Daisy Practices Her “I Am Very Sad In a Way That Only Food Will Solve” Face

It’s a pretty impressive look. Sometimes it even works!

(A reminder to people about to comment on her chunkiness that she is half mastiff. She looks chunky no matter what.)

Daisy in the Yard

She certainly can be photogenic, when she makes an effort.

This particular picture captured by the cell phone, incidentally. The camera on it isn’t bad in a pinch.

Daisy and Lopsided Cat Pose For Their Spring Portraits

And as you can see, it was a lovely day for it. So lovely, in fact, that I spent most of it away from the computer. And I would do it again. Don’t worry; tomorrow’s supposed to be rainy and 20 degrees cooler. I’ll be back inside then.

Daisy’s Day Gets Better

Because one of the neighbor dogs wandered over to play with her. They ran around the yard for a good half hour, being goofballs. And yes, as you can see, the yard is now visible; it’s 54 degrees outside and the snow is in retreat. Good riddance.

While I was taking photos the dogs were moving fast enough that the “rolling shutter” phenomenon of digital cameras came into play. You can see a little of it in the picture above by looking at the neighbor dog’s front left paw, but here’s a photo in which it’s really pronounced:

I think that’s kind of a cool look, personally.

In any event, Daisy’s bounced back from her morning. It’s a reminder of something we sometimes forget: When you’re having a bad day, friends help.

A Daisy Dog Update

We’re closing in on the one-month mark of our ownership of Daisy, so I thought I’d catch you all up on her status. Basically, it’s gone very well, and she’s become pretty fully integrated into the Scalzi clan. In particular, the cat/dog issue seems to have been resolved to everyone’s satisfaction: The cats seem to understand Daisy is here for the long haul, and Daisy gets that the cats are family, and everyone gets along. They don’t cuddle up like the cats (well, Zeus and Ghlaghghee) did with Kodi, but it’s still early days.

Daisy definitely has her own personality. For one thing, she’s an attention hog: if one the cats is being petted she will headbutt her way into the pet session, because apparently no reason she shouldn’t get pets if someone else is. For another thing, she knows what’s allowed and what’s not but subscribes to the “if you didn’t see it, it didn’t happen” theory of morality, which allows her to get premium nap time on beds, which she knows she’s not allowed on but will get up on anyway. When I get up from my desk the first sound I usually hear is a soft thump as the dog quietly jumps down from whatever piece of furniture she knows she’s not supposed to be on, followed by the dog head popping out into the hallway to find out where I am. She’s a sneaky one.

Also, she’s a very excitable dog. Having an older dog for the last few years dimmed the memory that a favorite mode for dogs is run! everywhere! really fast! Well, I’ve gotten well-acquainted with that dog mode once again, and I have cause to observe that it’s actually a good thing I have 5 acres of lawn, because Daisy has made herself informed about every single square inch of it. This is not a bad thing for me, since what she enjoys most of the world is running around the yard with someone running after her, arms flailing, howling like the Cookie Monster set on fire, and guess who, as the work-at-home person, gets to do that. As a result, I’m getting a whole lot of exercise and looking entirely foolish as I do so.

And there we are. This is the end of “what’s up with our new dog” posts, I think; from here on out, when I post about Daisy, she’ll just be referred to as “the dog.” She’s one of us now, and she seems to be as happy about it as we are. And that’s a good thing for everyone.

Daisy, Drowsy

For the folks who are saying to themselves “it’s been two days and no new pictures of Daisy,” you can reset your clocks: Here she is via one of the faux-retro cameras that are all the rage on cell phones these days. Note the photo scratches! That’s your assurance of fake authenticity! The picture is of Daisy in her crate; she came crate-trained, which is actually a very good thing.

I’m also happy to say Daisy does now appear to grasp the concept that the cats are full fledged members of the family and not to be hugged using one’s teeth. The cats are still not thrilled by Daisy’s presence but seem to be accepting it with that sort of huffy exasperation they do so well. This counts as material progress, and makes me happy that we’re getting this all resolved before it actually gets cold and the cats basically stay in the house full time because, hey, it’s warm here. That would not be the time for animal personality conflicts.

Also, Daisy snores. It’s cute.

 

Meet Daisy

What we did with our Saturday: We went and got ourselves a new dog. Her name is Daisy, she’s a two-year-old laborador-mastiff  mix, and we got her through a local rescue service. Her previous owners were no longer able to care for her, which had nothing to do with Daisy and everything to do with their own personal situation. Daisy is housetrained and responds to commands and so far seems pretty happy. The cats are extraordinarily pissed, as they of course would be, although Daisy is not at all aggressive toward them so far. We assume they will get over it soon.

And that’s what I have for you at the moment, inasmuch as we’ve had the dog for all of 90 minutes now. More updates as events warrant. In the meantime, however: Say hello to Daisy.

