Thursday, May 2, 2019

How to Have a Cat in a Small Apartment

When I acquired my second-hand cat, Bagheera (she came with that name), I was concerned that the limited space in my apartment would be a problem, especially in the smell department.  Because I've been to the homes of people with cats and been overwhelmed by the smell.  I was told that if you clean the litter box frequently, then it is not a problem, but I needed to see for myself, and therefore kept the receipt for my cat and took full advantage of the probationary period.

Happily, I can report zero smell outside of the bathroom (where the litter box is) and very little smell even in there.  I thought I would report how I do it, as a service to those considering a cat, or possibly to those who already have one.

The first kitty litter I tried was some name brand, but honestly inferior.  I'd get puffs of dust rising into the air when I scooped.  Um ... ewww?  So, I researched and found Dr. Elsey's.  First, it's the same or cheaper than most other brands ($18.47 for a 40lb. bag).  Second, no dust!  None!  Third, it clumps like a son-of-a-bitch.  I generally scoop daily unless I forget.  And I was cleaning weekly at first, but not with this stuff.  It does such an amazing job of clumping that there's hardly anything to clean.  There are some tiny bits of fecal matter that occasionally escape its grasp, so I still clean the box about once a month.  And ya know what?  No smell.  Even in the bathroom, you only smell something if kitty has gone recently.  Which is the same as with humans, so I can't complain.

The Litter Champ is like a diaper genie (I'm told - never changed diapers and never will, 'cuz I don't have a baby).  It has a double lid, so you scoop your little bundles of joy inside and it traps the smell in there.  I change the bag every few weeks.  And it has a foot pedal, which makes it much better than the Litter Genie that Petco sells, which only has a pull handle.  How dumb!

I came across this beauty after being driven crazy by all of the kitty litter on the floor.  See, cats like to dig and kick around in their litter boxes, and that sends litter spraying out onto the floor.  You can get a litter box with a door, but some cats don't like that and, besides, the cat will still track litter out with their paws.  Introducing the Litter Trapper Mat.  It's got a porous honeycombed surface that allows the kitty litter to fall through, but not bother your feet when you step on it.  And it's some plastic/rubber/something, so it's easy to clean.  No more kitty litter all over the floor.  Awesome.

Kitty did try scratching the furniture when I first got her, but I kept sticking this in front of her wherever she was scratching, and she got the idea.  Mine is actually super frayed now, so I'll need a new one soon, because she loves scratching.

Cats need to be played with and they love laser pointers.  'Nuff said.  Except there is more to say.  Whaaat?  This sucker is rechargeable!  And it has three kinds of lights, so you always know where there's a flashlight too.

And finally, while not strictly necessary, I do recommend writing Haikus about your cat:


Purring pussy cat
Perfect products, pleasant pad
Perhaps we will play

Monday, April 15, 2019

Rhetorical Appropriation

There's a trick you can use in poetry or prose that's all around us, but I don't know what it's called, so I'm going to name it: Appropriation.  It's when you take a word or phrase that's already out there, and repurpose it in your own work.  Kacey Musgraves does this in pretty much every song: 'You and your high horse', 'You're my velvet Elvis', and my personal favorite, 'You can have your space, cowboy'.  Sometimes it's overt, and sometimes it's sneaky.

And often it's punny.  If I were writing an expose on Richard Finch, co-founder of KC and the Sunshine Band, I could title it 'A Bird in the Band', because his last name is finch and it sounds like 'a bird in the hand'.  But I digress ...

As I was driving to an inspection this morning, I was thinking about appropriation, and I made up this poem, and I thought it would be fun to dissect it:

He was the one who got away.
But don't cry, baby, don't cry.
You know he never meant to stay.
'Cuz butterflies just flutter by.

First, there's some of the usual culprits:

Rhyming: Away and stay, cry and by.

Alliteration: was and one, he and who, meant and to and stay, know and never.

Assonance: but and 'cuz and was and one, never and meant.

Then there's a diacope, which is a word sandwich: don't cry, baby, don't cry.

And finally, appropriation.  There are three here.  The one in the first line, 'the one who got away', is just using a familiar line.  The one in the last line, 'butterflies just flutter by', is more fun, because it's taking a familiar kids' rhyme and imbuing it with new meaning, something like 'beautiful people are flaky and don't stay'.  The third one is the sneaky one: cry, baby.  It's taking the word crybaby and breaking it in two, so that the meaning shifts, but it's still there.  I think it's fun that the sentence says 'don't cry', but the word 'crybaby' is right there, kind of accusatory.

A couple of other interesting notes: 

 - I came up with the second line first, and built the rest around it.

