Self-care in the time of coronavirus

A deck loaded with various planter pots and containers full of herbs and flowers

I’ve been hunkered down since the end of February. It’s now June. More than 3 months of not going anywhere, doing anything or seeing anybody is getting seriously old. But of course I’ll keep doing it because I do want to actually get old: I want that more than I want to see a friend smile and share a hug, more than I want a pint of Guinness (and, oh, I really fucking want a pint of Guinness), more than I want to get new blinds to replace all the ones the kitties have destroyed, more than a latte and croissant, more than to beat the shit out of a heavy bag at the boxing gym (and, oh, you have no fucking idea, none, how very much I want to hit something right now). And on and on.

The last week has been the hardest so far. First, all our technology broke at once: the lights on the stove won’t turn off; the van battery failed and took the SureDeploy ramp system with it; the wheelchair lift keeps getting stuck; and even the fucking electric kettle stopped working. Then right next door we have heavy construction machinery grinding away from 7 am to 9 pm. Our house is like a sound box but I can’t get away from the noise that rumbles through my bones and sets my teeth on edge. On top of that we’ve had thunderstorms and torrential rain that have driven the kitties crazy which of course means they’ve driven me crazy. Our city—like so many US cities—is going up in flames and wreathed in tear gas, and I see and hear of so many people trying so very hard to help each other and being fucked over by the small-minded, mean-spirited, selfish white gits who just want to burn it all down and/or shoot it. None of this is being helped by being unwell, absolutely wound tight and flattened at the same time by bizarre histamine responses despite being on double and triple doses of every antihistamine known to human kind. My body has gone into inflammatory overdrive: I can’t sleep, all my joints and tendons are swollen, and I hurt. My head aches. I can’t think, and when I look ahead all I see is personal and global stress and uncertainty.

But, eh, I’ve been through that sort of crap before. So what will I do? I’m going to try figure out some jury-rigged punching bag. I’m going to dutifully attend my telemedicine appointments. I’m going to set Freedom first thing every morning (which is something I’ve let slip since mid-February) so my day doesn’t start with terrible news. I’m going to sit on the deck and read already-published fluffy adventure novels and cheap thrillers. If it rains I’ll head inside and watch crappy TV of the arealistic variety (spaceships, sword-swangin’ fantasies, save-the-world-from-existential-threat thrillers, you know the kind of thing). I’m going to tend my flowers—which I just started, a week ago, so everything’s at the tiny, tentatively-unfurling stage (see above)—fire up the grill and put some Champagne in a bucket to chill. And, most importantly, I will start ignoring requests from other people. While in general I do of course care about various writing nonprofits, and disability advocacy, and other writers’ careers, and libraries, and bookshops, and every other damn thing, I care more about my need for stepping off the merry-go-round and about my long-term emotional health. In other words my watchword for June will be SELF-care.

So if you email me and I don’t respond, it’s not personal. If you think maybe I didn’t get your email, feel free to resend, but I’ll probably just ignore that, too. If I owe you something—a blurb, a reading, an interview—and you don’t get it, it’s not personal. It might feel personal but, hey, it’s not you, it’s me.

With self-care as my mantra, I’m heading for a June that promises to be better than May. I wish the same for you.

 

Adventures in homemade hair

Like everyone else in Seattle (and half the world) I’ve been reduced to cutting my own hair. Here’s how it’s supposed to look—how it looked last October at the Washington State Book Awards. My hair needs are simple: cropped close, textured and tidy, and most definitely nowhere near to touching my face (I hate that; hate it.) I need to be able to shampoo, rub it dry with a towel, and leave the house.

I last had it cut professionally on February 7. By the time my next appointment came round in early March the salons here were still open but I cancelled my appointment. I was already in self-isolation because, y’know, pandemic—though people still weren’t calling it that then. By the last week of March the pandemic was official and my hair was insanely shaggy. I hadn’t cut it because a) cutting your own hair never goes well, and b) all I had was a pair of gigantic blue kitchen shears, which were pretty blunt. But needs must so, fuck it, I started hacking. I did it a bit at a time, and after a couple of days here’s what I had. I looked a bit…monkish.

It was too smooth and uniform. So when it was time to cut it again a few days later (my hair grows fast) I had a go at random texture. For years I’d been watching Douglas Rosenow, my stylist, use shears and a razor to texture it. How hard could it be? Uh well… (Sorry, Douglas, for butchering your lovely hairstyle.)

