I realized after teaching tonight that I really do profess these days. When I first started teaching at the university level, I tried to cover the conventional set of knowledge for each course I taught. I followed directions, presented the canonical set of things that were supposed to be known, and tried to be very entertaining while instructing about the conventional in the hopes of making it stick. I did not feel I had much license to present my own ideas. The furthest I went was to offer possible critiques of the canon by asking somewhat leading questions.
A funny thing about the combination of credentials, teaching and research experience, and publication, though: it’s all very affirming. I feel like I really should be actively foisting my own ideas on my students. They are perfectly capable of critiquing my ideas, after all, and I demand a lot of critical thinking from them, so they’re always in practice. I still present the canon, of course, and tell folks what they should know having taken the course. I tell them who says what about what as a matter of course, including when it’s me saying it. And then I profess.
It struck me while I was packing up my stuff to go home after class tonight what the term “professor” really means. I’m supposed to profess. It is literally my job to push my ideas, to tell people what I believe, to air my convictions. I don’t have to convert them, but I should offer them a day pass to the cult and the use of a blue jogging suit. This is a seriously sweet gig.
Last night, Titania stopped eating. I stayed up with her most of the night, and by morning, she still wouldn’t eat and started to seem to be in discomfort, which, by the time I got her in the car to go to the vet, seemed considerable. She seemed ready, and I took her in to the vet at about 11:00 this morning. She died peacefully in my arms, purring, with the aid of an anesthetic and some very compassionate folks. I stayed with her a long time after she was gone, stroking her beautiful fur and thanking her for being a wonderful cat and spending her life with me.
I can’t really believe she’s gone yet, and that I’ll never see her again, and the house seems pretty weird without her in it — especially after having spent nearly half my life with being her person one of the few constants. Petra and Jackie are good comfort, though. Petra especially: a lot like her sister, but whole, and healthy, and substantial. Poor Titania had gotten so skinny at the end. I’ll remember to take lots more pictures of Petra while she’s in great shape. I took a lot of Titania this past week. I wanted to remember the orangey patterns in her beautiful dark tabby fur, her right ear with the orange around its base and the left with a sort of sprinkle of orange flecks, like someone had tapped a bit of cinnamon onto it. Her right front paw was consistently dark tabby with dark pads. The left was peach-colored, with one pink pad and the rest flecked. The back paws were mixed orange and dark, spotty pink and dark pads. She had some orange stripes toward the end of her ringed tail. Her nose was dark greyish with a dark pinkish tip. She had a white chin, seemingly airbrushed from her dark and orangey tabby face, which got spiky with milk when she was tiny. She was always very fur-proud, and I gave her one last brush before I took her to the vet today.
Last night I sat up with her and I told her all about her life, all the moments I remember, all the years she was around. We met in a neighbor’s kitchen, where she and Petra and their two other siblings were each curled up in tiny fuzzy balls on each of the four kitchen table chairs. The neighbors had been calling her Red Ear, and Petra, Sarah. They were clearly the coolest two. Lisa, who had alerted me to the neighbors’ livestock at their garage sale, helped me pick them out, take them home, get them set up, and raise them.
I told Titania about each of the places we had lived together, she and I: Woburn, Medford, Somerville, Maryland, Ashby, Willliams Street, and here. I told her about the things I remembered most about our time together.
Like how before she got the hang of stairs, she would go down them like Sonic the Hegehog.
The time when she accidentally got outside and Lisa combed the neighborhood and even got the local radio station to ask people to look for her, and Phillip found her cowering under the porch long before I got home. Lisa had swung into action and printed up hundreds of flyers with pictures of Titania on them, sort of a head-and-shoulders shot. After Titania was safely home, she took one of the posters and wrote a caption underneath the funny picture: “Psycho kitty on the lam!”
Titania and Petra used to jump up on the tops of our six-foot bookcases when they were young, and hide out there and watch us look for them.
How the two of them were so tiny when I got them that they both fit in the front muffler pocket of a nightgown I had, each sticking out one end.
The box of clothes she used to sleep in and poke out the top of just a bit, making it a “box of ears.”