 - I went back and forth between using 'he' or 'she', but settled on 'he' because it gave me one more alliteration.

 - The third line was originally something like 'You know he had to go away'.  I was trying to think of another appropriation, so there'd be one on each line, but when I came up with 'he never meant to stay', I liked the emotional punch and that it infers that she should have known better.

 - You may also notice that the first three lines have the same rhythm and the fourth one doesn't.  That's on purpose.  I feel it gives it a little kick.  Your're reading something that's emotionally upsetting and the rhythm falters at the same time.  There's a similar trick in movies where they'll jump to an angle that doesn't quite feel right at the same time that they want you to feel like something is wrong or painful.

So there you have it.  Anatomy of a poem I made up in my head while driving.  Hope you like it.

Sunday, April 14, 2019

I don't want to go to church

I don't want to go to church anymore.  Which is to say that I want to go, but I'm having a problem with it.  An old problem that has reared its ugly head again.

A few years back, I started feeling more and more fragile at church.  I think it started when I was doing Kid's Church - something about seeing all of the happy kids and families really shook me and made be break down in tears.  So I stopped doing Kids Church.  But that same feeling started creeping into the main service with me.  If I had someone to sit with, I was fine.  But if not, the smallest thing could set me off, and I'd exit during the worship time and drive home.

I took a break for a while, not going to church.  And then my friend Christine suggested we be church buddies.  That was great.  I had someone to sit with and I was emotionally fine.  But then she stopped going.  I tried to keep going on my own, but when you feel like crying in the middle of service, it's not fun.  I took to always sitting on the aisle, because I wanted to be able to make a break for it.

Then one day I was sitting there and a woman entering the aisle in front of me stopped and lectured me, saying, "I like to move to the middle of the pew, so that people don't have to get by me."  Well, fuck you, lady!  You don't know why I'm sitting here on the aisle!  I got up and left and never went back.

It so happened that my friend Adam invited me to check out his new church.  Which I did, and soon the two of us were going to our new church together.  And I had someone to sit with again.  Adam is a busy guy, though, so soon he was off to other parts of the country or the world, leaving me to sit alone.  But I was OK, because I'd joined a small group and made new friends and even if I didn't sit with someone, I often saw and interacted with people I knew.  So the fragility stayed away.  For a year and three months.  Until last week.

I was talking to a woman I know, who is a greeter, outside.  And wanting to be friendly, I turned to the other greeter and put out my hand and introduced myself.  The other greeter just stared at me, then said, "We've met!"  She didn't tell me her name or laugh it off.  She just looked at me like I was a loser.

I didn't know what else to do, so I finished my conversation with my friend and went inside and sat down.  But that feeling was back.  After the first song, I got up and left.  I walked to my car, where I sat for 10 minutes, emotionally stuck.  I thought about talking to the woman who made me feel bad, but I felt too vulnerable.  So I drove home.

This week, I went to church again, but that feeling was there, starting on the drive over.  What if that woman was there?  Would I say something to her or ignore her or what?  She wasn't there, so I just went and sat down.  But I didn't want to be there.  I wanted to leave.

I feel like a failure.  I feel like a loser, who can't handle the smallest slight, and had to run home.  But normally I can.  I think I'm relatively thick-skinned most of the time.  But this thing at church ... I know it's not rational, but I don't know what to do about it.  I honestly just want to stop going.

So, here I am.  I know it would help to have a church buddy, but I can't ask someone, because then it would feel like they're doing it out of pity, and that would not work for me emotionally, either.  Same thing if you read this and then offer.  I wish I knew what the root was and could deal with that somehow, but I don't.  So I don't know what to do.

Friday, April 12, 2019

Pointed in the Write Direction

Sometimes when I'm depressed, life starts to seem pointless.  Sometimes even when I'm not depressed.  But it occurs to me that I need to ask the question, 'What would I want the point to be?'  Or, 'What would life look like if there was a point?'

Because saying life is pointless without an alternative is just being negative.

Often the pointless point is connected to loneliness.  The idea being that if I had someone to share my life with, then it wouldn't feel so pointless.  And I know from experience that having a girlfriend or even a close friend to spend time with frequently, does help alleviate the feeling of pointlessness.

But not completely.  Because it's a feeling.  Life FEELS pointless sometimes.  But when I'm spending time with someone and feeling loved and understood, I FEEL better.  But life either is pointless or it isn't, no matter how I feel about it.  And while I'm always going to feel negative feelings at times, it seems like it would help to fight those feelings if I had more of an anchor.  Something I could point myself at and say, 'See?  That's the point!  Focus on that!'

