Mary Phillips-Sandy: Every year I'm like, this is the year I'm going to learn how to do eyeshadow. And then every year I don't.
Eboni Hogan: I really feel like the only necessity is eyebrows. The rest of it is bells and whistles.
Mary: But I wanna have sparkly eyeshadow like you!
Eboni: Well, then you just- with the fingers, and then-
Mary: I don't have much eyelid. It's so complicated. You know I really am thankful that you're here to inspire me with eyeshadow tips, but of course we are not here to talk about eyeshadow or really any makeup. Eboni, do you know what we're here to talk about?
Eboni: Um, cats?
Mary: Let's talk about cats.
Mary: Of course it is another episode of Let's Talk About Cats. I'm noted cat lady Mary Phillips-Sandy. My cat is Grendel, and she is having a dental emergency right now, she needs to go in and get her teeth cleaned. That's very stressful to me right now. Luckily, I am here with someone wonderful who's going to take my mind off of all of that. It's Eboni Hogan. And Eboni, you are a poet, a playwright, an arts educator, an embroidery artist, a mom, but most importantly, you have a cat.
Mary: Django. Can you start us off by telling us Django's five-word memoir?
Eboni: Touch healer, possible cult leader.
Eboni: I went for, like, the Barbara Walters interview special.
Mary: Yep, that's the teaser. I want to know more, and luckily, I will know more very soon.
Mary: It's time for a segment that we call the Cat Quiz. And in the Cat Quiz there is a prize at stake. There is no time limit but you do need to answer the questions quickly. "I don't know" is never an acceptable answer. Not in life and not in this Cat Quiz. Today's Cat Quiz, Eboni Hogan: How much do you know about arts and cats? Okay, are you ready?
Eboni: Yes, I'm ready.
Mary: Question number one. For some classical calligraphers in Asia and the Middle East,cats were not just subjects for art. They also helped make art tools by providing what?
Mary: For brushes! You got it right! One right, okay. Question number two. At the Met here in New York City there are a couple of 15th century tunics decorated with amazing, intricate cat designs. I want to wear them myself. I don't think they'll let me. These tunics are made from cotton and llama or alpaca fibers by artists in which South American country?
Mary: Peru! Two for two, Eboni Hogan! All right!
Eboni: Oh my goodness. It's so early and I'm killing it.
Mary: You are doing great. That cold brew is kicking in.
Eboni: Yes it is.
Mary: Okay, question number three. A simple woven fabric, originally made in India from unbleached cotton, gave its name to which type of cat or cat fur pattern?
Eboni: Caaaaa...nnnn... calico?
Mary: Calico! We're three for three.
Eboni: Are you serious?!
Mary: Yeah! Okay. This is very exciting. Question number four. I'm going to say four names. Three of those names are cat breeds. One is a type of embroidery stitch. I would like you to tell me which of these is not a cat breed, but is an embroidery stitch. Here are the four words: Bombay. Dwelf. Vandyke. And Highlander. Which of those is an embroidery stitch?
Mary: I'm so sorry. That is a breed of cat.
Eboni: That is the saddest moment of my life, that the embroidery question-
Mary: All right, you're doing great. Last question. What artist who became famous for her vibrant designs of cats adorning purses, mugs, t-shirts, got her start by making jewelry from scrap metal and selling it on the street?
Eboni: Sounds like my grandmother, but-
Mary: Your grandmother probably liked this artist.
Eboni: Carol Channing.
Mary: Wow. So close.
Eboni: I mean, you know, I couldn't hit you with I don't know. So here we are.
Mary: Very close. The answer is Laurel Burch.
Eboni: Yeah, that's real close.
Mary: Eboni Hogan, you win the Cat Quiz.
Eboni: Yes, I win.
Mary: Can you tell the people what I'm handing you?
Mary: Do you recognize this design?
Eboni: I do.
Mary: That's Laurel Burch.
Eboni: Oh, wow. Okay.
Mary: Open it up. Those are rainbow cat embroidery scissors.
Eboni: You give me embroidery scissors and you have my heart forever. I will never leave.
