Weekend Cat Blogging with Sam Sam: Sick Days and Introspection

The new year has brought plague and pestilence to CatSynth HQ, as I succumbed to the current vaccine-resistant strain of the flu.  It’s been mostly bed rest since Wednesday, but fortunately, I have Sam Sam nearby.

She has been affectionate and attentive, more so than usual.  I suspect that is also due to my having started working in an office again after being home with her for most of December.  That’s a story for another time.  In the meantime, we are enjoying one another’s company, even if I am low on energy and sometimes a bit delirious.  Here is a closeup of her.

In a way, the illness and rest have extended the period of solitude and introspection from the last weeks of 2017, which I do not mind at all.  It’s given me more time to think about the vague ideas and plans that I have for this year, though it postpones getting started on any execution.  On the negative side, I had to cancel a gig today in Sacramento, extending what I call the “Sacramento Curse” where every planned show in that city since the beginning of 2014 has been missed for one reason or another (the first and most dramatic being one that was canceled due to a massive fire near the venue – fortunately, no one was hurt and the venue was fine afterwards).  It has also slowed down activity that requires looking at screens for prolonged periods.  I made an exception to get this post out.

Lying down and letting one’s mind wander with a slight fever does lead to interesting thoughts.  A different experience from The Disintegration of Thought during periods of health, but interesting nonetheless.  Some are complete nonsense, but others are consistent with introspection and what it takes to try and be happy and healthy in these challenging times.  The roles of fear and caution are part of that internal dialog, as well as creativity in general.   Perhaps I will have more to say about them as I return to health, perhaps not.

Farewell to 2017

2017 in review

Once again, it is time for our end-of-year collage and review. So many images to choose from in such a busy 2017 that took us in so many directions at once, both outward and inward.

At the end of 2016, I was still reeling from the loss of Luna and the election.  But I did welcome Sam Sam into my life and also promised myself that I would prosper and thrive in the new terrifying Trump era.  And we did, focusing on moving forward with the things from 2016 that did go well.  Lots of new music as a solo performer, with my new band CDP, and with Vacuum Tree Head.   There are now three CatSynth-branded apps for both iOS and Android, and a fourth on the way.  We launched CatSynth TV, with 22 videos under our belt since October.  And Sam Sam has blossomed into a sassy and thoroughly spoiled cat whom we love dearly.

If there is a word of caution on the personal and professional fronts, it is perhaps that 2017 was too much.  After a strong first half of the year through July, I scaled back on live performance to focus on other priorities.  I regret that, but it was also the reality of the many things going on.  I wish the apps, blog, and video channels were progressing faster, but it’s as fast as we can go with our myriad other responsibilities.  The last couple months, while still rich with experience, have been an exercise in paring back and trying to focus on the highest priorities; and also focus on health, self-care, and well being.  These are all very challenging, but I’m grateful to have the help of loved ones.

We cannot ignore the fact that our rebound in 2017 after two difficult years took place amidst a dark pall over the country and world.  Many friends have suffered amidst the monumental forces of hurricanes, flooding, fires, and human foolishness.  The latter is most visible in the face of the current regime that continues to embarrass and threaten us.  These are things we have to be vigilant about as we move in 2018.  I do feel personally in the cross-hairs on multiple fronts, so I hope we can continue to survive and prosper as well as we did in 2017, and maybe at the end of 2018 we will look back and saw how the world became at least a slightly better place.

It is also interesting to look back to our end-of-year post from 2007, ten years ago.  It was a dark, cold time amidst major life changes – I couldn’t have imagined then what life would be like now.  Will we feel the same way in 2027?  And will there still be a CatSynth then?  Only time will tell…

Seasons Greetings from CatSynth!

Sam Sam and red sock

We at CatSynth with everyone a very happy winter holiday season, whichever holidays you celebrate!  Sam Sam likes to celebrate the holidays relaxing with her favorite Christmas-themed toy.

For us, Hannukah ended a little less than a week ago.  Here is our eighth-night photo with our musically themed menorah.