My dad called them Tetris and Petunia. I thought Titania was Tetris, but I never got any confirmation about that. Semantically, I suppose she’d be Petunia, but she had more of a sporty personality and Petra seems a bit more feminine and Petunia-esque for some reason.
The very few illnesses and minor injuries she came through quite well–she was very strong, right up until the end.
How I had a hard time naming them as kittens.
The summer night in Ashby when I came home and found both cats lounging on the roof just outside the window. I freaked out and pulled them in immediately. “What?” they seemed to say, “Everything’s fine. What gives?”
Titania was always kind of a smallish cat, and always very snuggly. She was a bit taller than Petra, though, and Petra is slightly more petite (it’s subtle — they were much like bookends for most of their lives). Phillip referred to her as “the big one” at one point when they were only a few months old, and neither was big by any stretch of the imagination.
The time when our apartment on Williams Street got broken into, and the burglars left the back door wide open, but Titania, who was scared, waited bravely for me to come home. She helped me find Petra, too, who was hiding behind a an under-the-bed drawer.
They were the first cats I ever knew who loved belly rubs. Their tummy fur is spotty-looking, but probably just composed of very short stripes, and very soft and thick.
I’ve sung cat-specific versions of “Old McDonald” to the cats. I sang one to Titania on the way to the vet this morning, to her calm down in the always-unpleasant car. It featured sunbeams, with a nap-nap here, and fat, slow little rodents, with a munch-munch there. Possibly some friendly cows and moronic, defenseless chickens. She would always come listen when I sang (as the other cats do, too).
Titania was the alpha cat of this pride. Phillip considered Titania somewhat cerebral and contemplative. She might have just been trying to be a good, dignified alpha cat. She was bouncy right up until a few weeks ago, though, and she and Petra sometimes chased each other about at such speeds that they were merely striped blurs.
The first time I gave the cats catnip, they got saucer-eyed stoned. Titania got the munchies. It was hilarious.
How Titania was always friendly, greeted me at the door (I miss that already), and was interested to meet guests. She really liked Pops a lot. He had called the two of them pretty when he saw them on the few occasions the cats came with us to New Jersey. Petra was too shy to come hang out with him initially, but Titania always climbed on him.
Sometimes Titania would hang out in the big front window, and when we would come home, she would hop down and run to the door to greet us. Making the long fleece cushion in the front window was one of the first things I did here. Jackie is currently enjoying it.
The two of them scaring the hell out of my grandmother at my master’s degree graduation party, just by saying howdy, and being very puzzled by her reaction to them. They were always cheerful and trusting.
They always remembered Lisa and were happy to see her.
In all those places we moved together, Titania and Petra would always go check out the place together, going off into two different directions for short forays and meeting back up again and again, until they seemed to have scoped the place out.
My friend Gail picked up Titania one time in our kitchen at Williams Street. I instructed her to hold Titania so she could peek over Gail’s left shoulder (for some reason, Titania always preferred being held that way). Titania cuddled in, purring, prompting Gail to say, “Awww,” which is always a nice response to elicit from a dog person.
Phillip reports that sometimes, when he’d wake up on the couch, Titania would be on him, cuddling him. Petra and Titania are the most affectionate, lovey cats I have ever known.
Over recent months, when Titania was starting to lose weight, I fed the cats constantly whatever she seemed to feel like eating, trying to get her to eat more, and that made her kinda pushy about table scraps (despite the fact that I rarely had anything she wanted to eat). She liked it when I had cereal because she’d get the last bit of milk from the bowl. She would sit patiently directly in front of me and wait for me to finish, but she would be sure to be close, directly in my line of vision, and making eye contact, lest I forget that the milk dregs were contractually hers. In recent months, she also would also get under my feet on the way to the kitchen and slow down, so I would have to either step around her or slow down to small-cat speed myself to keep from stepping on her. I feel mildly guilty for being annoyed with that now.
Before going downhill, Titania always ate her usually-demanded food with gusto, which reassured me that she was OK.
The many, many times she comforted me or tended to me when I was sick or upset. I wish I had some of that comfort now.
