Categories
cats humor wisdom Zen philosophy

Trivia Quiz for “I Am a Cat” by Sōseki Natsume (1906)

For West Seattle “Classic Novels (and Movies)” book club, 8/28/22, with answers below

A. Connections to European Literature

1. On Names. Like many English novelists, Sōseki Natsume chose funny and sometimes allegorical names for his fiction. Which one of the following is not a character in I Am a Cat?

a. Mr. Sneaze             

b. Baby-dear              

c. Daft Bamboo         

d. Utter Aimlessness

e. Opula Goldfield                 

f. Lancelot Yore

2. Social Commentary. Similar to Jonathan Swift and other satirists, Sōseki’s feline narrator casts a sardonic eye on his world. Which one of the following is not a target?

a. poets           

b. businessmen          

c. women       

d. academics (grad students and professors)

e. the queen                            

f. Zen Buddhists                    

g. baseball players

3. Genre and structure. Sōseki’s knowledge of the early English novel allowed him a wealth of options for form, even if his work does not correspond to what is now the dominant paradigm (i.e. nineteenth-century works by Dickens, Tolstoy or Balzac). Which one of the following literary devices is not adopted in I Am a Cat?

a. a tight, chronological sequence of events from birth to adulthood

b. a loose, meandering sequence of observations on topical issues

c. an ironic first-person narrator who recounts dialogues overheard, apparently verbatim

d. a voyeuristic narrator who sees (and tells) things that others overlook or ignore

e. All of the above are used in I Am a Cat.

4. Maxims. As in many other works we’ve read, I Am a Cat is peppered with pithy quotes on life. Which one of the following is not from Sōseki’s novel?

a. “By the infinite flexibility of interpretation one can get away with anything.”

b. “The sad fact is that long-continued, pleasant normality becomes a bore.”

c. “A child needs an English nurse more than a mother.”

d. “One tends only to discover at the very last moment hidden defects in unexpected places.”

B. Japanese Particulars in I Am a Cat

5. Architecture and space. One of the most interesting insights for Western readers is how the traditional Japanese home would have been like to live in. Which one of the following does not characterize the master’s home in I Am a Cat?

a. thin, even translucent rice-paper walls                  

b. close proximity to neighboring homes

c. elaborate carving in the stone masonry     

d. sliding doors          

e. includes a little garden

6. Lost in Translation? Some of the humor of I Am a Cat is due to the feline narrator’s mastery of language, but some bits may strike us as odd! Which one of the following is not in I Am a Cat?

a. hecklers insult a person by calling him a “terra cotta badger”

b. a teacher is ridiculed for calling a beverage “Savage Tea”

c. a man is criticized for being “as light and flossy as goldfish food floating around on a pond”

d. an author is praised because he “also wrote importantly upon the seasoning of turnips”

e. All of the above are in I Am a Cat.

7. Food. Which one of the following products or dishes is not mentioned as a delicious treat?

a. snake rice               

b. dried bonito                       

c. goulash                   

d. vermicelli noodles

C. The Feline Perspective

8. What does purring really mean, according to I Am a Cat?

a. the cat is laughing              

b. the cat is anxious               

c. the cat is seeking warmth

9. Wisdom to ponder. That cat espouses a Zen attitude which feels refreshing, all the while dishing out acerbic criticisms of men. Which one of these two quotes is spoken by the cat?

a. “Just as cowards grow aggressive under the spur of grog, so may students emboldened by mere numbers into stirring up a riot be regarded as having lost their senses by becoming intoxicated with people.”

b. “Nobody knows how many rebellions besides political rebellions ferment in the masses of life which people earth. Women are supposed to be very calm generally, but women feel just as men feel.”

10. What is the cat’s name?

a. Fluffy                     

b. Fishy                      

c. Freddy                    

d. He has no name.

ANSWERS

1. d. (In the Buddhist tale of the big stone Jizō, pp. 505—510 in the Tuttle edition, the fool named Daft Bamboo walks with “utter aimlessness”—a manner, not a person!)

2. e.

3. a. or e.

4. c.  (That quote is from Karolina Pavlova, A Double Life.)

5. c.

6. e.

7. c. (Goulash is described as a culinary favorite in Bram Stoker’s Dracula.)

8. a. When he’s purring, the cat is laughing (possibly at us).

9. a. (That quote, dear reader, is from Jane Eyre.)

10. d.

Come back next month for our quiz on The Remains of the Day, by Kazuo Ishiguro (1989).

Categories
art cats creativity design dogs friendship happiness quilts trees wisdom

small mercies

It’s been pretty damp out here lately. It’s easy to let your spirits fall flat and feel dreary. Even the computer sends out small, slightly ominous messages of warning, in the right-hand corner of the screen.

Yet I take heart in Emerson’s words this morning: “I am thankful for small mercies.” The beauty of green lush scenery and the ever-changing skies, the humorous way my computer seems to be speaking, commiserating about the weather… it’s all so endearing, so regular, so northwestern. It’s life happening right before our eyes. The passage which follows in Emerson rings strangely familiar too, to readers of Michael Singer and other contemporary writers on consciousness:

“The new molecular philosophy shows astronomical interspaces betwixt atom and atom, shows that the world is all outside; it has no inside.”

