Tag Archives: animals

F*ck Death

Someone died on the trail while we were hiking up the White Mountains in New Hampshire. They were giving him CPR for ages while his daughters leaked tears on a log nearby. When he was clearly and truly irreparably dead, we hiked past and I saw his pale, hairy leg with a scrunched up sock and hiking boot peeking out from the foil sheet. Hikers who’d helped give CPR later remarked, “I could feel his ribs cracking underneath my hands.” It was a sobering incident although a few hours later I still made a joke about the hike being a death march due to my vibrams.

Death is gross and terrible. I told my dad we should get cryogenically frozen and he said he’d look into the paperwork- my good old dad. I feel immense guilt it never occurred to me to freeze Mom even though I knew freezing existed. I think I was in a state of denial about the likelihood of her death since she’d been getting better for a long time and got worse quite suddenly so my dumb brain didn’t weight the new information correctly. Dying, like, goes against her identity as a cool Mom, right? The brain doesn’t handle affronts to identity very well.

Dying is deeply disgusting. Picture ragged roadkill or other dead animals you’ve ever seen flopped over stiff and grimacing- that’s what people are like when they’re dead too. I’d like to imagine death as one peacefully drifting off, looking as though one were sweetly asleep, but death is not like that. Death is ugly and repulsive. Mom was probably seriously dying for a good 6 months or so and I wish I could erase all of that from my memory. Is it wrong that I wish I could have frozen her before her organs started to rot inside her still-breathing body? I don’t want to think about her like that- I didn’t then and I definitely don’t now. But I did, and I do. I think about her and her death all the time. I wanted it to stop, and although she’s dead now it hasn’t stopped for me because it still happened- Mom being dead never stops.

Although Mom believed in heaven and her church friends were always with her, she didn’t want to die. She wasn’t in peace; she was in pain. I feel bad we didn’t try everything. I could’ve done more research but I didn’t want to get closer to it. I wanted it to stop and leave, a weak and contemptible reaction that proves I’m shamefully unworthy of stuff, like being a great samurai, or being a good daughter.

If I found out I had incurable cancer, I wouldn’t get the haphazard treatment that weakens you everywhere while you suffer and stall in waiting rooms that reek of poison, everyone pathetically shuffling around, or sadly staring, or desensitized and businesslike, or just normal- pragmatically ignoring doom. If I had cancer, I’d go to sleep on an ice floe and float out into the Arctic among the icebergs and the sea lions like an old, useless Eskimo. I’d wander alone towards my ancestral graveyard like an elephant matriarch and collapse on my knees in a pit of ancient bones. (Years later a lion king will play in my rib cage.) Or maybe there’d be some project I could do like fix a nuclear reactor that’s too dangerous for healthy people to approach, although they probably have robots or something for that.

It doesn’t hurt anybody for us to get frozen and the main reason against it is because people will think you’re weird. Whatever- the “weird” ship sails whenever it sails. Now that Dad said he’d do the paperwork, the main deterrent for me to do it was actually the clangy jewelry you’re supposed to wear at all times that says to send you to Alcor so they can put you in your freezing pod or whatever. Does anyone know if medical people will still realize it’s medical information if I get a cuter version made? I don’t wear jewelry typically and the thought of going from bare to ugly jewelry horrifies me.

Friends, let’s all get frozen. That way when I wake up in 1000 years in my robot body you’ll all still be there and we can all battle the evil Galactic Empire together and learn to control our psychic powers and flirt with hot aliens.

I hate death and maybe that’s why I think about it a lot. Animals are almost lucky because they can just die like it’s nothing, like it’s supposed to happen, an instinct encoded in their DNA. Animals live and die and nothing they do can be Wrong- their wars and murders, suicides and unstoppable sex, their patricide and eating of their cubs are all All-Right. I wish I could die by letting my million spider offspring explode from and then feast on my delicious, bulbous torso. Or I could die by having my ferocious mate bite off my puny head after sex- whatever, it’s natural, everybody’s doing it, it gives meaning to life, it’s a stitch in the tapestry of the universe woven by the Fates, it’s a poem, it’s destiny.

