The now of December 2019

The big news this month is KITTENS. Meet Criminy and Crivens, whom FunkyPlaid and I adopted in mid-November from Cat Adoption Team.

These stray tabby brothers were expertly fostered, so it took them no time at all to adjust to their new home with us. At their fourth-month veterinary check-in this month, they had nearly tripled in weight!

Their foster names were Walnut and Chestnut, and they had two more siblings we never got to meet: Cashew, who was adopted right before them, and Almond, who is a bit of a mystery to us. We’re both sad and relieved by this missed connection: we can’t imagine only adopting two after meeting the whole family.

It had been decades since either of us had raised a kitten, and we’ve never raised two at once, so to write “it has been a learning experience” is both an understatement and sounds way less fun than we’ve been having. Crivens and Criminy are a delight as a brotherly-bonded unit and as individuals with very distinct personalities starting to emerge.

Mostly they are babies. And so everything is brand-new and therefore exciting. Sure, the things we have acquired for them like the cat tree, play tunnel, and window seat are pretty good, but they much prefer hoodie strings! Bathtub! Kitchen counters! Worn socks! The inside of the grandfather clock (sigh). Christmas tree! And each other. They really, really, really love each other. As I write this, they are play-fighting on their cat tree, and Criminy is attempting to fit Crivens’ entire head into his mouth. Sideways. It’s the best.

As expected, the joy these two bring doesn’t change the nature of my grief over losing Zen, but caring for our new family members has been a more productive focus of my energy. I still miss Zen every day; I imagine I always will. The pain is less acute, most days, more like a lingering bruise I forget about long enough to whack it good and hard with a careless motion.

I thought I might participate in Holidailies this year, and I was off to an okay start, but finally embraced the fact that I am just enough of a contrarian to resent the forced structure of daily challenges. Even my past Project 365 challenges were arduous to maintain. It wasn’t the pressure to create that sapped my enthusiasm, but rather the pressure to create within timed constraints. I never seemed to have enough time to do all the things.

And then I read Cal Newport’s book “Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World” and realization after realization crashed over me. It wasn’t about time, but about focus. In my desperate attempt to avoid FOMO – the fear of missing out – I have thrown myself into every new online service and group I discover, only to run out of energy to participate. It’s a basic math problem: a finite amount of energy divided among an increasing number of groups results in decreasing amounts of focus paid to each group. In plainer terms: I’m not participating in any one thing well because I’m too busy participating in everything badly.

Newport suggests a digital declutter to make participation more intentional. I had already turned off notifications from social media apps on my phone, but this week I decided to delete everything except and only check the rest once a week from my home computer. I’ll ask the people who only message me via these apps to email, text, or call (ūüėĪ) instead if they need to reach me urgently. It will be a big adjustment but one I am eager to make.

I took notes on “Digital Minimalism” but opted not to share those notes or review the book publicly – a choice that I am telling myself is 100% okay to make so I can spend my time on other things I find more rewarding – but someone I know through posted his review and reference notes for “Digital Minimalism”. And if you use Firefox (which I recommend) here’s a plug for the Library Extension add-on which checks your local library’s holdings while you’re browsing books and e-books online.

Other things that happened this month:

  • I worked a lot, and I got crispy. Everything else suffered. I am working hard to establish some boundaries around when I work from home on top of an already-strenuous workweek.
  • I attended a friend’s short story reading, which made me yearn for some regular storytelling outlet. I miss writing and performing so much.
  • FunkyPlaid and I watched “The Mandalorian” which I assume one has to be a lover of Westerns and an avowed Star Wars fan to appreciate. I was mostly bored.
  • We also saw “The Rise of Skywalker” which I really enjoyed. And I’m not sad that this film cycle is finally over; I get why it is culturally important, and General Leia Organa will always be one of my heroes, but I’m ready to celebrate new stories with less toxic fandoms.

It’s the end of the year (and the end of the decade, depending on who you ask), and although I am no longer so na√Įve to think that everything changes once the calendar page turns, I still savor the anticipation packed into the last few days of the year. Today I’ll crack open my new Passion Planner and try to capture some of that excitement. May your new year contain kindness, good health, camaraderie, and peace. And kittens.

Butter Bib the miracle cat.

About a month ago, we had yet another health worry with Butter Bib (a/k/a Zen). Since then she has bounced back and is in fine form, still going up and down the stairs, and also going up and down the little plastic steps we have by our bed. Now that the weather is colder, I often wake up in the wee hours with her cold nose pressed against the inside of my elbow, like a tiny ice cube melting on me. It is one of Zen's most endearingly annoying habits ... and she has accumulated quite a few of those over her twenty-one years.

