From Neighbors to Barn Cats

            I’ve been cooped up in my little railway-style apartment for 3.5 months now, biding away the time with various semi-productive endeavors like learning how to use Ableton, fantasizing about my next career as a nomadic chef/witch and finishing off family sized bags of kettle chips. While my insufferable millennial neighbors act like Covid-19 is just a non-stop party where the government pays for the beer, piling up in parks and walking around crowded grocery stores mask-free like they’ve never read a single article on the internet; I’m being an actual good human and trying not to kill people. I mean, not physically. In my mind, I’m committing mass murder.

            My still miraculously-in-love-constantly-laughing-next-door-neighbors might as well be letting children starve to death, I eye them with such hostility. Families biking merrily by my apartment, yelling and singing at the top of their lungs as I sit on my front balcony trying to write, get hit by invisible firetrucks. My lower neighbors, who have stopped having daily bed-breaking sex that could double as the most obnoxious opera singer’s vocal warm-up, are now drilling holes into my eardrums with the sound of their… footsteps. After sending a mind tornado through only their front and back windows, I initiate full-on warfare. I write them a letter and leave it in their mailbox. The suspiciously sweet but clearly aggressive jist is “Hey there neighbors! You’re great, I’m great, everything is great but COULD YOU PLEASE WALK AROUND QUIETER YOU DUMB FUCKING COWS.” To be fair, I specified “after 10pm,” and honestly it sounds like an 800lb man is training at all hours for a marathon down there. After no noticeable change I put my big girl pants on and repeat the message in person, where they look at me like I’m crazy before shutting the door and turning back into ogres. At 3am one night as they are stomping around with 15 of their best friends inside, read: illegally… I seize the opportunity and giddily call the cops. Yeah, I’m that person now. But I mean, cops aren’t exactly the most beloved of folks right now, and I figured I was doing a great service to humanity by inconveniencing two groups of dickheads. Fuck them ALL.

            Sooo it’s possible I might not be my best self right now. I decide the solution for social isolation bitterness is… more isolation. I just need to get out of the city! I fire off a wish to the Facebook Fairy asking for a house swap situation to get my bitter ass into nature, and within days, a colleague asks if I might want to look after his farm home for a month while he visits family. FUCK. YES. I only need to know two things: “How do I get there,” and “Can I bring my cat;” since we are now married. 

            One week later and a car packed embarrassingly full of all my “necessities:” just about 17 writing notebooks, my violin, amp, special effects pedals and every cable I own regardless of whether it even powers something I’ve brought (I don’t know what half my shit does still, I just put the thing in the hole that looks like the right shape), two camping tents (long story) and (oh fine I ordered one on Amazon, it didn’t come, they refunded it, I ordered another one, both tents appeared, tents are fun, I need 2 tents), and my cat and all of his catty desires.

            So it’s my first blissful morning in the middle of nowhere, away from my noisy neighbors, not to mention the classic Montreal summer soundtrack of construction noise covering every possible decibel and frequency within the range of the human ear. I make myself a coffee and a smoothie, grab one of my many notepads, and head outside to fulfill my dream of being a weird hermit writer person, thriving in peace and solitude, happily self-banished from society. No sooner than I can write one underwhelming sentence, I hear an abominable noise emitting from beneath the deck floor. It’s unsettling, deeply obnoxious, and from multiple sources… like a group of defunct chain smokers are transmitting their low raspy voices through a hospital full of crying babies. I see four scrappy figures come into the light of day and lurch purposefully up the stairs. Two dark grey and two splotchy white with dark stripes- all ribs and claws and mucousy eyes.

Barn cats.

            I remember my initial conversation with the owner. “Can I bring my cat?” “Sure, if he likes other cats!” He was referring to his two house-cats, but neglected to mention these prickly characters. I love all animals, right?! This will be fine. What’s another four cats, on top of the two cats, on top of my giant Maine Coon cat-husband George Michael? (That’s his name) Well, being ambushed every time I come outside for one. All day every day, the 16-legged muscular cat contraption waits on the deck poised, listening for the doorknob to turn before thudding towards me at lightening speed- throwing themselves at me with all their weight, rocking me like a bus in an angry mob. I use my right leg to “redirect their energy” across the deck. I walk down the steps bare-legged to escape for a moment under the guise of scoping out the garden; and the bigger grey one, who looks like Rocky Balboa in the last round of a fight, follows me around munching on my ankles like some sortof shitty appetizer to the food he clearly thinks I’m about to give him. I feel it necessary to note here that the bigger white splotchy stripes one is the spitting image of Garrett MacLaren, a kid I went to elementary school with who was really annoying.

