Kitten report #09: Six months old!

Today the twinsome terrors, Charlie and George, are six months old. We have had them for about half their time on earth.

They begin here, with their foster parent, Cody:

Two tiny tabby kittens, one hugging the other

I luv you, bruv! Photo by Charlie (top) and George.

Then they came to us:

Two tabby kitties on a bed. Huge ears, huge eyes, hugely loved.

George (back) Charlie (front)

And within a couple of days owned the place:

Then they settled down to the serious business of growing, playing, and learning. Along the way they ate a lot and destroyed many, many things. Charlie also sustained a brain injury as the result of oxygen deprivation during an operation to remove a nasopharyngeal polyp. Overnight he went from a lively, rambunctious in-charge-of-it-all kitten to an almost dead, helpless and incapable fuzzy little bundle. We thought he might die. But over the last three months he’s eaten, played, cuddled and purred his way back to health and strength. His brain does fritz sometimes, and when he’s tired or stressed his visual processing gets confused, but, essentially, if you didn’t know, you would not be able to tell he has any impairment at all.

He certainly destroys as many things as George. I woke up yesterday morning to find the sturdy plastic door stop attached to the slider between the kitchen and deck chewed to a nubbin. Here’s a picture of the  nubbin tastefully lit by a ray of sunlight, long before Charlie even thought about chewing it, when it was, in fact, longer than his head.

Tabby kitten asleep on kitty condo shelf in front of a large window, head hanging down in a slanting ray of sunshine. Through the window is sunshine on green trees and red flowers.

Charlie hanging in the sun

Now it’s chewed stump about an inch and half long. And Charlie is still teething with a vengeance. Here, he’s chewing a basket handle:

Tabby kitten gnawing, sharklike, on the handle of a wicker basket

Gonna need a bigger basket

George is well ahead in the maturation stakes. He’s bigger, stronger, faster and recognises human food as food (Charlie doesn’t yet). And George killed his first prey a few weeks ago: a mouse. And he ate the soft bits (their teeth aren’t really up to the bones yet, I don’t think). At this point I suspect if Seattle got hit by an asteroid George might just be able to fend for himself. Charlie could not. It’s unclear to us whether that will change as he grows. I’m encouraged by the fact that just in the last week he seems to have undergone a qualitative change: he seems sharper,  more agile, and more focused.

They are definitely people cats. They will both settle in laps, though Charlie much more readily than George, who often prefers to sit on a cushion next to us. Here’s a picture taken on Sunday by our friend, Colleen:

Tabby kitten sitting like a blissed-out kitty meatloaf on a red cushion with a woman sitting next to him stroking his head.

Blissed-out George meatloaf, and Kelley

And another, taken the same night. They are fairly typical.

Tabby kitten posing like a business titan in the lap of a cross-legged woman

Charlie posing like a CEO, with me

When we first started looking for kitties we wanted a boy and a girl. It’s what we’ve had before, and the combo worked well: the female cat tends to take charge, but the male cat is bigger and won’t let himself be pushed around too much. But then we went to Seattle Area Feline Rescue ad when Charlie settled like a baby bird in my lap that first time, that was that. When we brought them home I was worried that two boy cats might fight a lot (just as two girl cats would) but they get on well. They chase each all the time, of course, and they fight, but its never too serious, and—as you can see—they are very relaxed together. The key is to make sure they don’t have to share toys or food dishes. Here they are after dinner on Sunday, dozing in front of the fire, imitating a pushmepullyou, with one green catnip brought (a present from Colleen) visible on the hearth, and a a grey one (a present from another friend, Kate) between Charlie’s tail and George’s foot.

Two tabby kittens lying top-and-tail by a fire, surrounded by catnip mice.

Charlie (top right) and George (bottom left), exhausted after catnip mouse play, settle in to a sleeping game of pushmepullyou

They give me hours of pleasure every single day—often hours of hassle and irritation, too, but the pleasure has always outweighed the hassle, and the pleasure grows while the hassle shrinks. As you can see, though, the kitties themselves are certainly not shrinking. They haven’t been weighed for a while but my guess is George is about 7 lbs and Charlie approaching 6 lbs.