Writing from: a quiet study in Portland, Oregon. Listening to: pages turning as FunkyPlaid reads in the other room.

The dream and the skeptic.

Last night, sleeping on the floor of my study with my hand resting under the chin of my aging cat, I had a visitation dream. You know the kind, the dreams we see in movies or read in books, during which all of the details are so vivid that it seems real, it must be real … and then we wake up.

Our other cat came to me in this dream, our beloved mackerel tabby Torgi, and head-butted my face repeatedly, just as he did while he was alive. He brushed up against me and walked over my legs and flomped down next to me, at once distracting me from my distress over Zen and reassuring me that she would be fine. That we would be fine.

When I woke, I felt his presence lingering, the distinct scent of his fur, and the space by my ribcage still felt warm. As an avowed skeptic, I started to file the experience under “Moments My Subconscious Mind Doesn’t Suck” – a thin file, indeed, by the score of nightmares I have experienced. Then I reached for the paw of my still-living cat and let the feeling of the inexplicable wash over us both.

Writing from: a quiet study in Portland, Oregon. Listening to: “When I’m Small” by Phantogram.

Where were you?


I hear a piercing cry from somewhere in the house. It’s a small house, but sound carries and bounces and hides. I do a full circuit, glancing in all of the usual places, and get halfway around again before I hear another cry, this time from upstairs.

“Zen? Zen?” She can’t have gone far; she’s almost twenty-one years old, and “running” isn’t in her repertoire anymore.

I reach the top of the stairs but she is not in sight, so I walk down the hall into the bedroom. No, nothing in here. I walk back out and she is standing at the top of the stairs, gazing down.

For a moment, I watch her contemplating her own existence, or staring into the middle distance – it’s not always clear which is which, with cats or humans. But it’s not long before I can help myself from saying, softly, “Hey.”

She looks at me and makes the different sound, the purr-trill that I’ve come to know as, “Where were you?”

I scoop her up and carefully descend. She’ll settle again for a little while, until a chill or the wind or a bad dream or existential dread will rouse her from twitch-ridden sleep. Like she is mourning an old friend, Zen’s cries will rise and slide up the wooden bannister until I, bleary with my own bad dreams, will go and find her again.

Writing from: a quiet study in Portland, Oregon. Listening to: the low hum of the space-heater. Welcome to Holidailies, a free community writing project that promotes sharing your writing and other online creative endeavors during the winter holiday season.

Fragility in fur.

[caption id=“attachment_97138” align=“alignnone” width=“2448”]Zen, August 2017. Zen, August 2017.[/caption]

Born and forged in hothouse Alabama, Zen is a creature of heat. Throughout this week‚Äôs heat wave, she has sought out the warmest parts of our home. Like the corner of the eaves which ‚ÄĒ despite sounding like a place of great magical power in a children‚Äôs book series ‚ÄĒ is an infernal pocket of breath-sucking dryness. When not upstairs, Zen lounged on her heating pad during our 100¬į+ days.

I caught her once or twice splayed out on the wood floors, cooling herself off, but then she’d heft herself up and trek upstairs.…

This morning, the heat has let up a bit. Zen has found a patch of sunshine. In photos like this one, I can pretend I don’t see the gauntness that has partially deflated her football shape. Zen has always loved the heat, but now she needs it because she doesn’t have the padding that used to keep her warm. Kneeling before her, half-dappled in sunlight, I bury my face in her fur. She hooks one paw over my forearm and kneads, purring, while my fingertips graze the tiny ridges of her vertebrae. Maybe soon, I think, but not yet.

Not yet.

This week.


That was quite a week, wasn’t it? Someone’s been busy.¬†All I did was go to work, get a haircut, and try not to lose my damned mind over every New York Times app notification. Even my trusty Lamy 2000 fell apart.

At least Zen has had a great¬†week. In between “spa treatments” (read: subcutaneous fluids) she’s been hand-fed baby food and otherwise fussed over pretty much non-stop.


For every task I completed, I added three more to my to-do list. And next week begins with catalog upgrades, which means downtime, which means falling even further behind. January: snowed under on both metaphorical and literal levels.


I started reading again! Currently I’m alternating between Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me and Jen Sincero’s You Are a Badass.

FunkyPlaid and I watched an episode of Daredevil, but were too bored to continue. We moved on to Black Mirror, which is terrific but probably not the best thing to be watching at the moment.

Aurally, it’s mostly¬†movie soundtracks and Jelly Roll Morton for me.