            Anyway I message the owner. “Heyy! How’s the trip going?? So umm, is it normal for the barn cats to be pretty… aggressive?! Do you think if I fed them, they’d leave me alone? Cool cool because presently one is eating me. Just let me know.” He writes back: “Trip is good. Please don’t feed the barn cats.” I look at them, all but foaming at the mouths, their cacophony of yowls filling the air… and I start to have some very dark thoughts. Murdery thoughts. What if I were to just accidentally… Fuck. I’m a horrible person. I go right from mind-murdering my neighbors for walking too loud, to these poor barn cats for wanting a basic fundamental need met. I Tai-Chi kick them out of my way for I wanna say… 3 more hours… then I drive to the grocery store and buy a goddamn bag of cat food. (So the owner won’t know what sneaky business I’ve been up to when both his extra-large bags of Whiskas are mysteriously empty)

            I get back, and dump what I think is a reasonable dinner-sized amount from the bag into some plastic bowls- an amount I think the bag can sustain for the full month- and those fuckers gobble it all up in 8 seconds. They immediately glare at me for more. When I don’t budge, they harrumph as though to say “I guess that’ll do for now” and lounge in the sun, temporarily taking on the appearance of normal cats. I don’t feel any warm snuggly feelings for helping these creatures- I feel resentment. They are dependent on me. They NEED ME AND IT JUST MAKES ME WANT TO HELP THEM LESS. Why can’t they be like George Michael and the house-cats? (New band alert?) Chilling like the Lion King, eating bugs, happy when I bring out some food but not like SMOTHERING ME IN A BLANKET OF THE NEEDS OF EVERY SINGLE MEAL FOR THE REST OF TIME.

            But I realize, they live a life of uncertainty. They live from meal to meal, never knowing when the next one will come. George was born into abundance- he knows his food dish will always be full, so he never needs to beg. These guys beg because they need to. They are starving, and resourceful. They know, one out of every 15 times, their “method” works, as they have proven by cat science when I caved and bought the Whiskas. The fucked up thing is, I don’t want to help them. I want to help George and the house cats- the ones who already have everything they need. They want it too much, they’re too desperate. It reminds me of dating, where we’re only interested in people who couldn’t give two shits about us, and ignore the perfectly lovely person who’s standing there with flowers. Okay maybe it’s more like the person who texts “just woke up” selfies every 10 seconds and calls you “Babe” by the second date. They mean well… It reminds me, of how most of us only want to help those who don’t really need our help, and abandon those who need it most. Have I found a deep analogy for one of the biggest problems of humankind, or am I just becoming one giant crazy cat-lady trope?!

Why do we spend money on artisanal baby shower gifts when there are homeless people? Why do we order shit from Amazon when small businesses are going bankrupt? Why do we put exorbitant amounts of funding into cops when the only reason we need them in the first place is because there are people who don’t have access to education, mental health resources and basic living wages?!?

         I think if we really go deep and allow ourselves to answer those questions, the world would be a better place. In any case, I keep feeding the damn cats. And I find, it’s easier to feed them, than not to feed them. What seemed like a burden at first makes us all better off. Like any of us who have snapped at a stranger in an A&W line at the brink of a hanger craze, they transform into their sweet, natural selves once their basic needs are met.* Ah who am I kidding they’re still pretty annoying. But there has been a softening. They feel less desperate, dare I say even kindof cute… and I feel less murdery. We’ve reached a compromise. I feed them, and they leave me alone for a while, purring by my side as I read a book, finally relaxing into the unadulterated sounds of nature.

*After publishing this essay, I learned that the reason these guys are so persistent is because they used to be fed daily by someone who has since moved away. If you or someone you know in the Montreal area is looking for a cat to adopt, these guys really are quite healthy and sweet (once they’re fed!), and you’d be saving them from almost certain death come winter when they’re left to fend for themselves. Use my contact form to reach out if you don’t know me personally. Thanks for reading!

