SOME SCRATCHINGS ABOUT CATS (NANOWRIMO PRACTICE): Okay--timed myself for an hour tonight, actually went to about an hour and five minutes (or so) to bring things to whatever sort of logical conclusion I could muster. It's some nonsense about something somebody said to me a while ago about cats taking on the personalities of their owners, that may or may not be widely held folk wisdom or one person's little idiosyncratic opinion. More importantly--it's 1400 words in a little over a hour. My math suggests 50,000 words would take about forty hours at this pace. That's doing a couple pages on a work day at least, and then four or five more on the weekends, and that's only if your motivation holds out. Ugh. My poor pathetic stamina...
...still, it's a marathon, right? You gotta keep a steady pace without overextending yourself early on (<---- my completely imaginary perception of what running a marathon must be like.) Gotta practice forcing myself to write. Maybe slip some reading in too--I have a Charlie Stross book here, and something by Robert Charles Wilson, and my sister-in-law gave me some recent Michael Chabon. But writing is fundamental! Stupid practice scratchings below the fold. Wait--I don't have folds! But this is an actual 2001-era Blogger template, one of kind, very very valuable on ebay, and I refuse to change it. So--stupid scratchings follow.
“Cats take on the personalities of their owners,” she said, matter-of-factly. “It's just the way of this particular species-species interaction.”
Hogwash, he though. Bullcrap. She probably plays the lotto numbers on the back of her fortune cookie fortune too. “I see no evidence for that. Cats is cats. You're reading human behavior into theirs.” She's being—what was the word, he thought—anthropomorphic? Was that right?
“I've seen it too many times to ignore it,” she said. “I mean, look,” she said, gesturing, “ they're just dumb animals, right? No no—that's wrong. They're clever animals, but their desires are pedestrian. Food and the occasional warm body.”
“That's about it for them,” he reflected. As far as their human interactions went. “Maybe a nice bug to eat sometimes.”
“Or a nice mouse to deposit on your floor.”
“Or the occasional vomit on your rug.” Or the hardwood floor. He imagined his own floor with its persistent stains. Not all were cat-related, though, he decided.
“A bit of grass sometimes too, though that's mostly for the vomiting,” she said. “But basically the pie chart is, like, fifty percent food, forty percent companionship, and like ten percent other,” and she put air quotes around “other.” “That's ninety percent devoted to pretty base desires. And there's very little that could be considered high-minded in the remaining ten percent.” Curiosity killed the cat, she thought—the old cliché came to her as she talked on. “Exploration being perhaps the only thing that you could consider to be a noble or advanced activity.”
“You're being anthropomorphic again,” he said, glad he had remembered the word. Although nobility was not exactly a human trait either at this point, he told himself.
“I am not reading anything into cat behavior here,” she protested. “I'm just starting my argument. Cats are in the main motivated by very few desires.”
“They're not dissimilar to humans,” he said, thinking it clever, but not over clever.
“So you have these beings,” she continued, ignoring him, “organized around a tiny set of desires. A set of two desires a majority of the time. Their skillset in acting on these desires, however, is pretty robust. It's adaptable.” She paused, wondering where she was going with this. “That adaptability is key. A cat's personality is plastic. A cat's desires are not.”
“So the clearest path to food and companionship for the cat is to act like its master?” he said. “I'm not buying it.”
“It's not like a cat says to itself, hey, let me act like the tall creature that bring me food every morning—I'll stay on her good side that way,” she said. “But over time you slip into a routine with your cat. She knows your personality—she has to in order to get food out of you. Or to know when the right time it is to climb on your lap.”
“My cats never pick the right time,” he said. “It's always when I'm in the middle of something.”
“But they've figured you out,” she said. “They've picked up on your chaoticness and are giving it back to you.”
“I'm not chaotic,” he said, chagrined. “Hell—I'm probably high on the rankings of routine-bound dullards worldwide.”
