What a Deaf Cat Can Teach Us

NON-FICTION, 1200 WORDS.

My cat sat looking out our bedroom window, calm and entrenched in his favorite bed. I walked into the room and called to him, as I’d done for sixteen years. He remained undistracted, and I spoke louder. He gave no reaction. Not a flinch of twisted ear, not a fraction of a head movement. Sixteen was the new eighty; Petey, our Puerto Rican Siamese-cow cat mix, had gone deaf.

That discovery happened nearly two years ago. Today, as he approaches the advanced age of eighteen, I’ve had some time to think about Petey, his place in the world, and what I’ve learned from him.

In the immediate days when we discovered Petey had lost his hearing, I spent a lot of time watching him rest. His head was level, his eyes were away from mine, and I studied the face of a buddy I’d known since 1999. He wasn’t jittery or vocal, in fact he was relaxed. This allowed me to get a good read on him.

I learned that a creature can be simultaneously calm, and poised in expectation. He was the mellow guy at the party, not speaking up about not quite getting the joke. He was the simple man at the deli line, waiting, wordlessly, for his number to be called.

Petey was alone in his comfortable bed of quietness. Today, eighteen months in, he’s still the sole occupier of the silent world.

He waits for sounds which shall never come. He can’t hear how loud his normal calls have evolved. He’s seemed to settle on the opinion that the world has changed—it’s stopped creating noise—and he’s found no fault with himself. He doesn’t shake his head, or paw at his ears, or look around in a freak-out. We’re the problem, not he: We are absent of emitting. He’s not deficient in receiving.

He relies on the patience and aid of the people in his trust. He counts on his family, and that is just fine for us.

He does not appear anxious or concerned about the lack of sound. He expects noises and is prepared to act on them.

If a sense must be lost, may hearing be the one. Cats rely on their ears to defend themselves—to react to warnings, and to feed—to track prey. Since Petey lives his life as an indoor cat, those needs are taken care of. A kitchen light is the visual cue that tells him we’re home. Petey has long enjoyed sitting on heating grates and in the past would react to the basement blower and duct noise. Now, the faint whiff of dust tips him off to go find a grate. He’s adapted.

In Petey’s world, he has lost nothing. I used to fear his ailment was the start of a decline. It is not. Hearing loss is another point in the aging process, a bold point perhaps, from where there is a progression forward, not an obvious end. He’s not dying. He still explores, still crushes upright paper bags and taps tin foil balls. He still eats uncooked spaghetti off the floor in the two-paw method of hold, lift and snap. He begs for a bit of American cheese when he catches me standing in the kitchen and he must stick his head inside the curious refrigerator thing each time its door is opened.

Dying? My foot. I mourn the loss that is mine alone.

My boy will never hear my voice again. In those first days of his hearing loss, I pitied his big, magnificent ears. Over many months I’ve learned those ears are not useless. They are a part of his head. They are part of his normal. He rests his head on them and cleans them and enjoys their fleshy parts stroked. We use his ears to apply his nightly transdermal medication—he is, after all, an old man.

His precious ears have many functions, well beyond the Family Feud rank list.

It doesn’t matter that he can’t hear my voice. He can still see that I’m talking to him, just as before. He counts on me to be the owner he’s known since adoption. He rests in the crook in my arm, every day, and turns his head and looks me in the eye. Not a stare down, but a connection. A thank you for a normal life. He places his head on my arm and goes to sleep. He’s at ease, and I am happy.

What does the deaf cat teach us? We can say relaxation encourages an honest assessment. Not for self-evaluation—remember, Petey was not in a position to appraise himself. His deafness brought him to a neutral, undistracted mood and as a result, I was able to get a better read on his body language, and his perception of the world. If a manager wants to get a good read on her employees, she could start by fostering a reasonable office environment. Relaxation is a clean chalkboard, ready for honest messages that will automatically come.

The deaf cat illustrates another point: Relaxation is a warm bath for the mind. You can’t just make it happen, and it doesn’t just befall you. You have to prepare for it and immerse in it. You must recognize your need.

