About the Author
Jackson Galaxy is a cat behaviorist who has spent almost twenty-five years working to better the lives of cats in their homes, in shelters, and on TV as host and executive producer of Animal Planet's long-running hit show My Cat from Hell. He is the coauthor of the New York Times bestsellers Catification: Designing a Happy and Stylish Home for Your Cat (and You!) and Catify to Satisfy. Jackson is also the author of his memoir Cat Daddy: What the World's Most Incorrigible Cat Taught Me About Life, Love, and Coming Clean.
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
I am in front of a large and very enthusiastic audience in Buenos Aires, while on a tour of Latin America. Over the course of the year, I’ve adjusted to speaking with a translator in places like Malaysia and Indonesia, and I had just been in Bogotá and Mexico City. If you can have simultaneous translation, with the audience wearing headphones, it is a blessing beyond belief, because the audience is with you—the laughing, gasping, and applauding happens (one hopes) just a second or three later than with an English-speaking crowd. In the big scheme of things, it’s a minor inconvenience.
But, when you and your translator switch off (you finish a full thought before he begins), well . . . it’s just a massive headache at best, an absolute kamikaze mission at worst. My translator would stand next to me, a ghost dodging my physical outbursts and stream-of-consciousness rants. The more excited I get, however, the less I remember to heed the presence or the needs of my “ghost.” Some translators, the ones who pride themselves as practitioners of a linguistic art form, allow me to get an entire paragraph out of my mouth before tapping me on the shoulder or giving me that sideways glance, in order to succinctly and with equal fervor catch the audience up.
On this night in Buenos Aires, my translator isn’t that person. She is actually a newscaster who happens to be bilingual. It is not the most graceful dance, that’s for sure. There is much in the way of toe stepping on both of our parts.
Improvisation aside, I always introduce the concept of Cat Mojo early in the show. It’s the linchpin of my entire presentational spiel. That introduction, on this night, is firing on all cylinders; I’m feeling it for sure, as I attempt to occupy the space between cat guy and Pentecostal revivalist. I’m breathlessly demonstrating what a Mojo-fied cat looks like, shamelessly preening, modeling the tail and ear postures, the overall gait of confidence. This all culminates at that moment when I say, “And what do we call this? Man, we call this Cat Mojo. Your cat. Has . . . MOJO.” I allow that statement to reverberate. And it reverberates for entirely too long, going from a drama-filled beat to an awkward silence. I give my translator that sideways glance. Nothing comes out of her mouth, and her eyes betray a slight panic.
At once, she allows her newscasterly character to fall away. She leans in close to me and whispers, “Qué es mojo?” And I respond, in hindsight maybe a bit too loud, “What do you mean, ‘What is mojo?’ You don’t know what mojo means?” We’re having a conversation on this stage, and with every passing reverberant second, I’m losing my grip on this audience. Incredulous, I turn to them with equal measures of validation seeking and creeping dread, and say in full sideshow-barker voice, “Hey, folks, you know what mojo means, right? ‘You’ve got your mojo on,’ ‘You’ve got your mojo workin’.’ How many people here know what the word ‘mojo’ means?”
Cue the crickets. That feeling of creeping dread is now a full-on, flop-sweat-inducing nightmare. For the first time since I was twelve years old, holding a guitar with a broken string at a YMCA talent show, I am about to flame out before a live audience, and I couldn’t think of a single way out of it.
I think back to 2002, when I was sitting at my desk in Boulder, Colorado. The desk consisted of a big chunk of particleboard resting on two sawhorses. I was inspired at the time to turn what I knew into a manifesto of sorts—well, less inspired and more motivated. After a few years as an independent behavior consultant, I found myself trying entirely too hard to boil my knowledge base about all cats down to a relatable info-nugget for my clients, so we could more readily get to the part where they apply that knowledge to getting to know their cats. As is the case today, but much more so back then, cats are dismissed as being inscrutable—so far outside the behavioral and experiential realm of humans that we have no anchor point to hang a relationship on. I was determined to find that hook.
Finding the hook was not about convenience, either. Remember, I had worked for ten years in an animal shelter and was more than a little invested. Far too many cats—millions a year—were (and still are) being killed in these shelters. Time and time again I would witness a question mark–shaped barrier of communication becoming a barbed-wire fence that led to the fracturing of very tender and tenuous relationships. It was the “mystery” of cats’ behavior—their inscrutable nature being fed through the human gumball machine called ego and emerging as a perceived insult—that compelled those frustrated humans to surrender them to the shelter or even turn them loose into the street. I was trying to, at the very least, take the barbed wire off the fence, so that the human and the animal could meet there safely and begin the process of deepening, instead of destroying, their bond.
One hook that I had already started employing with my students and clients was the concept of “the Raw Cat” the idea that the cat in your lap is, in an evolutionary way, millimeters removed from his ancestors (more on this in chapter 1). The Raw Cat represents the innate drives that have influenced cat behavior for the entire time cats have roamed the planet: the need to hunt, the realization that they are in the middle of the food chain, and the need to own and protect their territory.
As such, I came to believe that many, if not most, of the problems that my cat clients were experiencing (with the exception of undiagnosed physical issues), could be boiled down to territorial anxiety. The Raw Cat, content most of the time to stay in a place in the back of your cat’s mind, comes screaming to the fore when confronted with a threat to territorial security. Whether that threat is real or perceived matters little. The fact is, if they feel it, they will almost have to act upon it. It’s not enough to address the symptoms that become hair-pulling annoyances to us. Rather, we must find the opposite of that anxiety and coax that Raw Cat quality out to the point where it dominates and eventually extinguishes the anxiety.
