Cats and the crushing of dreams

Originally published at The Benfell Blog. Please leave any comments there.

A bird died outside my window while I lay awake in bed in the wee hours this morning. A cat snarled, startling the bird. The bird’s shrieks of surprise became cries of agony as the cat made the kill. My own cat, Admiral Janeway, was intrigued and went to the cat door in my bedroom window to see what she could see.

I would have preferred that Admiral Janeway had remained with me. When small creatures are dying, I want her to be safe and I want to know she is safe. And somehow, seeing that she is safe is not the same as when I can hold her.

I wondered why the cat–I’m only guessing it was Montgomery, from a couple doors down–warned the bird with that snarl. Perhaps it was that in order to move, the bird would have to extend itself, giving the cat something more easily within reach to pounce upon. Perhaps it was from delight. Perhaps both.

While I was sleeping, I had dreamt that I, along with many of my belongings, were on an embankment along the side of a road. I was in the middle of moving my stuff from one side of the road to the other. A grey pickup truck turned around on the embankment on the opposite side of the road where some stuff I hadn’t moved yet remained. Including, oddly, a toy dump truck (I don’t even remember if I had such a toy as a child). I was, in the meantime, desperately trying to figure out how to make a credit card charge from a command line on a computer, befuddled by the twin complications of making the command work and of finding a credit card with available credit (a completely senseless scenario).

As that grey pickup truck turned around on that embankment, the gravel slid and I watched impassively as my partially buried toy dump truck was pushed down.

Lying awake, I was conscious of a smell from my humidifier. I have lacked the ambition recently to refill its reservoirs and when it runs dry, it keeps running the fan to dry the filter (I assume to discourage mildew). But the water here is very hard, and the smell of minerals, including sulfur, that the filter had caught filled my bedroom. It wasn’t a pleasant smell.

Admiral Janeway found one of her favorite spots on top of me and I held and caressed her paw, hoping to encourage a gentleness I have seen in her more and more as she has gotten older.

When she stirred to get something to eat, I got up, filled the reservoirs in the humidifier, and sat down to try to make sense of it all.

Later this month, I’ll begin my second year in the Transformative Studies Ph.D. program at California Institute of Integral Studies. My first year has been a crushing of dreams.

I am realizing that humans have little hope of surviving the effects of the climate change we have wrought–at least in any significant numbers, that humans are substantially unwilling to shift to a harmonious way of living that might improve our odds of survival, and that we will not even challenge a profound meanness in the political and economic systems of the United States. And I am realizing that this meanness will destroy the economy not as a path to a more cooperative society, but rather the opposite, to ensure that the wealthy are paid off and out of a sheer spite for everyone else. And I am realizing that the outcome of all this is that I am extremely unlikely ever to be employed again, even if I finish the Ph.D.

I had returned to school because I realized that what I was doing wasn’t working, that I was unable to support myself on the abusive, low wage jobs I was finding, even when I was able to find them. Returning to school meant financial aid, including student loans, that would sustain me in the short term; and I thought it would enhance my qualifications for a decent job down the road.

But an anti-intellectualism which I attribute in part to compulsory education and which has long been a force in this society prevails. Budget impacts for aid to the unemployed and poor and to keep schools and universities running must be balanced with cuts elsewhere, but the costs of war and of tax cuts for the rich face no such challenge.

Even as this adversely affects millions of people, it’s hard not to take this personally. I’d swear the elite will destroy an economy, destroy a society, and destroy a country, just to keep me from ever being self-supporting. That has, after all, been what they’ve been doing since I came of age, just as Ronald Reagan was about to be elected president in 1980.

But I’ll continue on. Why? I honestly don’t know. Someone I spoke with yesterday remarked on an optimism of human beings that even after they’ve been kicked in the teeth eighteen times, they’ll keep on trying. And, I replied, if they don’t, they’re considered to suffer from depression.

Admiral Janeway has returned to the cat door in my bedroom window. She is hissing and snarling at Montgomery, the neighbor cat whom I suspect of killing that bird this morning. I walk over, push the cat door open and put my face to it, looking at Montgomery, who is hissing back, now right in the face. I am civil, but inform him of my displeasure. He scampers away, but my stern words will do little good. He’ll be back.