A Year of Scamperbeastery

A year ago today we went over to my mother-in-law’s neighbor’s house and took possession of two eight-week-old kittens there. These kittens, tentatively named Thing One and Thing Two, eventually became known as Sugar and Spice, aka the Scamperbeasts. It’s been a pretty good year for them since then, as they’ve become beloved members of the Scalzi household, with Sugar becoming especially partial to Daisy, our large galumphing dog, and Spice apparently enjoying alternately antagonizing and adoring Zeus, the senior cat of the household.

Over the space of the year, other aspects of their personality have sussed out as well. Sugar, appropriately, is the cuddly the one — she likes sleeping with (or on) the humans in the household and will actively seek one out for pettings and affection. Spice also likes affection but on her terms, which is usually at 4am, when she will leap on the bed with a series of loud chirps. Sugar has claimed the front room as her primary domain; Spice prefers the master bedroom.

However, both these days prefer being outside. Once they were large enough not to be taken away by hawks, we let them out to roam around the Scalzi Compound, pursuant to our tradition of having our cats not only be pets, but working animals. To recap, there are agricultural fields on three sides of us, and in the fall, a lot of the rodents who had been living in the fields start looking for somewhere warm, and our house looks good to them. So the cats basically set a perimeter. As it happens, both of the Scamperbeasts are really good at the whole “don’t let rodents into the house” thing, and they pretty much stay outside until they are tired or decide they want kibble or petting. They’re country girls at heart. We’ll see what happens once it starts getting really cold overnight, however.

A year ago I was initially reluctant to take two kittens — more accurately, I was in the market for only one, although when both Athena and Krissy decided we should take two I didn’t put up too much of a fight — but I have to say that a year it, taking the two instead of just one seems to have been the right call. In the early months especially they kept each other company; these days they are rather more independent of each other but they are still obviously affectionate sisters. They make for quite a pair.

As I said, a good year for them, I think, and for us. We’re glad they’re with us and we look forward to them being with us for as long as they are. It’s been lovely to see them grown from kittens to cats. Here’s to the rest of it.

The Big Idea: Laura Lam

Book ideas can come from anywhere — but the time they take to get to an author can, well, vary. In the Big Idea for her novel False Hearts, author Laura Lam traces the path of the idea that became to dual hearts of her story.

LAURA LAM:

Sometimes book ideas hit you in a sudden burst of inspiration. You want to yell “Eureka!” even if you’re at your desk in your day job, or in the middle of the aisle while shopping for food. All the pieces tumble into place and you have a plotted book sitting in your head within a couple of hours or a few days. Other times, it seems to come in frustratingly small dribs and drabs: you love this premise or this idea for a character, but you don’t yet know how to work it into a plot and what world it should take place in, so it ends up percolating for a while before finally coalescing into something you can work with.

False Hearts was more the second process. I had the Eureka premise hit me clear on the side of the head and I was really excited by it, but then the idea had to marinate a little. I can pinpoint to the exact moment I had the idea; it was lunchtime on February 25, 2013, less than a month after my first book, Pantomime, had been released. I’d finished the sequel, Shadowplay, and I was slowly working on the third book, Masquerade, even though it didn’t yet have a contract. I figured I should work on something else, too, just in case.  This proved to be a good move, as the imprint of the publisher that released my first books folded a few months later.

That lunchtime, I read this article on io9 by Annalee Newitz about conjoined twins Daisy and Violet Hilton. Daisy and Violet were conjoined at the hip and famous on the vaudeville circuit. They were sadly treated badly by their family and various managers, and their lives were a series of ups and downs. When vaudeville started winding down, they ended up moving into cinema. The article had a clip from Chained for Life, where both twins have to go on trial for a murder one of them committed.

Wham. Book idea: what if your literal other half was accused of murder, and you weren’t entirely sure whether or not they’d done it? How far would you go to find out the truth?

I have identical twin nephews and see how close they are. They fight, sure, but at the end of the day, they are inseparable. I started researching conjoined twins, watching interviews, documentaries, and reading a lot of nonfic. But it took a while to figure out what I should actually do with that idea—what genre, where it should be set, how everything was going to actually fit. In little dribs and drabs, it came together. With each new snippet, I did more research (subjects included futuristic architecture, possible medical advancements, how mobs work, how cults work, neuroscience, how drugs and dreams affect the brain). In the end, I wrote a thriller set in near-future San Francisco. I grew up in the Bay Area, but moved to Scotland when I was 21, so it was a nice excuse to go home in my imagination for a while.

The San Francisco of False Hearts looks like a utopia at first glance. Poverty is all but erased. There aren’t any major world-scale wars. Health care is free and advanced. Crime seems a thing of the past. The SF bay glows green at night from the algae they farm to bolster the food supply, along with orchard skyscrapers and vat-grown meat. Everyone has ocular and auditory implants, streaming information directly into their cortex. When pent up emotions grow overwhelming, people go to one of the many Zeal Lounges throughout the city, plugging into the drug that lets you exorcise your dark desires in dreams. They come out of the trip refreshed and soporific. A little more tractable. A little easier to control.

