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On Jasper: Living with eccentricity

My cat is a lunatic.

He sleeps in the bathroom sink and likes to play in the shower. Given the chance, he would almost certainly never stop eating. He’d do brilliantly on Cat Tinder; he has absolutely perfected his winsome look. Favourite activities include lounging for hours like a gentleman of leisure until some unknown force causes him to suddenly sprint around the house, chased by an imaginary firecracker, leaving a trail of plants and destruction in his wake. Mornings begin with a cacophony of miaows as he licks and nibbles my face like it’s a tasty snack. And last night we went to sleep with his head lying on my chest as he kneaded my armpit intently.

He is a proper little weirdo.

I say this with pride because it struck me the other day with the force of a thousand blows: unlike me, my cat is completely comfortable with his eccentricity.

He doesn’t second-guess himself. No matter how many times I tell him off for upending the rubbish bin, it continues to happen again and again. He’ll happily saunter along the balcony ledge of my 13th floor flat, heedless of the potentially perilous fall that would result from a single misstep. When the front door opens and he makes a break for freedom, it is with utter insouciance that he returns a few minutes later. A definite strut. I’m back, ladies. 

Now you may feel something is very, very wrong if I have reached the point where I’m taking life lessons from a cat. And I wouldn’t argue with you. It’s unconventional, to say the least. But maybe that’s the point? Maybe a few breaks with convention are important. Or maybe I’m just having too much fun playing up to the crazy cat lady stereotype. Either way, please believe me: there’s something instructive in here somewhere. Really. 

1) He takes up his space:

An interesting TED talk about power posing was once recommended to me when I was about to assume a leadership role. The premise of the whole thing is that, by taking up more physical space, you not only imbue yourself with more confidence but send a subconscious message to others that you are not to be messed with. This very notion made me aware of body language in a way I hadn’t been before and of the implicit link that exists between confidence and a willingness to take up space.

While I can’t exactly term my cat’s propensity for lying spread-eagled on the table washing himself power posing, I have to concede that what he lacks in dignity he makes up for in sheer effectiveness. He wants to lie in the centre of the bed, he finds a way to lie in the centre of the bed. Even when I move him ten times, that bed is his. 

2) He knows he’s really, really good looking:

Now I won’t claim that my cat is the prettiest you’ve ever seen (though of course I am completely biased and believe he is). But my god, is he a poser. Sometimes when he wants attention he will roll around on the floor, looking up with huge, imploring, Puss-in-Boots eyes, and you know that he knows that he’s got you right where he wants you.

Compare this with me waking up on oh-so-many mornings knowing without a shadow of a doubt that I resemble nothing so much as a swamp creature. Or coming home at 5am, mascara rubbed under my eyes, bleary, tired and hazy. And realising that this is how I looked for the last two hours of whatever party/dinner/gathering I have just returned from. And feeling whatever sense of beauty or charm I ever had vanish as the dawn breaks, along with all my broken dreams.

3) He goes after what he wants:

I’ve had situations where I’ve had to be talked into formally applying for jobs I was already doing because I didn’t feel I was good enough. I once got locked out of a friend’s flat in Paris and sat downstairs in the lobby of her building for five hours waiting for someone to wake up and let me inside.

He refuses to be deterred by anything so trivial as personal ownership, the laws of physics or the fact that he is a cat.

I’ve witnessed him try to drink my beer, attempt to play football with and then eat a bowl of (unopened) pistachios, make an effort to open doors, succeed in switching on the gas in a friend’s house (multiple times) and insist on sitting at the table with groups of people while we eat.

I’ve even walked into the kitchen on one occasion to find he had somehow managed to break into the highest cupboard to extract and eat through, an unopened plastic container full of treats.

You see why I’m looking to my cat for life advice?

4) He feels no shame about saying no:

If he doesn’t want to sit and cuddle you, he won’t cuddle you. If you feel rejected, that’s your problem. He’s too busy pretending to climb Everest (the cupboard above the fridge) to pay any attention to you and your needy whims. He’ll display spectacular athletic prowess wriggling out of your arms if he has to. And then hurl an accusing miaow your way. 

Meanwhile, the voice of a friend echoes in my head: “Well, you don’t exactly ghost, Lucy. But let’s face it; you’re not exactly clear either. In fact, you’re somewhere in between the living and the dead”.

Point taken.

5) He is ready to demand love, all the time:

Whether it’s wandering across my computer keyboard when I’m working or literally refusing to be put down when I pick him up in the morning when he wants love he wants love.

I had never seen a cat scramble to put his paws around a person’s neck before I met this cat, but believe me – this is a thing that happens. You will give him his love, or you will face the consequences.

6) He enjoys what he enjoys – and screw you if you think it’s stupid:

My cat has an entire drawer full of toys, but his favourite thing to play with is the plastic seal of a water bottle. He will chase that damn thing for hours.

I dread to think what his taste in music would be if he were human but whatever it is, it’s safe to say he would be playing it at top volume.

7) When life gets too hard, he’ll just go and hide under the bed:

I mean, why is this not socially acceptable for humans too? I’d prefer to hide in a bed rather than under one, but I won’t quibble about technicalities.

8) He likes to inject a few surprises into the day, just to keep things interesting:

Things would simply get boring if you didn’t have a cat regularly waiting for you to leave your bedroom so he could pounce on you from behind a door and then run off into the night, leaving you to still your racing heart and watch your life flash before your eyes.

9) He isn’t afraid of turning into a grumpy old man:

So often I have visions of my future grumpy old woman self. She lives beside and inside me. When I’m trying to work in a café and the music is too loud or the air conditioning too high. When I go shopping and have to say 10 times ‘thank you, but I really don’t need a different plastic bag for each item I am purchasing.’ When I interact with anyone and feel they are unnecessarily rude (and feel an overwhelming desire to call them out on it).

But I hesitate to give voice to each and every one of these grumpy old woman traits. I know we’ve reached the stage where I both own and write articles about a cat, but I still consider myself a few years away from being the old woman who wears purple, has trained a whole cat army to do her bidding and beats up would-be attackers with her walking stick (though this is totally the kind of old woman I intend to become).

My cat, however, at just over a year old, has embraced his inner grumpy old man with commendable relish.

Wake him up unexpectedly? Grumpy old man.

Oscillating fan blows a gentle breeze over him in 35° Egyptian summer heat? Grumpy old man.

Don’t feed him when he wants to be fed? Grumpy old man.

Shut him out of a room (even one he has repeatedly asked to be let out of)? Grumpy old man.

He’s making it work for him, and you have to admire that really.

10) He sees any situation as an opportunity to play:

Clothes have been destroyed; towels, legs, loo rolls ripped to shreds; glasses are broken on a regular basis. He isn’t an anarchist but somehow I’d almost be more comfortable if he were.

I do have a secret desire to just throw him into completely inappropriate situations and watch him do his worst. He’s going to destroy my long, flowing dress? Let’s send him off to the royal wedding. He insists on interrupting every conversation I have? Let’s see what Trump makes of him in his negotiations with North Korea or the G7 Summit. Next time Gwyneth Paltrow makes a sanctimonious speech about anything, I’m letting him loose.

You get the idea.

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I really think I’m onto something with these life lessons. Far too often, we as humans allow social norms and insecurities frequently borne of false premises to inhibit our experience and block out our sense of what we really want. Maybe things really don’t have to be this complicated.

Then again it could be that I just spend too much time with my cat, and should really get out more.

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