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On Brevity

May 8, 2015

What I Write About When I Write About Writing Programs

April 18, 2015

Lately, friends and lovers, a bevy (I don’t know how many that is but for the purposes of this sentence let’s say it’s three) of my Facebook friends (“friends”) have posted links to articles in praise/derision/deprairision of MFA programs. Q. Bigdealius Maximus, professor in perpetuo at Cambroxford-on-Wealthshire-upon-Thames University, proclaims in smooth academic prose and somehow without using a single expletive that they’re a masturbatory (he doesn’t even use “masturbatory,” he’s that classy) waste of time on top of heralding the demise of literature as we know it, whereas Suchity Such who’s published 47 best-selling poetry collections and lives in a house that she bought for herself with money avows & avers that she “would definitely still be a part-time buffer at Toenail World” if it weren’t for her Berkeley MFA. And on and on.

I’ve always had strong feelings about writing programs and courses, many of them ambivalent if not downright hostile, and now that I’m about to start an MFA I feel implicated when I see these articles. Each one comes across as a throwdown challenge, like, Okay, now justify your shit, beotch. Despite having obviously applied to an MFA program, and having responded with a hearty FUCK YES I’LL COME TO THE U TO THE B TO THE MUTHAFUCKIN’ C AND TRANSLATE OLD GREEK SHIT INTO NEW ENGLISH SHIT HELLLL YEEEEEAAHH within twenty-six seconds of reading my acceptance e-mail, I’m still uncomfortably straddled on the ethical fence about the idea of paying tuition to get a diploma in a skill that I believe I was born with and have been developing mostly on my own since then. I don’t believe any form of creativity can be taught, or at least not in the way other things are taught, where one person who knows the things stands at the front of the room and tells them to the others and the others write the things down and memorize them for the test and use them in subsequent semesters as a foundation upon which to build their knowledge of further things. I learn writing by reading, I learn writing by writing, I learn writing by rereading my old writing and wanting to kill myself articulating to myself what does and doesn’t suck about it and either editing it or lighting it on fire. I assume/hope all writers would say that. Yet, provided I force myself to succumb to the idiocy of writing a cover letter by April 30, my application for a TA position will get in on time and I’ll end up standing or sitting in some place with desks, imparting the things (oh god, what are the things??) to students, or as university admin people now consider them and implicitly require instructors to treat them, “paying customers.”

And that’s another thing I’m hostile about: basically all the stuff that’s going on in universities right now. Out-of-control short-sighted hypercapitalist garbage is one reason why I left my PhD. Retiring professors are not being replaced, new staff are not being hired, nobody can rise in the ranks to anything, and the vast majority of the real work is being done by sessionals working for peanuts and grad students working for peanut shells. Any program that the government or whoever decides won’t necessarily immediately lead to a job in that field–i.e., in today’s cash-worshipping world, any program that isn’t related to business or finance–is considered expendable and meaningless; humanities and arts departments are subjected to cut after cut or eradicated altogether. Meanwhile management and admin staff and marketing motherfuckers and businessdouchebags are riding the Gravy Train.

Humanities Sessional Instructor: Perhaps I could please have a few drops of gravy with my peanuts?
University: NO YOU CANNOT. You will teach eight classes this year. We will pay you $12,000. You will be unemployed from May through August. You will reapply for this same terrible job in May, and in late August we’ll let you know if you’ll be rehired. P.S. Don’t forget, you must write many unnecessary articles and present at many conferences in your free time. P.P.S. Remember, you went to university for 15 years, all along receiving scholarships and assistantships and positive feedback from tenured professors, to achieve your PhD. You’ve put your entire adult life into this! It’s your identity! You are so successful on paper! And you’re 36 years old, so it’s not like you could start another career! [Giggles like Floki from Vikings]
Humanities Sessional Instructor: Okay, no problem. Sorry to bother you.

Fuck it all, I say. Except now I can’t just sit back in my brown armchair spouting the eff word, because I’m going to be participating in this BS. I’m going to be one of the peanut shell people: again! A grad student on a golden escalator to nowhere: again! Simultaneously a customer paying out the ass for a broken and, according to the people who run my country and province, valueless product, and a bottom-tier employee serving other customers. A perpetuator of the pyramid scheme.

At a gut level I am certain that, conceptually, writing programs and courses are BS. I mean, if you get in, you’re probably already pretty okay at writing. So what the hell are we going to be doing in our classes, if not being taught how to write? Workshopping, is a big part of the answer. This lame-looking verbed noun (the awful terminology writers insist on undermining their own professional legitimacy with will be the subject of my next post) foreshadows the often precious and superficial nature of the activity. It creates a mental image of a retired person spending his/her Tuesday afternoon sipping lemonade and tinkering around with a broken toaster in the shed out back, and that impression is pretty much not inaccurate. Workshopping is a “too many cooks” situation that can and often does result in the watering-down of literary voices: no writer is immune to insecurity, and what student isn’t intent on pleasing and impressing the (biased, blind-spotted, flawed, human) professor at the head of the table who hands out the grades? Occasionally–and I mean very very fucking occasionally, like every bit as occasionally as you fall in real love with someone–you meet one of your fated first readers in a writing class. (Will this happen to me? Is there a classmate I’ve been waiting all my life for, or is s/he waiting for me? Only the gods know.) Slightly more often, a comment made during a workshopping class is actually helpful to the writer’s work: a deleted comma or a changed word or a different title can change a poem. I’ve been on the receiving end of such feedback a handful of times in my life. But it’s not like that happens every day or even every month.

So, what, I’m paying $10,000 for a small handful of punctuation changes and line break suggestions, and a chance to give them to others? No, that can’t be right.