Mary: We are now going to introduce a new segment that we've never done before on the show, but I'm very excited about it. And we'll see how it goes. You know, that's just how we do things here at Let's Talk About Cats. This segment is called Is That For My Cat? So Eboni, I have located on the internet two products. One is a toy and one is a snack. You're going to tell me if you think it's designed for cats or for kids. And then we're going to decide if we think our cats and/or kids would like the product. Because sometimes it is hard to tell. Okay, so the first thing I found: the Zoomer Hedgiez, with a Z, interactive hedgehog. And it comes with lights, sounds, and sensors. Do you think that toy is for a cat or for a kid?
Eboni: I don't know that my cat would be all that interested in hedgehogs.
Mary: Correct, it's a kid's toy. In fact, it comes with a comb so you can comb its fur which seems a little misleading.
Eboni: Would you comb a hedgehog?
Mary: Exactly. We're teaching children bad lessons. And a lot of the online reviews suggest that it's something to give a child who does not have a pet.
Eboni: That is the most depressing thing I've ever heard.
Eboni: Why not just get the child a pet?
Mary: Get them a real hedgehog?
Mary: Or get them a cat.
Mary: I feel like my kid would not give a shit about this toy.
Eboni: That makes sense.
Mary: For Buckley, this would have been for my cat. For Grendel, this is not for my cat. It sounds like it's not for Django either.
Mary: I want to tell you, though, about a snack. It's a party mix. And the flavor is Cheezy Craze Crunch. And the cheezy is of course spelled with a Z. I guess Z means that it's fun. It's made with real cheese, including cheddar, Swiss, and Monterey jack. And according to the product page, that's what you get with this cheez-a-palooza. And I think this is now what I will say every time I'm eating cheese, which is not often because I'm lactose intolerant. What do you think? For cats or for kids?
Eboni: Oh man. This is- Django doesn't, he's not one of those cats that's like wanting to eat people food. But then again, my son also doesn't actually eat food. Do cats eat cheese? Do cats want to eat cheese?
Mary: I think some of them do, but some kids also do.
Eboni: But then there's so many Z's.
Mary: It is a cat treat.
Eboni: It is a cat treat?
Mary: Yeah, and apparently some cats are obsessed with cheese. The bag does say- of course I should say this for liability reasons, that Cheezy Craze Crunches, not for human consumption. I will say that has never stopped my child from eating things.
Mary: So I guess one of the things that we've learned here, Eboni, is that there's a tremendous business opportunity for toys and snacks that are delicious, safe, and fun for kids and cats. So busy parents like you and I can just buy one thing, kind of throw it on the ground, and let them have at it, right?
Eboni: My dream.
Mary: If any investors are listening to this, Eboni and I are available for consulting. We can get to work, what, like tomorrow?
Eboni: Right now.
Mary: Right now.
Eboni: I lost my job like yesterday, so we're good.
Mary: Okay. I'm so sorry to hear it. But I'm also very glad that you can join me in this new enterprise developing snacks and toys for kids and cats. No Poison Control necessary.
Mary: Okay, it's time for the real reason we're here, Eboni, of course: Let's talk about your cat. Please tell me how did you and Django meet?
Eboni: I've never owned a cat before Django. I don't come from a family of people that own cats. There's like maybe one that had enough cats for the whole family. But I didn't really know anything about cats. Except for that they apparently like mice. And we had a mouse situation in my apartment when we first moved to Flatbush. So I started hunting around for a cat. I know this is really cruel to say, like, I was NOT a cat person. But I came upon a Craigslist ad for this gorgeous Russian blue. And I was like: that's my cat. They said his name was Django. I was like, Well, of course. That's my cat. And he's like my favorite person who's not a person.
Mary: And did Django actually solve your mouse problem?
Eboni: I could not ask for anything more. The new favorite game is "I left you a surprise in your shoe."
Mary: Oh, no.
Eboni: Yeah, so I have to shake my shoes out every time I'm putting them on in the morning.
Mary: On a softer note, your Instagram, The Wreck Shop, where you post pictures of your embroidery art, which is I will say stunning. And as someone who is not visually inclined, I look at that sort of thing and I think, How the fuck does anyone do that? It's incredible. My favorite thing though, is when you post pictures of Django helping with your artwork, indeed, using the #artsandcats hashtag sometimes. Does he actually assist you with embroidery? And how have you trained him not to destroy fabric art?