For the cat, deafness brought relaxation, but for people, we can enact. We can manage ourselves to be put in the position to be calm. We almost always have the power but often lack the assertion to do so. The benefit of our calmness can carry over to those around us. By experience we know this to be true.

There is more to learn. In my managerial days I was once in the position to hire a deaf worker. I was at an employee fair run by the department of employment services. I was looking for a person to work in a clean room for medical devices, a good job for a dedicated, competent, and cooperative person.

The woman who was my liaison spoke to me about the job and offered the deaf candidate. He was coming in off the street but had a great attitude. She really wanted to place him and I’m ashamed to say I was skeptical that he was the best person for the job. I interviewed him and he couldn’t have done a better job presenting himself.

I regret that my decision was to go with someone else. I chose a person with direct work experience. I thought the state’s candidate would miss out on the verbal cues that were part of my team’s environment. As odd as it may sound, I was correct on that point. I was wrong is assuming the verbal cues would remain the invariable choice of the group.

The truth is, the team would have changed its composition the moment he joined, had he been hired. The team’s legacy method of calling out information would have naturally evolved as the group worked with its new dynamic. Visual cues, training, awareness of others’ activities, all of these factors would have replaced the simple sound-carrying-through-air method.

What’s more, the deaf worker would have fostered a quieter room. Certainly, he wouldn’t have contributed much gossip and meandering which tend to tear teams apart, especially teams enclosed in clean rooms.

Humans mimic simple creatures in the ways we react to change, whether it be the loss of hearing, or similar alterations in our lives. Through observation, we learn to adapt and thrive.

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ARA HAGOPIAN’S NEW BOOK IS OUT NOW http://www.LeavesOfYouthTheBook.com

Petey Hagopian

Petey Hagopian

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Accomplishments 2016

ACCOMPLISHMENTS 2016. Hello readers! Here’s an update on what was completed this year.

I published my third book in October, THE LEAVES OF YOUTH, which included 100 original poems written from age 13-50. This year also saw the completion of a dozen short works, including THIS MAN, GOODBYE TO A FRIEND, THE MUSE, I FOUGHT THE BULLY, FORK IN THE ROAD, GROWTH, HER PAINTED ROOM, plus the three-part Memorial Day series.

I re-wrote the short fiction piece THE LEGACY and submitted it to the Writer’s Digest short story contest, as well as to the literary journal Glimmer Train, results for both to be announced in February. For photography, I produced about thirty artistic scale model photographs, which I post on two history forums (as well as on this WordPress page).

Lastly, I shot principal photography for an upcoming 2017 Charleston South Carolina exhibit, which will be my third exhibit covering that historic Southern city.

2017 will focus on writing new material, and promoting THE LEAVES OF YOUTH. We will promote LOY in 2017 which will hopefully include a meet and greet, a book signing and readings. Keep watch! https://www.facebook.com/literateshow

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Scale Model Photography from 2016

Below is a collection of my scale model photographs produced in 2016.

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ABOUT: Ara Hagopian’s third book was released in 2016: http://www.LeavesOfYouthTheBook.com

 

 

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This Man

NON-FICTION, 730 WORDS.

He’s long gone. This man, dressed as best he could, is lost to us. The New York City street where he stood has been re-paved, many times. The street has been better treated than he.

Today, the scrappy tree behind him has fallen victim to the bulldozer. The city landscapers have taken ninety years to transform the crude dirt path into something beautiful and deliberate, finished with a design to guide baby strollers and joggers alike. And this man, dressed in tatters, steps aside to time. This man is gone.

I want to touch him, as he stands. I can’t and yet I’m somehow pulled closer, closer to his image, to his circumstance, his story. I want to be there, in that Depression-era year, and offer him water, some hot food, and a bath. While he’s bathing I’d set aside his outfit—not presuming to discard what he owns—and get him a set of basic clothes, suitable for his modesty. I’d best-guess his size until we could get to a shop and fit him properly. That, all of that, is one thing I would want to do. The first thing.

This man is very important to me. He’s not my color, my blood, my neighbor, nor my generation. But he is mine. He is my concern.

