Confessions of a Florentine Pet Sitter


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.
blondie2718_blog

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.


Surveying His Domain

surveyor-of-his-domain_colo

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!



Walking a Cat Walk

Copyright 2013 – By Susan Canavarro

When you are not writing, you are a writer too. It doesn’t leave you. Walk with an animal walk and take in everything around you as prey. Use your senses as an animal does. Watch a cat when he sees something moving in the room. He is perfectly still, and at the same time, his every sense is alive, watching, listening, smelling. This is how you should be when you are in the streets. The cat’s mind is not thinking about how much money he needs, or whom to write a postcard to when he visits Florence: he is watching the mouse or the marble rolling across the floor or light reflecting in crystal. He is ready with all of him to pounce. Now, you don’t have to get down on all fours and twitch your tail. Only be still – some part of you, at least – and know where you are, no matter how busy you are.
– Be An Animal, From Writing Down the Bones, by Natalie Goldberg, p. 90 ——-© 2005 (Shambhala, Boston and London)

I am reading Writing Down the Bones in a coffee shop called Mon Ami. Mon Ami sells antiques and estate sale items. Cindy, the owner, also serves delectable deli and bakery items, espresso coffees and teas. Her employees cook up fresh wicked apple-cinnamon and/or cherry turnovers daily. Her cappuccinos are deep and rich and soothing for my soul.

It is steamy outside. Sweat is beading up in my every nook and cranny and my bra, chaffing. I can feel my skin glowing red with rash. I have a headache. This is not your average Florence weather. This day I choose to drink iced tea at Mon Ami’s.

When I read the above paragraph by Natalie Goldberg, I sat staring off across the ocean with a grin spreading across my fat cheeks. Cindy waved her hand in front of my face to see if I was okay. Mustn’t stare too hard and too long when in a coffee-house. I smiled, nodded my head, yes. In fact, I was better than usual. Across the ocean across from my table was an antique soft creamy white dining buffet with ornate filigree decorating each cabinet-door edge. One door damaged and detached, leaned against the front of the cabinet. On the buffet top stood a large showcase trophy sailboat, two tall masts in full sail. This day, the ship, gripped in the stall of its display stand, was unable to fulfill its purpose–adventure on the open seas.

At one end of the ship was a small table-clock made to look like a ship’s helm, also an old gimbaled compass in its original box and two kerosene lanterns filled with red liquid. At the other end, a selection of three books leaning up against the base of a lamp: a first edition copy of Victor Canning’s novel The Chasm a story about adventure in the Italian Apennines; a first edition by Oregon writer Elizabeth Lambert Wood writing about the magnificent forests, ocean and lakes in her home state; and a 1931 edition of Funk & Wagnalls New Standard Encyclopedia Vol. IV of people and places, only the “B” list included. A set of very old binoculars with its original leather carrying case lies next to the books. And on the floor a small white, red & blue Route 66 sign, ticking time. A display of adventure signs, sailing the oceans and rivers, crossing a gorge in the Apennines, learning about new worlds and old times. Details observed.

A small table sculpture of two black Scottish Terriers standing on their hind legs holding up two interlocked rings declares an eternal cycle of loyalty, love, life, death and rebirth.

And here I sit in Florence, Oregon, not Italy as in Goldberg’s quote, living a life nearer to its ending than its beginning, yet dreaming of a desire to write, to publish, to create passable if not stunning paintings, to travel the world and sail down the canals of Europe, and to have the love, acceptance and tolerance of good friends.

I smiled at Goldberg’s words because I recognized that I had just experienced one of my Dad’s favorite synchronistic moments. Reading her book for the second time, wondering how to write about my animals while vicariously traveling to Lyon, France thru the email and picture journals from my friends just seemed to come together to bring more meaning to what I was writing. Dad believed that when you experience a coincidence such as this and it relates meaningfully to something happening in your life, it is a moment of Grace; one to which we should give our attention. And what’s happening in my life this moment is writing and armchair traveling and learning to walk like an animal. So it all fits.

