where I am, who I am

(c) Belinda Ostrowski

Apparently, by modern definition, I am a cat lady.

I have two, and according to a recent New York Times article, that’s all it takes. Back in the day, it was somewhere in the double digits. Okay, maybe less than that, but having two cats then was called being a pet owner.

Walter Kitty
Walter, the cat who melts in your lap

So now, add “cat lady” to never married and avid knitter. Let’s not forget I lived with my mother for a time. Laughably, I fit a stereotype I can only hope is now as outdated as the former definition of “cat lady.”

If not, so be it. I fit it on paper only. I’m not to be pitied or mocked. Yes, I do get lonely at times. Everybody does. I remind myself then how many people my age are single for one reason or another, or worse yet, in bad marriages. Quite frankly, my situation is better than many, and not worse than most.

It took me years…

…to genuinely realize I’m valued and appreciated by others, and how essential true friendship is to contentment in life, how key it is to have people around me I can relax with and not fret about whether I’ve said or done the wrong thing.

I’ve learned to stay away from people who make me feel bad, whether or not it appears to be their fault. Sometimes I’ve taken the blame for things I’m not responsible for and find myself crashing and burning trying to right a wrong situation when the blame lies elsewhere.

In the past, and to a lingering extent still today, I tended to focus on the negative and be suspicious of sincere offers of friendship. What’s more, I always believed it was impossible for a man of worth to love me. Now, I apologize to any man out there who may have wanted to date me but didn’t because of the wall I put up. I never considered it this way before, but that’s a pretty rude attitude on my part.

I’m a bit offbeat, and happy about it.

There is somewhat of a dichotomy here, a flip side to that deeply held insecurity. On my best days, after a little mirror time, I’m confident in my appearance. I know I’m personable, kind, and empathetic. As one former boyfriend once told me (and although he meant it as a slam, I took it as a high compliment), I’m also a bit offbeat, and happy about it. In other words, I do have a fair amount of confidence in myself when I call on it.

That growth in attitude doesn’t change what I’ve done to get me where I am today. I can walk out the door, spinning on my heels with the belief I’m a brunette heartbreaker with the intellect and wisdom of, well, None Other, and thinking, men, I challenge you to be strong enough to take me on. (I have to clarify – I absolutely do not do that, and if I did, I can guarantee you with my next step I would, characteristically, slip on a banana.)  It wouldn’t instantly bring me what I may desire at that moment.

Here’s the thing:

I like cats, love mine, and I love to knit.  I wouldn’t give them up, the cats or the yarn, just because they might make me look laughable to someone cocky enough to think he or she will never be an object of scorn.

I am where I am because of who I am, along with the choices I’ve made and the choices made for me, twists and turns in life I have no knowledge of because they took place before they could be visible. I’ve made the life I have the way it is in part because that is the life I’ve wanted.

I believe in the power of subtle changes…In the meantime, I’m content.

A few years ago I had a glimpse of what it would be like to have someone in my life to be a support when I needed it most. I’ve handled sad and difficult situations on my own for so long that having someone by my side was new to me. It turned me around in the way I think about relationships, and I started to open up to the whole idea of something permanent.

Of course it doesn’t change the route I’ve taken to get where I am today, the reasons why and the consequences thereof. Being open to something doesn’t mean it will or even should happen, and I’m still not sure what I ultimately want. I have a comfortable lifestyle created from living alone.

Some of my family who have always been there -- and always will be.
Some of my family who have always been there — and always will be.

Yes, there are days when I sink into sad thoughts, but I know enough to realize a little time and maybe a good night’s sleep will bring me back to myself.

I believe in the power of subtle changes. In the meantime, I’m content with what I’ve been given, the friends and family who never fail me.

Just don’t expect me to ever change how I think about my cats. Only two, mind you, only two.

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how to effectively waste your time

Thankfully, I had to think about this one.

Sadly, there came a point when the ideas, all based on real-life (mine), came a’tumblin. For the record, I haven’t done everything on this list — at least not #4.

Anyway, here are some ideas for how to effectively waste your time:

1. Write your acceptance speech for your Academy Award.

Then give it — tears and all — to your pets, stuffed animals or your own image in the mirror.

2. Play computer solitaire.

This is an old-time favorite, and there are plenty of newer or more complex games out there as well. But I chose this because a friend of mine (friend — yeah, right. no — really.) has played an incredible number of games, as evidenced here. (I wrote the number really large. You may have to click on the picture to believe it.)