Rest in peace, Conecat. Raise a glass of milk to Titania: a long life, well lived.
Well, here’s the update: Titania does indeed have lymphoma, which is sort of good news as terminal cancer goes, because as previously mentioned, it’s somewhat treatable in cats. Indeed, there were three possible courses of action:
Do nothing. I hate this one.
Chemotherapy. Not a big fan of that one, either. It might make her pukey, it involves the incredible stress of going to the vet constantly for nasty shots, and best case scenario, she might get up to six months’ worth of remission out of it — although in a cat who is old enough to drive, not likely.
Steroids. Seriously, the aptly-named catabolic steroids. They’re anti-inflammatory, appetite-stimulating, have some anti-cancer properties, and can also cause remission from time to time. Best of all, they’re pills that can be administered at home.
So she’s on Prednisone. No ‘roid rage thus far, and Titania does seem comfortable and happy, much steadier and more alert than she was last week. She’s eating, bathing, and interacting in between naps. I think this course of action is working as well as anything could, and I think we’re both happy with it.
Which leads us to the only downside: pilling a cat really sucks, life-affirming inter-species brawls aside. The cat doesn’t like it, I don’t like it, and it takes multiple tries, during which the pill gets covered with yuck and kinda disintegrates before it gets down the cat.
I started by just shoving the pills down her little pink fanged yap and holding her mouth up and closed until she swallowed. This approach only brought out her Jack Nicholson impression, where Titania would cheek the pill like a defiant mental patient only to spit it out. Multiple times.
Next, I tried coating the pills in butter, so they would be slippery and perhaps not taste quite so foul. The primary thing this accomplished was the buttering of the cat, myself, and some of the furniture. There really is nothing quite like a warm, buttered, angry cat on a January morning.
After that, I tried coating the pills in this high-calorie vitamin supplement I picked up for Titania. One of its selling points is its alleged pleasant taste, and she did get quite a bit less squirmy and defiant about swallowing pills coated in something that purported to be pleasant-tasting to cats. The only downside was that the supplement was godawful sticky. Sometimes it would stick the pill to my finger while it was being chomped on by an annoyed cat. Sometimes it would stick the pill to the outside of the cat, which wasn’t helping anything. Often, it would attract all sorts of micro-debris during multiple attempts.
Today, though, I made a wonderful discovery. Greenies is a popular brand of cat treats, which I have been known to feed to the cats. Jackie likes them more than the other two do. Anyway, they make this FANTASTIC new product called Pill Pockets. You know how all you have to do to pill a dog is stick a pill in a wad of bacon and toss it over your shoulder, whereas if you did that with a cat, the cat would eat the bacon and leave the sparkling-clean pill on the floor, slowly losing its molecular cohesion? Well, Pill Pockets are these soft cat treats, sort of squat and cylindrical, with a hole in the middle that goes about halfway through. They look a little bit like meat by-product macaroni. You can stick a pill in there, pinch the hole closed, and feed the treat, with its secret payload, to a cat. And you know what? The cat eats it! And you know what else? The cat eats the pill inside it, too–and might not even notice it was being pilled because of the pleasant meaty flavor! Bless you, Pill Pockets.
Conecat (otherwise known as Titania) has had a rough month. A few weeks ago, she seemed to have suffered a minor stroke and is at least quite visually impaired if not blind. That seems to be more or less OK — she knows her way around and her ears, nose, and whiskers allow her to fake good vision so well it’s uncanny. More recently, she seemed to be feeling kinda lousy for a few days, so I took her in to the vet Wednesday (yes, the same full-service joint that did her enema six months ago), where she was diagnosed with cancer in her intestines. We’re waiting to hear what kind of cancer. Lymphoma is potentially treatable in cats, but other kinds aren’t.
Upon getting back from the vet, though, Titania went downhill fast. When she stopped eating yesterday afternoon, I had accepted her dying of cancer, but I thought it would be really terrible if she ultimately died of starvation (she is already SO skinny right now), or liver damage from not eating. It would make everything hurt more, and it would just be, well, wretched. The vet recommended an appetite stimulant, which I decided to try. I thought that if that didn’t work, she was pretty much telling us what she wanted — that I wouldn’t do anything else to try to prolong her life if she wasn’t up for it. I felt bad pilling a cat who was in such rough shape, but was heartened to see some fight left in her. Nothing tells you that a cat is not ready to die like trying to cram a pill down her.
