Happy birthday, Cynthia cat.

Already curled up to the Jonson.Cynthiabirthday

Six years ago my first cat Celia died suddenly from congenital kidney failure. It was already a bad time for me and after spending a horrible week in my catless apartment I packed up and went back to my parents’ home for a week or so. On the day before my birthday my amazing friends picked me up to go out and celebrate — which for us meant an afternoon of coffee and bookstores. But at the end of our trip we went to the pet store across from the Humane Society. It was one of those set ups where they host animals from local rescues, including the HS.

I met Cynthia (formerly named Domino for obvious reasons), as well as another very large and very charming tuxie boy.

I convinced myself that I should probably not impulsively adopt the first cat I met and went home. But it turns out I am terrible at convincing myself not to adopt cats. When I went back the next day I found myself asking who would be more likely to tolerate me reading and writing for long periods of time and was told that Cynthia was a little more of a lap cat than Mr Giant Tuxie.

Actually I was told, in somewhat ominous tones, that she was needy. Really needy. Maybe more needy than I would be ready for.

The first night was pretty telling. After a couple of hours of wandering around, calmly inspecting her new kingdom, she flopped down on the floor, stretching lazily in a ‘you will adore and pet me now’ pose (see above).

In the last six years I have learned that ‘she is a bit needy’ actually means ‘she will insist that you pay attention to her at all possible moments and even when you are busy you will pay attention to her’.

I’ve spent the last six years typing with a cat on my lap, a cat who occasionally reaches a paw upward to pat my face when I go too long without adoring her. Or with a cat laying beside — and then inevitably on — my laptop. And learning to read around a cat who insists on sitting on my books or directly in my field of vision. And waking up in the middle of the night to a gentle paw on my nose or snuffly nose in my eyeball (because I have to say good night to her when she goes to bed at 3am).

I have come to redefine my understandings of the term lap cat.

And no one escapes Cynthia’s demands. Anytime someone new comes to visit she will climb on a table and stare and meow  and reach out her paw to snag their clothes if she can. Or just flop at their feet in her ‘adore me’ posture.

I’ll never know how she ended up as a shelter cat because she’s pretty much the sweetest and gentlest and easygoingist cat around. I do know that I am always very grateful for her company and her affection. Especially in years like the past one where things have been not-so-good. Especially at the times when she intervenes at moments when I’ve been working too long, and forgetting to take breaks, and generally getting caught up in my anxiety that all the things have to be done.

But also at 3am.

So happy birthday to Cynthia cat: my best birthday present ever.

15 May 2016


Study Aides.

I got in the habit of reading aloud in a serious way nearly two years ago: I’d just brought home Hero and Leander and thought I’d settle them in by reading Marlowe’s poem to them [i]. Really, I just liked reading aloud — something about the habit appeals to me; I seem to remember texts more effectively after reciting them. Surrounded by a houseful of people, however, it somehow seemed a saner thing to claim I was just reading to bond with two baby guinea pigs.  I read aloud a lot more often after I started my MA, and even more in the last year since Cynthia, the neediest cat that ever did knead, moved in; she’s a willing audience for hours at a stretch, so long as her reader is also willing to scratch her behind the ears. It got to the point where a few tetrameters could wake her from snoring slumber; she’d dart out excitedly from any of her numerous hiding spots. [ii]

And then E. moved to Japan, and asked people she knew to record short stories for the long journey. So I tried it, and found that I not only remembered the texts better afterwards, but that I paid a little more attention to structure and tone. After listening to the recordings, I found myself going back and re-recording paragraphs. Because hearing how the sentence, or paragraph or narrative as a whole ends changes how I’d would read earlier parts. Listening to my own recorded reading also points out very clearly the bits where my attention wandered.

And then, later this term, I was trying to get through my readings for a presentation on An Collins. But it was that time of the term, and I was exhausted and having trouble focusing on the poems. And I really didn’t have the time to do what I’d normally do in that situation (put the books aside, sleep, and try again the next day). In desperation, I turned the audio-recorder on, and read aloud. I didn’t even bother to listen to the recording then, but the habits of reading aloud and of forcing myself to pay attention sustained my focus long enough to get through the material in a half-awake state.

I suppose I could have done it without actually recording — that bit was just a mental trick. But I’m pleased now that I did actually record, because it’s that time of year: end of term paper writing frenzy, and I’m exhausted from spending far too many hours staring at text. In the middle of my paper on Collins, and finding myself needing to get through large swathes of her text again, I hit “play”. Admittedly, it’s not a great reading (as I suspected!): there a places where I can tell I was getting tired (the reading speeds up immensely for some very speedy meditations indeed) — but it helped. The poems I wasn’t terribly interested in I listened to, the poems I was interested in I scanned along with, taking notes all the while. And I’m realising that recording readings is a useful tool for me, not only because it helps me pay attention to and interpret the text as I’m reading aloud, but also because it helps me think through and process the texts as I listen to them later.

All of which is to note that — sometimes — it pays to indulge habits that seem ever-so-slightly insane.

19 April 2011 ~ Hamilton


[i] Marlowe’s poem. This was before I started calling the four-footed beasts who live with me by Jonsonian names. Luckily, a friend reminded me that Hero and Leander also pop up in Bartholomew Fair, so I can claim retroactive consistency.