Natalie Goldberg said writers should walk like an animal, with your senses alert like an animal’s senses are alert to every nuance of sound, smell and movement. As a pet sitter, I walk a cat walk. My senses are alive to what my special charges are doing and feeling every moment of the day. If they had been my cat or dog living at home with me, I would not have been so focused. Their daily adventures and idiosyncrasies would become uninteresting to me and I would have ignored them. I would have said, Oh you’re hungry again? You eat like a bull, Taurus. What is your problem? It’s not time yet. Bootsie, why the heck are you biting my legs? What is your problem? Leave me alone.

But, as pet sitter, I watch. I become a peeping-tom, a stalker. I follow them around. I walk like an animal. I check to see what they are up to, to see if they are okay. I annoy them to no end, especially Trina and Simon. I look for details. And they follow me. Even the cats follow me like a dog as if they were afraid I, too, would leave them. I remember thinking in the beginning, Why don’t these creatures let me have a moment of peace? But secretly, I love it. I know they are feeling insecure without their people and I become their only source of comfort when they are home alone. They eventually get it. I am it! I have the hand that feeds them, that gives them a rub-down. I glean a small bit of satisfaction that my presence makes them feel better.

I’m learning a lot about pets and about myself. I’ve learned that I like to ascribe human emotions to them. I know when they are happy. I see a cat tail extend straight up when he or she walks into a room and I say Hello Simon or Hello Tai or Hello Bessie! I watch whiskers turn up or down, knowing sadness, irritation, anger or contentment; I know eyes half-opened is an expression of love and contentment and trust; eyes large and round with dark pupils in full-moon is an autonomic response to fear or anger, and preparation for an attack. Often, I’ve experienced that glare. In fact, I have been the feared one too many times, the recipient of those big, dark alert angry eyes. Scary. Suddenly I am their prey and I want to hide under the covers.

I see the young kitten-energy return over and over after they do their daily job in the cat box. They burst into the living room wanting to play, wanting attention and affection, as if they know they’ve done a good job and they want me to know…so I can scoop it out for them. Cat sluggishness goes with cat constipation; and cat energy and happiness comes after a good bowel movement! The emotional and physical behavior of animals is amazingly familiar. Language of the animal world is as it is for us humans, too.

Dog tails swish back and forth and I know they are happy campers. Tails wagging. Jumping up and down barking. Barking in embarrassment, barking to warn, barking in excitement. Running in circles. Dog whimpering. Each whimper and bark a language to be deciphered. Each look a look of desire or love or need. Each rump-wagging, tail-wagging, a sign of love and excitement. The white lab lifts her head and looks at me, a sad questioning look in her eyes. What is it this time, Belle? I know she is asking me something but I don’t know what. Are you sad, hungry, do you need to go out? I prefer to think she is sad, but her owner says she is hungry. Just hungry.

I become a cat watching them like a cat watches a bird, chattering, waiting to see what would happen next, my body quivering with tension and excitement over what I might see, what indiscretion, what new sign I can read and learn, what might become a good story to tell their owners, thus Confessions of a Florentine Pet Sitter is in the works.

Writing. Watching animals. In Florence, Oregon. Traveling from my computer chair from cat house to cat house while reading emails from Bonnie and Ralph in Lyon and Avignon, France. A synchronistic moment. Just maybe I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing.



Catemporary Détente

Tai surveying the road from his driveway.

A people cat, Tai the Terrible loves the companionship and affection from his people, and he sits with me when I’m watching television. He climbs on my lap, testing the jello slowly, unsure if its Jello-like substance will hold him. He wobbles a bit on my jello, then settles down in his sphinx pose, kneading his front claws deep into my skin. But if you touch him in his sensitive places or try to brush his fur in certain areas, he becomes this quarrelsome creature with a sphinxian split personality. I let him do what he wants to do. He is heavy and hot on my lap like a heating pad in cold weather.

