Feline existentialism and the strategy of the settler and the searcher
Everything you need to know about satisfaction (or lack thereof) can be learned from my cats, Minnie and Maxx, the Yin and Yang of feline existentialism.
Minnie, jet black from head to tail, was clearly traumatized before I adopted her. She wanted nothing to do with people whatsoever and communicated that quite clearly. When I’d pick her up, she’d clench her entire body and then suddenly twist into the air and take off like a rocket at the first opportunity, leaving tracks of red slices on my arm or chest after using them as a launching pad for her back feet.
Consequently, I didn’t pick Minnie up much in the early days. I just left her alone and didn’t put any pressure on her. Four months later, she popped up on the footrest of my recliner, stared at me intently with her huge green eyes, and then delicately walked up my body, curled up on my chest, began purring and fell asleep. She’s been my Velcro kitty ever since, and has claimed me as her personal human. We’re each other’s familiar.
I like to describe Minnie as reclusive or sensitive or shy. My husband describes her as “psycho” and insists that she’d eat my face if she had to. Let’s not be judgmental, now. Who’s to say whose face we might eat if we had to survive? One can never truly be sure.
So, why on earth did I adopt a cat like Minnie, given that on that Petco Black Cat Adoption Day, there were scores of other choices, peering miserably from their cages and sliding their silken ebony paws through the grating as if beckoning and begging, “Please, pick me!!” As opposed to Minnie, curled in a ball in the back of her cage, trying to block out the world.
Well, the reason is that curled around that curled up black ball was a big, boisterous pure-white lovebug, licking Minnie furiously as if trying to comfort her. I called to get his attention and he came straight to me, rubbing his body back and forth on the grating, nibbling my finger affectionately, oozing love.
“I’d like to hold this one,” I told the rescue mom.
Once he was in my arms, there was just no way I was going home without that big purry squirmy ball of adorableness. I named him Maxx, (Cattus Maximus, of course) in contrast to Minnie (Cattus Minimus, and yes, I know that’s not a real word), because he overflows with personality. He makes facial expressions like a person, and is doing his best to speak English. He often calls “hello,” (it sounds like “herro”) when looking for someone, usually my hard-to-impress daughter, who he’s completely charmed.
One recent lazy “couch, coffee and cats” Sunday morning with my husband, Minnie was curled up in “her” lap (it used to be mine) and Maxx was perching on the back of the recliner, jumping onto the sofa arm, walking across the back, squirming around apparently unable to get comfortable, and then jumping down to go scratch at my daughter’s bedroom door and yowl “Herro” because he was displeased with the amount of time it was taking her to wake up, and I started analyzing the existential difference between Maxx and Minnie.
Yes. I’m about to anthropomorphize shamelessly.
Here is Minnie, never imagining she could be happy at all, let alone in the company of a human. Humans meant fear and pain. Except for one. Me. She is perfectly content to be bonded only to me, and makes zero attempt to interact with anyone else. She’s satisfied and grateful to have just this much. However, if she’d take the risk to interact with more humans, she’d reap an abundance of cuddles and strokes. But no. That’s just too risky for her. The luck of finding one loving human exceeds her wildest dreams and to seek more might ruin everything.
In other words, Minnie is content with “enough” — just enough, and not one bit more, whether it’s human attention or food. She’s a dainty little thing, all of about nine pounds and never overeats, satisfied with whatever food I give her.
And then there’s Maxx.
There’s NEVER enough for Maxx — food, water, attention, toys, playtime or even soft horizontal surfaces. He wants them all, and he wants them now. He’ll walk all the way across the house just to harass Minnie out of her warm, peaceful little spot, simply because he can’t stand for her to have something he doesn’t. And that goes for food too. If she starts to eat, he butts in and pushes her aside. Just because he can.
At the risk of cat-fat-shaming — Maxx is rotund. Joe calls him “Maxxie the Hut.”
At more than twice Minnie’s size, Maxx is immense both in bulk and personality. Everyone who comes to visit is drawn to him, perching on his cat tree and serving as the official welcoming committee. He chats them up, rolls around and flirts, and is simply irresistible. Minnie, on the other hand, greets visitors by streaking away to hide.
So, here’s that feline existential irony: Minnie seeks, and receives, relatively little in life, and is content. Maxx demands everything there is and usually gets it, but is restless and always wanting more. Even though he actually gets more than Minnie, he’s never content.
Some might call Minnie’s behavior “settling” — a dirty word in my book, one tick away from “giving up.” But maybe there’s happiness in settling? Is there satisfaction in not yearning for what might be beyond the horizon? Conversely, by perpetually chasing the horizon, we fail to realize that we can never really reach it. There’s always more.
If you settle, you give up the search. You “get there.”
If you search, you give up settling. You never “get there.”
Which is the better strategy? I’m not quite sure. I’ve been both a settler and a searcher. I’ll let you know when I “get there.”