#1: The Joy of Cat-Schlepping

The first half of my 20’s, all I wanted to do was travel. I wanted to see the world, meet people, walk down strange streets. And I was in a real rush to do it; what I was rushing towards (or from), I couldn’t (or wouldn’t) have quite admitted. But I made a pretty good go of it, saw mad and wondrous things from Seattle to Sarajevo, from Dublin to Darjeeling. But I made a lot of dodgy choices along the way, and at 25, I ship-wrecked myself onto San Francisco. I’d survived my misadventures, but they had left me thoroughly bedraggled, and broke in terms of both pocket and soul. I knew I needed to bunker down for a while.


And that’s when I became a forever home.


I spotted Aífe (ee-fuh) on New Years Eve, 2010. A teeny, brown, three-month-old tabby, sitting with her sister in the window of the Union Square Macy’s, where the extraordinary San Francisco SPCA was running its annual holiday adoption event. I went in to meet the kittens. The first of the pair seemed indifferent to me. The second, however, examined me with great interest. She sniffed at my coat and face with her tiny pink nose, delicately and inquisitively batted at my hair and spectacles with her tiny fuzzy paw, and met my brown eyes with her own bright green ones. She was easily one of the cutest things I’d ever seen, and seemed to have a wonderful, engaging little personality tucked inside. The SPCA folks told me that they had stopped doing adoptions for the evening, but I could come back for her the next morning if I wanted.


I did. I really, really did.


Becoming a cat-mom meant that my days of international adventures were really over, or so I believed. Ideas I might have toyed with in the past, like applying to the Peace Corp, or teaching English abroad, were no longer an option. Because I couldn’t take Aífe along, and I certainly wouldn’t abandon her. Hell, I didn’t even like leaving her to go to work in the morning, or to go out to bars in the evenings. She followed me around the house like a shadow, from one tiny nook to the next, just hanging out, seeing what’s up. Anytime I’d leave, those wide green eyes stared at me as I closed the door on her, and I would know that she’d be at the door the very minute I walked through it, having been waiting for my return the entire time I was away, sometimes even having fallen asleep on my shoes while keeping watch.


Knowing this, picturing her bored/sad at home without me, I felt pretty guilty whenever I left the flat. I also had chronic depression, which I wouldn’t appropriately address. I also had student loan debt, and could barely scrape together rent. So staying in with my kitty seemed ever more appealing and prudent than going anywhere, anyhow.


Increasingly, I stayed in more and more. And then I became unemployed, and moved in with my mom, and stopped even having to leave the house to go to work. I stopped feeling as though there was any reason to get out of bed for anything, except to pee and feed the cat. My life telescoped inwards until anything beyond my mattress seemed very distant, and the world seemed like a place I had very little business being.


Until the summer of 2014, when I got out of bed, accepted some help, scrounged some cash, and got on a plane to the UK for three weeks. Suddenly, I was out in the world, back on the road… and even in love with somebody.


...A somebody who lived in Germany.


Many people asked if Aífe was moving to Germany with me. Um, hello? I’m her forever home. She’s my forever home. If I wanted to pursue this new route to happiness I’d stumbled upon, I had to figure out how to bring her down it. Not for one second was that open for debate. I didn’t know how I was going to get my indoor-only, afraid-of-the-sky, American kitty out of the house and into another country, but I knew I had to make it work.


And, necessity being the eternal mother of invention, I did.


And it worked much better than I could have hoped, because I now have an adventure kitty. Not a fearless, epic adventure kitty, but an adventure kitty all the same, who is getting noticeably braver all the time. Instead of perpetually hiding from the world outside, my Aífe and I are out in it quite regularly. She accompanies me on walks, hikes, bicycle rides, trains, buses, and trans-Atlantic flights. Together we have gone to forests, parks, farmers markets, art festivals, cemeteries, and museums. Sometimes she does a good amount of the walking herself, but often I end up carrying her most of the way, in various bags and packs. Which is why I’ve come to call our outings ‘schleps’ rather than walks.


And they have been some of the most joyous experiences of my 31 years on earth.


All this schlepping about has prompted an array of unexpected queries and encounters, which have lead me to see my cat and myself, her species and my own, in new light. I've realized that I underestimated her and limited her in ways that were not fair or healthy, and that I now truly regret. I’ve also realized that I limited myself in similar ways, too. I’ve realized that much of what we humans believe about cats is simply projected nonsense, which is closely linked to a lot of the nonsense we project onto members of our own species – especially ourselves. 


Discovering that I can leave the flat and still be with my best friend, that I can see some of the world without having to forfeit my forever home, has transformed my outlook on life considerably. Which is why I spent a lot of this past winter trying to write a book about cat-schlepping (that, and because multiple people who saw us out together said, “You should write a book!”). But many tens-of-thousands of words into the thing, I still couldn’t get it right, and the material kept shifting around on me. I finally admitted that I had jumped the gun; I couldn’t tell the story in the big, all-encompassing whack of a book, because it hadn’t happened yet. It was only just getting started. And, in the meantime, I was letting all kinds of great little moments slip through the cracks of my shoddy memory, and I was getting frustrated with sitting a huge backlog of material that I was bursting to share with the world.  


And then this last week, while stuck in bed with a virus, I ended up reading my partner’s copy of Austin Kleon’s Show Your Work. Which, you may not be surprised to learn, is all about how vital it is to show your work to the world. And that (on top of my fever) got me pretty fired up.

Mr. Kleon's checklist. As a seasoned cat-schlepper, I have these by the heap.

Mr. Kleon's checklist. As a seasoned cat-schlepper, I have these by the heap.


Thus, we blog! While Aífe is busy cackling abuse at birds and snoring in tote bags, I am taking time to enjoy being in the moment with her, but also to compile my thinky human thoughts. And the product of all those wandering and wonderings will be an ongoing battery of posts here; a combination of the anecdotal, practical, comical, and metaphysical, along with plenty of photos of my adorable, wonderful, very best buddy.


Welcome to the schlep,


- Ms. Joy & Kitten

Ready to rock and/or nap. She's a cat. She's prepared to do both, always.

Ready to rock and/or nap. She's a cat. She's prepared to do both, always.