Hi, popping back in. The end of 2019 consisted of slowing down, staying home, intensely looking inward, and never ceasing to be surprised when finding still another pacifier in my pocket.
Despite feeling local and the mounting cold, the end to 2019 was rich. Amid the desolate winter scenery, richness came from our very own attempt at ‘hygge’ with toddlers: beefing up on music and books, and mulled wine (well, for mom at least). In other words, any type of cozy escapism, please.
Amid our reading fix, somewhere in 2019 we upgraded from Pete the Cat and launched into Cats (Yes, the very same text for the horrendous recently released movie; 🤦♀ more on that later). Why, Cats? Well, perhaps it was my sophomore teaching team who spent a whole meeting debating whether it was still important for students to read 20th century prose (the answer is YES), or perhaps, it was just too many hours contemplating the contents of my father’s bookshelves as a young child (which housed poet T.S. Eliot — the modernist British poet and playwright who wrote whimsical poems about cats, specifically Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, a collection that later supplied the inspiration and text for Andrew Lloyd-Weber’s musical.) Or stumbling upon, wonder of wonders, a luminously illustrated children’s book series of Cats, each little volume devoted to one of Eliot’s wonders (MaCavity’s popping eyes will capture the attention of any 3 year old). Or the mysteriousness of cats amplified by the real-life feral cats that creep around our neighborhood (yes, there is a neighborhood petition to rehouse/remove them; others feed them; we just watch), but whatever the reason, we became full on fans as the daylight waned and winter winds blew strong.
So, while everyone else was watching Frozen II, we had a few other things going for us. We found the old 1982 Broadway musical soundtrack and crawled around our lower level pretending we were robbers (Mongojerry and Rumpletezer) or magicians (Mr. Mistoffolies) or train masters (Skimbleshanks). My 1980s childhood featured rotation of this vinyl (to be reissued on vinyl this February, I am told), and in whatever form (streaming), it still provides equal amounts of imaginary excitement, and dare I say, plain-old pure joy for beating the stuffing out of the doldrums of winter.
Certainly, Ian’s attempts at mimicking the words, “conjuring,” “prestidigitation,” and “levitation” in a sentence make my English teacher heart swell with huge pride (I won’t elaborate here on the fact that these words are typically followed by utterances such as “pooop,” or even “I like your poo-poo,” or Duncan’s routine screaming of “Apple Jacks”). One semester my college linguistics professor lead a campaign to get the word “presticogitation” in the Oxford English Dictionary, and by some alchemy (or grace), Eliot’s Cats musicalized version maybe moved us closer to that hope that the marvel of language might be exalted.
Now, unfortunately, here is where that hope goes smash. The release of the movie Cats, starring amazing and very normal actors–such Taylor Swift, Jennifer Hudson, Judi Dench, Idris Elba–was supposed to normalize our obsession, making us legit and sane (and boring). It was supposed to make Cats so mainstream it would pop up on Kidz Bop. But the opposite happened. The reviews streaming out one bleak Friday morning in December panned the movie as a candidate for the biggest box office failure of all time. As it turns out, perhaps, most certainly, we are just weirdos after all.
I haven’t seen the movie; nor do I want to. I don’t doubt that it is a bizarre and plainly bad rendition. But embodying Cats for a while with my toddlers was thought provoking. I do wonder if perhaps the adult world is simply too serious, too devoid of magic. Especially that it is fully alienated from fun and, in particular, the fun of language play and its fantastical possibilities. If we are, in other words, too stuck on seeing the ordinary as opposed to the potential of magic.
So as we enter 2020, write on poets and (if one has the courage in T. S. Eliot’s style) compose on musicians like Andrew Lloyd Webber, and illustrators like Arthur Robbins. Or three-year olds creating a world of their own without the help of TV. Blockbuster or NOT, we will love our imaginary world of wondrously weird cats. Always.