Purrfect colleagues | Daily News

Purrfect colleagues

When I left the busy newsrooms of mainstream journalism ten years ago to pursue a career as a freelance writer, I resigned myself to the knowledge that henceforth I will be leading long, lonely hours in my home office missing my colleagues who used to shower me with advice, encouragement and challenges as well as to tease me about my eccentric writing habits. I thought wrong.

Today I have three erstwhile companions in my study. One is my editor, Bobby: he insists on reading every word I type on the computer screen and has no qualms in deleting certain words or sentences, obviously believing I could do better. Sudu sits in the chair across from my desk and gives me fierce looks strong enough to melt the glaciers should I stop typing and take a peek at my Facebook news-feed. Podi ensures I stay immobile for hours at a time, glued to my computer writing my life away. When I should stop and when I should commence work is entirely at her discretion. No wonder, my life-long ambition right now is to expand my staff to ten fluffy companions and live happily ever after.

I know I am not alone. There are many others in my profession who cannot live (or write) without their ‘purrfect’ working partners. Cats and writers, they say, go together like salt and pepper. It’s not easy to explain why. Perhaps it’s because cats are better suited to the writing process than dogs. (Don’t get me wrong. I love dogs too). Small, quiet, and lap-sized, the cat is a well-designed pet for someone whose work entails long, solitary periods sitting in a chair. It could also be because most authors are creative introverts and cats fit beautifully into an introvert’s world. As the American author, Andre Norton said, ‘Perhaps it is because cats do not live by human patterns, do not fit themselves into prescribed behaviour, that they are so united to creative people.’

A study conducted by Denise Guastello at Carroll University, Wisconsin in 2017 confirms this hypothesis. The study found that cats, like writers, are willful creatures, who don’t like to be controlled. This could be why Adolf Hitler is known to have despised cats.

This could also be why there will be no guarantee that the ten cats I am dreaming of, might expand to twenty or thirty. Like how Ernest Hemingway said, “One cat leads to another.” And he should know. To this day, if you visit the Hemingway Home and Museum in Key West, Florida, you will find a descendant of Hemingway’s cat, Snowball, fast asleep on Hemingway’s bed. Legend has it, Hemingway and his family initially became infatuated with cats while living at Finca Vigía, their house in Cuba. During the writer’s travels, he was gifted a six-toed (or polydactyl) cat he named Snowball. Hemingway liked the little guy so much that in 1931, when he moved into his now-famous Key West home, he let Snowball run wild, creating a small colony of felines that populated the grounds. Today, some 40 to 50 six-toed descendants of Snowball are still allowed to roam around the house and sleep where ever they wish.

Mark Twain was another writer whose life was filled with cats and all the things that come with them. His Autobiography brims with wonderful stories about them—from cat parades to baskets of kittens in the front hall—and most of all, his deep admiration and affection for them.

He gave strange names to his 32 cats, rented them in the summer and observed, “French is not a familiar tongue to me, and the pronunciation is difficult, and comes out of me encumbered with a Missouri accent; but the cats like it, and when I make impassioned speeches in that language they sit in a row and put up their paws, palm to palm, and frantically give thanks. Hardly any cats are affected by music, but these are; when I sing they go reverently away, showing how deeply they feel it.”

The English lexicographer Samuel Johnson is reputed to have gone out of his way to purchase oysters to feed his black cat, Hodge, even to the point of annoying his servants by his pampering. James Boswell, recorded in 1799, in his book, ‘The Life of Samuel Johnson,’ “I never shall forget the indulgence with which he treated Hodge, his cat… I recollect him one day scrambling up Dr. Johnson’s breast, apparently with much satisfaction, while my friend smiling and half-whistling, rubbed down his back, and pulled him by the tail; and when I observed he was a fine cat, saying, ‘Why yes, Sir, but I have had cats whom I liked better than this;’ and then as if perceiving Hodge to be out of countenance, adding, ‘but he is a very fine cat, a very fine cat indeed.’

Today, a bronze statue to honour Hodge stands outside Johnson’s house at Number 17 Gough Square, London, where he lived from 1748 to 1759, now a museum dedicated to the writer’s life. Hodge is shown sitting on top of Johnson’s dictionary and next to some empty oyster shells. The monument is inscribed with the words “a very fine cat indeed.”

Charles Dickens expressed the same sentiments with regard to cats as Jonson when he once said, “What greater gift than the love of a cat?” He would sit entranced for hours while writing, but when his furry friends needed some attention, they were notorious for extinguishing the flame on his desk candle. In 1862, he was so upset after the death of his favourite cat Bob that he had the feline’s paw stuffed and mounted to an ivory letter opener. He had the opener engraved saying, “C.D., In memory of Bob, 1862” so he could have a constant reminder of his old friend.

Alice Walker, author of The Color Purple, says: “My cat lived a very rough life before she arrived in my home. She has one tooth that’s broken and another that’s kind of long on the other side. She’s snaggle toothed. A stranger might look at her and say, ‘Oh, she has imperfect teeth.’ But I look at her and see the absolute perfection — the charming perfection — of her imperfection.”

However, it is Colette, the French novelist, most famous for her novel Gigi who has been described as ‘the original Cat Woman’, and had a lifelong love affair with cats. As she said: “There are no ordinary cats...My cat does not talk as respectfully to me as I do to her.” Yet, she considered she had only three belongings: “I held to be invaluable: my cat, my resolve to travel, and my solitude.”

T.S Eliot, Doris Lessing, Stephen King, John Kerouac were all cat lovers. If you type “author with cat” in Google’s image search you will find a parade of writers of all genders and genres, rubbing shoulders with the crime, the SF and romance, all nuzzling a satisfied cat.

But it was the twentieth century Canadian novelist, journalist and playwright Robertson Davis who nailed down the attraction perfectly with his oft-quoted: “Authors like cats because they are such quiet, lovable, wise creatures, and cats like authors for the same reasons.”

That’s it. Over to Bobby, to check and recheck. If you are reading this today, that’s because he approved this fluffy piece.


 

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