The twins in False Hearts, Taema and Tila, were born conjoined at the chest in a cult set where Muir Woods is now. This cult, Mana’s Hearth, has been completely cut off from modern technology, and they essentially live like 1969 summer of love hippies. Like many cults, there’s a sinister undertone. Changing yourself in anyway is considered sacrilege—if you’re ill, you can use some rudimentary herbs, but otherwise you must bow to the will of the Creator.

At sixteen, when their shared heart starts to fail, Taema and Tila do not bow. They run.

In San Francisco, there is a pressure to fit into the narrow confines of what society considers perfection. Thanks to gene therapy and walk-in flesh parlours, people rarely let themselves age. Society has no idea what to do with conjoined twins, and, though the twins don’t really want to, they are pressured into being separated and fitted with mechanical hearts. Over the next ten years, the sisters subtly drift apart.

Then, one night, Tila stumbles into Taema’s house, covered in someone else’s blood. She’s arrested by the first murder from a civilian in decades. It’s all kept out of the papers, and soon Taema is given a proposal: they think her sister was involved with the Ratel, the underground mob of San Francisco that deal in a dangerous new dream drug called Verve. If Taema takes her sister’s identity and works with an undercover detective and finds out what’s going on in the Ratel, then SFPD might let her sister live rather than being thrown into stasis for her crimes.

Taema can’t stand that her sister has kept such a big secret from her. It eats at her. So she follows her sister into the dark underbelly of San Francisco, and ends up realising they didn’t leave their past as far behind as they’d hoped. At first, Taema is sure that her sister was not capable of murder. The father she falls down the rabbit hole, the less sure she is: and if Taema’s sister is capable of murder, what does that say about her?

—-

False Hearts: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Read an excerpt. Visit the author’s site. Follow her on Twitter.

My Non-Spoilery Review of The Force Awakens

Super-short version: It’s not bad! Best since the original trilogy and arguably better than at least one of those. You’ll probably have a whole lot of fun with this film.

Non-super-short version: Star Wars is that friend of yours who you haven’t seen in a while, who was in a long-term relationship where everything was cool for a while and then things just plain went to hell, and the last time you saw them, they’d kind of hit the bottom. Now you’re seeing them again for the first time in years and before they show up you’re humming a little mantra that goes please please please please don’t let this be awkward and weird like it was the last time we saw each other.

And then they show up! And they look great. They sound great. You talk to them and slip into the groove with them, and they catch you up on what’s been going on in their life, including their new relationship with this fab-sounding person who seems to be doing good things for them. And you suddenly realize that for the first time in years your friend actually seems happy. They’re not exactly their old self again — who ever is, after all those years? — but the things you always loved about them are there once more, and you’re so happy to see them happy again that you almost want to cry.

So, yeah: If you’re a Star Wars fan, that’s how you’re going to feel about The Force Awakens.

This is an immense relief, but also, to use the words of a famous Mon Calimarian, it’s a trap. Because it’s Star Wars, and because you’ll have been used to Star Wars films being terrible for so very long, the highly-polished, super-competent and intentionally entertaining film that is The Force Awakens might feel something like a revelation. Finally, a Star Wars film you don’t have to make excuses for! That you don’t have to mumble something like “well, it’s part of a trilogy, you have to wait until the whole thing is done to see the entire structure” to yourself and others in a vain attempt to overlook massive flaws. This is the first Star Wars film in decades that you can relax into, and just sit back and enjoy. It’s not until the tension of having to pre-emptively rationalize your film choices is lifted that you realize what a burden it has been. The absence of that burden might just feel like greatness.

So: is The Force Awakens a great film?

No. It’s not on the level of great cinema. It’s not on the level of the original Star Wars (which I refuse to call A New Hope because fuck you George Lucas you’re not the boss of me) or of The Empire Strikes Back. It’s not the best science fiction film of 2015, or even the best new installment in a long-running science fiction film series (say hello to Fury Road for both, although The Martian and Ex Machina are in the running for the former). It’s not a great film, and you shouldn’t be relieved into thinking it is.

But it is a pretty damn good Star Wars film, which at this point in the series is exactly what it needs to be. This shouldn’t be overlooked, either.

Things to love (or at least really like): The dialogue, by Lawrence Kasdan, JJ Abrams and Michael Arndt, which for the first time since Empire sounds like words that might actually come out of the mouths of actual thinking human beings, and not merely declamatory utterances designed to fill up space. The relationships, of which there are many — more and more believable relationships in this one single film than in the entire run of the series to date. The care with which even minor characters are developed and seem like actual people, rather than toy manufacturing opportunities given a line or two in the film as an excuse to make parents buy the action figure for a stocking stuffer. The fact that Daisy Ridley and John Boyega’s characters (as well as one other character, who you will know when you see the film) are believably young and act like young people do, ie, make some questionable choices, without doing stupid things entirely for plot convenience.

