recipes for love: on the fine art of cat love

in collaboration with caitlin metz (from february 2018)

on the fine art of cat love: a meditation

for pepper, panda, tiger, and luna. but especially for tiger. you were the first cat i ever loved. thank you for encouraging my heart to expand.

it wasn’t supposed to be this way, you remember. what with the allergies and stories of their aloofness as a species, and sometimes even cruelty. your childhood and upbringing convinced you that dogs, on the other hand, would never.

but, alas, here we are…

it begins with a soft, gray, ball of fluff clambering up the stairs that sit at the foot of your bed. and you feel her traipse across your body. for a moment, with the sun barely peeking over the horizon, and light playing at the softest dance behind your curtains, there is peace. and then there is not. as cat claws connect with your headboard for what feels like an eternity. you do your best to move from the shock of that wake up call to semi-consciousness. the peace is broken; and the day has effectively begun. you pull her off of the headboard. say, no, in your most intimidating, albeit barely audible, morning voice. sometimes she stops. and sometimes she doesn’t - because she’s ready for you to be present in the world with her, already. most of the time you’ll oblige - hoping that she will sprawl out onto your pillow for a cuddle. sometimes she will, and other times, she’ll return the way that she came - across your body, down the stairs, ready to take on the day. the most independent in her nine months of life. and in your half sleep, you’ll hear her shuffling across the hardwood, chirping as she climbs up the cat tree, and eventually settling into a bed that overlooks the backyard.

moments later, a heavier weight begins trudging across your body. he is the soft-hearted one among the pack. a perpetual slow blinker - which your google search tells you is the ultimate sign of trust. a communication of affection. pure love. a kiss. and you have become pretty convinced that his deepest desire is world peace. but sometimes he will plop - embodying the very absence of grace - onto your chest. butt to your face. and you’ll wonder what you did to deserve such a horrendous morning greeting. but other times, he will lay on your chest with his face nearly touching yours. scooting forward as close as he can. and as the sun continues its ascent, you’ll find your eyelids descending for just a few more minutes of sleep. and his will do the same. you know that he will lay there with you - breathing into rhythm with your heartbeat - for as long as you let him. and, although he’s far heftier than that day you scooped him from a cat rescue a year ago - barely two months old - you let him. remembering that on so many days, his gentleness has softened you.

when you finally get out of bed, the first one at your feet is the old man. your partner’s childhood cat. with twenty years of life experience under his (balding) belt, he knows what he wants and how to ask for it. so on most mornings now, he will follow you into the bathroom and wait - sometimes patiently - for you to be done showering. there’s something about the water at the bottom of the bathtub that he loves - and so you have a routine: you get out, he jumps in. it’s a weird thing, you find, learning to bond when he’s experienced so much life and routine without you, already. and you wonder how he feels about this life with you that he had no say in. but, often, you’ll look beyond his softening body, and you’ll find his eyes. and somehow, gentleness and familiarity will be there.

when you exit the bathroom, it’s likely that you’ll find the last of the bunch running from the mischief she has just made somewhere in the house. the most athletic and probably the most intelligent, she’s developed an affinity for destroying house plants and (usually) not getting caught in the act. you don’t much care, though, because she’s the one whose love and trust look most like your own: difficult to earn, but deep and unfaltering once you have. she will look at you and chirp when you call her name, recognizing your voice or your affection or both - and it will hit you there, before you’ve even had your breakfast: after all these years, you fucking love (your) cats.

dear body: a love letter

in collaboration with on being in your body (from november 2017)

dear body: a love letter

i don’t know that i’ve ever thought much about what it means to inhabit you. or how to understand our relationship. or about the ways i feel connected to you. or not. the ways i have been good to you. or not. the ways i listen to you. or not.

i never felt compelled to know you with any sort of intimacy. maybe recognizing how much energy knowing you would require of me.

but i suppose there are seasons when your body asks more of you. asks for more energy. love. tenderness. it has been one of those seasons. and you have asked more of me. as you began speaking in ways i could no longer ignore. i would wake up - every single morning - with the feeling that you were imploding, being torn apart. starting from this place in my stomach. sometimes my legs would shake, incessantly, when i found myself in the midst of conflict. and other times, no matter how hard i tried to focus, i could not plant my feet on the floor. could not do the thing that might help me feel grounded. remember that time i thought i might be going blind because of how viciously that pain in my head raged? or all the times my hands would flood with sweat? or how, more often than not, in therapy, you’d be folded and curled and contorted in a million different ways on that couch - trying to find a position that made you feel safe? do you remember the number of afternoons i’ve had to put you to bed because you could no longer manage to be out in the world? i wonder often if i am dying. if you are dying.

and i’m learning that a lot of me doesn’t feel connected to you. that maybe my refusal to know you, to care for you, to respond to you, will ultimately be the reason for your death. i’m learning that sometimes you feel like a costume. or maybe a cage. i feel trapped in you. suffocated by all the ways i don’t understand you. by all of the messages you’ve sent that i missed. and some days i hate you for it. for the suffering. and the pain. and for all the ways i don’t know how to heal you. or for all complicated and scary ways that you ask to be healed.

but then some days, i feel grateful that i have finally begun to see you. and hear you. that i’ve learned how to recognize and name your pain. grateful that we are learning how to speak to one another. grateful for all the ways you teach me to be present in the world.

