Possum and I sat down for a talk the other day. I asked him what people can learn from cats and this is what he told me.
Possum's Rules for Living Well:
1. Nap more. When you are sleepy or bored, for heaven's sake, take a nap. Humans have too much guilt and neurosis about this, says Possum. We, like cats, have evolved to need and love naps or we wouldn't have invented things like the work day, church services, academic conferences, golf, or NASCAR races. If each of us committed to taking several naps each day, it would soon become the "new normal," and our quality of life would vastly improve. Instead of recognizing it as healthy behavior, we feel embarrassed when it happens naturally at a committee meeting, during extra innings, or on a date. Cats never bat an eye when another cat falls asleep; they consider it a sign of trust. The next time you fall asleep at work, says Possum, tell your colleagues they have reached a new level of trust in your estimation. Make them feel proud. Change has to start somewhere — why not with you?
2. "Eat food. Mostly plants, little critters, and cheese. Not too much. But not too little." I asked Possum to expound on his variation on Michael Pollan's Rules for Eating. He said that we humans ought to add new protein sources to our diets, since red meat isn't working out so well for us. He suggests beginning with tiny birdies, mice, and crickets. If humans ate them, he said, we'd be breeding and farming them, and they wouldn't be in such short supply for cats. (He also said they taste really good.) The cheese addition, he said, was self-evident. I had to agree.
I asked him about "Not too little." "The correct amount of food," he said, "is more than you give me at supper but exactly equal to that plus whatever's left in Toffee's bowl when I've finished mine and he isn't done yet." I asked him to extrapolate this to humans. He suggested that we not finish whatever is on our plates (as Pollan suggests) but start eating from our neighbor's plate about three-quarters of the way through mealtime. Someone else at the table would also eat from our plate. I immediately grasped his logic: I would find this so unappealing that I'd lose my appetite and leave the table without being full, which is precisely what Mr. Pollan hopes we will do. But we usually don't. I admire Possum's solution and plan to start implementing it at my husband's college reunion dinner this weekend.
Possum also knows who Mark Bittman is. When he saw my copy of How to Cook Everything, he checked out the index right away and was relieved to find no recipes for cooking cats. He parked himself on the book to read the rest and was annoyed to find no recipes for songbirds, mice, rats, or bugs.
"But, Possum," I said, "Those are things cats eat and they are best eaten raw. So you don't need recipes. If anything, you need hunting tips." He retorted that everything tastes better topped with melted cheese or a nice sauce, and I couldn't disagree. Then he bemoaned, at length, the dearth of lutefisk in the American diet. (He is Norwegian.) It was hard work to get him back on point.
3. Stop thinking unpleasantly about the past and future. Live in the present. Possum says we worry too much about things we can't control and things we fear might happen in the future. Cats don't do this at all, he said.
I asked him what we should do instead. "Just stop," he said. "Don't do it anymore. Ever."
"But HOW?" I replied, a bit loudly. "See," he replied, "You're already getting worked up and worried about how you're going to manage it. You're being ridiculous. Just STOP!" Again, I had to ask him how I can possibly make my brain stop racing backwards and forwards. His response:
When he awoke from his nap, I asked him if he had any more advice for us. He had one more piece:
4. Grooming, people! Possum says we fuss too much over our clothing but not enough over our personal care. He said that our showering daily is all very well, as is brushing, flossing, combing, manicuring, shaving, plucking, moisturizing, and so on. (He doesn't know about waxing, and I doubt he'd approve.) But, he said, he would like to see humans devote more time to the finer aspects of grooming. I didn't understand what he meant, so I asked him for specific details.
He became annoyed. I find that Possum eventually becomes frustrated with me during every serious talk we have, perhaps because he expects me to understand him intuitively, as he says he understands me. I persisted, and he kindly decided he would Show, rather than Tell:
I refuse to show you all the steps involved in his toilette; l leave it to your imagination. If you think your bella figura will profit from your spending more time chewing between your toes, by all means go for it, but spare me any description of it — and whatever else you choose to do in emulation of Possum and his kind. Except for the napping and the not worrying; I'd like to hear how that goes.