Every morning my cat, Mimi, nudges me downstairs to my ground floor study. She is a gentle task-master and lets me know when I haven’t been writing enough by nipping at my heels. Sometimes I’ll start the day with a short meditation and she’ll be right in front of me, snoozing or sighing her content satori sighs. Last September, Mimi’s brother died suddenly at the age of fourteen and I swear Mimi wandered the corridor plaintively, every night for months, meowing his name—Har-po. When it wasn’t driving me nuts, it was enough to break my heart.
Then one morning in December, she stopped meowing Harpo’s name. She started eating as soon as the food was put out for her (instead of waiting for Harpo to eat first). She started sleeping in his coveted spots. It seemed her mourning period was over.
I don’t know what it would be like to write without her soft snoring in the background. We have a deep bond based on a mutual sympathy: we share odd schedules, periodic social aloofness, a need to graze between bouts of work (sleep).
I recently read an article about writers and their cats in which Robertson Davies described the attraction like this: “Authors like cats because they are such quiet, loveable, wise creatures, and cats like authors for the same reasons.”
A good writing day for me is one in which I’ve been cat-like: neither too focused, nor too slack. The Japanese word for this is “zanshin” and it basically means a state of relaxed attentiveness. Watch a cat sitting near a window in a beam of sun and you’ll see it expressed perfectly.