On the winter solstice, we were out at a show that is featured in our latest CatSynth TV – more on that later.  As for today, Christmas, we are going to make like Sam Sam and relax.  And later maybe have Chinese food and watch a movie 😺

An Analysis of a Dream

I don’t have many memorable dreams these days. But when I do, they usually occur in the late morning hours – far past what many people would consider a reasonable time to wake up – and they are more often than not rather tense and stressful. This morning was no exception.

The majority of the dream took place at Westorchard Elementary School in Chappaqua, New York. This is my elementary school where I spend many of my early years. But I was my 2017 self, a grown professional woman. I had some sort of teaching gig there, though not a full-time one with a fixed classroom. I have no idea what I taught. The students were mostly absent from the dream, except as occasional props in other teachers’ classrooms, visible behind glass walls (the real-life school did not have glass walls in classrooms). I was mostly wandering around the Byzantine hallways between the different modernist wings of the school (that part is accurate), But in the dream there was an even larger labyrinth of utilitarian hallways, lounges, fitness centers, and conference rooms, that were exclusively for staff that as far as I know did not exist in real life.

During the course of the dream, I seemed to randomly shuttle back and forth to New York City at all sorts off times of the day, with lots of moments on subways, buses, and in impossible buildings. It also seemed like I would camp late nights at the school, with a bag of clothing and other living stuff in my small office.

And there were cats. Lots of cats. Most notably, Luna was part of the dream. Sam Sam was known, but not present. Indeed, the main action of the dream, and what made it so stressful, was the fact that seemed to be constantly bringing Luna with me to school, and she kept getting lost. So much of the time wandering the real and fictitious halls of the school were spent trying frantically to find a small black cat. A task that was made harder by the fact that there seemed to be many cats wandering around. I scooped up one cream colored cat, made friends, and then proceeded to lose her as well. I would sometimes espy a brown or black cat, only to conclude that it wasn’t Luna, and then a few moments later see the purple collar and pink pendant, turn her around and look into her emerald eyes. I’d grab her squirming body, give her a big hug, and then a few minutes later proceed to lose her again. I sometimes got distracted by the architecture in New York – one long detour in the city had me scrambling to find an elevator from the top floor – and some of the apparent remodeling in the school. One floor between two classrooms in Wings D and E was removed to make an open double-story loft-like space. One auxiliary staircase was at first dark and with vinyl flooring from the actual school but later was brightly lit with white marble stairs. I think this was the moment I figured out this was a dream, and it didn’t last much longer than that. But not before one more frantic moment locating Luna, grabbing her and shouting out to my colleagues for a bag.


I am not one for broad metaphors, but I do like to oversee and analyze the details of things, and this dream has a lot to unpack. It was beautiful even while it was anxious – in that way, it was like many films that I enjoy. Luna’s presence is the easiest to assess. I have had several such dreams about her over the years, some before her cancer diagnosis. The earlier ones were fear and anxiety of loss – that was a part of this dream as well – but now there is also unprocessed grief. As for the many other cats…well, I do love cats.

The school setting is interesting. It’s not unusual for past schools to appear in dreams. But this one was unique, in that was returning as a teacher. Most often, I am an adult, but for some reason having to go back and repeat a grade (usually some bureaucratic technicality). Those dreams were usually humiliating. This time there wasn’t any such humiliation, and my interactions were with the teachers and staff as peers. Also, I was my 2017 self, as opposed to a very different past self as a younger adult that almost always appeared in such dreams. It’s quite a relief to be myself in the dream, even if it was a weird and stressful one.

Why Westorchard in particular? That’s hard to say, though I know I have looked at it on Google Maps several times of late. The architecture and layout of that school were quite interesting. It was a daily exposure to a particular type of modernism. Architecture and space are an important part of my dreams, as they are in waking life. The dream architecture can be impossible at times and transcend space.

And New York just looms large in my life.

Sam Sam’s First Gotcha Day!

It was one year ago today that Sam Sam came to live at CatSynth HQ, and we are wishing her a very happy first Gotcha Day (adoption anniversary)!

