Cat Walking in the City
One day while walking my cat I thought of an amusing metaphor.
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Writing is a lot like walking a cat, because sometimes you need to run headlong into the brush, traipse through ivy and flowers, and turn some heads while you are at it. But to get where you need to go, every once in a while you have to pick the little skokie up and stuff him into your coat.
Cats do not like cars or other big scary things that move, so en route from your house to whatever park you might be taking your cat, it is usually necessary to shove them under your jacket. Be sure to leave their heads popped out so they are not too disoriented. If they get too scared, do not be surprised if they duck their head into your armpit. Try to maintain the utmost composure when people give you strange looks for holding a bright pink leash that leads to the squirming bundle that has migrated to your back.
As a writer, you should always assert control over your writing. A direction and destination should be planned out ahead of time, and decisive steps should be taken toward that destination. Never, ever should the writing piece be allowed to sink its claws so far into your skin that you lose control, squirm, and flail under the scrutiny of the public eye. If you find yourself in a situation in which you have lost complete control, you must grit your teeth and wrench yourself from your work. Skin may be lost, but repose must remain intact. If you do not suffer through the trials of directing your writing, no one will want to follow you to your intended purpose.
When struggling in public with an animal that is 1/20th your size, you will find it very hard not to let the glances and smirks from strangers strike you at the core of your dignity. If you have a shred of self-consciousness, you will find that the innocent amusement in passersby can quickly become harsh accusations: some wide eyed gawking may suddenly inveigh against your sanity: gawking transforms into attacks against both your mental health as well as your motives for harnessing a nearly wild animal: cynical ogling charges that you are using your cat as a toy, a mere accessory to bring attention to yourself. It is to be expected that some of these accusations exist not only in your mind, but do not despair. Hold your head high, and remind yourself of your pure motives and sound mind. And never forget the jealousy all the rubberneckers must be feeling when they see you walk past with the most wonderful kitty cat in the world.
Before you begin to write, it is imperative that you identify and understand all the reasoning behind your desire to write. You must pay heed to your motives and honestly assess them. Do you want to write to get back at your family? Do you desire publication? If so, are you interested in the idea of sharing your thoughts or are you just looking for a way to make some money? Or maybe it’s not the money that interests you. Perhaps you are you interested in attaining some stereotypical starving artist identity, such as to make you start smoking cloves and drinking vermouth? The clarification of your own desires will help you shape your tone and bring to life any agenda you might have in mind. Perhaps writing is what a person resorts to when an idea has been yowling in their mind for days on end, and purging the damned thing onto paper and shoving it toward someone else seems to be the only way to make the incessant caterwauling let up, just for a while.
* * *
I thought of this metaphor during the unique experience of shoving my 8 month old seal-point Siamese kitten, Magellan, under the thick lapels of my blue pea coat. It seemed to be worthwhile, this thought of mine, so I decided to play with it some more as I strode toward the University of Washington campus.
* * *
I was new at this cat walking, but I decided that I was not going to be a jerk about things and expect my kitty to behave like a dog when I had him leashed. I was insistent on shoving him into my coat at first, because I could see he would be getting nowhere in the fashion a dog might. I didn’t want him becoming accustomed to scampering around my block where there is a lot of traffic, so I figured it was good to forcibly remove him to a safe, park-like area. But once I was there, attached by a pink leash to my little skokie with a curiously crooked tail, I knew I was no longer in control.
I narrated while he dragged me along:
You must let your cat pull you along: follow his lead, even if it means meandering along the unsightly side of the new law building that was meant to be blocked by a stand of trees and bramble; duck under some branches behind the hideous architecture building and stumble through the thick underbrush; or plod through any of the few unlandscaped plots of land on a campus known for its groundskeepers. After all, this is the cat’s adventure, and not your own.
Scamper behind the west side of that new law building, down the ruts marked deep into the unmown grass, take to time to smell the rain-dampened bricks, and note: they smell like bricks. Nose around in the ivy and stumble upon a small purple flower that no groundskeeper planted, recognize the bell-shaped, lavender petals, yellow pistols, and green, fluted leaves; although your ignorance of botany leaves you quite incapable of naming the flower, you recognize it as the same species that grew on the shaded west side of your childhood home: a species that marked the beginning and end of yet another lap as you rode your bicycle – complete with squeaky training wheels – around that treacherous sidewalk path. Just as you jut your chin into the blue skied breeze and reflect that early spring mornings are the same – in any climate – when you’re in the shade with the wind in your face, your little cat emerges from the ivy, triumphant, with a clump of dirt on their head. It is always at calm moments like this that the little devil will notice a squirrel, so be prepared to run.
Of course, my narration was interrupted when he made me run at full speed. I must say that it is quite difficult to maintain nice form when running at full speed, connected to a wild animal with only a six foot lead. My legs wind-milled and I was bent at the waist, being yanked forward as such.
Of course the squirrel got away. I thought this hunting my kitty was nothing more than a game, but the murder of crows that followed us by the tree-load showed that my view was not shared. I scowled at the crows, thinking them idiotic. How could Magellan, this four pound little rodent-looking thing strike fear into any animal.
I looked back down at my cat and was shocked: his eyes were trained on something, just over my shoulder, eyes wild, mouth open, teeth bared, ready to pounce as he chattered quietly. The look struck fear into my lesser brain and reminded me of the mountain lion that screamed at me from behind bars at a zoo when I was young.
* * *
This metaphor survived my first many outings with my kitty, and it became especially endearing to me when it began to affect my writing. I let myself take charge and cut loose as I saw fit. I saw my work as something that needed to be autonomous, able to scare and unsettle even myself as well as be universally approachable and understandable to others.
* * *
I wrote a few short lines about cat walking for some in-class writing assignment. When they were read aloud, it reminded a woman in the class about her own cat that she had once walked. It was, sadly, no longer being walked by her, but was tromping around somewhere in that big hunting ground in the sky. So moved by the imagery of my simple metaphor, she felt compelled to give her cat carrier and 25 ft. leash to me. I was deeply touched and thankful for the literary opportunities it afforded me.
When I left the house with Magellan strapped to my chest, I summoned my training in literary criticism, and thought about all those times my prof rambled about “presence” and gender. Was I now behaving qua man+cat rather than just qua man? Would it be possible for a person to interact in society qua man+cat even when they did not have a small Siamese face protruding from a bag on their chest? Wouldn’t I be a lot happier and agreeable if this were possible?
I grinned sheepishly at all the people I passed.
I watched Magellan’s eyes darting around at the approaching sidewalk, meowing pathetically, demanding to be let loose in the foliage. To me it is apparent that a cat has feelings just as a human has feelings, but many think that human emotion is unique and holy. I considered, as I strode, what if a piece of writing had feelings and emotions? Can’t a work – or at least a character that appears in one – behave in predictable ways toward new works or even towards real-life events?
* * *
The metaphor was breaching my thresholds for ridiculousness, so I decided to tone it down a bit.
* * *
Now, I am content to take my precious kitty out to the crowded hub lawn on campus, and it is nice to think that most everyone who sees him dragging me around will have a better day.