People on both sides of the “Should MFAs exist” issue point out that in many countries, having an MFA is becoming increasingly necessary in terms of being published and gaining credibility. That is definitely true. I haven’t even started my program yet and already certain people have started sniffing around me in ways they wouldn’t have pre-February. And I know that beginning in September I’m going to be handed opportunity after opportunity that never would have come within a 683-km radius of me otherwise. I know that having this degree is going to lead to fewer rejections by journals and more serious consideration from publishers who receive my manuscript of old Greek shit translated into new English shit. This feels unwarranted, unfair, and uncomfortable.

But then, how much of the abovedescribed credential worship really pertains to MFAs specifically and how much of it is just features of the critical-thoughtless world of today? It’s not only in the arts that you now suddenly need expensive dumb-assed credentials to get anywhere. You need a diploma/certificate/degree/whatever for every job on the planet these days. For effity sake, I had to go to school for a(nother) fucking year to get a certificate in order to be eligible to apply for $25,000/year (not exaggerating) jobs teaching ESL, and every school I’ve applied to teach at has cared more about that certificate than about any other aspect of my education–as though my ability to teach grammar is a result of the grammar course I took in that program and not the ten years I spent learning and teaching the languages that English came from. The world is just one big uninspired lazy HR department. Of course it’s almost always BS for anyone to give a crap who has an MFA and who doesn’t, and of course a writer’s writing should speak for itself, but here we are in the actual world and we all have to find an acceptable path through it. What are writers supposed to do? Not write, out of spite? The moral high ground is BS too.

What finally made me stop feeling guilty/annoyed at myself about applying to UBC in the first place and being, uh, not unstoked when I got in was realizing that writing is my means of connecting with people and every writing course I’ve taken has provided opportunities for many kinds of connection, regardless of how helpful or educational it was in itself. Writing is often characterized as a lonely or solitary activity (some malcontent with uncombed hair scribbling on a sheet of paper, a single light bulb in his 5′ x 3′ kitchen hanging dejectedly over his head), but the actual point of it–unless you’re as gangsta as Salinger, just sitting alone in your house atop a tall hill of manuscripts you aren’t interested in letting anyone else see–is communication. For me, writing classes take the aloneness out of writing, and when I look at them that way, rather than as “once again paying someone to teach me how to write poems” or “paying for hour after mostly pointless hour of workshopping [cinnamon cocks, I despise that word]” or “paying to have my work taken seriously,” I feel much less like punching the universe in the balls. For a person with, uh, not uncrippling social anxiety, meeting people in the usual ways (e.g., leaving the house, being in places that other people are in, talking to some of them) is not a viable option. I just can’t make myself do it. Two years in an MFA program, irrespective of its conceptual/actual weaknesses and limitations, will lead to friendships and professional connections that I definitely couldn’t have forged on my own. Depriving myself of a crap ton of chances to meet and connect with likeminded people–plus be introduced to books and poems that I need to meet and haven’t yet, one of the main perks of hanging out with writers–would be a much stupider decision than doing an MFA could possibly prove to be. And if my voice is anything but stronger and more distinctive when I come out of it, that’s my own fault.

This Year, Sports Fans

February 9, 2015

I’m supposed to be working, so of course that’s what I isn’t doing. Fuck it, it’s a holiday.

First of all, before I forget, I want to say everyone buy this: http://www.amazon.ca/gp/product/0871409399?psc=1&redirect=true&ref_=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00. Dorothea fuckin’ Lasky is the number one poet of my life. You can’t really go wrong with someone whose middle name is “fuckin’.” I believe her poems should be in all the brains. How could you go wrong with this purchase; the cover is all covered in classical shoutouts and there’s page after page of crazy words inside. It’s everything a book should be. Get it, and if you aren’t satisfied, then please never come back to this website, because you, sir, are neither a friend nor a lover, and that’s the only kinds of people I’m here to hang out with.

New topic now. Some months back, friends and lovers, in between panic attacks and sobbing spells and losing my cat and not eating, I compiled a portfoiliololiolio of my greatest literary works of all time and applied to the MFA program at UBC. I didn’t apply anywhere else because I’m super old and have moved 20 billion times since 1997. Plus I am currently now at this time living in the best suite of my life and making my rent payments to the biggest human being of a landlord. There is no incentive to mess with this. But there is great incentive not to spend the next eleventy seven years rating language proficiency exams all weekend every weekend and teaching English for roughly $.03 per hour (I love my students but come the fuck on), growing old/er and bitter/er as I tell myself day after worksoaked day that I ought to be writing, should really find some time to write, haven’t written anything since 1947, don’t want to die of a heart crushed by not enough poems, &c. So I sent off my application and I only told like four people that I’d applied because I didn’t want to go through the whole thing of not getting accepted and people having to find something to say and me having to respond politely while being unable to avoid having uncharitable reactions in my mind.

Well-intentioned person: “Aw, that’s too bad. Next year.”
Me: “Yeah, maybe.”
My brain: FUCK YOU COCKSUCKER I’M 35 PUT NEXT YEAR UP YOUR BUTT I WILL HAVE CHRONIC ARTHRITIS IN MY WRISTS BY THEN MY HAIR WILL BE GREY AND MY BRAIN WILL BE TEPID GRUEL

Different well-intentioned person, or maybe the same one: “I can’t believe you didn’t get in. You’re such a good writer.”
Me: “Thanks.”
My brain: FUCK OFF YOU HAVE TO SAY THAT BECAUSE OF SOCIAL CONVENTIONS WHAT GOOD IS BEING GOOD IF THE PEOPLE WITH THE POWER ARE JUST GOING TO DANCE ON MY DREAMS P.S. ALSO I’M 35 AND SEE ABOVE RE: ARTHRITIS, GRUEL, ETC.

