Confessions of a Florentine Pet Sitter


No Way
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No Way that fix-it guy is going to get my mouse!

Blondie has been going crazy with the tiny toy mice that I send her. She exhausts herself playing with them. Before taking her nap, she hides them in various places. After her nap she digs them out from under pillows and furniture and begins playing again. She carries them around in her mouth. She wakes her mom up by sitting on her chest, staring at her, Wake up! Wake Up! Wake up! Four in the morning is a startling moment to wake up with anyone sitting and staring at you, nonetheless with a cat sitting on your chest inches away from your face, staring at you with a mouth full of mouse! Willing you to wake up, wake up wake up!

I woke up in the hospital bed one night after my surgery and as I rolled over I became aware my night nurse was standing about four feet back from my bed, quietly staring at me, listening to my breathing she said. Willing me to wake up first probably, because the last time she woke me up I was combative and socked her in the face! It was a strange feeling to know someone was staring at me while I blissfully and fitfully slept. Did I snore? Did I talk in my sleep and give away ungodly secrets?

​Regarding Blondie, I am just delighted that she is enjoying my gifts so much!

This cartoon developed one day when her mom had a repairman out to fix her clothes dryer. She said Blondie sat in the living room with the mouse stuffed in her mouth the whole time he was there working.​ The image stuck with me, couldn’t get it out of my mind. I just had to give it a try. Hand-drawn first, I then scanned and computer manipulated it.  I had in mind this image of Blondie sitting upright, tall, still, prim and proper like a princess, with her tiny cheeks bulging with a black mouse, and anxiety in her eyes wide-open; how long, how long, how long was she going to have to suck on this soggy mouse? When could she breathe? When could she get a sip of water?

There was no way she was going to let this fix-it guy steal her mouse. But, she may also have been hiding the mouse, and feeling remorse, thinking it would give away her secret…that she had quietly secreted away another mouse behind the dryer and it was the cause of the strange noise her mom had heard.

I tried to get the character of Blondie’s stubbornness and the strain of having to hold something in her mouth for so long – she couldn’t swallow, the mouse was undoubtedly soaking up her saliva, drying out her tongue, making it feel fuzzy, and her eyes would get wide and buggy with the stress of it all.

Poor kitty, all she had to do was spit it out, but maybe she didn’t have any spit left.



The Defiant One teaches me about courage
The Defiant One (aka. NASCAR Blondie)

The Defiant One (aka. NASCAR Blondie) #1

I found this quote on PaintersKeys.com the morning after I had made changes to my painting The Defiant One for all the wrong reasons. It seems all too appropriate for a discussion I was having the day before with a friend about the importance or lack of importance concerning perfect drafting skills. I said I didn’t care about drawing correctly, that I thought the character of the drawing was more important. I don’t look for drawing errors when I look at art.  I look at the whole composition and how it works together. And I believe character is key. It is that which expresses the unique feeling whether one draws the cat correctly or not, and that expression of feeling is most important. It is character that turns it into a painting and not a photograph.
On Painter’s Keys the next morning:

​Limitations are an access point for focus, discipline, resourcefulness and the development of voice.

They’re clues to uniqueness and form-style and point of view — requirements of all works of art to communicate and connect. “In abandoning the vagueness of the sketch,” wrote Eugene Delacroix, “the artist shows more of his personality by revealing the range but also the limitations of his talent.” We fear our limitations will define us, yet they’re the hurdles necessary for refinement and courage. They’re the builders of character, and paintings need character. “The greatest progress in life,” said Yogi Bhajan, “is when you know your limitations, and then you have the courage to drop them.” ​

The night before, Blondie’s ears haunted me. I couldn’t sleep. I had already made many small corrections to this painting, but suddenly when I was looking at its enlarged version on my laptop, I saw that the ears were way too large for her head. I had drawn them incorrectly. They were too tall and too pointy. They looked like bobcat ears. Perhaps the devil’s ears. BUT they contributed to the character of her stance. She was excited, riled up, the hair on her rump standing up in anticipation. Blondie waited for her mom to do something, perhaps something Blondie didn’t want to do, and her fierce alert and defiant pose said so.  Okay Mom, take the darn picture, let’s get this over with, okay! I’ve got mice to play with.
Shamefully,  last night I decided to redraw and repaint Blondie’s large pointy ears that gave this painting so much unique character. Truth be told, I was afraid of failure. I’ve never been able to draw with ease. Always a struggle. And I didn’t want anyone pointing out that I was bad at drawing! I lacked the courage to believe in my work. This lack of courage rears its ugly head a lot with me.
Oh woe is me…what’s a gal to do?
I learned a valuable lesson last night, two lessons.
  • One, I am a hypocrite, I say one thing and do another. BAD. I don’t care about the drawing, yet I feel a deep need to make mine look right. What?
  • Two, I learned from the above quote that it is okay make mistakes because the errors work with the whole picture to create character and emotion and draw people in to experience something powerful —whether you as artist recognize it or not—an experience of connection and a wonderment. Oh look how those ears stand up so tall and pointy and don’t they add to the mood of that cat’s stance!
If courage and wisdom had not escaped me, I would have left the ears alone.
Here’s the altered ears. Smaller, shaped better, and more proportionate to her head.
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The Defiant One with new ears #2 CORRECTED

They added very little to the total emotion of her stance. So I made the new ears appear more pointy by limning the edges and tips of the ears with white light. Now some of the pointy character is back, but they are not as big. Not as fierce!

