People who know me well enough know that I don’t do a great job of long-term anger. I complain loudly, but it passes rapidly. Stoic I am not. I like to discuss, and if not persuaded be left alone. When I was younger, this meant that I was taken advantage of by people who didn’t know the meaning of the word “no.” I had no strategies for handling people who’d continually tried to get to “yes” no matter what I said or did.
I’ve learned the hard lessons, though. Some people need periodic reminders the sunny skies can disappear rapidly. Like a thunderstorm approaching on the coast, it builds slowly to the northwest and sweeps in. The sound and fury are frightening but pass. You’d prefer to avoid repeats. I’d love to say that I learned this tactic, and a tactic it is, from my mother, father, or some sage tactician of human behavior. Well. I guess I did. I learned from my cat, Clancy.
We were living at my studio in Charlestown. The big old mill building was right alongside the Boston & Maine railroad tracks and was home to a colony of semi-feral cats. The building had a long yard alongside which the cats would use to sun themselves, the lords of creation. Clancy established his rank in this crew near the very top. He enjoyed being among the elite, but not the work involved in maintaining it on a day-to-day basis. He loved his catnip toots and naps in the sun too much to put that much effort into it. His strategy was to meet challenges with measured intimidation. One day a scruffy tom named Rufus decided that he wanted Clancy’s spot in the sun.
What ensued was a cat standoff. Rufus yowled, inched forward, yowled again, and hissed. Clancy ignored him, stretched out in the sun, and purred. Enraged at being ignored, Rufus repeated his actions but now added an open pawed swat. Clancy rolled over, took a long look at Rufus, and got up. Clancy stretched, licked his paw, examined it, and then growled a warning. Before Rufus could lift a foot off the ground, Clancy used his extra bodyweight to tumble Rufus over, grab the surprised cat by the back of the neck and bite down hard. Clancy calmly walked back to his place in the sun with nary a flick of his tail, stretched, and carefully cleaned a few drops of Rufus’ blood from his claws. While licking, he looked directly at Rufus, who rapidly ran away. It took several repetitions for Rufus to learn that you didn’t bother Clancy at naptime. But being a cat and thereby smarter than some people, he did understand.
Some people only respond to the storm, and unlike a cat, don’t learn.