The Dark (and Glorious) Secret of Parma

It’s not often that a large group of people with a common passion can unite under one roof.

One such time was Sunday afternoon at the Parma cat show.

So many people in so many shapes and so many sizes, united in their passion for felines. Some…a bit more than others.

One woman interrupted the judging, a large no-no, to shriek, “KITTYY!!! LOOK AT THOSE TEETH! LOOK AT THE WITTLE BABY.”

There were cat shirts galore, my favorite being the man in the “Real Men Like Cats” tee.

We saw long-haired cats.

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We saw short-haired cats.

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We saw big cats.

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We saw small cats.

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We saw cats getting fanned.

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And then, we saw him. The cat I had randomly seen him in a Roanoke news website a few days before.

His name was Suareve’s Dark Secret of Penobscot, aka Bart. And good god was he beautiful.

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He looked like a giant’s feather duster with a pancake face. His eyes gleamed the gold color of a chalice Jesus may have used for his finest Cabernet. He was remarkable, and he knew it.

Starstruck, I told his owner that I saw them on the internet at another cat show. She didn’t seem impressed – “Oh yeah, he just won a show the other week, too.” She was busy combing his locks, so I took a few photos and went on my way to tell Lauren, Jordan and Nick about this creature I’d met.

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It was nearing closing time. We were getting ready to leave but decided to stick around for the final best in show judgment.

The contenders were mostly long-haired Himalayans and Persians, which solidified my idea that they were being judged on fluffiness. In one of the ten final cages was Bart, looking bored but regal as ever.

The judge went down the line, awarding 10th, 9th, 8th ribbons to the tired and ornery cats. Then 7th, 6th, 5th. Then 4th and 3rd.

Bart and another Persian were the only cats without ribbons. I knew what this meant. Bart would be the king of yet another cat show.

Sure enough, 2nd place went to the other Persian, and then, ladies and gentleman, best-in-show went to Bart, the Dark Secret of Penobscot. The judge took him out of the metal cage and hoisted him into the air in a puff of reddish brown, as he ensured us his face was in there somewhere. His owner blushed and beamed, and then it was time to go home.

But we would not be satisfied until we had a photo with the majestic Bart.

His owner took him out of the judging ring and started carrying him back down one of the aisles. We followed her in a brisk walk, not sure if we seemed like stalkers, but not caring much either way.

Jordan told her we’d been admiring Bart the whole time and would be honored to pose for a photo with him. She happily obliged, and we gathered around the mop of a cat. He posed, looking up into the distance and contemplating life, and made our day. We will never forget Bart, aka Suavere, the Dark Secret of Penobscot (and Parma).

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On Predators…and Refusing to be Prey

I went to St. Petersburg, Florida in November for a business trip. Snow was on the radar for Ohio, and 70’s and sunny was where I was headed.

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I was going to go swimming.

Once we got there, my coworkers and I were busy from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m. most days. We had a great time, but I was sort of missing my alone time — my time to straighten my thoughts and regroup. We usually had a two-hour break after lunch, and I would spend that time walking by the bay, shopping in the touristy stores or rereading “Something Wicked This Way Comes.” One very hot day, I decided to hurry back to the hotel during break, throw on my bathing suit and jump in that pool. I had never seen more than one or two people there at a time, so I was really hoping I’d be the only one this time.

I opened the pool gate and stepped inside to find one middle-aged man sitting on an orange lounge chair, yapping away on the phone. I was a little bummed, but still very jazzed to swim a few laps.

I sat in a chair a few rows behind his and started getting settled. He rotated his head around and peered at me over the rim of his sunglasses, making eye contact with me. My gut did a flip and I knew something was off-kilter here. But I wasn’t going back up to that hotel room. I was going to swim, dammit.

So when he seemed preoccupied with his phone call, I disrobed and nearly sprinted to the edge of the pool and plopped in, hoping he didn’t notice. The water was bathwater-warm, and the little Florida lizards were skittering around the edge of the pool. I forgot about the man as I took a few laps and floated, eyes closed.

But the ecstasy didn’t last long. With my ears underwater, I heard his phone conversation growing louder. I stood up and heard this:

“Yeah, I got a hooker last night. Yeah, man, she was hot. I was wasted.”

Now that my alone time was officially soiled, my brain began racing.

My thoughts went like this:

“How clear is this water?”

“Why don’t I own a god damn one-piece?”

“How am I going to get out of this pool and into that towel in the shortest time possible?”

I swam over to the hot, silver ladder and on the count of three, sprung out and was in my towel in three bounds. But it wasn’t fast enough. His head craned back again and he stared at me as he told his friend, “Gotta go. Real pretty lady in a bikini I need to talk to.”

“No you FUCKING don’t,” I hissed, as angry tears welled up.

“I wasn’t talking about you,” the man said, obviously shocked that I had turned his unwelcome advance down.

There was no one else at the pool.

I furiously grabbed all of my stuff and ran back into the hotel. The sobbing started in the elevator as I called Nick.

I told him what happened and he was quiet for a minute. I knew he wished he could have some choice words with that pervert who was probably twice my age. He told me to breathe and forget about that asshole.

I didn’t stop shaking for a while after that. And the feeling of being totally and completely violated, called out and objectified hung around for the rest of the day.

