Friday, January 10, 2014

Cats, Bicycles and Abysses....

Sanchilla, before the pounce.

About seven or eight years ago after I decided to go back to graduate school an instructor gave me Rick Bass's "Cats, Bubbles and Abysses", a short story about, well, several things, but mostly about a young writer who had "promise" or "talent" or whatever it is you have when you, as an instructor, see a student who can actually write. (A way with words? A je ne sais quoi-- but no, there is a "quoi"-- the way to string a sentence along its expected frame, but to give life to it. To write but also to think. To think and to want to think. Or, not only to think but to go beyond mere thought to produce something. Art, perhaps.)

Bass describes this as a "bubble." That, for most of us, the best sort of writing we can do is to accept our limitations and work within them. Or, to work within the bubble, as he says: "....most of us get used to the bubble [and] finally, just ignore it, and quit bouncing against it, cease to hurl ourselves recklessly against the thing, and settle for moving around cautiously within its limits as best we can."  What, I suppose, made this story stand out at the time-- and come to mind so many years later-- is the final lines in which we learn the young writer is, alas stuck in a bubble, too-- mistaking his lack of air (or, suffocation) for actual breathing.  

Perspective, I suppose, is key. Sometimes we think the world is great because it appears that way from our  little fold-out seat in the grand theatre of "me"; or sometimes things seem worse than they really are like you're not only in a bubble, but in a gigantic hole in the ground with no possible means of escape. Both might be true, given the wide scope--and power- of perspective. But more (and most!) likely, there are bubbles in the world, but with membranes that are, if you try hard enough, permeable. 


So, this week I snapped into the CompuTrainer "Fast Friday" class for the first time in my life. For those of you who don't know, a Compu-Trainer is a device which allows you to ride your bike inside (like a treadmill, but for a bike) but that is also connected to a computer--and a program-- which monitors  the amount of energy you produce (watts), your heart rate, and (probable) speed along a changing, synthetic course. Usually sessions are at tempo efforts, but I was told Fast Friday was something else entirely that required a trashcan by your bike so that you could puke in it from time to time. Which may sound dramatic, but if you've never ridden a bike inside-- let me just say that it sucks. Really. It sucks worse than the worst class you've ever sat through even if that class was three hours long without a break and in a foreign language you don't understand. And how can I draw this comparison? Because I lived abroad and I know what it's like to sit for hours on end and have no idea what anyone is saying. Which is a lot like a stationary bike-- I have no idea what my body's doing-- am I moving quickly or not? I'm not moving! Ack!!) The benefit of a Compu-Trainer session (as opposed to the standard LifeCycle stationary bike at the gym) is that you're 1) on your bike 2)actually shifting gears as though you were riding and 3)the colored dot on the screen is supposed to be "you" with all your data strung down below it, like a dangling mathematical earring.

Which gets me back to the bubble. It's a metaphor for expectations and limitations-- how sometimes our expectations are limitations, or (more likely) our expectations surpass what we're capable thereby becoming a type of limitation ("if I can't get published/run this fast, or this person doesn't love me, etc. then there must be something wrong with me.") That is a bubble; and I'm coming to appreciate we all have them. 

Maybe everything we do-- as writers, as athletes, as people-- is an effort to make the pain of existence bearable-- or (less dramatically) to make what is uncomfortable not quite as noticeable.  As you know from previous posts, my long-time relationship ended which means there's a bit hole in my life. However, at about the time we parted ways, I found a little cat I couldn't NOT adopt. She wasn't the one I noticed, at first, in the cages lined up in PetCo that November Day.. I wasn't drawn to the little six-month old who had a lion-face (the broad nose--already!-- and the wide paws indicating he'd grow to be BIG)-- no, it was the quiet, shy tortoise-shell tabby girl (with one eye surrounded by orange, another by gray) which I, after a minute, couldn't NOT look at. 

Sanchia. That was what I'd name her. 


She is a three-year old cat who looks like six-month year old kitten who'd been the companion of an elderly woman who passed away.  After that, a neighbor had taken her in but also, unfortunately, passed away.  I didn't know all that when I first "met" her.  I'd only pet her with my fingers stuck through the cage. Yet: aside from the warnings from the volunteer that she had "issues"-- how could I not?

Anyway, I did. 

Things weren't "perfect" at first. She was scared of the vaulted ceilings, of me (until I talked softly to her), and of J.-- my Maine Coon-- who is endlessly fascinated with what goes on the cat box when he's not in there.

Over time, though, she's gotten braver. So much so that I call her "Sanchilla": after Godzilla in the way she pursues my affection (persistent, stomping, violent-- almost) and also a reference to the softness of her fur, comparable to a Chinchilla-- soft and fine with the bones beneath, delicate and fragile. 


So what is my "bubble"? I have many; maybe too many and it's time to let some of them go. The notion I'll never be loved again, for instance (not true since Sanchilla's around);  the idea I'm not a good athlete (also not true. I'm only one of three women in Reno who have done "Fast Friday" and who did not fail, did not get off the bike, did not cry or puke, but who rode and rode well....); the fear I'll never be published (another rejection arrived today for my book but rejections mean I'm still in the game, still trying, not giving up;) the idea that the sky is falling (Ha! It already did! What could possibly happen now?)

There are too many of these.

I think it's time to focus beyond the bubble; beyond my limitations-- because maybe, just maybe at 32 years old, I haven't quite discovered them yet.

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