I’m sure I’ve mentioned it before. I’ve become one of those cat ladies. I went through my Dropbox recently to clear up space, and much of it was pictures of cats sleeping. Multiple pictures sometimes of the same catnap. But going through the pictures made me remember what my cats were like when they first got here– especially my grey cat.
Our black cat has always been a little rambunctious. The first time we held her at the vet’s office where we adopted her from, she jumped off my boyfriend’s shoulders to jump onto a shelf full of neck cones. We were alone in the room, just us and the cats, and immediately, Jay and I felt like we’d committed a minor offense of some sort. “Cat, you can’t do that! Get back here!” My boyfriend fell in love with her immediately.
The cat that I would choose happened to be the exact opposite. He was timid. They put him in my arms and warned me he was a “bolter.” That’s why they shut us in the room. So when he ran off, they could find him again. He froze in my arms, tiny claw digging into my skin. When I put him back down in his cage, he hid behind his food bowl, every so often popping his head up to see if I was still there.
My timid kitty is the one who most got me thinking about personality. Growing up around pets (mostly dogs) I have always accepted that they each have a unique personality, and that once an animal is gone, no other animal will replace it. But watching these two cats, I became amazed at how much personality they have and just how much it can change over time with the right nurturing.
This previously timid cat now stands up on higher ledges to meow with determination when it is time to feed him the good food at night. He uses his purrs to manipulate us when he wants to come into the bedroom. He stands in our way in the morning when he wants attention, no need to really ask for it. He still slinks into my lap though when I sit on the couch with some hesitation. And if he gets outside, the world that used to scare him actually intrigues him, and he will walk away from the door, but never too far.
I assume this is just because of his environment and us. He has learned that he can trust us. He can trust our friends. When people come over, if he knows and trusts them he will flop over and wait for them to give him belly rubs. (The flopping over is cute, and I have to tell people he’s doing this to for the first time what he expects them to do.)
Trouble has made me see that personality, at the base, is simply how we respond to stimuli. His first response used to be to run and hide. Danger’s first response was to run up to the thing and start sniffing at it, possibly slap it with a paw.
Of course, it gets much more complicated with humans, but the same basic idea seems to hold true. I’ve watched my niece and nephew grow up, and I am constantly amazed to see that so many of the mannerisms they have as adults now are exactly the same as when they were little toddlers. The way they often react to things now is similar along the lines to the way they would have acted as kids. (It kills me when I get my big nephew to sputter out a laugh that resembles the laugh he had at age five.) The difference in humans though is that we change what we want to change. If there is something we don’t like about ourselves, we can work on disguising it or controlling it. I used to be shy and had trouble looking people in the eyes. Over time and through practice, I have learned that making the first strike at welcoming a person into my space helps make the other person feel comfortable which makes me feel better as well. But that shyness hasn’t left me. I still feel the tug of it in any interaction I do. It’s quieter if I’m in a space that is all my own (like my office), but it is incredibly loud if I’m somewhere I don’t feel comfortable. And some days I don’t want to deal with that little battle, so I simply won’t.
So I’m thinking I need to look at my characters a little differently. I need to take note of their stock response and then examine how the events in their life affect that natural behavior as well as what they’ve done to change their own behavior, if they’re conscious of it at all.