This will probably be the last of the regular kitten reports. I’ll post photos on Instagram (and mirror on Facebook and Twitter) but I’ll save blog posts for particular milestones and/or special circumstances. If anyone has specific requests, or a question, just drop a comment. And until next time, you can read previous kitten reports here.

What is this? Where can I get one?

What is this? Who makes it? Where can I get one? Are they legal on US roads? How fast do they go? And a zillion other questions. If anyone has answers, drop a comment.

Kitten report #08: Kipper and Ripper

Two tabby cats sitting up after a nap on a woven throw next to a laptop.

George and Charlie are two weeks shy of six months old. Their food consumption is up again, but as you can see from the photo (they were helping Kelley in her office and had just woken up) they are most definitely not portly. I would not be surprised if George were to weigh in at 7 lbs, and it’s all sinew and muscle. Charlie is definitely growing, but he’s still small. He can look surprisingly hefty in bright sunlight, though, and yesterday, when he caught sight of the neighbour cat for the first time—a big fluffy Balinese—he puffed up to alarming proportions and made a kind of strangling sound in his throat—his first attempt at a growl.

Their developmental pendulum swings wildly between sweet fuzzy little sleeping potato and manic murdercat. In their grown-up phases they pose. Charlie has a fondness for Lolling Potentate, while George (jealous of Charlie’s Bast look) is practising Sphinx.

Young tabby cat lolling in the sun, yellow eyes reduced to slits by bright light. Charlie as Jabba the Hut.
Young tabby cat sitting on white carpet in sphinx pose: front paws straight out. George the sphinx.

They are still teething. George sheared off the specially reinforced cords holding the fuzzy pompoms hanging from the kitty condo, though hasn’t yet been able to get through the one on the scratching post. George is also, I suspect, responsible for the huge rent in our favourite 1200 thread count sheets and the great hole in my (admittedly old) purple sweater. His new nickname is Ripper.

Charlie has learnt to carpet swim—pull himself along the floor by digging his front claws in the carpet and pulling himself along, fish-like. And given his mackerel tabby colouring, he is Kipper. Neither of them seem impressed with their new names and refuse to answer to them. Kelley swears that when she calls their proper names they recognise them, but I’m not convinced.

Charlie likes sleeping on me; George prefers to sleep right next to me, preferably on something of mine, whether the Rollator or a sweater—he’s particularly fond of my sweaters; if I put one down, I lose it for the day. He tends to sleep tidily, Charlie not so much:

Tabby kitten asleep on an oatmeal coloured sweater George is dignified in sleep, mostly. Note his paw pads which are like roasted coffee beans.
Tabby kitten on a cross-legged lap. He looks as though he just fell there from a mile up, or maybe is doing the can-can. Charlie can fall asleep anywhere, in any position. Here he looks as though he may be essaying the can-can in his sleep. Note the chewed ties on my sweat pants, sigh.

They both love to cuddle. Charlie is demanding. He just leaps at you and expects to be caught, supported, and carried about like a toddler until he suddenly flops into deep sleep, and then won’t move for hours. He can sleep anytime, anywhere. Last time we were at the vet his was in my arms and just fell into REM sleep, head lolling over my elbow, while the vet was chatting about immunisations. George is a fan of hugs: he stands on his hind legs, reaches one paw up to each side of my neck and tucks his head under my chin. Actually, he likes standing up in prairie dog pose a lot. Here he’s watching Galaxy Quest.