In short, most of the best things about this movie relate to the characters in it — and the care with which the filmmakers use to make them as real as possible. This is the one thing George Lucas could never manage on his own, partly because he’s a leaden writer (Harrison Ford once famously quipped of Lucas’ dialogue “You can type this shit, George, but you can’t say it”), but primarily because I just don’t think he was that interested in it. He needed characters as chess pieces, not as people. In The Force Awakens, we get characters as people, and their game becomes more interesting.

Things not to like? Basically, the several points where the film has to bow to the tropes of the Star Wars universe mostly for plot convenience and fan service. Yes, yes, lasers and explosions and battles and the cute nods to the previous films, they all have to be in there. I get it (trust me, I get it). But for me all of that was a sideshow to the characters — and think about that! When was the last time you could say that about a Star Wars film? (Empire.) There’s also the fact that almost immediately after I left the theater there were a whole bunch of things about the film that I started to pick apart. Trust me, my friends, if you think the nitpickery of the Star Wars universe was positively Talmudic before, wait until the dust settles with TFA. There will be nitpickery galore.

Here’s the important thing about that last bit: On the drive home, I had things I wanted to nitpick — but the operative part of the phrase is “on the drive home.” When I was watching the film, I was in the film. I wasn’t focused on anything other than where I was. And that, my friends, is the goal. When I was the creative consultant for Stargate: Universe, that was actually my job: To read the scripts early and flag all the things that would throw people out of the story before the end credits rolled. It’s okay for the audience to be nitpicky, just afterwards. Managing that is not as easy as it sounds, and certainly the prequel trilogies never achieved it. TFA does.

Which is a testament to Abrams, his fellow screenwriters and to Disney. When Disney bought Lucasfilm I said that it was “the best thing that could happen, especially if you’re a Star Wars fan.” I said it because Disney, whatever other flaws it has (and it has many) understands better than almost any other studio that the audience must be entertained. You grab the audience, you carry them along for two hours, you keep them busy, and you drop them off at the gift shop when you’re done. Disney is relentless about this, and they’re not stupid about it, either, which is to say, Disney doesn’t treat its audience like marks, to be hustled. It treats them as opportunities for a long-term relationship, involving the transfer of cash to Disney.

Cynical? Well, yes. But, look, if what that means is we get good Star Wars films that aren’t painful to watch and tell a fun story while we’re shoving popcorn into our maws — stories with lightsabers — then I’m okay with that. Especially after having slogged through a Star Wars era where the only thing of interest was the merchandising. We’re getting more out of the Star Wars cinematic universe now than we were with Lucas. I don’t see this as a bad thing. “By the sweet and merry mouse above, you will be entertained,” I wrote, when the Disney deal for Lucasfilm was announced.

I was right. I was entertained. And because of the focus on characters in The Force Awakens — a focus I expect to continue through Episodes VIII and IX, and in the new “anthology” films — I am optimistic I will continue to be entertained in the Star Wars universe for a good while yet. I can’t tell you how giddy that makes me.

I don’t need greatness from Star Wars. I just want to have fun with it. And with The Force Awakens, I did. I’m glad my friend is back, and happy.

 

Cat/Kitten Integration Update

Folks have been asking how Sugar and Spice are getting along these days with Zeus, and vice versa. I’m happy to say at this point it looks like integration is fairly complete. Zeus stopped automatically hissing every time he saw the kitten some time back, and now the kittens go up to him on a regular basis and do the nose bop thing. They are not as chummy with Zeus as they are with Daisy, but then, Daisy feels very maternal toward the kittens and that has an influence. Be that as it may, I think we’re on the downward slope of the acclimation hill. Zeus knows the kittens are here to stay.

One Month of the Scamperbeasts

Yesterday marked one month since we adopted Sugar and Spice (previously designated Thing One and Thing Two), and I’m happy to say that the month has been mostly pretty lovely. Sugar is generally the adventurous and fearless one, always looking into cracks and crevasses, and trying to escape into the outside world (which we will not allow until they are large enough not to be easily carried off by birds of prey). Spice is generally the cuddly and affectionate one, although the two of them switch these roles from time to time on a schedule only they know about.

Daisy loves them both and wants to be their mommy — she frequently inserts herself between the kittens and Zeus, particularly early on, when Zeus expressed his displeasure at these new creatures in the house. The good news is that this Zeus does seem to be mostly over this; Sugar and Zeus have been seen touching noses without any hisses or aggressive acts. Spice mostly wants to play with Zeus’ tail.

