Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Cats! (Not the Musical)

Anyone who thinks all cats are the same has obviously never lived with one. Notice I said “lived with,” and not “owned.” No one really ever “owns” a cat.

Cats are persnickety. (Don’t you love that word?) They decide when--and if--they’ll suffer your presence.

Cats were revered in Ancient Egypt. If you ask me, that spoiled it for the rest of us.

You read a lot about cats in books. That’s because of the writer-cat connection (more about that later.) There’s Lilian Jackson Braun’s “The Cat Who” series, which features Koko and Yum Yum. These clever felines help solve murders.

Then there’s Cleveland Amory’s The Cat Who Came for Christmas. Amory loved animals to the point where he was buried beside his cat, Polar Bear.

Did you know there’s even a national Cat Writers' Association that gives awards, including the "World's Best Cat Litterary Award?" Shirley Rousseau Murphy, whose mysteries feature Joe Grey and Dulcie, has won several of these honors.

Geneen Roth learned the emotional benefits of being with a cat, and wrote about her experiences with Blanche in her book, The Craggy Hole in My Heart and the Cat Who Fixed It: Over the Edge and Back with My Dad, My Cat, and Me.

I know too well about that “craggy hole.” We lost my dad and my cat within a couple of weeks of each other. They both left emotional holes that will never be filled. After their deaths, our home was so quiet it was as though the house itself was in mourning.

A few weeks later, we went to the Humane Society. Two kittens, one a regal female tabby, and one a male American domestic with beautiful, swirly sides, picked out my daughter, Jessica, and me. My husband, David, who insisted on naming them, dubbed the male Blaise Pascal, later shortened to “Pascal,” and the female Ada Lovelace. Pascal (1623–1662) was a French mathematician and philosopher. Augusta Ada King (1815-1852), Countess of Lovelace, mathematician, Lord Byron’s daughter, and the world’s first computer programmer, is known for her work on an early mechanical computer. This is what happens when a computer engineer names your pets.

Back to the writer-cat connection. The two kittens brought joy back into our house with their constant antics. However, both of them were determined to undermine my writing time--Pascal by chewing through my computer cables, and Ada by demanding to be held the minute I sat down at my desk.

Last year, at only six years of age, Pascal died suddenly from a misdiagnosed fatty liver disease. The tragedy devastated all of us, and Ada wandered through the house looking for him. We decided the best thing to do was to get a companion for Ada. Wrong.

My husband and my daughter went to the Humane Society and came back with Chewie Bacca, a lively orange tabby with hair the color of his namesake’s fur. We did everything in the book to introduce “Chewie” to Ada. Nothing worked. Every time he came near, the normally even-tempered Ada would hiss and growl. Eventually, she developed laryngitis, and had to be treated for a throat infection. Chewie loves the hissing game, and still takes as many opportunities as possible to try to get her to play.

Like his predecessors, Chewie is determined to destroy my writing career. And what a bag of tricks he has! When I’m barefoot at my desk (writers aren’t known for their dress codes), he bites my toes until I pay attention to him. If I wear socks, he tries to pull them off. When I really get desperate and put on my shoes, he pulls on the strings. Chewie never gives up--he has enough energy for six or seven cats. If I’m deep in concentration, he makes a dive for the cables. If I’m extra deep in concentration, he throws his bedraggled mouse toy at me and cries at the top of his lungs until I play fetch with him.

I have a friend whose cat lounges quietly by her side while she writes her columns. Where’s the challenge? Still, I wouldn’t trade her laid-back pet for either Ada or Chewie. But don’t tell them. They already have the advantage.


Anonymous said...

Very charming, Shelley. I too, have two cats who have a very disfunctional relationship, and I wouldn't trade them for anything in the world!

Ruth aka
Lily Rose Moon

Sierra Donovan said...


My cat, Tallulah, is a very talkative Siamese mix. She'll follow me all through the house, meowing. I finally figured out that all she really wants is a nice, warm lap.

Needless to say, she is VERY jealous of my laptop.

Deborah Macgillivray said...

Miss Foutchie is in the middle of my writing. She naturally helps. She is my nurse and checks on me, and tells me which it's time to quit.

She is in books, too. Brent Schoenfeld put her as a character in "Hairballs and Sticky Things". Now, Robin D. Owens has her as a character in her last two Celta books. Faeryfoot is the character. Foutchie is from Foot Sidhe, meaning foot faery.

I find cats enter my writing as well, and I did Cat O' Nine Tales, just out from Highland Press, where I donate 1/2 my royalties to Alley

Laurie Schnebly Campbell said...

Friends with cats report that it's therapeutic having a nice little ball of fur purring away while they type. (Friends with dogs say it's great having someone who takes them for a walk.) But it seems like cats might be handier for a writer!

Anonymous said...

Hey Shelley,
Love it. I used to have a cat that would walk all over the keyboard while I was trying to write. Sometimes she would even try to lay on it. I miss Jinx-she used to think she was one of the dogs-and look forward to the day when I can get another cat to control my life.

Vijaya Schartz said...

Great blog, Shelley. As a cat lover, I have a cat in each of my books. Thanks for this homage to our loving little furry balls. I lost Geisha, my little Siamese, last February and I still miss her a lot. Dan and I just adopted an adorable calico named Jasmine. Because of the big backyard she is busy and lets me write as she has a life of her own (and a few boyfriends).


Vijaya Schartz
Award-winning Sci-fi and Romance with a kick

Thanks for giving our

Allison Knight said...

As a member of our cat's staff, I can relate a hundred percent. While I'm trying to write, L.S. (You can figure out his name) often wraps himself around my legs and yells until I pull away from the keyboard and give him a rub. This goes on all day. Sometimes I even get to write a whole page without interruption, but not usually. And, I let him do it. But I do love the little beastie!

Shirley Jump said...

Hi Shelley,

I have a cat, too! I had two, but one died last year. The other one is a total attention hog. She will do whatever it takes to get my attention when I'mm working and if she doesn't succeed, she'll go sit on my printer and keep it running over and over because her more than ample little body will press on the buttons :-).