From this one photograph, it appears he struggled and failed to build a life for himself. He may have been twenty, may have been fifty. He had rights but not the means to exercise them. I don’t blame, but I do judge. I judge that no seemingly-forthright person should have to stand as he stood on this particular day. I judge that no one should withhold opportunities freely afforded others.

I judge that along with the focus on seeking our stewards, we must consider providing stewardship as well.

I’ve been to Fort Moultrie. I’ve touched a shackle that bound men who were not criminals. I’ve felt a chain that held women who were not dishonorable, and who did not have an advocate. I’ve seen the manifests, read the re-named names of slaves, and their critical statistics of age, skill and disposition—that is, their degree of agreeability. I’ve seen the plan of a boat, where it was illustrated how Africans were laid out to maximize space during their terrible kidnap voyages from their homes.

I’ve examined these artifacts very carefully, and have given them full time and attention. I’ve grown heavier as I study, thinner as I think.

This man in the photograph was born a free man. Yet without social acceptance, without the preparation of education, without mentoring and encouragement and comfort at home, he was doomed to the posture of a broken man.

This man is long gone, but he is right here. Not simply preserved in a photograph; he also lives with us, you and I, today. He’s here to remind us that good people should not stand in shame. His legacy—you see, he did leave one—was to ensure someone’s talents don’t lie unexplored. As we say, the man is gone, but this man lives. He wants you to be weighty; wants you to be thin.

In my thinking of him, I am bothered by the concept of generosity. Generosity is Man at his best, where one gives something of value to someone in need, without expecting compensation. This man may have been given a few things in his day, but did he know generosity? And this is what bothers me. Did he ever have the opportunity to give something to others, something that was needed? And appreciated?

Generosity has an upstream. The action flows one way but there’s a satisfaction that only comes with giving.

My guess is this man had very little in terms of possessions. Maybe he’d held onto a doll that he saved for just the right girl, at just the right time. Or maybe he’d been generous with his time by helping a stranger set his car right on the road, when he could have just looked away. My fear of fears is that the precious dispensation of generosity may have been lost to one whose focus was pure survival.

Many years ago, a man in great need stood in rags. We can imagine, but we don’t know his story. His image speaks, as we consider what he can teach us.

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ABOUT: Ara Hagopian’s third book was published October 2016: http://www.LeavesOfYouthTheBook.com

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Center photograph by John Albok. This composite by Ara Hagopian.

 

Posted in New York City, non-fiction | 2 Comments

My new book– THE LEAVES OF YOUTH

THE LEAVES OF YOUTH— A new collection of original poems.

Lifelong artist and writer Ara Hagopian has selected 100 of his best poems from the pages of his youth—the “leaves” of loose handwritten papers he kept hidden in an old briefcase for over thirty years. See the fascinating arc of ideas that sprang from age 13 to 50, as the highs and lows of a socially-active teenager grew into youthful longings and ultimately, the wisdom of adulthood.

  • Genre: Original poetry, with several presented as historical stories.
  • Length: 100 poems, 30k words, 277 pages.
  • Format: Softcover, 5.5″ x 8.5″.
  • Price: $15.95 with free domestic shipping (MA sales tax where applicable). International price is $20.95 delivered.
  • Signed and inscribed as you wish.


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The book is available via PayPal. Major credit cards are accepted, you do not need a PayPal account to buy through PayPal.

READ A SAMPLE POEM (PDF of Hayward’s Grave, written January 24, 1985) :

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THE LEAVES OF YOUTH by Ara Hagopian.

THE LEAVES OF YOUTH by Ara Hagopian.

TO COME:  Reader reviews, special photographs, and more! Bookmark this page and visit often.

Hello readers, Ara here. Four days prior to publication, I came across this old letter from the Wakefield Superintendent of Schools. Note that Dr. Maio made three references to my poetry. When I asked for his recommendation, I must have given him the three poems I’d written through 1982. This letter is reproduced in the book, with permission.