Eboni: Yeah, no, he doesn't help at all.
Mary: Okay, so it's all an illusion on the gram.
Eboni: It's an illusion. I do it for the gram. I started doing embroidery around the same time that I brought Django home. And it was a part of in addition to, I need to get rid of these mice, there was also- I had a really, really stressful job. And I'm naturally a little bit more of a high-strung person. And I realized that I'm coming home every single day from work really, really aggro. I need some sort of hobby that quiets my mind, so that I can sleep a restful sleep and not be angry every moment of the day. And so I've got this cat who's just like, super chill and I've developed this hobby that allows for me to kind of zone out and not really think about anything besides, you know, a couple movements every few seconds. And at first he would jump up on my lap, and it's like, Oh, how sweet. But then you know, it's a string. And it came to the point where I was like, Buddy, if you want to be a part of this, we have to work together.
Mary: So, so he's like an assistant now?
Eboni: He's more of a cheerleader. A quiet cheerleader.
Mary: A cheerleader, I like that! All artists need cheerleaders. Have you done embroidery art of Django?
Eboni: I gave up.
Mary: Oh, no.
Eboni: I had designed this totally cliche- it was Django as Django Unchained, with the purple suit, frills around the collar. And I realized that it's really, really hard to recreate his coat.
Mary: Yes, Russian Blues have a very interesting coat.
Eboni: Yeah, it's really hard to recreate.
Mary: Even if that particular vision can't be realized, which I mean, it's an incredible vision, I would love for you to try again, though-
Eboni: I can't do it wrong, you know? I have to be ready for that-
Mary: Mm, perfectionist.
Eboni: If I can't get it right with Django, then I might as well just like quit.
Mary: You address gender in your work, I think it's safe to say. And we've talked on the show before about the idea that relationships with cats, the idea of having a relationship with a cat, can sometimes be gendered in the cultural mind in a certain way. And I almost see a similarity between that and the way we look at decorative and textile art. It's very different from the way we talk about, say, white guys putting oil paint on canvas, right? Is that something that you thought about consciously? Is that something that informs how you look at both Django and your work?
Eboni: Yeah, it's considered this very feminine art form. I think a lot of what I'm trying to do is put a little bit of grit to it. Because outside of it being a very feminine art form, it's an art form that, like, not a lot of people of color- you know, there's not a lot of us out here doing it. Now embroideries, definitely, you're going to find in cultures-
Mary: Worldwide, yeah.
Eboni: But you go on Instagram, and it's a lot of a lot of white moms who are doing beautiful work, but it's- it's a specific aesthetic. They're doing their type of work, and that's not really what I'm into. So I'm trying to take this very classical, feminine dainty art form and put a little bit of me behind it, cause I'm not necessarily- yeah, I can show up in glittery eyeshadow. But a lot of it is because I don't necessarily feel all that feminine.
Mary: Isn't that interesting? I've also been told that I have a masculine energy about me. And it's often intended not as a compliment.
Eboni: I don't ever know how to take it, because depending on who it's coming from, it's like, "You're a cool girl," right?
Mary: "You're not like other girls."
Eboni: "You're not like other girls," no, I really am.
Mary: Yeah, all girls are basically cool, so.
Eboni: And having him around, I find myself in these like soft, gushy moments that I'm not used to. Like I'm, I'm a person that had to learn how to hug people. And so now I've got this cat, who I'm not his favorite person. And it breaks my heart that I have to like, ask him to give me love, which is why he's lowkey a cult leader. Like he's turned people against each other in my household.
Mary: Who is his favorite in the house?
Eboni: My partner. He'll go sit on his lap and just kind of look over at me. Like, "You could have this too. You could, if you would just give me the treats."
Mary: Does Django inspire your poetry, your written work?
Eboni: Poetry, it doesn't do the thing that it used to do for me.
Mary: How come?
Eboni: The world I was in, performance poetry, slam poetry, there's a score put to this. And that feels disgusting. But it's also kind of fun.
Mary: Well, because, you won- you were the Woman of the World Slam champion.