On the Internet…

Ink o' the Week

Noodler’s Ottoman Azure: deep sapphire blue with plenty¬†of shading¬†for capturing the¬†nuances of melancholy.

Featured photo: the sign we put up in our yard.

This Week


So many things were disrupted this week that I don’t know where to start. I’ll start with the most important: despite a health scare, Zen is okay.

On Thursday morning, Zen¬†started to show signs of discomfort due to constipation, and by the early afternoon her health appeared¬†to have¬†deteriorated rather quickly. Despite our vet being closed due to the weather, we managed to get her an appointment with an emergency vet six miles away. But¬†neither FunkyPlaid nor I could drive due to the state of the roads. Portland’s largest cab company had just stopped answering the phone, and another cab company let me schedule a cab ride hours in advance but then never called to tell me¬†that they were running 30-45 minutes behind schedule.¬†Thank goodness for Lyft drivers with chains and 4-wheel drive.

48 hours of hospitalization later, Zen is starting to approach her old self. She is still worn out from the procedures, but she is eating and drinking and purring and cuddling. Right now she is happily curled up in her favorite cardboard box. Her prognosis is good, especially for a cat about to turn twenty, and I am so grateful.

Of course, I have been a total wreck over this, plus I came down with my own illness on Thursday morning (a standard yet persistent head-cold), so it has not been the greatest of weeks on record.

And then there’s the snowpocalypse. Portland pretty much shut down on Tuesday evening and started to open back up again on Friday morning, but as of this writing the roads in our neighborhood are still packed with snow and ice. FunkyPlaid has been an expert forager, but I’m really, really, really tired of not being able to do basic¬†things like drive to work or even walk to the bus stop safely.


I only had a two-day work week, and although I tried to enjoy the enforced downtime I am fairly stressed about everything that has piled up and is waiting for me tomorrow morning. RescueTime tells me that I have been 50% productive this week, which seems high for being snowed in and having a sick cat and the lurgy.


I was too restless to spend much time reading, but¬†Mini Metro has been an exceptionally good distraction in times of stress. It’s a subway layout game; what’s not to love?

Spotify’s Winter Classical playlist is¬†a treat, especially on snow days.

As a side note, I upgraded my car’s software so it now has¬†CarPlay, which means I can listen to Spotify on the way to work! If I ever get to drive my car again.

FunkyPlaid and I are almost finished with Luke Cage and are loving the soundtrack too. I also have a lot of reading to do.

On the Internet………

Ink o' the Week

Kaweco Summer Purple: a muted, calming¬†purple. Breathe. Visualize the snow melting away … there, that’s better.

Day 357 of Project 365: Zen's new hiding place.

Zen didn’t get up to say goodbye as I was heading to the airport, but that’s okay. She has a new hiding place: right in front of the register, underneath the nesting tables. 

I tried to move the tables and put her bed there, but she just folded herself up underneath the tables and looked disappointed. Message received. I’ll miss this little weirdo but I’m looking so forward to seeing FunkyPlaid for a few days!

Day 347 of Project 365: Boxed in.

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Box: check. Crinkly paper: check. Proximity to me: check. Yep, Zen’s happy.

Writing from: my study in Portland, Oregon. Listening to: an episode of “Broadchurch”.

Day 341 of Project 365: Naptastic.

Zen can be a great cuddler when she wants to be. Luckily tonight was one of those nights, and we drifted off together for an excellent nap.

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Writing from: my study in Portland, Oregon. Listening to: the heater kick on. It’s only 30¬ļF out there tonight!

Day 333 of Project 365: New friend.

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Operation: Make Zen Happier is in full effect. This was taken a moment before Zen pounced like a kitten on her new catnip jellyfish.

Writing from: my study in Portland, Oregon. Listening to: Zen gnawing.

Day 325 of Project 365: Heat therapy.

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Zen needs a heated mat and a portable radiator these days. She was born in Alabama and anything other than a tropical climate is too cold for her old bones.

Writing from: my study in Portland, Oregon. Listening to: the tumble-dryer.

Day 313 of Project 365: Election night palate-cleanser.

Zen wants to cuddle.

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Writing from: my study in Portland, Oregon. Listening to: ugh. Just ugh.

Day 306 of Project 365: Reach for me.

Zen was sitting so prettily that I tried to take her photo. At the last second, she reached for me.

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All things considered, I’d rather have the kitty snuggles than the photo.

Writing from: my study in Portland, Oregon. Listening to: the kettle boiling.

Day 281 of Project 365: Cat pictures, please.

I’ll be hiding inside for a few days while I recuperate from the cold that finally won. Zen is helping by performing¬†quality assurance testing on the radiator.