I was trying to avoid this type of stuff because I don’t like being a superbitch even in my mind, so I applied to UBC under cover of darkness. Then I waited for three months. Then I got an e-mail last Monday during the 15-minute break in my morning class and I was like, Fuck it, open it right now, greet your fate, so I did, and thereupon the three students who were still hanging out in the classroom beheld some extremely unprofessional table pounding and self-high-fiving and aggressive sounds. Then I reeeeally didn’t feel like teaching perfect infinitives, even reeeeallier than I hadn’t felt like teaching them before I opened the e-mail.

I haven’t quite wrapped my head around this (what a bizarre expression; how could any solid ovoid object wrap itself around anything? It wouldn’t occur to anyone to try to wrap an egg around a slice of bacon, yet we’re always trying to wrap our heads around things, immaterial ones no less) because it’s all seven months away–or really six, because I’m going to take August off to write/finish/edit poems goddamn it. I find myself wanting to quit my jobs immediately. I won’t, but a girl can dream. I did give my six months’ notice at the school I work at, so that was a nice compromise.

I also find myself looking back to the terrible days of 2007 when I had just dropped out of my PhD and there was all this tacit confusion and disappointment emanating from the people around me and I was always having to try to explain why I’d abandoned my field of study, in many cases to people who had supported/encouraged me as a scholar. (Since then almost everyone I met in grad school has drifted away from academia; they’re classicists peripherally or not at all–some because they found something else they’d rather do, others because universities have stopped hiring professors.) I was, outwardly at least, quite successful, full of potential, and then suddenly I was like, I’m out. I did it partly because I wanted to write stuff that wasn’t academic essays and knew I never could if I kept on the path I was on. I did it partly because I could see how the job market was drying up. And I did it partly because I was in a mental health crisis and was on 2,000 medications and couldn’t think straight. When people asked why I left I said it was the first two things, but of course it was all three, and of course I was constantly terrified that it was only the third, that the shit of my mind had destroyed my future.

Now I’m kind of hindsight relieved because apparently I didn’t destroy anything. And since my plan for the next two years is to write a manuscript of extremely liberal translations of classical poems, it turns out I didn’t even abandon my first love. Soon I’ll be balls deep in Ovid and Sappho and Catullus once again. Balls deep! Fuckyeah!

The week I got back to Calgary in 2007, a former professor of mine said to me over drinks, “So how long are you going to give the writing thing? Five years?” Like many others, he thought my being away from academia was a gawky stage I would grow out of.

I haven’t been back to Seattle since I left, even though I always loved the city. I felt like I couldn’t be there. Didn’t deserve to be, and/or would get hysterical if I went to certain familiar places. I think the bullshit of the two years I lived there traumatized me a bit. Shortly after I moved to Vancouver I made plans to go back for a weekend, and then I just didn’t. I think I could now. It would be fun to do a reading there, or even to sit in one of the bars I used to sit in, write a poem while drinking fewer than eight drinks, and leave it on the table.

How long I’m going to give “the writing thing” is: the rest of my life, muthafuckas. And that’s true irregardless of what I end up doing for money after I finish the MFA. Word.

One great part of being about to spend two years and hopefully also all my other years in the writing world is that now I don’t have to worry about non-writing-related-job-type people being offended by the writing on my writing website, which means I no longer need to creep around pseudonymously. So, for anyone who cares, I’m not Kate Strayer, I’m Meaghan Rondeau, and I have been the entire time. How do you like me now.

This Was Totally Worth Leaving My PhD Seven and a Half Years Ago For

January 11, 2015
tags:

Below is the back cover of the next issue of Room, in which one of my things will be one of the things in the magazine. I’m just posting this because Erin Moure’s name is in the same place as my name and this may never happen again. Some of you don’t know what my actual name even is but that’s cool. It’s there irregardless.

Great meaty shitfuckballs!

Great meaty shitfuckballs!

I have no doubt at all that my poem is going to be cut from the issue at the last minute after the editor realizes that accepting it was a terrible mistake, but on the off chance that I’m wrong, it will be available for human consumption in March. If fast and loose translations of Sappho are your bag then by all means go to your favourite bookstore and loudly demand a copy. In an astonishing burst of literary professionalism I somehow refrained from requesting that my poem appear on page 69–BUT MAYBE IT WILL ANYWAY! Fingers crossed.

Surrender

January 2, 2015

My statviewometer says I have over 40,000 friends and lovers now. Wow! Let’s be real though, 67% of you came for the Burt Reynolds recipe, 13% Googled “grandmother anal,” 54% are homepeeps from grad school and most of the rest of you are relatives who think I don’t realize you come around to spy on me. I realize. Still, friends and lovers are friends and lovers.

This horrible thing happened in the fall and I still can’t talk or think about it without crying so I thought I’d set aside a night to have three drinks (that’s the most I can have now, for I am very old, and migraines wait at the gate for the slightest intimation of an invitation) and see how writing about it goes. Probability of ocular precipitation: 103%. This is more for me than for anyone else, but feel free to tag along.

About four months ago I wrote a post about losing my cat Sappho to a blizzard of cancer, and a couple months after that I wrote one about the new cat I had adopted. (In between there was the one below about how I was having oral surgery the next day and might die, which it turns out I didn’t, but ever since then I’ve been checking the mail daily for my World’s Longest Panic Attack trophy. That thing is going to be here any day now, I’m sure of it!) I took down the post about my new cat for reasons that will become obvious. I don’t want to say her name because–leaving aside my lifelong weird subconscious belief that names have tremendous mystical powers and must not be uttered in certain contexts–I want to tell the story as anonymously as possible, so let’s call her…uh…Neko. I know it’s kind of fucky to give a pseudonym to a cat but here we are.

