Saturday, August 23, 2014

Pet Years

I started writing this in December 2013, after our three-year-old cat, Newt (a.k.a. Fig or Sir Isaac) died following a brief battle with cancer. It was during that window when I'd see a dark, puddled  towel on the floor and forget it wasn't him. Of course, this got me to thinking about the relativity of time. Do we say one cat year equals five human years to help us anthropomorphise our pets (though anyone dying of cancer at age three or fifteen is tragic. Should he have behaved like a 15-year-old boy?)? Or, do we make that calculation to emphasize how much impact pets have on our lives (though we only had him three years, it felt like at least  fifteen)? The emotional effect of his age was largely tied to the tumultuousness of those particular three years in our family, as well as the fact that Newt was a bit of a troublemaker -- between the snout full of porcupine quills he acquired one night and the fisher attack he narrowly escaped on another. He was also a bit of a loud mouth. He was the perfect companion cat -- as intended -- for his slightly-younger brother-from-another-mother, Thomas (a.k.a. Tommy Two Tone, Lily Tomlin, Tommy Salami, Tommy Five Large (see surgery below), Tommy Tippy, Tippy, Tippi Hedren, Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy Thompson, Reverend Tim-Tom, or Schmutz [because of the gray smudge on his white nose], depending on my mood). Newt and Thomas were literally Yin and Yang (see picture below of black-and-white Newt and white-and-black Thomas). Soon following Newt's passing, Thomas nearly joined him after a suspected hit-and-run. [expensive] Emergency surgery for a diaphragmatic hernia later, he's doing remarkably well, though he still won't make nice with our dog, Max, who we've had for about a year and a half. 

So I've concluded that calculated animal years are merely psychological. We had Newt for three years, and he'll always be with us. We've only had Max  (a.k.a. Maximum Puppydrive, Maximus Cutarius, and Maxi-one-in-a-million), for a year or so, but he's already as much a part of our family as I am (if not moreso). I only had my first cat, Misty, for about a month when I was four; but I'll never forget the day that grey tabby kitten arrived at our house, tucked into my uncle's winter coat; taking her to Show 'n' Tell in nursery school at Temple Shalom; and finding her curled up for warmth next to the refrigerator vent, unable to stand from distemper. As I said, she was only in my life for about a month but made a lasting impression (between giving our second cat her name and her twin sister hers -- Christy -- by rhyming association; as well as providing me with my highly-marketable pornstar name: Misty Valley View [first pet+street you grew up on]).

Misty (2) and Christy went on to live into their early twenties. While the 1:5 formula made them quite elderly, their lifespans simply represent my childhood.

Measuring time has become obsolete, since we work by perceived time anyway (One of my proudest skills is the ability to get things done in just under the amount of time I have to do it); geological time is so unfathomable, it's fairly meaningless; the internet has made timezones so moot that I carry on Words With Friends (Scrabble) and Dice With Buddies (Yahtzee) games across the country and ocean. I maintain intercontinental Facebook, Twitter, and text friendships at all hours of the day and night..

Looking at the clock and calendar, the best I can tell:

  • Seconds measure heart rates, how fast people run, and how long it takes a car to go from 0-60.
  • Minutes tell us how long we'll be sitting in front of a movie.
  • Hours remind us how long we have to get through the day.
  • Days are units in a week.
  • Weeks are units in a month.
  • Months represent an infinite amount of productivity.
  • Years are reminders to make Best-Of lists.
  • Decades define fashion and musical styles.
  • Centuries register socio-economic trends
  • As previously stated, millennia are relatively pointless in their vast conceptual expanse.
  • Bottom line, time is time. If you made it through before, you can do it again. I tell myself that often in moments of stress. As my high school English teacher, Mr. Clark, would say while roaming the classroom during exams, "Time is passing; even if you're not."
  • I recently binge watched two seasons of Orange Is the New Black (so I've had the theme song, You've Got Time stuck in my head for weeks. That all took me back to the idea of life being a sentence.


Just as we measure time in terms of our pets, we also treat certain types of years as pets:

  • Marriage years are pretty much 1:15 -- Jamie and I have known each other 18 years and  married for twelve, but I can barely remember what my life was like before her. And I'm sure every year with me has taken at least two off her life.
  • Parenting years are 1:30, in that, as with marriage, it's hard to remember or imagine my life without my kids. It's certainly not that I see them as adults (in fact, on some level I'll most likely always see them as children).
  • Vacation time: I'm now writing this on the last day of a family vacation in Vermont in a place I've been coming for 35 years. One of the nice things about doing that is seeing how little this particular locale has changed. You can see in the pictures below the hilltop tennis courts and swimming pool that will always represent summer getaways for me. I've also posted a picture of the wide railroad tie and gravel stairs climbing that mountain to fun. I did climb it this year, though it was about as intimidating as it was at age 8. So it's been a great vacation for all I've accomplished -- climbing those stairs, playing "mini-tennis" (just the service boxes) with Wyatt, swimming, walking around town, having quality time with my parents, siblings, nieces and nephew, playing mini-golf with Wyatt and my parents, catching up on Last Week Tonight, watching They Came Together,writing this (finally), making a dent in the novel my friend Julie very kindly dedicated to me (no, it is not about me, only loosely inspired by me in that it is about a thirtysomething English woman who illustrates children's books); having a night out just for Jamie and me; fixing and/or breaking my family's computers. And then there's the delusion of vacation time -- that without work and with the kids at day camp -- I should have ample time to do everything I want and then some. Not so. Vacation time also carries over a bit into Re-Entry to Reality Time. Thus the fact that I'm not finishing this until a week after our return to Maine.
  • Semicolon years: it's been four years since my aneurysm was diagnosed (my aneurversary; I need another term for my stroke's birthday on October 1 (cerebralation? suggestions?)), since I started living my life as a semicolon. The positive side of that lifestyle is a focus on hope and -- hypothetically (within reason) -- fearlessness. The downside of that somewhat romanticized outlook is the anticipatory limbo (yes, I just like saying anticipatory). This pause of contemplation has given me valuable perspective but at times puts life on hold (a.k.a. Shapcrastination). I know it's not just me. We all make promises to ourselves about what's going to jump start our lives: "Once I have surgery...recover....get discovered...start exercising (my walk, by the way, was downgraded to 1.5 miles)...the kids are in college...get a better job...go to college...get married...get divorced...move out of my parents' basement... buy a house... get clean...have a baby, etc. We tend to believe a change in conditions will make all the difference. I don't think that's inherently untrue, but I also don't think it magically leads to the progress we so desperately desire.
Semicolon time is more than other time. Not longer, just more. If time had mass, the past four years would be a black hole.

Yin and Yang (Thomas and Newt)

Puppy Max and Gus

Puppy Max and his boys

Puppy Max and his friend Stella. A year later, Max is bigger than she is.

The pool at the top of the hill.

The tennis courts in the middle of the hill (as seen from the pool at the top).

Hard to see, but these stairs just keep on going up to the courts and then the pool.