I left my Heart in Paris and my Appendix in Berlin

Last year in early March, I was so stressed out from working up a high-stakes violin audition, living with a (now ex) boyfriend who was incapable of love, and getting bombarded by walls of anxiety texts from friends looking for advice or validation; that I downloaded an app that literally kicks you off your phone and MAKES YOU PAY to get back on. It’s called “Off the Grid,” and it is AMAZING. I made it so that friends could only solicit my emotional labour from 9-10am, and 5-7pm. (Realistically the problem was my boyfriend but I didn’t figure that out until 7 months later) On top of the $100/month I already pay for my phone bill, I added on another $5.95/month to have unlimited use of 5 apps that ensure my daily survival: Music, Clock, Transit, Google Maps* and Uber; plus the threat of a $1.29 penalty fee per infraction just to be able to NOT USE MY PHONE. (*I have zero sense of direction and there’s no way I’m going back to that dark time when my phone was in a repair shop for 2 months and I had to hand-draw maps in advance of every single place I went.)

I know what you’re thinking, “Do you have literally no self-control?!” “Can’t you just like, not respond to texts?! Or tell your friends to find a therapist??” And the answer is, nope. It stresses me out beyond belief to leave walls of text hanging in the air, unanswered, because I care WAY too much about other people’s needs. I’d probably help a complete stranger move during the apocalypse if they begged me nicely. I think because I’ve been disappointed so many times and know how it feels, I never want to be the one doing it to others. (I’m aware this needs re-evaluation)

Anyway, I was pretty excited to go on a 2-week tour to Europe with the Montreal Symphony in mid-March; to get out of the half-snow half-slush hellscape of Montreal and see a hint of spring. Embrace some new surroundings so I didn’t feel so tied to my phone. I could feel my anxiety dissipating already… I just had to pack my suitcase and get myself to the airport.

After a few days of extreme packing because I overthink everything, I’d finally assembled the perfect suitcase. All my outfits and shoes are perfectly planned out to accommodate the most possible color coordination combos; I have enough socks and underwear to defy all logic; travel pillow, travel blanket; some tasteful scarves to disguise the fact I’m wearing the same outfit for the third day in a row… 5 hours before my transatlantic flight, I’m making a last minute swap. The white blouse will match my jeans AND the green skirt while the purple one only really matches my jeans… when I get a whiff of a familiar scent from my suitcase.

It’s cat pee. My boyfriend’s cat has rage-pissed all over my beautifully packed suitcase, mirroring the way his human treats me in perfect feline symmetry. All over the clothing, books, inside my shoes… in and amongst the suitcase lining. I start frantically throwing all the clothes in the wash, hand-washing my black suede shoes in the bathtub (*tear*), and DOUSING my suitcase lining with baking soda, scrubbing it with hydrogen peroxide, then vacuuming all the powder up like some sort of hobo dry-cleaning service. I fucking HUSTLED, and made it to the airport smelling only a little bit like urine.            

WANTED: For Petty Pee

When I got to Germany, they had lost my suitcase, but I didn’t even care. I’d made it to a land without snow. I almost immediately started indulging in the local diet of beer, bread and sausage, and continued to do so for the next 12 days. I got constipated. Like, really constipated. So constipated I had to stop eating because there was no room for anything else… I felt like shit. I mean, I was probably 80% shit. But at this point I had a horrible cramp in my lower right side, a fever, and no appetite. Do these symptoms sound familiar to anyone? Yeah I hadn’t eaten too many brats, I had fucking appendicitis. I just didn’t know it yet.

For the last few days of my trip after the tour was done, I’d booked an AirBnb in Berlin to do some exploring, but all I wanted to do when I got there was go to my room, collapse on my bed and let the darkness consume me. Thing is, I had saved TWENTY WHOLE BUCKS by booking a “shared apartment” with a chain-smoking, neurotic old German lady with a penchant for leaving dildo boxes out in the open; who made it her business to knock on my door every few minutes to give me tips on Berlin or more rules to follow in her apartment. The Parliament Building is a “must-see, it’ll only take 6-7 hours. (I’d rather die) No eating or drinking in bed. (Where else am I supposed to do it?!) Don’t turn on the heat. But if you must, shut your window.

At one point I’m sitting on my bed fresh out of a hot shower, window wide open and heat on full blast, trying to simultaneously warm up and cool down from fever flashes. I’m so exhausted from pain I’m just staring at the wall. She comes in, ignores the fact I look like I’m about to drop dead, and asks me to squeegee her glass shower stall and then dry it with a towel. So here I am, appendix about to burst and kill me, on my hands and knees drying out her fucking shower so it doesn’t get water spots. Why? Because heaven forbid I disappoint this weird German lady.

After I finish, I calmly call an Uber to escort me to Emergency.

