Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The Cat and the Cage

Hello Friends:

Okay, not too hard to grasp this metaphor, I know. But it is powerful for me, anyway. I have very strong feelings of fear centered around being trapped, in someone else's power, having no way to change the situation. Not to mention the dread that comes from being forced to wait around for whatever horrible trauma the people on the outside care to bestow next.

I'm a huge fan of the science fiction stories written by Manna Francis in the 'Administration' series. (Note, this is homoerotic fiction suitable only for adults and non-puritans. You've been warned.) One of the two main characters in the series, Toreth, suffered emotional abuse and neglect from his parents. As a result of that, and of reinforcing incidents in his life, Toreth is not a very nice person. In spite of the fact that he no longer lives in the cages of his past, like his parents house and the juvenile detention center, he continues to react as if he did.

Toreth visits the zoo, and makes an observation that keeps ringing through my mind like a passage from the bible, "Cages. You can't get out, and every bastard with a key can get in."

Toreth's partner Warrick points to a panther pacing restlessly back and forth behind the bars of her cage. Except the cage is huge with a properly designed habitat, and far bigger than the space the panther is pacing. Here's some of the rest of the story, edited by me from one of the books of Francis' I picked up on Amazon.

"Why's it doing that?" Toreth asked eventually.

"She came from somewhere where she was kept in a very small cage, with insufficient stimulation. The repetitive behavior is called stereotyping. A stress-reducing response, or so I understand."
"So why is it still doing it?"
"Probably because she hasn't noticed yet that things have changed."
"God, no wonder they're extinct in the wild if they were all that stupid."
"It's not a question of intelligence. It was all she'd ever experienced, according to the exhibit entry. She arrived at the other place as a young cub, and after that she was always kept alone in the same cage. Normal brain and central nervous system development depends on the proper kinds of environmental stimulation. When a stimulus is present, the developing nervous system reacts to it, learns from it and is shaped by it. There was nothing she wanted in the world around her, and no unpredictable events that required a reaction, so eventually she ceased to respond to it."
"So why aren't the new stimuli correcting that?"

"Her stereotyping is very deeply ingrained. The damage was done to her during early development, and was then heavily reinforced for a number of years."

"So it's going to be like this forever?" The panther turned and Toreth turned with her, perfectly in time and barely less graceful.

"They hope not. They've had other animals arrive in a similar condition, and most of them can be coaxed out of it eventually. Helped to learn new behaviors. It's likely to take a long time, though. Months at least. Perhaps years before she's anything like normal."

"Why's it staying just there?"

"I don't know for certain. Possibly she paced at the front of the old cage, where she could see the most, and so she's doing the same here. If you look, the track is where the light from out here is strongest. I don't imagine there's much choice involved in the activity—it's a reflex, that's all. A compulsion, rather."

It seems so easy when you put it that way, but I can't wrap my mind around it when it comes to myself. Why is it that although the cage now exists only in my own mind, that I still can't get out? Why am I still trapped here? Why the constant dread and fear?

I could have chosen any number of nasty pix for a trapped creature, by the way. There is some seriously twisted stuff floating around the ether. But I picked this one because I'm trying to create new impressions from the old. This was a 6mo old tiger that was being nursed back to health. So being held for him was positive, I guess. Still, its so hard not to project myself into that cage, and feel it's me pushing against the metal and saying "I think I'd rather be out there".

Your Hostess With Neuroses


The Tenacious Writer said...

What a poignant post. It reveals both self-awareness and the frustration that comes from not being freed yet by the self-awareness.

I also have fears around being trapped. It is the most panicking sensation. I can spend quite a bit of time in that state before I finally have the thought--"Oh, I see. I feel trapped."

The Blue Morpho said...

When you realize you are feeling trapped, how do you react to that knowledge? Does it lead you to a means for coping or even freeing yourself? Or does it tread you in circles inside the cage?

And since your own blog is about writing - does feeling trapped inhibit writing, or instead provide a springboard or pathway?

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