Toilet Cat & Friends

I miss a lot of things when my roommate’s away: the smells of her amazing cooking,someone to ask me about my day,and the feeling of certainty that if someone broke into the house, she would murder them before they got to me. But when the cat’s away, the mice (Emma the human and Florence the actual cat) will play. What this means for me is taking over the entire living room to paint. I take over the whole rug and I block the TV. I sing along to that new Sylvan Esso song. I ask Florence what she thinks of a dab of gold on the canvas.

I started painting in earnest in 2011, first to make my friends and family laugh, then to help pay my rent. I’d love to say that painting had some really glamorous self-care function for me: that it acted as a dramatic form of self-expression or that it was a form of meditation. But like with all my self-care activities, painting is a little goofy.

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1. I get to make people smile

My second best-seller of all time is Toilet Cat. Toilet Cat came about when a former roommate of mine became obsessed by the idea of teaching Florence to use the toilet. I found the idea repugnant because I imagined having to use the ladies room, only to find my cat taking her sweet time on the throne. This idea spawned Toilet Cat-a cat enjoying a good read atop the toilet. I love to make people laugh, to give them something to smile about when they enter their bathroom. The same goes for my painting of Oprah – on sale now! There’s something wonderful about the Queen of Daytime peering down at you while you relieve yourself.

2. I get to surprise myself

I rarely know what I’m doing, in life and in painting. I ask for guidance from my patrons – color schemes, personalities, accessories – but usually I am left to my own devices. This opens up something inside of me. After years of doing this, I have found that bright colors excite me, but I’m always surprised by where I decide to put them or combine them (for better or for worse). I’m always surprised by what I do in my spare painting time: googly eyes, metallics, peaches, and emojis come to mind. I love me, I’d do anything for me.

3. I get a feeling of supreme satisfaction

Some of my favorite paintings are those that not only surprise me, but surprise you. When you hang a painting in a place of honor, I get a jolt of self-confidence that doesn’t always exist in the archives world or in my daily life.

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Below, you’ll find the development of a recent painting, from start to finish. It’s been my replacement roommate for a little bit, and while it doesn’t cook or clean or tell jokes, having a little daily task has made a world of difference to my brainwaves. Some days I filled in the bones of these fine cats, other days I only dabbed on a bit of shocking blue. Progress is progress.

Painting not only provides great self-care; it also has posed a huge self-care obstacle. Isn’t that fun? Because the subjects of my painting, my cartoony folk art style, and my sometimes self-deprecating attitude about being a self-taught painter, I often encounter folks that like to make little jokes and little digs about what I do. They always make me feel rotten. After a lot of reflection about why this is, I realized that I open the door to piss poor attitudes because I sometimes have one myself. Painting has taught me to speak nicely of myself, to be bold, and to be proudly passionate of painting big shiny eyes and brightly colored tails.

Nesting

It was Saturday morning and I slept in… until 7.30. Then I had business to attend to. Two hours later, I emerged from a haze, still in my PJs, cold coffee on the table next to me, my tongue hanging out like Marnie. I had entered  the depths of my most treasured psychosis: Craigslist’s furniture listings.

I have lived in a great house on the East Side of Austin since May of last year, and it houses all of my belongings (except my Kitchenaid, which lives safely in my parents’ kitchen, in case I ever decide to get domestic). Here’s the exhaustive list of said belongings: a pink vintage couch, a rug, my easel, my 8-year-old Macbook, a stockpot, three wine glasses, Florence the cat, and one plate. That’s it, that’s the list.

Eventually, I knew I’d have to stop living off the hospitality and comparative material wealth of my Austin roommates. That time has come. I’m moving in with my boyfriend next month and here is an exhaustive list of his belongings: A lamp shaped like the Eiffel Tower, a floor lamp, a Chrome messenger bag, and a lot of black clothing. That’s it, that’s the list.

What I’m trying to say is, Sam and I are in need of some stuff. Or, more positively, I am footloose and fancy free to haggle on Craigslist on Saturday morning to my heart’s content. Lately, I’ve been struggling to feel comfortable in my own life, so it makes sense that I have set up shop in fantasies of the future.  It’s less about retail therapy and more about cultivating the excitement of the next phase of my life. Here’s where I’ve been hanging out online.

