The tale I’m about to tell is a true story. It unfolded in the summer of twenty-sixteen, shortly after I began a new job. I would often step outside in the afternoon to soak in the blueness of the sky and feel the sun on my face. Mostly I was escaping the office in a desperate act to recalibrate. My mind was exploding as I learned to navigate new databases and new policies and procedures. I was struggling to interpret out-of-state transcripts and grappling for more brain space to remember everything I needed to know about the college. I needed to memorize the majors and minors offered. I needed to know the enrollment and retention numbers and the student-to-faculty ratio. I needed to know the building names and their respective uses and also their historical significances. I needed those few minutes alone on the steps in the sunshine at midday if I was to successfully make it to five o’clock.
On one such afternoon, a grey, blue-eyed cat circled me. I’d apparently glossed over the litter of cats that resided beneath the bushes alongside the wrought iron fence that bordered the brick walkway where I often sat. I mean, I suppose I’d noticed a cat once or twice. I was stepping outside to concentrate on breathing in and out, though, not to scour the landscape for creatures. Blue Eyes stepped onto my legs and sprawled across my lap. He began to purr and I suddenly began to cry—tears that I could not explain as I’ve long since boasted my lack of attachment toward any animal, ever. I returned reluctantly to my office and didn’t see Blue Eyes when I left later that day. But the very next morning, as soon as my feet hit the pavement, Blue Eyes saw me from across the street and came running. He wove himself around my ankle and I bent down to stroke his grey fur. I could hear him purring and I could simultaneously feel my heart melting. I was bonding with a creature against my very own will. I wanted to be angry about it. But I also wanted to scoop him up and take him home to be with me forever.
I quickly discovered the college was trying to find homes for the stray cats. I told them I’d fallen for Blue Eyes but they informed me another staff member had dibs. They apologized that he wasn’t available for the taking. I almost cried, again. I thought about stealing him but decided against it. Instead, I went home and penned the most pathetic email I have ever written. No exaggeration. It was a pitiful plea—a complete act of desperation that was almost embarrassing. I’d rather not show you the email. It was a plaintive cry, but a sincere one. The aforementioned staff member, god bless her, must have sensed my deep fragility because she replied to my email and said I could have him. I brought him home that week and named him Dorian Grey—Grey with the ‘e’ because I like how the British spell things, and because he’s a Gregory. ;)
Let me tell you about Dorian Grey. He meows, a lot. For no reason at all. I’m certain he’s vain, like the character in Oscar Wilde’s novel, and that he simply likes to hear his own voice. Dorian can be audacious. Don’t let his adorable pink nose and his glimmering blue eyes fool you. He’s a brat, but he’s extremely affectionate, and, in my mind, that makes up for it. He normally hears me coming home and I can usually hear his greeting meow before I’ve even unlocked the door. He sleeps with me unless he’s riled up of course, in which case I confiscate all the squeaky and jingly toys and go to sleep without him. When he eventually joins me he prefers to curl up on top of my toes. He is an absolute snob regarding the proper softness of blankets. Some simply will not suffice. He has one ear that’s been clipped, and I adore this strange quirk. He’s missing practically half of his ear, and I don’t care. Being a feral cat, he’s a hunter. I found what I thought was a gnarly hairball one morning and upon further investigation identified a teeny, tiny nose with whiskers—remnants of a creature that he had annihilated at the throat in the middle of the night. No need to worry about mice, Dorian has that situation under control. And when there are no mice to chase, he chews through all his fake, feathery friends.
Sometimes I think he’d lay in my lap for as long as I would sit unmoving, completely still. I struggle to sit still for very long, though; feeling the demands of my self-inflicted goals. I need to do pilates, I need to unload the dishwasher, I need to make dinner, I need to call said friend back, I need to file my taxes. I struggle to live patiently, as previously mentioned. Dorian Grey sits, meowing, begging me simply to play.
I’m practicing allotting time for leisure these days—for playing with feathers and fake mice.
In her book Unseduced & Unshaken, Rosalie De Rosset explains:
In Greek the term for leisure is skole and in Latin skola—from which we get our word “school.” Seen this way, leisure is part of the learning process. The spirit of leisure is actually the spirit of learning, of self-cultivation. Leisure provides the venue for the growth of a person’s whole being—for thinking about life’s great concerns, for activities that enrich the mind, strengthen the body, and restore the soul. Like education, leisure takes discipline, training, cultivation of habits and tastes, discriminating judgments…the God who ordained rest, who commanded a day of rest, cares about what we do with all our time.
Here is what a fury, quite vocal, and sassy feline is teaching me about slowing down, about leisure.
Play is Purposeful
Dorian sleeps well and behaves better if I give him the play and exercise he needs. Play is something I would have considered a waste of time not long ago, and some days I still struggle not to view it as such. But if leisure is a habit that must be cultivated, I am beginning when I come home from work each day and sit on the floor for as long as Dorian will purr and play.
Naps Are Permissible
I said for years that I could not nap. What I think I was really saying without realizing it was that I didn’t know how to quiet my mind, that I didn’t know how to set aside the anxiety and allow room for rest. If leisure strengthens the body and restores the soul, then I think naps qualify. Dorian naps with no remorse or regret, and I’m practicing curling up next to him and leisurely doing the same.
I am now a crazy cat lady. I am that lady you see in Target adding cat toys to her basket. I am that coworker with cat post-it notes on her desk. I am the woman who wears cat pajama pants and drinks coffee out of an Anthro cat mug. I became a cat lady by accident. Now I’m learning how to nap and how to play on purpose.