Writers and Cats: The Purrfect Pairing

You don’t need to keep a cat to be a successful writer, but it wouldn’t hurt.

Photo by Ramiz Dedaković on Unsplash

Writing is a solitary endeavor. It’s no accident that many writers are introverts. We’re comfortable living inside our heads, mining content for stories. We are observers of the universe — silently watching and analyzing those around us. We spend hours alone with our thoughts. In coffee shops, we spend time alone around other people spending time alone.

So when it comes to companionship, some writers turn to animals — especially cats.

That’s no surprise. Cats don’t ask if you’re still working on your book or when you’re going to get published. They just sit nearby offering their quiet counsel as needed.

An overwhelming number of famous writers kept company with cats. Maybe because cats don’t expect or demand the attention dogs do. Cats generally hang out in front of a window, watch birds for hours, and are mostly content. If you’re lucky, they’ll curl up next to you on the couch, occasionally stretch their paws and sit on top of papers.

Charles Dickens’ cat kept him company as he wrote. When the cat wanted attention, she’d snuff out the candle Dickens was writing by to let him know. Dickens didn’t mind. he wrote, “What greater gift than the love of a cat.”

Raymond Chandler preferred to share his time with his black Persian named Taki. He called Taki, his secretary, and even read his manuscripts to her. Sometimes, she napped on his typed pages. Chandler wrote a letter to another cat as Taki, where he lamented the frequency of his meals.

Mark Twain famously noted,

If man could be crossed with the cat, it would improve man, but it would deteriorate the cat.

Few have disputed the claim. It’s been said that Mr. Twain liked cats more than some people. He even rented kittens when he traveled if he was unable to bring his feline friends with him. When he left wherever he was staying, he gave money for the continued care of his rental kitties. When his beloved black cat, Bambino, went missing, he offered a sizable reward for its safe return. No one came forward and Bambino made it home on his own.

Hemingway referred to cats as purr factories.

Hemingway was known to have up to 23 cats at any one time. He even gave them the run of his home. His beloved cat, Snowball was a 6-toed polydactyl Main Coon. Some of Snowball’s descendants still reside in Key West. He even designated a guest room for his cats in his house in Cuba.

T.S. Eliot adored cats. He kept several as pets in his London flat. At one time, he’d been corresponding with Groucho Marx and they’d scheduled a meeting. Nervous, Marx studied quite extensively for the meeting. He needn’t had worried, the men spent most of their time talking about Marx Brothers’ movies, cigars and of course, cats, which they both adored.

Love or hate the musical CATS, you can thank or blame T.S. Eliot. Eliot wrote the whimsical book of poems entitled Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, a book of poetry about the personalities of different cats, that Andrew Lloyd Webber used as inspiration.

It’s said that Winston Churchill loved cats. He called his beloved cat, Jock his special assistant. Jock was next to Churchill on his bed the day Churchill died.

Known to be a cat lover, Ursula Le Guin found cats to be beautiful and mysterious. She was asked about the connection between writers and cats, she famously said, “Maybe because writers don’t want to have to stop writing and walk the dog?”

In a Proust questionnaire, Edward Gorey wrote that the love of his life was his cats. That remained so, even when they destroyed his work by knocking over an occasional ink bottle.

Alice Walker wrote about her beloved cats. One fluff ball of hers had a snaggletooth to which she mused that most people would see the cat’s imperfections. She, in turn, saw the cat’s perfections. Saying: But I look at her and see the absolute perfection — the charming perfection — of her imperfection. It gives me so much information about the kind of life she has had and the kind of soul she has probably fashioned.

Famous for his love of cats and his great prose, Ray Bradbury advised writers, “Treat ideas like cats … make them follow you.”

If you’re a writer, you don’t need to keep a cat to be successful, but if these writers are any indication, it certainly wouldn’t hurt.

By Nancy Parish, on Medium  .

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