Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Chaos theory

My baby cat wakes me up every morning. In fact, he also tucks me in at night. Once I'm horizontal, I will hear a 'thump, scrabble scrabble' which is him climbing the loft; then he stalks up to my head, kneads my chest for a few minutes, and condescends to be petted and baby-talked for a few minutes before curling up on my feet. In the morning, he watches for the first signs of stirring, then repeats the procedure.

Once we are out of the loft and proceeding in state to the cat food dishes, though, I see the inevitable signs that he has NOT been sleeping demurely on my toes all night long. Carpets and painting tarps are rucked up in heaps; wastebaskets are overturned; violently dismembered Q-tips are strewn from one end of the apartment to the other. (I'm embarrassed to reveal this in public, but my cat has an earwax fetish. He is so attuned to the source of this precious elixir that at the very sound of the Q-tip drawer opening, he lurks. He watches the ear-cleaning procedure with apparent nonchalance, and casually glides over to the wastebasket as each one is dropped onto the rubbish with a faint 'plush.' He waits until I've left the bathroom before pouncing; he then hides behind the prone basket in order to surprise the evil Q-tips in their bid for freedom. Over the course of the day he will extract each one, tossing it like a baton until it has been wrestled into submission, and as for the earwax--well, best not to dwell on that.)

So then, every day of my life begins with an act of carpet-straightening, vomit removal, or Q-tip disposal. This is a crucial thing.

One of the primal fears of single women of my generation is that we will turn into old ladies who live with cats. Go ahead, ask any girl between the age of twenty-five and forty--"Aren't you afraid of becoming an old lady who lives with cats?" She will either hit you or burst out sobbing. Thus I write about my cats with trepidation; I keep our relationship very close to my chest. But lately it occurred to me that I need my cats for more than just respite from loneliness, alarm clocks and recipients of idle conversation. My cats provide an injection of vital chaos into my daily routine.

Just think--what would my life be like if, when I got up in the morning, things in my apartment were in exactly the same state of order or disarray as when I went to sleep? What if there were no soil footprints leading from the potted plant across the stove, no grains of cat litter on the rug, and the glue bottle was still wearing its cap? How would I start my day? More specifically--what would be the random, trivial task of adjustment that would serve as a bridge between inertia and conscious action?

Think about it. I'd get up, of course, eventually, cat or no. I'd stumble into the bathroom and stare at the floor. I'd put on the tea kettle, open the New Yorker, shower, dress, and go about my business. But what would there be to start me thinking? What force of nature beyond my control would preserve me from mindless routine? Sure, the phone could ring, there could be a blizzard, a carting company might drop a dumpster on my car. But such miracles cannot daily be counted upon. My cats provide a reliable source of mental jump-starts in my quotidian existence.

I realized, today, that I will never live in a space that looks like something in a magazine. Not because I don't have taste; on the contrary, I have too much taste. Take a look at any perfectly appointed room in any glossy designer magazine; then take a look at the art on the walls. Chances are the art is bad. If not actually bad, chances are it doesn't rise above the mediocre. This is because good art creates a certain amount of visual chaos. I am a woman of very small net worth (although, after doing a spreadsheet this week, I discovered that my net worth is, at least, a positive number), but I DO have an art collection. In addition to the overstock of originals by yours truly, I own a brightly painted, ceramic flying pig with anatomically incorrect udders; an original Julio Mendossa that is cracking disgracefully, partly because of the quality of Mexican paint and partly because the only place to hang it was the bathroom; a puppet from Java; a cat mask from Central America; a large plastic face by Donna Han; a painting of a giant hibiscus by Chris Smith Evans; and too many other strange and wonderful artifacts to enumerate. All of them are weird. None of them match each other or anything else in the apartment.

Someone once explained chaos theory to me like this; say you have a grid full of peaks and valleys, and an ant is climbing patiently over it, searching for the highest peak. If the ant is periodically knocked off whatever hill it happens to be climbing, at random intervals, it is statistically more likely to reach the highest peak in the shortest amount of time, than if it were allowed to keep walking unmolested. That is, random interference and inconsistency of input actually steers us toward enlightenment.

My big cat just punched me in the lip. That means it's time for bed.

1 comment:

k said...

My BabyCat had an earwax fetish too. It was amazingly intense and faithfully followed for many years.