So I stayed up with Titania last night because I thought she would likely die in hours if not minutes. She was too weak to get off the ottoman, seemed to be having a hard time getting comfortable, and her breathing was sort of rapid and shallow. I figured she was close to a critical systems failure. Phillip relieved me around 3:00 or so, and I went off to get some sleep. He had instructions to bust out a can of tuna for her, which he did. I got up around 8:00, and she was, well, better. She hopped down off the ottoman to say good morning to me when I came out of the bedroom, ate stuff pretty enthusiastically, and generally seemed a lot more alert and cheerful. She’s peacefully napping on the bed right now, breathing normally and comfortably, after a snack and her first paw lick in a few days. She hopped up there by herself quickly and easily. It’s bizarre, I tell you!
Now, little Conecat is 16-1/2 years old, and she’s had a long, full, happy life, despite the occasional cone collar or enema. I am not putting that little critter through chemo if she has lymphoma. It’s also not like having her hospitalized with tubes in her and stuff is going to get her through a crisis of some kind, and that is just a crappy way to die, so I’m not doing that, either. I basically just want her to hang on only as long as she wants to, and to be as comfortable and happy as possible right up until she’s ready to go. We should know early next week whether it’s lymphoma or not, and what treatment / palliative care options are. Last night I thought that would all be moot, but today, I’m thinking she has at least days rather than hours. She pushed the timeline back out a bit, in just a few hours’ time. Go figure.
Petra of course hid out for a couple of days because her sister (having been at the vet’s) didn’t smell right, and was therefore perceived to be a foreign biological entity (FBE), possibly someone from The Van. She’s out and about now, though. Jackie has periodically been trying to engage her in some of their favorite games. No dice so far, but Petra can’t resist Poke You From the Door Crack or Bite the Crinkly Bag forever. I’m hoping she’ll also get in a few cuddles with Titania before it’s all over.
Jackie has been just remarkable, though. She stays within several feet of Titania, and moves a few steps closer to her when I leave the room. She hops up on the ottoman with Titania sometimes and just sits with her, alert but soothingly calm, for a little while. She stands guard while Titania eats, and when there’s any sort of animal sound from outside (particularly another cat), she quickly positions herself between the source and Titania. On top of all that, she’s also trying to comfort us. She sits next to me (or occasionally on me) for longer than usual, and stays close, like the cats tend to do when I’m sick or really upset and they’re worried about me. She’s into being petted, but will still stick around whether I pet her or not. What a good pal to us all.
In addressing my goals and hopes for the new year, I consider all the many, many sucky things about 2008. Indeed, there are too many to enumerate here, from the death of Eartha Kitt to my apparent inability to secure full-time employment. I’ll be cheerful, though, in the face of the brand new, shiny year. I will not focus on the year-long sense of depantsing I experienced. No, I will not dwell on how much 2008 generally blew. Verily, I shall refrain from paying excessive attention to the lousy year that was. Don’t let the door hit you in the ass on your way out, 2008!
In attempting to be cheerful and look forward instead of backward (Yeah, F Janus, that candyass!), I give you my personal top 10 best things about 2008. I am of course highlighting the positive aspects of some stupid situations. For example, one thing that happened was that I got some groovy new technology (good) but it was necessitated by losing my iPod and Bluetooth earpiece (sucky).
- President Obama!
- Published articles with more in the works, a little recognition
- All the new friends I made and got to know better, and all the cool stuff they introduced me to
- Great part-time and freelance work, with a lot of great people
- My best friend’s summer-long residence in nearby Boulder
- Getting to travel some, even for brief periods of time
- The spreading success and syndication of Dr. Meg
- Returning to live performance
- Dr. Fran and the diagnosis of my busticated thyroid (among other stuff) so treatment could begin
- The unique experience that is working as a model