Tilly TinyPony Trains Her Human

Eleven years ago, Tilly, a tiny kitten came into our lives, courtesy of my daughter, ThirtiesGirl, the cat collector. Every time ThirtiesGirl went through a crisis, it seemed, and there were plenty in her teens and early twenties, home came another kitten.

Tilly was the smallest of the lot. A wee black and white ball of fluff with big gelato mint eyes. She was small enough to fit in a tea-cup. Small enough to wedge herself into the upper shelf of a low bookcase, which became known as the Kitten Shelf.

Well, Tilly grew, and grew. And grew. Was there no end to her largeness. She is now the largest of our four cats, the youngest, and the only long-hair. She is enormo! I have wondered if there’s Maine Coon in her background somewhere. I can sink my fingers into her fur up to the knuckles and perhaps touch some cat under there.

Anyway, on to Tilly and my husband, PizzaBoy. PB is the biggest softie ever. He never had a pet of his own back in Canada, because he ‘didn’t want the responsibility’. So naturally, his next adventure was to move to Australia, marry an Australian woman who became a financial dependent, become an instant stepdad to two nearly grown kids, and a few years later, become a grandpa x 3. Oh year, and live with 5-6 animals.

PB likes to lie down while he reads. Bed, floor – it doesn’t matter as long as he’s happy. He’s made a nest of cushions and rugs on the floor near one of the heating vents. He stretches out there and reads for hours. I’ve tried it. I don’t know how his bum doesn’t hurt after 20 minutes or so, and I’m the one with the bum padding. Maybe it’s something to do with him not having his tailbone fractured giving birth in 1989.

Tilly has discovered that Bill’s chest is an ideal perch. She hops up there when he’s on the floor, and settles down. PB calmly lifts his book and continues reading. Tilly loves PB’s easy going vibe, which calms her. Tilly is a timid, highly startleable cat. She likes to spend her morning sleeping in my wardrobe. She doesn’t really believe I exist, nor anyone else in the world, and is constantly astonished when TwentiesPerson or I appear. She was HORRIFIED at the advent of the grandkids. They know her only as Cupboard Kitty.

When Tilly is startled, she has to go out and look at the fence for a while to calm down. When she does this, I call out: “Is the fence talking to you, Tilly? Is it talking in patterns? Is the fence moving, Tilly?” She turns her head, owl-like and stares at me as though she’s never seen me before in her life.

If PB and I swap sides of the bed, she will sometimes hop up and sit on me until she realises I’m not him. What gives it away, Tilly? The boobs? Less body in general? When she notices, and this can take half an hour, she leaps off as though given an electric shock.

Tilly has trained PB to accept her on his chest. Now, when he sees her, he flings himself to the ground, lies flat out, and pats his chest twice, saying: “Monkey pillow, Tilly, monkey pillow!” And likely as not, she climbs on and sits there.

And that, readers, is how Tilly keeps her human in line.

*****

It wasn’t really a prompt, more a little note of sweetness from Poets and Storytellers United..

Prose offering – Learning to drive

Poets and Storytellers United offered a small note about a child taking driving lessons. This wasn’t a prompt. Those came later in the newsletter. However, it sparked me, so here’s a wee prose offering. Or maybe it’s prose poetry. I don’t know. It’s a thing.

My boyfriend looked down at me.

“Why don’t you drive?” he asked.

I shrugged. “I don’t know.” I felt foolish saying: “I’m terrified of getting behind the wheel of a killing machine.” Which was my real reason.

I also caught trains, trams, and buses, walked long distances, and saw the world that way. I knew every shop in Bentleigh, what was growing in gardens, train time tables by heart, and when the Glenferrie Road tram would arrive to shunt me to Victoria College from Malvern Station.

“I couldn’t wait to start driving,” he said. The implication hung heavy in his bedroom’s air. Normal people got their licence as soon as they could, and started driving to the places that trains don’t go. Normal people assumed an adult life as soon as they turned eighteen.

