If you’ve survived long enough to read this sentence, then you, my dear, are a storyteller.
And if you’ve survived elegantly, you know when to share your pen with the nearest cat.
Now, you may not be flinging words like the hash I sling across your screen. You may not have told a “story,” woodenly defined, since your third-grade masterpiece, “What Arbor Day Means To Me.”
But I’m convinced, and you can no more unconvince me of this than you can inconvenience a ladybug, that every thriving creature is a storyteller at heart.
And that goes double for cats.
The cats who come to Tabby’s Place are, by definition, sufferers of stinking stories. It’s written into our mission statement. We are the #1 destination, the Macchu Picchu-meets-Disneyland-meets-Camelot, for “cats from hopeless situations.”
But situations are static, while stories swing-dance.
We forget this. Cats forget nothing.
Rashida, radiant in her wild headdress, looks like the cover of a novel about a queen from a land across the sea. Her backstory is rather less regal, a riot of diabetes and dashed hopes, goodbyes and bad plot lines.
But the backstory belongs in the back of the closet, with the holey coats we keep only for sentimental reasons.
The living, breathing story belongs in front of our watery eyes, with the holy hopes that keep us dreaming. Dreaming, and painting.
Aeons ago, our species did its storytelling on the blank, kindly walls of caves. “Meaning” tumbled from their fingers like the red buffalo bounding across the stone, and as they wrote of the past and present, they wrestled the future into their own hands.
Rashida remembers the cave-painters and the bonfire tale-tellers.
Being fully cat, she is fully author of her own tale, and she’s making it as tall as life itself.
Yes, the past was punk; yes, the present is perplexing; but no, she will not be cowed into writing anything but “YES!” across the future, her future, our future, if we’re brave enough to enter into it.
(Let the record state that Rashida is also a robust fan of post-punk music, and if you ask nicely, she will shake her headdress like a cavewoman to the tuneful sounds of Talking Heads.)
The raw materials of her raw deal are precisely the pen and ink, the notes and rests, the paint and stone, the sugar and flour of the house she’s building.
It’s been said that anything can be endured if we can make meaning from it, and the cats would convince us that “anything” includes “everything.”
Simultaneously the most selfish (“all your bacon are belong to me”) and selfless (no explanation needed) creatures in creation, our feline overlords are anxious to prove this on every blank page called Today.
And maybe that’s why so many of us with ragged tales and smeary paintings are drawn to cats.
Just when we think our speckled stories and awkward art have led to a dead end or a straitjacket or an empty gallery, along come, say, Rawlings* and Clarence to move the paragraphs and paint globs around.
Walk into their cave, and you’ll be flooded with life so fast, you’ll forget every story but The Big Book Of Why I Am Beloved And Also Pretty.
One of them has cheeks the size of Carlsbad Caverns and enough batty stories to fill them to bursting. The other is a yarn of years and yearnings spent mostly on the run from his own loneliness. Neither has ever been to a Buffalo Wild Wings, which is tragedy enough for any cat to feel sorry for himself and worried about the state of the world.
But Rawlings and Clarence aren’t sorry. They aren’t worried. They are novelists, painters, chefs, quilters, creators of a sun-dappled future, if you’ll take it from their open hearts.
Hmm. I write that as though you have a choice. Which, of course, you don’t.
The beat-up boys with the invincible rhythm are too powerful for your protestations. They will have their way with your story, loving you into chapters you didn’t think you’d ever read, certainly not about yourself.
They will love you straight out of the cave and into the light, walking on your hands, blinking like a newborn baby, and every bit as irrevocably loved.
Cats can love in no other way, because they’ve never lost the plot of the True Story. Whatever has brought you to this moment, they’ll bring you out of it, believing in a better story.
But here’s the kicker: you never would have come to this if you hadn’t come through the horrors and hilarities, the shivers and the shimmers, that led you to today.
The cats have retaken their own stories and made every meandering tangent or maddening sidebar an essential ingredient. The meaning is theirs to make; they’ve made it; they’ll make it for you, while they make your day.
If you’ll let them.
You, no less than a diabetic cat with Bowie-in-Labyrinth hair, no less than two old codgers who still know how to dance, can retake your own story.
You can make the most of your material.
You can remember forward.
I said that cats forget nothing, but that’s not quite right. Cats forget precisely those “rules” that wreck our art. Where we scribble about karma and paint scary portraits of a merciless plot, cats daub grace on the walls of our caves and our hearts, reminding us that all can be forgiven and none can be counted hopeless.
We needed our past to get us here, all the pigments and plot holes. And now we get to use it to light up the cave and the chaos for somebody else.
We can’t shed our stories, not Rashida, not Rawlings, not Clarence, not you, not me. But we can take the pen and take our place in the pantheon of storytellers, meaning-makers, hope-slingers of every species.
And, since we love cats and each other, we’ll never need to go it alone.
*Adopted since the penning of this post, and profoundly adored, and producing the art that is love itself in a home called Forever.