Number of solitaire games my friend has played as of August 2015.
Number of games my friend has played as of August 2015.
3. Take selfies. Lots and lots of them.

I started to take a bunch of myself and post them here, then I remembered photos from these posts end up on Google Images under your name (check it out if you don’t believe me).

4. Oh yes, check Google Images for the disconcerting pictures that come up under your name.

Then check all your friends’ names & images. Then save some of the more intriguing images, e-mail them to the corresponding friend and ask them what it’s all about.

5. Make endless amounts of bookmarks.

Fifteen years ago I discovered blank bookmarks at a craft store, along with small stencils & stencil paint. I had a couple dozen pots of paint, about eight stencil sheets and a handful of brushes. I made more than 200 bookmarks, and it’s taken me all this time to get rid of half of them. And, I laminated as many as I could. This is a portion of what I have left:

bookmarks sm

6. Watch my all-time favorite YouTube animal video.

It’s mesmerizing:

Goats on Sheet Metal

Before you judge me,

I know you have a list. I’d love to hear it.

Caged — a Guest Post

Today I’m honored to share a post by guest blogger, Arpita Pramanick.

Arpita is a talented author and recently published a collection of her insightful and sensitive short stories, “Bound by Life,” available through Amazon Kindle.I asked Arpita if she would write something for followers of my blog because I see such kindness and thoughtfulness in her writing, qualities I always wish to emulate. What follows Guest Postis a true story about a little girl in her neighborhood in India.

Caged

When I was in high school, Nisha and her family came to live in the flat apartment opposite to ours. Both the families lived on the first floor and our balcony faced theirs. Nisha was probably three or four at the time. She was thin, fair, as cute as a four year old can be and a chatterbox. She wouldn’t stop talking at all. She wasn’t going to school yet. All through the day she squatted in her balcony, watching over everyone who passed our street.

She called out to the ladies and gentlemen in the neighbourhood, the hawkers who came to sell utensils or vegetables and asked everyone how they were doing. Not a single person could pass the street without being accosted by her. Whenever my mother went to the balcony to hang wet clothes on the rope or to water our potted plants, Nisha would cry, “Aunty! What are you doing?” At times, my mother wouldn’t go to the balcony for fear of being held up by the tiny-tot and getting delayed in finishing up her chores.

Soon, Nisha became the most talked about personality in the neighbourhood. If for a day the family went anywhere, we would miss Nisha terribly. It would be like the street had become empty.

One day, I watched Nisha’s mother scream at Nisha from our window. A few minutes later I saw Nisha coming out of the apartment. Her mother shut the door on her face. The little girl kept knocking, begging her mother to let her in. When her mother did not listen, she went and sat on the stairs. She sat quietly the entire time, like she saw no point in crying out anymore.

I watched her sadly, but did not dare to call out. What kind of parent shuts the door on a four year-old’s face? Her mother wasn’t exactly a friendly neighbour, so nobody dared or cared to ask her for the reason.

After a few months, I started college in a different city. I moved there.

When I came home during vacations, I heard Nisha had started school.

“Her mother doesn’t let her talk to anyone anymore,” my mother said as she served me hot fritters – my favourite snacks with dinner.

“What do you mean her mother doesn’t let her talk to anyone?” I said, looking up.

“Well, who knows! Earlier, her mother used to talk to me, but now she’s changed.”

“Queer!”

“Yeah. They don’t communicate with anyone from the neighbourhood.”

Over the period of four years of college, I saw less and less of Nisha. She did not come out to the balcony anymore. Once or twice I found her out on the street with a few kids of her age, but those were perhaps the only time she came out. I wondered if she had grown shy or it was really her mother who stopped her from mixing.

When there is a sapling growing in your yard and you obstruct its growth, either it becomes stunted or breaks through the barrier. It was yet to be seen what became of Nisha.

When I returned home after completing college on a few weeks’ break, there was an addition to Nisha’s family – a pair of parrots. They stayed in a cage in the balcony, where I was used to seeing Nisha formerly.

If I woke up early enough, I saw Nisha waiting with her mother near their gate for her school car. She wore a blue and white uniform, one I had left years back. She must already be in the third grade. Since they didn’t talk with us, we had no way of knowing.

