Diary of a Crazy Cat Dude
Pets and deadlines and deadlines and pets
This essay is an excerpt from my new book Coffee Is My Religion: Geeky Essays on the Writing Life (Volume 1) available now on Kindle!
It’s Monday morning and I’m the living dead. Worse than the living dead, because it’s 8.a.m. on a tight deadline day. The weekend is over and I’m just not feeling the work groove. Not even a little teeny bit. 1,000 or so words on Stupid Shooty Game X need to go boom on the page pronto, and at the moment I can’t even unscrew my eyes long enough to read the label on the bag of hippy-dippy organic dehydrated dog food I’m spooning into the cat dishes.
I fiddle around in a daze, going through the motions. A few moments later, it occurs to me that something isn’t quite right. I lumber over to the fridge, open it, and stand-there for a full minute straining to remember why I need to be in it. I close it again without removing anything. Nope. That’s not it. I get back to the counter, look down, and it dawns on me. Aw, crap! I dump the dog food that’s sitting in the cat bowls back in its stinky box and start again, taking another moment to prep the French press with grumpy gusto.
The whirl of the coffee grinder excites the critter crew. They know it’s a part of our daily ritual. It means food. Our Human makes the loud scary sound, but then it feeds us. Meanwhile, let’s wreck stuff because we lack patience and self-restraint.
I look up, eyes blurry from grogginess. I have an attentive audience.
Little Bea — our spindly Chihuahua who looks like a tiny deer with bugged-out eyes — is sitting quietly, for once, watching my half-awake fumbling with great interest. She’s making all manner of cute faces, cocking her head at odd angles as if it would speed up the process of getting food into her tiny belly.
The other natives are restless. Lottie, our loveable but totally daft and non-listening Shih Tzu, is snuffling the floor, scanning for anything food-like to lick up. Meanwhile, the cat squadron has taken up battle stations around the kitchen. They’re eager to eat and make no bones about letting their growing impatience be known.
Bob pokes his white, brown, and gray tabby head out from around the corner of the stove and lets out a rapid-fire series of pitiful, whining bleats. His timid meow is endearing and obnoxious in equal measure. I usually echo his piercing whine back at him with a pitch that I imagine is twice as obnoxious. We go back and forth like this for a few seconds, having a conversation about whatever it is cats like to talk about.
I often find myself compelled to make all manner of convincing cat sounds in an attempt to speak their language, and I can only imagine the awful translation that’s processing through their small-but-cute brains. What the hell is this dude talking about? He responds with another whimpering mewl. The electric tea kettle slowly rattles into action. Bob looks at it, then stares back at me. Human! Make food faster. Put it in my bowl. Now. Then I might let you live to pet me another day.
Colin, the second and youngest of our two all-black cats, is even worse at the art of subtlety. Stretching his full length to reach up to the countertop, he lets out a mew and bats gently at my hand with a soft, black little paw while I sprinkle some crunchies on top of their wet, rehydrated mush. Patience young Jedi.
This stuff looks like puke, smells like puke, but they love it. It’s apparently all made with human-grade food ingredients. There could be humans in it for all I know. I tasted it once just to see what all the rage was about. That didn’t go so well. I had to scrape my tongue afterwards.
An agitated RaaAAAaawwwrr signals trouble behind me. I turn to find all 16 pitch-black furry lbs. of Choobie recoiling and hissing away in the corner, ears plastered to her head like aerodynamic black aircraft fins. All this, because Bob shifted to the other side of the kitchen and has taken to whacking her in the head with his paw. She spits tacks in response, harmless but fierce in her display of cat code for STOP DOING THAT OR I’LL EAT YOUR FACE OFF!
Our other tabby Nuggie (aka Sweet Baby Grace, also aka Nuggie The Destroyer, also ALSO aka “STOP CHEWING MY GODDAMN CABLES, CAT”) watches the scene unfold below from her lofty perch on the dishwasher. She is not amused. She’s also not supposed to be on the dishwasher. I am not amused.
Ten minutes of feeding frenzy antics later — which involves howling, hissing, pouncing, spazzing, a little peeing, and a good measure of musical food bowls — I finally make it upstairs, deliver coffee to my wife, head over to my office, and close the door behind me. Whew. I’m greeted by Seamus the kitten, a mewing ball of white and orange fur. Not whew.
Aside from pushing me one step closer to the dude equivalent of Crazy Cat Lady status, our newest addition to the four-legged brood is a handful. Too little to let out with the others just yet, but big enough to cause some serious mayhem. At present, he’s keen to get a quick snuggle, munch on some crunchies, groom himself, and then systematically destroy everything in my office like a four-inch tall F5 tornado until he tuckers out. In that order. Thankfully, he’s cute as the dickens.
Welcome to my morning. I haven’t even had a sip of coffee yet.
The house craziness always intensifies when I’m on deadline. It’s like the pets can sense it. Daddy seems a bit tense, so let’s be absolute a-holes until he starts pulling out his beard hair. Yeah. That.