With the passing of Lopsided Cat, among other things, it was a good time to have kittens in the house, and their general kitten rambunctiousness has been appreciated most of the time — it’s hard to be in a bad mood for long with two kittens scampering around like possessed stuffed animals. It’s not all adorableness, since both of them are reasonable stinky with their poos, and Sugar in particular is occasionally experimental in where she chooses to relieve herself. But that’s mostly been ironed out (thankfully). Overall, it’s been delightful. Kittens are fun.

So, one month down. Hopefully rather more than a decade to go.

Kitten Update, 11/10/15

The kittens are on this side of the stairs because they both climbed over the gate, evidence that the gate is not so much useful as a gate anymore, even if it has some continued utility as exercise equipment. That, combined with the fact that the last flea combing produced no fleas (aided by a spraying with age-appropriate flea treatment, which will be administered again probably tomorrow), means that I’m officially letting the gate come down and the kittens to roam around the house. They’ve already gotten acclimated to Daisy, who loves them to bits, and it’s time they had a little more contact with Zeus, who so far is less than pleased but need to deal with it. So out into the world (defined as “the house”) they go.

I do find the kittens already surprise me. When we got them, lo that whole week ago, I assumed that Thing Two, who is the larger and in many ways more forward of the kittens, would be the troublemaker of the pair, but it turns out that Thing One is the adventurous one — she’s the one who hopped the gate first, who acclimated to Daisy first, and who goes down the stairs at every available opportunity. Thing Two, on the other hand, is a little more cautious (but only a little) and is more openly affectionate, coming over to me meowing to be picked up and petted and so on. It’s nice they are already challenging assumptions and expectations.

This is likely the last regularly-scheduled kitten update here. Before anyone complains, if you think this means there won’t be additional kitten pictures here, quite obviously you’ve never actually visited this site before. There will be tons, I assure you. Just not every single day.

Er, probably.

 

For Those of You Asking About Zeus

One, he’s perfectly fine, merely not at the center of my public discussion of cats in the last week as he neither a) a kitten, b) a newly-passed on senior cat. You should be aware that Zeus has been perfectly fine not being the center of media attention in the last several days, as he is a cat and has not the slightest idea either that I write about my cats here, or that any of you have any idea who he is. But he is alive and well and doing what he does.

Two, he seems to be aware that that Lopsided Cat is gone. He saw his friend in his last few days and appeared to grok that not was well; he did not see Lopsided Cat after we brought him back from the vet and before we buried him (he was out of the house at the time), but seems to note the absence, in the way pets do (Daisy saw Lopsided Cat as we buried him and at least appeared to have some idea of what was going on). He seems to be carrying on all right. Zeus and Lopsided Cat were close, but Zeus and Daisy are closer, and I suspect Zeus will miss Daisy most when she’s gone.

Three, Zeus is aware of the kittens and as a somewhat territorial male cat (“somewhat” because he’s been snipped) is less than thoroughly pleased at the turn of events, first because the kittens are mostly sequestered to my office right now, i.e., his space — he likes to nap on my chair — and second because pets are rarely thrilled with change anyway. Every time Zeus sees the kittens, his response is basically to give a look that says “the fuck are those,” and then stalk off. Now, as it happens, Lopsided Cat and Ghlaghghee had exactly the same reaction to him when he arrived, nearly eight years ago now. So in the long run I suspect things will be fine.

It’s mildly weird to think of Zeus as the senior cat now, as I remember his arrival and his subsequent rather extended adolescent phase; it’s really only in the last couple of years that it’s sunk in that he’s a fully adult cat. But he’s eight years old now, which are prime adult years for a cat. We weren’t expecting him to be the senior cat at the Scalzi Compound, but now he is — senior pet, in fact, as his tenure with us outdates Daisy’s by a couple of years. I think he’ll do well in the role.

Lopsided Cat, 2000 – 2015

This is the first picture I ever took of Lopsided Cat, back in April of 2003. He came to us in an interesting way: Krissy and Athena were working in the garden (well, Krissy was working, Athena, age four, was “helping”), and Lopsided Cat emerged out of the trees at the property line and made a beeline to Athena. When Athena bent down to pet this friendly, strange cat, he hopped onto her back. And just like that, he was home.

Well, part-time at first. I suspect Lopsided Cat, who appeared well-fed and who was neutered, was someone else’s cat too, possibly one of our neighbors to the east. Alternately, as happened with Zeus, someone abandoned him, and Lopsided Cat, an able hunter, had been taking care of himself until he found himself an easier situation. But at some point he decided he liked us and made us his permanent base of operations. We were fine with that because he was friendly and affectionate, unlike our then-current cat Rex, who liked me but was a jerk with everyone else.

Lopsided Cat’s name came from the fact that he usually had his head at a tilt, which was visually endearing but was rooted in an actual malady — when he came to us he had a rather substantial infestation of ear mites (this alone suggests he might have been abandoned), and this apparently caused him to tilt his head a lot. We got the ear mites cleaned out and otherwise got him shots and so on, but he never stopped tilting his head. When he was a part-time resident, I called him “that lopsided cat.” When he came on-staff full time, the name stuck. It suited him.