A year ago I was still in the early part of my grieving process for Luna, who had passed away just a little over a month earlier.  Getting another cat was always the plan, but not quite so soon.  But our friends Michael de la Cuesta (of Vacuum Tree Head) and Karen de la Cuesta told me about this sweet cat they needed to rehome – her longtime human had passed away a year earlier, and she needed to leave her current home in southern California.  I, of course, said yes.  So on December 7, 2016, she made the journey north to San Francisco and stepped in HQ for the first time.  Not surprisingly, “Sam Sam” was a bit shy and skittish at first, spending most of her time under the bed, sneaking out periodically for food, water, and the litter box.  But bit by bit she came out her shell and blossomed into a wonderful companion.  She is quite talkative and outgoing now – even a bit sassy at times 😸

She delights many with her unique markings and quirky antics.

Happy Gotcha Day, Sam Sam!  We are so glad you came to live with us, and we hope to spend many years together 💕

macOS High Sierra and The Great Purge

Apple’s incessant nagging gets to me. They really seem to want to grab your attention with alerts and updates to a level that reminds me of Microsoft Windows of the early-to-mid 2000s. This is perhaps no more true than with OS updates. I do my best to resist them, but in a moment of fatigue and weakness after busy few days around New York, I gave in and allowed them to update my laptop to macOS High Sierra. After all, I had no trouble at all installing any of the previous mountain-themed updates (Yosemite, El Capitan, Sierra), and maybe I would even save a little disk space on my boot drive afterward.

This was a huge mistake. After several minutes of churning – harmless enough – it stopped with the ominous message “macOS could not be installed on your computer.” Unfortunate, but ok, just move on. But after rebooting and attempting to log in, I started getting Linux-style text errors pouring down the screen and a kernel panic. This repeated multiple times and was definitely not good. Not good at all. A boot to recovery mode with Command+R and running “First Aid” in Disk Utility cleared up that problem, but I now had a MacBook Pro stuck in a Groundhog-Day-like cycle of attempting to install macOS and failing.

OK, no need to panic yet. After all, I could restore from Time Machine back in San Francisco. But in the meantime, no CatSynth posts with photos, no CatSynth TV episodes, no app updates. And when I want to get something done, I really want to get it done. Perhaps, in retrospect, it is this impatience that gets me into situations like this.

My best theory as to what went wrong (none of the obvious things via Google search made any difference) is that the macOS installation collided with the older Journaled+Encrypted hard drive, or perhaps the 40GB of disk space was distributed in such a way that hindered installation. So before and after a delightful Thanksgiving with family, I embarked on another direction: making a quick backup image of the still intact drive, and reformat it in a more modern but unencrypted way. Both those operations went smoothly, and macOS High Sierra installed quickly and flawlessly afterward.

But now I had a blank system. I realized rather than tragedy, this is actually an opportunity. The filesystem was basically layers upon layers dating back to at least 2011, a mess of disorganized photos, music, scattered source code and partially uninstalled applications. It was always on the verge of running out of space and running rather slowly. I now had a chance to start again, without losing what I had in the past. I have done such a purge before, but not in several years – I have been lulled into complacency by installations and backups that mostly work. So we are now installing our most used items: Photoshop, Lightroom, Final Cut, Xcode, IntelliJ, etc. The music is simple. I’ll figure out what to do with the photos. And I’ll leave the old image on an external drive.

We are starting fresh, or fresh enough. And while it will be a day or two before I can do videos again, we can certainly get back to more articles; and sort the rest out when we get back to San Francisco. It’s also an observation that in-the-moment impatience is sometimes a blind spot. I need to pause a bit more, perhaps, even in those moments when I don’t plan to.

Weekend Cat Blogging with Sam Sam: The Departure and the Coat

Early Saturday morning, I embarked on another trip to New York. As it is late November, this trip requires a winter coat. While it was sitting out, Sam Sam came over to investigate.

She was fascinated by the wool coat and immediately started purring up a storm and kneading.