Cat on its hind legs like a prairie dog, watching TV George watches Galaxy Quest

He’s learnt that claws + human skin = verboten. A couple of weeks ago I picked him up (he’d jumped on the table while we were eating breakfast) and he panicked, flailed, and caught my lip and cheek. I bellowed; he ran off and stayed hidden for a while. Later, when he crept out, he seemed chastened. I haven’t seen his claws since. Which is a good thing, because he’s getting big, and strong, and fast. I’m happy not to worry about a recurrence. Charlie, though… A month ago we elected not to trim Charlie’s claws because when he doesn’t see well, the claws are what save him: if he misses a jump by a few inches he can generally hang on and haul himself up. That was fine when he weighed 3 lbs. But now he weighs over 5 lbs it’s becoming problematic: he takes a flying leap at my shoulder and if he feels even a little insecure will clench his paws into taloned fists, like an osprey around a fish.

Tabby cat with its head over staff's shoulder, looking back at the camera Charlie gets possessive

I shout in outrage (and pain), and while he doesn’t like that, he seems unrepentant. Right now my shoulders look as though I’ve gone headfirst through a threshing machine, and my thighs have what look like the fork patterns you put in shortbread. (My hands, too, look like they’ve met the fork fairy.) We’re hoping he’s just a bit behind the learning curve, but we’ll see.

George discovered bacon and played with it for hours before figuring out how to eat it. This was obviously just-in-time preparation for real life. Last night, as a Halloween present, George woke us up growling and leaping: he had caught a mouse and had brought it to us to be admired. I felt sorry for the mouse—but it was dead, so too late to bother to rescue it—but also absurdly proud: our itty bitty kitty killed his first meal! Of course, waking up the next day to its liver and tail in the middle of the carpet—none of our cats seem to care for rodent liver—was less fun, as was the realisation they, hey, we have mice. Not for long, obviously, but still.

Charlie was not the least bit interested in either the bacon or the mouse. I don’t know if this is a vision issue, a developmental stage, or just personal preference. He’s certainly curious about most things. Last week he discovered the inside of the wheelchair lift. When it was in the down position he jumped neatly inside then yowled when he couldn’t get out (it’s a 44″ jump up a metal side panel with no purchase for claws). I couldn’t open the door for him—because I can only get downstair if I use the lift—so I had to bring the lift back up to the main level. When he realised he was moving, and trapped, poor Charlie nearly had an aneurism. Terror adrenalin gave him enough of a boost that he leapt out, mid-rise, at which point I nearly had a fucking aneurism because he could easily have got a leg caught between the lift and the steps. He seemed a bit glassy-eyed, but fine. I had to go make a soothing cup of tea (and of course Charlie promptly tried to boil himself in it).

Charlie’s brain fritzes are becoming less frequent and so more obvious when they do occur. They seem related to fatigue and/or stress. The other day, he was in the kitchen watching a towhee (stealing the food we’d put out on the deck for the crows) when a yard worker clomped up the steps with a roaring leaf blower. Charlie streaked to the other end of the house and hid under the bed; when he emerged he seemed to process poorly for a while. He was fine after a nap. I’m beginning to suspect this may be a permanent feature of his brain injury. If so, he’ll adapt and find ways to compensate, as all of us with impairments do.

He might not be learning about his claws, he might not be learning that not all food comes from tins, but he’s definitely learning. Today I saw him do something George has been doing for quite a while: prancing about on his hind legs while holding and batting about his favourite grey catnip mouse. He’s also learning to think more strategically about prey: how to anticipate where it might be going and being there, waiting, rather than simply chasing. He’s been doing that on and off for a while, butnow he does it all the time, plus he’s figured out that he can cut the angle in a chase by going over a piece of furniture. Frankly it makes our games of feather a bit less entertaining for me. Instead of endlessly racing in a circle, he stops and waits behind a piece of furniture.

Right now I suspect they’re under-stimulated. We’ve chased, caught, and chewed to death several feather toys. The catnip mice only hold them so long. Red dot (the laser pointer) seems to frustrate them now; they’ve learnt they can’t catch it or rip it. Foils balls are always fun, but they go under furniture almost immediately. Ribbons are no challenge at all. And, finally, even their mini-football (soccer ball—Charlie has mad paw-ball skills) seems to be losing its allure.