Most of the time, he curls up all by himself on the fuzzy on the big chair next to mine for which he has taken temporary ownership while his mom is away.

Tai the Terrible

Tai is a seal-point doll-face fluffy Himalayan cat with pale blue crossed-eyes. Whenever he is wary of his sibling or an enemy of another kind he skirts around them like a sticky sloth in slow motion. He is so fluffy I can’t tell where the bones and muscles of his body stop to become just a fluff of cat hair dragging on the floor. His fluffy tail is wide and dark like a beaver tail. His legs are wide and shorter than most cats’ legs and his paws are huge like the paws of a puppy when you can tell that little pup is going to be one hell of a big dog because the size of his feet tell you so. Tai’s paws are dark seal-brown fur, shiny, soft and so smooth, I want to hold them in my hands but he will not allow me to touch his feet.

Tai and his sibling, Brillo the Black, kiss noses and sniff each other’s butt in moments of trust and calm, but their powerful sibling rivalry keeps them wary of each other. They may sleep on the same big bed, each in his own corner, and they may sit on one lap or on one chair together, but when they do so, they do it carefully, with one eye open the whole time.

When they are about to fight they move past each other in the kitchen or by the door, their movements are slinky and sloth-like. I admonish them to be good cats—Now, be good kitties, you guys, good cats, that’s right—and they will come out of their slothy trance, avoiding a fight. When I leave the room, they get into rolling rumbles with tufts of black and taupe fur flying hither and thither.

One evening while I was watching TV, Brillo lay curled up on the rust colored fuzzy in the second TV chair. When Tai came into the room, Brillo’s presence on his chair startled him. He jumped up on the table next to the chair and sat for a while, looking at the chair and Brillo with consternation. What? How did you…?

Slowly, one foot at a time, he lowers himself on to the flat wooden arm of the easy-chair. He sits for a few minutes, eyeing Brillo on his chair, wondering how much he’d be able to get away with. Could he? Should he tempt fate or shouldn’t he? How will Brillo react?

Tai tempts fate. With sloth-like motion, he puts one foot down on the fuzzy; he waits, he hesitates; then slowly places the other front paw down. His two front paws on the seat cushion, his rump in the air, his hind feet come down next, slow and easy, one slothy paw at a time. He stands on the seat of the chair very still, like a clay sculpture or art object, while waiting for Brillo to show some reaction.

Brillo, curled up on the fuzzy, doesn’t move a muscle except to crack one eye open a sliver. He watches Tai, but pretends he is sleeping.

Tai now sits on the fuzzy near Brillo, once again debating whether he should continue. He looks at Brillo, wiggles a bit in nervous tension and hunkers down in the typical Sphinx pose with his head up. I can see he cannot stand not being able to curl up on his special chair. He lays like this for a while and then stretches his neck and lowers his head in an attempt to relax.

Brillo the Black

Brillo, cracks one eye open again, watches Tai, doesn’t move a muscle, doesn’t blink an eye. He just watches and waits.

Tai slowly flops over on his side, his back to Brillo, and because his fur is so fluffy it looks like he is crowding the one-eyed Brillo into the corner of the big chair. But Brillo, partially covered by Tai’s fluff, isn’t moving. His one eye, still open and watching. Waiting.

Stretching out even more on his side, taking up even  more room on the seat of the chair, legs splayed out, head relaxed hanging over the front edge of the seat, Tai closes his eyes for some long overdue well-earned sleep. At long last, he is in his favorite chair that had been rudely usurped by Brillo, and it’s as if Brillo isn’t even there.

The little adversarial dance between the two cats took longer to execute than the actual time they laid together on the chair. I had never seen them sleeping this close to each other, but their folks tell me they will both get up on the mom’s lap at the same time and lay there peacefully while she plies their cat hair free from tangled knots.

