Wednesday, 8 April 2009

Wherein your author is officially outed as a - gasp - Cat Lady

I did some substitute teaching today for a colleague, while she skived orf to Engelonde to poke around in archives. I get brownies in heaven for doing this, with extra walnut bits.

What kind of substitute teaching?, you enquire, on the edge of your couches.

Ah, well, seeing you ask: it was a fiction writing class. We taught each other how to write dialogue, with punctuation and everyfing, and then we workshopped a couple of bold ventures into the realms of narrative prose, which act of workshopping is the veriest test of diplomacy, critical analysis, and interpersonal skills the modern 'versity offers.

E.g., in one of these bold ventures there was a cat. Actually, an argument about a cat.

"Why an argument about a cat?" I asked. "Why not an argument about the alleged greatness of The Great Gatsby? Or whether people should be allowed to put orange flavouring into chocolate? What's the significance of cat?"*

"Why a ...? What? You're asking ... why ... a cat?" The intrepid scholar squinted at me, the squint of a person who suspects another person might have reached biological maturity without the usual doings in the cerebral cortex. "Because cats symbolise loneliness. You know. She's all alone, with a cat."

"But you're not all alone with a cat. You're with a cat. How can you be alone and with a cat at the same time? Since when do cats symbolise loneliness. I mean, go ahead, convince me. I just haven't heard that about cats before."

So it turns out that the entire class thinks that cats symbolise loneliness. And so I tell the entire class that I have two cats thankyouverymuch, and they're kittens, and they're lovely, and I've never been as unlonely in all my days and I have a rich, full, round, bold, many-flavoured, multicolour, polyphonic ... life. Also, tonight I am going to a boardgames party at a friend's place in Fitzroy, and we will play Settlers of Catan and eat biscuits, and so I'm not certain that the cat is doing the symbolic work the writer of this story wants it to, but if everyone else is convinced, okay, sure, keep the cat, great, and I love the dialogue. Really punchy.

"Oh dear," says scholar #2. "You're not doing your PhD are you?"

"I'm not doing my ...? I finished my PhD years ago. Relevance?"

It's just that he knows three women in their early thirties who are doing PhDs and have cats, and they never leave the house, and they just study, and it's really sad.

"Those women are my best friends."

Yes. Anyway. That'll teach them to not to let their normal tutor sod off to the other side of the world.

In other feline news, Leonard is so freaked out by the ferocious kittens in the flat-next-door she has started hissing at her own reflection in the lobby window. This is not good. Poor Leonard.

* See this dialogue here? Quotation marks and everything.


eyrie said...

I almost had an argument about the greatness of The Great Gatsby the other week when a much younger person asserted to me that it was an easy book with not a lot to it and that it really shouldn't be studied beyond the earlier years of high school. Because I was very tired at the time I had neglected to pack my machine gun and was therefore unable to respond in a manner that may have served as an apt model for your writing students. Incidentally, did you notice that TGG is now a graphic novel?

Certainly I would bristle at an association between cats and loneliness too, but the skill with which a cat goes about waging war upon any person who threatens the cat's exclusive dominion over its special human is something in which I have often delighted. In that sense, a conversation about a cat could reflect broader domestic tensions.

Martin Kingsley said...

Settlers of Catan is good fun. Good boardgame. One of the best.

Cats symbolise cats. People who think otherwise need to be fed a whole 144-piece silverware set.

Pavlov's Cat said...

I would point out to them that the people who never leave the house and just stay at home and study are the ones who get their PhDs.

Zoe said...

They are obviously boring and ignorant people who wouldn't attract the love of a good cat if they hand-fed it chicken innards twice a day.

Also, Once At University I completed a challenge set by my besties and got The Great Gatsby, "Viva Las Vegas", Nina Hagen and Elvis into the final paragraph of an essay on C19 immigration to America. As you can tell I am still proud.

Jayne said...

Dear Bast!
Cats are not symbols of loneliness, they are individual characters with their own personalities and intelligence which these students are obviously too thick to detect.
No wonder cats have never communicated with these people - they instinctively know it would be a waste of their time and intellect stooping to acknowledge any mental aptitude in that lot!
*Leaves to feed her 5 felines*

Blue-Haired Jennifer said...

I always thought Alsatians were far more accurate symbols of loneliness - as in Bridget Jones's memorable line about being found several weeks after death, with her remains half-eaten by them.

Cats, of course, symbolise nothing. They wouldn't allow it.

I own no cats- or, more accurately, no cats own me- but have noted that telling people you possess cats named after literary characters makes them look at you as if your womb has somehow tragically filled with mothballs.

Ampersand Duck said...

At the risk of evoking teh ire of dog-owners, I always thought that dog-owners were usually people afraid to be alone. What is so bad about alone-ness? Cats know how to be alone with you, which is definitely one of their charms.

lucy tartan said...

God. Jeeves, hand me the XL "CLICHE" stamp please, and the red ink.

Alexis, Baron von Harlot said...

In my weird parallel literary universe, The Great Gatsby and Catcher in the Rye, and possibly East of Eden are all by the same author. In fact, they're the same book, with illustrations.

Hope noone's offended by my saying that.

eyrie said...

Since you went first...

In my weird parallel literary universe Emily Dickinson and Samuel Taylor Coleridge are the same person and their poems make perfect sense blended together.

But one gets the feeling you're not a fan of TGG, TCinR and possibly EofE.

Alexis, Baron von Harlot said...

STC + Emily D makes perfect sense. I can see that.

I'm not an unfan of them books, they're good books, but people do go on about them so.

mischa said...

i can't believe you played settlers without me.

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