Territoriality, Humans, and Anger
Written June 28, 2010.
Solitary. Territorial. Bad combination in the human world, where one can barely be one of the two effectively, let alone both.
It's hard to describe the feeling of violent claustrophobia I get when my space is compromised. Hackles rise like extra whiskers, feeling every inch of lost ground like being slowly shrink-wrapped, the air tightening against my skin. An injection of incredulous indignance - someone is in my space? what? are they mad? are they blind? this is mine and they are invading it! do they know what that means?
An immediate assessment of food, not-threat, or threat. Food can be ignored unless it's really irritating. Non-threats can be frightened off by a display (body language, expression, tone of voice, standoffish or unwelcoming words). Some few people are in my comfort zone, non-threats that don't get chased off (or, occasionally, threats that go un-dealt-with); I actively seek to spend time with and share space with them. Threats - threats are either fled from or challenged. I am only now perceiving myself as old enough, adult enough, experienced and skilled enough, to stand my ground against some threats.
But sometimes it's not okay to be territorial. Sometimes it's alien to human culture to be so zealously possessive of one's space. Public transport, restaurants, parks, schools, offices - we share them all. We have to share them all. And the one who wants its own space, alone, has to swallow its instincts and suffer through repeated intrusions without letting itself react.
And people? Man, people. The ones who don't interact on any level that makes sense, not to animal, not to conscious mind. Animal concepts of strength and eye contact and body language and physical contest are all ignored; my civilized ideas of honor, courtesy, kindness, generosity, mutual respect are all dismissed. It's trying to make sense out of jumbled birdsong* - I know it makes sense to somebody, but I have no beak and no feathers, and I don't speak that language. The plastic faces, the political maneuvering and manipulation, the social protocol, the media and the pop culture, the celebrities, the deliberate malice, it all glosses over my deepwater reality like skaters on ice overhead. I don't understand. I don't get it. And I don't particularly want to get it, to speak that language. I don't find personal value in it.
Being an animal-person has as many awkwardnesses as advantages, as many challenges as joys. But I'm happy being who and what I am. Despite the difficult parts.
Despite being occasionally unable to pass as human.
(*No offense meant to any birds.)
Cat anger. Or just animal anger.
First, there is some threat, some danger, some inflicted hurt. Low levels can be ignored, tolerated, suffered through. But when the pain threshold is breached, reflexes kick in. Cat wants to display: bare fangs, bristle, make noise. Let this threat know that there is a business end of the lion and it will be dealt with. As the spectrum climbs in intensity, so the display gets fiercer and louder to match it.
But if the pain, the danger, does not cease, action must be taken. The line between the loudest display and violence is thin, crossed in a heartbeat, an eye-blink. Too much, too much, and the claws are used. A few swipes, bat-bat-bat to the head, will damage and scare. It could stop there, but the eyes are wild and white-rimmed, and there is increasingly less space between poised to defend and kill.
If pushed, the final line is crossed. It's no longer bat-bat-bat with a paw and snarl a last warning; it's a roar and a flurry, a frenzy, talons and fangs and bunching muscles and flying fur. If the threat tries to escape, it is chased - maybe not too far, but it takes a moment for cat to register that the danger has been removed.
It takes a little while to calm down after that, especially if there's any possibility of the danger returning to initiate another confrontation.
And if circumstance or human protocol dictates that no display is allowed, the urge to react physically happens that much more quickly, even when it has to be suppressed at all costs.