Lopsided Cat came to live with us, but he was and remained through his life a mostly outdoor cat. He would come in to eat and sleep and have occasional pettings, but when he was done with all that he let you know that he was ready to outside with a meow loud and insistent enough to cut through concrete. I’ve read that cats meow in a vocal range similar to that of human infants, because that’s what makes adult humans get up and make the problem stop. I’m willing to believe it because I would be dead asleep, and Lopsided Cat would meow on the porch on the other side of the front door, down a flight of stairs, and I would be awake instantly and up out of bed before I had time to think about it. I suspect he was pretty proud at how well he trained his human.

He earned his keep and then some. I’ve noted before that our cats are not just pets but are working animals — we have agricultural fields on three sides of us and the creatures that live in the fields like to migrate into the house, particularly when the weather starts getting cooler. The cats kept that from happening, Lopsided Cat most of all. He was an avid hunter, and at times would do it with… well, style might be the word for it. One morning I went into the garage and found two dead rabbits, symmetrically arranged facing each other, paws up as if praying for their lives, on the mat by the door, and Lopsided Cat sitting there, looking up at me. My immediate thought was holy shit, it’s a gangland killing.

For all that, he was not a standoffish cat. He liked to be petted — although not in front of the other cats, which is a thing I found very amusing — and he was never skittish with the other animals, including the dogs, both of which during his tenure, Kodi and Daisy, outweighed and outsized him by a significant factor. He was cordial if not overly friendly with both. His closest animal relationship was with Zeus, whom he initially disliked but eventually took to engaging in mutual grooming behavior with. This made me joke that he and Zeus were gay, which, I should note, was perfectly fine with me if they were.

Of all the cats we’ve had, Lopsided Cat struck me as the most Platonically ideal. Ghlaghghee was a princess, Zeus was a hyper bundle, Rex was a curmudgeon, but Lopsided Cat was a cat: He ate and slept and hunted and accepted tribute from humans in the form of petting and that’s what he was. Of all the cats I’ve had, I expect he was the least smart; he never did anything that made me think wow, that was actually pretty clever, which every other cat I’ve ever had has done at least once. But then he never had to. This was a creature who was perfectly and utterly at peace with who he was: A cat. You could not ask for a better one.

The other evening — on the same day as we picked out our new kittens, currently named Thing One and Thing Two — Krissy found Lopsided Cat in the garage, looking rather disheveled and dazed. He had slobber on him, which suggested he’d been in a fight with a local dog, but didn’t have any bite or claw marks on him, which suggested that the fight had been lopsided in favor of the cat. Nevertheless we took him to the vet to see if there were any broken bones (there weren’t) or anything dislocated (again, no). The vet kept him overnight, then gave him painkillers and let me take him home, and I thought that would be the end of it.

It wasn’t. Lopsided Cat, always a very active animal, didn’t want to move and didn’t want to eat or drink. We waited to see if he would get better and when he didn’t I took him back to the vet for some more x-rays and other tests. Our vet, this time looking for things other than broken or dislocated bones, discovered that our cat had suffered a hernia, probably from the fight. That explained why he didn’t want to move or eat. She also discovered that Lopsided Cat was suffering from kidney failure — and that was something that was independent of the fight, likely brought about from the fact that Lopsided Cat, who was at least a couple of years old when he joined up with us, was simply just now old.

So here was the thing: Our vet could operate on the hernia, but Lopsided Cat’s recovery was not assured to be smooth because of his age, and the fact of the matter was that no matter what, the state of his kidneys meant that the time he had left with us was short. The cat we knew and loved was active and spent most of his time outdoors. The cat we would have left to us would be invalid and failing. We had to ask ourselves whether Lopsided Cat would be happy not being the cat he had always been.

Each of us, Athena and Krissy and I, knew the answer to that. So yesterday all of us went to the vet’s office to say goodbye to him. Then, when that was done, we brought him home to bury him.

Which, I have to be honest, I never thought we would be able to do. Lopsided Cat came to us out of the trees, unexpected. He was an outdoor cat, and one that was never shy of a hunt or of a fight. For those reasons, I fully expected that one day he would simply go out on his daily rounds… and that would be that. We would wait, and wait, and wonder and be concerned and then after a month or two we would have to accept that the cat who came out of trees had gone back into them, forever, and that we would never get to give him our farewells and let him know he loved him.

But he didn’t do that. In the end, he went out on his daily rounds… and then he came back. Because in the end he knew where his home was. It was with us. He came back to us, and we got to give him our farewells and let him know we loved him. And then we got to bring him home one last time, to be with us forever.

I’m so glad he came home.

Kitten Update, 11/6/15

Don’t pretend like you don’t want this. 