So Neko was a rescue and I found out during my screening interview that she’d been living in foster homes for an extremely long time. In my application I’d listed a few available cats that I’d be interested in seeing, but as soon as I heard how long Neko had gone without a real home I put her at the top of my list of cats to “view” and decided I’d take her unless she visibly despised me. Not that a pet can’t get love and care from a foster, but living somewhere “for now” isn’t the same thing as having someone choose you and love you for the rest of your life.

When I went to visit Neko she was scared but not homicidal. Success!

She spent her first night hyperventilating on top of my kitchen cupboards, but over the next couple of weeks she slowly settled in. The second night at around 11:00 I was awoken by her doing a dance of manic purring happiness on the bed. Probably as a result of her homeless kittenhood, she had some strange quirks, became a vicious claw demon if I tried to pick her up, and was easily scared, but she got more and more comfortable and affectionate as time went on.

About a month after I got her, I noticed that she would scratch herself behind the ears quite vigorously whenever she woke up from a nap. I thought this was super adorable and praised her fastidiousness. Then a series of disgusting discoveries and internet searches led me to the realization that she had fleas (and a tapeworm). I booked her a vet appointment immediately, but it was the first day of a long weekend (of course), so I had to wait three days to take her in.

I had never dealt with fleas before. I didn’t know how they “worked.” My contract with the agency said that flea treatment and deworming medication were included in the fee I had paid for her, and I thought that meant she’d been treated shortly before I adopted her. Discovering that that was not the case, that in fact her last treatment for either had been in 2012 when she was initially found, and that not only my cat but my whole home was infested with fleas, horrified me. Neko had been sitting on my bed–as she did for many hours every day–at the time when I’d realized she had fleas, and a brief search I found several in my sheets. In. My. Mother. Fucking. Sheets.

Getting Neko into her carrier on the day of her appointment was an ordeal in which I chased her around with reluctant persistence while she knocked over almost every ornament on my bookshelves and almost every bottle and appliance in the kitchen. Finally she ended up back on top of my cupboards, hissing in terror, while I, standing on the counter with winter gloves on, held her carrier in one hand and tried to push her in with the other. I had already experienced the wrath of her tiny little razor claws a couple times before, and if she’d become scared enough to lunge at me again I would have lost my balance and fallen down on top of receiving a face full of scratches. It wasn’t safe for either of us and I would have abandoned the project had it not been totally necessary to bring her to the vet.

I couldn’t take her to my usual vet; I’d been given a list of vets I had to pick from for her first post-adoption appointment. The one I took her to gave her a very brief checkup–by this time I learned it was her first since she’d been found as a kitten–and confirmed the fleas but didn’t do much else. He didn’t say anything about the tapeworm, but he did tell me that a certain brand of flea medication killed parasites, and I chose it specifically because I thought it would take care of the tapeworm as well. I assumed that was why he was mentioning it. (Never assume…) He also sold me a can of ridonkulously expensive spray that could kill fleas in three of the four stages of their life cycle. When I got home I used up the whole can in my bedroom. I took my mattress and box spring off the bed frame and gassed the crap out of them. I washed and dried all of my bedding. The next day I went back to the vet’s office, bought a larger can of spray, came home, coaxed Neko into the bathroom, re-sprayed my bedroom, and sprayed the living room. Reluctantly, but feeling that it was necessary for my own well-being, I closed my bedroom to Neko, since it had now been sprayed twice and was the one place so far where I had actually found fleas.

A couple days later I realized that Neko still had the tapeworm. I spent more time online and learned that the flea medication I’d chosen actually didn’t kill tapeworms, that the vet must not have checked her for them (despite the signs being very obvious, and despite fleas being the one and only source of tapeworms in cats) and I’d have to go back for a prescription for dewormer pills.

Meanwhile, as soon as I brought her home, Neko had realized that the carpet was the source of her troubles and embarked on a “floor is made of lava” lifestyle that would have been cute had it not been rooted in suffering. As she was afraid to be picked up, there was nothing I could do when she stopped sleeping on the floor and began spending most of her time on top of my bookshelves and fridge–hard uncomfortable surfaces that wouldn’t be any cat’s first choice.

I thought that spraying my place would be the end of it, but it actually seemed to have the effect of temporarily increasing the hatched flea population in my carpet. I began to get bites on my legs and would occasionally wake up to bites on my arms. I started sleeping with socks on and my pyjama pants tucked into them. I tucked my pants into my socks when I was working at home. I couldn’t go five minutes without checking my feet for fleas or Googling flea-related topics. Being bitten by insects I couldn’t see and apparently couldn’t control, combined with seeing Neko suffering and uncomfortable, pushed me downhill into a shitstorm of panic attacks. Every evening was hell. I couldn’t work, I couldn’t think. Part of me wanted to be away from home as much as possible so I could avoid fleas, but since I was such a crying agitated mess it was difficult to be anywhere else, crying and agitation being generally frowned upon in public places. I can work around my usual level of anxiety to some extent, but panic of this magnitude and frequency was new to me and I couldn’t get on top of it. I lost my appetite almost completely and couldn’t sleep without taking the anxiety medication I’d finally dragged myself to a walk-in clinic to get.

