panes of glass at us to our endless amusement:

“Prima donna!”

Prim Donna!Wish I had a better picture, but what a facial shape and markings! Good memories.

forever anonymous

Dragging myself to consciousness, I gasped for air. The images of  gravestones and memorials of the intellectual elite, festooned with working mainframe key punches and proofs of famous mathematical theorem in honour of their contributions to society, still lingered. I could still feel the dirt being shoveled on top of me prematurely, as I struggled to break free of my restraints. The bottoms of my lungs burned like the teenage mistake of inhaling deeply from a clove cigarette. Still, it burned less than the stinging sensation of my sub-conscious clawing through a thin layer of conceit I’d previously put up in my life to hide the twin holes of fear and shame.

What a terrible metaphor. I’ll start again.

Lately I’ve been working harder on my doctoral research, in the hopes that this may be my best chance to leave something of value behind in this world. I’ve chosen not to raise children, and judging from the superior job my friends J., D., N. and S. are doing with theirs, I made the right choice. I then look at my friends with some life calling they’ve dedicated themselves to since childhood, and wonder how different my life would have been if I only could have settled on one thing to do, rather than insisting on being a polymath.

Then I think of the reality: it’s a huge conceit to pretend that anyone will remember me at all 5 years after my death, let alone 500. The odds against that are so low that they’re unthinkable. But why the terror of it happening, if it’s so likely? And how does this square against my personal philosophy that it’s the ideas that count, not the people?

OK, so I’ll substitute idea for name, and the good feeling I would get from knowing I helped other people far into the future. It’s still a huge conceit to pretend that anyone will remember my ideas at all 5 years after I come up with them, let alone 500. So why fear the inevitable? And why put so much pressure on myself to achieve something that’s rare (and, most likely, out of my hands)?

Interestingly, I don’t fear death. I think I overcame that one many years ago when I struggled with some of the other demons in my life, and came out on top. Perhaps this is my chance to overcome this ridiculous idea as well. There was definitely a time at which I really bought into the idea that helping just one person was as good as helping a whole flotilla – and I’ve definitely helped at least one person in an immense way. What changed?

Now, after talking it out online, I’m fairly sure it was the dawning realization, though not quite ecological, that the resources I have burned (money, time and patience of those smarter than I, and yes, non-renewables like jet fuel and natural gas) are above the average. I also have been given a lot of unique and interesting opportunities, and gained a lot of special skills. It was then I decided that I had to do everything I could to put all of that good stuff back into the world, in as many ways as possible. Anything else is just conspicuous consumption. I owe it to everyone else to do as good as a job as I can to pay things back.

The thing is, my life is almost all about paying it back in one way or another. I’ve had my phases of acting spoiled, but after being forced (almost at knife-point) to volunteer my time in college, helping others has become a sort of addiction, perhaps even an unhealthy one. My job for many years now has nothing but helping other people get their jobs done more effectively. I teach, I learn (then re-teach what I learn), I research (and then teach what I find out), and I volunteer my time when I know full well I really should be taking it for myself. I helped keep a household of friends going when no others could really make ends meet. I’ve helped those in need find money for surgery, and given them the emotional strength necessary to pull through. It’s never felt like an obligation. But it’s never felt like it’s enough.

I treat that feeling of emptiness inside as telling me that I still have more work to do, more in me to give to others. Perhaps it is only a twisted redirection of guilt and shame, a hope at becoming immortal in some sense. But I don’t work hard only to see my name in lights (especially since it never happens), or predicate it only on the knowledge I’ll gain something out of it. It’s because I like doing a good job, because it does feel good to know I’ve accomplished something concrete, like presenting my first paper in several years at a conference. I’ll do it even if I’m ignored, or if someone else claims the credit for my work. (Unfortunately this sometimes makes me a poor businesswoman.) And, more importantly than anything else, I know that when I find I am doing something that causes harm to someone else, I change how I act. This is my own private version of walking softly; I have yet to figure out how to correctly carry a big stick, so I walk with my hands in my pockets instead.

And yet I still have dreams like this one tonight that wake me at 3:30 and prevent me from going back to sleep, and keep me writing uncontrollably. What am I missing? Am I acting reasonably? Should I be doing more? Less? Something different? I know I’m not the only person who has felt this way, but I also know my attention span is so poor right now that I can’t think of where to start researching to look at motivations of the great, the noble, the weak and those of the despicable monsters.I need a sanity check (and maybe a kick in the ass) so I can move forward. I refuse to sink into solipsistic musings, but a little introspection every now and again can’t hurt!

mr. looper^W cooper^W hooper

Portrait of Mr. Hooper, early Sesame Street character.Today, for the first time, I saw this Sesame Street clip in which the human cast explains to Big Bird that Mr. Hooper has died, and won’t be coming back. If you grew up on early Sesame Street, like I did, you may want to brace yourself for the footage’s emotional impact. A transcript is also available if you can’t view the video, or can’t bring yourself to watch it.

My long-time readers know that I’m a major proponent of the pedagogy behind and execution of the early works of the Children’s Television Sesame Workshop, and that one of my side projects helped push them into releasing some of the old content onto DVD. So why is this the first time that I’ve seen this clip? The truth is, when this first aired, I wasn’t allowed to watch it.

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thing-a-day 2008 over

Here’s a photo collage of the most photogenic things I made for this year’s thing-a-day. Edit: If you can’t view the video below, the original is here.

I’d recommend thing-a-day to anyone who is looking to push their comfort zone and prove to themselves that they can be creative, and can produce something a day. It was eye-opening for me.