About two weeks later, when I was sitting for them again, Brillo was on the chair when Tai came into the room. It was obvious Tai wanted his spot again. This time he took it. With no hesitation, he jumped up to the arm, then on to the fuzzy itself, stretched out quickly on his side, partially covering Brillo, and both cats slept like babies together for over two hours! I don’t know who’s more surprised, me or Tai or Brillo, at this temporary cat détente.

Addendum:

This last summer a coyote or pack of coyotes killed beautiful Tai the Terrible. There are packs of coyotes wandering through his neighborhood and other neighborhoods around Florence. Many cats have disappeared in the last year.

We all miss Tai.

Now I am caring for his sibling brother, Brillo the Black, who now has the favored position in the household without contention, but wanders from door to door in a morass of sadness, meowing to go out, to eat, to find Tai.  Fierce hunter that Brillo is, he is not allowed outside any more. Too many coyotes. Too many bear. Too many cougars.  Chased out of their forested habitats by our need for building more homes, all are hungry.  Hungrily preying upon domesticated cats and dogs.

Brillo is developing a dependency on his people for safety, sustenance and cherishing. He has developed a gorgeous shiny black coat, loves to sit on my lap, have his coat brushed, his hind-end rubbed which dissolves him into a frenetic orgasm of love biting.

He will be fine.

Feb.9, 2012 Now I learn that Brillo the Black has passed on.  A beauitful cat, a good hunter, loving. We all miss him.

© 2011 Copyright – Susan Canavarro. All Rights Reserved for Images & Text.



Rocky Road
   
Bag Lady

I put a few groceries in the fridge, then turned back to the Fred Meyer bags to retrieve more, and was startled to see only one eye peering out from the dark bag. Bessie had hunkered down in the bag and was waiting to pounce on me. At that moment she captured my heart.

Condo Ecstasy

Bessie loves bags, boxes and both of her cat condos. Many times, thinking she was lost, I finally found her draped over the edge of her tiny a-framed sheepskin-lined condo in front of the atrium window, soaking up the heat of the rare Oregon sun, her head hanging loosely as if detached connected only by a thread of sinew. More often than not I found her sprawled lazily in her outdoor condo, a mesh construction that hung on the wall in her catio and had six levels for the cats to explore. Once inside the condo, she caressed the edge of the round openings with her head and body, leaving her scent. She morphed into a sexpot, a roiling ecstasy of cat love, a melt-down into pliable putty.

Bessie & Fuzzy, Photo by S Canavarro

In my care, her other catnip was the “fuzzy” I placed on the bed. She raced down the hall, leapt on the bed, rolled and twirled in circles, working herself to a frenzy until she had the fuzzy bunched into a clump held with all four paws; a clump with ridges and canyons and twists and turns like a human brain that she kicked with her hind legs in cat-like fury. She had been declawed by her previous owners, so I had no worries she was going to tear my fuzzies to shreds. I wouldn’t have cared; it was way too much fun watching her play.

Roiling Frenzy, Photo by S Canavarro

As I stretched out lazily like a cat on the tan leather sofa watching television one evening, enjoying my ice-cream, suddenly I heard the thunderous beat of paws on the tile floor. Bessie was tearing down the hall from the bedroom. She jumped up on the table at the end of the sofa behind my head, then to the armrest and from there she leapfrogged right over my head on to my chest where I was holding a big bowl of Rocky Road ice-cream. Splat! One hind foot landed in my bowl splattering chocolate all over my gold fuzzy.

Bessie continued running with lightning speed, shaking her paws free of chocolate and marshmallow as she flew from one surface to another. As for me, I was startled, then amused, and then worried about the stains on the white carpet and leather sofa, but not enough to stop eating my ice-cream. I continued eating from the bowl Bessie had stepped in, and she continued her lightning speed get-away on the rocky road through the house. She never touched the ground. She never looked back.

It is possible Bessie had just been using her litter box before she raced down the hall and jumped into my bowl, but I confess, I kept on eating. That’s how badly I wanted that bowl of Rocky Road. It was the last serving and I did not want to waste one bit of it! If Bessie had just come from her box, then so be it! 




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