Of cats and perspective bubbles

How else is a man expected to know it’s time to wake up, without a fuzzy muzzle thrusting itself into his face at the stroke of 7am each day?

I shall have to start this article by confessing that I am not in the mood to write it at all.

Over the years I have tried – not always successfully – to maintain a clear line separating the persona whose name and (very dated) mugshot appears at the top of this page, and the other person who actually writes all this stuff. That would be me, by the way. The other Raphael Vassallo is a concocted personality; and while I normally don’t find it too difficult to switch between the two... today, I feel I don’t have the energy to even try.

A large part of the reason concerns a particularly upsetting experience I had yesterday. I may have occasionally mentioned that I shared my living space with a cat named Maggie. Well, I don’t any more. And it’s a strange thing to say, when you consider that she was – from any other perspective – ‘just a cat’. But I’m beginning to realise that the difference between ‘living with a cat’, and ‘not living with a cat’, is something that’s going to take a whole lot of getting used to.

This morning, for instance, I got out of bed at least an hour later than usual. ‘Just a cat’, my foot: Maggie was also my alarm clock. How else is a man expected to know it’s time to wake up, without a fuzzy muzzle thrusting itself into his face at the stroke of 7am each day? Then there are the inevitable lapsuses (or whatever the plural of that word is supposed to be). When I did finally haul myself out of bed, I went straight to the kitchen and had already got out the cat-food before realising what I was doing.

Most unnerving of all are the optical illusions. Every time my gaze falls on a corner of the flat where she used to curl up... it’s as though all the odds and ends in that corner – be they a cushion, or a towel, or her own cat basket (which she very rarely used) – seem to rearrange themselves to give the fleeting, momentary impression that she’s actually still there, curled up and fast asleep. I spooked myself that way a couple of times last night. You almost start to understand how such things as ‘ghost stories’ come about in the first place.

But details like those are also the reason I have, to date, always resisted turning this column into some kind of personal blog about my daily doings. There is little in this world that annoys me more in other people’s blogs or articles, than when they trot out their own personal experiences as though they would automatically be of interest to everyone else. It’s bad enough even when those experiences really do touch on pivotal human emotions, such as grief, joy, anger or longing. You can imagine how much more trite and irritating they come across, when they concern things like a minor altercation with a shopkeeper, or personal dissatisfaction with some public service or other.

To be honest, this sort of vacuous navel-gazing annoys me even in status updates on Facebook... which (unlike a newspaper) is more or less designed for that sort of thing anyway.  People who post pictures of food on their plates before eating it, for instance. Why not afterwards? Why not take a picture of a turd floating in a toilet bowl? That way, at least we’d get to know what it looks like after being digested... and there is no reason under the sun why the former should interest anyone else more than the latter.

Naturally, I am also aware that the same is true about my own reaction to Maggie’s passing. Why on earth should it interest anyone apart from me, who lived with her for 11 years? It shouldn’t, quite frankly. That other perspective I mentioned earlier is too important to ignore. She was, in truth, ‘just a cat’. It is a biological fact that no amount of emotional self-flagellation will ever alter in the tiniest detail.

There is little in this world that annoys me more in other people’s blogs or articles, than when they trot out their own personal experiences as though they would automatically be of interest to everyone else.

She was also my cat, though. Or to be accurate, the ownerless cat who happened to put up with me all these years. That, too, is a fact that can’t be altered. As a wise friend commented to me in commiseration yesterday, “It’s amazing how these animals get into our minds and hearts.” It’s true. I can’t rightly explain why I feel so wretched and miserable at the loss of ‘just a cat’. But I do, and I’d be lying if I claimed otherwise. (And not just for the usual soppy reasons, either. The lyrics of a certain Smiths song came poignantly to mind in a sleepless moment last night: ‘There were times when I could have murdered her...” (including most of those 7am wake-up calls) “...but I’d hate anything to happen to her....” How awfully, terribly apt that sentiment seems to me right now...)

In any case: all this places me in a bit of a quandary. It is something I should be used to by now, but am evidently not. There’s still an article to write today. And there’s still the other Raphael Vassallo to write it... though I’ve locked him away in the cellar for the time being (he’s been banging on the hatch ever since). And so much to write about, too. Even if wasn’t Christmas Eve... and it sure doesn’t feel like it, let me tell you... there is so much of what Edwin Vassallo rightly called ‘bullshit’ going on, that the other me wouldn’t even know where to begin.

And yet, here I am writing an article about my dead cat. It feels wrong. It probably is wrong, and the other me would no doubt be able to elucidate exactly why in any of a dozen over-imaginative ways. It is wrong because I am allowing personal feelings - which are of no interest to anyone else, or shouldn’t be – to usurp what is ultimately a public space. It is wrong because the feelings themselves are plainly disproportionate, when viewed from any other perspective. Let’s face it: the death of a cat must seem perfectly insignificant, against the backdrop of what looks like an entire planet gone dangerously off the rails....

Unfortunately, however, the converse is equally true... at least, for the time being. Yet another unalterable fact is the one that has me temporarily trapped in this perspective bubble. Though I may be the only one stuck in it, the view from where I’m sitting – illusory though it may be - is quite the opposite. The loss of a cat seems to fill the horizon at the moment, while everything else pales into dreary insignificance.

And it pains me to realise, even as I wrote that sentence, that that was exactly Maggie’s own perspective on life all those years. She herself filled her own horizon, while everything else – including all things I’ve ever written about, with her looking on in manifest boredom – was clearly unimportant.

Who’s to say she was wrong? It was her perspective, not ours. And within that private bubble of hers, her logic was also completely unassailable. What could possibly be more important than food and sleep, anyway? Certainly not some silly old Maltese political controversy or other...

No, indeed. She was clearly onto something there. If some of our MPs took a leaf out of Maggie’s book, and assessed their own priorities through her undeniable feline wisdom... there might be a good deal less ‘bullshit’ for people like Edwin Vassallo to actually complain about. Our MPs would be altogether too busy snoozing, eating or puking up fur-balls all over the carpet, to just keep pole-vaulting interminably from one controversy to another.

But that’s the other me talking now. He must have got out of the cellar while I wasn’t looking. Sorry about that, I’ll try not to let it happen again.

Meanwhile, all I really have left in me to say right now is that I hope the New Year will usher in a happier note than the old one ended on. Oh, and Happy Christmas, of course.

Can’t leave that out, now can we?