​Next time I hope I will be able to control my urges to make it perfect. I claim to not care, but I lack the courage to live with my failures if I cannot do it. I’ve got to let go of that. I’ve got to let go of the idea that my bad drawing means failure—not only in my painting of cats, but also in my landscapes and papiér maché cats. It is, rather, about character and emotion.


Bridge Bones (1)

The act of imagination is the opening of the system so that it shows new connections. Every act of imagination is the discovery of likenesses between two things which were thought unlike. (Jacob Bronowski)

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Bridge Bones, Acrylic on Canvas, 30×40

I like the above quote and believe it applies to much of my work. I look for connections, not while I am painting, but after, when I am sitting and looking and wondering what it’s all about. Why is this painting important to me? Why did I want to paint it? And should it matter to the viewer, or just to me?

Okay, I have to admit it. Man-made constructions set against a natural environments fascinate me. In my mind, what we build isn’t always ugly, and it isn’t necessarily unnatural, for after all we humans are a part of a natural system. We are alive. We live the natural world all around us.

I enjoy juxtaposing the natural with the man-made in my paintings. I find the contrast exciting, even though I don’t always like what we do to our landscape and not all buildings are beautiful, not all changes, natural or man-made, in our landscape are beautiful, but the two things work in conjunction with each other, creating a foil for composition and concept. The contrast of man-made and natural environments provides a built-in subtext to my landscape painting—it is more than just a landscape.  I admit, this is a subjective view.

Bridge Bones is a painting of a small part of the Siuslaw River Bridge overhead structure (in Florence, Oregon). It is a span from one arch to the other of crisscrossed beams that create triangle and parallelogram shapes, allowing the sky to fall through. Structure is important because it holds the bridge up, and in that sense this painting reminds me of a spine, the part that gives it strength to survive since its completion in 1936. Seventy-eight years and more to come, most likely. More than I will ever see. Born ten years later than the completion date for this bridge, I am now sixty-eight years old, and though my spine has crumpled and hunched a bit, I am still held upright by it. It gives me the strength to move around on my feet, to bend over and pick up items that I’ve dropped on the floor in my new-found clumsiness since my chemo treatments. Items like spoons, forks, paint brushes, pots and pans and really big sharp knives just seem to fly out of my hands these days. Considering all that danger of sharp things flying around, not of my purposeful volition, the bridge will certainly outlive me!

Besides holding us up and giving us physical strength, the spine is also a metaphor for emotional and mental strength. I learned during my cancer experience that I am emotionally strong. And I had a great support structure of friends which gave me more strength. They had my back the whole time. I had spine.

I also like that once I am crossing a bridge, I see more. I see more of the beauty I may not see behind the roadside trees and mountainsides, and behind the buildings. A new world opens up, like when you are traveling by train or boat, suddenly great vistas are open to you. Riverbanks reveal pastures,  farm lands spotted with sheep, cattle, horses, barns and fences, and urban interiors. Mountains divide and open up their deep canyons and rivers. Mountains you’ve never seen, appear before your eyes. Have you ever walked or driven across a bridge and expressed awe at the sight of a magnificent view suddenly opened up? First there is light, then the sea and crashing waves on one side, then steep gullies and canyons, reaching deep to the river beds. I’ve seen it. And there’s no better experience that brings a reverence for our natural world than crossing that bridge, being one with that bridge, and feeling as if there are no boundaries between me and the rest of the world.

Looking through the railings, posts and beams of a bridge defines humankind and nature in a whole new perspective. We are not opposed. We are nature, and in that sense, we are beaver builders, bees building beehives and spiders spinning webs. What we build is just as much a part of nature as that which the wild creatures build. (Maybe that’s why spiders, shiver, haunt me so often!)

The simplicity of it for me is that I enjoy the geometric designs and patterns of bridge structures. Set against the backdrop of a clear dome of blue sky, or shroud of dense fog, or floating cumulus clouds high above, or distant muted rocky mountainsides, or crashing ocean waves, the bridge bones make my experience more intense. It’s the bridge juxtaposed with the natural. You can’t have one without the other.



Surveying His Domain

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Almost everyday Tai The Terrible worried about his domain. He wanted to know what was going on, who was in his neighborhood, whether there were any mice, rats, coyotes, or feral cats roaming the streets. Who was causing trouble? Did he need to prepare for battle? Or was he just a curious nosy cat?

He waited patiently by the front door until I let him outside. He wandered five or ten feet from the door where he could get a wide open view of his dominion. There he sat.  His platypus(s) tail lay flat-out behind him, a sign of his high status and breeding.  Excited to be outside, he looked left and right, and now and then twitched in place.  His overall appearance of serenity belied his seething tension, his readiness in every muscle for battle or flight. He wasn’t called Tai the Terrible for nothing.