After a bit more work I got it to okay, and it stayed okay for a while but my hair, as hair tends to, kept growing. So every few days I’d just hack another bit off what I could see on the front, top, and sides. Mostly it wasn’t too bad; for Zoom calls I’d rub some hair clay in and it worked, mostly. But I was using a lot of clay, and the back was growing wild. So I bought some proper scissors, and—in case of disaster—some clippers.

And now my cutting became truly random: I couldn’t see what I was doing so I would just reach back with the scissors and snip anything in reach. Here’s recently-washed hair drying in the sun—from the front not too awful (not great, but not awful) but when you see the back and sides you can see how thick and full the bits I can’t reach are, and how messy the neck line is—particularly on the left. This is because the first time I reached back there I stabbed myself with the scissors and bled on stuff so I’m much more tentative now on that side. Also, look how grey I’m going on the right side at the back and temple. (Why just the right side? Who knows.)

And here how it looks now—well, how it looked on Wednesday last week when I put the last bit of hair clay in, tidied it up as best I could, and did another video reading. The photo is a bit gauzy because it’s a still from a 720p video (I find 4k and even 1040p too unforgiving, so deliberately dial down the resolution). Also, I’m wearing a smidge of eyeliner and a necklace—which in the last few years is as close as I ever get to dressing up. For Extreme Formal add a jacket.

In this frozen moment of time with kind lighting (facing a window) I think it looks pretty okay, but it won’t last—in fact the perfect moment has already passed and the back is becoming truly unmanageable. Sometime soon I’ll be forced to take the plunge and resort to more drastic measures. What, exactly, and when are as yet unclear. I’ve charged the clippers and figured out how to attach the blade guards but I haven’t screwed myself to the sticking point. Not yet. Right now I’m acutely jealous of Kelley who started growing her hair out late last summer and whose only concession to pandemic fashion is to occasionally tie it back out of her face. Tuh. Not fair!

So how about you? How are your adventures in homemade hair?

SO LUCKY is 2: Some thoughts on publishing

So Lucky was published May 15 2018: it is two years old today. I thought I’d take this opportunity to revisit the process and ask for your opinion.

A short, fast-paced whirlwind of a novel

Publishing So Lucky was an interesting experience. And by ‘interesting’ I mean difficult. This is not the publisher’s fault—they did a miraculous job in an impossibly short timeframe—I just knew that given a) the length, shape and themes of the novel itself and b) the speed with which we would publish, there would be no time to mitigate the foreseeable difficulties, never mind the unforeseeable ones. But this was a book I needed the world to read—other considerations were secondary.

Unlike any other book I’ve ever read

I’m always eager for people to read my stuff: I look forward to readers’ enjoyment. But right from the beginning this book felt different. It felt urgent. I wrote the first draft in 3 weeks. My editor read it in 3 days. We met and chatted for less than 2 hours. And the book was published almost exactly one year after that initial conversation. For mainstream literary publishing, this is warp speed.

Magnificent, searing…a terse and brutally urgent novel. 

So why was it so urgent? Why did getting it out there sooner rather than later matter so much? It’s a matter of representation. Disabled people often feel othered and dehumanised because we don’t see ourselves mirrored on the page or screen. And on the rare occasions we do see ourselves it’s as characters who are pitiable and pitiful, objects of derision, characters created expressly as lessons for nondisabled characters (and readers), freaks to be pointed to as cautionary examples; we are portrayed as sad, lonely, grateful, dependent, or dead. These are the stories that are out t here; these are the stories that are creating the cultural attitude towards disability—the stories that are powering ableism. (If you want to see numbers and a more clearly laid-out argument, please go read my New York Times Op-Ed, “Rewriting the Old Disability Script.”) So Lucky exists because a) I had a story to tell—always the primary mover, and b) I felt an overpowering urge to increase the representation of disabled protagonists in adult literary fiction, because at the time the single female disabled main character in mainstream fiction I could think of is in Geek Love (which is stretching the definition of mainstream to breaking point, and even so all the crip characters are literally freaks). Also, it was published more than 30 years ago. So, yes, it felt urgent.

