Cat&Mouse

Mouse
Rose The Skittish Spinster Cat insists upon going outside very early in the day. There seems to be little she won’t resort to in getting her way on this, but she rarely has to work harder than a small attempt to smother me in my sleep. So far, she has not succeeded, and I suspect she would only disappoint herself if she did, for she intends to get me up, not put me under. Once out, she disappears for a half hour or longer. I follow her outside to lounge in my camp chair in the dark and talk myself into writing something in the predawn, weather permitting.

This morning started no different, but after that mysterious half hour, I spotted Rose batting at something beneath the office chair inside. This chair has five legs radiating from a central pillar, each with a roller wheel, creating a five-pointed star shape. Beneath that star this morning, a small mouse quietly evades Rose’s probing paws. It’s a perfect dilemma. The mouse need only step a few inches to avoid Rose’s pounces, but Rose must move a foot or more and hop a star leg to compensate. The mouse holds high ground. Rose cannot successfully counter. Finally, after several minutes of lop-sided combat, the mouse scurries off unseen by Rose, escaping through the sliding door and beneath my chair back into covering darkness. Rose, baffled at her quarry's disappearance, remained hovering beneath the office chair for the longest time.

She will spend much of the balance of the morning seeking out her lost prey.
She’s already paced off the room perimeter, going back to that baffling chair several times, as if returning to the scene of this humiliating crime might put everything right. I was cheering for the mouse. Small mammals in this area carry tularemia, an infectious bacterial disease, which renders them inedible, though Rose, being The Skittish Spinster Cat, would not have actually eaten the mouse. She, like all cats, is fundamentally a killer, and had she succeeded, she would have left her dead prize someplace where I might have stepped on it barefoot, this to garner my praise and earn a half can of that flaked tuna in diaper gravy she’s learned to recognize as real food.

Me being me, I sought to find some deeper meaning in Rose’s foiled little passion play. I imagined myself positioned with distinct disadvantage, and batting at some prey. The predator’s prejudiced eye positions prey below them on more than the old food chain. I presume that my prey possesses less intelligence inside their succulent, smaller body, but this needn’t necessarily be the case. Smarts seem situational. Great positioning can amplify any opponent’s power against their foe. The rabbit in his burrow remains invulnerable to the watchful hawk. The mouse mostly moves under the cover of darkness. To remain healthy, prey learn to become stealthy. In a straight, stand-up contest, the predator usually prevails, but most contests in this world qualify as neither straight nor stand-up.

I acknowledge that I remain fully capable of out-smarting myself at almost any moment. Small prey quite often escape my pounce by playing to my blind spots, prominent among these seems to be my preternatural sense of superiority in these contests. Pride isn’t alone there goething before a fall. I usually stumble over small obstructions that I have elevated to tripping height by underestimating them. The god of small things must chuckle behind his hand, watching me stumble myself so. Had I paid closer attention, had I given that detail its due, I might well have prevailed. By presuming it even less significant than it was, I enhance its relative authority over me. I might mirror Rose The Skittish Spinster Cat’s baffled search around the perimeter of any space without finding a trace of any mouse that got away.

Not only the devil lives in details, lesser demons hang out there, too. I can be surprisingly unobservant, catching big picture gists without noticing my own fly undone. I might prepare 99% of a big feast only to discover that the 1% I overlooked stands in the way of actually serving any of it, then madly grating cheese or pitting mangoes in the eleventy thirtyth hour. I have apparently been unsuccessfully exposed to most of the cautionary homilies warning me away from this recurrent behavior. None of them took root. I am no more natively clever in this respect than I ever was. One might no more outgrow such tendencies than Rose could out grow her native skittishness. Knowing isn’t doing or being. Forewarned doesn’t always improve anything. I suspect it rarely does.

Rose still searches for that mouse an hour later.

Give a kid a guitar and they almost immediately start dispensing advice. Give a writer a keyboard, or even a pen, and they’ll do the same thing as that kid with a guitar. This might be that time in the essay when I’m supposed to start spouting homilies, sharing my supposed wealth of experience with those of you who really should benefit from it. I could propose that the smallest details are most likely to stumble you because they seem most likely to stumble me, but I would only be playing into a universalist fallacy, as if my experience represented universal experience, my tiny-small adventures identical to everyone else’s. This could not possibly be so, but I do have this keyboard handy.

No advice offered, then, and none to be received. I believe that the worst of writing stumbles into telling people what they should be receiving. This counters the whole purpose of plot and story, transforming what might become enlightening parable into little more than mumbles, and the reader into a rusty receptacle. I can’t hear half the advice I receive and I deeply suspect anyone offering to tell me what I really need to know. If I’m seeking advice, the onus, of course, hangs on me for believing the author qualified to counsel me. If I’m innocently listening to a singer on the radio, I do not need or expect to be told or scolded. I have my own mice to catch. Some of them will surely out-smart me, usually by me out-smarting myself first.

If I have one dangerous fantasy, it’s probably the delusion that knowledge can be transferred by telling. Some information can be transmitted in this way, but knowledge seems of a different order, not so easily packaged. Hearing about can’t quite equate to experiencing, and experiencing seems the stuff that results in muscle memory. Rose The Skittish Spinster Cat could replay her mouse hunt every day without learning a thing. I could coach her on her technique, but she wouldn’t understand any more than I understand when another points out my more obvious blind spots. Curiously, I’m deploying my own blind spots whenever I’m pointing out others’.

©2015 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved









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