02 November 2009

A different theory

"Everything'll even out, see, I have two friends, you were up, he was down. Now he's up, you're down. You see how it all evens out for me?" - Jerry Seinfeld

There's sort of way in which things even out, revert back to a mean, or whatever you want to call it. It's sort of a recurring theme for people to make sense of underlying "change", or rather the moderate patterns of a daily life reflected in year after year of repeated actions, in the face of our more dramatic changes. They don't actually reflect dramatic change, but rather they just hit us in the face because they're like walking back to your car and discovering the volume on the car radio is really and uncomfortably high. Even though that's where you left it when you got out, the sudden shocks wake you up to the sensations of the daily rolls and pitch changes that you weren't likely to notice before.

I came to a realization sometime ago thanks to a dream (I have way too many weird insights to dream about apparently, they go along brilliantly with the various war dream plots or random alien-cowboy encounters) that I discovered something like "people don't change". Only the specifics of that plot of life we have do. Sometimes those circumstances give us something, a break, where we can do more than before. Where we were the "right person in the right place" sort of moments. You can say some of those are created by who we were before as well (effort creating luck). But the person doesn't change because they succeeded or failed to in that moment. If anything they're just amplified and put out for others to examine critically, from the positions off stage slightly in the audience where their criticisms matter not at all. Someone like me "changes" in the fact that I have roles I play in life. Interacting with people feels like acting more than anything else. But it doesn't represent "change" because the underlying behaviors are always the same. There's an order brought about by a demand for rationality, a voracious appetite for questions and answers, and a distance forged between people that remains unbridgeable.

Probably for good reasons. Maybe just because people are a different kind of question for me than the ones I can find answers to. And if there's one skill I know I have, it's to stray away from doing the things I know I can't do. There's a laundry list of these, from the practical/creative: drawing, singing, playing music, dancing, shopping for clothes/fashion, skating on ice, riding a bike (I ran everywhere as a kid) to the more important things. Listening in a concerned fashion to others, sharing stories, holding a "conversation" rather than being a source of the occasional wise/foolish remark while others carry on a conversation of give and take, acting or commenting upon subtle clues that I KNOW are happening in my interpersonal affairs. And figuring out people or understanding what their wants are seems to be one of these. I know I have simple tastes and wants. They're usually rational, with a few exceptions like my following of baseball or basketball (both of themselves which tend to be far more statistical and occasionally trend toward artistic appreciations like wandering into the Louvre to gaze at the beauty and majesty of some classic work of art rather than the sort of consumed fandom of others). Wants can be exceeded or improved upon, maybe even added to at times. What I don't do is figure out other people's wants very easily without their input and assistance. I don't follow along with their stories because I'm almost never a part of those stories. Without those stories, it's a lot harder to figure these things out. So I don't try. Actually there's probably a healthy reason for why. But I'm not interested in getting into that one.

Instead I have a story for once.

I had discovered that the one part of humanity I liked wasn't really that likable. That is to say, human beings aren't that good at demonstrating care or concern. We're more like a species of mutual indifference. Tolerance seems more like a hallmark (which is, in and of itself, a nice worthy accomplishment in nature to have. But it's nothing compared to what it could be). We have our moments, and they're powerful. I'd like to hope they'd be more inspiring. I wrote about one of them a few weeks ago (the post 9-11 days). That's not the average, revert back to mean sort of behavior I've seen and come to expect from human beings.

But animals, or in particular human pets, don't seem to have this problem. They're very much a "what you put in, comes back out" function. Human beings don't work that way. What you put in, sometimes comes back as garbage. Or maybe we're just not as good at expressing what we mean when we mean to say it. If on the other hand, you treat a dog well, it shows. If you treat it like crap, it shows. More on this later. I started out with a much simpler animal than a dog. Cats. They're still sort of half-breeds with some wilderness tendencies compared to dogs (which have a lot longer on the "man's best friend" chart owing to their utility as hunting animals to early human beings). So cats are a bit unpredictable, but their needs are actually really simple. Feed them, give them some water, make sure they get some shots, keep their latrines clean. You can actually go even simpler and just have an "outdoor cat", but I'm not built that way. And neither are apartment complexes. You don't really need to do much of anything else. There's no walks, no parks, no begging for treats or scraps (at least, cats are not as good at it as dogs in my experience, comes off as more like whining than begging). There's almost never a reason to be angry with one either in the way that a dog might chew up someone's shoes or dig into some dinner dish that you thought was safe from their interference. Usually if the cat "misbehaves" it's because you're not doing one of those basic needs requirements, making it your fault in the first place. It's a really even keeled relationship with a pet, with a bit fewer responsibilities than those required of a dog. They're also usually lazier than dogs (though they have moments like humans do here as well). Or at least, they're more consistently lazy even before they start taking on human owner characteristics (a dog with lazy owners for example). Which appeals to me considerably. Much as I miss the former dog, for he was a bundle of energy and I took considerable joy in his spring like hopping and running abilities, and that he killed a groundhog once, that little terrier was a major handful as well. He basically couldn't be left alone or he would find ways to make trouble that you hadn't thought possible. A cat pretty much requires you to leave them alone unless they want attention by contrast. Again, a perfect consideration for someone like me who has a hard time noticing and acting on these things from humans.

