since I made the decision to write this, the third book about my
gray, floppy-eared Scottish Fold pal, Norton, I have been trying
to decide exactly how to begin.
very human, very non-cat-like flaw called overthinking settled in
all too quickly, and, as a result, more and more time passed while
I sat, stared into space, and didn't type. This book would, I thought,
for many reasons, be somewhat different from the others and there
were distinct choices that had to be made. Each choice would clearly
alter style, tone and philosophy, if I can be pretentious enough
to suggest that the books about my cat actually have a philosophy
(and, please, don't worry; believe me, I know enough to understand
that I'm writing something much closer to Tuesdays with Norton than
I am to Meowing and Nothingness).
first instinct was to begin like this:
of the reasons I became a writer is because using words the way
I do is as close as I can get to putting some kind of order in this
rather crazy world of ours.
was then going to go on and describe that one of the things in life
that drives me most crazy is the way the English language is constantly
mangled. As always, this is an area in which we should learn from
the feline way of doing things. Cats have a way of speaking that
is direct and unmistakably clear. Their words might all be the same
but the meanings behind them are just a tad less ambiguous than
human-speak. There is no mistaking a meow that means "feed
me" for one that means "scratch my stomach." Has
anyone who has been owned by a cat for any length of time ever confused
an "it's nice sitting by the fire" meow for one that says
"let me out" or "sorry, there's no way I'm going
to the vet"? The answer's no. Of course, not only is cat body
language less inhibited than ours, cats tend to speak in commands,
which does make life easier, at least for them. The only question
I can come up with that a cat might ask is, "Are you okay?"
And, if you're not, the follow-up meow is usually another directive:
"Here, shove over so I can snuggle up to you and make you feel
better." Cats have definitely gotten the act of communication
down to an exact science.
when humans open their mouths, the screw-ups are endless. The constant
misuse of "I" for "me," for example (hint: If
you don't wish for me to publicly humiliate you, never say "Just
between you and I" or "Come with Freddy and I" in
my presence). And the addition of the word "very" when
describing something "unique." That's the same as saying
"very one-of-a-kind" which is linguistically impossible.
Then there's the fact that no one seems to know what the word "irony"
means. It does not mean funny or snide or coincidental or satirical
or anything along those lines. If you don't believe me, here's the
definition straight from the Random House Dictionary of the English
Language: "The use of words to convey a meaning that is the
opposite of its literal meaning." If it's raining outside and
you say, "Beautiful day, isn't it," that's irony. And
the reason this matters to me is that the title of this book is,
to a large extent, meant to be ironic, and it's important to understand
that going in. Nothing and no one lives forever. Not plants, not
people, and most unfortunate of all, not cats. In some ways, "life"
itself is the ultimate ironic word because to live means that, eventually,
you'll die. And that realization, that experience and understanding,
is partly what this book is about.
mainly trying to convey the feeling and the strength that come from
being in contact with a truly amazing life force.
of which is a long-winded way of explaining why my first choice
for an opening didn't make the final cut. That and the fact that
irony is not a concept that cats even understand. And although this
book is written for humans, since cats can't read (unfortunately
for me; if they could there's a reasonable chance I'd be the richest
person on earth!), I didn't think it was appropriate to begin with
something that went so against their nature.
second possibility was to go for pure drama. For a long time, this
was my intended first sentence:
the day I moved into my dream apartment, I found out that my cat
sure you can see the value of that. I mean, it's definitely a grabber.
And, like everything else I've ever written about Norton, it's true.
But ultimately, I rejected that, too. Too sad. Too self-pitying.
Way too cloyingly sentimental. And definitely not what this book
is about. Most certainly not what Norton is about. What you're about
to read is, I hope, anything but sad. It is not about illness, it
is about health. Rather than the trauma of being sick, it is about
the satisfaction and the bonds that arise as we age and learn how
to care for each other--and learn how to accept that caring from
who has read earlier tales of life with Norton can tell you that
I will almost always go for the gag--on paper and in life--and also
that I am not a big fan of fake sentiment (several ex-girlfriends
would say I'm also not a fan of real sentiment). But I am a fan
of genuine emotion and, luckily for me, rarely is that exclusive
of laughter. So in no way is this book depressing. It is, I hope,
hilarious and joyful and as life-affirming as it's possible to be
without turning into a Steven Spielberg movie.
a way, this rambling and overthinking has actually done what my
two initial openings couldn't possibly do. I did manage to bring
some order, not just to this book but to my thought process. And,
probably more important, I realized that, despite what I wrote earlier,
the title is not really ironic.
more I thought about it, the more I understood that in many ways
my little gray pal will indeed live forever. And live exactly the
way he'd like to: bringing pleasure and, on occasion, even meaning
into other people's lives. I guess that's why, when push came to
shove, I decided that what this book really is about is quite simple.
about my cat, Norton.
the same as the other two books. And that's why the real opening
is as follows:
wonderful thing about having a relationship with a cat--one of the
many wonderful things about having a relationship with a cat--is
that you never have a clue where that relationship will lead you
. . .