Saturday, February 14, 2009

Interview Game including Macavity: The Mystery Cat (by T.S. Eliot)

Image of a faces stuck as grafitti onto the Rialto Bridge, Venice, Italy, in 2009.
Dear Gentle Reader,

Richard at The Bundle of His(s) is playing a game which he is calling interview tag

Here's how it works.  

I read Richard's blog about this exercise and asked to be interviewed. 

Richard sent me five questions, which I have answered in this post.  

If you want to play, either in the comment section to this post or in an email to me, let me know that you would like to be interviewed. 

I will dream up some questions specifically for you with whatever info about you I can gain from your blog or other sources that you give me. 

Hopefully you'll have fun, in turn, exploring the questions on your blog. If you don't have a blog, I will (e-)etch your answers into the e-clay here on e-Cuneiform scratchings.

Richard asked me the following questions...

1. It looks like you’ve been all over the world in the past two years, what are you looking for, what have you found, how has it changed you?  Really, that’s only one question.  I could ask if you’re a CIA operative, but that would make it two questions.  Don’t worry, I’m not asking.

2. Are you really dangerous?  How so?  (About that CIA thing – oh never mind, I’m not asking.)

3. How much traveling has Pommes done?  Got any good stories?

4. What book length writings do you read over and over again?  What’s the attraction?

5. I’m worried about the Heroine (is it Regina, that’s my wife’s name).  How has she processed her brush with the migrant worker’s death?

6. The above may not be a question you want to answer, here’s the alternate:  complete this sentence:  The afterlife is…

Sepiru Chris – Interview

1. It looks like you’ve been all over the world in the past two years, what are you looking for, what have you found, how has it changed you?  Really, that’s only one question.  I could ask if you’re a CIA operative, but that would make it two questions.  Don’t worry, I’m not asking.

…I have this great shirt and its button rolled away one day... 

I scour markets around the world hoping to find the long-lost brother of that button…

I'd even settle for a close cousin...


Hmm. Real answer...

The Heroine, the Hero, and your humble scribe have been looking for group-optimized pareto-efficient happiness.

Vilfredo Federico Damaso Pareto (1848-1923) was a polymath who helped found modern economics, among other accomplishments. Pareto efficient outcomes are the domain of outcomes where, given an allocation of resources, one individual is made better off without other individuals becoming worse off. 

We have been trying to find outcomes which are both pareto-efficient for us individually and for us as a family, where happiness is what we are seeking to maximize.

The secret of happiness is two-fold. 

Figure out what makes you happy and do more of that. Figure out what makes you unhappy and do less than that. 

But this advice falls into the easier given than followed category and is also difficult within a family unit whose members each have divergent interests and  opportunities combined with strong drives. 

Well, we tried and try.

How have our intercontinental moves changed me? 

I have taken different risks than previous risks I have taken, and met some truly fantastic people who have enriched our lives and who, I hope, will be friends for life. They of course don't read this blog. But they ought to know it's true. (Addendum: OK, a couple of you do, as I now see from the comments.) 

And I have kissed off some opportunities that I might not otherwise have done. But I used to love risk, and am getting back to a risk-embracing way of life.


And our regular travels around the world? 

All have been in search of better comparative understandings, and questing for and finding cultural sites, practices, and ways of living before they become irreversibly changed by the sometimes ambiguous benefits of progress. The grand search for experience. 

What has this travel done for us? 

Besides killing all credibility with our carbon-footprint counting friends?

It's lightened our wallets, loaded up previously full memory banks, filled our hearts, and increased our knowledge of various cuisines. All eminently worthwhile.

2. Are you really dangerous?  How so?  (About that CIA thing – oh never mind, I’m not asking.)


One reader in Utah, as mentioned the other day, almost gouged her eye out because of something I had photographed and written about. 

And that is just what I can do with a pen.

You should see me with a rapier…

As per the second question you want to ask... I was mistaken for a CIA spy for a few years which I always thought amusing as I am not American. I knew so many generals in Taiwan and the connections which they presumed...

Well, it was fantastic; it opened so many doors. But I cannot talk about that...

3. How much traveling has Pommes done?  Got any good stories?

In his current life, his ninth, Pommes has been through large chunks of Canada, Germany, France, Switzerland, and now Hong Kong with us. Where he was before is largely unknown. 

We know he has spent significant time in England, Wales, Scotland, and France. 

And he never stays in the room when Paraguay or Uruguay are brought up...

Pommes doesn't like the ocean, loves riding in cars (head out the window if possible), is very happy to go for walks in the forest on a leash, and is a demonstrated polyglot. 

Pommes speaks English, French, German, and Mandarin. But, he is developing a frightful Cantonese accent and there is no din greater, under the heavens, than Cantonese-flavoured Mandarin...

Why does Pommes move so much, and cart us with him? 

Three syllables, one word… 

In – ter - pol.

You’ve heard of Macavity? 