One evening, I was about to go to the market with my mother. When we went downstairs, we found Nisha waiting at their gate. She was dressed, perhaps to go someplace. Her parents were still upstairs.

Nisha waved at me. I waved back. She had this angelic smile on her face. After all these years of non-contact, I was delighted at her easy approach. My mother went ahead to speak with her. I wasn’t sure her parents would like it, so I stood where I was checking whether they came out or not.

My mother and Nisha conversed in whispers. I stood still like I was an accomplice in some crime and hoped my mother would come away soon. Why did she need to speak to the girl, anyway? Nisha’s mother won’t probably say anything to my mom, but she might make Nisha stand outside the door once more.

Just then I saw Nisha’s father come out and fiddle at the door. Maybe he was waiting to lock the door after his wife came out. My mother had never said anything about Nisha’s father opposing her free mixing with neighbours. In fact, once when I was home during my college days, we met the father and the daughter on the road and he was very cordial. But you couldn’t trust people to stay the same always. Plus, Nisha’s mother was going out too, and as far as I knew, the mother was the boss of the house.

“Mom,” I hissed, “let’s go.”

My mother returned in moments. I was glad Nisha’s father hadn’t looked down.

As we walked on my mother said, “I asked her if her mother forbade her to talk to us.”

“Yeah? What did she say?”

“She said yes and then said, ‘You go now, my mother is coming’ when she heard the door being locked. Poor girl!”

“Poor indeed! She wants to talk – she waved at me first.”

“Yeah, that she does whenever she thinks she’s alone.”

When I was younger I wanted to have parrots as pets. In the drawing classes, I drew parrots at every chance I got. I don’t know when the fascination for pets vanished. It must have been those stories I read about animal rights. I accepted it was unfair to cage animals and birds, but I never quite realized it until I saw the parrots in Nisha’s balcony.

One afternoon, suffering from post-college blues, I sat pensively in my balcony. The parrots in Nisha’s balcony caught my attention. Nisha’s father was painting the cage as the birds thrashed up and down. What did it matter to the birds whether the cage was violet or black?

Caged brain inside a male head

Long after Nisha’s father had retreated, the birds kept moving to and fro in the cage. Suddenly, I imagined myself inside the cage – and felt myself walking in that confined space. Claustrophobia embraced me with its gnarled tentacles. I had difficulty breathing. What a terrible place must the cage be for the birds! What a terrible place must Nisha’s home be for her – with only two rooms to move about and two people to converse with!

As I mused, I watched a cat crawl up a Neem tree in a neighbour’s yard. The cat stayed at the crotch of the tree for a while and then came down. Its simple act left a mark on my mind. I wondered why it climbed up the tree. Was it enjoying the view from the top? What made it come down moments later? What really goes on in the brains of cats?

For that matter, what really goes on in the brains of men and women? What makes Nisha’s mother restrict her child from communicating with us? What makes people cage birds? What makes them cage themselves within the four walls of their homes?

Arpita Pramanick

Image Credit: © Adrian Niederhäuser – Fotolia.com

bottom line: my life is better with cats

If you know me at all, you know this post was inevitable. Yes, I’m one of those – a cat lover.

walter kitty sm
Walter

I’m not going to say “cat lady,” because that sounds like I have 17 cats in my house on the outskirts of town where I play Bobby Darin records, eat bon-bons and watch game shows. Alone.

Right now that sweet little guy on the left, Walter, is trying to get settled in my lap as I sit at my desk and type this post. He’s my snuggler, the first lap cat I’ve ever had.

They soothe me. When I’m stressed, lonely or despairing, they’re there to protect me from all evil.

Like so many cat lovers, I want to show my appreciation for them. In my home, I have to keep myself from over-decorating my apartment in cat-themed art. It’s really startling to one day look around and lose count of how many inanimate cats there are in your home.

mimi beanie sm
Mimi

I decided it was time to move away from it, and at the same time look for something I hadn’t tried at all before, Modern Art.

I thought, check out Andy Warhol. Guess what I found out? Mr. Warhol did a whole series of cat pictures. I now have a print of one in my bedroom. It’s called “So Meow” and the colors are perfect. I’m not sure if I won or lost with that one. Let’s face it, wherever I go, the cats are going to pull me in,

Almost twenty years ago I picked up the cat of my heart, Paco. I love every cat who’s ever been a part of my life, but Paco was special. We were both lonely souls at the time who desperately needed each other. I saved him, and he saved me. It was a bond I don’t expect to have again.