So: we need some new toys. Suggestions?

20 years of Yahoo Groups

The nicolagriffith Yahoo Group began Sept 11, 1999—started more than 20 years ago by my friend Dave Slusher. Membership, at last count, was 283 people. There were many excellent conversations over the years, peaking in May 2008, many of them long and meaty.

Not coincidentally, 2008 was when I launched my blogs (personal and research) and joined Twitter. Just as with the rest of the world, interactive conversation gradually moved away from the NG email list and onto social media. So the last few years have been very quiet on the NG group. For the last couple of years I’ve been meaning to shut it down but I kept forgetting; I kept forgetting it even existed except once or twice a year someone posted something and there was a brief chat.

But for ten years it flourished: an amazing conversation about art, politics, gender, publishing, neuroscience, love, and intersectional oppression (before we had a word for it). And now Yahoo Groups is folding its tent. So all content, all those marvellous conversations,  will go away mid-December: all files, folders, and back-and-forth emails for the nicolagriffith group will vanish. Poof. Gone.

“Beginning October 28, you won’t be able to upload any more content to the site, and as of December 14 all previously posted content on the site will be permanently removed. You’ll have until that date to save anything you’ve uploaded.” (Ars Technica

So if there are any past or present members of the group—or of any other Yahoo Group— reading this, if you want access to content you’ve previously uploaded, go get it now. You can request a download of your user data, but I did that and what I got back was non-useful. So go to individual files and download them one by one.

Here’s the irritating part, though: there’s no way to download the email conversations. If I had money to burn, I’d pay someone to go download the whole lot, one email at a time, because some of that conversation is worth saving. As there are thousands and thousands of them, I don’t have the time, energy, or patience myself. Apparently someone out there has written a Python script that will scrape the data but I’ll freely admit this is outside my competence. If this might be an interesting challenge for you—one you’d be willing to undertake in exchange for, say, a signed, first edition, first printing Hild hardcover, or the last available memoir-in-a-box—please get in touch, either via the contact form or the comments below.

I don’t know which readers of this blog might still be a member of the NG list—another failing of Yahoo Groups is their seriously crap UI, particularly for administrators; there is no searchable list—but to any reading this: thank you. You made a big difference to me during the writing, editing, and publishing process for Always, the third Aud novel, and I was not happy.

If you’re reading this then you probably already know I still talk about my work—the progress (and not), the successes (and not)—but now I do it on my blog and on Twitter. The best way to keep up with my news is to sign up to get these blog posts via email. If you’re reading this on a mobile browser, scroll to the bottom of the post and add your email address to the box. If you’re using a laptop or desktop, then look at the right-hand sidebar, and add your email address to the box at the top.

On Facebook, I mainly link to this blog, but some good conversations develop in the comments. LinkedIn is just a mirror of this blog. And I tend to post photos first to Instagram. YouTube is mainly for posting my blow-shit-up videos, which I link to from here every holiday season, but also some readings.

But, again, to all those 283 member of the NG Yahoo Group for twenty years of conversation: Thank You.

Kitten Report #07: the chameleon twins [photos]

Charlie and George are now 5 months old, which, apparently, is the human equivalent of 5 years old. That can sometimes be easy to forget because both of them, but George in particular, can look very grownup, like young adults. I look at them and think, If the house got hit by a comet right now they might stand a fighting chance of surviving on their own. Then in the blink of an eye they revert to the itty bitty new-to-the-world kitties we brought home two months ago.

Here, for example, are two photos of George, taken one second apart. In the first he looks like the small,  uncertain kitten we first brought home. In the second: a young cat in charge of his world.

Tabby kitten sitting on a carpet looking very little and uncertain

George looking about 15 weeks old

Tabby kitten sitting on a carpet looking very grown up

George stands tall

He seems a little less maniacally focused on food acquisition this week, but his brother is still in eat-everything mode. Here are two pictures taken two seconds apart. In the first, Charlie’s cast himself on the bed, full of ennui, breathing slowing in that tumble-into-instant-sleep way kittens have. Then, at the other end of the house, Kelley opens a can of cat food…

Tabby kitten stretched out on a green, asleep. Yellow hand-written text reads, "It's all so bloody tiring!"