But I don’t feel like an animal (I can’t rape or kill or psychotically eat my young). I don’t feel like death is natural for me or for any person. Is that feeling itself wrong and unnatural? Maybe that’s part of why (in addition to our need to explain and find patterns) humans have an instinct for religion, every culture comes up with their own brand of afterlife- it’s our human nature to deny death. If you believe in an afterlife or in reincarnation, you can avoid the gut knowledge that death is DEATH. I wish I could do that, be like Henry Ford and the many people who’ve found solace in reincarnation or in heaven. Even if there’s a Zen meditation out there where you inhale the sickness and death of this world and exhale acceptance, if I tried it, I’d choke.* Maybe I’d vomit and burst into tears. It’d be gross.

I wasn’t specially nice to Mom when she was on her deathbed. When Dad had cancer I promised I’d be nicer to him going forward, but I am not at all. I guess impending death just doesn’t make me feel nicer even though I wish it did and it’s supposed to. I wish I could be the type of person who was nicer to someone after considering we’re both going to die, but I’m not. My only hope is to try to grow into a nicer person period who’d be really nice to her parents and everyone else even if we never had to die.

Sorry I’m not enlightened. Looking at everyone who’s accepted death and thinks it can be beautiful and dignified, and everyone else who doesn’t think about it and lives life never knowing death until they, well, die, I’m sorry death hurts and repulses me. I wish I were like the others, that I could ignore it or think of an afterlife, but even the idea that it’s all a plan makes me feel terrible. My mom didn’t die throwing herself in front of a bus of school children. (I wish she had. (It’s hard to die well. Many people don’t.)) She died and suffered for nothing, like an animal, and I don’t find any meaning in it.

I’m probably just abnormal but I don’t think life OR death is for humans what it is for animals. Animals are born, they look adorable as babies, they stay adorable after they’re grown or they become terrifying/ disgusting/ delicious, they may or may not learn some things, they do some work to get their food and shelter, they eat and sleep, they do some work so they can reproduce, they do some work to raise their offspring or they don’t, they interact with other creatures, objects, or places, and then they die. I can’t live my life like that. I can’t be like an animal- I can’t live like one or die like one.

It’s one thing to be stoic and mature about something inevitable. Like when some injustice occurs and someone stronger enslaves you or your legs are gone so you have robot legs or your whole family starved to death in China, you don’t let that ruin your life: you are courageous and heroic by going on to regain freedom or win the Olympics or become a scientist and say, “Shit happens- I was branded sub-human, my legs are gone, and I’m an orphan. There’s no point in dwelling on it so I have to have a good attitude going forward and be amazing.” That’s awesome. But don’t tell this person that the world is better that these injustices occurred, that their lives are more meaningful now because of suffering, that it was all supposed to happen so people could be inspired by their challenges. That stuff shouldn’t happen and we should try to stop it if we can. That’s how I feel about death, about all injustice, all suffering. If it has to happen, then I’m going to be brave about it. But I’m not going to say the world is more beautiful because of ugliness.

For millennia people had other people as slaves. Babies would die left and right. Women would die in childbirth. Sickness and disease would have no solution and people would accept it as part of life because what else are you supposed to do? How else do you cope with it? (Well, you can solve it.) (Death is the one disease everyone suffers under and everyone copes with.) People would rape and pillage their neighbors or expose their unwanted babies on the mountains, stuff animals do, but humans stopped doing this stuff because we’re better than the animals. We stopped coping with diseases because we can cure them.

That’s the gift that we humans have over the animals. We can choose to be better. If there’s a choice between good and evil, between hope and despair, between progress and complacency, we can choose the light. We can choose life.

 

 

 

* Margaret Cho wrote, “there’s this Buddhist meditation where you breathe in the world’s suffering and breathe out compassion and I try to do it and choke.”

Cat

In case anyone was wondering, the secret topic of this blog is This Cat!

I got this cat from an animal shelter in Chicago. I’d wanted a dog but Mom convinced me this was a bad idea until I bought my farm. Plus I was never home anyway. But there comes a time in every person’s life when one needs animal company.