After a while, his hunger for interesting and exciting activities satiated, the boredom set in. Time to find a comfortable safe place for his afternoon nap. Or perhaps try a little camouflage among the tall grasses and wait for his folks to turn into the driveway.

© 2014 Susan Canavarro. All Rights Reserved.



The Defiant One
The Defiant One

The Defiant One

One day as I sat on the sofa and Blondie, in rare form, had just jumped up on the sofa with me to sniff my clean laundry, I must have made a noise that startled her or moved my big toe or something, for suddenly she somersaulted backwards off the sofa landing on all four paws. She turned her head to look at me, a surprised look in her eyes tinted with a bit of embarrassment. Humans also tend to look to see what caused our tripping. Usually just a bump in the sidewalk or a root in the ground, or even sometimes a cat. But the looking is a sign of one’s disbelief that one just tripped…Did I just do that?  And  also to see if anyone, God forbid, noticed our clumsiness.  Blondie was checking to see if I had seen what happened to her when she somersaulted off the sofa. Yes I saw you, Blondie. Her alert four-paw stance said she was ready to run if she sensed danger. At the same moment her look was one of bewilderment, as if she was thinking, What the hell just happened here anyway?

Blondie is an agile cat. She jumps as high as six feet to a high window ledge, she leaps five feet over a three-foot high sofa, while at the same time, squeezes her body into very tight spaces. But most of the time, she can jump up to a high shelf with decorative pots and small sculptures and wander the length of it without destroying one item. But then again most cats are nimble and careful enough to wind their way through a forest of precious objects, including expensive art objects.

When it gets tricky is when a cat is acting in defiance and knocking items off shelves on purpose, and I mean knowingly batting things off shelves with her paws. When the people are away the cats will play they say. When a substitute teacher comes to class, the students act-up. I remember doing everything our little brains could think of to make our substitute teacher’s day harder and more unpleasant, like chewing loudly on carrots in the back row, tapping our pencils against our desks, gossiping with friends and uncontrolled giggling. From my experience as a teacher for a college art class, I know how annoying that extraneous talking is. Blondie acts up when I am with her, doing things she never does with her owner. She knocks things off shelves, chews on artificial plants, breaks into the liquor cabinet, sharpens her claws on furniture she’s not supposed to scratch on. And I am reluctant to punish her for fear of alienating her for life.

Whenever I am there now she has taken to knocking off two tiny Bengal cat figurines from a shelf in the guest bath. The figurines, made of something similar to ceramic but more durable, hit the tile floor with a loud crash. They never break into tiny pieces, even their thin tiny tails and paws and ears do not crack or break. Blondie knows the guest bath is mine while I’m there. She knows I am the only one to use it. She knows I sleep in the guest bedroom right next to this bathroom. She knows the tiny cats make a loud noise when they hit the floor or when they land in the waste basket. Score one for Blondie, she meows. When I get up to see what happened she stares at me with innocent blue eyes. Her owner says she has never knocked those pieces off the shelf before, only when I’m there. That’s cat defiance. A cat challenge? A message that says this pretty cat rules!

What is the reason behind the creature’s behavior? I believe Blondie commits  strange repetitive activities to annoy me. She knows. She also does it when she wants something from me. To get my attention. My job is to figure out what she wants! Oddly, it is an act off communication. She knocks them off at 7 am in the morning to wake me, so she is telling me it’s time for breakfast, or having kibble-nibbled already, she is telling me she wants water. She knocks them off during the day at various times because she is thirsty and she prefers to drink water out of the faucet. When I hear the clatter on the floor, I peak around the corner to find her sitting calmly on the bathroom counter, looking towards the door as if nothing happened. What, she asks? I didn’t do it!

I pick up the figurines and put them back on the shelf. Like a well-trained dog, I turn the faucet on to a slow dribble and she drinks her fill of tap water. She never bothers to turn the tap off. And I always forget it is on, until an hour later she jumps up on the table where I am busy working on my computer. She exhibits some sort of excited, animated, possibly anxious behavior. I cannot work until I discover what is causing her anxiety. My job again is to figure out what she is trying to tell me. I think maybe she wants more water, but I discover the water is still running. I forgot to turn it off. As soon as I turn it off, she settles down, shuffles off to her bed and takes a nap…finally.

I wish she could talk in my language. That would make things between us so much easier!

She knows how to open doors with levered handles, so all exterior doors have to be dead-bolted all the time. I’m thinking if she knows how to use a levered door handle she will eventually figure out how to use the levered faucet handles. She could learn to turn the water on for herself, right? Her owner says she learned how to flush a toilet a few years back. Had so much fun watching the water swirl furiously down the pipe and waiting for the bowl to fill up again, she did it over and over. She was in big trouble! I have terror-filled visions of returning from running errands in town and finding the bathroom floor awash with water because she turned the faucet on and did not turn it off. Water, water every where! If only she could teach herself to shut the water off in the same way she learns to turn it on. This hasn’t happened yet, only in my nightmares!

She is one smart defiant devilish kitty!




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