Leveling up

Leveling up

As you read this sentence, you’re getting older. Wait, you just did it again. Now you did it again.

You can’t stop, and I won’t get in your way.

But before we get all our farfalle twisted into bow ties of despair, remember: we’re not alone.

The cats are aging, too.

If ever anyone took that whole “do not go gentle into that good night…rage, rage against the dying of the light” thing to heart, it was every single cat who ever lived.

Memento mori? More like memento mirth. Teach us to number our days? More like teach us to number the varieties of cheese we have experienced, and then systematically locate the rest. (Rage, rage, against the cheese untasted.)

Yes, yes, I know it’s beneficial to occasionally reflect on our mortality. But I’m of the opinion that we sad-faced little spaghetti-o’s err on the side of self-pity a bit too easily when it comes to age.

We need to stop thinking of it as decline.

We need to stop going gloomy into cultural cages that dare to define beauty and vigor and value.

We need, in other words, to remember that we’re constantly leveling up.

In the realm of video games, the goal is to move from one world to the next. When you’re the brains and flying fingers behind Mario and Luigi, this seems natural, but it’s actually quite astonishing. Think about it for a minute. You are literally striving to spring from one world to a more advanced world, and to do it over and over and over again.

(Bonus points if ascendant worlds enable you to don a peculiar suit and transform into a blissful flying raccoon dog. I’m still looking forward to that one.)

Cats are completely at home with this concept. Change — even the inevitabilities and indignities of age — is a challenge and a launchpad. We get to watch them beat the game every single day at Tabby’s Place, and we’re loopier than a linguini box full of Luigis if we don’t learn.

In 2022, Angelo reaches level 16. That makes him the rough equivalent of 80, but he cares about that about as much as he cares about The Complete Writings of Dylan Thomas. (He was more into the Transcendentalist poets, obviously.)

He’s reached the level where it’s acceptable to fill your cheeks with so much kibble, the police show up convinced there’s some kind of jewel heist going on here.

He’s reached the level where it’s victorious to vault yourself into every lap, excelsior ever upward, and to winningly foist your love upon all beings, regardless of species or surliness or state of grace. (Let the record show that, once one has aged 5 minutes in the presence of Angelo, surliness is vanquished, grace gallops and dumps itself upon you in gallons, and you also get five extra lives for the next round.)

He’s reached the level where there’s no shame in admitting that he kinda really loves Luna, his inescapable neighbor and archnemesis and sometimes soulmate.

Leveling up is lovely business.

Meanwhile, Luna, half Ang’s age and twice his frenzy, vibrates into level 8. That makes her the equivalent of 48, but she’s about as concerned with that as she is with the fact that Meat Loaf of blessed memory once sang “the angels had guitars even before they had wings.”

Which is to say, she’s immensely and intensely concerned. And pleased.

Luna has reached the level where there is zero shame and zinging honor in honoring oneself all hours of the day. She beholds herself, an aging rubber ball with stars in her eyes and an ever growing quill of years on her back, and she loves what she sees.

She’s reached the level where her love is so large, it laps out like too much lasagna for her petite pan (Luna’s Sicilian grandmother taught her to always err on the side of too much: “you never know who might show up in need”). Sleeping or stretching or hurling herself into your arms, Luna has grown out of any youthful self-protection.

She’s leveled-up to the landing from whence you can see clearly that the hour is always late, the time is always short, and the only valid reason for rushing and raging is to bombard each other with tenderness.

They’re not getting any younger. They’re not getting any “prettier,” in the confectionery way that only nougat-heads count. They may not get adopted.

Still: leveling up looks victorious on cats.

Changing and aging and twinkle-eyed raging can look pretty beautiful on us, too.

We just need to keep reminding each other, and reminding each other to remind each other.

Think of the saints and angels who have done this for you throughout your life. You don’t ever forget them, do you?

One of Luna’s dreams for Level 8 is to improve her communication with Gandalf. (And in case you ever doubted, herein lies your incontrovertible evidence that the Tabby’s Place staff is the coolest collection of human beings who ever trod the earth. This particular instance of eminent awesomeness courtesy of Jae.)

When I was fourteen, falling over my (enormous) feet from one awkward stage into the next, an (incredibly cool, un-self-consciously kind) classmate named Moses randomly (which is to say, not at all randomly) declared to me one day that I was “getting more ghettofabulous all the time.”

(I had no idea what that meant. I still don’t. But I knew it was incandescently, inexplicably good, and that if my mock-turtleneck-wearing, extra-credit-chasing, singing-along-with-Meat-Loaf-on-the-schoolbus-radio kind of dunderhead could be that, I was leveling up in life.)

When I was twenty-two, taking driving lessons from a seventeen-year-old employee of the venerable Safety First Driving School, I was terrified that I would either (a) take many lives by my poor performance behind the wheel of my Subaru or (b) never learn to drive, needing to be ferried about like a princess or an idiot. My instructor — let us call him Shaggy, for both his personal style and his fondness for zestful substances match those of Scooby-Doo’s squire — yelled, “you need to get cooler, and to do that you need to drive, and you WILL drive, because I will not fail!”

When I was twenty-sixish, I fell headfirst out of an academic dream, hit my head hard on the pointy end of my own ego, and landed in the advanced, outrageous, ineffable world of Tabby’s Place.

It kept getting better.

It kept being hard and sad and sometimes devastatingly lonely, too. Tiny crows keep perching around my eyes without my permission. Huge losses keep hunting me like jackals, muttering lies that can cover the light of the moon, if I let them.

But, as long as you and Luna and Angelo help me, I won’t.

It’s going to keep getting better.

I leveled up.

And so did you.

And so will you, a thousand thousand times yet to come.

Angelo and Luna will help us both.

Just promise me this: if you’re a little further down the road and you find that Tanooki suit, tell me what level to look forward to.

Age on, kittens!



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