Eboni: Yeah. But it did keep me stuck in certain places that- if I can't afford therapy to work through this, I don't have health insurance, then I have no business opening up all of these wounds. And then to put it up on stage and somebody's like, "Seven." Wow. Really? Cuz like, it was really hard for me to write. Seven?
Mary: Yeah. Yeah. I think maybe there's a solution here, which is that slam poetry needs to do away with scoring and add cats.
Eboni: No scores.
Mary: Just cats.
Eboni: Just cats. I mean, that's not a slam at all. That's just a cat cafe with poems.
Mary: Well, okay.
Eboni: But you know what, I'm here for it. Again, Django mellows me out. And he really has his very therapeutic qualities. It doesn't make me want to write poems anymore.
Mary: You're too chill! You went too far the other way. You're just like, so you're so Zen and chill now because you have a cat that you don't have that, that inner angst now that a poet really needs.
Eboni: No, no. I just carry angst on the outside for the most part now.
Mary: If Django were an artist, what medium would he work in? Or would he be a multidisciplinarian like you are?
Eboni: Oh, my goodness, this is such a good question. I love this one. You know what? He has very like sensual qualities. He would be- I feel like he'd be a jazz singer.
Mary: Oh, wow.
Eboni: There was a point in time where I started calling him Sinatra. Like he would be having a Sinatra moment. He would just walk into a room and just splay himself in the middle of the room. He's very smooth. He's welcoming. Like a lounge singer.
Mary: A lounge singer!
Eboni: Yeah. Just, like, "Welcome, everyone." And he's got the highball and a cigarette and-
Mary: Sharp jacket.
Eboni: Uh-huh! That would be him. He doesn't need any other art form.
Mary: Listen, I would go to that club. I would go to that club in a heartbeat.
Mary: What about his relationship with your son? Can we talk about that a little bit?
Eboni: Ahh, they see each other just in passing? It's odd. Every once in a while my son will have a moment where he'll go over and sit next to him and pet him. And I'm like, oh, they're bonding. That's really cute. But in general, they're just kind of- they're like roommates that don't, you know, like the roommates you had that you found on Craigslist. Like "We live together, but I don't even know who you are."
Mary: My cat and my son are extremely close, they're only six months apart in age. Although I have to pretend that they're the same age because the cat is older. And my son is four and three quarters right now. Four three quarters, very important. So when I said something like, you know, well, Grendel is five already, that was a lie down on the floor tantrum. "She can't be older than me!" Yeah, so the cat is also four and three quarters. But I do find that approaching parenting as a cat person is very interesting, because in some ways, there are similarities. You need to feed them, you need to clean them, you need to haul them to appointments they don't want to go to. Has caring for a cat and caring for a child informed the way you do either?
Eboni: In a weird way, I sometimes have more patience with Django than I do with my own child that I birthed out of my body. That could just be due to the fact that Django can't really talk back. Django does something wrong—and sometimes I think he knows exactly what he's done wrong. But you can't really be all that upset. So I really need to switch this over and be a little bit more patient with this little person. Just allowing for him to make a big mess and not have to hear my mouth.
Mary: Yes, that's a tough thing to figure out.
Eboni: Yeah. Like Django, I don't even know how this possible, knocked over the entire litter box. Somehow he was able to just dump it. I walked in and I was like, oh man, Django, why? Are you serious? What's going on here, man? And then I go on and get the broom, clean it up. And then maybe 10 minutes later, my son- I think he dropped, like, a thing of juice. And I'm so angry that I had to clean up all this juice. I just cleaned up a litter box. Like, why am I angry about this juice? So I'm learning how to, again, just like, chill out, you know, take it down a notch. The cat is not going to put up with me being all angry and moving quickly. He's just like, "This is too much. I'm gonna go in the closet. You're crazy, lady." And I just have to learn how to take that energy with me everywhere that I go. And in particular parenting.
Mary: Yeah, like you I struggle with impatience. And what's funny, you know, like you were saying, we expect cats to do things we don't understand sometimes. And yet, we sort of expect these tiny humans who don't literally know anything to somehow follow our idea of what makes sense and what's rational. We would never do that to a cat!
Eboni: No. When I realized that I had this tendency to, like, freak out in other situations, I felt terrible about it. But yeah, parenting is stressful, and having a cat is stressful. But also like, what do you look like yelling at a cat?
