Vision: A Resource for Writers
Holly Lisle's Vision
and Writers, One Cat's Opinion
By Aristophenes Mr. Robert's Cat Sloan
Translated by Robert A. Sloan
2002, Robert A. Sloan
Cat civilization began when we
first domesticated some big primates living along the Nile in Egypt. Humans are
useful food givers who build good housing for us, care for our medical needs,
love, adore, and even worship us. Intelligent and easily trained, humans can
become like a member of your family.
Writers are one of the best
breeds of humans to get, because writers already have civilized, catlike habits.
Most writers don't like being disturbed, either. They have an uncanny, almost
feline, focus on their work that's very much like a hunter's patient stalk. They
sit still for long periods of time, and have warm, comfortable laps. Quiet,
undemanding intimacy is possible with a writer that a cat might not find with
the more frantic types of humans.
Then there's the fiction aspect.
Cats appear as protagonists in genres as varied as mystery, fantasy, science
fiction, or even mainstream.
My own literary career began
with a review of some scented scoop sand when I was only six weeks old Robert,
my brown-maned, copper-eyed human, was already well trained by many previous
cats. He understood exactly what I meant when I jumped in that sand box,
sneezed, jumped back out and hissed at it, then pawed it and walked away angrily
with my tail in the air. I picked a spot right next to his bed where he could
not fail to see it, so that he would not mistake my intentions. That stuff was
He was good. He cleaned up and
went out that day to get me unscented scoop sand. We had an understanding.
Together, we explored websites
where I could post my review. I curled up on his mouse pad. They should make
those a lot bigger; kittens grow fast. Occasionally I ran across the keyboard
tapping out Kitten Code. My paws were smaller then, and I could hit just one key
at a time. Now, I mostly use the mouse buttons to express myself online and let
him do the typing with his clever monkey fingers. We reviewed my cat sand, old
and new, my Science Diet Kitten Formula, and feline culture in general. We found
fans, humans and cats who liked my writing and my pictures. Robert documented my
entire kittenhood with his QuickCam, and to this day I'm very photogenic, often
posing deliberately in good light or going under the desk where it's too dark if
I'm not in the mood.
This is something to remember in
writing about cats. Notice that I've felinomorphized Robert throughout the
foregoing. Cats do not usually think of humans as better than we are. We know
humans are different and larger, but they're either part of our family or
Robert's not a cat, but he
speaks fairly good pidgin. Language for cats isn't just verbal. Communication is
holistic: gesture and scent and posture. For a human, Robert is very expressive.
Most of all, he can recognize the need for a moment's casual greeting as
different from a long affectionate snuggle. Untrained humans often become as
over-affectionate as dogs. Then they feel
rejected at the kind of hiss or swat any kitten would respond to! They don't
understand what a human would call the word No.
This is also the most common
complaint uncivilized, or feral, humans have about us: That we cats don't
understand the word No. Writers, who are used to defending their physical
and intellectual territories as much as cats, know that sometimes we just disagree.
Understanding what you mean is not the same thing as following your orders. This
is why dogs, horses and elephants wind up domesticated by humans, but cats more
often wind up taking care of the humans.
For human writers who know
little of the feline mind, here are some tips for including more cats in your
fiction accurately enough to please both feline readers and their civilized
Our earliest ancestors were
arboreal. We are still very close to those original tree-cats, even if we have
evolved a more complex multi-species language to
adapt to civilization. Cats will gravitate to high places! We like shelves, we
like them to be stable and we like to drop things off them. Sometimes that's to
make room for us to sleep. Sometimes that's just because we're bored and it's
fun to drop things. The higher, the better.
Cats can climb anything, in one
direction. Up. Humans are more like monkeys; they climb up and down. Cats prefer
the simple approach to coming down from trees, bookcases, thirty story high
rises. We jump! We like to jump and we do not fear heights. Free fall is one of
the most relaxing experiences a cat can enjoy. We want to climb up and do it
again usually, unless it was such a big leap it left our feet and tummies
hurting on the bottom.
Veterinarians have documented
this as High Rise Syndrome. It's not insane for a cat to jump out the window of
a very tall building after a bird. He might get the bird, and he's more likely
to survive the fall uninjured if he's above the fourth or fifth floor. There's
an upper limit to that of course, and concrete's hard. But the injuries cats
take from longer falls are less than from short falls if the cat hasn't had time
to roll, completely relax, and absorb the shock. Our bodies are loosely
articulated, unlike those of humans. We don't fear heights because we don't have
as much to fear as humans.
If humans didn't understand our
love of hunting, stalking and pouncing, they would never have invented duck
blinds. We usually prefer small game like bugs, birds, and mice, but some big
game hunters will go after rabbits, raccoons, ducks, and other prey even larger
than we are. The hunt isn't always serious. Hunting instincts can also be
elaborated into symbolic language.
That clicky sound many humans
make to attract a cat's attention is an example of how meaning can change. If
that click was a grasshopper or something fun to chase, we'd pay attention by
instinct. Humans provide food and make food noises to get our attention. It's
become part of universal cat-human communication and its meaning is “something
good and fun.”
While I personally prefer the
premium brands of dry crunchies, especially Hairball Formula for my long coat,
many cats respond to the sound of an electric can opener with the same delight
as I do the sound of Robert snipping open a fresh bag of my favorite dry food.
This is something else to remember about cats. Every one of us has his own food
tastes. Some cats love human foods. I don't care for them much, except for
yogurt and a little taste of cheese. When we share a taste of ice cream, he
gives me melted vanilla.
Writers and cats also both share
an interest in Zen. Cats are more advanced in it. We meditate easily and can
fall into light trances at any time. We relax deeply and we don't throw frantic
efforts into compulsive activity unless we're actually nervous and compulsive.
Cats can learn bad habits from
humans. Kittens who are abused will become untrusting, malicious and constantly
nervous. If there's too much fighting going on and a threat of physical violence
from a large untamed human, any sensible cat will run away, just as a human
would from a rogue elephant.
Anthropomorphic fiction often
has an obligatory romance subplot. Feline affection and love is a web of family
kinships and deep friendships often centered on a strong matriarch, a cat mother
who takes care of everyone in her reach. She won't dominate the way wolves or
chimps do, by massive displays of aggression. She will dominate by kindness and
withholding affection. Massive displays of aggression do come into it for us
toms, but only when other males challenge us for territory. Roaring, fluffing up
fur to look larger and dancing in front of the other cat with ritual feints is
usually going to end in one quick brawl that resolves the conflict. Winner keeps
the territory and the other cat walks away to find something else to do. Cats
will save face on most disputes.
Cat societies have another big
difference from human societies. Humans have a herding instinct. Socially, most
of them prefer activities where they're all doing the same thing. Any cat in a
group is participating in the group on that cat's interest of the moment, or on
immediate personal relationships with the other cats.
Writers, as a type, are often
the humans who tend to go off and do what they like instead of doing what all
the other humans do. They're easier to civilize because they already have an
almost feline self-sufficiency. Like cats, writers are curious about everything
and constantly observant.
Writers and cats go together so
well that the only metaphor I can think of is writers and cats. Live in the
moment, sleep when you're tired, play when you're bored and snuggle the ones you
love. Life's good.