Apartment Therapy

Oh Apartment Therapy, you cruel mistress. I spend hours looking at your studio tours, envisioning a floor-to-ceiling gallery wall that encompasses our two collections of art and wall-hangables like hats, cork boards, flags, etc. I love to see what people do to pack a punch with 400 square feet, though we will (luckily) be in a bigger 1 bedroom. I find new furniture websites, see a $1400 price tag, cry, and immediately return to Craigslist and limit my search “$0 to $50”. My personal favorite is this Minneapolis studio, with every inch bursting with color.

Amazon wishlists

Window shopping is my main M.O. right now. I know that the orange velvet ottoman I found for $80 on Amazon will be replaced by some chic little $15 number I stumble upon at the fancy Goodwill (not the Lamar one – the other one), but it’s so fun to add all the dream items to a list. If you are feeling generous, my birthday is April 27th.

Craigslist free section

This one’s mostly for the comic relief. Did you know that someone will just GIVE you for FREE, a couch with several thousand holes in it? For zero dollars down and zero dollars monthly? Check it out.

Society6

Sam says I’m not allowed to get a pillow covered in rocks and gems, but Society6 begs to differ. I have spent and will spend several hours a week on this black hole of palm trees, evil eyes, and quirky illustrations. So far, I’ve only purchased a beautiful tapestry for above my mustard-colored quilt – but by God, payday is a-comin’. So is my birthday, have I mentioned? Now accepting Society6 gift cards.

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As of today, we are in Taurus season. I am an atypical Taurus – I am not taken with lush textures or luxurious spa days. I’m more about bright colors and cheap price tags. But I like to think that my nesting instinct comes from some astrological predisposition towards groundedness and comfiness. For now, I’m happy to channel my anxious energy into window shopping and stockpiling as a means of cultivating a rich fantasy life – but holy hell, that 1 bedroom in North Loop better watch out. A hurricane is set to swing through May 31st.

It’s Christmas time in the city

About a month ago, I wrote my Big Bad Things List and I triumphantly crossed off “Cat Dentistry” – finally, I saw a vet about Florence’s mushy mouth. The pen is mightier, I thought, as I faced my fear and put a line through a scary, expensive to-do. It wasn’t so bad!

Sometimes, I cross things out before they’re even done. My biggest obstacle is usually my own inertia, so once the ball gets rolling, a task almost feels complete. I had taken Florence to a vet, they had done blood work (normal) and given her meds, and that, I thought, was that.

Of course, the Big Bad Things List is not just a cute name reminiscent of a fairy tale wolf. It is named such because of its looming, dark, consequential line items. Sometimes, marking things off the list too soon wasn’t powerful at all – it was foolhardy.

This is all to say, Florence’s medical woes were not through. We had follow-ups and saw a specialist. The word cancer was a big part of all of those visits. The jokes about cat braces went out the window. My little Flo, street cat extraordinaire, 7-year-old purr machine, almost certainly has a horrible, no good disease, and no one can say when it will start to hurt or even kill her.

It’s always in the truly hard times when I am amazed at the collection of warriors I have assembled around me (thank you, me). My mom mobilizes her network to find me a vet tech to talk to. My boyfriend says just the right thing. My friends send kindnesses and check in on me. As the love poured in, Caroline, my roommate and Florence’s sister, quietly suggested that we give Florence all of her favorite things – and that I might consider setting up the Christmas tree permanently in the new apartment.

The Christmas tree is Florence’s most treasured jungle gym. It’s quite small, but you can see her fat bum sticking out from behind it during all those Yuletide hours. A calm, restful cat, she rarely scampers and swats – unless there are Christmas ornaments. She particularly took a shine to a cloth puppy, and would reach to high bows to get down her new friend. She was enchanted.

But why wait for these hard times to make it Christmas every day of the year? What were the small happinesses that I reserved for special times that might be installed in my life year-round? Wasn’t now the time to live and breathe and feel special – before things got too inescapably dark?

Last night, I started a box of slips of paper. On the slips, I listed things that make me happy that I do so infrequently: trips to get froyo; learning a new recipe; visiting my favorite street cats in my old neighborhood; night swims. The idea is to take a slip of paper out regularly, to make sure I’m getting the happiness I deserve year round instead of forgetting to indulge in these small wonders. It’s akin to my Thanksgiving Advent project, but this time, it’s for every single day.

Merry Christmas to Florence and merry Thanksgiving to me, too.