Thing One, enjoying some books.

Thing Two, practicing an “I’m totally innocent!” look.

Daisy and Thing One. Check out the size differential there. Yes, clearly, they have met. In fact:

Yup. They’re going to get along just fine.

Oscar Predictions, 2014

Every year the Oscar nominations come out, and every year I offer up my first-blush thoughts and predictions on the nominees. It’s a nod to my days as a film critic, when I would be making the predictions as part of my job. These days I do it for fun! And am about as accurate as I was back then (typically I get five out of six of the main categories right, usually blowing one of the supporting acting categories).

So, what looks good this year?

BEST PICTURE

12 Years a Slave
American Hustle
Captain Phillips
Dallas Buyers Club
Gravity
Her
Nebraska
Philomena
The Wolf of Wall Street

Last year was very unusual in that the film that won best picture didn’t have its director nominated; to give you an idea of how unusual this is, in the last 30 years it’s only happened twice: Last year with Argo and in 1989 for Driving Miss Daisy. Last year there was a strong feeling Ben Affleck got cheated out of a director nomination, which played a part in Argo’s eventual win. I really don’t think that’s going to happen again this year. In which case, Captain Phillips, Dallas Buyer’s Club, Her and Philomena get shown the door early.

Next out for me is Nebraska, because it’s the least flashy of the remaining nominees, and I think if it’s going to be rewarded, there’s another category where it’s more likely, and the Academy voters will think that’s sufficient. After that The Wolf of Wall Street is out; Martin Scorsese films are reliable nominees in this category, but I think there’s another film this year focused on the venality of humans that is resonating better. Gravity I suspect peaked too soon in terms of attention, and although I’m hesitant to write it off completely, I’m guessing its moment has passed.

This means that the contest is down to American Hustle and 12 Years a Slave, and at the moment you could flip a coin to decide the winner. I think at the moment Hustle has momentum, but on the other hand Slave is an unflinching look at the US at its worst, and that’s a draw for the Academy voters who like their Oscar winners to be about Important Things.

At the moment I’m going to nod toward Slave, but it’s a pick with no confidence; this is one of those years when the time between the nomination and the vote really is going to matter. I’ll check in again on this just before the ceremony and see what I think then.

Will Win: 12 Years a Slave
Should Win: 12 Years a Slave

BEST DIRECTOR

Alfonso Cuarón, Gravity
Steve McQueen, 12 Years a Slave
Alexander Payne, Nebraska
David O. Russell, American Hustle
Martin Scorsese, The Wolf of Wall Street

Scorsese out first, I think; he’s the Meryl Streep of the Directors category, and also he’s won it before. This year there are directors who haven’t won before worth paying attention to. Next out is Alexander Payne, because I don’t think Nebraska is in the running for the big one, and because I think the voters will feel the film will be compensated for in other categories. Cuarón out next, although again it’s possible Gravity will make a comeback and him with it.

Again, the battle will come down between American Hustle and 12 Years a Slave. In this category, however, I think Russell has the edge; he’s been nominated in the category before with his last two films, he’s guided actors to Oscar wins in those films, which doesn’t hurt with that branch of voters, and finally, people love a redemption story (Russell was famously mercurial and appears to have reined in that side of his personality to make excellent films). Academy voters have a rare chance to vote for a black director (although, not trivially, not an African-American director, as Steve McQueen is British and of Grenadian descent), who has also directed memorable recent films. But I think at the end of the day Russell will have the “he’s due” sentiment on his side.

This means that there could be a best director/best film split, which (not withstanding last year’s very unusual situation) is fairly rare. That said, among other things a split might be the way to honor both Russell and McQueen, as McQueen is a producer on his film, which means he’d take home an Oscar if the film won Best Picture. Just like Ben Affleck!

Will Win: Russell
Should Win: Russell

BEST ACTRESS

Amy Adams, American Hustle
Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine
Judi Dench, Philomena
Meryl Streep, August: Osage County
Sandra Bullock, Gravity

I could go on and on, but I think this category’s a lock: Amy Adams. One practical reason: Everyone else in the category has won a Oscar in the reasonably recent past, including Streep two years ago and Bullock two years before that. Meanwhile Adams has been Oscar nominated four times in the last eight years, not including this nomination. Plus her performance in Hustle has gotten uniformly terrific reviews. If ever there was a “now is the time” award, it’s this. There’s a small chance Blanchett or Dench might upgrade their Supporting Actress Oscars, but very small, I think.

Will Win: Adams
Should Win: Adams

BEST ACTOR

Christian Bale, American Hustle
Bruce Dern, Nebraska
Chiwetel Ejiofor, 12 Years a Slave
Matthew McConaughey, Dallas Buyers Club
Leonardo DiCaprio, The Wolf of Wall Street

This is an interesting category that could go all sorts of ways. McConaughey’s Golden Globe win puts him in better stead than I would have expected otherwise, Christian Bale has become the new Robert DeNiro, and DiCaprio’s gotta win one of these things one of these days, and this wouldn’t be a completely terrible year for him to do it.