The soft woolen surface clearly brought out some kitten instinct in her. While Luna used to purr and knead soft things frequently, I haven’t seen Sam Sam do that as much, and not to the degree she did in the presence of this coat.

One of the hardest parts of leaving on a trip is leaving my cat. Fortunately, we know that Sam Sam is good hands, being lovingly looked after at CatSynth HQ (and probably spoiled rotten). I look forward to reuniting with her in a little over a week.

Remembering Luna, One Year Later

Luna with her beautiful green eyes.

It’s been a year since Luna passed away. And so today we mark her yahrzeit, or anniversary of death. Over the past year, the grieving process has continued in its complicated and chaotic pattern, sometimes raw and at the surface, sometimes just a fond memory now tinged with melancholy. Perhaps if one plots the grief over the course of a year. it will trend downwards, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t moments of deep loss and sadness.

Farewell to Luna

We began observing the yahrzeit at sundown yesterday. After repeated heatwaves and the worst fires and air quality that I have experienced in California, the skies and air suddenly became chilly, crisp, and damp, signaling the real arrival of autumn. The palpable chill in the air brought memories of Luna’s last week back into focus and set the tone for the evening. We switched on the memorial candle – I only use electrical candles for this purpose. A glass or two of red wine, some comfort food, and David Bowie on the stereo. The songs “Dollar Days” from Blackstar and “Prettiest Star” from Alladin Sane are particularly tied to Luna’s passing, along with the chill.

Sam Sam seemed to sense my state – exacerbated by an unusually stressful workday on top of everything else – and provided a lot of extra comfort last night, breaking her night-time wanderings around HQ to come and lay on my chest and purr. She does this most days, but not as long or as deep. Indeed, her presence has been a great source of love and comfort as I continue to move forward. I will always miss Luna, but my current and future cats need me in the present.

Yom Kippur 2017, Meditations and Reflections

Star of David

Fast, reflect, and question. These are our personal mandates on Yom Kippur this 5778 (2017). Fasting is pretty self-explanatory – I don’t do it every year, but this year it feels important to do so. Sam Sam does not have to fast. The questioning centers around “what does it mean to be Jewish in this time and place”, an especially complicated and treacherous question for those of us who are secular Jews. Yom Kippur is described in Leviticus, the one book of the Torah that I have not been able to get through in its entirety (mostly because it’s extremely dense and about as riveting as the phone book). But I still celebrate independent of that, based on heritage and family tradition. You are a Jew if your mother is a Jew, end of story. I extend this rule to my cats.

Sam Sam enjoys a snack on Yom Kippur
[Sam Sam is exempt from fasting]

For an excellent read on the topic of secular Jews on Yom Kippur, especially secular Jews committed to activism and social justice, please read this article by Dania Rajendra [Full disclosure: Dania is my sister-in-law.]. For me, part of my plan for this holiday was to compose a track based on sounds from a short-wave-radio synth module an, idea I formulated during a reflective moment last night.


[Cover image taken during Yom Kippur 2016, see this article.]

The track was recorded as a meditation of sorts, getting into a heightened, focused state while turning the knobs of the Eowave short-wave module, tuning into stations that aren’t there. The other “master” of the track was the Wiard/Richter Noisering, which I let control the Rossum Electro-Music Morpheus module. Both focus on chance and working with elements very much outside my control. I also did not want to spend much time outside the meditation-recording process itself. There is no editing save for some tapering at the beginning and end of the track and the obligatory EQ and compression.

I am both doing too much, and too little at the same time. I can’t save all the shelter cats; I can help everyone suffering through one disaster after another in North America and Carribean. But I can try to make a little bit of a difference in each. When I focus on all things “CatSynth”, sometimes my music suffers – I’m overdue booking new gigs for my band CDP and I do feel a need to atone for that. In short, the challenge in 5778 and beyond is to find a way of doing all the things that matter most while minimizing time and resources on the things that don’t. No easy task for someone who tends to say “yes” to everything, hates to disappoint others, and has a difficult time letting go of things. But that last one is another aspect of this holiday, and so it is as good a time to begin as any…