I was nearly nineteen, and still not driving. He played me ‘Sugar Mountain’ by Neil Young. Again. A song about growing up, or refusing to. “You can’t be twenty on Sugar Mountain”.

I began driving lessons in a manual car, but didn’t have enough arm strength to haul around the wheel of the heavy Nissan Stanza. That sent me, eventually, on a whole other journey into gym work and weight training, which later fed a feature article for my creative writing course. The Bachelor of Arts to which I travelled by train and tram.

I stopped lessons.

I began again a month later. The gears, the clutch, brake pedal, accelerator, indicators, mirrors, my driving instructor, me, and my fear had some more lessons. I wept during and after every lesson, flustered by everything to do and remember.

“You’re at least supposed to have been around Southland Shopping Centre on a Sunday,” my boyfriend said. “Had some sneaky practice before you get behind the wheel.”

I hadn’t done that. My dad was either not home, or laughing at the idea of me driving. My mum didn’t drive. Dad was teaching her, back in the day, but she took a corner a little sharply, he said words, she said words back, hopped out of the car in a snit, and never got behind the wheel again.

I stuck at my third set of lessons, in an automatic, with a man called Frank as my driving teacher. He was saving up for flying lessons, so willing to let me dawdle through as many lessons as I thought I needed. I still sweated during every lesson. I must have had fifty lessons.

My friend Sue had tried for her license four times. “The third time,” she said, “I got so nervous I drove on the footpath.”

Her words haunted me, and I wouldn’t even park in my parents’ driveway, because entering meant crossing a footpath.

Frank talked me into my first license test by simply booking it. I failed it within five minutes, when I couldn’t park between two bollards. Frank had never taught me that one.

We practiced parking between two bollards for a month, then I went for my license again.

I’d been warned about a particular assessor.

“Mr Smiley never smiles. He gets into the back seat and reads the paper the whole time. He’s got grey hair and thick glasses.”

I prayed for Not Mr Smiley. My first ever lesson in the universe never hearing the word ‘not’. Mr Smiley got into the back of Frank’s car. Off we went. Passed the parking. Out onto the road and off to Oakleigh Shopping Centre, which had a lot of different speed signs, traffic, and a few one-way streets. I passed everything, I supposed. We were on our way back to the testing station.

I pulled up behind a truck. The truck driver must have taken his foot off the brake because slowly the truck started rolling back towards us. I watched for a second then honked the horn. The driver slammed on his brakes so hard that the whole truck jerked back and forth. The rear doors of the truck swung open. A porcelain toilet fell out onto the bonnet of Frank’s car, and rolled off. Toilet rolls bounced free all around us.

Slowly, shaking, I clicked on the hazard lights, and parked the car. Frank leapt out to assess the damage to his baby, and swap phone numbers with the astonished truck driver who glared at me as though it was my fault. Mr Smiley stopped reading his paper and stared.

On his way back to the car, Frank scooped up some toilet rolls and popped them in the back seat with Mr Smiley.

“Drive on,” said Mr Smiley, his voice flat.

I sat in a pool of sweat, and I must be a good driver, because I drove on automatic back to the testing station.

“Sometimes I look at you young girls and I wonder if you should be on the road at all,” said Mr Smiley. “You didn’t avoid that accident, but I suppose it wasn’t your fault.”

Of course it wasn’t my fault, dickhead. I was more than the legal distance behind the truck. It rolled back.

Mr Smiley granted me my license. I drove home, staggered out of the car, went into the house. I cried, telling Mum I’d passed. She gave me a tin of celebratory vodka and orange.

“Let’s go for a drive,” she said, starting to put her shoes on.

“I can’t,” I said. “I’ve just drunk alcohol.”

Whew. Crisis averted. I didn’t have to get behind the wheel all on my own just yet. I would find excuses not to drive for six years, until after I had my daughter, and was so isolated that I made myself drive, just to be out of the house and find company.

Poem – The Damaged Chalice

Even looking at the cat’s pink nose

leads to a cascade of thoughts,

then memories,

that wend their way into trauma.

