Books: Required Reading — Neil Gaiman, “A Dream of a Thousand Cats.”
“I am a Cat. I keep my own counsel.”
So we’ve survived another round of midterm elections and things aren’t going so well for us. This country seems to be turning into some horrible fever dream where the disenfranchised are looking to disenfranchise others, further than before, to make up for how poorly it’s all turning out.
A couple posts went up on TNG recently about this phenomenon, and specifically about how we can’t keep looking to legislation to make things right for us. The writer wasn’t particularly well-received in these points but I side with him. I won’t be the first queer blogger to quote Audre Lorde’s “The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.” That is to say, the rights we have at stake are beyond any laws, are ridiculous to even have laws about and that we can’t expect the engines of our own undoing to suddenly spring forth and rescue us.
Point being, we have to rescue ourselves.
I spent a week in San Francisco last month doing nothing but smoking pot and reading comic books, and Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman series was the perfect outlet for both. An 11-part comic focused on Morpheus, the lord of dreams, his life and eventual downfall, the series contains one little story that is so seemingly minor, so easy to lose in the story mechanisms, that I almost wish it wasn’t perfect.
“A Dream of A Thousand Cats,” nestled into the World Fantasy Award-winning “Dream Country,” volume of Sandman, is a simple story about a cat who has her kittens killed by owners unwilling to take care of them. She appeals to the Cat of Dreams (a feline version of Morpheus) and finds out that cats were once giant creatures who ruled the planet and kept humans as their pets and playthings. One day a human convinced all the others to dream that the world had always been skewed in their favor, that if a thousand of them dreamed this at once things would become as they dreamed.
The story begins and ends with the cat in question gathering as many other cats as she can together to share her findings, and to implore them to dream together that they once again will be in charge of their own freedom. Other cats in attendance are skeptical, especially about the ability of that many cats to actually agree on anything, but at least some are moved enough to hope and dream.
Dreaming. It sounds unmoored or ineffectual, but I think it’s the key to today’s queers rising up and getting their rights. We deserve equal treatment. And when you deserve something, you don’t ask for it. You don’t sit back and let “the system” suddenly and unrealistically decide in your favor. It’s not going to happen. The last two years have seen a liberal, and supposedly gay-friendly, lawmaking body unable to get us equal employment protection. No issues of marriage and its religious tangles, no years of military institution to hold us back. Just the basic ability to not be fired from our workplaces because of who we are.
They couldn’t do that and yet we’re still bogged down in the legislative process as the be-all and end-all of our quest to be recognized as people. What if every queer person in the world just remembered that we deserve those things, that it’s not crazy to be protected and acknowledged in the most basic ways? Would we take to the streets? Make it so impossible to ignore our cause that we would no longer get called “selfish” for putting our own needs and safety ahead of the country’s well-being when one does not mutually exclude the other?
I found “A Dream of a Thousand Cats” so moving because it articulates that frustration so perfectly, and that the agent of this eventual, and very possible change, happens to be one little cat.
The quote up top is what that cat says when it is asked to state its reason for seeing the dream king. A creature so small, and so frail, is able to remember that its reasons for looking out for itself belong to it and it alone.
We don’t have to explain ourselves and we don’t need reasons for for being equal. Thought it might be as hard to wrangle the LGBT movement as it is to — well — herd a thousand cats, the first step is to just see things differently. I won’t use the “D” word again here, because it’s so implicit in the story I’m writing about, but I do recommend that everyone read it if they get a chance.
The entire Sandman series is predicated on the ideas that “Dreams shape the world.” To be fully in thrall to process is to forget the dreams we all share of an equal existence and I would love to see if everyone else can take as much out of this story as I did, and actually remember how things could be if we dared imagine them.
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