Mary: Yes, exactly. I think the other thing, too, one of the things that I personally love about cats is that even the dopiest cat has a degree of autonomy. That's very important to its sense of self and to how I relate to that cat. And my son is almost five, at that age where there is a great desire for autonomy.
Mary: But not all of the skills and tools necessary to actually have the autonomy. And so I have to negotiate that in a very- in a way, of course, that will not result in me getting yelled at for either doing too much or doing too little. And of course this changes with the wind. There's irregularity and unpredictability to that, that as someone who is a creature of routine, who likes who gets very anxious about a lot of things all the time, having that complete lack of consistency can be very unsettling. And then I have trouble coping with it.
Eboni: It's anxiety inducing! It is.
Mary: Because- I'm a parent, but I'm also still a person.
Eboni: Yes. And a lot of people again, these are things that- yeah, you can say them, but people might walk away judging me. They won't say it to my face.
Eboni: But I know that there's some- there's a certain amount of judgment that may come when you say things like that. But yeah, again, I wasn't raised in a household where there was constant hugging and kissing, and like, softness. My parents are, you know, great parents, but that's just not how they were raised. And so I'm not- I'm not like other moms [laughter].
Mary: I'm a cool mom!
Eboni: I'm a cool mom that has to try really hard to cuddle! No. I made it my- I said, I want this child to know what it is to be held and loved, and cuddled. And I was very, very successful in that. But as he gets older, yes, he's like, I'm my own person, and I have my own ideas, and I can do this thing on my own. Except can you clip my fingernails? Can you open this bottle for me? Can you tie my shoelaces? It's like, why can't you do these things? Didn't you tell me that you already know what you want to be in life? And you have all of these things that you don't want to do that I'm telling you to do? Like, it's hard for me to- and you also still want to be like held like a baby. You always still want to be in my face all the time? Yes. Like, it's so hard to negotiate all these different things. But I wish people were just way more honest about what this is.
Mary: Yeah, and people who say like, I'm going to be real honest about parenting- like, they never really are. Like they're honest in sort of a strategic way.
Eboni: In ways that are acceptable. It's acceptable to say, I'm so tired all the time. And sometimes I don't want to be a mom. It's like, no, the reality is that there's days where I just want to lock this door.
Mary: Oh. Yeah.
Eboni: There's times where I think about what my life would have been like, had I not had a child.
Eboni: There's times where I'm like, man, I really just want to go out tonight, and I have to be here with you.
Mary: Yes. I had this moment the other day where I didn't have to use the bathroom. But I went in the bathroom.
Eboni: Oh man, I love the bathroom.
Mary: And I locked the door. And both Grendel and my child were sitting outside clawing at the door. And I just sat there, and Eboni, I just looked at Twitter for like five minutes. I don't know which of them was howling louder. And I just sat there.
Eboni: Oh, beautiful.
Mary: I just sat there. It was heavenly. It was like a trip to a spa. And looking back on my pre-parenting life, I never would have thought that sitting on the edge of a bathtub looking at Twitter for five minutes could feel so restorative. While two adorable little creatures were having absolute meltdowns outside. But here we are, somehow.
Eboni: Yeah, I forget what life was like to, like completely make decisions that are selfish, and amazing. I have no concept of what that is. Anytime this child is away from me for longer than a day, I spend like two days where I'm like, This is great! Oh my goodness! And then I just like, do all the things I shouldn't do. And then I'm hung over for a week. And then he's back, and I realize that my life is actually awful without him.
Mary: Yeah, that's the thing. I'm always like, I want time away from my kid! "I miss him."
Eboni: But ultimately when he leaves, I just revert back to 22-year-old me like, I have no- I have nothing to do but just destroy everything.
Mary: I know you said that your son is not really an animal person right now. Do you think that that might change as he gets older? Do you think that as an adult, he might seek out cats on his own?
Eboni: I wonder. I hope. He's super duper sensitive, to the point that I worry sometimes. He definitely could use a nice calm creature in his life.
Mary: Just like you.
Eboni: Yes. Just like me.
Mary: My kid recently learned about the idea of death. I don't know where or how.
Eboni: Oh dear.
