Rocky by Nancy Dorman-Hickson; for more information, visit http://www.NancyDormanHickson.com

The New Losers

by Caroline Johnson

She’s glaring at me again with those angry eyes. Yellow owl eyes. Jealous eyes. What can I do? Mink jumps onto the couch, then steps onto my left thigh with the authority of a monarch. She turns around, pressing into my leg and nudging my laptop. She purrs softly, a low motor hum. Later on, it will be full throttle. She is happy despite the intrusion of technology. She rubs against me, nestles down, reluctantly accepting the inevitable.

I open my laptop in order to greet the virtual world, the virtual people who are waiting for me, yet are they real? What a philosophical question. You see them online, but technically they are just bits and bytes. They are googled strings. Still, you sense their presence. The electricity from a “like”, the thrill of a texted photo, joy at a “shared” item. Yes, technology has cut across time and brought all of us close together—at the click of a mouse, or the touch of a keypad. Somehow, throughout time and space, you make a connection.

We hear all the time the concern about children and the new generation, lost in their world of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Vine, whose fingers fly off the text board, whose concentration is close to zero. Yet what about the other losers in this furious, fast-paced technological frenzy?

My chocolate Persian is now deciding to step on top of my laptop keyboard as I am composing this essay.  I push her aside. She looks puzzled, then ventures again towards my right leg, posits herself broadly across my lap, then looks ahead with a smug look, as if to say, “Ha! Ha! I won!” This time I push her off to the left.

But Mink has the willpower of a pit bull. She turns around and begins playfully chomping on the top of my laptop screen, where there are already bite marks from her jealous moods before. I indulge in her precociousness but never let it get too far. I am amused as she reminds me that there are more important things than checking my e-mail or reading someone’s latest status.

I remember when we got her, a stray my husband captured with his Muskie net. She hid under the bed for two weeks, only venturing near when I slid a plate of tuna her way. Finally, she emerged and let me pet her. She has bonded ever since, a lap cat in the true sense of the word.

What if I had never taken the time to get to know her? What if we hadn’t bonded?

Now there is the cord. Mink thinks it’s OK to paw it, bite it, and otherwise pull at it as if it is a piece of string. This is just another way that I am guilty of ignoring her in her otherwise beautiful invitation to play. Mink reminds me at such times of how far I’ve been diving into this mad world of technology. Slowly, over months, my laptop has been replacing my cat as the Princess of the Morning. My coffee time now consists of checking three or four different e-mail accounts while I drink two Keurig cups. Mink is left to curl up in a ball next to me, instead of on my lap. She is left to her own devices, such as licking her paws, or staring out the windows at birds.

Just a year ago, I used to give her my whole lap and my whole time. I used to pet her while I drank my coffee. My laptop remained on the table, and she would offer up to me her undivided, faithful love—a rare love of such quality as I have never shared with any other creature.

Mink is a caution to me about another casualty of this technological digital revolution: pets. All that time we used to throw Spot a stick, or wiggle a string in front of Fluffy, or just pet our furry friends is now spent in a virtual world. Walking with Fido, our animated gif?  Where will Man’s Best Friend be 10 years from now? Will kids learn how to “pet” while texting, hand and thumb moving in a whirlwind while they tentatively reach out an arm to stroke (if they know what “stroke” means)?

I just heard a beeping noise. Mink was sticking her nose into the power strip and successfully unplugged my laptop. It is now in battery mode. I’m thinking she did this on purpose, hoping my batteries would run out, but I’m not sure. I can’t get any writing done right now. She is purring, close to me on the sofa, looking at me with pleading yellow eyes. She is so cute I can’t help myself. I want to spend all my waking hours devoted to her.

Can we reach a happy medium? Can we compromise? Or do  I have to wait for the inevitable, the day when she will no longer try to unplug my laptop, when she will choose other ways to occupy her time rather than waiting for my affection?  What if one day she turns me off the same way I turn off my laptop?  I don’t ever want to be disconnected from my cat, but isn’t that the same thing I’m doing to her each day I furiously type away at my keyboard, or check my e-mails?

It takes time to bond with an animal. Time and attention. To develop trust, love, affection. My cat is now lying on her back, resting her curled paws. It seems she is waiting for a tummy rub, and I am sucker enough to do it. In giving her such attention, I refuel myself. It’s a much better way to make a connection than to hear, “You’ve Got Mail!”

She is purring. I never want to lose that feeling—butterflies descending. The feeling of happiness, contentment. “You are responsible for what you tame,” said Saint-Exupery’s Little Prince. By neglecting our pets in favor of technology, aren’t we taming a monster?

About Caroline Johnson

Caroline Johnson has two poetry chapbooks and more than 70 poems in print. A nominee for the Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net, she has won numerous state and national poetry awards. Past president of Poets & Patrons of Chicago, her full-length poetry manuscript, The Caregiver, is forthcoming from Holy Cow! Press in 2018.

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