When I got him, he was the squirreliest looking thing ever — great big ears, great big paws, a great big tail and scrawny everything else. Kind of like an awkward teenager, although at first I simply thought I’d inherited a homely cat.

Paco, sometime between really squirrelly-looking and beautiful.
Paco, sometime between really squirrelly-looking and beautiful.

“Mom,” I said in a panic when I called her. “He’s so funny looking and he ignores me!”

“I’m sure he’s not that funny looking,” she replied, “and he just needs to get used to his new home.”

Right on the second part, wrong on the first. But eventually he grew into the big beautiful cat he remained until he died at the age of 16.

Paco would sit at the door and wait for me to come home at night. I moved in with my mom for a short time, and she said he got in place about 30 minutes before I was expected home. I made sure I was never late.

One weekend I visited my brother out of town. I left at the usual time in the morning with a bag Paco didn’t recognize. My mom told me (after I got home) that he waited for me until 10:30 that night, until she finally picked him up and brought him into the living room to sit next to her. He pretty much stayed there until I came home. Then he was really mad at me, and hissed for an hour. Then he wouldn’t leave my side.

Montero watching Law & Order sm
Montero was a big fan of “Law and Order.” I also just realized how old my TV set is.

I’m crying a little as I write that story. I miss him, but I love my current babies, Walter & Mimi.  I hope I always have a cat in my life. These are pictures of some of those who have made my life better just by waking (me) up in the morning.

And I confess, I do listen to Bobby Darin from time to time. So do Walter & Mimi. We’re romantics. But I’m still a cat lover, not a cat lady.

I am not Rosie the Riveter…but I can hang curtains!

I believe in being as self-sufficient as possible.

Don’t get me wrong, I like having the right guy help me around the house. What’s more, the right guy can tease me a little about mistakes in my efforts at home improvement, as long as he doesn’t make me feel like a fool. There’s a difference.

Once upon a time I dated the wrong guy

for way too long. Despite oodles of proof to the contrary, he believed I was utterly incompetent when it came to things like changing a tire or replacing hardware on kitchen cupboards, and felt quite comfortable saying so.  Frankly, I think he would have preferred someone who didn’t know a hammer from a nail, but that’s not what he got. With me, anyway.

So no way was I going to ask for his help hanging my curtains. Even though in this case I was clueless about how it was done.

You see, I’d never heard of a level.

So instead I took a ruler, measured a reasonable amount above the window frame on either side and once in between, and marked each spot with a pencil. Then I took a strip of painter’s tape and stretched it across, so I’d have something I could check for a straight line.

Looked good to me. I took out my screwdriver and the screws that came with the curtain rod and went at it.

Now, I only had an old-fashioned manual screwdriver. It took FOREVER to get the task done. FOREVER.

On occasion I cheated and pounded the screw with a hammer just to get the thing moving.

Finally, it was ready. I slid the curtains onto the rod and placed the rod in the brackets.

You guessed it – crooked. I eyeballed how much and set out to adjust.

Again, FOREVER.

Still not right.

This went on for I don’t know how long,

until finally I had the whole thing looking perfect. Except, I had so many holes it looked like teeny mice had built a teeny mouse-hole condominium complex. That wouldn’t do.

Curtains! Victory!I knew about spackle, though, and Krylon paint. The curtains came down again, and I set out to fix the wall.

Well, I did a reasonable job with that. The curtains were hanging straight and looking good. Feeling almost smug, I made the mistake of watching some DIY show on the very subject of Mission Accomplished — and learned about anchors.

Oh Lord have mercy. Now I needed an electric screwdriver. And some sort of reward when this was done, because I was headed for the finish line, and I was going to finish a winner.

Finally, after getting this newly discovered aspect completed efficiently

— I did have an expert explain it to me, after all — it really looked good. Darn good. Good enough that when Mr. Wrong came over, his suspicious and close inspection didn’t reveal the truth. And certainly I didn’t.

Today, I have a plethora of electric screwdrivers, each designed for specific tasks l rarely perform. Perhaps more importantly, I have a level.

Now I just need to learn how to sew the curtains properly. Kidding, just kidding.

a run is better than a re-run (revisited)

I’ve decided to run a 5k. My first run, ever.

woo-hooActually, I didn’t really decide to do it. It was somehow decided for me. In the course of idle conversation with a friend whose husband and kids ran a 5k the morning before, suddenly the two of us were committed to running the same in exactly eight weeks.

