Cats don't need their own Facebook pages. They can simply take their owners' pages hostage. Mine did.
It started with a post on a day he went missing. He's an indoor cat so how many places could he be hiding? I shouted and called, banged on cat dishes and food tins, shook his food bag, crawled under the sofa looking for him. "Here, Orangie, Orangie, Orangie, Orangie Orange," I shrieked. "Come out right now!" But no cat. Silence. Forlorn and covered in dust bunnies, I went back to my office and turned around. There he was, one metre from my face on the bookshelf, staring. Gawd, at the very least he could have cleared his throat!
It was his complete disdain, his unbroken gaze of contempt, which prompted me to post on Facebook about the experience. I decided rather than posting about Orangie, I would post as Orangie, let the cat, or rather, his persona (let's be clear, my cat does not do Facebook), take over. And thus his legion of fans emerged, over 50 comments appeared in a short time, comments addressed to Orangie Orange, not to me, all sympathetic to the cat having to live with a stupid human.
I began on occasion, writing in a sardonic and cryptic cat voice, the voice of Orangie: Another mess in Afghanistan, think I'll take a nap. Christy Ann wastes her time writing fiction. She should get a real job. Food security in Nova Scotia is crap. Send mice. My owner is writing a novel about a teenage psychopath. I think she's the psycho. Send police. Thank you, Orangie Orange.
A photo of this huge fluffy cat with enormous polydactyl paws is my intermittent profile picture. And whenever he appears, the comments and the "likes" pour in. Me, as Orangie Orange, generates far more interest than me, as Christy Ann, does. Because as Orangie, I'm funny. Why? Because cats have that ability to reflect how absurd humans are as we prance about our lives.
I'm not alone in presenting a pet persona to my Facebook world. There are countless cat and dog pages on Facebook; Such pages as Dogs and Cats has more than 25,000 "likes." Sockington the cat, @sockington, is approaching 1.5 million followers on Twitter. With more than 100-million feline videos on YouTube, there is no doubt it's a cats' virtual world.
So what is it about Orangie Orange that stimulates such attention from my virtual social circle? One friend says that "it's a cat thing," that cat people love viewing life through their imperial, astute and suffer-no-fools lens. Orangie's lens is quirky. He's a stop, drop and sprawl cat. He receives his food with a majestic air. If I weep with frustration, he regards me like a psychiatrist - come now, deal with it. Wipe the snot off your face.
Let us keep this in perspective: This is an occasional habit for me, not a daily ritual. I'm not hard-core. Orangie doesn't have his own Facebook page and he's not tweeting. I can hide behind his big orange head and say things that I normally never would. I can mock myself, and others, safely express my doubts and insecurities about my work and the state of the world. Orangie can decide the solution to floods is to take a nap. He can express the sense of helplessness during world disasters that resonates with people, but if I were to say it as me, I come off as callous and inept. In the end, he strikes a chord with my Facebook friends. Orangie becomes the great unifier. We can all hide behind Orangie, bonding in the face of frustration and doubt and boredom.
I've recently caught up, via Facebook, with a classmate from my undergraduate years, Allan Pero-Aylen, now a professor of English at the University of Western Ontario. He's an ardent Orangie Orange admirer. Pero-Aylen points to writer Carl Van Vechten, and his classic treatise on cats, The Tiger in the House, A Cultural History of the Cat, saying, "cats know we love them, and they return that love, but refuse to give up the essential thing that separates them from us; they love and forgive us for not being cats. And we receive the enormous pleasure of nesting with tigers." There is something both wild and tame in a cat, and as a domesticated species, we long to feel both these qualities in ourselves.
Yes, I can see the complete absurdity in posting as my fat orange cat. In fact, I worry it makes me, if not crazy, a strange cat lady, or a flakey pet person, that next I'll be talking about how Orangie channels spirits. It's a slippery slope, right? I mean, he's a cat. He cares not for the world or human concerns. But whether perched on my bookshelf like a gargoyle, or as the object of my social media musings, like all pets, Orangie Orange has become a part of the extended family, now a part of my virtual community.
Christy Ann Conlin, who owns two cats, Orangie Orange and Marshmallow, in Halifax, is the author of Heave. Her young-adult novel, Dead Time, came out this week.
Special to The Globe and Mail