Does your pet help you to write? As the Shaggs sang, "There are many things I wonder," and today that's one of them. Prompted by Vicky H., a writer, blogger, and reader of You've Got a Book in You, who tweeted the photo below. Also prompted by Eckhart Tolle, who mentions in one of his books that he's lived with a few Zen masters, all of them cats.
[Photo by Vicky H. Also check out Vicky's blog, www.sleepinginanunmadebed.com.]
In spite of the fact that the protagonist of my Lillian Byrd novels is a pet owner (or keeper, or whatever the current PC term is), I've owned only a few half-assed pets in my day: two sequential parakeets, several sequential turtles, some tropical fish, a chameleon, and gosh, that's it. Oh, plus one time my dad caught a tiny toad in a jar and gave it to me. I had no idea how to care for it, so when it appeared sickly, I let it go in the back yard and told myself it would build a little hut of grass and live happily ever after. But no mammals, other than the mice and bats that lived in past houses. I guess mammals you strive to kill can't count as pets.
I'm told cats like to get extremely up close and personal when you write. Sure, they want attention. But the fact that they're so in the moment (as is, really, every nonhuman animal) must be a boon to a writer, mustn't it? Here's a presence that isn't blocked about anything, isn't worrying about the car insurance bill, doesn't care who wins March Madness (whatever that is), won't waste money on Lotto tickets, and can't fear THE END approaching. Plus being warm and furry. How can that now-ness not transfer to you, the writer, somehow?
Same with dogs, really. They're louder than cats and that's about it, as far as I can tell.
We could all use more now-ness, right? Because it helps the flow.
On to today's stream of consciousness: Writing itself helps free your mind. When I started this post and mentioned the Shaggs, I had a burst of insight, which I put aside until now. It's about the intake of culture. There's so much culture out there vying for your attention, from everything on the web to the magazine rack at the bookstore to ads on the sides of buses. OK, yes, there's so much. There's a ton. There's a billion tons. And I think some of us worry about how to sort and digest it, knowing that you're never going to get all the stuff you probably should get. And my insight is this: Bits and pieces really do work.
To understand outsider art, for instance, simply look into the Shaggs. (I was introduced to them by Susan Orlean's 1999 piece "Meet the Shaggs" in the New Yorker.) You don't need Attwenger or Bill Traylor or Plan 9. Well, you do, but you've got to live your life too. You've got to do what all great outsiders have done: They didn't ingest outsider art, they made their own.
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