My boyfriend gave me an assigment today — to read an Archy and Mehitabel story.
Don Marquis was obviously using his characters — Archy, a giant cockroach who is friends with Mehitabel, a cat — to portray human types, not animals. Mehitabel laments having had babies instead of a "high life".
Real cats, of course, don't suffer when they are caring for kittens, and they don't "sacrifice" anything. They know how to take care of themselves, unlike humans who often either neglect themselves, or their kids. If a cat is hungry, she will go hunt and eat, and not get worried to death about her kittens being alone for a while and getting so psychologically damaged they will need therapy when they grow up.
Like Mehitabel, my grandma would have loved to not have children, or not so many, and she would have loved to learn and be a nurse. She felt inferiour for being uneducated — as a child under the Nazi regime, she had been allowed to attend school for four years only, and then she got crushed by having six children, and never found the courage to just say, "Fuck you all, for the next hour, I am going to read a book!"
She even felt guilty when she gave one of her children to her sister who couldn't have children. She needed to be told that this was a wonderful thing to do! After all, her daughter was still hanging out with her siblings, she was not suffering from hunger, had good parents, and later inherited their house and farm. My grandma's sister got the child she wanted, and my grandma had one hungry mouth less to feed. These were very lucky circumstances — the proverbial good luck hidden in bad luck — if you have the courage to look at them the right way, and say goodbye to traditional concepts about what it means to be a good mother and sacrifice yourself for a silly idea.
When I was studying history and literature, I fell ill with university victimization by proxy — over-identifying with the victim aspect of everything. I was so obviously shaken by the mistreatment of large sections of the medieval society that a friend said to me, "All those people who died on the pyre in 1349 would be dead by now anyway". That is very smart — I just wish she had added, "Care for the living instead, dufus!" That is something I needed to be told!
I did feel sad when my grandma died because I was still single then, and I would have loved her to meet my children and my boyfriend. But in the end, it is better I have my own life and not repeat her mistakes, just as it would be utterly pointless to go out and seek revenge for a witch or a Jew who were burnt to death in 1349. People have suffered so much, for all the wrong reasons. To be unhappy over what happened centuries ago would be wrong and selfish — in a bad way, as this is not helping anybody, including the noble person who decides to suffer.
We all feel sad at times that we didn't give more. But often giving more would have meant turning away from the growth process and betraying humanity. Everything important that my grandma could possibly pass on is still alive in me, and everything I wish I could have given her I can give any person I deem worth it.The new paradigm will no longer be "giving back" but "giving forward". You never really repay your teachers except by helping the next generation.
— Dean Hannotte , from , by Don Marquis, 1927:
well boss mehitabel the cat has reappeared in her old haunts with a flock of kittens three of them this time archy she says to me yesterday the life of a female artist is continually hampered what in hell have i done to deserve all these kittens i look back on my life and it seems to me to be just one damned kitten after another i am a dancer archy and my only prayer is to be allowed to give my best to my art but just as i feel that i am succeeding in my life work along comes another batch of these damned kittens it is not archy that i am shy on mother love god knows i care for the sweet little things curse them but am i never to be allowed to live my own life i have purposely avoided matrimony in the interests of the higher life but i might just as well have been a domestic slave for all the freedom i have gained i hope none of them gets run over by an automobile my heart would bleed if anything happened to them and i found it out but it isn t fair archy it isn t fair these damned tom cats have all the fun and freedom if i was like some of these green eyed feline vamps i know i would simply walk out on the bunch of them and let them shift for themselves but i am not that kind archy i am full of mother love my kindness has always been my curse a tender heart is the cross i bear self sacrifice always and forever is my motto damn them i will make a home for the sweet innocent little things unless of course providence in his wisdom should remove them they are living just now in an abandoned garbage can just behind a made over stable in greenwich village and if it rained into the can before i could get back and rescue them i am afraid the little dears might drown it makes me shudder just to think of it of course if i were a family cat they would probably be drowned anyhow sometimes i think the kinder thing would be for me to carry the sweet little things over to the river and drop them in myself but a mother s love archy is so unreasonable something always prevents me these terrible conflicts are always presenting themselves to the artist the eternal struggle between art and life archy is something fierce my what a dramatic life i have lived one moment up the next moment down again but always gay archy always gay and always the lady too in spite of hell well boss it will be interesting to note just how mehitabel works out her present problem a dark mystery still broods over the manner in which the former family of three kittens disappeared one day she was taking to me of the kittens and the next day when i asked her about them she said innocently what kittens interrogation point and that was all i could ever get out of her on the subject we had a heavy rain right after she spoke to me but probably that garbage can leaks so the kittens have not yet been drowned archy