Weeks went by in this way. I continued spraying my place with $30 cans of vet-grade flea killer but was still seeing occasional fleas in the carpet and getting occasional bites. Neko was trusting me, and her home, less and less all the time. She was still scratching herself, still sleeping on the bookshelves. Eventually, in hysterical tears, I wrote to the agency I’d adopted her from and told them I’d have to surrender her as this situation wasn’t working for either of us. I received a curt reply that I needed to have my place sprayed by a pest control company.

Around the same time, I e-mailed my landlord to let him know what was going on and ask that my carpet (15+ years old, worn, and stained; the only unawesome part of my suite) be either replaced or cleaned. He’s an excellent person and told me he’d do whatever I thought was best. I was like, No, it’s your decision because it’s your house, but I put in a vote for replacing the carpet, since steam cleaning old raggedy carpet wouldn’t make much sense moneywise.

He agreed. I was relieved. I thought that was going to be the ending. If the carpets were replaced soon, the fleas would be gone and I wouldn’t have to give up Neko after all.

But more time passed and I didn’t hear from my landlord. Neko got worse. I got worse. After I found out my carpet would be replaced I had told the agency that I would try to keep Neko, but one day after a sobbing appointment with my therapist it was decided that giving her up was the best way to go for both of us. She was miserable, I was in mid-breakdown, there was no way to know when or if my carpets would be replaced…it all-around wasn’t working out.

I wrote to the agency and explained in meticulous panicked detail that I would have to surrender her and why.

No response.

About a week earlier, the agency had offered to have my place professionally sprayed, and while I’d declined to let them pay for it (it wasn’t their fault that my cat had fleas), I had asked for a recommendation of a good person or company since they had more experience with this stuff than I did. But it took them almost a week to respond, by which time I’d set it up with someone else. Even though at this point I didn’t know if or when I would be surrendering Neko, I arranged for her to have an appointment with my own vet on the day of the extermination, since by this point I was sure she was seriously allergic to flea bites and I also thought I had given her a chemical burn when I tried to apply her next month’s round of topical flea medication. She would spend the night there while the exterminator gassed my place.

The vet couldn’t find a single flea on Neko, confirmed her flea bite allergy, alleviated some of my guilt by telling me that what I’d thought was a chemical burn was a raw spot from constant scratching, and put Neko on prednisone, which I would have to sneak into her food twice a day. I came home later that night to a place that absolutely reeked of chemicals. I aired the place out as much as I could before bringing Neko home the next day, but the fumes were still overwhelming.

Over the next week Neko became increasingly mistrustful of me at meal times–formerly the happiest and most looked-forward-to parts of her day. She realized I was hiding pills in her food and would eat around them, and I’d hide it in some new food, and the whole thing became a horrible game. Then, a couple days later, she started sneezing constantly. I called the vet and the receptionist said she was most likely having a reaction to something the exterminator had used. A few days after that I discovered she had another tapeworm.

I was still having constant panic attacks and not eating. At this point I’d spent over $700 on medication, extermination, vet care, and flea spray in six weeks. Neko had been sick, uncomfortable, and unhappy for over half of the time she’d spent with me.

A week later, I wrote to the agency a second time and essentially begged for a surrender form. The most counterintuitive e-mail I’ve ever sent. But this time it achieved its horrible purpose.

Feeling like the biggest piece of shit alive, I Googled various pet surrender phrases, thinking maybe there would be some kind of emotional support available, which no, there wasn’t, but what there was was a seemingly endless stream of unconscionably judgey and high-horsey blog posts and comments written by people who very confidently proclaimed that no unforeseeable and unimaginable life circumstance, including terminal illness and/or homelessness, warranted the surrender of a pet. They hoped the former owners rotted in hell, suffered mentally and physically for the rest of their lives, were never ever permitted to go near another animal ever again, etc., etc. Commenters praised the Jesuslike (honestly!) compassion of the rescuers and in the next sentence seconded their “Whoever surrendered that dog/cat deserves to be slowly tortured by Satan for eternity” sentiments. I’ve actually disabled comments for this post because, friends and lovers, I don’t need it and I can’t take it. Intellectually I know that attitudes along the lines of the above are logically untenable on top of being self-righteous ignorant bullshit. Emotionally it would crush me to read any more of it and I’m in enough bits already.

The pickup was set up for a Saturday afternoon. Just before the volunteer showed up, I was looking out my living room window and Neko jumped up onto the coffee table beneath it. I petted her. She purred. It was a peaceful moment and it would have been an acceptable ending, if not a happy or ideal one.

Then my buzzer rang and I went downstairs opened the door to a woman with a cage. While I was reluctantly letting her in, Neko slipped into the bathroom. The lady went in, shut the door, and I stood in my kitchen hyperventilating to two minutes of panicked hissing and terror. After they left and I’d gotten somewhat of a handle over my emotions, I went into the bathroom to straighten up and found that Neko had been so scared during the caging that she’d peed everywhere and there were scratch marks on my walls. The agency had criticized me when I described how hard a time I’d had getting her into her carrier for her first vet appointment and asked them for suggestions to make it less stressful–and then they sent someone whose way of doing it involved literally scaring the piss of her. It didn’t make any sense. If I’d known it was going to be like that I would have taken her to the foster myself.

Everyone I know, with the exception of the adoption agency people, has told me I did the right thing for Neko and have nothing to feel guilty about. It’s nice of them to say this but I’m not capable of believing it and I feel like Satan probably should come by with his bag of torture instruments irregardless. I know her current foster is fond of her and I know she won’t be euthanized; it’s a no-kill organization. And I know that Neko doesn’t obsess over this. She doesn’t cry every fucking day. In fact there’s a very good chance that she’s much happier now. She lived with this foster for a year before I came along; she enjoyed the company of the other cats there, and she never went through any itching/sneezing/shelf sleeping/medicated food bullshit there.

