What the cat saw
In January, when I moved back home to St.Pete, I began joking with my mother that if God wanted me to have a kitten, he’d bring me a kitten. With the “farm” already established with two dogs, four chickens, and a budding business, the last thing I needed was a cat, and being a non-believer, I thought my joke with God was just that - a joke. Shortly after my arrival, however, a starving, skinny, disgusting cat showed up on the porch, and has never left. A little fatter and a little less gross now, the cat has fully adopted us and become part of the family. His name is Mack, named after the lead bum in Cannery Row.
As a newly-self-identified “cat-person” (I suppose?), I hadn’t spent much time thinking about cats before, or about how cats think about us for that matter. On reading I am a Cat, by Natsume Soseki, however, I’m charmed by the idea that cats really do think incredibly little of the humans that surround them while simultaneously being completely dependent on them. I am a Cat is a classic piece of Japanese literature, written from 1905-1906 as a serial in which a story is told entirely from a cat’s perspective. I read it as part of the Keep St. Pete Lit bookclub at the MFA.
The cat in the novel shows up at his master’s doorstep in a very similar way that Mack showed up at mine. Destitute and kicked out of whatever “home” he previously had, both cats saw a little house offering a little protection from the elements and made a meow-y plea for salvation. I fed Mack a can of high-quality, line-caught, hippy-store tuna, and that was it, he never left. The cat in the novel gets thrown out by the maid daily until the master takes pity on him and allows him inside.
What ensues in both stories is an exposé of humans in their rawest forms. Me, battling with and trying to understand my encroaching insanity and anger management issues as Mack meowed his way through his first months of nights as my “captive” and successively destroyed any and every breakable object that was not stowed away in a drawer. It wasn’t pretty. The un-named cat of the book takes 431 pages to uncover the complexities of human nature, both the good, the bad, and the ugly, and he gets hurt, feels love, and causes harm to others in the process. What was so interesting to learn from the ladies at bookclub was that the book was in a way autobiographical of Soseki: he modeled The Teacher after himself, despite his negative portrayal of the character throughout the book.
After the bookclub, I retired to a comfy chair and had a glass of sake to reflect and write this blogpost. Interesting that a little cat can help a person understand the magnitude of their own humanity. In my home, I think we’ve come to an almost pleasant arrangement now that Mack has a fancy window bed in the sun and I’ve succumbed to letting him sleep directly on my face at night. It’s not so bad…