I told my coworker I didn’t want to go to the pool again. Other people around me told me to travel in groups to avoid further situations like that.

But I didn’t want to travel in groups. I wanted to enjoy my alone time in Florida. And I wasn’t going to let that man take it away from me.

Two days later, I went swimming alone again. No one was there. And it felt amazing.

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Filling The Void (On “Don Jon” and “Her”)

The movies I saw last weekend made me worry about modern-day and future relationships.

In Don Jon, Jon (Joseph Gordon Levitt) is addicted to pornography and Barbara (Scarlett Johansson) is addicted to her view of “perfection.” Jon can’t enjoy real sex, no matter how beautiful the woman might be, because his expectations are completely unrealistic due to all the raunchy porn he watches.

Barbara lives in a similar fantasy world. She’s obsessed with being the perfect housewife and tells Jon she’s losing her sexual attraction to him when he says he likes to clean his own house. I don’t know what the hell she’s talking about. Nick vacuuming the floor gives me butterflies.

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It was hard to decide who had it worse in Don Jon. In the end, Jon meets Esther (Julieanne Moore), an older woman who teaches him how to make meaningful love instead of the empty, pornstar-like banging he was used to. He even apologizes to Barbara about his excessive masturbation in the past. She, however, is the same deluded woman she was at the beginning of the movie, hardly hears a word he says, and walks off in a huff to meet her next Ken doll.

Joseph Gordon Levitt, the writer and director, is a self-described feminist and wrote the movie to criticize the unrealistic expectations porn and rom coms have created. His film had a happy ending: A grown, intelligent woman taught Jon the error of his ways. I can only hope the movie influences the cat-callers and grab-assers to acknowledge and end their rape-culture mentalities.

I continued the Scarlett Johansson streak and saw the haunting and beautiful “Her,” a story of a man so lonely he falls in love with his operating system. The movie is set in a time that looked like it could be present day or the near future. It’s a time so impersonal that Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix) is employed at “BeautifulHandwrittenLetters.com,” a service where complete strangers write love notes that will then be attributed to the person who bought it.

Theodore writes the letters with flowing ease, yet has no one to send his own love letters too. So he opts for phone sex with strangers and then purchases an operating system named Samantha.

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Almost everyone in the movie is obsessed with his or her personal technology. The wide shots of hordes of people walking by in their own bubble; talking to the person (or operating system) in their ears and hardly raising their heads to look at the world around them reminds me of the scene you’d see if you stopped in the middle of Kent State’s esplanade at 12:15 p.m.

After Theodore tells his ex-wife Catherine (Rooney Mara), a woman he still clearly loves, that he’s seeing someone (ironic – only hearing, really), Catherine asks who the girl is, and he tells her it’s his operating system. Tears spring to Catherine’s eyes and she tells him Samantha’s perfect for him since he never could deal with real-people emotions anyway.

Just as Don Jon opted for promiscuous sex and Barbara chose deluded housewife mentalities in place of a real, fulfilling relationship, Theodore chose the comfort of having a nonhuman cyber girlfriend over dealing with his leftover emotions and obvious love that still burned for Catherine.

So many distractions like technology, promiscuity and drugs make it entirely possible to keep your mind off of dealing with pain or love for a long time. But as Don Jon and Theodore finally realized in the end, letting your guard down and entering meaningful relationships is a much more fulfilling way to live your life in the long run, even if you do get hurt along the way.

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“Be Here or Be Nowhere”

Until recently, most of my life has been spent either in the past or in the future.

Brain in Past: What if this super embarrassing past thing gets brought up again?

An example of a super embarrassing past thing

Brain in Future: I’m having so much fun now, but it will be over so quickly!

An example of a very fun day I did not want to end

One of my yoga teachers told my class, “Be here or be nowhere.” Because if you’re not in the present, right now at this moment, you are either in the past, which doesn’t exist anymore, or in the future, which doesn’t exist yet. 

I decided I’d like to be here and not nowhere. Now that I’m consciously trying to bring my awareness to the now, I am amazed at how damn difficult it is.

Usually it goes something like this:

I notice I’m dwelling on something from long ago that’s causing me psychological pain now. I stop myself and think, “Self, why are you remembering this shitty thing that has nothing to do with right now?”

Then, I take a few deep inhales and exhales. I become aware of my body. Maybe I giggle a little bit because I realize I’m a person (See: “Whoa, I’m a Person!“). Then I let my guard down, and before I even realize it, my brain floats all the way back to the blacktop playground in 8th grade, or some other irrelevant, disturbing place.

Frustration kicks in: “Why is it so hard to be present? I ask myself. “Why can’t I control my whirling brain?”

Then the self-deprecation: “Stupid brain. I hate you. Stupid Kelsey. Always drifting away.”

And finally, back to step one. Then repeat.

Why do I torture myself just to be present? Because even if it’s just for five minutes an hour, being present means soaking in so many cool details of existence. If I’m with Nick and my friends and family, being present means realizing how freaking awesome and hilarious they are and how lucky I am to have them. If I’m in nature, being present means I’m able to marvel at the tiny grooves in a tree or the vastness of the night sky. If I’m by myself, being present means I can learn how my brain works and how to bring myself to a happy place.

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An example of one of my happy places