The cauldron of the mind pours

until I am sweat-bathed,

tense in my comfortable bed,

seeing but not seeing the window,

suddenly afraid of the day

and what fresh trauma may loom.

I have twisted myself yoga-style

to insist on something happy.

The cup tips itself upright,

supplies nothing,

says it is as empty as an old tea mug,

with used leaves crumbling to dust.

The damaged mind drifts along

the flow of the past.

This morning, the cat on my chest,

I cannot remember

when my daughter first decided pink

was the only colour for her,

and my amused laughter at the cliche.

Driven And Enthusiastic

From an interview with Ingrid Laguna: “I’ve always been driven. I’m a passionate person and I throw myself into my work, whether it’s drumming, teaching or writing. I still have a school report from when I was twelve where a teacher wrote: ‘Ingrid needs to learn to control her natural exhuberance’. Who says that to a kid?”

Well, dear Ingrid, you look a lot younger than I am, but I can tell you now that I unnerved teachers with my very focussed ambitions: writer and astronaut, most likely combining the two to be the first writer in space, and part of the first Mars colony, as chronicler.

From age 12, I made a resolution each January 1 to be that little bit more dedicated to my writing. What that looked like, I couldn’t and can’t say. Presumably, write more. Which, as I edged towards 16, became ‘get published’, then ‘get published professionally’. Had all that in the bag just shy of 18.

Capricorn Sun, Mercury and Mars, bitches.

I also had a school report that said: “Almost too conscientious.”

Who says that to a kid? Who says that, full stop?!

Yes, I do find it a bit of a bugbear these days when I’ve signed up for about 20 courses, and have done maybe 1/3 of one course. Conscientious me wants to complete them all. The greater, lazier part of me wants to say ‘fuck it’ and look for the next Good Thing.

OohShinyGirl says I have ADHD as an autism side dish. Could well be. PTSD has set off the behaviours that were likely lying dormant when I was younger.

So yes, dear Ingrid, I can assure you that teachers do say stuff like that. They write it in reports too. My Year 11 Physics teacher wrote: “Works hard for no result. WHY?” Fuck you, Mr Wragg, and be a kinder teacher. Oh well, you’re probably dead now, so nothing to be done. But I hope that in your old age, you gave thought to your younger self, and how fucking smug you were. Probably not, though. You didn’t strike me as the sort of man who’d think twice about his smugness, his casual humiliation of students, and his ‘you figure it out’ attitude. Not helpful.

I have an image of you standing on the shores of the Styx, and no one giving you a fucking clue that you need two coins to pay Charon the boatman. Good. It means you’ll still be there when I arrive, and I can kick your arse.

Trans Cranial Magnetic Stimulation update – the last of 2 treatments per week

The other day, I noted that I hadn’t received a new calendar of dates, so yesterday, after brain zapping, I said: “I’ve only got one appointment booked in after this one.” Clinician and I busied ourselves making more appointments, two per week.

Then….hey, maybe I’m supposed to have only one. So, she looked at the in-house psychiatrist’s notes, and lo, one appointment per week as of next week. To be honest, with my anxiety ramped up again(still not at the level it used to be, I’d put it at maybe 5-6/10), I’m a little nervous to be dropping back to one treatment per week.

The depression I’m not worried about. I had a sharp rise to my current level of ‘good’ early on, back in April-May, and really haven’t looked back.

But that anxiety…..hmmmm.

Last weekend, I had two big things scheduled for the Saturday – catch up with a friend I haven’t seen in 46 years, and the first Key Word Sign workshop in the afternoon. Too much, too many people, far too rushed in terms of driving. I had severe jitters and shakes for a couple of days.

The thing is, Fear of Missing Out, and endless curiosity about the world means that I WANT to do so much more than I currently do. I have a big case of the ‘I used to be to’s. I used to be able to do all sorts of thing in a single day. Possibly that’s why I have anxiety now. Possibly, I ran rough-shod over my own nature and intuition for too many years, and that’s why I’m where I am now.