Back to my makeshift desk: It was very late at night, and I was trying to push through that insistent, hallucinogenic moment when sleep would come whether I liked it or not. The risk of going face-first into the keyboard was fifty-fifty at best. I would type, realize I was in zombie mode, go back over it, erase almost everything, and start again.
I was about to pass out, so I got to my feet and started to concentrate on what confidence looks like instead of trying to explain it. Pacing my office, I decided that it was a strut. It was tail up in the backward question mark position, ears relaxed, eyes not dilated, whiskers neutral. No threat in sight, no fight-or-flight mechanism enacted. Neither the weaponry nor radar was needed. No need to take the feline alert system to DEFCON 1 and unlock the box that had the red button in it, because there was a deep, abiding sense that all was well in the world. This strut was not artificial in any way; it was not a product of how cats want the world to perceive them. In other words, it didn’t come from a place of cockiness. It was confidence that could only come from a deep sense of knowing that they own their place in the world. They could go about their day without eyes in the back of their heads, without wondering whether what they owned would be ripped from underneath them. This instinct was so grounded that it was beyond skeletal. It was coming from the vibration of history—a quantum communication—connecting cats to each other through the ages. The hook I was searching for, the thing I wanted humans to relate to, was what it felt like to experience the essence of confident ownership of territory.
I thought that if guardians could recognize and massage this present state of confidence, as simplistic as it may seem, it could help them head off most of the “symptoms” they complain so bitterly about, including cases of aggression and inappropriate litterbox behaviors. As I paced around the room, trying to humanize this strut, this confident swagger, the first vocal manifestation of the physicality came out of my mouth—the gusto-filled refrain from one of my musical heroes, Muddy Waters: “I got my mojo workin’!”
The hook had come, and I was not about to let it slip away. I had to wake myself up. I splashed water on my face. I slapped myself on the back of my neck, something I think a friend of mine taught me in high school to keep me awake during class. I even stepped outside my apartment into the Colorado winter in the dead of night, in nothing but my robe, partly to keep my mojo working and partly just to be aware of the moment, because I was so sure that it would be one I’d want to remember. And I was right; as time has gone on, it’s not an exaggeration to say that almost everything I have built in the name of helping cats revolves around humans understanding Cat Mojo.
Now, we’re back in Buenos Aires, back to the moment of crickets and creeping dread. I’m on that stage, asking the audience a simple question: “How many people here know what the word ‘mojo’ means?” Two, maybe three people—out of five hundred—raise their hands. I had built my career on a word that was falling on not just deaf ears, but on very confused ears.
Because of the language barrier (and because I am completely panicking and without words, English or otherwise), I have no choice but to demonstrate. I am forced back to that night in Boulder, forced to find and deliver that hook again; I need to find something that (a) my audience can relate to, and (b) my translator can translate. And all I can think of is Saturday Night Fever. And that scares me.
I have no time to consider whether this would be a really bad, evening-sinking choice . . . so away I go, painting a picture, faithful to my teenage memories, of the opening frames of the movie:
The Bee Gee’s “Stayin’ Alive” is pounding. The camera captures the sidewalk of Brooklyn, tracking upward from ’70s fabulous-looking shoes. It starts to pan up from hem to belt of flared-out and equally fabulous pants, past the silky, open-to-the-chest shirt, finally rising to reveal John Travolta, a.k.a. Tony Manero. He is carrying a can of paint in one hand and a slice of pizza in the other. And we discover, from shoes to perfect hair, the definition of swagger; Muddy Waters must surely be nodding his head in vigorous affirmation from somewhere in the great blues beyond—Tony has his mojo workin’.
I pause a beat to gauge response. Between the increasingly frenetic tempo and tone of my interpreter, and the steady outbreak of knowing smiles throughout the theater, I know the audience is getting it. So I begin to imitate the Manero strut.
Tony knows things. In the spirit of mojo, he doesn’t know these things as a way of convincing himself of his status. He. Just. Knows. The girls want to be with him, and the guys want to be him. Most important, Tony knows that Tony owns Brooklyn. Or at least this couple of blocks of Brooklyn. And that is understood wordlessly, spoken through the Mojo-fied language of swagger. The Manero strut is not a walk of demonstration, of proving. It is simply the outer manifestation of a grounded inner sense of ownership and belonging. The pizza grease dripping off his chin, the cans of paint that signify his lack of status, even the unresponsiveness of the numerous women he is catcalling along the way—none of it matters.
Doing the Manero strut back and forth across the expansive stage has me winded. With my hands on my knees, I look up and am met with excited murmurs and head nodding, telling me that I just dodged a bullet for sure. Having my feet held to the fire by a language barrier is the best thing that could have happened. That night in Buenos Aires marks a maturation of the concept of Cat Mojo, not only because I can define it in a way that I never thought I had to, but because I now know that I can show anyone, regardless of cultural differences, what mojo is, and that their mojo comes from the exact same place as Cat Mojo.
From my late-night epiphany in Boulder to the night in Buenos Aires seventeen years later, to every live performance, every in-home consultation, every class I’ve taught, and every episode of My Cat from Hell—it all leads us here, to this book: Total Cat Mojo. My primary occupation through these years actually has not been about solving cat issues, but about teaching you how to find, cultivate, and hold on to mojo. Am I referring to you or your cat right now? Well, both, really. Because if you got your mojo workin’, it’s a heck of a lot easier to bring it out of your cat. And if your cat has his mojo workin’, it’s enough to make any human smile with envy . . . even Tony Manero.