I may not be sure how I ended up making that commitment, but I’m glad I did. I believe I can and I will. Yes, I’m scared of making a fool out of myself – mostly by having a time comparable to the world’s worst marathon runner. Yet I got on the treadmill this morning and did surprisingly well. Maybe, just maybe, I can get through this and not only have a successful run, but within a moderately successful time. After all, I can walk it in less than forty-five minutes.

Wow, that’s more than I ever would’ve thought I could do

only a few short years ago. But since then I’ve been through hell & high water and survived. Now I’m ready to willingly take on some challenges outside my comfort zone, even my general “desire” zone. I’m picturing myself crossing that finish line with my friend’s teenage daughters, who finish well before me, cheering me on.

This will involve some other challenges for me as well, such as tossing a few dearly-held habits. Maybe coming to terms with one or two medical realities. Probably should invest in some running gear. I know I’m going to have my ups and downs in my desire to run this thing, but I am going to do it.

When I was going through the aforementioned hell & high water,

I frequently would hear the frustrating words, “everything happens for a reason, and someday you’ll understand.” I still don’t know if I believe that. Years ago my dad told me this: whether life is good or life is bad, we always think it’s going to stay that way. Meaning, life has its ups & downs and we tend to be pretty short-sighted when we’re in the middle of either state. I think I follow my dad’s way of thinking a little bit more. Not that I have to discard one belief to accept the other, but my pragmatic side is overruling the mystical in this case.

Still, lessons learned and applied during hard times make the good times better, and challenges taken on as a result of growth keep life from being re-runs. I’ve faced tough times before, but never those that changed me as deeply as what I faced three years ago. I think they changed me for the better, and that will make the good times really good. I just hope the good times last a while. I’ve earned it.

 

Time IIUpdate:

Since I first ran this piece in January, I’ve tried training for a 5k twice, and found my body won’t go for it. I can walk endlessly at a very brisk pace, but shift into running and everything falls apart. I’m proud to say I tried and I’m also glad I was smart enough to quit before trying a third time.

I’ve also started to see some possible purpose come into my life

from those trials of recent years. I continue to resist the idea that “everything happens for a reason” because it hurts to believe there could be justification, if you will, to the malicious deeds of others. But life goes on in a good way, and I continue to grow.


Image Credit: (clock) © Jakub Krechowicz; calendar © Stillfx — both, DollarPhotoClub.com

my oasis of chaos

In my doll-sized apartment, one of the first things you see is my coffee table. Therefore, I strive to make sure it reflects me, the real me.

incredibly messy real me coffee table sm
This is a fictionalized depiction of what my coffee table would look like if it reflected the real me. FICTIONALIZED.

Well, if that were true, this is what it would look like on a good day. (Note the January 26, 1986 issue of People magazine: Sexiest Man Alive 1986 — Mark Harmon. Every few years I come across that magazine and think, I need to throw this thing away. But, how can I? WHAT IF I MEET MARK HARMON A WEEK AFTER I THROW IT OUT and miss my greatest chance ever for a celebrity autograph? Like I’d be carrying it in my purse if I did meet him when he traveled here to Arkansas [I hear it]. So it stays.)

Fortunately I have enough sense to decorate to a higher standard than my muddled mind. I won’t bother to show you a picture of that (the decorating, that is), since A) everyone’s taste is different and what I think is So Classy you might think is So Garage Sale and B) as you can see, the available photography isn’t going to do it justice anyway.

people magazine 012686 sm
Sure, I could put this on my coffee table, but nobody would be allowed to touch it.

Still, I do want that table to make a quality statement. So sometimes I put out a really cool book of photography my dad gave me, or other times I’ll trade that out for my favorite childhood picture books (I saw that done in a decorating book once and it looked good there, but never quite translates in my living room). Mostly I leave room for any magazines or books I might be reading, but I leave the esoteric ones most visible.

My copy of “Why Men Love Bitches” is in a basket under the table, buried beneath a couple of phone books. It always remains out of sight, but rarely out of  mind.

When it comes right down to it, I could really overthink this thing. Like I said before, my apartment is tiny. Everything needs to serve a purpose. While some of that purpose is ambiance, more of it is practical.

So maybe a little oasis of chaos would work.