It’s an ingrained habit – say yes to All The Things. This dates back to….oh, possibly my early childhood, when I became aware for the first time that I wasn’t having the ‘normal family experience of siblings. My two brothers were/are twenty years older than me, so by the time I was three years old, both were married and gone from the family home. I grew up an only. And because Dad worked and devoted his spare time to the baseball club, and Mum was at the sewing machine day and night, trying to keep the family afloat as a dressmaker, I spent most of my time alone. When I started school, I realised I was missing ‘family life’.

I think I got it into my head, or someone must have told me, that I was boring. Which, to my mind, was the worst thing in the world. Can I blame my Venus in Aquarius for loving the eccentric, the weird, the unusual, the unique? Anyway, it started with odd reading habits, following my nose through Moorabbin library.

Then, I remember in my late teens and early twenties, choosing to ‘do stuff’ because it would, and I quote “feed my writing”. Thanks, writing books, for informing me that, in the scheme of things, I lead a pretty enclosed life.

It wasn’t until my 40’s that I faced the fact that most of the stuff I went and did….well, it wasn’t to feed my writing, because I rarely wrote about the stuff I did – hot air ballooning, zip lining etc. I did these things just for the experience, and the constant worry that I’d be in a nursing home, crying for all the things I never dared.

Hence the habit of yes to this, yes to that, yes to something else. Which leads to stuffing 5 things into a day, which leads to discombobulated and rushed Satya, which leads to anxiety. Which is now an ingrained brain habit that’s proving fucking hard to kick.

My anxiety is the most over-protected, Victorian, vapour-riddled maiden aunt ever.

“Oh my, get the smelling salts. I’m all of a dither!” At the slightest request. The slightest request!!

I had one blissful month in May where my anxiety shut up, and my brain was quiet. No suicidal ideation, no depression, and NO ANXIETY. Just quiet. I also wasn’t asking anything of myself besides: get up, shower, get dressed, go to TMS, come home.

As soon as I asked anything of myself, bam, thin edge of the wedge.

Yes, I’m fucking cross. I expected better than this.

So, back to curating my calendar. I went to the gym yesterday. Thus, nothing else beyond a couple of house chores, and a poem on my blog could be asked.

Today, free day, and I’m tempted to say: “I’m gonna do the things. Have an Experience, because I’m essentially boring, and it’s a wide world out there, and I must have dinner table conversation.”

CRAZY. I AM DRIVING MYSELF CRAZY.

Why can’t I just lie on the couch all day, reading rubbish?

I am a work in progress.

Science Fiction Conventions: the weird

Because I couldn’t think of what to write today, I asked my Facebook crew to come up with topics. HypnoCat wanted to know my weirdest science fiction convention experience. We know each other through Star Trek fandom, dating back to the 1980’s.

I attended sf cons, mostly media cons, back in the 80’s, and a little into the 90’s, when Aussie conventions were small affairs – a committee of locals throwing a three-day convention with maybe 200 attendees coming in from all over Australia. The Guest of Honour was usually an overseas tv star or writer. However, there were times when monies were not to be had to import a GOH, so we made do with local talent, or simply a Fan Guest of Honour, some local Big Name Fan who was shoved up on stage to talk about their role in fandom, and whenever their Good Old Days were/are.

However, my weirdest experience….. hmmm, some would say the very fact that I attended sf cons is weird. So be it. I got my start as a writer in Star Trek fanzines, got nominated for several fan writing awards, won one, and was a…well, not a BNF, but a Medium Name Fan.

I have two incidents for you, both from Denvention, the 2008 World Science Fiction Convention, and the first con I’d attended in many years, and my first time ever outside Australia.

Picture the first day of the convention. I’ve registered, and am now at a loose end. I know exactly 3 people at the con, and they’ve all fucked off to do their own things. GodzillaMan and MothraBabe are at the art show. My room-mate, RatMother, is doing whatever she’s got planned. I’m at a loose end, so I decide the best thing to do is volunteer. I get on the escalator, heading upstairs to where Volunteering is. I idly look up. There is a large, and I mean very wide, short, hefty in a Stonehenge sort of way about 12 steps ahead of me. He has long white hair and a long white beard. He is wearing a kilt. He is not wearing anything under his kilt. It takes me about 20 seconds to register what it is I’m seeing. A very broad, white arse, with hair on both butt cheeks, and his dangly bits featured in shadow. His legs are wide. I know it’s hot in Denver in summer (I experienced it as a nice late Spring), but wow, put your legs together, man. Thirteen years later, it’s still emblazoned on my memory.