Although I had been seeking a really old cat that no one else would adopt, and I think someone else would’ve adopted this cat because she’s so pretty and friendly, I chose this cat because the instant she was in my lap she pushed her face firmly into my face and then into my hand, infecting me with her weird mind control virus that now dictates all my thoughts. Like all the other cats 1 to 9 years old, this cat was labeled “1 year old kitten.”

After adopting her, I didn’t give her a name for a long time. I don’t know, I just didn’t speak to her verbally- I’m not going to talk to a dumb cat. Her food was stinky, expensive, raw, gluten free goop and I lavished her with many toys and useless, ugly cat items she ignored, like scratching posts/boards and catnip. Her favorite toys are things covered in fur. She particularly liked to lick and worry my furry, winter hat made of 1000 bunny rabbits. Because she grew bored of toys after possessing them for a while (who doesn’t?), I’d often go buy her different copies of her toys to briefly renew her interest.

This cat desperately craves human company. When I would come home, she’d be at the door waiting for me, and then follow me around the house. If I barred her from a room I was in, she’d freak out and meow, pawing at the door and pushing it with her head, getting creative about forcing her way in. Once she ripped a chunk of fur out of her head by scraping her tiny skull so hard against the door to get it ajar. A visitor remarked, “That is so annoying. No wonder she got put up for adoption.” I don’t like cat fur on the bed so I wouldn’t allow her into the bedroom, which taught her to possessively scramble into the bedroom in front of me if she sensed I was headed that way. Once she was trying to sneak into the bedroom when I was exiting to let someone into the house and I put my foot out to stop her, pinning her against the wall and knocking the air out of her. I frantically asked my visitor, “I squished my cat! Do you think she’s ok??” I’ve often worried she was in pain when she appeared to have forgotten getting the keys dropped on her eye area because her face is just impassive. Who knows what she’s feeling?

When I’d check the mail in the hallway before entering the house, I’d hear her faint, repetitive meows coming from inside. Had she been doing that constantly in my absence or does she only start up when she hears someone outside? Does she do it whenever anyone is outside or only when I’m outside? How could she possibly know it was me and not someone else? I’d hoped she’d only start when she knew it was about time for me to return home, but unless she knows how to count the days of the week, when I’d come home at earlier hours on the weekends she’d still be meowing, waiting. The thought of this poor cat mournfully meowing all day, filled with endless hope that the next step would be the step of her master entering the house at last, broke my heart. Nevertheless I left her alone for days at a time because I often visited my parents on weekends.

Finally I had to go to London for a week. I told my mom I was worried because I’d never left this cat for more than a few days, and Mom promptly said she’d come to watch this cat. “Wow, that’s a VIP cat!” my coworker said. While I was away, without asking my permission, my mom named this cat Mimi. Mimi loves to cuddle and sleep in your lap. If she hears strange sounds she jumps up and growls. What can she hope to gain by growling when she’s so small and easily mastered in a physical contest? What a cute cat! She likes to play tag and hide and seek. During tag, she leaps up into the air and gently tags you with her front paws. If she senses she won’t win the game, she lies down and rolls her tummy upwards to peer at you, “What? Were we playing something? I recall winning.”

Is it Tiger Mom of me to constantly suspect this cat of fatness? There are certain positions from which Mimi looks flabby, and when she rolls into those poses I invariably exclaim, “What a fat cat!” But most of the time when she isn’t displaying her fluffy stomach she looks very trim and healthy, a perfectly formed, sparkling, white cat. I used to have ambitions for her to learn to use the toilet like those cats on Youtube, but she did not find the videos instructional. I accepted her for what she is, a stupid cat that uses the disgusting litter box.

When I showed a picture of her to mitri and went on about how she was the greatest, most wonderful cat, the first thing he said was, “She looks like Uncle Fester.” She eventually bit and scratched mitri, as she has apparently everyone except me and my mom. “She’s even purring!” he protested. As I got him Neosporin, I said, “I don’t think purring means what you think it means. She’s probably purring to calm herself of her blood lust.” I tend to think that when she bites someone they secretly deserve it. Even if their offense is totally unclear because they just met her, they must somehow have wronged an animal somewhere in their hearts or in a past life and are getting their just desserts. What a great cat!