Booting up Stupid Shooty Game X, I dive back in for a little more last-minute pew-pew in hopes that putting some holes in virtual dudes will help get the word juice flowing. I need to squeeze it fresh from my brain and empty it into the white void of my open Word document. The lonely mouse cursor blinks slowly, mocking me. As if to say, Hey, you suck! You sucky sucker! Stop sucking and suck it up!
Writer’s block is awful to begin with. It’s even worse when you’re on deadline.
Tight deadlines tend to scare the crap out of a lot of writers. I usually thrive on them. Back when I was a reporter, I got used to dashing off to interviews that often came through at the last minute before our weekly print deadline. I’d have to quick-tackle the interview, race back to the office, and write it up while making calls to get other sources on-the-record to flesh the story out. It’s an exciting way to write, but there’s a lot that can go wrong too. You can crash and burn. Miss your deadline. Piss off an editor. Get bumped from the freelance roster. Or worse. I don’t recommend it to everyone, though I find that I do some of my best work under the wire.
The pressure cooker vibe of “get this done in the next few hours or you’re screwed” kicks me into hyper-drive. It sharpens my focus, allowing me to accomplish a lot in a short time. But there are moments, like today, when my brain feels like a well run dry. The words aren’t flowing. It’s a post-apocalyptic desert wasteland in there. Radioactive tumbleweeds and all. The clock is ticking. I don’t know where to start. I feel the walls closing in. Panic! Just. Start. Typing.
That first graph is always the worst. I hit the keys a bit, and then…YES! A SENTENCE! WOO! No, wait, that sentence is awful garbage. Complete crap. DELETE. DELETE. DELETE. I suck. This sucks. But wait. I can do this. I’ve done it many hundreds of times before. Hell, probably even thousands. I’ve lost count at this point. I buckle up and start again.
An hour later, I get a few sentences onto the page, when Seamus, the only cat allowed in my office, decides to scale my leg, leaving a trail of stinging and piercing claw marks in his wake. He then uses my shoulder as a springboard to leap onto my keyboard, over my monitors, and headlong into a tangled mess of cables attached to my Wi-Fi router. My game review devolves into cat-typed gibberish right before my screen cuts out. Awesome. Thanks.
Within seconds of extracting Seamus from my inner desk-nexus, he decides to scramble back up and hop into the elevated guinea pig pen to harass my squealing office mates. After the flurry of flying hay and the chorus of weeep weeeeep weeeep weeeeeping subsides, the piggies team up and close in on their feline visitor to investigate.
I welcome the cute distraction and watch from my dilapidated office chair, curious about how the encounter will unfold. The duo cautiously creeps over, giving Seamus a sniff. He cocks his head, hops onto their little hut and watches, waiting until they go back inside so he can reach in there and poke at them. They skitter around, eventually obliging. Adorable. But it’s just too distracting. I extract the little bugger, who then proceeds to hop right back into their cage about two minutes later, causing another noise frenzy.
This is going to be a long day.
Silence 15-foot radius
The next three hours pass in very much the same way. Every 30 seconds I have to stop and assess the current kitten threat level. Has he bypassed the DIY box barricade under my desk to chew on my computer cables? Has he knocked over his water dish? Is he scaling the windowsill and eating paint chips cracking off my window? The answer is almost always YES. It’s the curse of having a new furball in the house. Today, of all days, it also happens to be the curse of the impossible game review deadline.
I finally get the little guy settled. The next paragraph takes me over an hour to write, but I start to click into a steady momentum. Right on cue, Colin decides he’s feeling neglected and starts throwing his full weight against my office door and yowling like he’s dying. This happens a few times a week. He keeps at it for a good 25 minutes or so before I give in and give him a quick snuggle. Desperate, I decide it’s time to break out the heavy artillery. I grab the jumbo box of earplugs sitting on my desk, pull out two orange foamy things. They look like little neon marsh mellows. Pinching them between my fingers, I pop them into my ears and wait. 3…2…1…
The meowing, whining, squeaking, and thumping slowly melts away to the distance. I’m transported to the magic focus dimension where I can hear my thoughts. More importantly, I’m able to string them into coherent sentences.
It’s time to write.
Nathan Meunier is a freelance writer, author, and indie developer. His work has appeared in more than 40 print and online publications, ranging from Nintendo Power and GamePro to IGN and GameSpot. He’s the author of the Game Journo Guides Series, as well as a metric crap ton of other books prepped for launch in 2015.
The first entry in a new series, Coffee Is My Religion: Geeky Essays on the Writing Life (Vol. 1), is quite different from Nathan’s previous books. It’s not a how-to guide or advice-filled tome. Instead, this collection of deeply personal, quirky, and often humorous essays on the writing life digs deeper into Nathan’s own personal journey, his routine, his failings and victories, and much more. It aims to peel back the curtain a bit and connect with fellow writers of all sorts in a different way.