Two recent experiences have given me deep insights into change. Or specifically how I deal with it.
Like most great life lessons, the first was based on and about cat pee.
For the last days of 2020 this was my life: cat urine. My world was soaked in it. If there is a better, more poetic encapsulation for this incredibly sour, toxic, tearful year, I don’t want to hear it.
Long story short, I wanted to switch my cats’ litter from the clay type to pine pellet bedding that I had heard was easier on their paws and less likely to be chased around the house.
My fatal mistake when I turned the switch was cold turkey. Anyone with cats knows they can adapt to change just as well as your Fox News-obsessed grandparents. My cats looked into their boxes, saw the new stuff and then looked at me, like what are you trying to draw?
If I had just consulted one of the many cats litter transitioning videos on the internet, I would have known that transitioning is a process. The sudden change I threw at my cats was like someone had suddenly filled my toilet with cedar wood pellets. I would probably find another place to go.
That’s what my cats did.
I put an armful of dripping blankets in the washing machine.
I mean, it was my fault (if your relationship with your cat is not an abuse cycle, do you even have a cat?). As indignant as it was to pour laundry detergent on soiled bed sheets while staring into the distance with dead eyes, I couldn’t really get mad at my cats because I too dislike sudden changes. That’s why I don’t make New Year’s resolutions often. I would love to get in shape, or lose weight, or run a marathon, or literally anything that is good for my health, but to do so it requires significant lifestyle changes and they force me to break the routines I set out.
And for a fearful brain like mine, routine is script. Hitting every point of my daily routine is a better dopamine kick than any drug I’ve ever taken. That’s why I stick to a toxic job for years or eat at the same restaurants week after week. Deviating from the routine is frightening.
As the urine blankets swirled in the soapy water, I got in my car and booked it at the pet store to pick up a bucket of the old trash. When there is an opportunity to withdraw from change, I do so quickly.
The second realization that was about to change came when I was walking through an old box that had been dug out of my storage shed. It moved me through so many movements that I forgot its contents, and so I was filled with a mixture of excitement and apprehension when I discovered that it was filled with papers I used for my English class in the ninth and tenth Had written class.
It turned out I couldn’t speak English well, at least not at first. An article about Hermann Hesse’s “Siddhartha” received a C +. Another assignment – a class essay on George Orwell’s “1984,” which I considered my favorite book at the time – received a B. Based on my teacher’s notes, I did not adequately address how foreboding flows into the subject. and instead just provided a colorful summary of the book. (My favorite line: “Winston meets Julia.”)
I remember getting discouraged by those mediocre grades. During elementary and middle school, I considered myself an excellent student. I was in sixth grade at the 4.0 Club. (As an aside: I didn’t have many friends in sixth grade).
I liked school and found it easy. Well, except math. Pre-algebra can go to Hell. But English in ninth grade was a slap in my mediocre face, a reminder of how low-key I actually was.
However, as I leafed through the box of old papers, I noticed my grades were improving. By the end of 10th grade, my B’s had turned to A’s.
I can’t remember exactly what started this ongoing shift, but it proved to me that at some point in my life I was able to change. And I think I still am as long as it’s gradual, incremental, and patient. For example, I started skateboarding this year after longing for it for a long time but being too scared. At 36, the fear of getting hurt is incredible – you don’t have to worry about health insurance premiums as a kid – but now, after taking my board out a couple of times, I can safely ice skate on a smooth patch Asphalt at a moderate pace without falling. Small steps.
I know this probably doesn’t seem like a novel concept, and “we are all able to change” actually seems like an active motivational speaker rather than a deep one, but it’s the start of the new year after a historically depressing one so i i will roll with it. Not every revelation has to be monumental. Changing for the better is difficult, but I know I can do it.
I know we can do it, even if it takes time. Start by adding just a few pine pellets to the normal litter figuratively and literally. I mean, if I am able to change, then everyone is.
We are not cats.