Monday, August 24, 2009

The Amazing Teaching Cat!

Amazing Flying Cat

I learn new things all the time. I like the process of venturing into areas I haven't explored yet. Recently I've discovered that there are actually some history writers that take the trouble to make their subject interesting and even exciting. I wonder why we were never introduced to any of those writers during my school days. Public school history textbooks are as dry as noon on a summer day in Death Valley. They were, and I'm sure still are, dead, lifeless renderings of some of the most exciting events that ever occurred. It must have taken special talent to turn the Revolutionary War into just a series of battles, dates and places. The history textbook writers must have a special school they attend to teach them to remove everything interesting about history. On the other hand, there are historians who write about the people and what they did and why then did it in such a way as to bring a whole era back to life. I regret that I didn't discover this earlier in my life, but I am glad to have the opportunity to experience it now.

I'm learning a lot from Quint, too. He's helping me discover how much fun it is just to play. Each evening when Carol and I and Quint gather in the kitchen after dinner, we all get to change gears from whatever we were doing during the day and downshift into the simply joy of playing with each other. I didn't do very much of that sort of thing when I was a kid. I was kind of a loner, not from choice, just from circumstance. My family moved around quite a lot when I was young, from the city of Chicago to the suburb of Morton Grove to Peoria and then to East Peoria and then back to Peoria where we stayed from my junior high years until after high school. After that we moved to Idaho Springs, Colorado and shortly after that, I left home and lived on my own, mostly, until I met my wife, Carol. What with all that moving around, I didn't get a chance to develop any lasting friendships. I was always the new kid. Being the new kid sucks, or at least it did for me. You move into a neighborhood where all these kids have been hanging around together for years and you just don't have a common frame of reference to understand each other. The new kid doesn't get the inside jokes, doesn't remember the big snowstorm, and wasn't in Mrs. Brown's class last year. When I married Carol, her two boys where already five and seven years old, they already had a dad, and they would spend weekends with him fishing and all that other stuff that dads do with their kids. So, I didn't get to do much playing with my step kids.

It's not that I didn't want to play, it's just that once you're an adult there is all that making a living and keeping the cars running and working on the yard and all manner of stuff which keeps you very, very busy. And, so, finally I have arrived at a place where there is mostly just Carol and I and Quint. Oh, we have a group of friends who we like to get together with about once a month, but the rest of the time, it's just the three of us, mostly. And we play together in the evenings after dinner. We don't always feel like it at the start, but after awhile Quint is jumping around and running back and forth and Carol and I are laughing and laughing and all the nonsense of the day becomes insignificant and there are a few minutes right then when we just have fun. I'm grateful to Quint for teaching me how to properly play and laugh and enjoy a moment or two each day. Thanks, Buddy.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Listening, Learning and Creativity

Waiting for the Mouse to Move

Quint almost always has something to say. When he makes his soft trilling sound, it means he has a question or needs help with something. Usually, it means that he has batted his little toy mouse under the closet door and needs help getting it out. Sometimes, it means that it's time to brush his teeth and groom his fur. When combined with him standing up on his hind legs, reaching up with a paw, grabbing my arm and pulling, it means he needs something right now. He's very bright. He knows that there are some things he just can't do by himself, so he asks for help.

There's a lesson to be learned from this, especially for me. I usually try to be mostly self-sufficient. This is a good thing when you're trying to get stuff done around the house, or trying to fix your broken car along the highway somewhere. It's important, though, to realize that sometimes you need help getting to where you want to go. Some things require more knowledge and expertise that any one person can have. This is true for artists in particular, I think. Artist are good at creating art. They are also good at thinking up ways to create art. They are good at learning techniques that help them create art. They are, very often, not so good at sales, promotion, public relations, organization, and networking -- those skills that would enable to artist to actually earn money from his/her art. The business of art is, seemingly, an entirely different field than the creation of art. An artist creates something and, at that point, considers his/her job done. He/she has created a communication, has said what he/she intended to say, but unless that communication reaches its intended audience, it isn't really a communication at all. It's just a potential communication, an impulse outward with no destination. Somehow that piece of art needs to reach an audience to accomplish its creator's purpose, and therein lies the problem. The solution seems to be to enlist the help of people who are good at that sort of thing.