And from the same convention:

How about my first Denvention room party, where I’m talking to an American man who, seriously, has a sort of lurex shirt on, open to the waist, and a fucking gold chain with medallion on it nestling amongst his chest hair. He’s not even wearing it ironically. I can scarcely contain my excitement that this sort of cliche actually exists.

He’s telling me all about himself, and everything is hugely hilarious to me, but I don’t show it. I sit there, looking interested, which, to my delight, only encourages him. He tells me that he wants to get out of America, and Australia sounds all right to him. His plan now is to marry an Australian woman and, as he seems to only work part time, be mostly supported by her. What a catch! I tell him that it could be challenging for him, because all Australian women are mated from birth. The government chooses our mates for us by lottery. And he actually believes this. I sigh and say that because my first marriage ended in divorce, I am now awaiting the divorcee lottery, and be assigned my new husband in October 2008. Thus, I was having a last few months as a single woman before being remarried. I didn’t tell him that at this point, I’d been divorced since 1995, and that I hadn’t remarried in that time. He didn’t need to know that.

He was disappointed, and asked if I had any girlfriends who might be interested. I said I had my doubts. He gave me his contact details, and said he’d be grateful if I asked around.

I suggested that he come to Australia for the Sydney Mardi Gras (a huge gay pride event). That it was a chance for those few who were single to perhaps find a mate whose name they could suggest to the government. I said: “Someone will see you right.”

I’m sure some nice man would.

*****

There you go, HypnoCat, are they weird enough? I’m afraid cPTSD has rendered quite a few of my early convention memories in a very mixed light, not accessible, or very ordinary compared to later experiences.

Next topic, please.

Tarot For A Tiger

Poetry the Sumatran Tiger:

Born Rotterdam Zoo 1978.

Arrived Melbourne Zoo 1979.

Died 23/11/1997.

Back in the 90’s, before internet became part of my life, I was penpals with a woman who lived in Sunbury, Victoria. We had letter writing and tarot in common. She had teenage children, I had small children. We wrote back and forth to each other. We both worked with the Robin Wood tarot deck. The big illustrated book that now accompanies reprints of the deck hadn’t been released. There was only the Little White Book that came with the deck.

I’m hazy on how we came to meet. Judging by the era, perhaps we met at a belly dance event. I can no longer remember anything but the tarot contents of our letters, where we wrangled meaning from the images, and sent each other challenging card combinations with the adage ‘what do you make of this one, then, in relation to a house move?’

We corresponded for perhaps two years when she finally said: ‘”Let’s meet up at Melbourne Zoo. Bring your cards.”

I was living in Melbourne’s eastern suburbs. Melbourne Zoo wasn’t halfway between us, but we both liked the zoo, so the date was set.

We arrived, and set eyes on each other. We were just outside the front entrance gift shop. We stared at each other. In all this time, we’d never sent each other photos. Pics of our kids, yes. But not ourselves. She was tall, with a loose-boned quality I hankered after. Surprise, she too had red hair, but whereas mine was the colour of Schweppes dry ginger ale, hers was a frizzy, faded orange. She was older than I first thought, ending into her late 40’s, and here I was in my early 30’s. She had watery blue eyes, and the first signs of crow’s feet around her eyes. Her chin was pointy, and she was everything I suddenly wanted to be. Oh, to be tall! Oh, to wear peasant skirts with a stylish swirl, instead of them puddling around my feet!

We had until 2.40pm, then I’d have to be off, speeding home in my car to catch at least one kid after school. It was 10am. Let’s go.

“I think we should do some readings for the animals,” she said.

“What?”

