“Hang in there, baby”

{the phraseology quadrilogy — Vol. IV: “Hang in there, baby”}

See Vol I: Memento mori // Vol II: Amor fati // Vol III: Carpe diem

This poster, in its many, many iterations, has appeared as a source of inspiration for generations now. 


The poster struck a chord with 1970s Americans and became one of the best selling posters of the era. Baldwin received letters from people telling him that the poster helped them through recovery from surgery, accidents, and other difficult events. Baldwin himself said “she gave solace and strength to people everywhere, in all sorts of trouble, including myself”

Why? What is the essence of it, this small, Sisyphean kitten pawing its last stand upon the flimsy branch, amidst a vast unknown abyss, above and below, side to side, its feline face a mix of curious terror and utterly adorable determination? 

An accident of a not-so-ambitious photoshoot with a Siamese kitten aptly named ’Sassy’, the original exists out of artful appreciation for animals and their unpredictable natures. Especially the cat, these curious little alpha predators. The house cat: equal parts adorable engines of fur and purr, ever-seeking warmth in all its nooks and crannies as well as psychopathic aberrants, makers of terrible — and terribly interesting — decisions in the world of humans. Given the freedom of an open space full of things not made for them, it isn’t really surprising the cat ended up doing a pull up. Eyes wide and gathering, Sassy created high art. Thank the maker this Baldwin fellow was there to capture it. Even without the eventual caption, the image is enough to spark some kind of admiration: the strength of the smallish creature, the expression of its struggle, the triumph of her ability given a ‘lesser’ seat of evolution and lack of opposable thumbs and higher thinking {as we monkeys understand it}. 

“Hang in there, baby!” ~ what is the power in such a phrase? There is power in it, of course. It’s apparent, perhaps latent, perhaps only uncovered via some kind of sincere meditation upon its inner tenets and outer materialization within the final photo. Is it meant to be whispered, or shouted? Or just mentally primed, again and again, like some kind of mantra. Everyone has said it at some point, even if not in the exact words, to someone else or to themselves. ~ Hang in there! Keep on keepin’ on! Just a little bit longer! Push! Pull! Climb! Go! ~ The sentiment is universal. Everyone should say it, out loud and with sincere gusto, at least once before they die. That is just my opinion. But I think it’s well and good. Try it out some time. 

We are told a picture is worth a thousand words. And is it not? Sassy’s visceral struggle depicts much. But with the words below this image, as has been recreated countlessly now from its 1963 patient zero in Sassy and onward in various ensembles, a thousand more words have been added. The artful caption demands us to be equal to the task of the Siamese kitten, one of the flock of Bastet, daughter of Ra, and its hold upon the branch, no doubt a component of Yggdrasil itself. 

Sassy, baby, hangs in there.

Perhaps she is just yet to complete her pull up, a dextrous and dignified climb upon the branch, with an escape unto the wider branches of the tree of life and its many rewarding challenges far beyond this frame. Perhaps. Or Sassy’s final moments before the fall have been captured. The fleeting and labored breaths of her short-lived time upon the branch grasped with solidarity for humanity to bear witness to, learn from, draw inspiration forth for aeons to come. Perhaps. Either way, no matter to the coming or going of her adventures beyond, we are left with the still imagery of a baby, hanging in there, in the here and now.

Are we all not such babies? Is not this the art and the metaphor for the human condition? We humans, ever trapped at the midway point between triumph and despair, our heart, body and soul straining against gravity and pain and entropy and the fall. Every one of us, at any given moment, is doing just this: hanging on. It’s all we can ask for. The basic task of life unfolds before us as nothing more than some strange brew of perseverance, grit, moxie, feline fortitude. Just as Sassy struggles, so do we. Like her, whether we climb or fall, we are deserving of these encouraging words. Or at least, that is the opinion of this particular baby writing these words. 

So please, look to Sassy and all her spiritual successors from time to time for a dose of worldly inspiration as you need it. And then, go and tell someone in your own life what they deserve to hear. There is no doubt in my mind, they long to hear it: 

Hang in there, baby.