Cats’ responses to their local cat friends.

Cynthia: I shall accept your worship for I am your One True Queen. Imperial nose boops for one and all. Though it is undignified, I will consent to play a round of tag with the youngest child. She had better mind her manners though. Everyone will mind their manners or face a Royal Reprimand. Never mind, for your Sovereign is Just and Merciful and forgiveness comes swiftly for all. Excuse me, it is time for my State Procession. A little much, I know, but my feline subjects insist upon holding one daily.

Lady Jane: Good morning, my Queen and best of friends! Let us exchange nose boops! Oh, did I step in your path? My humblest apologi— WAIT IT IS YOU, MY GREATEST FOE. HENCE NOW, TINY MENACE. BEGONE, INFILTRATOR. NO, WE CANNOT BE ‘FRIENDS’. Oh, there is breakfast. Yes, I suppose we can hold a truce over breakfast. Don’t even think about touching my scratching post though.


19 May 2019

Why should you run?

This morning I encountered a robin. He was on the lawn in front of my building, only a few feet from where I strolled on the sidewalk. I watched, delighted, as he happily dug up a rather large worm, tossing it jauntily into the back of his beak before downing it in a single swallow.

I paused to watch and this charming fellow kept his eye on me for a moment, in that way that birds do, heads slightly cocked to the side. He hopped tentatively a few hops, before finding a new wormy snack.

‘Hello’, I greeted him. And then, ‘He won’t mind if I take his picture’ (a thought to myself). But when I pulled out my phone and pointed it at him, stepping half a step closer as I did so, M. Robin startled, and flew across the street, abandoning his second helping of breakfast.

I felt guilty, and the words of my favourite Yeats poem crossed my brain:

To a Squirrel at Kyle-na-no.


Come play with me;

Why should you run

Through the shaking tree

As though I’d a gun

To shoot you dead?

When all I would do

Is pat your head

And let you go.

I used to think this was mostly a charming little poem where the moment of unexpected gentleness of the speaker offers a slight condemnation of hunting sports which end rather than make space for lovely encounters with the natural world. But I’ve also come to think of it also works as a regretful reflection on our entitlement to nature. The sense that because the speaker enters the encounter with the squirrel without violent intention, they therefore are worthy of — and deserve — an interaction. The disappointment when nature fails to recognise the speaker’s peaceful intentions. The poem — and my own encounter with the robin — reminds me that there are other ways, besides killing, that we approach nature with a sense of ownership that can disrupt the peaceful everyday routines of the animal other.

I wanted to catch the small moment of joy I felt when meeting that bird. But ultimately, I think it would have been a better, more reciprocal encounter had I been able to quietly appreciate it finishing its breakfast. In the end, neither of us got what we wanted.

18 May 2019

This week in books (11-17 May 2019).

Sara Ahmed. The Promise of Happiness. Duke UP, 2010. Cultural Theory. 106/299pp.

Aislinn Hunter. Linger, Still. Gaspereau Press, 2017.

This collection is beautiful and melancholic. It’s probably no surprise at this point that the section, ‘Anna K— in Newfoundland’ was my favourite bit, but the last poem in the final section, ‘Esk’, a meditation on being and death, is absolutely haunting. Plus: bonus Heidegger. Poetry. 104pp.

Timothy Knapman and Holly Clifton-Brown. Detective McWoof and the Great Poodle Doodler Mystery. Oxford UP, 2015.

A pretty adorable canine-based art heist/mystery. McWoof properly gives all the credit to Wanda for actually solving the mystery. Features a physics-defying ball, a fuzzy dog car, a mustachioed dog butler, and a genuine ‘Dachshund Pollack’. Picture book. 32pp.

Arthur Miller. The Crucible. Penguin, 2003. Modern American Drama. 8/143pp.

Leslie Marmon Silko. Almanac of the Dead. Penguin, 1991. Giant Tome. 58/763pp.