A body-slam of empowerment, a roar of frustration so sustained and compelling that it cannot be ignored

So I made it condition of Farrar, Straus and Giroux publishing the book that it happen as soon as humanly possible, and screw the usual timetables. I admit I was a bit surprised when they agreed. Because, here’s the thing: the book wasn’t even done yet. Oh, the ingredients were all there and mixed, but they hadn’t been shaken, or poured in the mould, never mind set, never mind turned out and decorated. So we did everything in parallel rather than in sequence: rewriting while coming up with the cover, copyediting while recording the narration, etc. There was just no time to sit and think about the book, to figure out how to talk about it, how to describe it, how to position it and market it.

A swift, luminescent novel, a shard of light

What do I mean by ‘time’? Let’s use Hild as a comparison. I started researching all things seventh-century in 1999. I wrote the first paragraph of what would become Hild in 2008. I finished the first draft in early 2011. It was published at the end of 2013. In other words, by the time that book came out I’d been living and breathing the story and characters and world for more than 14 years. I knew what it was; I knew what it was about; I knew what it meant; I knew how to describe it, how to talk about it. When I had my first big meeting with the marketing and publicity team I could speak cogently, succinctly, and interestingly about comps, genres, positioning; I gave them ideas about how to focus descriptions for sellers, reviewers, readers. ‘Here’s how it’s different to X. Here’s why it’s like Y but better. Here’s how it’s absolutely not like Z. Here’s how it does A, here’s how it destroys B, here’s how it completely recasts C.’ And so on. I could explain what the book did that was utterly radical, and why, and the ways in which it did what every single one of my novels has always done—to norm the queer Other—and why readers would love it. Everyone left that meeting happy and with a clear mission.

A disconcerting but very necessary book.

I start writing So Lucky between Christmas and New Year and finished the first draft in early January 2017. I wasn’t sure what I had, exactly, and didn’t have time to think about it because I was in the middle of another project (my PhD). As soon as I finished the last sentence of Lucky I had to rewrite my thesis. I did that, sent it to my supervisor, then rewrote Lucky. I still wasn’t totally sure what it was: A dark fantasy novella? The beginning of a mainstream novel? A cathartic mess that should be thrown away? All I knew was that it did not do what all my other novels did: it did not norm the Other, because this time the Otherness wasn’t queerness, it was disability. And it didn’t take that Otherness and make it irrelevant to the story; it made that Otherness the point of the story. But I didn’t really know how to explain that at the time, because it was the first time I’d done it; I also knew it wasn’t finished. But I sent it to my agent and she sent it to my editor.

Brutal, unsparingfull of power and healing

In May, then, when I had lunch with my editor to talk about the book I was pretty inarticulate, except to say it had to be published as soon as humanly possible—because the one thing I was clear about was my sense of driving urgency. The contract itself took a few weeks, as these things do, but my editor and I were already hammering the book into shape. I rewrote again, adding a few thousand words that made the whole much stronger and more coherent. But that draft wasn’t done until about August—and it had changed again, and I still hadn’t had time to just sit with the book and understand it.

A boundless, fearless animal of a novel

But publishing doesn’t wait, so I had to have the big marketing meeting before I had assembled my thoughts. Given the marvellous job the marketing and publicity people at FSG had done with Hild, I was confident that between us we would figure it out. We didn’t. I kept trying to explain my thinking, such as it was, and I kept feeling this resistance; there was a baffling barrier to our communication. The senior people in the room seemed…unengaged, unwilling to wade in an help me articulate the core of the book. Halfway through the meeting I realised said senior people had not read the book and, more to the point, would not read the book. It was clear from the tenor of the conversation that they assumed  assumed it would be misery lit, an endless litany of Woe-is-me that is popular in memoir—and in fiction about disabled people written by nondisabled people. It was only after I logged off the call that I understood they were trying to come up with ways to position a book they assumed they themselves wouldn’t like trying to sell a book they didn’t believe would sell. Not a happy moment.