By Old Possum a.k.a. Thomas Stearns (T.S.) Eliot…

Macavity: The Mystery Cat

Macavity's a Mystery Cat: he's called the Hidden Paw--
For he's the master criminal who can defy the Law.
He's the bafflement of Scotland Yard, the Flying Squad's despair:
For when they reach the scene of crime--Macavity's not there!

Macavity, Macavity, there's no one like Macavity,
He's broken every human law, he breaks the law of gravity.
His powers of levitation would make a fakir stare,
And when you reach the scene of crime--Macavity's not there!
You may seek him in the basement, you may look up in the air--
But I tell you once and once again, Macavity's not there!

Macavity's a ginger cat, he's very tall and thin;
You would know him if you saw him, for his eyes are sunken in.
His brow is deeply lined with thought, his head is highly doomed;
His coat is dusty from neglect, his whiskers are uncombed.
He sways his head from side to side, with movements like a snake;
And when you think he's half asleep, he's always wide awake.

Macavity, Macavity, there's no one like Macavity,
For he's a fiend in feline shape, a monster of depravity.
You may meet him in a by-street, you may see him in the square--
But when a crime's discovered, then Macavity's not there!

He's outwardly respectable. (They say he cheats at cards.)
And his footprints are not found in any file of Scotland Yard's.
And when the larder's looted, or the jewel-case is rifled,
Or when the milk is missing, or another Peke's been stifled,
Or the greenhouse glass is broken, and the trellis past repair--
Ay, there's the wonder of the thing! Macavity's not there!

And when the Foreign Office finds a Treaty's gone astray,
Or the Admiralty lose some plans and drawings by the way,
There may be a scrap of paper in the hall or on the stair--
But it's useless of investigate--Macavity's not there!
And when the loss has been disclosed, the Secret Service say:
"It must have been Macavity!"--but he's a mile away.
You'll be sure to find him resting, or a-licking of his thumbs,
Or engaged in doing complicated long division sums.

Macavity, Macavity, there's no one like Macavity,
There never was a Cat of such deceitfulness and suavity.
He always has an alibi, or one or two to spare:
And whatever time the deed took place--MACAVITY WASN'T THERE!
And they say that all the Cats whose wicked deeds are widely known
(I might mention Mungojerrie, I might mention Griddlebone)
Are nothing more than agents for the Cat who all the time
Just controls their operations: the Napoleon of Crime!


Truth is frequently stranger than fiction.

Macavity is based on Pommes’ pre-memoirs.

Pommes, as mentioned above, is on his ninth life. 

This explains why T.S. Eliot had time to record the misdeeds of his earlier existence. 

Assuming eleven years per life, and eight prior lives, Pommes had seventeen years of master criminal time to gain the attention of Scotland Yard, and T.S. Eliot, prior to T.S. Eliot daring to ask Pommes' permission to write about Pommes' exploits.

In the first draft of the poem Pommes was “short and stout” and you would know him if you saw him for his “fat body could float”.

As in reality. 


Tempers flared. 

Claws flicked. 

Quills quivered. 

Inkpots shivered. 


Words were changed.

Eliot decided that discretion was the better part of valour and changed the third stanza to:

…he's very tall and thin;
You would know him if you saw him, for his eyes are sunken in.

Further, Eliot changed Pommes’ name, as agreed, to Macavity for secrecy and reasons of scansion and rhyme.

Pommes’ feats are legendary amongst cats. 

Amongst birds, his claws are legendary. He can really pull...

4. What book length writings do you read over and over again?  What’s the attraction?

Everything by Tom Sharpe because of his absurdist, acerbic wit.

Everything by Tom Holt because of his absurdist, classically-derived learning and wit.

Everything by Stanislaw Lem because of his scientific absurdism and philosophical wit.

All the Jeeves and Wooster stories by Sir Pelham Grenville Wodehouse when I want some light wit and absurd plots…

Hmm, I’m seeing a pattern I had never noticed…

Do plays count, too? 

I adore reading Sir Tom Stoppard’s (born Tomáš Straussler) Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead due to its clever wit on so many levels. I also love Akinwande Oluwole “Wole” Soyinka’s Trials of Brother Jero, Jero’s Metamorphosis, and Death and King’s Horsemen and cannot imagine tiring of them.

Every few years I go on a John Milton binge, because his language is so beautiful, his poetry mesmerises, and his political writings are such wonderfully lucid, readable examples of ratiocination. I also go on binges with books like Publius Virgilius “Virgil” Maro’s the Aeneid or Homer’s the Iliad. I love the sounds of the words and the phrases and the stories that they tell. And I cannot ever imagine tiring of Shakespeare or Dante. Or of reading Chaucer aloud. Or of Apollonious Rhodius' Argonauticus...

Ooh. This is like a novella, so it should count too.... My favourite poem on the planet is Sohrab and Rustum by Matthew Arnold. I cry every time I read this; it moves me very deeply.

There are a few other books that I return to again and again; the ones that I can never read enough are fictions that are beautiful in themselves, intellectually stimulating, and that I have the chance to see more in, or into. 

5. Complete this sentence:  The afterlife is…

... still obscure.


What. You want more? Hmm...


