Archive | Essays

Say Hello to My Little Friend

As I write this, permakitten Grace is eating my eggs with hot sauce, and I’m laughing too hard to stop her.

I’m aware that I’m a cat lady. I’m also aware that as the power dynamics of sex, courtship and romance are finally being called into question, and as basic tenets of human decency are no longer ensured, a cat lady is far from the worst thing a woman can be. I love and respect my cat and do my very best by her, and she feels and does the same for me.

And love is love.

Grace may not speak English–that is, save a “noooo” she’s learned to eke out over the years–but we share a clear-eyed, clear-hearted sympatico. Peace is the name of our game, and now that I’m in my 40s, domestic peace is more important to me than human companionship–more important than getting laid, even. No species is inherently peaceful, but after her stressful childhood on the streets of Brooklyn, Grace Michael Jackson just wants to be serene and sweet. I can relate.

She’s too skittish to be a Buddha, of course; among the things that will send her running are shoes, seltzer, vacuums, paper bags, male voices, and drunk people. But I’ve never lived with anyone who could calm me the way she does, and I’ve lived with all kinds of beings. Grace has taught me to find quiet within myself. More than that, she has located the tenderness beneath my tough broad exterior. In return I have taught her how to play: to enjoy music and dance, to have a sense of humor. I don’t mind telling you: Grace is quite funny. It’s not just that she knows how to bestow the feline equivalent of a raised eyebrow or a curmudgeonly frown. It’s that the timing of said gestures is always impeccable.

Whenever possible, I travel with Grace. Nothing feels like home without her, and she’s bereft when I leave her behind. When she’s uncomfortable, I’m uncomfortable, and I’ve noticed this fact goes both ways. When I’m sad, she’s sad, though when I malinger in my housework or writing duties, she doesn’t have time for my bullshit. When she fails as a vermin hunter or eats food I’ve earmarked as my own, I’m not so happy with her, either.

We still like to be as physically close, though. As I type this, she’s purring beneath my legs and we’re snuggling beneath my duvet.

Neither of us hold grudges if we can tell the other is legitimately sorry, and we always are. Also we like to eat many of the same things, eschewing sweets and adoring greens, animal protein, particularly fish, and very spicy things. It’s gotten so that, when I do my weekly shop at Fairway, the fishmonger and butcher know to give me a little extra for Grace. One of those dudes–the one whom I’d kiss if he weren’t wearing a wedding ring–always tells me to say hi to her.

I guess I talk about her a lot. But don’t you talk about the people you love as well?

The other day a friend of a friend commented on my relationship with Grace. “Do you mind that your closest friend will die so much sooner than you?” she asked. Her judgment loomed as supertext, not subtext, but I didn’t mind. I judged her right back for not having the courage to leave her very bad marriage.

“I’m just so grateful to fully enjoy her company while she is alive,” I said, blinking twice slowly. It’s a kiss-off I’ve learned from my cat.

Schnoz Is Beautiful: Reconsidering Modigliani

The Jewess

Even a year ago, “Modigliani: Unmasked” at New York City’s Jewish Museum would not have been as timely, though its pleasures would have been just as assured. A showcase of Italian-Sephardic Jewish Amedeo Modigliani’s work as a sculptor and a craftsman, it revels in his defiant embrace of outsider status, and reminds us that extraordinary creative work can arise despite – and to spite – repressive political climates.

In 1906, when Modigliani emigrated from his native Livorno, an Italian port town known as a safe enclave for Jews, France was beset by nationalist anti-Semitism. Because of his fluency in French and Latin good looks, he might have been able to assimilate as a Gentile. Instead, as the Museum’s curatorial notes report, he’d introduce himself by saying: “My name is Modigliani. I am Jewish.” This exhibition, amassed mostly from the collection of patron and dear friend Paul Alexandre, shows the “artist as a young outsider,” exploring non-Western art and unpacking accepted notions of beauty in rough drafts and sculpture as well as a handful of completed paintings made between 1906 and 1914. Continue Reading →

Amazing Grace

Daily prayer.

As I type this, Grace is sitting on my legs and purring loudly enough that I can not only hear it but feel it. This is momentous because I spent the entire day looking for her while I was supposed to be packing for New York. She disappeared this morning and, because I’d left the front door open while moving things back and forth from my car, I began to fear that she was gone forever. If she had fled into the environs surrounding this Truro house, chances were high that she would be lost or severely injured. All kinds of animals live in these woods–coyotes included—and she’s never spent any time outside since we rescued her on the streets of Brooklyn when she was three weeks old. She was by herself, eating trash and hiding behind a stoop. The size of my palm, she was so little that she normally would not yet have been weaned. I believe that this is why she remains a permakitten. Like me, she was never safe as a child.

At first I assumed my little one had just found a new hiding place. But after after a few hours, I started to get nervous. I turned off all the electronics in the house and sang “Love You Madly,” the Ella and Duke song to which she has come running since she first became my charge eight years go. But she didn’t come. I turned the house upside down and still didn’t find her. And then I started to imagine the upheaval had so upset her that she’d run outside and had gotten lost. Maybe eaten. Continue Reading →

"All, everything I understand, I understand only because I love."
― Leo Tolstoy