AS A WRITING EXERCISE when I was a kid, Mom would have me describe things as though to an alien — to someone who’d never seen them and had no cultural referents to them. Describe a fork. You can’t use the word “tine.” Well, of course, you have to get around to the essential forkness of it — what it is when it’s at home, and how it’s used. What its niche is in our culture. Describe a room from the perspective of a cat. You can’t use the words that a human would use — window, wall, door, floor, inside, outside, as these are concepts the cat doesn’t have.
(Jane, who weighed 3# 11oz on Thursday, a gain of one pound, two, since she came to live with us.)
Or describe to an alien sophont — even a humanoid — the cultural habit of keeping cats as pets. There’s these small predators, see. They have sharp teeth and claws, and like to ambush their prey and play cruel, sadistic games with it. We think they’re cute.
Cute? the alien … doesn’t so much say as it conveys its meaning. We hear it in our auditory centers of our brains, but there are no vibrations in the air to go along with the sounds we perceive. Qu’est-çe que ç’est this… “cute”? (These aliens are very sophisticated; they speak French.)
(Chester, who weighed in at 3# 14 oz, also up one pound, two, since he came to live at Casa d’Alger.)
(Earnest is the runt, at 2″ 9oz, but still has gained 10 oz since we took him in.)
Earnest, seen here crouched atop Ditto’s cage. (Ditto is Toni’s office bird, a Senegalese parrot, who’s living here with us while the Animal Clinic is being painted and otherwise chemically treated with Stuffs That Give Birdies Asthma.) Earnie, as we call him, has picked up Loki’s knack for knowing when the camera’s going to flash and closing his eyes when it does. We’re going to have to shoot that boy in natural light.
There’s probably more, but right now, my eyelids have lost the oomph! in their lift springs, so I gotta gota bed. G’Night.
Morning… So I was thinking all this speaks-to-aliens stuff while Jane lay on my chest and chewed my fingertips. Yes. She chews my fingertips. For those of you non-cat people, this is not unusual in young kittens — it’s a nursing/teething behavior that takes them a while to grow out of. But can you imagine the horror of a total alien who has no acquaintance with cats other than verbal descriptions of them…? “These are small predators? Fast? Vicious? With sharp teeth and claws, and you LET them bite you? What kind of demented beings are you, anyway?”
And you explain to your friend from another world that, indeed, these are most gentle animals, that their predations are mostly play these days, as they are pampered house pets and don’t have to hunt for their food. Well, except for the feral ones — domestic ones that have gone wild. They have to fend for themselves or die.
“Oh, well, surely these are hunted and put down?”
No, not really. We catch them and adopt them.
“You people are really beyond understanding!” the alien exclaims, throwing up its hands-analog and stomps off in search of its favorite stimulant beverage.
My point? None. Does there have to be one? OK. Supply your own in comments, here or at Facebook.