Above: Guinness is just a blur as he flies up the stairs.
Below: Our other cat, Bobie, demands equal attention.

15 January, 2001

Dear Friend,

Guinness, our cat, tears up the stairs. He does it so fast, the first few times you see him do it you cannot tell if he’s taking them one or two steps at a time. It’s one of those things that, the more you see it done, the more interesting it appears, not just because you cannot tell how it’s done, but also because it is done so effortlessly. It’s not something the cat has practiced or upon which he has deliberated. He’s just being a cat running up the stairs.
. . . Sometimes I experience my own efforts that way. It doesn’t happen that often, but when it does, it’s quite satisfying. It’s almost like being a cat, the pinnacle of God’s creation.
. . . That cats are the apple of God’s eye shouldn’t surprise you. Certainly cats think they are the best. Who are we inadequate humans to argue?
. . . Bobie, our other cat, just now interrupted my writing by standing in front of my computer monitor. This was her way of reminding me that, while cats may be the ultimate of God’s creations, not all cats are created equal. Some cats are clearly superior to others. While some cats get attention by running up stairs, others need not stoop so low. Truly superior being that she is, Bobie simply stands majestically before me and awaits attention. We sometimes call her “The Queen.”
. . . Risking the ire of masculinists and feminists everywhere, let’s call these two ways of being masculine and feminine, taking note that men often get attention by doing things while women simply present themselves. Guinness, incidentally, is a male cat; Bobie, triumphantly female.
. . . Such a distinction is, of course, deeply superficial, if only because the differences between men and women are small compared to their similarities. There’s no need to remind me that men have breasts (flat, insignificant breasts) and women, fists. Still, it is often men who create works of art, in a sense saying “Look what I did!” and women who make themselves works of art, in a sense saying “Look who I am!”

Having made this risky and ridiculous distinction, I realize now that I want to talk about something else entirely.
. . . What I want to talk about are those times when my efforts are like a cat running up the stairs, when the results are neither practiced nor deliberate but are instead surprising and inexplicable.
. . . When I started writing about Guinness running up the stairs, I had no intention of making silly distinctions between masculine and feminine. But then Bobie interrupted me. Then my writing became, to me anyway, surprising, inexplicable, and quite satisfying.
It’s not as though I don’t write deliberately or that I don’t practice. But what gives my efforts life has little to do with expertise or intention and everything to do with seeking and finding, of being open to what comes next, of following the clues to an unforeseen destination.
. . . It’s not a matter of what I do or who I am but what I find that makes life worth living. If it’s necessary to practice and plan, it’s also necessary to wonder and explore and pray -- or so I remind myself.
. . . Look. Here’s a new minute! Here’s a new day! Here’s a new millennium! What love and terror will we find?

A (male) portrait photographer responds:

The masculine/feminine thing has always interested me from the portraiture point of view: Yes, a man has no interest in a picture of HIMSELF, but throw in his car, motorcycle, or speedboat and it's a different story. A woman generally has zero interest in being photographed with items, they are distractions to the viewer, who should be focusing entirely on her. If she can't apply it or wear it, she's not interested in it. Men are the way they are their whole lives: they would rather have a photo taken with their Harley than their family! Women have no use for the Harley, the family is their creation. Women are the engines of the world of portraiture. Without women, I am nothing.

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Text and images copyright 2001 Danny Nelson Schweers