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If you haven’t read¬†Naomi Kritzer’s wonderful story, “Cat Pictures Please”¬†already, I highly recommend it.

Writing from: my sickly study in Portland, Oregon. Listening to: “Body Gold” by Oh Wonder.

Day 276 of Project 365: Sunday cooking.

Today I made vegetarian mole chili, cornbread, and raw chocolate chip cookie dough bites. Tonight I am full!


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In the wee hours of the morning, Zen heaved herself up the stairs not once but twice because FunkyPlaid and I were too asleep to pay attention to her. Goodness knows how long it took her to climb the stairs, but she did it. After accomplishing that feat, Zen shoved the bedroom door open and yowled at the top of her lungs.

That was a fun way to wake up.

Writing from: my study in Portland, Oregon. Listening to: Maria Bamford’s “Ask Me About My New God!”

Day 275 of Project 365: Radiator time.

It’s autumn, all right. Everyone in this house is feeling sick and/or chilly, and Zen has claimed her spot¬†next to the portable radiator. Time for more sleep.

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Writing from: my study in Portland, Oregon. Listening to: the ending credits of “Zootopia”. Cute film.

Day 260 of Project 365: Day off.

Zen is teaching me how to relish my three-day weekend. She is really good at recharging.

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Writing from: my study in Portland. Listening to: “When You Wish Upon a Star” by Cliff Edwards & Disney Studios Chorus.

Day 250 of Project 365: Me and my alien.

Nearly twenty¬†years ago¬†she crash-landed on Earth. I couldn’t pronounce her alien name but¬†”Tazendra” works all right. If I promise to fork over the food she begrudgingly allows me to cuddle her for a few minutes at a time. It’s a good arrangement.

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Writing from: my cuddly study in Portland. Listening to: Zen take a vigorous bath.

Day 240 of Project 365: Pet names.

Like many pet owners, I have a million nicknames for my cat. I have so many nicknames for Zen that I rarely call her by her actual name. Currently the frontrunner is Chimichanga. She resembles a deep-fried burrito, no?

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N.B.¬†The Wikipedia entry for “chimichanga” is unexpectedly and delightfully thorough.

Day 235 of Project 365: Cat o'clock.

It’s always cat o’clock when I get home from work.

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Writing from: my study. Listening to: the creaks and groans of this old house.

Day 217 of Project 365: Back in his arms.

Remember when Zen kept waking me up at ridiculous hours with her yowling?

FunkyPlaid comes home, and she stops.

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Me too, kid. Me too.

Writing from: my quiet study. Listening to: “Ceiling Gazing” by Mark Kozelek.

Day 211 of Project 365: Kitty snuggles.

Sometimes when Zen wakes me up seven minutes before my alarm goes off, I forget. I forget this nineteen-year history between us and how she has always confounded me in these bleary early-morning moments. When she was younger, there was less yowling, but she still stalked the edges of my sleep, an unwary perimeter, desultorily guarding one side or the other. It has never been clear.

Zen isn’t an affectionate cat, or at least her “capricious” process tends to¬†have priority over her¬†”demonstrative” one.

But then on a rare occasion she yowls to be picked up and she snuggles me, proper snuggles with snout digging into my arm and purrs loud enough to jostle the fabric of my sweatshirt. And I think: okay, I get you.


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Writing from: my snuggly study. Listening to: “Touch” by Holy Other.

Day 185 of Project 365: Zen's July.

This cat is nineteen years old and she knows exactly how she wants to spend the rest of her life: lounging in the sun in our backyard.

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As much as I would like to join her, I have running mojo to recapture. This evening I took a brisk walk to and around the park while listening to Spotify. Right when I was about to get very cranky indeed about a song being a direct ripoff of Duran Duran, I thought to look at my phone.

It was Duran Duran.

From thirty-five years ago.

I’m going to have to get used to this, aren’t I?

Writing from: my study. Listening to: “Careless Memories” by Duran Duran.

Day 173 of Project 365: You spin me.

Tonight I took the WES commuter rail to the MAX light rail home. And then FunkyPlaid and I went out for some driving practice¬†because I need to get my Oregon driver’s license ASAP. As much as¬†I love public transit,¬†3 hours of commuting each¬†weekday is draining.

Zen does not need to concern herself with such things. She spends her days lounging in the backyard, as happy as I’ve ever seen her.

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Writing from: my study. Listening to: the tumble-dryer, because as soon as the laundry is done, I get to go to sleep.

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I acknowledge that I live and work on stolen Cowlitz, Clackamas, Atfalati, and Kalapuya land.
I give respect and reverence to those who came before me.