Tuesday, January 29, 2008

The Furry Truth

"Lastly, you need one cat, although two are better. Cats keep you from taking yourself too seriously. They are also good judges of literature. If a cat won't sit on a freshly typed page it's not worth much. Think of your cat as the original Muse." --Rita Mae Brown on essential writing tools from the book Starting From Scratch: A different kind of writers' manual.

This is one of my favorite writing quotes. Not for its inspirational value, or its usefulness toward future publication. It resonated with me as I, too, believe in that particular Furry Truth.

Jane is my "original Muse." We got her from our lovely landlady whose Siamese got out a few days before her spay surgery was scheduled. (Whoops!) Six weeks later, we left her house with a carrier full of tiny p.o.'d yowling feline. I hadn't grown up with cats, so neither she nor I were really quite sure what to do with each other. Luckily my husband had kitten raising experience, so we got through those first days relatively unscathed.

Like most cats, she has a very defined personality that emerged early. She likes to perch on high places like my bookshelves, kitchen cabinets, and the top of the bathroom door. She loves to sing and tends to do so as soon as we settle down to sleep at night. She refuses any real food like tuna or chicken, opting for kibble and treats that have been processed within an inch of their lives. (She does like cheddar cheese. Which I think is weird, but to each her own, right?) Oh, and I almost forgot her homicidal tendencies. Lying in wait near the bathroom door, waiting for the moment when her nearsighted human will eventually stumble past in the dark without her glasses so she can launch herself at her human's ankles. I suppose it's natural, then, that living with two avid readers, one of whom is a writer, that she'd quickly develop an affinity for paper.

I have found her curled up in my purse on top of the paperback I keep in there. She stands guard over my current manuscript. Of course, most of the time this involves scattering its pages all over the living room to find just the right one to sleep on. (This has taught me that rough draft page numbering is essential, although, taken in the context of Rita's quote she could just be picking out the good bits!) And sometimes, in the early morning or late at night, she'll climb up into my chair while I write, sniff at the tip of my Uni-ball pen and settle in for a good purr and snuggle against the spirals of my notebook. I think those are the times when we love each other the most.

A few years ago, when I got brave enough to start lurking around and, eventually participating in the online writing community, I noticed a good number of us have special relationships with our cats. I've enjoyed reading about Pandora and Boomer's antics on Laura Anne Gilman's blog, and Elizabeth Bear's Cat vs. Monkey posts. There have been entire books written on the subject like Cat Women and Writing With Cats. And sometimes the fuzzy ones themselves pipe up on the subject. Although their opinions of us are usually a lot less flattering than our opinions of them.

There are many cat people out there, but it sure seems as if writers have taken that concept to the next level by making their feline friends a participant in their writing process. I admit that I do this. Jane and I work well together with me muttering to her about secondary plots and pushing her off the keyboard and her ignoring me and doing her best to get in the way. I bring the words, she provides the attitude. And sometimes it's nice to have another warm-blooded breathing being in the room with me as I plug away. She keeps the process from becoming too lonely and, yes, she does keep me from taking myself and my process too seriously. Even if it takes the occasional nip on the ankle or the strategically dumped glass of water to do it.

As prevalent as the cat/writer mythos is, it's important for us to remember that not everyone believes in the Furry Truth. Some writers are *gasp!* dog people. Like Katie Macalister's Rancho Doghair, for example. Others have gerbils, hamsters, pet rocks, or snakes. One of my group buddies has a goldfish he's particularly fond of. Theoretically, these special animals can keep a writer company just as well as any kitty. But for me, none of them can keep me grounded, working, and on my toes as my Janie.

Now it's your turn to tell me about your special animal. Do you have a Poodle muse? A pride of Persians? An iguana named Harvey who sits on your shoulder? How does she contribute to your writing process?


Anitra Lynn McLeod said...

What a great post, Mel!

I'm a *gasp!* dog person! My dog loves to hang out in my office while I work. She's very good at reminding me to go to bed--she will enter, give a longsuffering sigh, and throw herself on the floor. That's dog speak for turn off the computer and go to bed!

However, I did have three cats but they have all passed on. One I had for 17 years. She loved to sit on my lap while I worked. I miss them all very much. That is the one thing my dog can't do--sit in my lap. Well, I guess she could but 60# is gonna get real heavy real fast! :)

Helen Scott Taylor said...

Mel, I'm a cat person as well. I have a burmilla that likes to sunbathe under the desk lamp while I'm trying to write. I am also a doggy person as I have two shi tzus as well. They sit on my feet while I write. In my house writing is definitely a group occupation!

Mel Hiers said...

Aw, your puppy sounds sweet Anitra! I grew up with dogs - a lab/collie mix and a couple of german shepherds. They all thought they were lap dogs, but they were most awesome:-)

It sounds like you'll always have warm feet, Helen! I think Jane hangs out with me simply because the laptop fan blows hot air. She always hunkers down on that side. Cats are suckers for warm things.

Savanna Kougar said...

Mel, I smiled all the way through your cat story. We had a siamese when I was growing up, and your kitty reminds me of her.
What can I say? My doggies are my babies. Yup, they ground me, keep me from floating away into writing land too much. They let me woggle them, kiss them and hug them. They remind me daily what love is all about.

Mel Hiers said...

Hiya, Sav! I think it's cool we have so many dog people writers here! (And woggle is such a great word!)

Janie doesn't look much like a Siamese until you get her wet, but she's got the mean streak and the piercing voice. But mostly she's a snuggle bug.