But I just can’t make myself care about any of the above. This is the worst thing I’ve ever done. I don’t know how to get over it. Neko’s been gone since mid-November and I still cry two million times every fucking day. I don’t know how to be a person who surrenders a cat. Cats are my favourite thing in life and a cat abandoner is the last thing I ever would have thought I was. I have twenty-five articles of cat clothing and I feel ashamed and self-conscious whenever I wear one now because I don’t “deserve” to. I can’t forgive myself for leaving her. She finally found someone to adopt her and then two months later I let her go. I constantly fantasize about somehow getting her back, even though I know this agency would never again approve me to adopt. She’s been in foster care for so long and I’m afraid nobody’s going to want her and love her like I did and still do. I feel like maybe if I’d had it in me to do things differently, opened my bedroom door to her again or been more stoical about the infestation or something, maybe this story would have had a less shitty ending.

What’s been stuck in my face in higher resolution than ever before is the awful fact of how quickly and how often my anxiety becomes bigger and louder and more real than my love. When this happens with people, I at least have a shot at explaining it during or afterward. A shot at putting it into words, being understood to some extent, and maintaining the relationship if that seems best for everyone involved. Whereas Neko is never going to read this post. You can’t apologize to a cat.

I haven’t had a flea bite since November. I bought a new bed last month, not because of the fleas but because my old one’s saggy bottom had been fucking with my back for years and I found a good sale. My mismatched living room furniture is next on the replacement list–again not “because of” fleas but because I’m in a financial position to enact my adult fantasy of having furniture that matches and that I chose for myself. The carpet replacement was finally set up last week. It was supposed to happen on Wednesday the 31st, which was a load off as it meant that externally if not internally I wouldn’t have to drag this horror story into the new year and Thursday would bring a new start for realsies. I spent several hours the night before moving all my stuff from the living room and bedroom into the kitchen so the carpet people would be able to move my shelves easily.

I checked my phone during my break at work on Wednesday and found a text from my landlord saying that they’d come and then left without doing the carpet because they hadn’t brought padding for it.

I was super enraged, because for fuck sakes. For fuck fucking sakes! What the fuck! Why would you come to a job without the fucking essential supplies?! Whenever I get sick of the bullshit of teaching, I tell myself that I could learn a trade and blow the competition away just by showing up at the scheduled time and place with the correct supplies and doing a competent job within a reasonable amount of time.

So all my books are on my kitchen floor and counter and I’m sitting in chaos until tomorrow when, gods willing, I’ll disappear for four hours and come home to unstained unraggedy flealess carpet.

After that, I don’t know. I really don’t know. I can’t imagine myself without a cat. But now I’ve lost two in four months and right now I also can’t imagine myself with one. As of tomorrow evening I’ll have every reason to believe there are zero flea cocoons in my life, but I don’t know if it’ll make a difference. If I did get a cat I’d freak out every time I saw it scratch an itch. If I somehow got Neko back I’d worry about her constantly. If I got a different cat I’d feel guilty for having it at Neko’s “expense.” Auld acquaintance can’t and shan’t and shouldn’t be forgot, I don’t think.

Sigh.

What’s the take-away message here? I don’t know. Hug your pets. Don’t be a total dick to humans. If you’ve got mental health bullshit going on, do whatever you need to do to take care of it before you end up in a place like this. If you’re a carpet guy, come when you say you’re coming and bring what you need to do the job. If you’re a flea, fuck off.

That’s all I’ve got.

Last Night of Wisdom (Includes Funeral Instructions)

September 18, 2014

In an ideal world, the human mouth wouldn’t even exist, but here we are, friends and lovers, on the eve of Zahnarztpraxisfest 2014. “Hey,” said the oral surgeon, “how about I hook you up to an IV and drug you unconscious and rip out all four of your extremely well-rooted wisdom teeth and then you pay me $2000 and stagger home and eat nothing but soup for several days?” It was an offer I couldn’t refuse.

Actual True Story: I’ve set my alarm for 2:30 (“tooth hurty”) a.m. so I can get up and chug a litre of coffee before 3:30, when the six-hour food and drink cutoff period begins. Because goddamn it, if I wake up with a caffeine deprivation migraine on top of all the other shit I will finally have no choice but to explode with rage at the bullshit of embodiment. Literal guts and brains splattered across the walls of the recovery room. Six flavours of soup in my fridge and pantry cupboard–carrot ginger, cup of noodles, chicken noodle, bean and bacon, Thai coconut, southwestern spicy chipotle cowboy corn chowder–never to be painfully consumed. To say nothing of the miles upon miles of pudding cups, and the econo-sized bottle of pulpy green soylent liquid that I don’t even know what the fuck it is. (“Healthy,” says the label. Ugh.)

Dental surgery might be my #1 nightmare. Definitely right up there. I do thank Zeus every day that I was born in the time period that I was born in and not at any time in the past, and the invention of anesthesia is near the top of my list of reasons (big ups, Crawford W. Long), yet this experience is pretty much guaranteed to blow an Aeschylean chorus of goats irregardless.

Oh hey, this isn’t related to the topic, so feel free to deduct points, but one of the CBC Canada Writes poems is being read on the radio. Note to self: don’t enter that contest again. You writes, but you isn’t Canada, and that’s okay, little friend. Just be yourself and keep up the whatever you’re doing, because your work is going to be soooo well received some day. (It’ll be sometime after you die, most likely an ironically short time after. Like possibly just days or weeks after. The kind of timing that would have made you kick yourself if you were alive. But still, right?)