There is this problem of finance. The artist would like to be paid for his work, usually. So, would the sales, promotion and PR people. For the artist to get paid, the work must have value to its audience, must reach that audience, and then there must be a way for the audience to reach back to the artist with appreciation in the form of money so that the artist can continue to live and produce more art. Reaching the audience and making that return flow possible is the hard part of creating art. At least, it is for me, and that's where I need help. The problem of finance is funding the promotion of the art before there is any income with which to pay the promoters. And so it comes back to the original problem. I'm good at creating art. I'm terrible at selling it. Just like Quint and his games, I'm great a doing things, I'm just not so good at opening doors.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Differences and Similarities.

Anytime, Anywhere, Naps Are Good

As Carol and I were driving toward the high desert of California yesterday, I heard an announcement of a running and walking event which was called something like Paws for the Cause. The sponsors were asking that people bring their dogs on this walk/run, pay the entry fees and support the cause. I don't recall which cause it was. That got me thinking about my not being able to bring my cat to the event, and those thoughts led to my thinking again about the differences between cats and dogs, which got me thinking about their similarities as well. Wild dogs and wild cats don't necessarily conform to my list of characteristics, though some of these traits seem to be hard-wired into each species.


Love to play.
Are attached to their human companions.
Can be trained.
Use their mouth as a "hand."
Can communicate some basic concepts to their human companions.
Will play by themselves, though cats are better at it.
Will peacefully interact with close same-species family members.


Dogs are pack hunters.
Most cats are solitary hunters. Lions are the exception.
Cats can hold and lift things with a single paw, dogs cannot.
Normally, cats will not overeat. They will leave food in their bowls to be consumed later.
Dogs will eat everything in their bowls and then look for more.
Dogs dig holes (dens), cats do not.
Dogs like to live in dens/caves.
Cats normally only go into caves when they are afraid or very sick.
Most dogs are social animals, most cats are not.
Dogs are much more easily trained than cats.
Cats are sprinters, dogs are runners.
Cats can climb.
Cats use a litterbox.

Of course there's more to this than just the above lists. Early-in-life conditions and relationships play an enormous role in later adult behavior. If Quint had never been adopted by humans, he would have grown up with a much different personality. If we hadn't started playing with him early on, he'd probably be less of a social being then he is. I don't think that cats are more intelligent than dogs, though that sometimes seems to be true. I think, to some degree, it depends upon what we expect of our dog and cat companions. Stereotypes play a role, I'm sure, as in "dumb dogs", and "sneaky cats." If a dog-owner has a basic distrust of strangers and an aversion to trespassers, his/her dog will probably reflect that attitude. Thus you have the overly guardy and aggressive dog. On the other hand, a warm, open, friendly dog-owner usually has a dog that behaves similarly. I know cats that are very distrustful of strangers and will run from anyone but their own people. I have even met a couple of cats that are very aggressive in defense of their territory. I think cats are inherently wary of strangers and of anything new, but, at the same time, they have an insatiable curiosity that drives them to explore, in spite of the possible danger. This internal conflict makes the cat a cautious, but persistent explorer. Most dogs, I think, are rather fearless when it comes to new things and strangers and will just rush on in to see what's going on. Seemingly, dogs can be trained to do almost anything. They make great companions and helpers for people with physical limitations. Cats are not so easily trained. I've never heard of a cat that will go to the kitchen, open the refrigerator door and fetch you a beer. A dog will do that. I've never heard of a guide-cat, whereas dogs make wonderful guides for the visually impaired. Cats don't seem to be bored to the degree that dogs do. A bored cat will just lay down and take a nap. A bored dog has a tendency to chew on things. You can usually leave your cat at home alone with a minimum amount of care. If they have food and water and a couple of cat toys they seem to do alright. Cats enjoy having their humans companions around, but they don't seem to need their humans quite as much as dogs do. I think dogs are more dependent on their humans than cats are for their entertainment and social needs.

And yet, I love my cat. He fits the way I live. If I get home late, the house is still in much the same condition that it was when I left it. In the middle part of the day, Quint naps while I work. In the evening, he wants to play and so do I. When Carol is home he plays with her, when I'm home he plays with me. When we are both home we all play together, or nap together, or he sits on Carol's desk near her hand and then comes in a visits me for awhile. He's perfect.

So, I guess the reason my cat and I don't get to go on the 5K Fun Run is a reflection of the fundamental differences between the two species. I suppose it's a lot more fun to run with a animal that runs right alongside of you, rather than have to carry your animal in a large plastic box as if it were luggage. Still, I might try it sometime. I'll be the one showing up at the 5K Run/Walk with Quint in his carrier.