Mary: So he's been, he said to me the other day, It'll be so funny when you die. And I couldn't tell if he like, understood what he was saying or not. But so he's been asking me a lot like, "Are you gonna die?" Like, yep. "So... am I gonna die?" Yep. "Are you gonna die before me?" Sure hope so, kiddo. And then it makes you think like, huh. There's going to be a time, hopefully, in this world where my kid exists in the world, and I do not. And it made me feel lonely for him in advance, right. And then no joke, I was like, but you know what, I bet he'll have a cat. Because my kid is obsessed with our cat. They're like, you know, siblings, they've grown up together. And of course, I think about cats all the time because I do this show. And this is sort of where my head is at right now. But you know, you take what comfort you can get right? Whether it's sitting on the edge of the bathtub or telling yourself that your kid will be okay when you die because they'll have a cat, whatever it takes to get you through the day. And at first I sort of laughed at myself, but the more I've sat with it, the more I feel really good about it.
Eboni: I think having pets, those conversations sometimes come a little bit earlier than necessary. We have a- we have a turtle that we've had for a long time.
Mary: And what is this turtle's name?
Eboni: His name is Petey Pablo.
Mary: Petey Pablo. And do Django and Petey Pablo get along?
Eboni: Petey Pablo loves Django. We'll take him out of the tank and let him roam around, and he tends to, like, hide somewhere for three days in a row and then I panic when I remember that he's loose in the house. He will follow Django around just like street harassment style. Like Django is just trying to get away and Petey is behind him and turtles can go really fast, actually.
Mary: Oh really?
Eboni: Oh my goodness. They're fast. Surprisingly fast, if they want to be. So he's running, you know, you hear the little click-clack of his paws, or- paws? Turtles don't have paws.
Mary: Turtle paws!
Eboni: And it's like, "Is something going to eat Petey? Will Django eat Petey? I'm like, no, Django's not going to eat Petey.
Mary: Django's full of mice. Django's fine.
Eboni: Django's okay. Also Petey has a shell and he's not stupid.
Mary: Eboni, you said that you weren't raised with cats. Do you consider yourself a cat person now?
Eboni: I'm mostly a Django person. I do notice people's cats more now. Like I definitely would walk into homes before and- That's a cat, I see it. But now I'm more likely to go up and be in your cat's space and want to know all about it. I am a cat person now. Yeah, I definitely am at parties talking to people's cats- Aww, man. I'm a cat person.
Mary: That's why I started this show. It's because I kept being really boring at parties.
Eboni: Yeah, it happens.
Mary: I'd just be like, Tell me about your cat! And finally someone was like, I'm not inviting you next time. I think you should start the podcast. Eboni, what would you like to say to Django listening at home?
Eboni: Stop clawing the couch. Yeah.
Mary: A good message. I will reinforce that. Django, please stop clawing the couch.
Mary: It is time for our shoutouts, and today our shoutout goes to Agatha, Saul, and Zoey in Portland. I hear that you three enjoy watching squirrels through the window and napping on clean laundry. That sounds like a lovely life. Agatha, Saul, and Zoey, thank you so much for listening. And of course, if you have a cat who deserves a shoutout, please email us: firstname.lastname@example.org. Tell me your cat's name, where they live, and any message you would like included. You'll hear it at the end of an upcoming episode.
Mary: Eboni, how can how can people find you online and keep up with your art, your work, your life, your cat?
Eboni: I'm mostly on Instagram @ebonihogan. And then if you want to see me and Django whip some things up in The Wreck Shop, that is @_thewreckshop.
Mary: And of course we'll put links to those things on the show notes. So you can go there to find out more about Eboni and her work and this episode in general. And of course that's at letstalkaboutcats.com. And you can follow us on social media, we're @ltacpod everywhere. And while you're at it, tell a friend if you liked this show, tell them to listen. If you have a friend who does art, or has a kid, or has a cat or likes any of those things, tell them to subscribe because I think they'll like it. Thank you so much for listening to this episode. I am Mary, my cat is Grendel. Our producer is the crafty Lizzie Jacobs. Our theme song is by Poingly with additional music by The English Muffins. And our show logo was created by Julia Emiliani. Thanks so much for hanging out with us. I'll talk to you again soon... about cats.