Spine tingling…downright terrifying

The initial catalogue copy was awful: absolutely what you’d expect for a misery memoir, stuffed with pity words: victim, suffering, problem, autobiographical. The initial cover ideas were sad and lonely women in quarter profile, turning away from the world. We fixed it all eventually but not before the initial entrance into the world—and first impressions burn deep. So now we were already moving uphill. Then came the first review, from Publishers Weekly, and all my initial concerns were realised. (I wrote about that here, and more on reviews of disability fiction in general here.) I did of course get some lovely reviews—the bold quotes throughout this post are from journals such as the New York Times, Elle, Vanity Fair, the Independent, BBC Culture, Boston Globe, Seattle Times and more; you can read them here—but there were many more reviews that just didn’t happen. And it was my first (and hopefully only) novel that was not noticed at all by genre writing communities—SFF, crime fiction, queer fiction, though it could plausibly be considered as fitting the relevant parameters—or nominated for any of those awards. Could this be because it’s just not a very good book? Of course it could. But I suspect not. In the end, So Lucky won the Washington State Book Award—which is presented very late in the yearly cycle. In other words, So Lucky had been out 18 months. Coincidence? I think not. Readers and critics had had time to adjust to it, to see it as itself, for its very novel (no pun intended) self, rather than some caricature of their own bias. So Lucky is not like anything else you will have read, and my theory is that is just takes time, sometimes a long time, to grok a new thing.

Disorienting, destabilizing, and game-changing. I have never read anything like it

So, looking back, do I wish I’d chosen a slower and more deliberate approach and obviated some of that knee-jerk ableist response? No. I think the only way to get past that crap is to go through it. And now I have. Given that, and that two years have passed, I think So Lucky‘s second birthday is an opportunity to test my theory, and you can help if you’re willing. If you’ve read it once, read it again. I’d love to know how/if your perceptions of it have changed. If you’ve read (or listened to) my other novels but not this one, give it a go, and tell me if it was what you expected. Also, if you’re willing, let me know why you were reluctant to try this one when it first came out. And finally, for those of you who have read this book but n one of my others, I’d love to know what prompted you to pick this one up, and what you thought of it.

Griffith is one of the most important writers working today

To end this post, here’s the thank you speech I gave at the Washington State Book Awards:

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.

And thanks, also, to you, my readers. For me, the whole point of writing is you and your responses.

Kitten Report #14: One year in the big wide world [photo, video]

Today Charlie and George are exactly one year old. They came to us as tiny rescue kitties, the only survivors of a litter of six, who only made it through by the grace of Seattle Area Feline Rescue and its network of kitty foster parents (especial gratitude to Cody). Even after they came to us things were a bit dicey for a while—Charlie in particular has had a hard time—but today they are lords of their domain. And as they’ve grown, it’s become harder and harder to keep them inside. Charlie in particular is determined to get outside. And as I move a lot slower than he does, the only thing that’s kept him indoors so far is moral force. But moral force began to wear a little thin.

Six weeks ago, Charlie began rehearsing the Great Escape; he believes there must be a way out through the ceiling.

I don’t have video but once he’d learnt to climb down he moved to the screen out to the other deck and learnt to run all the way to the top them simply leap in a huge arc the seven feet to the floor: scrat-scrat-thud, scrat-scrat-thud. Over and over. Kelley and I saw the writing on the wall and started kittie-proofing the back garden, essentially turning it into a giant catio. Our fence is eight feet tall, ten feet in places, and the neighbour’s fence beyond that twelve feet or more, so we just had to seal the gaps (oh ha, ha-ha-ha). It took three days work and $300 dollars to cover the underneath of the deck in chicken wire so they couldn’t escape under the house and out that way; add huge cinder blocks to gaps at the bottom of our fences and gates; and tack plywood to dodgy bits further up the fence. We thought: Hey, that should be good enough for at least one day; we could let them out in a one-time controlled, supervised session to learn how the outdoors smells, where the back door is in relation to the rest of the world, and so how to find their way back on the inevitable day when Charlie makes a real escape. And, you know, it’s almost their birthday; they should have a treat. So this weekend we decided to let them out. What could possibly go wrong?

I went out on the back deck, got out my phone to take pictures, and sat down. Then Kelley came out and left the door open for the cats. George sat suspiciously on the table (you can see him in the upper right at the beginning of the clip) and let Charlie go first, as usual. Charlie obliges. He goes straight out, straight across the deck, and right off the deck onto the grass. No hesitation. When there was no screaming and no gouts of blood, George decides to give it a go. But he’s George. He needs to survey the territory, assess the risk, ensure his lines of retreat. And he’s in no hurry. In fact he takes so long the video actually runs about another minute with him just standing there running his risk assessment, checking and rechecking his line of retreat. But eventually he steps off the mat.

It probably took him six minutes to venture out properly onto the deck and encounter his first real live plant (salvia, only just leafing out; when it flowers it will be a hummingbird magnet; I imagine George will spend a lot of time here).

Alarge tabby cat encounters his first plant in the great outdoors.