The next time I went to London, I asked my coworkers who wanted to watch her. Some demurred to help (“Didn’t your cat fall into the toilet?”), but Mingyuan volunteered. When Mingyuan met Mimi, the first thing that happened was that Mimi fiercely bit Mingyuan’s cautious hand. No blood, but she definitely had him.

When I got back from London, Mingyuan reported that they had gotten along famously! When I came to fetch her, this disloyal cat did not appear to know me, so I yanked her out of her pathetic hiding place and briskly stuffed her into her carrier without regard for her piteous cries (this episode turned out to be a recurring theme).

Mingyuan liked her so well he got his own cat as a result. Little did he know that Mimi is not the average cat since the cat he adopted turned out to be the exact opposite, hiding all the time. Whenever we’d discuss Mingyuan’s cat, Dilip would say wistfully, “I wish This Cat would hide more.”

The months before my mom died, I left this cat with Andrew. He said that she meowed when not allowed in his room, filling him with such guilt that when he lay in his bed he imagined he could still hear her cries, which was impossible because he’d heartlessly locked her in another room far away. When I came to collect this cat from Andrew, she coldly snubbed me, once again inspiring a businesslike stuffing into her carrier. Mimi hates her carrier and ceaselessly meows when in it. Sometimes her meow is very loud and frightening as she thrashes and twists against the carrier’s mesh, forcing me to channel Pharaoh’s stone heart.

Earlier this year, I started traveling a lot. When I realized I’d only be in my NYC apartment less than 5 months out of this year, I wanted someone to watch Mimi. Although several deserving people asked to live in my apartment and watch Mimi, I chose Jason because he always feeds me, plus he’s so freaking responsible and actually appeared eager to read the long document I write for everyone who has ever watched this cat. This document details things like how to best pet her to avoid getting bitten, which freaked Jason out and caused him to unfairly prejudice many Asian women from petting this poor, lonesome cat.

Once I accidentally cut Mimi’s claw too close to the quick and she let out one low yowl as her paw welled with a single, dark drop of blood. I felt really, really bad but didn’t know how to make it up to her so I just let her have long nails for another week. Due to laziness, I let this cat scratch all my furniture- Dilip calls it “sharpening her nails.” Because Jason did not want to attempt cutting this cat’s nails, Tony, who knew this cat’s ways from a previous visit, came all the way down from 100th street or wherever to do this task. Apparently the experience was so traumatizing with the banshee-like sounds this cat screamed, that everyone in the room subtly feared this cat forever, except Tony who dominates any animal and probably any machine.

When Mingyuan’s wife said she preferred Mimi to her own cat, we decided to try moving Mimi to Chicago to stay with them. Mimi wouldn’t like sharing her humans with a second cat, but Mingyuan’s cat is timid and would probably just let Mimi do whatever she wanted. Upon releasing her into Mingyuan’s place, Mimi crept into every nook in a cautious crouch, her tail down low compared to its customary perky lift. Mingyuan’s cat hid in the closet where she had ruined all of Mingyuan’s shirts by thoroughly coating them with fur.

A few weeks later, Mingyuan reported that everyone was quite happy. When I went to visit, Mimi ran and hid after looking at me blankly without recognition. She even hid under the bed with Mingyuan’s cat, which they said had never happened before because Mimi normally avoids the other cat. Such callous betrayal, such disregard for my pain, such intentional cruelty!

I just want this cat to be happy, despite her many betrayals and willingness to forget all about me. Is this what parents feel for their children- disdain, pride, possessiveness, and helpless hurt? Maybe from her view I’ve betrayed her many times by forcing her into her carrier and onto planes and into other people’s houses. This stupid cat. Doesn’t she know that if I thought there was a fire, the first thing I’d grab is this cat despite the many bars of gold I have lying around my house and all my diamond encrusted furniture? That’s so irrational because this cat is worth like $50 tops. How humiliating. Cat, what have you done to me!

Quora: Vegetarianism?

Having a non-mainstream diet means being more deliberate about your food. My perspective is that I like the taste of meat and want to continue eating it, but find it morally indefensible.