So!  What is the point?  Many Christians would say, and rightfully so, to glorify God.  To love Him and be loved by Him.  Yada yada.  But as you can tell from my glib yada yada, I don't find that answer satisfying.  Perhaps because it's too general.  I can stand up and say, 'God, I glorify you!', but it doesn't feel up some meter in my soul, and honestly I feel like only the cat is listening. 

OK, so perhaps something more specific to me.  Something about making my mark or leaving something behind or leaving the world better than I found it, or even helping just one person to have a better day, whether that's through writing or hugging or smiling at the counter person at the fast food place or visiting guys in prison or playing board games with folks on Tuesday nights.  'Cuz that's the stuff I do.  Those are some of the things that make up my unique contribution to the world and hopefully glorify God in the process.

Nope.  Doesn't do it.  Still doesn't seem like a point.  It's closer, but it kinda feels like a band-aid, and one that flips up on one end and gets looser and looser until it starts unwrapping all the time and you have to keep sticking it back down, but the sticky part has lost it's stickiness, so you let it flap around for a while and then finally rip it off.

Of course, the problem may be me.  Perhaps other people in life do reach a point where they believe they can clearly see the point of life.  I've always suspected that I feel more unsatisfied than the average person.  So that could be it.

But there's one more question to ask.  Could I be right?  Could it be that life is actually pointless?  Could it be that this existential question cannot be answered because we simply refuse to accept that life really is pointless?

Nah, I'm not buying that.  We're here.  Life is not an accident.  I think, therefore I am.  There's gotta be something to it.  There's just gotta be.  Right? 

But there still might be a clue there.  And here's what I'm thinking.  Maybe life feels pointless simply because this life is not all that there is?  It's like trying to figure out where a puzzle piece goes before realizing that you're only working on one little area and that piece belongs somewhere else in the puzzle.  Maybe it's just that this life is pointless ... by itself.  And we can't see the larger picture, at least not very clearly.

David wrote in Psalm 17, "As for me, I shall behold your face in righteousness.  I will be satisfied with Your likeness when I awake."  And what he's saying there is that that satisfaction isn't now.  It's then.  In the next life. 

When I think about dying and going to the next life, I imagine that when I meet Jesus, with one look all of my stuff will fall away - all of my expectations and insecurities and false faces and well-intentioned lies that I've told myself - they'll all just fall off of me and I'll be free.  Free to love and be loved.  And maybe that's also when the point will finally be clear.  Maybe it's too hard for me to see through all of my crap.

So, what is the point?  Yeah, it's to glorify God.  Yeah, it's about other people.  But it's also about getting through it.  It's about keeping your head down ... er ... holding your head high ... um ... doing something with your head appropriate to your situation, and keeping your eyes on Jesus, knowing that he's got a point waiting for you when you meet.  Just gotta get there!  Exclamation point.

Monday, April 1, 2019

Finding Your Thing

If you're like me, praying and reading the Bible can become rather rote.  That's why I don't pray before meals, although I don't mind if you do.  But it is important to get that one-on-one time with God.  So I thought I'd share how I do it and how some other people do it.

When we were kids, my mother used to get up early every morning to do her quiet time.  And rather than feeling more tired, she would feel refreshed and invigorated.  Whether that's because of God or because it gave her a few minutes to herself, who can say?  But that's what worked for her.

I have one friend who needs to take a 'God Day' once in a while.  He'll head off into the mountains or the desert for the whole day (or a half day, if that's all he can manage) and just spend time alone with God.  I'd just sit there staring into space, but it does something for him.

Another friend lights a candle.  Because his brain is always spinning so fast, it gives him something to focus on and helps him slow down.

And then there's the friend who has created a whole positive self-talk routine that she does every day (sometimes multiple times), complete with scripts and orchestration, to help remind herself of how God thinks of her.

Some people use journaling.  And there's fasting.  Meditation.  Accountability partners.  Doing artwork.  Setting an alarm and praying every hour on the hour.

And me?  Well, for one, I pray every night.  I crawl into bed and kinda review the day, thanking God for everything.  Sometimes it's longer, sometimes it's shorter.  Occasionally, it's just 'Thank you for loving me.', because I don't feel like praying, either because I'm super tired or I've got a bug up my butt about something.  But every night, I check in.  And I pray throughout the day whenever it strikes me, often just one-liners dispatched like a text message.  That might make it sound like I'm praying 'without ceasing', but there are days when nothing hits me and I don't pray all day.  I guess I think of it as an open connection, and God's always there listening, if and when I have something to say.

And a new thing for me involves writing poetry.  I've given myself a project of going through the Psalms and writing poetry based on each one, and having that intentionality has helped me focus more on pulling out the meaning, instead of just reading it.  That's not every day, but it's about 3 times per week.