George’s first outdoor greenery: a Salvia cultivar, “Flaming Lips,” that is only just leafing out never mind flowering.

By the time George was getting to the edge of the deck, Charlie had made two circuits of the entire garden and was planning his next escape. Which was to find a gap between the gate and the wall we didn’t know existed and squeeze through. Oh god. My heart squeezed because on that side of the fence is the side deck, and beyond that the ravine, domain of coyotes who would munch up Charlie like a pop-tart, not to mention cat-mauling raccoons and barred owls big enough to take dogs. (That actually happened: an owl snatched a neighbour’s sheltie as she was walking him, and hauled it up into the air, screaming and bleeding. Fortunately it dropped him but those talons gave him some bad gashes.) But before our hearts had time to explode, boof, Charlie was back, looking exceedingly pleased with himself and chirruping away about his discoveries.

By this time George had managed to brave the grass, and he and Charlie spent the next fifteen minutes pretending to be tigers in the jungle. George chased a butterfly—it did my heart good to see him being able to run fifty feet without stopping. I thought: This stress is worth it.

This they were off again on their separate explorations. George was intrigued by the hedge and followed it every single inch around the perimeter. He ate a couple of cherry blossoms. I was fascinated by his methodical exploration and temporarily lost sight of Charlie.

As I’ve said, our fence is tall, and our neighbour’s fence taller, a good, reliable barrier (oh ha, ha-ha-ha). While we were entranced by George, Charlie had somehow got on top of our gate—only six feet tall—then the eight foot fence. As we watched he did a death-defying leap to our neighbour’s fence. And then—Oh god—onto the roof. So now he’s running around a zillion feet in the air, investigating the chimney—visions of calling the fire department and having to dismantle the chimney—sticking his head in a gap in the gutter cover—ditto with the roofers—then running to the edge and realising: Oh, hey, the ground’s a looong way… At which point he ran back the way he came, only to realise that though it’s easy to jump up from a narrow fence to a big broad roof, it’s entirely another matter to try jump down onto a half-inch wide platform. And then the birds discovered he was there and started shrieking at him and dive-bombing him. (One American robin—I hate those things—was particularly obnoxious.)

At which point he completely freaks out. So now he’s running up and down, completely panicked, harassed by birds, creaking and chirruping (he still can’t meow; we think his vocal cords were damaged during the operation that left him with a brain injury) and he can’t seem to hear Kelley standing below speaking in soothing tones. Or George pacing back and forth on the lawn and yowling encouragement. It was his first day out in the wide world; I think his brain got overwhelmed by the input and shut down.

He jumped.

Straight out in to the air and down, twenty feet if it’s an inch. His first day in the great outdoors and he jumps off the fucking roof.

And he was fine.

He limped over to the border and hid under the hedge; George followed. And three minutes later both emerged looking for all the world as though nothing had happened. Charlie came trotting up, purring, and we felt his limbs and body etc but no flinching, no swelling. He was fine. His adventure probably took four years off my life, and Kelley’s, but Charlie leapt off a fucking roof and was just fine, thank you.

Half an hour later he and George were tearing around inside the house like champions. Yes, inside the house. Because after they emerged from under the hedge we scooped them up so fucking fast it made their heads spin. That’s enough adventure for their first year. So while they raced around, trilling, creaking, chirring and yowling their triumph, Kelley and I gulped down wine and smiled weakly at each other: Hey, no one died!

So that’s my report: one more milestone passed and no one died. Many more milestones to go, of course, though hopefully always with the same result. Fortunately we have a lot of wine. And fortunately you have access to previous kitten reports to keep you amused until next time.

VICE News interview

“In the middle of an international pandemic, VICE News goes straight to people who spent years learning how outbreaks work and how humans will respond.”

In which me and Marc Forster (World War Z), Peng Shepherd (The Book of M), Nicole Kassell (The Leftovers), Scott Z Burns (Contagion) and Mark Protosevich (I Am Legend) talk about the difference between fictional pandemics and real ones.

30 April: AMMONITE radio bookclub

Cover image for audiobook, AMMONITE by Nicola Griffith, read by Gabra Zackman. A planet set in a starry sky, with an image of an ammonite superimposed on the planet, reflecting mountains, cloud, and snow. Title text and narrator name in white, author name in black.

