Under the influence

Under the influence

If you’re an artist (and if you’re breathing, this is you), you have influences.

If you’re an artist of any caliber, those influences include cats.
If I’m an artist (my oeuvre: writing, coining excellent band names, and anticipatory anxiety), I’m outrageously ensconced in an embarrassment of riches. With apologies to Brian Doyle, Anne Lamott, Dave Barry, and Mary Oliver, my greatest influences are an ever-evolving cafe society of 120 cats.

Bucca stretches my vocabulary to the breaking point in the (gleefully doomed) attempt to capture true love. (And beauty. And eminence. And splendor. And grandeur. “Write ‘grandeur,’ woman.”)

Honey hurls me into the crock pot where all language breaks down and syrups into jam (dashed with cayenne). Hugging her, I remember that my most precious attempts at art are kind of a crock, but when I just let the love ooze freely, things turn out right.

Grecca giddifies me back to childhood, which I never should have left in the first place.

Hector hugs my fractured pieces into a mosaic, and in the shine of his survivor-eyes, I can accept my own reflection with kindness again.

But it’s Valerie who anchors my words and my worth in the peace without which there is no art.

Valerie, greyer than a whisper and twice as quiet, is one of numerous paraplegic cats at Tabby’s Place. For whatever reason — and there are as many theories as there are neon shades of diapers here — our mobility-impaired cats seem to come with extra helpings of, well, extra. Olive is imperious. Anka is uproarious. Dani is all of the Marx Brothers. Boobalah is a bubbling fountain of bodacious multiplied by outrageous.

Valerie is gentle.

Valerie is a case study in quiet.

Valerie is seldom on the move, bereft of anything to prove.

Valerie is ensconced in her own eternal enoughness.

While others (who may or may not include your hapless, shameless author) campaign and caterwaul and crazy-make for attention, Valerie is content to dream beneath the radar. If you should make your way over to her donut bed or her chosen nook, you’ll be welcomed into the happy hearth of her fireplace heart.

But if you don’t?

Still, she glows.

A glistening influence, Valerie is in no way an influencer. She wouldn’t know a hashtag if it hollered in her silvery ears. She wouldn’t trade her integrity or her honesty or her precious peace and quiet for all the “product” on a thousand shelves. She has no aesthetic. She prefers friends (who very explicitly include your hapless, shameless author) who the world might call “pathetic.”

But don’t mistake her glassy sea for apathy.

Valerie’s unstriving, unbedazzled, pastel placidity is the best kind of influence.

She has not yet reached retirement age (wait, no; for cats, that is “birth”), but Valerie has long since ceased striving. As she toddles along and ponders the powder-pink music deep within her own quiet, she owes no one anything. She has found the place where she can rest from all her labors but love.

Would that we, worried whirlybeasts, should do the same.

We wring our hands and wring our hearts and wear out our words with worry.

We posture and pontificate and even pray in a way that’s little more than worrying skyward.

We love the world and its infuriating, incandescent creatures too much not to work and battle and wonder if our microscopic efforts will matter, and if we’ll be loved besides.

All the while, we could be under the influence of a peace that never fails.

Fortunately for us, love’s labors continue even for an easeful author like Valerie. She’ll keep wielding her soft influence, blowing dandelion puffs of sturdy wishes over our whimpering heads.

And, if we’re committed enough to our art, maybe some day we’ll reflect her influence.

Meantime, between the sorrows and the singing, may we all slow down enough to feel the Great Heartbeat and know we are held.

May we drop our compulsive frenzied productivity for rest and play and prayer. (Here I am preaching furiously to myself, in my burning urge to work and write and “do.”)

May we learn the peace of green things with wild wondrous sea urchiny roots, and feel our own roots sigh into rescuing soil.

May we keep rescuing each other’s hearts in little and large ways.

May we be influenced only by the lights that love us.

Whatever you do or don’t accomplish today, Valerie and I love you.

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