I gave her name to the verb I coined to denote the kind of behavior she taught me to watch for: Shaling. From the Willie story Emily Brownbangs at the conception of guile, here is an extended definition of shaling:
Shaling is a word I made up. I named it after a cat of ours – Shale – who turned a commode into her actual throne, the seat of her elaborate cargo cult in and of our guest bathroom.
Looked at as behavior subject to observation, to shale is to window-shop obsessively, and the most aggressive shaling of the train consists of fondling it when it’s parked back at the station. Toddlers will toddle over to inspect and then touch the train. Tentatively and fearfully at first. It’s a benevolent dragon, but it’s still a dragon, after all. But, then, in time, they will caress the lacquered coaches with a loving devotion, the way dad might lovingly caress a sports car – or lovingly caress mom, for that matter!
Shaling is yearning, a wanting that doesn’t stop, but shaling is a way of working to satisfy or at least palliate that desire, too. In the imagination of the kid – or of anyone – the shaling behavior will somehow result in the realization of the dream.
And: Bingo, bango, bongo: The cargo cults I promised you emerge, each one unique to the cultist.
I’m talking about the kids at the mall, but I’m talking about their parents, too. I’m talking about you and me and everyone: We all do this – whether it’s shiny ladies hob-nobbing over snobby baubles or their lonely husbands lingering over the catalogs of virtual companionship online.
Whatever it is, cats or cameras or bison or boats, if you want it badly enough, you’ll work to get it – ideally in a way that can actually work. But between the wanting and the getting is the shaling, and it’s the shaling that keeps you working. We’re all of us chasing a dream – all the time – and that is what makes horse races.
But the essence of shaling is right there to see: Shaling is the propitiation of the god of a cargo cult. The god is what you want. The propitiation is what you’re doing to get it. And the shaling is the wishing and hoping and planning and anticipating that drive your mind to drive all that effort.
I want for my work to outlive me. It answers questions and resolves dilemmas in ways nothing else does. But I want what I’m doing to survive for Shale, too. I want for her name to live forever, in recompense for what she taught us.
Sleep deeply, kitten. More than any other cat I’ve known, you’ve earned a rest.