So many ways to connect with God, and we each need to find our own.  I can lay in bed and talk to God without getting sleepy, but maybe you can't.  My brain doesn't spin like a whirlwind, so I don't need to light a candle, but maybe that would work for you.  We're all different, and that's beautiful.  So, I hope you try different things and figure out what works for  you.  And I hope you find your thing.

Sunday, March 24, 2019

Another Awesome Dead Poet's Weekend

I'm back from another Dead Poet's Retreat, my 15th time going away with some of the loveliest, awesomest, most creative people I know.  Here are a couple of things I wrote while there.


This was mostly a stream-of-consciousness bit about a memory from elementary school:

When I was in elementary school, I had a table collapse on me.  We were in the school cafeteria having one of those assemblies where they try to get you all psyched up about the prizes you can win by selling magazine subscriptions, and some of the kids had decided to stand on top of the tables.  I remained sitting at one of the benches connected to the table top.  Suddenly, the whole thing folded in on itself, and with a loud bang I was half under the table.  This, of course, hurt like hell.  And there were kids, oblivious, still standing on the table that was now crushing me.  So I screamed at them, "Get off!  Get off the table!  Get off of me!"  I shouted as loud as I could, trying to get their attention.  But nobody paid the slightest attention.  I'm yelling as loud as I can, and everyone's just milling about, on top of me, some of them jumping up and down on the table top.  After a minute or two, some teachers made their way over and quickly assessed the situation and I was rescued.

But I couldn't understand how everyone had been so awful, so oblivious to my pain.  I mean, some kids are always going to be jerks, but everyone?

Happily, once I was out, I was fine.  Nothing broken.  And I told a friend about how nobody would move, no matter how I yelled.  But he looked at me and said something curious.  He said, "Matt, you weren't yelling.  I was right next to you and you were super calm and polite and you said, 'Excuse me.  Excuse me, but would you mind getting off of the table?'  And you didn't shout it.  It was like you were saying it under  your breath."

So what happened there?  I could swear I'd been yelling and screaming, "Get off!  Get off!"  But I had a witness who had heard me calmly and politely express my concern.

It seems we have a tenuous grip on reality.  Other people do not see us as we see ourselves.  Events did not unfold the way we remember.  We get all bent out of shape over things, but the people we're mad at don't always deserve our judgement and wrath.


And here's a little poem I wrote.  The camp is the Lazy W Ranch, but I sometimes refer to it as 'The Lazy Dub''  And I thought it would be fun to write a poem where all of the lines end with words that are cut off.  But I was running short on time, so only some do:

At the Lazy Dub',
I'd made some troub',
Fixin' for a fight.

The law I'd broke.
Thrown in the poke
Until I saw the light.

When I heard the Preach',
And he did beseech.
Turned me from my fall.

So here I stand.
A diff'rent man.
And that's my story, y'all.


And look!  Pictures!

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Why I Look At You Like That

I've noticed that often people react strongly to my reactions.  I'll give them a look or exclaim in such a way that is unnerving or upsetting.

The thing is, though, I find people fascinating and I am always trying to figure them out.  In Myers-Briggs, I'm an INTJ, which is the scientist, but what I study is people.  In the Enneagram, I'm a 5, which is the observer, but what I observe is ... you guessed it ... people.

And while in many ways, I can be emotionally reserved, I do react when people behave in a way that confuses or surprises me. 

"Why would you do that?" 

"You do know that makes no sense, right?" 

"What the hell!?!"

The thing is, it's not that I want you to feel stupid.  If I actually think you're stupid, I will try not to let on.  So if you're getting a big reaction out of me, I think it's my robot brain saying, "Does.  Not.  Compute."

So, for example, if you've just made an emotional argument and won't listen to logic, then I may react strongly.  If you've done something to cause our team to lose the game, and I think you really do know how to play, you may get an outburst.  Especially if we're playing Outburst.

But, just so you know, it's a good thing.  It means I'm trying to figure you out.  Yes, I'm feeling incredulous or confounded and you may feel put on the spot or judged, but that's not really it.  (OK, some of it is judging - shut up, I'm making a point.)  It means I'm invested in understanding you.  I care about understanding you.  And I'm choosing to interact with you in an emotional way, which not everyone gets from me.

So the next time I look at you like you're an alien or exclaim that what you did made no sense, don't flip out.  Maybe ask me what I'm thinking and feeling and dialogue with me.  I'll love that, and I'll listen and explain, so you'll feel (one would hope) better loved and understood, too.

And I'll try to explain myself better in the moment.  But I'm just so perplexed by you!