“Steven, you're chaotic in the head,” she said, smirking. “The random shit you come up with.”
“Oh, and you're completely appropriate at all times?” he said. Helen from hell sometimes—that's what she could be.
“I'm not saying that,” she said, “but my inappropriateness is different from yours. It takes a different form.”
“Cats are different too,” he said. “Their quirks take on different forms too. One of my cats is noisy and friendly with strangers. The other is anti-social with everyone who isn't me.”
“Oh, there's still baseline cat personalities, don't get me wrong,” she said. “But they're still going to take on a lot of the stuff that's going on in the head of the person who's giving them the Nine Lives every day.”
“So why are my two cats so different?” he said. “They're opposed in temperament.”
“Two sides of yourself,” she said. “Look at my cats—Suzanne is quiet and stupid and George hides under the bed when there's a thunderstorm, but he's still great at escaping when I open the door.”
“So it's your stupid side and your side that wants to escape?”
“Something like that,” she said, drily. “Or my contemplative side and my restless side. Look, this isn't something you can exactly prove, all right? But I'm convinced it's there.” That it is there and that is helps me make sense of the world, she thought. A better life through cats. Cats as pets and cats as avatars, now that the technology existed to make the latter a reality.
“Let me get this,” he said as an old Sousa march interrupted them. “Wait—it's not a call. It's an alarm—we have to get to our arenas.”
Time already, she thought. “Okay,” she said. “Good to see you again. We should do in-person chat more often.”
“Absolutely,” he said. “But we should hurry, you know how expensive server space is these days.”
She nodded, though she thought he was exaggerating. Isn't that why the common house cat—felis catus itself—was picked for the first application of the Mammal Crossover technology? MaCro. Be Differently. That was their slogan, picking up on the echoes of previous slogans that had been passed on down the decades.
Helen stepped on into the rain, black boots clacking on the concrete as the tiny punctuations of the raindrops coalesced into a gentle buzz around her. “Umbreller, ma'am?” said an umbrella.
What the hell, she thought. I can afford the microtransaction. She coded her assent and it positioned itself directly above her head. It's only a few blocks though. Maybe it was a waste.
But I'm a big time cat crossover artist, she thought. Steven and I both. We're catbenders, as people liked to call them (though the union frowned upon such vulgarity.) People piloting cats.
It doesn't make us cats though, she thought as she walked. That's why my argument has some validity. A cat who is living with you is going to take on some of your traits—that's just the kind of animal it is. The only animal in human history to self-domesticate. A cat that has you running in the background of its own consciousness—that has a consciousness that can be supplanted at any second by one's own—that's not you at all. A catbender never became a cat. Science had proved it and philosophy had argued against it.
So I can still think what I want about my own cats. Suzanne and George—just a few more hours, guys. She hoped the storm did not turn too noisy. Hang in there, George, she thought, willing him some courage.
If George had the right receptacles in his brainpan I could wire him some courage, she thought. Or substitute my courage for his absence of bravado. But now I have to see what my assignment is tonight, she realized as she came up to the main window of the MaCro building. MaCro subarena VII.
“What's the word tonight?” she asked the window.
“KL-17,” it responded. “The arena is firefighting.”
“Okay,” she nodded. Perhaps it would be a quiet night. The rain would keep people in, and KL-17 would not need to be crawling into any spaces too small for a human firefighter. Maybe she'd—at worst—have to rescue a real cat from a tree.
KL-17 was real too, though, she realized. Just proscribed for a different sort of existence from the theoretical cat in the tree. One cat is a machine-thing; the other a protected form of life. Both were different kinds of chattel. Perhaps there was some truth to the teachings of the Felis Front, she thought. They who sought to bring intelligence to all cats, and thus equivalent moral standing with humans. But honestly I don't quite feel like dwelling on contradictions tonight, she told herself. My personal ones or my society's.
She hurried down to the arena entrance, hoping she wouldn't have to live in the cat's head all night.
7 hours ago