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Also by Ara Hagopian:

THE FIERY WINDS a novelette (2015) http://www.FieryWindsTheBook.com

WHAT HAPPENED TO VICKY LEE? A COLLECTION OF STORIES (2013) http://www.VickyLeeTheBook.com

 

 

 

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The Incredible Mellie!

THE INCREDIBLE MELLIE!

In January I posted the story HER PAINTED ROOM, where my cat Mellie was diagnosed with adenocarcinoma, and aggressive form of cancer. She was given a 2-6 month window, with June being her last month of expected life. I’m happy to report we are in the middle of July, and Mellie is still patrolling the house like the vital being she is.

Yesterday Mellie had another mass removed. We’d felt it growing the past month and consulted with her doctor. Mellie had been acting healthy with no restrictions the entire year. Was this lump the sign of the end?

The bad news: Mellie, in all probability, still has cancer. When her January lump was removed, a small bit of the mass was present in the muscle and our veterinarian didn’t want to cut into that.

When the second lump was detected, we had to make a choice. An operation is a $1200 decision for an animal at the supposed end of her life. If the answer was “yes, proceed with the operation,” then tests would have to be taken to see if there was evidence of spread in her body.

If there was spread, then there would be no operation, and we’d be looking at 2-3 weeks before we’d have to put her down. That was the reality our family faced last week, and it was more difficult considering we’d put down our dear 17-year-old cat Jadey last month.

Mellie passed her X-Ray, ultrasound, and blood tests—nothing was detected. She came home last night and is recovering well. She climbs, hobbles and runs as best she can. And she rests. Her body needs this time to get her wound healed so she can be at full speed again.

How long does Mellie have? If you ask her, it’s forever. For us, we know she’s playing with house money. Every day after June 2016 is a day she wasn’t expected to see.

She loves her life. She is tiny, soft, very healthy-looking and always happy for company, strangers and friends alike. She loves having her face touched, and never tires of human play and companionship. She is fortunate to have many people praying for her and wishing her the best. Beating the odds—that’s the incredible story of Mellie.

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Recovering from the day's surgery.

Recovering from the day’s surgery.

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Signs

We’re nearly one week on from our loss, and our thoughts are filled with Jadey. There will be a time for culling the best photos together, and finding the movies we made. For now, we’re dealing with the shock and sadness of our cat’s death.

Good friends have helped us through these days, and for that we offer our dearest thanks. Dog owners, cat owners, and non-owners have written or stopped by to help ease our feelings.

One dog owner put it in perspective: 16.75 years is a fine life. Dog owners know their pet’s expectancy is a few years less than that. Our family was fortunate to have our beloved cat Jadey so long.

What has this week been like? There hasn’t been a day without tears–these are terrible moments when we feel sorry for her pain, and sorry for her last weeks of difficulty eating.

We’ve had lots of happy remembrances as well. Jadey got her mouse, twice, early that morning. She was in her glory, fully-functioning, and it makes us smile. There are scores of other great remembrances, and we will reflect on them all, in time.

A few days ago her ashes were prepared in a small black urn. I brought Jadey’s remains home via the route she would have taken back from the vet if she had checked out okay that day. So her and my drive home was bittersweet, my hand on the urn package the entire ten mile ride. Jadey was home again.

There have been a few odd household instances worth noting. The night of her death we had a short power outage that we weren’t aware of. Only when we noticed all the clocks flashing 12:00 did we determine the power must have been interrupted. The next day the basement door pushed open while I was doing laundry. Usually this was the result of a curious cat on the other side. The space was empty–and there was no breeze. We’ve found a few objects in very odd places, and her favorite bed, the last place she layed in the house, was quite warm three days later.

Today another odd sight made us smile and think of Jadey. At our front door, a small paw-print of light was formed on the rug from the prism effect of the door’s glass. It made perfect sense, although we’ve never seen this manifestation in the 15 years we’ve lived in this house.

One week on, we’ve kept Jadey’s spirit alive by talking about all the things we loved about our dear companion. The shock of her sudden death hurts us very much. We take comfort in supportive friends and in dear memories.

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Jadey is with us in spirit.

Jadey is with us in spirit.

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