In the places I’ve lived, many people don’t eat much meat so no one asks me about it, but sometimes people make fun of it. I think it’s easier for me as a girl to not eat meat and not get heat about it, but some people might view it as a holier-than-thou attitude and get offended by it, plus there’s somewhat of a negative connotation about vegetarians being wimpy and annoying, bleeding-heart bozos. Some of my male vegetarian friends avoid conflict by saying they don’t eat meat due to health reasons.

Being vegetarian means you think more carefully about everything you’re eating. When you do whatever everyone around you does without thinking about it, when questioned it can be easy to automatically rationalize whatever you and everyone else is doing as correct, otherwise why would everyone do it? Growing up in a Chinese household with a lot of meat, that’s how I felt about vegetarianism until I read DFW’s essay for Gourmet Magazine “Consider the Lobster.”

Aside: Most Chinese people eat a ton of meat. Chinese people will eat anything. If China doesn’t care about human rights, how are Chinese people supposed to even imagine the concept of animal cruelty? For example, I was telling my cousin about my beloved cat, how sweet this cat was, how much I missed her. My cousin said, “Oh, I used to have a great cat! Let me tell you a funny story.” This story began with how my uncle was mad the cat was on the bed, so he picked up the cat by the leg and threw it across the room, thereby breaking its leg. Thus for the following months this cat was confined to the bathroom, where its only occupation was the observing of people using the toilet, so that afterwards it also used the toilet as well! Ever after, this delightful, intelligent cat would comically race into the bathroom in the morning whenever it saw anyone heading in and start using the toilet first. The person wouldn’t be able to shoo the cat off since it would immediately start pooing, so everyone would have to wait till the cat was done before being able to go to the bathroom in the morning. No one thought this story was anything but pure comedy, and the preface about the cat’s broken leg was not shocking to anyone: a cat thrown across the room by the leg had the emotional equivalent of “I was going to the store one day when-.” (This story also illustrates how Chinese people often find poo and other bodily functions funny and will not hesitate to tell poo stories, especially to good friends and family.) So yeah it can be weird being a Chinese vegetarian.

Animals are inferior to humans. We control their lives and their environments, but I would hope that if aliens from outer space came to Earth they would show mercy to the inferior humans, which to them would be like animals ripe for enslavement, breeding, eating, labor, etc. Do unto others, right?

When I first started thinking about it, I was reluctant to conclude that eating meat was not The Right Thing To do. After all, I’m a good person, and I eat meat, therefore eating meat should be Good. Plus it’s so delicious! DFW’s essay caught me off guard and snuck in behind my cognitive dissonance.

To animals, we humans are like all-powerful gods. Before honestly and openly questioning whether I should eat animals or not, I was like an indifferent and uncaring god. After thinking about it, I decided if I continued to eat meat after being unable to defend the position, I would then move into evil, cruel god zone, and I didn’t want to do that- I want to a be a benevolent, compassionate god. My argument isn’t based on logic or rhetoric, it’s based on compassion, empathy, and the hope that karma will cause aliens to spare my sweet, delicious brains.

It’s not a question of whether the life of an animal is worth as much as the life of a human- clearly it is not. No one typically needs to eat animals to survive- I only eat them because I like the taste. So the real question is if an animal’s life is worth as much as the enjoyment or entertainment a human gets from eating the animal. If you think you will get more utility out of eating the meat than the cost of the animal’s suffering and whatever costs there might be to the environment, then from a utilitarian perspective, eat it.

This is subjective and each individual’s decision. Sometimes, the dish really is that delicious! Sometimes my mom would insist on cooking me chicken soup when I was sick, and if I didn’t eat it she would weepingly smile, bravely trying to hide her obviously broken heart. If my mom cooked a dead baby, I’d probably have to eat it, so sometimes you have to choose the animal’s suffering and death over the suffering of another human being.

It’s not that easy to think about doing something differently from the default behavior I grew up with- far easier to just be on autopilot and do whatever my family and friends do. But as someone who cares about utilitarianism, I feel good whenever I choose not to eat meat even when part of me wants to. I feel like I’m being slightly self sacrificing, even though it doesn’t cost me much and is probably on average benefiting my body and wallet.

What’s it like to be a vegetarian?