I was raised an Anglican, then became an ardent atheist, then a humanist with an ardent love of women and learning. Then I was an Anglican (Episcopalian for Americans) lay priest. 

Now, I really don’t know. 

I love philosophy, theology, and comparative studies of everything, though I shy away from eschatology.

My challenge, with the afterlife and therefore with all that preceeds it, intellectually speaking, is that I have true difficulties with faith. 

I fear the blind aspect of faith and simultaneously envy the power of faith. 

I have no idea where faith comes from or where to pick it up. But I search.

Thank you Richard. This was an interesting experience. I still make an effort to be slightly anonymous, which impacts the answers I feel comfortable giving.


Dear Gentle Reader,

Please let me know if you wish to do an interview. 
Here are the instructions:
1. Leave me a comment to this post saying, “Interview me” and give me a way to contact you. Or you can email me at (insert your email address).
2. I will respond by e-mailing you five questions (I get to pick the questions!)
3. You  update your blog with the answers to the questions.  If you don't have a blog, I will post your answers on this one in the comments section, or maybe make you into a guest blogger! 
4. Please include this explanation and an offer to interview someone else in the same post.
5. When others comment asking to be interviewed, you will ask them five questions....and on we go!



Heidelweiss said...

Wonderful post! So great to learn more about you. You are highly dangerous-I am now eyeless and armless (but I let my hands remain so I can knit). Pommes must be a wonderful little buddy to have around. The perfect guard cat. If you're ever in need of some extra faith, you can borrow some of mine ;). I think I would like to play but (of course) it might take me an age to get around to it. I have 2 kids birthdays to blog about plus some killer knits (well, one killer knit, two scarves).

jjdebenedictis said...

I would be scared to be interviewed by you. You know too much already! :-)

Raph G. Neckmann said...

This is a fascinating interview, Sepiru Chris! I shall read it again when we are all back from our Valentines Day festivities.

Your 'secret of happiness' resonates sympathetically down the telescope to us here.

Of course, I cannot resist sticking my neck out to be interviewed. I have been interviewed by Willow some weeks ago, but I am sure your questions will be very different. And I tremblingly trust that you will be Humble Scribe and not Fearsome Scribe - remember I am just a simple giraffe.

It may be several days before I can post my answers - our entrepreneurial exploits are keeping us immensely busy at present!

Oh dear - Necky Becky has been reading this and asks (somewhat insistently) that you give her a question too ...

Junosmom said...

Okay, I'll bite. Go ahead, ask away. I am working hard to get back up to blog-reading speed, so it may take me a day or two. Now, how to get the questions? I'll work on that.

Sepiru Chris said...

Goodness gracious me. It took me over a week to answer my interview questions. It will likely take me a week to get them out to each of you!



My regret knows no bounds regarding your eyes and arms... As to Pommes, set a thief to catch a thief rings truer than I could ever imagine. You never know, I just might take you up on that... And the time it takes to respond is irrelevant...


I know too little! I know hardly anything at all! Remembering the parameters that I rely upon your blog and anything else you choose to show me would limit the questions I could ask... But that seems perfectly reasonable...


Simple giraffe! You jest my dear Camelopardalisian envoy of goodwill and graciousness... You stick your neck out very far to claim anything less...

But of course I will be a humble and gentle Giraffe.

It will be several days before I can post questions for the exact same reasons; entrepreneurial activities take the fore...

Necky Becky,

Of course I would be delighted to ask you a question. I was trying to take a photo of my Camelopardalisian inspired neck treatment the other day as you had requested. As the Heroine was gone, I asked the Hero for help...

I thought Pommes' photographic instructions were a bit off... and then when I saw the results, I knew I could never send them on to you, dear N.B., as your father would be furious! Moral? Never let a past blackmailer be in charge of taking your photograph...


I am delighted that you want to play also. Overwhelmed by the amount of work I have to do, and delighted that you want to play.

It could take a while for the questions to get out, but over they shall come...

Tschuess all,

Cloudia said...

"in search of better comparative understandings, and questing for and finding cultural sites, practices, and ways of living before they become irreversibly changed by the sometimes ambiguous benefits of progress. The grand search for experience."

aye, my brother! aloha and thank you

simmers said...

Ha! I always knew you were a spy.
Thanks for being so open. And for some book suggestions.

Sepiru Chris said...


Cheers and aloha! (I suspect that that paragraph resonates strongly with you, too.)



Come hiking and I can fill you in on some great stories. I might have to dispose of you over the side of a cliff, but the view will be great...

We can do the MacLehose trail in the New Territories... and there might well be a cultural/natural history trip coming up into China in October(ish)...


Junosmom said...

No hurry Chris. Life has been running me over like a Mack truck lately. Take your time.

bindu said...

Very interesting reading. Your language takes abrupt turns and dips and is always unexpected!

Sepiru Chris said...


I will, and I will try to be gentler than a Mack truck.


That's me, the roller coaster scribe. Glad you like the dips (because I have it on very good authority that I am one of those, sometimes, too).