Writing With Cats

I happen to like animals. 

In my lifetime, I’ve had the pleasure of living with quite a few, too – cats, a dog, and a herd of bison (one of my more quixotic ventures, but very rewarding spiritually).  As a boy I rode horses, and as an adult I’ve driven a mule team in a National Park.  These days my wife and I live with (and at the pleasure of) two rather adorable British Shorthair cats, James and Penelope.

‘Brits’, as British Shorthair fans call them, are large and plush, cuddly creatures.  Lewis Carroll (and especially his illustrator, John Tenniel) based the Cheshire Cat on the British Shorthair, because Brits always seem to wear a slightly bemused, slightly knowing smile.  They’re quiet and docile, though given occasionally to fits of what my wife and I call ‘The Zooms’, which are both amusing and terrifying to behold.  Perhaps you can imagine James, tipping the scales at nearly 20 muscular pounds, and Penelope (his sister and littermate) at a solid 15, barreling along at top speed through a house full of breakables.

James makes his move.

Fortunately for our pottery collection, they quickly tire of that and, like most cats, spend most of the day sleeping.  But the Brits have an interesting trait – they follow one around from room to room and sleep wherever their selected human or humans happen to be.  If I go to my writing room to work, I am sitting for only a few minutes before two large, grey cats silently steal in and start napping nearby.  They can nap for long hours, with only the slightest repositioning.  Occasionally I squint over at them, to ensure that they’re still breathing.

Anyway, they are the best company a writer can have:  dead quiet and satisfied just to be nearby.  Most humans aren’t well suited to be an author’s companion – we as a species are too sociable, too verbal, and too damn restless to manage what James and Penelope can do effortlessly for hours on end.  Which is to say, lie quietly nearby, and every once in a while open an eye to make sure I’m still around.  If I’ve gone off without awakening them (which isn’t easy), as soon as one realizes I’ve left, the telepathic communication goes out that ‘the two-legger’s gone!”, and they both come looking for me.  Then they sit down again and, soon enough, sleep steals over them.  Again.

There are occasional exceptions to this comfortable and comforting ritual – and that would be James, or ‘Big J’ as I sometimes call him.  James is an especially friendly and loving little guy – not unusual for British Shorthair boys – while his sister is (again per the breed standard) a wee bit more proper and formal.  So James, in all his furry glory, sometimes decides that sleeping at my feet is Not Close Enough, and so without emitting so much as a warning meow, he silently levitates onto my lap-desk, scattering my notes, pencils, and steno pad.  Then he flops down, usually flowing over onto my keyboard and forcing me into strange contortions if I am to keep working on the laptop.

I write in an overstuffed chair, using a wooden lap-desk I purchased from Levenger many years ago.  (I am neither paid nor rewarded in any way by mentioning Levenger.  It’s simply a fine desk and most every word of my novels has been written on it, so I’ve become a little attached.)  If you ever do see or Google this particular lap desk, and then puzzle out whether there is space for a 20-pound, relaxed feline and a large MacBook Pro — (again, not compensated for mentioning it, though Apple would be welcome to send me a few of their trillion dollars, if they felt like it) – you will be able to envision my dilemma.  So here’s what I do.

Laptop Must Close.

James settles on his new territory.

I stop writing.  I close the laptop, and give my furry friend James my full attention, trying to send my most positive thoughts into his sleeping head.  He purrs happily for a while, then sputters out like a failing Model T and enters a deep and (I think and hope) relaxing sleep, while he pays me the highest compliment an animal can give, his desire to be with me over being anywhere else.  And for me, there’s a great lesson in it.  As much as I love writing – it doesn’t feel like work to me, and believe me, I’ve had other jobs that have felt like work, every painful second – there is something equally rewarding about simply pausing for a few minutes to do nothing but love a little creature who, I think, loves me back at least as much, in his catlike way.

And it reminds me – at least this is how I see it – that love is an action as much as it is an emotion.  It’s not just something you feel, it’s something you do, even when you might feel like doing something else entirely.  It’s never a waste of time to stop and love.  An animal, a person, a tree or a rock.  We are all here now, against astonishing odds, and all too soon we won’t be anymore.  We arrived here, quite by chance, after eons in which the Universe went along just fine without us, indifferently.  Then we get only a little time to be here, before more eons of indifference follow.  And this is the lesson I, at least, have learned from Writing With Cats.  Feel — and do — while you can.  It’s worth every second.

Robert Brighton

Author of The Unsealing, A Murder in Ashwood and other Avenging Angel Detective Agency™ Mysteries


Fun fact:  Arthur and Cassie Pendle (from The Unsealing) have a large, grey Angora cat named Deborah, after Arthur’s grandmother.