Now back to the oral surgery post. If I survive I’m going to make a necklace from the teeth. That’s the main thing in my life that I’m looking forward to right now, walking back into my classroom with that necklace on. At the same time I know it’s not really possible because as if the dude is going to get the teeth out in one piece, what with the (I’m told) impressive length of the roots and the hardness of the bone (heh, I would say, if I had a sense of humour right now) and the perilous proximity of certain roots to certain nerves. They’ll have to be chipped and chopped into submission. Fragments of wisdom. I’ll sprinkle them under my pillow tomorrow night in the hope of finding a $2000 cheque from the Tooth Fairy the following morning.

If I don’t survive, please avenge my death. Also, I want all of the following at my funeral:

  • no church music
  • a hand-painted sarcophagus depicting the major events of my life
  • a hilarious eulogy (roast style)
  • an open bar (all drinks are free except wine, which costs $8)
  • everyone line dancing to the best of their ability to “Cadillac Ranch”
  • a bouncy castle
  • nobody wearing uncomfortable shoes–it’s not a fucking job interview for crying out loud
  • a group photo with everyone pretending something is their cock
  • kittens
  • southwestern spicy chipotle cowboy corn chowder (“She *sniff* loved that soup so much”)

The rest is up to the party planning committee. Whoever ends up being elected to it, I trust they’ll do a great job. Oh, and just F their I, I don’t want to be mummified, despite the sarcophagus; I want to be cremated and then have my ashes shot into space.

Five hours until coffee time. Cinnamon cocks.

11 years, 10 months, and 2 days: a mewlogy

August 10, 2014

Back before I became Vancouver’s least smilingest ESL teacher and most unpublished writer, I spent a bunch of time studying super useful things in Calgary, or as it is known to most Calgarians, “C-Town.” Having spent four years living in university residence and one living with a friend who became rather unbalanced and finally moved out of our place after four crazy and tense months during which I basically never left my tiny bedroom lest I accidentally run into her and, e.g., be accused of attempted murder or incur bizarre retribution for sitting on her couch, I found a nice one-bedroom apartment ten minutes from campus and moved in at the start of the school year in 2002. I recall that the rent was $699, which holy shit, because out of curiosity I have just now gone to the property management company’s website and found that apartments in that complex now rent for $1260. Good flaming gravy Christmas.

Anyway, more or less the first thing I did after moving in was go to the information commons at the library and start creeping the profiles of available cats on the MEOW Foundation website. Cat ownership had been a lifelong dream of mine in much the same way as home ownership is for some people.

The standout was Midnight, a black cat with wonderful feet (five extra toes! five!!) and a sad history of abuse. I will stop here and ask one of the Great Questions of My Life: What the fuck is wrong with people? Because who goes out and gets a cat just to treat it like shit? If you don’t like cats, how about you just don’t get one? That was three questions, but anyway. Midnight’s profile said that she disliked other cats, was skittish around humans and jumpy in general. Challenge accepted, I said to her telepathically as I filled out the adoption application.

On October 1, she was dropped off at my place for a one-month no-obligation free trial. The adoption counselor advised me to keep her in one room rather than giving her the run of my apartment; she would hide otherwise. I pointed out that my place was “only 650 square feet” (at the time the number seemed small; I couldn’t know it would turn out to be the largest place I would ever be able to afford) and that I had no furniture other than a lamp, a TV stand, and needless to say, an IKEA Poang chair. Where could she hide?

The next morning I woke up and found that Sappho (rechristened as soon as the adoption counselor left) was hiding. I spent half an hour looking for her everydamnwhere, getting more and more freaked out as this was technically not my cat and I had somehow managed to lose her within 12 hours, and it wasn’t like she was a kitten or something, like, Jesus, she was a plus-sized adult cat. I really didn’t have any furniture, and I was confused as fuck as I checked every possible cat hiding spot in my apartment, including the cupboards, fridge, hallway, and balcony, 47 times. Finally I found her wedged under my TV stand, which from the front looked as though it extended right to the floor but at the back turned out to have just enough space for a big-boned cat to slip herself under.

The adoption was made official a month after she was first dropped off. She was slowly learning how to relax and beginning to show me affection in ways that suited her. She would step up onto my bed (I say “step up” because it was just a mattress on the floor—seriously, I had no furniture) and sleep beside me for exactly ten minutes every night before heading off to do her own thing. She would come say hello or at least meow something at me from the couch when I got home.

We lived in the decadent balconied 650 square-foot apartment for three years. Sappho’s anxiety level decreased to a point where most of the time she seemed like a pretty normal cat–until the phone rang or there was unexpected noise in the hallway or a person who wasn’t me had the audacity to enter the apartment. She spent hours flopped over the arm of the couch, one paw hanging off either side. She loved rolling around in the dust on the balcony, especially at night, and struck porn-star poses that she held for as long as it took for me to notice what she was doing and tell her how cute she was. Although she hated to be picked up and wasn’t a lap cat, she enjoyed wedging herself between my leg and the side of the couch when I was working or reading. She would sit near my feet and “pet” them with my tail as I worked on essays, marked exams, watched TV. She woke me up at sunrise most mornings with a polite but insistent request for breakfast.

In the fall of 2005, we moved to Seattle. The least said about the two years I spent there the better; I will say only that Sappho was there through every day I spent trying to negotiate the elementary school social hierarchy of my department, every 14-hour workday, every day lost to the fog of yet another different medication. After every pointless date, after every so-called platonic hangout that was later revealed to be actually a date, Sappho was there. The day I e-mailed, for the first time, the half-sister I hadn’t known existed, Sappho was four feet away, sprawled across the loveseat. She was there the day I decided to leave my PhD, leave the city, give back half of a four-year SSHRC fellowship, move back to Calgary, and restart my life, and despite the upheaval it created for her, this cat accepted the decision with less complaint or confusion than many of the humans in my life expressed at the time.

