Now I am not, I swear to you, an insensitive person. I worry. I feel guilty. Therefore I am.
In fact, I belong to that half of the human race raised under a grow-light of anxiety. We are people who doubt, at regular intervals (of 10 or 12 seconds), whether we are being good enough, caring enough, feeling enough.
We go into funks of self-loathing if we haven't met our quota of need-filling. We feel responsible for being responsive to our families. We feel distressed if our friends are depressed. Not only do we moolight on our relationships, but we worry if we haven't put in enough time talking with our plants.
However, there are limits to even the most determined guilt tripper and I have found mine. I refuse to worry about The Total Cat.
Now, this may come as a shock to Carole C. Wilbourn, the cat therapist whose latest book arrived on my desk this morning. A sequel to "The Inner Cat," this one is called (and I kid you not) "Cat Talk: What Your Cat Is Trying to Tell You."
I hope Wilbourn will not take my resolution personally. She is a dedicated young woman who got into the cat therapy biz out of deep conviction. I was assured of this, at least, by the same person who swore that the book was not a satire.
Wilbourn explains her commitment this way: "I was living in New York at this time, involved in various cat charities and receiving my income from teaching high school and working weekends as a bunny at the New York Playboy Club. But cats were always on my mind." Yes, indeed.
She managed to make a mid-career switch and opened up a cat practice in the West Village. From there she has moved into the how-to-business. How to make every "cats's person guilty for not being truly sensitive to feline feelings.
To wit: "A cat is a very sensitive animal . . . If you are able to decipher your cat's feelings by how he expresses them with his body, you will be in close touch with what your cat is feeling. I try to help people understand their cats' day-to-day needs, so that person and cat can relate in a way that promotes the emotional and physical health of both."
Now I am not a cat owner, which will come as a great relief to Wilbourn. I an, however, the owner of two dogs and I do not want to know "what they are trying to tell me." I want them to know what I am trying to tell them. For example: "Down! No!"
There are, you see, enough delicate personalities to nurture without seeking whole new species. Those of us who live at the nexus of assorted complicated psyches are told to "relate" to more and more and more sensitive souls while filling out our work cards and sorting the laundry. We need a pet -- not another therapeutic relationship. The charm of pets is that they are less demanding than people. Who needs a cat with a subconscious?
I am, for example, willing to feel upset if: "Sam was annoyed because I had jumped out of bed before he got all of his morning cuddingling." But not if Sam has four feet.
As the mother of one child, I categorically refuse to worry about "the single cat syndrome" as Wilbourn wants me to. And as a single parent I cannot manage to get upset about the effect of marital disruption on pets. Which is not to say that I don't sympathize with the plight of author's Oliver: "A few months after my separation from my first husband, my cat, Oliver, suffered a urinary attack."
As a further confession, may I add that I am also totally unwilling to wake up at 4 a.m. worrying whether my pet is emotionally disturbed because I gave it a name with "negative connotations."
I am sure that it takes a woman of great therapeutic skills, like Wilbourn, to ask her cat in a nonjudgmental way, "Oh, Baggins, why did you have to go and poo in the tub again?" And it takes even more skill to respond in a properly understanding way, "Well, there was something that Baggins was trying to say."
But if you ever hear me utter such a sequence, I hope you will gently send me off to the cat farm in the sky.
I realize that guilt is a growth industry in a shrinking time market. At this rate we will soon be labeled "bad" if we are not attuned to the way the lawn feels about having sideburns trimmed.
But perhaps, just perhaps, the cat is trying to tell us something after all. According to Wilbourn, "A cat devotes most of his life to gratifying his basic needs and thereby making himself happy. You may have noticed that a cat's first commitment is to himself."