01 April 2019

Cats and Writing

I've had a few weeks to adjust to Daylight Savings Time now. I like driving to and maybe even home from an open mic with some light in the sky. At my age and with cataract surgery several years behind me, night vision isn't one of my strengths. And getting up in the morning isn't an issue because our bedroom isn't on the sunny side of our condo.

Besides, the time on the clock isn't an issue. We arrange our lives around our cat.

Ernie came to us as a rescue nearly ten years ago, along with his adopted sister Jewel. Ernie was just over a year old--he'll be eleven in April--and Jewel was seven months older. They were a bonded couple and amused each other--and us--constantly with their telepathy. Unfortunately, as often happens, they both had health issues. Jewel died about sixteen months ago and Ernie, who had been with her since he was eight weeks old, was even more devastated than we were. He's a Maine coon, which means he pretty resilient, but he needed about a month to reinvent his bearings. Fortunately, he's also creative and social.

Now, even more than before, Ernie decides when it's time to get up. During the night, he'll knock my alarm clock off my nightstand because it's redundant, and he walks across me and chirps when he wants attention. He doesn't need that clock or sunlight to know when it's time for breakfast because his stomach is more accurate than the Naval Observatory. At 6:45, he tells me he's hungry, even though it's not true.
He munches on prescription dry food all night so the dish is practically empty when I go downstairs. I'll refill it and put out prescription canned food (He has stage two kidney disease, which he's held at bay for two years now), but he won't come downstairs until my wife does so he can help her read the newspaper. Since he's a guy, he prefers the sports section, but he'll settle for the comics.

 After that, he wants me at my desk writing.

That's not negotiable. An hour later, he wants me to run a cup of water for him in the bathroom. Yes, he has a fountain downstairs, but now's not the time for that. He wants me at my desk for between 60 and 90 minutes, then he want either me or Barb to lie on the bed so he can cuddle for about 15 minutes. It recharges both of us.

In the afternoon, if I'm typing, he'll try to crawl into my lap between 1:50 and 2:10 because that's snack time. No argument. He may not have even been downstairs all morning, but now we put out dry food. He wants his non-prescription canned food (Which contains the cleverly-crushed blood pressure pill) at 4:30, but we try to stall until 5:00.

After that feeding, we get by without further guidance or supervision. He'll hang out in the office if one of us is at the computer, or he may come down to join us if we're watching TV (He doesn't get the point of women's basketball at all), but the evening is basically our own.

The plus side of this, besides having a very affectionate cat who likes to take care of us, is that we've learned to work in increments of 75 to 90 minute and then take a short break to replenish the energy. Granted, if I'm in the middle of a scene, I don't want to stop, but he's trained me to keep thinking about what I'm writing while he walks across me, and sometimes that few extra minutes gives me time to think of that snappy comeback that you always think of after losing the argument. If I'm not going to the health club or an open mic or shopping that day, I can do five or six 60-to-90 minute stretches of writing. Getting out of the chair to move helps my less than pristine back, too.

When Barb is rehearsing lines for a play (She averages about five productions a year), he's willing to sit and listen to her. He never gives her direction, but if she can't hold his interest, he'll curl up, tuck his tail over his nose, and go to sleep. Tough critics, cats.

But they train us well.

I know O'Neil has a cat or cats, and I think other writers on this blog have dogs, cats, or both. How many of them help you write?


  1. We really do order our lives around our animals, don't we, Steve? And they also help us write. Sometimes they have better ideas than I do. I'm sorry to hear about Jewel, and I hope Ernie's meds will do the trick. As to SleuthSayers and their pets, I did a post a while back on that if anyone cares to revisit it: https://www.sleuthsayers.org/2018/07/writers-their-rooms-and-pets.html

  2. We have five indoor cats (who never go outside) and feed a half dozen feral cats. No longer see the snakes we used to see from the empty lots around our house. The ferals bring me gifts (rats, mice and moles). Only two of our indoor cats help me write, but all minipulate our time. They take turns being the alarm clock and sleeping at the foot of the bed, unless it is a cold night and we get overwhelmed with felines. I've given three of my recurring characters cats and the antics of my cats are in the novels. Ah. We get inspiration from anywhere we can get it.

  3. I enjoyed your post. I haven't written half as well since we lost Marcel Proust, the cat we shared with our son and who managed, despite being lost in Chicago and nearly killed by infectious anemia, to make his 25th year.

  4. I have two of the cats. Here is a piece I wrote about them years ago. Only Jaffa remains. http://criminalbrief.com/?p=11783 And here is an intro to my other current kitty. https://www.sleuthsayers.org/2017/03/breaking-into-showbiz.html

  5. I have had two beloved, long-lived cats in my life, who each successively made it to 18 years old. They both had me extremely well trained, to their own schedules (which were different from each others). I still miss them. I'm still trying to talk my husband into getting another cat, but so far he's not ready. We'll see...

  6. My main cat (as opposed to a Maine cat) was Debit, a lynx-like creature with the intelligence of a table leg. She'd sleep on top of me and the ferrets would crawl under the covers at my feet. Things normally went fine until she entered heat and would stalk the ferrets.

    My Aunt's black cat treated everyone icily and with snobbish disdain. She wouldn't let anyone touch her and refused to allow her 42-inch claws to be trimmed. Then came the day she turned the piano into a scratching post. I seized her in a heavily towel. Amid snarls, hisses, and screams, I managed to trim all 86 claws.

    Furious, she stalked the apartment, spitting, growling, threatening. The next day, a funny thing happened. She sidled against me, purring. When I sat, she moved under my hand, inviting a pet without shredding human flesh. My battle to trim her claws had won her over. She wouldn't let any other cat near me.

    Valentine, my goffin cockatoo, used to sit between my wrists at my desktopo computer. That doesn't work with a laptop, but he still interrupts phone conversations if he thinks I'm talking to a girl.


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