Charlie stretches out on the bed, and begins to fall asleep—

Tabby kitten flicks open his eyes at the sound of a catfood tin being opened. Hand-written text reads, "I hear... A tin opener? A tin opener!"

—then, on the other side of the house, a tin opens…

They are becoming chameleons, fitting their apparent age to the situation. When they don’t want their games disturbed: haughty adolescent. When they want food, or to play, or a warm lap to sit on: instant itty-bitty. It can be a bit confusing. One minute I’m thinking, Oh, we can leave them on their own all day, and then I think: No, they’re too little. They are basically terribly mobile, curious five year-olds running around armed with deadly weapons: their bodies are way, way ahead of their brains. A rough rule of thumb during the first two years of a cat’s life, one month is the equivalent of one year’s human brain development. Most cats reach their full size at around one year old, but—like humans—their brains aren’t finished for a while after that.

So they can look almost adult—here Charlie seems to be trying to grow a ruff (the kitty equivalent of a teenage boy trying to grow facial hair?) and his tail seems too long:

Two tabby kittens on a kitty condo. On on the lower level seems to be trying to grow a ruff.

Charlie (left) and George (right)

And then he can want to be in my arms like a baby:

Little tabby kitten asleep on an arm

Charlie, looking big-eared and young

Half the time they look like perfectly proportioned young adults, and then Charlie’s ears and tail look huge, or George’s back feet:

Tabby kitten sprawled on read cushion; the camera perspective makes his back foot look huge

George looking like a roof rabbit

Yes, that’s a camera-position/distortion thing, but if you look at the other pictures of George in this post you’ll see his back feet really are big.

Meanwhile, they are still teething. Chew chew chew, sigh. And Charlie at least still seems to think he’s small enough to claw his way up my back (and legs, and ribs) to sit on my shoulders. Assuming I haven’t bled to death by then, more kitty news towards the end of the month. Amuse yourselves meanwhile with previous kitten reports.

So Lucky wins the WA State Book Award!

Blue folder with a gold embossed seal: The seal of the State of Washington, 1889. On top is a name tag: Nicola Griffith, So Lucky.

So Lucky just won the Washington State Book Award for Fiction! Wow. I am surprised and happy. Both the Seattle Times and Seattle Review of Books have more info so go read those for details on where, what, who etc. What I want to talk about here is my surprise.

As the night’s MC, Paul Constant, pointed out, this really was one of the strongest groups of finalists I’ve seen for these awards. Every single book on the fiction list would have been a fine winner. (Yes, writers often say these things as a courtesy; this time, it’s true.) I did not expect to win, both because of the other books nominated but also because of the nature of So Lucky itself.

I’ve never been a fan of false modesty or excessive humility. I can write; So Lucky is a good book. But, by its very nature, it is designed to force the reader to look inside themselves and face their own ableism—because, oh, we are all ableist, even if we don’t want to be; it’s how we’re raised. If the book works as intended, it will make the reader uncomfortable (as well as thrilling, amusing, delighting, all that stuff—but, definitely, some discomfort). In other words, So Lucky is not the kind of fiction that wins awards. Nonfiction that makes the reader squirm? Sure, maybe. But fiction? No.

So when I saw the finalists I knew I wouldn’t win. I showed up at the ceremony a) because it really is an honour b) free party! and c) I wanted to support the friend who I was convinced was going to win. Of course I had thought about what I might say if I did win—doing otherwise is like going for a drive and, though not expecting to crash, not taking a moment to fasten your seatbelt: just plain idiocy—but I hadn’t thought deeply, and I hadn’t polished my thoughts or committed them to memory.

