Gumption and I have been following the Jays for the whole season, but recently Virtute’s decided to start watching too. Since the Blue Jays are on a 9 game winning streak and are starting to look like the World Series contenders they were supposed to be last year naturally I asked him if he was jumping on the bandwagon. His response, as usual, was pretty thoughtful – shrugging, he replied, “if you research the etymology of the term bandwagon, it refers to the contraptions that carried around circus performers hired by P.T. Barnum in the American west in the mid-1800s. These circus shows tended to entertain new settlers while demeaning and dehumanizing indigenous peoples. Since we’re supporting the Blue Jays, I like to consider myself joining the flock.” He paused and I was waiting for his next word of wisdom, but he just asked, “How does this Mark Buerhle jersey look on me anyways?”
Last week Virtute got into his first real fight. We had been feeding the clowder of stray cats around our house and inch by inch they started to become territorial. While Gumption was pretty curious, Virtute was very anxious. Eventually one of them, the one called “Lunchbox”, charged at the window and attacked Virtute through the screen. It was frightening, but in the end the only casualties were the screen itself and a swath of the other cats’ fur in Virtute’s finger nails.
Once Virtute regrouped, I asked him his thoughts on his first fight. His response: “I don’t think what I did was proud or noble. To be honest it was mostly out of fear. I had attempted to communicate with them, but I realized immediately that the structure of our lives made it very difficult. I realize getting food for them is tough, but I also envy their freedom. It’s so complicated.”
I asked Virtute if he could do it all over again, would he do the same thing. He turned away and then spoke calmly, “The histories and structures that put us in the places that we are today are impossible to change. But the choices we make in terms of what side we fight on and what future we dream of is ours to make. Those strays aren’t the enemy. It is a system that considers some of us wild and others domesticated that is the problem. I’m going to shut my eyes now and dream of those other possibilities.”
For as long as I remember Virtute and I have been debating the merits of Drake as a Toronto rapper. I’ve generally fallen on the Drake-hater bandwagon and Virtute proudly wears his Team Drizzy t-shirt to this day. So I figured I had to at least ask him what he thought about Drake being the Raptors’ “global brand ambassador”. His answer, as usual, was stunning but enlightening. Wide-eyed, he stated, “Drake must be seen as the quintessential mascot for Toronto. Awkward and aspiring; egotistical but sympathetic; a philosopher without much to say. So it is only fitting that he would be at the centre of forming community across the city in support of a team that was being sent to the pastures mid-season, and ended with a resounding crescendo in the first round of playoffs.”
I wasn’t sure whether or not that was an underhanded dis of Toronto, so I asked for clarification.
Virtute, ever the sage, simply sat and said, “At least Drizzy is a cat person. He showed evidence of that on national television, while Jay-Z was out somewhere eating a fondue plate. Case closed.”
It’s been a busy few months here. There’s been new kittens, art projects, conferences, house warmings, and generally still adjusting to our new neighbourhood. I’ve been feeling overtired and overworked and so I asked Virtute what he does for self-care.
He stared blankly for a minute. So I asked again.
He finally looked my way, “Your body, your feelings, your tiredness, your being overworked seeps and trickles into all of your relationships. It changes others unconsciously and inadvertently. Stepping back, making time to care, sharing food, doing favours, and reducing the things you think you just need to do is healthy not just for you, but everyone around. Stop thinking about yourself and think about your relationships to those around you and you’ll see why it’s important to take care.”
He finished his brief nap in my arms and went back to grooming gumption. I put down my work for the day and made bagels.
Recently we welcomed a new kitten named Gumption into our house. It’s been about a month so I checked in with Virtute to see how he’s handled the transition. He responded, “When Gumption first arrived I really felt as though my world got immensely smaller. It’s such an intimate process to share space and it wasn’t until I could build trust with Gumption and know that my systems and routines would be respected that I started to feel at ease. I thought a lot about myself those first few weeks and to be honest I was pretty sullen. But then I realized just how new and frightening and excited she must be to be here and that maybe we needed to start some routines we could share.”
What do you like sharing the most with her? I asked. “Well, my throw toy and Jenny’s love and affection are still pretty off-limits – but I guess we can both sleep in my cat condo, I mean, er, uh…our cat condo.”
Virtute and I share a birthday. He turned three this year and was pretty excited. So I asked him what precisely about birthdays makes him so happy. He responded, “If all we are is just the stories we tell, then naturally birthdays mark a new chapter. It’s a time to reflect on all the adventures you’ve had, the people you’ve made community with, and the truest meanings of home and belonging. Isn’t that all that time-space could possibly be?”. Unphased, I asked again, but why do *you* like birthdays? He smiled wryly, and said, “the extra cat treats”.
Virtute and I live in a house of artists and recently I asked him what it was like. He replied, “Art plays such an important role in our struggles, it allows us to break the barriers between future, past, and present. Frankly, Jenny said it best when she said it was like being on the cusp of sleep. I want to live in a world where we straddle the dimensions between the dream world and the material world.” I told him that was profound and he said, “It’s not about being profound. It’s about being vulnerable”. He turned away and continued to sun himself on the coffee table.
Today I commented on how lovely Virtute’s cave was and he astutely corrected me stating, “it’s a crypt – crypts are cave-like dwellings that are produced by humans.” So I had to ask, “but then what are caves?”. Virtute was not amused and simply looked off and said, “they are made by the creator and are far superior.”
I’ve been thinking a lot about the origins of baseball lately and about how the stories we tell about its so-called begginings are so bound up in the settler colonial myth. So I asked Virtute what he thought. He peered down from his cat condo and sighed, “like any game, baseball is rooted in a particular context and is meant to evoke aspects of your social surroundings. Just like I want you to know who is boss in this house when I force you to play fetch with me when you’re trying to get your work done, those early settlers probably were bound up in the idea of home and returning home safely. Now please throw my fetch toy human.”
Virtute spent the morning looking outside my window watching the flakes of snow pile up on the alley beside our house. I asked him what he was thinking about and he responded, “Snow.” I asked, “What about it?”. And he said, “There was a time back in the early 90s when a young white dancehall artist from Toronto took the world by storm and shot up to #1 on the charts claiming that he would never be an informer…and then I watched the Grammy’s last night and really things haven’t changed much.” Sometimes Virtute is 100% literal even when being 50% metaphorical.