I leave most of my things in my room because I’m convinced the doctor will just push on my belly and I’ll let out a big fart or something and go back home… but he confirms I need to have my appendix removed the next morning and spend three days in the hospital recovering. I’d left my cell phone charger, my toothbrush, every single piece of clothing I’d packed… wet… and hanging to dry all over my room because of course I took advantage of the free laundry. But the last thing I want to do is contact my crackpot air bnb host to bring me all my things. So post-surgery, I just rest in my nifty hospital bed being doted on by nurses that don’t speak my language as my phone battery fizzles out; wearing half a paper-thin gown and hospital issued mesh underwear that broadcasts my entire ass to other hospital guests every time I walk to the washroom. I’m overcome with this feeling… Complete bliss.

I’ve been upgraded to “Off the Grid” premium, where for only $5000…

Living my Best Life

Don’t Cook my Cat

I’m sitting at my desk in 8th grade science class with Mr. Doucet. For some reason though, all we’ve done for the past few weeks is sing pop songs, and he ALWAYS gives the solo part to Max. Everybody is frustrated but nobody wants to speak up. Mr. Doucet just has his favourite, and that’s all there is to it. But today instead of joining the tense silence, I stand up and walk over to him, meeting him in the front left corner of the classroom. I tell him we are fed up with Max getting all the special attention, that there are other people in the class who would like a chance to sing too. He rips me to shreds with his dark beady eyes, and arches his back so he is towering over me. “You just want the solo for yourself, don’t you. You’re so selfish and stuck-up! You think that just because you play the violin you’re better than the rest of us.” I turn to my classmates and say “No, I am speaking to you on behalf of everybody. We all feel this way. Who here wishes they could have a chance?” And everybody not only raises their hands, but they add to the conversation. I sit down at my desk, feeling elated that I have just helped a room full of people find their voice. My boyfriend is next to me. He looks at me and smiles, softly interlacing his fingers with mine. “That was embarrassing. You should really keep your thoughts to yourself” he coos. And I just nod my head. In silence.

And then I wake up. Nicely played, dreams…

Three months ago, I broke up with someone who for one year, ever so subtly, tore down the walls around the foundation of everything I know and love about myself. He made me feel like I was deeply flawed. My identity went from happy, beautiful, talented, empowered and compassionate to the identity he projected onto me: insecure, judgmental, stressed, sexually repressed, unattractive, needy, selfish. Not in touch with my “true” feelings. Not a “real” artist. The list goes on. Every fight began with me trying to express how something he said (or didn’t say) had hurt me, and ended with me apologizing. Your needs don’t matter. That was the destination being stamped onto my relationship passport. A place I’ve visited many times before. Thank God he said something so colossally hurtful at the end that I couldn’t let slide, or I might have stayed with him for another year. Or 5, or 10. Ever since, I have been rebuilding my house, stronger than it ever was before. I am finding my voice because I am determined NEVER to let someone walk all over me like that again. Only I get to decide what virtues I have, and what flaws; and whether or not I’ll work on them. I’d say my conscious mind is pretty fucking on top of things, but my subconscious is like “Just in case, I’m going to throw in this dream where your boyfriend is COOKING YOUR FUCKING CAT IN THE OVEN for dinner, and you nod tacitly as though it’s a new recipe on pinterest before dream-smacking yourself and snatching the love of your life into your arms.” (The cat, obviously, not the douchebag)

It’s amazing how empowering it is to say No. To say, this isn’t good enough for me. To let myself feel anger instead of justifying someone’s shitty behavior by psycho-analyzing their childhood. It’s extremely hard, coming from a background where I was terrified to admit when something was hurting me because it meant making my sweet mom who suffered from serious depression sad or angry, and all I wanted was for her to be happy. It’s funny because all she wanted was for me to be happy… so we were doing quite an elaborate dance of repressed emotions. If only we’d realized honesty is what paves the way to happiness. I want to be clear though, there is the kind of “honesty” my Ex dished out; and there is honesty from a place of true vulnerability, love, and respect. A dear colleague once told me “Honesty without compassion is cruelty.” And that is the difference between a healthy relationship, and an abusive one. We must find the courage to express ALL of our feelings, not just the “good” ones. To be able to say “I love you, AND this behavior is hurting me;” not “There is something wrong with you; I will love you when you fix it.” To respond with “Thank-you for telling me, what could I try to do differently?” instead of “What about MY feelings. This is YOUR fault.”

There is room for everybody’s feelings. Not just those who have the loudest voices, or the most pain. We just have to be willing to put down our weapons and listen. And until I find a partner who is able to do that, I’m just going to keep working on my house.

Cooking with my cat (“with” being the operative word)