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Wednesday, 28 March 2012 20:30

My critics just can’t get enough of me

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I’m sitting here writing this column in the company of Suki, a 13-year-old Golden Retriever mix. Suki is not actually my dog but has proven very good dog company for writing nonetheless. Dogs aren’t picky and demanding, you see. Unlike some kinds of animals that we won’t mention until we absolutely must a few paragraphs from now.

There is a reason the word “faithful” is so often associated with dogs. Even in mythology we find Argos, the dog that recognized Odysseus after a 20-year absence. Odysseus finally makes his way home to Ithaca and discovers that Argos, previously lithe and strong, is now an old dog asleep on a pile of cow manure. That faithful animal musters up enough strength to drop his ears and wag his tail. He then dies.

Suki might not be an Argos, but in her own way she’s equally faithful. Good dogs always are.

Writers need audiences; Suki, I’ve found, is gratifyingly appreciative of even the least notable of my labors. Dogs such as Suki are quick to lend a sympathetic ear when a writer like myself needs to work aloud a particularly thorny problem. Dogs also tend to stay at one’s feet dutifully and lovingly, as Suki is doing, while the writer tends to her craft. This is totally unlike — and here we mention that other kind of animal — cats; which, in contrast to dogs, seem hell-bent on destroying the creative process.

Before I get fully onto writing about cats I need to talk about my writing processes a bit so you won’t think I’m just being fussy.

I’ve written news stories sitting in cars. I’ve written during meetings when my attention is divided between the story taking place and the one I’m writing. I’ve written breaking news stories in noisy news bureaus and in newsrooms with police scanners blaring and phones ringing. So please bear in mind that I’m not asking for an entire room of my own like some more delicate writers insist upon. I need nothing nearly as grand as that. I merely request just a little room, the tiniest and smallest of spaces, to think.

But even a smidgen of room, I’ve discovered, is simply asking too much if cats own the writer and the writer’s writing space.

I’ve found that cats, unlike dogs, derail the writing process. It’s not just what cats do physically; it’s their obvious attitude of disdain toward the creative process. They have no respect for the writer. And keep in mind that I have three of these beasts; this means my troubles are tripled.

One of my cats is geriatric, which should mean he’s too old at 18 to be a bother. But that isn’t the case at all. Edgar’s sole goal is to find the warmest and most comfortable place in the house to sleep, and he’s absolutely convinced that place is my lap. The entire time I’m trying to write I’m using one hand to fend off Edgar from climbing up on me, with him all the while whining piteously as if I’m torturing the poor old beast. I am here to attest to you that it is virtually impossible to create great art one handed.

The other two, Agatha and Tuppence (if you notice a mystery novel theme here you would be correct), generally never miss a chance to sit on top of the computer keyboard when I get up for a drink of water. This adds hieroglyphics into the manuscript that confuse me until I figure out one of these cats has paid a visit. Even worse for me and happier for them they occasionally manage to delete hours of work with a mere touchdown of a cat butt.

Agatha is my most stomach-sensitive of the three. She once managed to puke out a hairball on the keyboard while I took care of a personal need in the bathroom. I was truly offended. I was left to interpret her gift as an indictment of my overall writing abilities and writing style, plus I had to clean the mess up and sanitize my keyboard.

On occasion Agatha and Tuppence decide to vie with Edgar for the right to sit on my lap. It is also extremely difficult to create art when three cats are hissing, swatting and caterwauling in the small space that we — me and these three demons — call home.

But as I write this column, ensconced today in someone else’s house, Suki the dog is sleeping serenely at my feet. She waits only to hear me speak her name to instantly bound up and hear me expound on the craft of writing. Her tail I know would wag appreciatively as I talked. And I can picture her big brown eyes intensely anticipating the likelihood I’ll say something of genius at any moment.

Anyone in the market for three cats?

(Quintin Ellison can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. )

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