Monday, May 11, 2015

feeding the cat

For the kindergartner that I then was, the logic was impeccable: Cats like food; I liked the family cat, Vyacheslav Molotov Toffee, so I would show my affection by giving Toffee some food. What food? Well, an onion, which I knew to be a food, was available: I would give Toffee some onion.

So I sat on the kitchen floor, peeling the onion, tears (much to my surprise) running down my cheeks, and tried to coax Toffee into accepting my affectionate good deed. I never did figure out why my impeccable logic had gone so badly awry: It should work (after all, it was logical and I was sincere), but the plain fact was that it didn't. 

The cat wouldn't eat the onion and I never discovered whether the tears running down my cheeks were caused by the acid fumes of the onion or the utter frustration of discovering that just because something makes intellectual sense doesn't mean it makes much concrete sense.

"Oh well," the indulgent adult croons, "you were a kid back then. Kids get to make cuddly mistakes and be smoothly reassured by wiser adults."

But are adults much different? Another pair of shoes, a trophy spouse, a corner office, an Apple watch, a belief system that brooks no contradiction, a war that will produce peace ... it's all logical and well-intentioned until the tears start flowing.

I am sitting here feeling the irritability rising as I see the topic segueing towards a TED-talk straw man arena ... a kind of ain't-it-awful depiction followed up by some thoughtful and well-intentioned conclusion. Oh yes, the speaker sees the problem and wins converts with his or her description and then quick-as-a-wink comes through with a program that will ameliorate if not downright solve that problem. It's a kind of moralistic legerdemain... sounds good and is ever so sincere and caring and ... there is something utterly bullshit about it.

Instead of finding a solution, I am inclined these days to see such issues as descriptive rather than prescriptive. Is life a "veil of tears?" Well, maybe, but who said there is something wrong with tears? Is a life without tears an informed life, a life worth living? And I'm not talking about surrendering to some gloomy-gus outlook. More like, the old Japanese saying, "fall down seven times, get up eight."

Descriptive just means the sun rises in the East. Prescriptive means I might wish it rose in the West.

Who knows -- maybe it will one day.

But when that day comes, I doubt that cats will willingly consume onions.


  1. A veil of tears --
    Much more poetic than a vale of tears, now hopelessly old-fashioned.
    I love your distinction between descriptive and prescriptive, it can often be hard to get that across.

  2. "vale of tears" -- clearly my command of English is shot to shit or getting there. Still, I'll pretend that what I wrote is what I meant to write ... yessiree bob, I can find excuses with the best of 'em.

  3. I'll see yer 'scuses 'n raise ya 2 modest brags.