Dear Ginsberg, Please Don’t Lick the Wallpaper

January 8, 2013

Dear Ginsberg,

Oh, thank you so much for coming to see me this morning! It’s so cold, and I’m sitting up in bed with the big white comforter pulled up on my lap, watching you climb a stack of boxes on Steve’s bureau. Steve just brought me tea in the matte-glazed, black mug from the Museum of Modern Art that he gave me several Christmases ago. This Ceylon blend from Upton Tea is his ordinary morning selection, not one of those more specialized varieties with names like Risheehat Estate SFTGFOP1, a Darjeeling Super-Fine Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe, grade 1. 

Dearest Ginzy, when you are finished rearranging the boxes — oops, that one just shifted beneath you! — please come back to bed and purr at my feet, settling into the downy squares of the comforter, your black-and-white, tuxedo-cat fur so tailored and crisp, blinking your eyes slowly with happiness.

For some reason I’ve been thinking about happiness lately. It strikes me that having a cat with multiple nicknames is a good indicator of contentment. I think that the neural circuits activated in the brain when we’re paying attention to a beloved companion animal must be related, somehow, to the playful use of language.

You, of course, dear Ginsberg Kitty, have many nicknames:  Ginzy, which is what author Ursula Le Guin might call your use-name, the one in use most of the time; Beauteous Person; Ginzu, Ginzutini, Ginzutechi,and Ginzarella; Wunder-Katzen; Katzen-Batzen. There’s a little coin from 16th-century Bern, Switzerland, the batzen, which was the inspiration for that last one.

Thank you, Ginzy, I like it when you sit on my feet. It makes me feel special. Oh, you’re so flexible. How do you manage to raise your back leg so high up behind your ear while washing your tail?

But anyway, as I was saying, the many-nicknamed members of a household must be wreathed in affection. I would be willing to bet that Rick Hanson, the neuropsychologist who taught the course on Taking in the Good that I took through IONS last year, would agree that spending time petting, stroking, brushing, talking, laughing, and just being with an animal we love is a wonderful way to strengthen the structures in the brain that are involved in happiness, love, and wisdom.

So really, Ginzy, you there curled up on my right foot, an island of mostly black fur in a sea of white, you are an inspiration and a comfort, a reminder for me that even when the world outside is cold and full of hardship, I can still be safe and warm.

Now, before I reclaim my right foot and go downstairs for breakfast, could I make one request? Please don’t lick the wallpaper. I know you love to work on that little piece that’s coming unstuck next to the radiator in the bathroom, but it’s really annoying, especially when I’ve hopped out of bed to use the facilities first thing in the morning. If you’ll just be a little more patient, I’ll serve your breakfast as soon as I possibly can.


Mary Ann

Letter of the Month is a new feature of  Joyous Paradox, a blog about health, healing, and caregiving. Readers are welcome to leave a comment or email Mary Ann at mabarton01 at