[ii] hiding spots. For awhile, I was using poetry to lure her away from her H&L stakeout before I left the apartment, but she’s gotten wise and waits to see if I’m actually going to sit and read before taking the bait.

It’s turned into a non-writing day…

I woke up early this morning (after going to sleep somewhat earlier in the morning) with the intention of getting some revisions done. I did fairly well until the Marchioness arrived. Since then, I’ve been dividing my hours between consoling a rather irate Lady Cynthia, and keeping company with the somewhat bewildered (and needy, as all young kittens are) Lady Jane (for half the day this meant shifting from one room to another, as the two were adamently not getting along). I predict a sleepless night as the cats continue to negotiate their living space.

Last night, however, I thought up a way to bring some much needed-unity to my thesis. I’ve been writing about the ways that female communities form in London in Jacobean city comedies (Jonson’s Epicoene and Bartholomew Fair, Jonson-Chapman-Marston’s Eastward Ho!, Lording’s Ram Alley, Fields’s Amends for Ladies, and Beaumont’s Knight of the Burning Pestle are the central texts), and the ways that boy actors alternatively support and challenge these representations of female community in the city. While the intersections between these three problems (female bodies, city environment, and boy actor) intersect in coherent and definite ways, I’ve been having difficulties linking them in a focussed and concise way. It’s felt like a sprawling project.

The chapter I finished writing about a week and a half ago argues that generic structures like prodigal narratives, chivalric romances, pastoral poetry, and tragedy often defend patriarchal structures justified by “divine” and “essential” male authority. Transposed to the city, however, where fathers often abandon their families out of laziness, or in pursuit of unrealistic money-making ventures, and where mothers and wives are often required both to labour, and come up with schemes to enable their children to survive in the wake of the men’s failure to protect their families, these narratives appear anachronistic (or pure fiction), while families show themselves capable of being arranged in other than patriarchal structures. Eastward Ho! and The Knight of the Burning Pestle satirise these genres mercilessly. Boy actors heighten the satire against men (showing them to be little more than boys still), and, by extension, the genres which are supposed to consolidate the men’s authority. Women, though, are not nearly as threatened by the satire — partly because their position within the family is already unfixed and non-authoritative, but also partly because boys and women already occupy the same subordinate position in relation to men (both are bodies that the early moderns read as imperfect or not fully formed men’s bodies).

But boys’ bodies, I’ve decided, are more dangerous than women’s on stage (or anywhere) — because a boy is somewhere between a man and a woman. The boy actor in a boy’s company is either an effeminate male or a masculine woman. He can be desired simultaneously, by men and women. He can play a boy playing a girl much more easily than an adult male actor can. Indeed, he can play any type of role easily, and this is his value as an actor. The popularity of boy company productions suggests the boy actor was desired for his ability to be a fluid and unfixed self. But  the possibility of a fluid and unfixed self  also terrifies adult males and leads to the production of anti-theatricalist pamphlets that protest the stage is quite literally unfixing men, turning them back into women, or into creating sartorial laws that attempt to fix status by demanding that clothes act as sure and immediately visible signifiers of one’s position in society. The boy’s body on stage, terrifying and desired, is a fetishised object, one that represents the same fears that the everyday life of the city is unfixing gender, social status, and family structures, by allowing anyone with enough money to fashion their lives and their bodies however they want (a good opportunity for female communities, but a bit of a threat for male ones).

Two years ago, at my honours defense, my then-supervisor asked me if I was reading boy actors as something akin to tofu: a substance that can take on any flavour. I couldn’t think of an unproblematic answer then, but now I can respond, unequivocally, yes. That’s the whole terrifying point.

18 June 2010 ~ Hamilton

(Also, in case anyone was worried, no, I didn’t forget Ben’s birthday last week. Indeed, I threw him a party, with early modern-style food, allegorical costumes and the delightful party game which A. made.)

Birthday, cats, birthday cats.

The last few weeks have been, to be  succinct,  terrible. Perhaps that’s hyperbolically succinct: there have been some not-too-terrible moments (hearing about funding, hurrah!). But the overall impression of the last month has been nothing astoundingly pleasant.

Indeed, I packed up and went to Niagara for the week. Which was delightful, as it meant I was able to spend a few days with some friends I’ve missed endlessly. And I adopted a new feline flatmate:

After one evening, I’ve learned the following about Cynthia: she “miaow”s an awful lot when she plays on her own; the rest of the time she makes a strange trilling noise as she meanders around the apartment. The woman from the shelter described her as “needy,” which seems an abbreviation for “any time I cease moving she’s on my feet or in my lap, trilling away.” She possesses a terrifyingly swift capacity for adjusting to new environs.

Also, she’s not Celia. She possesses distinctively different mannerisms, about which I’m pleased. Cynthia is, so far, an endearing and charming cat. But she’s not a “replacement” cat (which I didn’t want).  She’s pretty good company nonetheless.

And while on the subject of good company, B. made me an ingenuous Thai pizza for birthday dinner today. So this week was one of good company all through. Which is, after all, not a bad way to spend a day, or to start a year.

Did I mention I’m still pretty brilliant?

15 May 2010 ~ Hamilton

(She’s Cynthia from Cynthia’s Revels, by the way. In keeping with my theme of Jonsonian-nominated cats.)