Cinthia on Saturdays: “Me and the cats, writing”

Another installment from the weekend diary of Cinthia Ritchie.

2 p.m.

My writing isn’t going well and I know just who to blame: The cats.

They perch on my desk, one on either side, like ornery bookends. Their faces wear the expressions of graduate students ready to criticize my work.

“Get down!” I order.

They stare at me with unblinking yellow eyes.

I try and write. Nothing comes. I throw a pencil across the room. “Fetch!” I order the cats. They yawn, look away. They are embarrassed by me. I am embarrassed by me. I cook rice and tofu, slide down in front of the TV, watch an episode of “Bones” on DVD.

“I’m researching material for my book,” I lie to myself. “I’m picking up dialogue cues. nuances, timing, blah, blah, blah.”

I curl up on the rug, cozy in my mindlessness.

I have soy ice cream for dessert. Two helpings.

6:30 p.m.

I return from a run on the Potter Marsh Trail, six miles to McHugh Creek and back, and all those hills. The dog, who is getting old, slumps on her bed while I cook her a rice and egg omelet. “Such a good dog,” I say. The cats stare suspiciously from the counter.

After I decide not to do the dishes, I sit down at my desk and read over what I wrote the night before. It sucks. I read over my last chapter. It sucks. I read over my first chapter—that sucks too.

I realize that my whole novel sucks.

I check my email: A note from a writer I’ve never met bragging about his new poetry book. I turn off my Internet, go back to my novel. Sit there for long minutes.

The problem, I suddenly realize, isn’t my novel at all. It’s the new trail shoes I bought last week at Skinny Raven. The bottoms are too heavy, the soles are too inflexible, my stride is off. How can I write when I’m so worried about my shoes?

6 p.m.

I’m standing in Skinny Raven in my old jeans, my hair still scattered from my run. I’ve smeared pineapple handcream under my arms, since I hadn’t time to take a shower. The young salesman’s nose twitches, but he’s too polite to say anything. I explain about the shoes, how inflexible they are, how my stride is off, how I can’t write my novel because my shoes are too heavy. He backs away slights and shows me to a pair of Adidas. I try them on, run for a few minutes on the treadmill.

“These shoes are more comfortable,” I say.

“So you want to trade them out?”

“Well, no,” I say, for I suddenly can’t bear to part with my heavy shoes. I flee the store, run out to my car. I cry on the drive home, cry so hard I finally have to pull over.

“Oh-oh-oh,” I sob, my stomach aching.

When I get home I turn off my computer, climb in the bathtub with an Anne Tyler novel. The cats sit on the ledge and watch me with their yellow eyes.

10:30 p.m.

My whole novel doesn’t suck, I decide after skimming through the first three chapters (again). It’s the beginning. Well, not the beginning but the middle of the first and second chapters, when a false tone creeps up. This tone is embarrassing, like saying hello to someone you don’t really like, and how your voice rises with feigned enthusiasm.

I decide to smooth them out. I copy and paste a new document. The cats sit beside me, the dog snores at my feet. How cozy it is to be a writer!

The first chapter isn’t difficult, I know just how to fix it. But the second chapter! This is when the book begins to open up, it’s like walking down a hallway lined with doors, all of them shining with possibilities, and I can only open a few.

How do I know I’ve opened the right ones? What if that one door I’ve ignored is the one that would turn my book into a New York Times bestseller?

I eat more soy ice cream. I check my email: a note from a man I sometimes see inviting me over to watch a DVD. I imagine lying in his living room with the dogs, eating popcorn and laughing—is this how life is for people who aren’t writing books?

I put my new running shoes on. Are they really too heavy? How can they be too heavy when they feel so comfortable?

I get up, run around our very small living room, around and around. I decide I will take them back to Skinny Raven the next morning.

2 a.m.

I am slumped at my desk, the cats sleeping beside me. I resent their sleep, resent their pea-sized brains, their feline intelligence that takes them only so far.

“You’ll never have to write a book,” I hiss nastily.

I am still stuck in the middle of Chapter Two. I’m afraid that I’ll be stuck in Chapter Two for the rest of my life, that when I die they’ll write on my tombstone: “She died before she could get out of Chapter Two.”

I take off my shoes. Suddenly it seems important, no, critical, to have on the correct shoes as I write. I put on a pair of New Balance: I still can’t write. I try my old Nikes, my muddy hiking boots, my rugged sandals: Nothing.

I pull off my socks, paint my toenails bright red: There!

I sit back down: Nothing.

I throw the cats off the desk and immediately delete three pages—ouch. I cry a bit. Delete two more pages, reach up ahead to Chapter Three, pull out four pages and insert it in Chapter Two.

Sweat breaks out across my forehead. The cats jump back up on the desk, huddle around me as it for solidarity.

I keep going.

Cinthia Ritchie is a former Anchorage Daily News feature writer and columnist who writes for Alaska Newspapers. She’s the recipient of a Rasumon Foundation Individual Artist Award, the Alaska Council on the Arts Connie Boochever Fellowship, a Pushcart Prize nomination plus residencies at Hedgebrook and Hidden River Arts. Her fiction, essays and poetry can be found in over 30 literary magazines.

3 thoughts on “Cinthia on Saturdays: “Me and the cats, writing””

  1. Priscilla Feral

    I don’t know what readers are crying about, but Cinthia’s writing and observations are thoroughly enjoyable.

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