Sappho was my roommate and friend through seven moves to and from and within three cities, two degrees, two certificates, the lowest, saddest, most drunk, most fun, most stressful, most fucked-up, most important and most meaningful times of my life. Through ballsy decisions, unemployment, excessive employment, shitty employment, creepy landlords, lost friendships, and weird bullshit of all descriptions, there was Sappho. Whenever I was hung over and lying motionless on the couch, or passed out with a migraine, there was Sappho, who always knew when I was unwell and would abjure her 10-minute physical contact time limit in order to sleep beside me until I recovered.

I will, out of respect, not describe in detail the time I found her “hiding” under a plant, her entire gigantic butt end still totally hanging out onto the sidewalk, while a crow stood on the fence nearby and beaked her off. I will almost completely pass over the night I came into the kitchen for water and saw, upon turning on a light, my cat being chased around the living room by a spider. Let’s just say that while Sappho had many fine and noble qualities, she was not endowed with the usual feline feelings toward birds and insects.

This past March, during the week I was packing for our most recent move, Sappho got sick. At first I thought it was anxiety from the move, but her health got dramatically worse two weeks after we moved in and I took her to the vet. She was diagnosed with pancreatitis, which in hindsight she must have had off and on for many years. After a week of painkillers and anti-nausea medication and a switch to prescription food, she was much better: expressed in terms of “Shaft” lyrics, she was the cat who wouldn’t cop out when there was pancreatitis all about.

But she never went back to 100%; something was still a bit off. More and more often I’d come home to find her sleeping on the floor rather than on one of the armchairs that she normally parked herself on during the day. She no longer came to pester me for breakfast in the morning, and she stopped coming to sit on the bed with me when I was working or reading there—a part of my routine that she’d always looked forward to before. She never hung out on the perch at the top of her scratching post anymore, even though the new view was a million times better than the old one. I blamed all this on the toll taken by years of undiagnosed illness, on old age (she was around 70 in cat years), on our move and the resulting changes in routine. But in July she became less and less interested in food, and by the end of the month she was eating almost nothing and was losing weight quickly. She slept behind one of the chairs a lot and had little energy. Her meow was quieter and I’d catch her wheezing occasionally.

Last Saturday I took her back to the vet. He noticed that she was straining to breathe in an alarming way that I’d never seen before, and after a physical exam revealed no obvious problems he gave me the option of doing an x-ray, a blood test, or both. He recommended an x-ray over a blood test because we could get the results immediately, whereas with a blood test I’d have to wait over the long weekend. With the condition she was in, three days suddenly seemed like a long time.

A few minutes later I was called in to see the x-ray. For context, the vet showed me the x-rays of several healthy cats. The shape of their lungs was clear and their hearts were easily visible. Sappho’s chest, in comparison to theirs, was a blizzard. The heart was nowhere to be found and her lungs were an almost complete white-out. While he didn’t want to make an official diagnosis, the vet told me that this was unlikely to be infection as her temperature was normal, and that it was therefore probably cancer. “How does a cat get lung cancer?” I asked, pointing out with my impeccable exactly-wrong joke timing that she was not a smoker. He said it probably wasn’t lung cancer but rather cancer of the thymus. I could take her to the emergency clinic and have a bunch of tests done to confirm what I could see clearly in the x-ray, and then maybe have some invasive procedure done that could maybe make her more comfortable for maybe a couple weeks or so–but ultimately this appeared to be a terminal situation. He apologized for the bad news, I told him it wasn’t his fault and thanked him for having had the idea to do an x-ray, and we scheduled euthanasia for the Tuesday after the long weekend. The emotional shape I was in as I left the office need not be described. I was grateful, if nothing else, that I was not in a position of having to make a choice. I had always worried that Sappho would develop an illness that could be treated, but at a cost that exceeded my resources. Thankfully, the x-ray made it clear that no amount of money could change the story’s ending.

I had hoped she could hold out over the long weekend, but the next day she grew worse and I could see that she was really struggling to breathe—wanting to sleep, but constantly having to shift her position or stand up to catch her breath. I couldn’t see any reason to let this continue for two more days, nor was I willing to leave her alone in that condition while I was at work on Tuesday. Very reluctantly and after crying four thousand (more) times, I called the emergency clinic to find out what the procedure and cost would be if I brought her in later that day.

We left for the clinic in a cab half an hour later (Sappho went willingly into her carrier—an unheard-of event), and half an hour after that I walked home without her. The whole thing took maybe five seconds. She was sweet and cooperative with the technician who inserted the catheter. Before and during the injections, she voluntarily sat on my lap for the first time ever.

For a week now I’ve been returning to a catless home every day after work. I come in, I don’t have to step around a trail of litter. I can sit in whichever chair I like without having to talk anyone into getting out of it. Nobody follows me into the bathroom, horks up hairballs, cleans her butt in front of me while I eat dinner, or wakes me up at 5:30 a.m. I haven’t had to vacuum all week. It’s total bullshit. I can’t believe people voluntarily live this way. I’ve submitted an application to an adoption agency and am hoping to put an end to this foolishness by the first week of September.

There’s no replacing Sappho. She was the cat love of my life. But I’m looking forward to meeting my next little friend, showing her around, and seeing where it goes.

Friends and lovers, if you have a pet, give him/her a hug. Or a treat. Or leave your bathroom door open a crack next time, if s/he’s into that sort of thing. If you don’t have a pet and are living somewhere where you could and have ever considered adopting one: do it. Even during the longest long weekend of your life, you won’t regret it.

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