“Well, we can’t set up shop here. The zoo’d have us out on our ears in a hot minute,” she said. “I thought we could read for the animals, then have some lunch, then read for each other.”

Well….all righty. Why not? I was a Reiki Master, and in my time, I’d not only done distance healings on people, but also animals, and once or twice, places. I’d talked to the higher self of a house, and to the deva of a field. So why not do tarot readings for animals?

Poetry was the resident female tiger at Melbourne Zoo. It was March, and Poetry was elderly, nearly 21 years old. She was the sort of tiger who was so accustomed to her human keepers that they could place their hands up against the wire of her enclosure and she’d rub her face against them, just like a housecat buffs itself against fingers, a computer edge, or the handle of your tea cup.

I was fond of Poetry. She’d been in Melbourne Zoo a long time, and was the tiger I’d seen there ever since I could remember.

“I want to do Poetry,” I said to my friend.

She wanted to read for a gorilla. Gorillas before tigers, as the zoo was laid out then, in 1997. I sat and watched my friend tune in to the female gorilla nearest the front of the enclosure, and then shuffle her cards. It’s too many years ago to remember the exact cards, but I do remember my friend’s interpretation was along the lines of: “change of diet needed; body discomfort; yearning for freedom”.

I remember thinking that, as my friend read the cards out loud: “Yeah, I can see that, I can see that, where is she getting that interpretation from, yeah kinda see that.”

Then it was my turn. We walked to the tiger enclosure, and there was Poetry, sound asleep in the shade. I think, by her great age, she spent most of her life asleep. I sat down. People came and went around me, kids shouting, voices saying: “Why doesn’t it get up?”

I dropped my consciousness into Poetry, and felt like I was stretched out, hot, too limpid to move much, old, tired. My hips ached. Fleeting dream images of meat, of green leaves, of the brown water of the pond flickered behind my eyes.

“This is a tarot reading for the tiger Poetry. It’s a three card spread, using the Robin Wood deck.”

I shuffled and laid out the cards, mostly back in my own body, but a small part of me still connected to the big cat.

Death. Knight of Swords. Knight of Wands.

I wasn’t conscious of my friend as opened my mouth and spoke, and I don’t remember my exact words, but they were along the lines of: “Change is coming, and she knows it. Soon, she will become a thing of air and fire, not of earth and water. She will rise as smoke, she will rise like flame, and become spread upon the air. She will rise, she will rise. Death is coming for her and she knows it.”

And then I snapped out of my trance. People moved around me, but not near me. My words bothered them. A few were murmuring to each other, like I was a sideshow all on my own. My friend’s mouth hung open.

“Oh my god, she’s going to die?”

I hesitated. “Is that what I said? I never use the Death card as actual death. Neither of us do.”

We stared at each other. It suddenly wasn’t so much fun any more. The silence between us was unbearable. Poetry started suddenly from her sleep, and stretched. She got heavily to her feet, and stood, her face half-turned towards the small crowd. Then she walked slowly away towards the back of her enclosure, where she couldn’t be seen.

The mixed sandwiches and tea I had for my lunch were like ashes in my mouth. We made desultory talk.

“Let’s go see the butterfly house,” my friend said.

Butterflies lived such short lives that doing readings for any of them seemed silly, so we sat on the pathway, mercifully empty of baby strollers, and school children, and read for each other, in the warmth of the house, in filtered sunshine.

We shook off the morning’s gloom, and went on to do quick one-card pulls for various animals – lions, parrots, a large male kangaroo, a giraffe. It seemed one giraffe would be going on a trip shortly. (Sure enough, the Friends of the Zoos newsletter reported that, three months later, he’d been shipped elsewhere.)

At 2.40pm, we bid each other goodbye, and I raced for my car. I was in time, just to pick my daughter up from school.

Poetry died six months later.

It’s the only time I’ve ever predicted a death in tarot. Births, marriages, divorces, adultery, addictions. But only that one death. That was more than enough.

It was fun to read for the animals, until suddenly it wasn’t. I’ve never repeated the experience.