I hear this voice all the time.
No one is going to want to read this….it sounds…too personal, too unprofessional, like nothing I’ve read in the pages of the New Yorker.
I am here to tell you that sometimes it sounds crazy. Sometimes it is rough around the edges, gap-toothed and feral. Writing that is batshit bananas is on to something – something new, perhaps honing into your own style, unique voice, and personal experience. I was recently circling something in my life and trying to figure out why it made me so *incredibly* emotional.
I have always said, if trouble shows up on my porch I’ll take care of it. I see so much desperation every day it is hard to delineate what is yours, what you could have some sort of power to help with, so when the kittens showed up I took it on as my challenge. I fed the family every day and started reaching out to TNR resources (trap, neuter, return which also try to find homes for non-feral cats). I picked up my traps and read all of the assorted “how-tos” and literature like a proper nerd. I was going to make a better life for these cats.
Well, that is not what happened. The first time I trapped two of the three kittens I let them both go, crying that I knew it wasn’t the right thing to do but…argh…emotions. After that, I realized I needed to steel myself to capture them. I recommitted and continued feeding them. I obsessively checked the bowl of food, to the point that even when watching a movie I’d interrupt it 6 times to see if they showed up and were chowing down.
I took videos and posted photos. I was fascinated with their family – the mother who always waited last to eat. The bold cream tabby, mischievous tuxedo, shy tortie. The father started coming and yelling for me outside my front door announcing they were now there. They had me trained.
The kittens became something totally different for me. They became a stand-in for my anxiety. They became a proxy for my mothering urges. They were like furry little emotions, the sweet side, childlike innocence I wanted to protect. I get the “crazy cat lady” trope. It is left over motherly urges and all of that sweet fur and antics.
We see ourselves in animals. He is strong like a bull, she is graceful as a gazelle. She is a mother hen, he is a chicken.
Animals are our most primal metaphor, and they are also guides to our animal self. In an age when we spend most of our time staring at computers, it is easy to become “all mind” and forget your body, the corporeal “animal” part of yourself.
The anthropomorphism I was encountering reminded me of the Mainzer cats and the way they reflect our humanity. Mainzer cats act out scenes from an ideal human life in pressed clothes and organized households.
So why am I, a 45-year old woman, writing about her relationship with cats? Not because I am crazy, but because I am open to what comes. It may not be what great literature starts with, or I may actually be on to something deeper about myself and the world. I do believe that a writer needs to give these somewhat trivial events a chance.
Five ideas about why writing into the mundane parts of life are important:
- Your unique POV is what makes you a character – or more precisely what gives you character. It is your eye for details no matter how small that sets your experience apart…and also what your eye is drawn to in a scene.
- Someone will connect. Not everyone, but someone. It reminds me of the question of what happens to all of those emotions we don’t have words for? Without a word like Schadenfreude do we not feel it? Yes, without words we still feel it, we just can’t discuss it. We can’t share it.
- Go deeper than the surface and you often find that your reactions to the mundane are just tying a lot of very real things together. Who told you this feeling wasn’t important? Who said this feeling was out of bounds or not worth pursuing? What does that really mean?
- Pay attention to the conundrum. My husband actually told me that he didn’t like what the cats were doing to me. Therein lies “the rub” as they say…how could these kittens be ruling my life and why is that so funny and sad at the same time.
- Resist the urge to pathologize your feelings with terminology – placing feelings in a box as defined by the DSM-5 is not the best way to uncover the truth underneath. It is shorthand and in many ways can lead to shallow cliche.