For all that I think it’s going to come down to Ejiofor and Dern, and I think in the end this is Dern’s Oscar to lose. He’s got the “I’m an old guy who’s done his time” thing going for him, and also, I strongly suspect that this is the category the Academy voters who want to give Nebraska something will decide to do it in. Which is fine; Dern is a good, solid and safe choice. I’d personally vote for Ejiofor.

Will Win: Dern
Should Win: Ejiofor

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Sally Hawkins, Blue Jasmine
Jennifer Lawrence, American Hustle
Lupita Nyong’o, 12 Years a Slave
Julia Roberts, August: Osage County
June Squibb, Nebraska

I think Squibb and Hawkins are destined for the “happy to be nominated” bin; Hawkins is in the “supporting actress in a Woody Allen film” slot, which is an unusually lucky place, statistically — but she has the misfortune of Blanchett being nominated in Best Actress for the same film, which I think draws attention from her. I really don’t imagine that one year after giving Lawrence Best Actress, that they will give her the undercard Oscar, and I suspect Lawrence knows that too. Julia Roberts? Maaaaaaaybe? But she’s been kind of out in the wilderness for a bit, it seems. I don’t feel a lot of momentum here.

This leaves Nyong’o, who I think has the best chance: acclaimed performance, a film with a lot of nomination momentum behind it, and this is one category where being relatively unknown is not a hindrance. I think it all lines up for a win for her.

Will Win: Nyong’o
Should Win: Nyong’o

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

Barkhad Abdi, Captain Phillips
Bradley Cooper, American Hustle
Michael Fassbender, 12 Years a Slave
Jonah Hill, The Wolf of Wall Street
Jared Leto, Dallas Buyers Club

The most competitive field of the main categories, and with the exception of Leto, who I think would have had a better chance in any field other than this, it’s wide open. Abdi is a literal unknown, which has its appeal, and if voters want to honor Philips, this is the place to do it. Cooper may ride the Hustle train, and he’s still fresh in voters’ minds from Silver Linings Playbook. Fassbender one of the hottest actors working today, and his performance in Slave was despicably delicious. And everyone seems to agree that Jonah Hill was the best thing about Wolf — and he’s was nominated in the category before! He’s not a fluke!

I have no idea who will win this category. My gut tells me: Hill? Maybe? But honestly, I have so little confidence in my gut. This is another category where I’m gonna have to see how the period between nomination and ceremony plays out.

Will Win: Hill? Maybe?
Should Win: Abdi

OTHER STUFF

I wouldn’t vote against 12 Years a Slave in Adapted Screenplay, and in Original Screenplay, I’m gonna go with a dark horse and say Her, on account of the film making the Best Picture category and Spike Jonze I suspect being popular enough to have this as a consolation prize (we should all have such consolation prizes). I’m ready to be wrong about that. Frozen I think is close to a lock for Animated Picture, but The Wind Rises may surprise everyone. I can’t imagine American Hustle not winning Costume Design. I would be very surprised if The Act of Killing doesn’t win Documentary Feature.

Finally, the surprise of the season for me is how little Inside Llewyn Davis is to be found on the awards slate: Only two nods, in Cinematography and Sound Mixing. The Butler, which was clearly built to be a nomination dragnet, got none at all. It suggests this is a really, really, really competitive year.

Your thoughts?

Update 2/21: I usually wait until later than this to do my follow-up, but I’m off the Internet for a bit and won’t be back onto it until after the ceremony, I think. So, updates:

Best Picture: 12 Years has faded a bit, but I think it’s still the top contender. Gravity looks better than it did to me earlier, so I wouldn’t be surprised if it gets by.

Best Director: Alfonso Curaon won the DGA and the Golden Globe, which puts him in pretty good stead here (and which ups the value of the film for Best Picture). I’d say he’s the new front runner.

Best Actress: Everyone said I was crazy not to think Cate Blanchett wasn’t going to walk with this one. Maybe she will, but I think the recent mess with Woody Allen might drag her down a bit. I’m gonna stick with Amy Adams, but if Blanchett wins, I’ll accept the “told you so”s.

Best Actor: Matthew McConaughey kind of swept the table in the run-up awards, which I did not expect, so I suspect he’s the front runner now, although Dern should still not be discounted.

Best Supporting Actor: Also, everyone tells me I was wrong about Jared Leto, and I suspect now they’re right. I agree he’s the front runner.

We’ll see what happens from here.

And Now, Just in Time For Your Afternoon Lull, Dogs! In Snow!

Two neighbor dogs wandered over to play with Daisy, and oh! What fun they had in the snow. I thought it might cheer up your afternoon to see them at full frolic.