Emerson also reminds us, like Singer in Living Untethered (just got my copy and loving it!) that:

“Life’s chief good is for well-mixed people who can enjoy what they find, without question. .. To fill the hour–that is happiness; to fill the hour and leave no crevice for a repentance or an approval. We live amid surfaces, and the true art of life is to skate well on them.”

“Life is a tempest of fancies, and the only ballast I know is a respect to the present hour. … we should not postpone and refer and wish, but do broad justice where we are.”

— from Emerson, “Experience” in Selected Writings, pp. 350-352.

And then there’s “All Star Seattle Quilt” No. 1, finished yesterday! It was fun to stitch in some of my favorite natural scenes and landmarks from this city I love so much… and to blend them with fabrics from the many cultures which make this such a quirky, lively place to be: African block prints, Vietnamese tigers, Japanese cranes in flight, Mexican flowers in bloom–we have so much to be grateful for, in this outpost on the far western side of the country.

Hint: those T-shirts and the tiny pin represent local landmarks which will be featured in “All Star Seattle Quilts” Nos. 2 and 3, coming for summer!

And now, about that weather…

Categories
cats death loss wisdom

On bad surprises and apologies (and good-byes to Iris)

iris.jpg

Iris, circa 2001

Much has happened since I last wrote. This week brought some bad surprises and a lesson which I will share with you.

  1. Real estate surprise: bad

On Monday, some potential buyers made their second visit to our home. We were naturally excited as second visits are considered precursors to offers. However, it is now Friday and they have neither made an offer nor provided any feedback. (btw: Please, readers, if you are shopping for a new home, remember to pass along feedback. An hour and a half in someone’s house may not seem like a lot to you, but the owners had to clean, stop what they were doing, and go out while you were there.  They —like us—are likely anxiously awaiting your reply.)

Well, we are not really waiting any longer because we suspect we know why those people will not buy our house. To make a long and awful story short, here is the email I sent to our agent after the people left, on Monday night:

“Important update: Today’s people found what looked like the mummified remains of a raccoon in the attic crawl space. I just went in and brought it out and alas, it is Iris. Our long-lost black cat. She disappeared years ago and was clearly not feeling well. I think she went in there to hide and die in peace. We looked and looked, but I guess we never looked at the right spot.

There is not much sign of a struggle. Poor Iris.  I’ll take a picture to prove it was a cat, if you want, but we will bury the corpse. Please pass along that message so that they do not think we have rodents in our attic.”

Awful, right?!

Later that evening when I was up here in my little attic study meticulously grading sophomore essays and blog posts (argh), I suddenly realized that the place where Iris died was directly behind where I sit at my desk–about ten feet and two walls behind me. Isn’t that interesting?

Sweet little six-toed Iris. She was the cat who came with us to France and had that amazing accident in Angers–she fell more than six stories from our apartment balcony to the parking level below–and suffered nothing more than a disjointed jaw. The veterinarian said they see such things all the time. A dog or a person would certainly not survive. But cats go into l’effet parachute after the third or fourth floor (it has to be high enough), and it slows their fall almost magically.

Poor Iris. May she now rest in peace.

  1. Teaching surprise: bad

This week I found myself issuing a veiled threat to some sophomores about what I thought was their disrespectful attitude toward my deadlines. On Tuesday, I said something like, “If your performance report is more than 10 days late—I don’t care if it is 11 days late or 111 days late—your final grade for that performance will be reduced by an entire grade. I know who you are! Turn in those reports!”

On Wednesday, one of the students came to see me and told me that he could not find any trace of such a deadline on the syllabus. He apologized profusely for bringing the discrepancy to my attention. And I felt HORRIBLE.  He was right; I had discarded that policy months ago when realizing that it did nothing to improve learning and only increased the students’ already heavy burdens.  (btw: Notre Dame is a very anxious world. To see the students walking around, earbuds plugged in and cell phones in hand, you’d think they had the weight of the world on their 19-year-old backs, and were dealing with international crises on a regular basis. That their anxiety is largely self-induced does not make it any less real.)

  1. Ending the week on a good note: the lesson

After realizing my blunder, my stomach churned, my head ached, and I sat down immediately to apologize to the class via email. I apologized again the next day in class. The students got a reminder of the fallibility of authority figures, and I implored them to never hesitate asking questions because faculty members—like authority figures of all kinds—often make mistakes. I think we’re all ok. I know I felt better.

Before bed last night, I was reading Subhadramati’s Not Being Good: A Practical Guide to Buddhist Ethics, and came across the following quotes which sum up this week’s lessons.

“Apologizing is a spiritual act because it is a deliberate letting go of self” (110).

“This painful regret, in turn, becomes an incentive to act more skillfully in the future” (106).

***

Hope springs—or rather crawls out cautiously—anew.