i suppose, maybe even on the hard days, i’m just grateful that you’re mine.

with love (and tenderness),

kristen

dear white womxn (who've said you love me)

in collaboration with the round table (from april 2017)

dear white womxn (who’ve said you love me) and the rest of y'all, too:

i wonder, these days, how many i love you’s we've exchanged. how many times you've made me - and perhaps yourself - believe that my life mattered to you. i cannot quantify it. i don't know how many, but i know about the depth of my love. the quality of it, how deeply, in friendship and romance, i have cared for so many of you. even if being in relationship with you, on many occasions, meant never quite learning how to love myself.

election night felt traumatic. in a way i couldn't understand at the time. but which i now recognize as the feeling that comes with collective oppression. it was the recognition of the little power i had being stripped from me. of a gathering of rope being dusted off from the shed, ready to dangle some more black bodies a few feet off the earth.

i often wonder if that night would have struck me in such a way had i never met you. if i would have found myself in therapy just a month later, unable to manage my anxiety around identity and safety, and my understandings of community crumbling beneath my feet. because my community was you. had always been you, by virtue of both circumstance and choice.

so i'm compelled to believe that night would have been different, had i never walked through life with you, had i never trusted you. because you were the good white folks. and around you, i learned about putting my guard down, about blinding myself to racism and oppression, about quickly dusting off the microaggressions that soiled this skin that the sun loves to dance upon. because you, in my southern california suburban town, surrounded me. whether i wanted that to be the case or not. you, in my catholic high school, were everywhere. i was the outsider. i was the anomaly. the only black student in the classroom on far too many occasions. i was entrenched in your world, but you were god-loving, and colorblind, and seemed to find my quirkiness endearing: that i was a black person who didn’t dance. who spoke that good english. who was intelligent. quiet. had pressed hair and straight teeth. and i would laugh at your jokes about me being your “black friend” or about my “tan skin” or the texture of my hair. i laughed, because swallowed whole by your world, what other choice did i have?

when i felt uncomfortable i swallowed it. in the same way that your whiteness swallowed and overwhelmed me. i refused to make noise, about your microaggressions or your complicity or the fact that you told me i didn't “act black.” in refusing to make noise, in normalizing the way you thought about me, i began to distort the way i thought about myself, and the way i thought about you.

you were those good white people. you would have been abolitionists during african enslavement, right? would have stood between rosa and those cops when they tried to arrest her? would have gone to jail if she had to? would have sacrificed your bodies so that mlk didn’t have to lose his?

what about malcolm? or rekia? or mike? or trayvon?

but, then, 53 percent of you voted for bigotry, racism, misogyny, misogynoir, islamophobia, homophobia, transphobia. but it wasn’t you, you say. not all white people, you say. and, okay, maybe you didn’t vote for those things. maybe you’re just fiscally conservative and socially liberal. and you’re just trying to keep your footing in this economic system that relies on the exploitation of black and brown bodies. maybe you literally did not cast your ballot for that man. but you didn't feel compelled to ensure that those who look like you didn't. maybe it was always more about preserving your image as a “good white person,” checking the box that said you voted against him, than actually putting everything you had on the line to stop this “presidency.” which is ironic, because now this “presidency,” with incredible clarity, puts everything i have - everything i am - on the line.

and maybe, i’ve had something like ten dear dear friends throughout my lifetime, and something like nine of them look like you. so maybe half of my life’s most intimate relationships have been shared with a person who did vote for him, or didn't feel compelled to vote against all of the hatred that foams from his mouth. maybe some of you didn’t take responsibility to convince your family members not to. (and if it's not your responsibility to dismantle white supremacy, especially in your own backyard, i urge you to consider whose it is.) or maybe half of you still haven’t taken a deep enough look in the mirror to realize that this is your work.

and my anger and anxiety is intrinsically tied up in the fact that i didn’t realize this was your work to do, either. my anger and anxiety arrives when i realize how much i missed because of what you taught me about my blackness. that while i obviously wasn't white, somehow i wasn't black enough either. but that any more “blackness,” and maybe we wouldn't have even been friends in the first place. in your words and in your silence, i learned to swallow the lies about what it meant to be a black person in this world. i learned how to hate myself - to strip away my identity - so that i could, to the best of my ability, fit into the comfortable narrative that you write about this country. and i learned to exist in a way that mistook the teachings of your bigotry and ignorance as my own truth.

until now.

because leading up to election night, we were saturated with the embodiment of oppression. threatening - through policy and rhetoric - to burn our black and brown and queer bodies at the stake, and 53 percent of you believed it was worth handing him a lighter.

half of you were okay with watching my body burn, for the sake of preserving your american dream.

and now i am having to navigate these spaces with you. i'm having to learn how to manage my anger. how to not be swallowed, entirely, by the fire. how to not walk around dismissing you in the same way that you dismissed so many parts of me. because i’ve decided that i can have the energy to call you out, and to call you in, so that other people of color don’t have to. because i realize that we will not be free until your “good whiteness” effectively stops the 53 percent of womxn who look like you. stops their bigotry. their hatred. their ignorance. their complicity. they are your responsibility. this is your work.

so white womxn who've said you love me - in some capacity, in any capacity - i write this to tell you that it is not possible to love me, that you lack the capacity to love me, until you choose to do the work to get me free.

in anxiety, in truth, in expectation,

kristen