So. With all these considerations in mind, I have had two cats for a long time now. One of them got increasingly worse off over the past few months and finally I had run into option 1) try hero doctor methods with escalating bills and decreasing amounts of success to keep her alive for a few months or option 2) euthanize her now because there wasn't enough there to save where she would have a quality pet life remaining. Anybody who knows me even a little bit knows that I never even took option 1 seriously. Once the body reaches a certain point, there isn't really any going back, it's broken and unless it heals on its own to show some signs of support and recovery, it's a lost cause. She was getting worse, not better. Had I been more attentive 6 months ago, from the images I was seeing on x-rays and such, I might have had another year of life for an otherwise healthy cat that had bad lungs as she was getting older. Instead she had basically failed lungs and died in an oxygen cage as she was gasping for air even there. She was, relative to that state, pretty much okay two days ago. I was watching game 3 of the World Series on Saturday night and she was resting, as usual, on my lap. Breathing a bit harder or more rapidly than she should have been normally (and no different than earlier in the week), but certainly not struggling for every molecule of oxygen. By Sunday morning she wasn't getting any air at all. The sight of her sitting uncomfortably in a cage of oxygen was pretty much all the confirmation I needed to know that there wasn't any going back. I can spare the grisly details of the actual death. Except to say that's quick and painless by comparison.

I didn't say it would be a nice story. I don't have many of those anyway to recall to other people. Even when I think it's a nice story, it's probably not. I don't think the same way about evaluating stories before I share them. Nice stories to me are like the Stalin story about meeting his mother after ordering the execution of his census bureau. Because it tells me something about human nature, even if it is the horrible parts that are the exact opposite of "a nice story". But for the purposes of this story in particular, this was the same cat that would bat at the mouse light from my optical mouse. She wasn't exactly a genius cat (my other cat would bat the mouse itself when I tried this for example, she's the smart one. As I learn from people, the smart ones are the ones we need to watch. The dumb ones will make you watch them whether you want to or not. She wasn't the "dumb cat", but she wasn't the "smart one" is all I'm saying). She wasn't ever a "hunting" cat. In fact, she wasn't very active at all, preferring the comfortable edge or top of a reclining chair or a human lap at any angle imaginable, and some that one would never imagine at all were possible. Probably the most active I recall her being were moments where 1) my other cat had gotten herself into some trouble, such as wandering out on the neighbour's balcony by using the gutter and deciding to take a nap over there or 2) when nobody was home for prolonged periods at the old apartment (before I got a dog) and she would demand attention from the entering people as they hauled themselves in from the day by mewing insistently until being picked up. Most cats are uncomfortable being picked up and handled at all, or at best for more than a few seconds. This one was so pliable that you could hold her in any position you wanted and she seemed indifferent. I suppose in a way that was a great weakness in that she was so indifferent to her condition that she could make herself seem perfectly normal. When obviously, in retrospect of course these things are more obvious, she wasn't.

In any case, the entire episode provided me with yet one more example of the dramatic difference I find between human beings and our animals. Right as I had to make the call on whether to put my cat down or not (which, as I said earlier, wasn't really a choice at all. I could refer people to my complicated moral logic on chained events capturing decisions down to binary no-win scenarios, but I won't), there was a man who came into the clinic wanting to have a dog put down because of its temperament. This dog had sort of shaggy, unkempt look to it as I passed by on my way through the lobby. But it was quite happy to receive a brief rub on the head as I passed by as well. For some reason, perhaps since I had a rambunctious dog once, it has not occurred to me that a dog will try to attack me. Or that the thought would occur to a dog. I pretty much just pet them without concern for my safety. That didn't appear to be the case here either. I passed by, sat down, and received the news that this dog wasn't here because it was sick. But because the owner wanted to kill it (or rather, wanted someone else to do it because he probably didn't want to get his hands dirty even having to take care of this much of the dog's situation). To their credit, the receptionists/nurses refused on the grounds that that sort of euthanasia decision is made by their regular vet. And not as a whimsical, wander into the ER vet clinic door on a Sunday evening type decision.

It was to me yet another example that people are usually not worth it. I may be a calculating, uncaring person, and sometimes wacky proponent of intellectualized theories, and generally lovable only on the quirky side of humanity rather than out of some genuine concern for my future affairs and well-being (and in part because I keep it that way) but I at least know how to take care of a dog or a cat in a way that they "deserve". I guess in the long run this sort of thing balances out. I mean, we do at least have vet clinics who were open on a Sunday evening to give a cat, of all creatures, a final last gasp of air. Maybe human beings aren't so bad after all. We're just too bored most of the time to act like we give a shit.

I do for once have a photo here, but obviously it's not mine since I don't use cameras. Photography was never my interest either. It's gotten worse as the cameras became more "complex". The hiding attribute captured here wasn't exactly common behavior. The attention to the person behind the camera is. It's only missing a silent mew really.

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