Monday, September 23, 2013

Alphonse & Marie: A Meditation on Confirmation

The Mad Kitten has company, Alphonse and Marie. It started with Alphonse.

This is Alphonse.

He was a solution to a Feng Shui problem in which I needed a little water and a little life in the main room. There he is. He has issues. No one told me that gold fish can have such issues. One morning, while meditating, we thought he was dying because he was floating at the top of the tank. I almost flushed him, but decided to Google him instead. Turns out, fancy goldfish such as these are mightily prone to constipation. It interferes with their swim bladders and they will either get stuck at the top or stuck at the bottom of the tank if I don’t mind how much I feed them and they don’t get enough fiber. I cooked sweet peas and mashed them up and fed them to him for weeks until I found the little shrimp treats and this goldfish food that sinks like little pebbles to solve the problem.

Alphonse was an only fish. Everything I read told me that goldfish are natural loners (although they can school) because nature takes care of their own. Goldfish are so nasty, stinky, poop producing machines that if they were prone to wanting friends, the species wouldn’t survive because they would be easy to find from the nastiness. Good for me. Not so good for bored Alphonse.

I contemplated teaching him how to play soccer (r2fishschool, I am not kidding). But someone pointed out that if I taught him how to play soccer and he liked it, what would happen if I got too busy to play with him? Now, I would have a fish that knew he was bored.

Enter Marie.
This is Marie.

Marie is another type of fancy goldfish, a black moor. I did not intend to buy Marie but while in the pet store picking up a vacuum cleaner for Alphonse (no, he doesn’t use it); there was Marie, by herself, on sale and looking like the poster child for hyperactivity. I saw morose Alphonse floating in his corner in my mind’s eye and took Marie home.

My neighbor was a bit concerned when he saw me get off my bicycle and take the fish out of my bag.

“Why did you take your fish for a bike ride?”
“I didn’t take the fish for a ride, I was bringing her home. “ 

I almost added ‘from a sleepover at a friend’s house,' but decided not to mess with his sense of reality.

Marie loves Alphonse. She is too small for the tank and gets blown around by the current of the filter and discovered that if she tucks herself into the Alphonse’s fantail, she can swim with ease. She annoys the bejesus out of him. Wherever Alphonse is, Marie is under or over him. If he tries to pull his corner morosity, she circles his head until he snaps and chases her around.

It was Marie, when the two of them manage to cloud the tank so much you couldn’t see them, who stayed right by Alphonse as he was slowly being poisoned by their mutual ammonia. I tried everything and then did what made sense (and you are not supposed to do) and yanked both of them out of the tank and cleaned out the whole thing. 100% water change. It’s supposed to be too stressful for fish. But my fish are tough. They ride bicycles in rain storms.

The Mad Kitten couldn’t give two shakes about the fish. The only time she expressed any connection to the tank was when I first got Marie and was so taken with the antics of both of them together when they got treats that I made the mistake of not worshipping Mad Kitten first when I came in. The look of horror on her face. She finally went up and looked into the tank. Still no interests on her part, but both Alphonse and Marie definitely have an instinctual fear of cats.

There is a peculiar sense of connection/disconnection when one lives with animals of any type. It is a hard thing not to project our feelings and interpretations onto their actions, but once you have lived with one long enough – you can definitely recognize where we share the same reactions and actions. It’s like being around babies, we make them into who we are and then wonder why we grow up to be adults who feel like we don’t know who we are or are place in the world. Our general unwillingness to not be in control or the decision makes, the be all and end all of the definition of meaning and purpose in life – means we anthropomorphize everything else for our convenience. It serves as a form of confirmation bias and has shaped everything from our faith to science to relationships.

I remember the crushing moment when I discovered that it wasn’t that I somehow influenced the mad kitten to express her pacifist tendencies, but her nature that was causing her to get so bent out of shape about killing things. She made a habit, when we lived in the cave and she could go outside, of catching things without harming them and bringing them into the house to me. I thought it was to play, for company maybe. In reality, in her understanding of the world, I am not the be all and end all provider and safety point – I am a moron who does not know how to hunt and feed myself. So she, in cat style, was doing what you do to teach kittens how to live.

The funny thing is that we think animals are so easy to understand and people are hard. Think about that. If people are of our same species and have much the same basic issues of general life, and if you add in that we share a base type of language structure and mind – who should be harder for us to understand?

Perhaps it is more a case of being unwilling to recognize and understand how we are similar and what we share with others as it would reveal what our true natures are. Much better to fill in the blank using an animal who neither shares our bodily systems or means of survival, much less native language to provide self confirmation of the type of person we are or are not.

Part of living, of coming alive, of leaving suffering behind is to learn to stop trying to prove that you are what you want to be, and to begin to live within reality. Reality starts with species and extends outward. If you would like proof of that, look to the nest, womb, egg – this is always where life begins, within the hyper reality of the limitations and needs of the species. From this beginning, one can begin to discover what it means to fulfill a role in existence that is necessary, while the individual is not. It can be freeing, if you dare to give up a few fantasies. But it can also provide an extremely unique form of suffering as well.

The fish are calling for treats, it is that time.
The mad kitten has suddenly appeared to drape herself over my arms and purr madly away (while watching the fish).

What is each aware of?

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