Two experiences this week bring forth thoughts of how we perceive so-called reality. The first, starting prep for work on the 3rd draft of a new novel MASKS; the second, taking our cats to the vet.
The second first: just a routine trip for a standard round of inoculations. But we have only one carrier, barely large enough for a single cat, so we make one trip in the morning, another in the afternoon. Garfunkel first, and he’s freaked: the most substantial meowing we’ve heard from the one who’s normally a rickety squeaker. But he settles once we’re there. And Shadow, usually a bundle of twitches, weathers it with ultimate cool.
And yet, with both, I’m drawn into seeing—or trying to see—reality as they do. What is it to be squeezed into a cage, carried out to the car, bounced along the back roads of west county, brought into an office of myriad beastly odors, poked with a needle, brought home? And separate from your brother, your snuggle-partner, your fight-mate? And then I read news of families in a foreign land, large men in uniform, hallways, holding tanks, ripped apart, caged—what are the cat’s-eye nightmares of these moments?
Back home, our cats seemed not to mind. A consequence of their enlightenment or their lesser intelligence?
And then the new novel. It’s been through two drafts, but it’s time to take it in to the vet. Among other things, we’re making a chapter-by-chapter log of what needs description. Having written plays all our lives, where the description of a setting can be “a tawdry working-class living room” or “a blasted heath,” it’s a challenge, at ages 76 and 78, to goose up your skills in the many facets of the fiction-writing decathlon for an event you’ve never trained for. How do I begin to describe the crummy 8th century inn they sleep in or the wispy old innkeeper who offers them figs?
My cats give me counsel. If they were writing the story of their trip to the vet, they’d write their point-of-view—not the way God or their master saw it, but the images, the smells, the sound of a confused and lonesome cat in a cage. The reader doesn’t care about the issues of Modern Dog on the wall rack. The vital thing is how Garfy, from his perspective, sees it.
At any rate, that’s the theory that guides us in our presumptuous lunge into this storytelling mode. And it possibly has implications in the political realm. How do our antagonists see the world? What compels them to see it that way? What cat-carrier cage are they in? What are they getting stuck with? Will a bombing campaign really work? Empathy does not imply agreement: it’s only the first step in crafting action.
Our cats did survive, and we’ll start revisions on Chapter 1 this Monday.