On Thursday 30th April, between 12:00 and 1:00 pm, I’ll be talking live to Dave Miller, host of “Think Out Loud” about Ammonite. TOL are inaugurating their Quarantine Bookclub with Ammonite because, as they put it, it’s relevant to today’s viral situation without being all depressing.

I’m going to be re-reading the novel along with others who’ll be encountering it for the first time. When he interviewed me last week, Dave asked why I would do that. I explained it had been nearly 30 years since I wrote it, and I’m sure there were bits here and there I’d forgotten. I also want to see how it holds up in light of our increased understanding of viruses. And how it feels to read about a post-viral world many generations later, when this planet is only at the beginning of that journey. After the interview, I’ll be answering viewers’ questions live on on-air. So if you’ve always wanted to know something, or maybe just comment on something you did or did not like about the book, here’s your chance.

Meanwhile, if you want to get hold of a copy and read along, Bookshop.org, last time I checked, were temporarily out of stock. Amazon has six left. And I’m sure your friendly local independent not only would love to order a copy of it for you, and ship it immediately, they may even have one or two in stock. I know for example that Phinney Books has at least one that was in their Pandemic Books display just before everything had to close down. Check out Phinney’s updated ordering and shipping info here. And there’s always digital editions from your favourite ebook purveyor. and don’t forget the wonderful audio edition, read by Gabra Zackman, that you can get via Audible, Libro.fm, your local library and others. No excuse not to listen!

 

Kitten Report #13: Social distancing

The kitties are now almost 11 months old—young cats. Charlie was back at the vet three months ago for the recurring kitty herpes virus that leads to generalised inflammation of his upper respiratory tract, including juvenile gingivitis, and needs keeping an eye on. At that point he weighed in at 8 lbs 5 oz. At his followup checkup, one week later, he had gained 5 oz. And he’s gained much more weight since. He must be at least 9.5 lbs, and frankly I’d be surprised it it was less than 10lb. He’s beautiful, and, at 11 months, nearly as big as our last cat, Zack, in his prime.

Here he is posing (something he’s very good at) as a thick-thewed fluff ball.

We have no clue what George weighs—he hasn’t needed to visit the vet since his kitten shots—but I’m guessing he’s perhaps 13 pounds. Like Charlie, he doesn’t carry an ounce of extra fat. He is an extraordinarily large and powerful domestic cat. And, like Charlie, he is very good to  look at. He, too, is still growing. I read a while ago that domestic cats do most of their growing in their first 12 months but don’t hit their peak until they’re about 18 months old. If that’s true, then we might have to buy a dog carrier for George, because he won’t fit the one designed for kitties.

Here he is in the kitchen, glorying in his stripes—tiger kitty in front of tiger oak. He barely fits on that pillow that they both used to share.

Ominously, both still seem to have comparatively large paws and long tails. I think there’s still a fair amount of embiggening ahead. This next photo was taken end of January/beginning of February, and they’ve both grown enormously since. Charlie can take up most of the bed on his own; George spills over the edges.

They are both still chameleons. George can look oddly wise one minute, then young and uncertain the next—that’s nothing new. Whereas Charlie doesn’t seem to change affect so much as shape. Here is just thirty seconds after that first photo by the candles; he has stretched.

Elasticat!

And again, this time posing on my Rollator (please note both the teethed-on foam backrest—courtesy of George—and the clawed-to-bits hard plastic seat—courtesy of Charlie) and reverting to thick-limbed and thick-furred.

A heartbeat later, he’s watching hummingbirds at the feeder and giving a splendid impression of a polecat.

And here he is trying to imitate a long, cool glass of water.

As you can see, the kitty condo is still very much their boys club. Kelley and I have definitely been voted out of the clubhouse.

Twp tabby cat at different levels of a kitty condo looking as though someone has interrupted a an important meeting

Kelley and I are being voted out of the boys club

It’s a very exclusive club. So exclusive that they decided to go three rounds to see who else gets kicked out. Charlie is smaller but utterly committed, and with a mean left jab…

In the end it’s a draw, I think, with both of them deciding the kitty condo is okay first thing in the morning but not fit for purpose after noon. In the afternoons, Charlie retires to my wheelchair, and George often comes to sit near me on the sofa—him on the green blanket that he likes so much, me cross-legged next to him, with a cup of coffee, lots of notes, and a plate of chocolate or some other snack. Here he is, blissed out to the sound of my Apple Pencil making that most satisfactory chit-tit-tuc sound on the lusciously smooth iPad glass, followed by the occasional chuc as the Pencil clicks back in to its magnetic hold. He seems to find it comforting—perhaps only because he knows that once I settle down with notes, i’m not going anywhere for a couple of hours, which means nor is he.

