Had this idea last winter during one of the few actual snowfalls we’d had. There were these big fat snowflakes tumbling slow and wet, bumped by a soft wind. Most melted straight away as they touched the warmer ground and the still green grass. Oliver, my Hemingway cat(Google Hemingway’s cat. See the cat on his desk as he’s writing) was throwing himself at those lazy white snowflakes, tackling some, reeling when others landed on his pink nose. I recalled his first winter after we’d got him from that shelter up in Michigan. It was his first winter and he was ecstatic from his first encounter with snow.
I extrapolate most things into some sort of tale or wild fiction, which I believe nowadays may be the last place to really find and share heartfelt truths about the heart and soul. And so I did, conceiving a story about a grief-stricken widower who, wanting of companionship, discovers a way to make his cat speak. I love the idea instantly, as it spoke about issues of freewill, autonomy and our relationships with animals, and if we truly understand the scope of those relationships. I loved the idea. I loved the idea of smartly exploring all that in dialogue between my human character and Oliver the cat. I even had a title, still watching Oliver play at the snowflakes: Oliver and Me.
Next day I went straight away to the bookstore and picked up the perfect journal, a spiral bound sketchbook with this Asian cover depicting the ocean and great thundering waves. That night I sketched out a cover with a pen and ink drawing of Oliver looking back over his shoulder a bit sadly, with a little hobo’s bundle slung across his back. The sketch for the first chapter went smoothly. I managed part of chapter two, and outlined better than half the story. The ending was easy as well. I always know the ending. The fun is in following the characters from beginning to end. They will tell the writer what they want to do.
I set the story aside. Occupy my Heart: a revolutionary Christmas Carol was about to hit the stage, and I had begun pulling together some of the sketches for The Last Man. Emmetsburg, a depression-era novel I’d written that summer would be the next book published. Oliver and Me would have to wait a bit, which was well enough. Better sometimes to mature through a story a bit. I tossed it on the backseat of the car as an incentive to scribble down a few ideas, or a bit more of the story.
This morning running for the train, the sky darkening with an early morning thunderstorm, I suddenly found myself with a great hook to the first chapter, a way to really define characters and relationships early and have them in good position for the rest of the story. On the platform, rain threatening, resting the book on a fence, I madly scribbled out what was running through my mind like a torrent. In the train I continued, writing so furiously that the business lady beside me kept looking over at me as if I was mad, or some sort of mental patient hammering out some crazed rambling manifesto.
Its been hovering near the 100 degree mark in Chicago for most of the month. Most folks at this point are learning various ways to beat that brutal heat. I’d been bringing outfits to work and keeping them in a locker, preferring not to set down at my desk in sweat-drenched clothing. Maybe you can see where this is going, but this morning I changed in one of the downstairs restrooms, hanging my pack on a hook and propping the sketchbook for Oliver and me on a little shelf to one side. Its a public restroom, with a couple of restaurants nearby. It is nice and quiet in the morning, but by midday, between the 27,000 people who work daily in the Sears Tower, and tens of thousands of tourists daily, the building sees astounding traffic. Changed, I grabbed my pack, washed my face with a bit of cold water and headed upstairs to work.
I think it was around 4. Most of the work that could be down was finished. Everything else would work itself out around the globe by morning, or have to wait. I was looking forward to the train ride home. the ideas for the novel had come…the novel! It was then I realized I’d left it in the men’s room that morning. I bolted down stairs, checked lost and found, went to each of the restaurants, even checked housekeeping to see if they’d thrown it away, but to no avail. The book was gone, all the ideas, the outline, the sketches, gone.
I went to the bookstore after work to purchase a new journal, determined to recreate all that I’d lost. I will, but for the moment it feels a little like, well… see, there something about moments of inspiration for writers. they unburden, exalting words onto a page that flow with a religious sort of divinity. It doesn’t happen always. Most often we are beating and molding and shoving words into their proper place, only vaguely aware of their necessity until the work is complete. But there are times of sheer magic and madness, as if the heart and the hand have broken from their noncompliant body, weighted by reality and practicality and pragmatism, to paint motion and ultimate truth and visionary landscapes far beyond the feeble limitations of the body.
In the sketch of Oliver and Me there were such passages. Oe I wrote today brought tears to my eyes for the purity and intimacy of its emotion. That is not so easily re-created. It is rather like losing a friend. there may be new friends that come along, but nothing so much as replacing the other. I lost a friend today, of my of accord, which is usually the way. And that is a writer’s sad, sad…sad…sad lament.