Last August I wrote about one of my muses in My Cousin Ruth’s Statuesque Leg.
Yesterday afternoon, Ruth slipped into a coma. While we’re waiting for her to wake up, I think about bunk beds and horses and camping; and sledding down an icy hill one Christmas in Independence, Missouri, and running into a parked car; and discovering burritos at Taco Bell in Huntington Beach, California; and sitting outside on her deck one night in Bollingbrook, Illinois, and singing so loudly a neighbor came to see what was wrong; and laughing hysterically at Garrison Keillor’s rendition of “The Twelve Days of Christmas” while her adult children looked on in dismay; and singing the first two lines of “Whatever Happened to Randolph Scott” so she would be stuck on it the rest of the day; and handing her a note that said, “Fourscore…,” just before we marched down the aisle at my wedding because I knew she would remember Paul Ford in “The Music Man” and therefore would laugh through the ceremony; and watching a video of “Chicken Run” together and knowing exactly which lines would make her laugh.
Cats are dangerous companions for writers because cat watching is a near-perfect method of writing avoidance. ~Dan Greenburg
I returned home from Just for the Hell of It Writers filled with enthusiasm for the next assignment. Sat down in the recliner, put my feet up, booted up the laptop, read e-mail, checked a couple of blogs, and opened to write is to write is to write. I planned to compose a brief post about characterization–specifically, my reluctance to allow Molly, my protagonist, to exhibit less-than-stellar qualities, such as being human.
Before I could start, however, Ernest climbed into my lap. With the laptop already there, he didn’t have an easy time. He never does. But he made it.
So here I sit with a fuzzy gray tiger draped across my left forearm and wrist, cutting off blood flow to my hand. I don’t know how much longer my fingers will function. I don’t know how much longer this post will function either, because Ernest just touched something–a hot key or some other doohickey outside my sphere of knowledge–and it vanished. I’m lucky he didn’t delete it. Sometimes he does. When it comes to writing, cat watching is the least of my worries.
If he were on my left, I’d be fine with the arrangement. He used to perch there. But a couple of weeks ago he changed sides. As a result, I can’t use the mouse, and I have to bend my index finger at an unnatural angle to reach the touchpad. Periodically he throws his head back to let me gaze into his green, green eyes. That means he wants his ears scratched.
I’ve tried moving him to the left, but he’s heavy and muscular, a feline Jesse Ventura. He’s also the master of his fate and the captain of his soul. After losing three consecutive matches, I gave up.
If you’ve read this far, you’re probably wondering why I don’t evict him from my person altogether.
There’s guilt. Yesterday I found him on the dining room table trying to eat a length of purple ribbon. I clapped my hands. That scared him. I spent the next five minutes trying to apologize. He spent the next five minutes evading capture. Then I realized that I’d forgotten to put out catfood on schedule, and that his acting out might have been caused by low blood sugar. I also considered that William, who has a wry sense of humor, might have dared him to jump onto the table. Ernest is impulsive, and I hadn’t taken into account the possibility of diminished capacity. I’m still making amends.
Then there’s the purr. I’ve read that the vibration guards against bone loss and muscle atrophy. Some authorities believe that holding a purring cat benefits human tissue as well. Holding Ernest could protect my writing arm against osteoporosis.
Furthermore, allowing cats a bit of leeway is a writerly thing do. Charles Dickens’ cat, Wilamena, had kittens in his study; the kitten Dickens kept later became his companion while he wrote. Raymond Chandler’s Taki, whom he called his “secretary,” sat on manuscripts he was trying to revise. T.S. Eliot sent his cats to Broadway. Mark Twain couldn’t resist cats, “especially a purring one.” I don’t know whether Garrison Keillor has cats, but he joined with the Metropolitan Opera’s Frederica von Stade to make an entire CD of cat songs (“Songs of the Cat”), and Bertha’s Kitty Boutique is one of The Prairie Home Companion’s most prominent sponsors. I can’t think of better role models than Keillor, Twain, and Von Stade.
Finally, I allow Ernest to walk all over me because I’m concerned about mental and emotional balance. My own. Sigmund Freud emphasized the cat’s importance in coping with the stresses and strains of modern life: “Time spent with cats,” he wrote, ” is never wasted.”
Freud might not have known much about women, but he had a thorough grasp of cats.
Since I began this piece, Ernest has jumped down, back up, down, back up, and down again. William, who, bless his heart, parks on the left, has visited twice.
It’s not always easy to remember my reasons for being a doormat, especially the one about balance. But when the conscious mind fails, the subconscious defaults to guilt.
Well. Once again I’ve written about not writing. Once again the obstacle has been cats.
Greenburg is right. They’re dangerous companions.
Famous Cat Loving Authors and Pet Names
Wikipedia: Songs of the Cat
Frederica von Stade, Mezzo-Soprano
[Full disclosure: If I had my druthers, I’d emulate Miss Von Stade instead of the writers. She gets paid to sing, she doesn’t have to make up the words as she goes along, her picture appears on the front cover, the Amazon reviewers simply gush at her “magnificent” voice, and she doesn’t have to read Bird by Bird twice a month to keep her spirits up. What’s not to emulate?]
Many thanks to the author of “Invictus.” If we ever get a brother for William and Ernest, we’re going to name him Henley.