Then when I got to the auditorium I saw that the only microphone at the front was a fixed mic attached to a podium—utterly inaccessible to someone in a wheelchair. So then I was sure, with rock-bottom certainty, I wouldn’t win. So when Constant read out my name I was shocked. I wheeled out, totally blank, and they handed me a handheld wireless mic. And I thought, Fuck, should have practised…

Luckily, I did in fact remember most of what I’d intended to say (because I’ve been saying it for a year at various book events), though not nearly as elegantly as this (now polished—yes: stable door, meet bolt) written version:

SO LUCKY is about a woman with MS, written by a woman with MS. The first word of the book is it, and it is a monster. But the monster is not MS, the monster is ableism.

Ableism is the story we’re all, disabled and nondisabled, fed from birth: that to have intellectual or physical impairments makes us less, Other. Ableism is a crap story.

For one thing, it’s wrong. What disables a person in our culture is not impairment but society’s attitude to that impairment. We are disabled by assumptions. By, for example, the bookstore owner who, when asked why there’s no wheelchair ramp, says, with no trace of irony, “Well, none of our customers use a wheelchair.” Or the editor who says to their author, Can you make the disabled character a bit more lonely and sad, more authentic?”

Ableism is not only factually incorrect but poorly constructed, an inauthentic story told by those who have no clue. Next time you read a book about a quadriplegic who kills himself because he can’t bear to live in a wheelchair, next time you read about a blind woman whose happy ending relies upon a magic cure, ask yourself: Is the author of this story disabled?

According to the CDC, 25% of Americans has an impairment that has a serious impact on their life. One quarter. But what proportion of novels on our shelves are by and about disabled people? According to my back of the envelope calculations, about 0.00013 percent.

Ableism is a crap story. I wrote So Lucky to counter it. So for giving this book—this anti-ableist story—recognition, thank you.

I added a few more thanks, I think. At least I hope I did. If I’d had more time—and less shock—I would have thanked the judges, and Washington Center for the Book, and Washington State Book Awards. I would have thanked my agent, Stephanie Cabot, for having faith in me and my work (no matter how odd it gets); my editor, Sean McDonald, at FSG who found a way to publish a weird thing as an actual novel, and to do it in a vast great hurry because I felt it was urgent; Kate Macdonald, publisher and chief energy source at my UK publisher, Handheld Press (ditto); and all my friends who were sincerely puzzled at my sincere puzzlement over this book. Librarians and booksellers have been amazing; they expected HILD II and got this odd little thing, but embraced it anyway. But most of all I want to thank Kelley, my rock and my beacon, who always had faith in me and my book even during those times when I didn’t, quite. She took the picture, below, of me at the afterparty, still looking a little bemused.

A short haired white woman in a wheelchair signs a book for a reader.

I got to sign a lot of books at the afterparty—photo by Kelley Eskridge

I suspect the bemusement may last a while. But right now the sheer delight is gaining, so I think I’ll stop here and go party some more!

Saturday 12th October: Washington State Book Awards

So Lucky is a finalist for the Washington State Book Award in the fiction category. The event will be held this Saturday at the Central Library, downtown Seattle. It’s free, and all ages are welcome.

Central Library
1000 Fourth Ave., Seattle, WA 98104
Sat Oct 12, 7–9 pm
All Ages

Awards ceremonies can sometimes be a bit dull—though this one, hosted by Seattle Review of Books‘ Paul Constant, might not be—but the afterparties never are! So come meet the authors, get a book signed, have a glass of wine, eat some tasty nibbles, meet some more authors, quiz the judges on their choices, have another drink, meet some more authors, listen to their scurrilous stories…

Last time I went to one of these things, I was jet-lagged out of my mind (just off a plane from the UK—with time only to change my jacket) and by the time the evening began had been 27 hrs without sleep. I talked to a few people but I honestly don’t remember much of it. This time will be different. I’ll be bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and ready to chat with one and all. So come and be part of the state’s literary civics, and have a free drink. And come say hello!