George finds his bliss

But then, when a knotty plot point requires more brain food—after I’ve munched through the chocolate, moved on to pistachios, and finally need to eat something with more bulk—he seriously does not approve of the smell.

George does not like the smell of hummus

In the evenings, after dinner, he likes to watch TV. Charlie’s not really a fan, but George loves anything with animals. His most recent favourite? The Lion King. (And if you want to see how they’ve grown, look at this photo of Charlie by the same TV but different role model in late summer/early autumn.)

Simba is George’s new role model

Farewell, O my father…

Their personalities are becoming more distinct. Charlie still can’t meow or do that frustrated-predator chitter; he chirrs and chirrups and squeaks like a rusty axle; I’m pretty sure his vocal cords were damaged during his polyp operation. But it suits his personality: endlessly inquisitive. He’s still in instant-physical-engagement mode: greet it, then hit it, jump on it, or put it in his mouth—and worry about whether that’s a good idea later. Actually, I think ‘worry’ forms no part of his vocabulary. This is why we are not yet letting them outside. Right next to our driveway, we have coyotes denning in the grassy commons down to the ravine: magnificent beasts, but they’d snap up our kitties like pop tarts. Especially if one of said kitties trots right up and chirrups as if to say, Hello! I haven’t seen you around here before! Let me bite your tail… We’d planned to build a catio for summer, but our friend the coronavirus has put paid to that. So I’m not entirely sure how we’re going to handle summer. Because George, in particular, needs more stimulation than we can give him. He’s a thinky beast. It’s fascinating to watch him work out how to open things, or whether the effort of chasing something is worth the meagre reward, and whether Kelley or I are likely to sit still long enough for him to go to all the bother of getting on our laps. He’s turning into a mature predator, that is, he won’t expend energy unless it’s an efficient means to an end. Which means it’s getting more and more difficult to persuade him to run, jump, chase, etc., because he looks at, say, Feather, and thinks, Oh, that thing. I know exactly how that behaves. And I know exactly how unrewarding it is to catch it. So I have to seriously provoke him to engage.

I suspect at some point we’ll buy a few rolls of chicken wire, use it to block off access to under the deck (and so around to the front of the house), then let them out into the fenced back garden for a few minutes at a time while we guard the gates which are lower than the rest of the fences. Charlie, for sure, couldn’t make the high fence jump of about 8 or 9 feet. George probably could—but he’s much, much more cautious and would stand a far better chance of surviving a cat-coyote encounter—mainly because he’d make sure the coyote never knew he was there. He’s an amazingly stealthy beast for his size. We’re still dithering. As Kelley says, once  you let the kitty out of the bottle you can never put him back in.

They both still love my Rollator—they’ve loved it half to death, as you’ve already seen. But when it’s time for afternoon tea they both climb up expectantly and wait to be driven to the kitchen.

Drive on. Spit-spot.

But like most of us these days they are mostly wrestling with the concepts of quarantine, sheltering in place, and social distancing. It begins of course, with a family meeting. George is seriously worried:  one, will the catfood and Feather replacements hold out? Two, what is wrong with me—why do I look like the unnatural offspring of a haystack and a barbarian?

When I explain I haven’t had a haircut in some weeks and sadly have no shears or clippers, when I reassure them that their food supply is safe—and that they don’t need to worry about their hair growing shaggy—they buckle down and practise their COVID-19 responses.

Quarantine, shelter-in-place, or social distancing?

Once George gets the hang of it, he decides to explain it to his little new bronze friend, who of course is small and empty headed and just wants to wriggle about. He finds it a frustrating experience.

George tells his little friend they can’t go outside, then tries to explain social distancing.

Charlie of course does not give a flying fluffball about helping anyone understand anything. Spring is springing and he just wants to go out and play. Pretty colours! Lovely smells! Coyotes and squirrels, jays and crows! Gigantic climbing posts with funny green things sticking out of them and waving about! So many new things to make friends with…

Social distancing sucks

So I think that’s where we’ll leave them. We’ll be back for their first birthday, perhaps with news of outside adventures but perhaps not. Meanwhile, feel free to catch up with previous Kitty Reports—and stay inside, wash your hands, and read a book!