17 May 2019

Movement in space.

Yesterday I accomplished a feat that for most people would seem like a ho hum everyday task — I walked to my local branch of the public library and back again. As I was going along my merry way I once again quietly marvelled to myself at how remarkable — and remarkably freeing — this felt.

Just about the time I finished my PhD, I found myself suddenly dealing with a severe mobility impairment, which, it turns out, had been quietly present during my whole life, but had finally grown to an acute state. I found myself having to reshape my entire life around the suddenly quite restricted limits of my body, entering one of the most claustraphobic, exhausting, and completely overwhelming periods of my experience. My world shrunk to three basic spaces: the room I taught courses in, my apartment, and the offices of whatever x-ray, mri, and physiotherapist I was visiting that week.

As someone accustomed to walking everywhere, I have felt a deep and constant mourning for the loss of both an activity I loved, and my favourite places in the community: the hiking trails and dog parks where I’d regularly bring my lunch and a books and read and walk for a few hours; the botanical gardens (one of the most beautiful spaces in my city); the libraries where I’d pick up BBC documentaries and miniseries; the cafes where I’d bring my work when working on my own got too lonely; the animal shelter where I volunteered as a dog walker; theatres and art galleries in both my own city and in nearby Toronto. Everything felt inaccessible and exhausting. Frustrated with the incredible slowness and periods of backsliding of my physical therapy, there were times when I thought my whole life was over.

At some point in the last year, though, my body made an incredible leap in recovering strengrh and mobility. There are for sure days when my spine and joints seem not to fit together properly, and times when it’s exhausting and painful to walk. When I’m tired, I find it incredibly hard to stand stably without pain or the feeling like my legs are going to give out from under me. One these days, I use mobility aids, and skip out of activities. But other days — and there are increasingly more and more of them — I walk easily. And my sense of space has gotten so much bigger. I went to the UK and took a four-hour walk around Oxford. I learned the subway system in Toronto. I’ve started going to theatre again. And I’ve been on many long walks with my dog friends. I catch myself constantly and quietly notice at how comparatively, marvellously easy it is to move in space again, and how joyful it is, this act of walking.

16 May 2019

Write write write.

I’ve been thinking a lot about my relationship to writing lately, mainly because in the last two weeks I’ve pulled off some rather constant writing work. This was the first week in a long time, though, that I just kind of…sat down and wrote a bunch of things. Without feeling anxious, or the usual period of staring at the empty Word document for an hour with my mind blank except for the solitary ‘I DO NOT WANT TO DO THIS’ running on repeat.

Everyone says that writing is a habit and , it turns out, writing is a habit.  Not that I think I do my best writing when overwhelmed and pressed against multiple deadlines, but the times in my academic career so far where I’ve just been forced to write every day for a stretch of days, it does get noticeably easier by the end. The problem is that when I finish a big project I tend to take time away from writing and when yhe next project comes along it feels fearful all over again.

I do notice  that even with breaks, my feelings about the difficulty of writing in certain modes has shifted over the past decade. I think one of the most valuable things grad school taught me (besides how to research and problem solve) is how to write lots. All the time. So it’s still easier to get back into writing after periods away now than it was in undergrad. And my confidence around my ability to write is decidely stronger. I take it for granted that I can sit down and write 1000 readable words in an hour or two — even if I’d rather not do so.

But lately even the longer pieces of writing haven’t felt impossible. And shorter pieces actually feel rather fun. And my brain is just more willing to click into writing mode.

One day I may even meet all my deadlines.

15 May 2019

Cats’ responses to me waking up.


Lady Jane: You are awake! The time for adoring me is now. Plus I have the nightly gossip to report. I hope you’ve scheduled a half hour for this. No? Well, you’re going to be late then.

Cynthia: There is no need to renew our greetings for of course your Queen has never left your side this whole night. Did you enjoy the mouse I left on your head at three of the morning?

12 May 2019