Peevish Pen

Ruminations on reading, writing, rural living, retirement, aging—and sometimes cats. And maybe a border collie or other critters.

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Location: Rural Virginia, United States

I'm an elderly retired teacher who writes. Among my books are Ferradiddledumday (Appalachian version of the Rumpelstiltskin story), Stuck (middle grade paranormal novel), Patches on the Same Quilt (novel set in Franklin County, VA), Them That Go (an Appalachian novel), Miracle of the Concrete Jesus & Other Stories, and several Kindle ebooks.

Friday, August 31, 2007

Expanding Circles

Dylan has decided to change careers in midlife. He now wants to be an outside cat. Unfortunately, as with many who make midlife career changes—or even take up a new hobby, Dylan lacks certain skills.

For over six years, he’s been an inside cat. Before that, he lived in a cage. I don’t know how long he’d been incarcerated at Petland before I bought him in 2001, but his price had been substantially reduced, so I’m guessing he’d been there a while. At Petland, he was able to watch a great many goings-on, but—safely ensconced in a cage—wasn’t able to participate in activities that might prove hazardous. Consequently, he has no natural fear of dogs. He also has a great curiosity about things slightly out of his reach. Both of these traits could get him in big trouble.

Lately, he’s been begging to go out. Did I say begging? I meant wailing. No, wailing doesn’t do justice to what he does— it’s screaming. “O-ou!” he screams. “O-ou! O-ou! O-ou!” He can’t pronounce the g and t sounds, but I know what he means.

Then he pounds on the door with his little kitty fists. Finally I can’t take it anymore and let him out.

I guess it’s my fault that he developed the desire to go out. He was the first cat I ever broke to a leash, an accomplishment that once impressed a vet tech.

“How did you do it?” she asked.

“I put a leash and collar on him; then I followed him around for a few days until he got used to it. That’s when I started asking for half-halts.”

“Half-halts? You’re a horse person!” she exclaimed. (She was, too.)

Yep. I “horse-trained” Dylan. And it worked. “Let’s get tacked up,” I’d say, “and we’ll go out.” He’d jump onto the table so I could put on his collar and leash. Then we’d go out and walk around the house. A narrow circle, but enough to give him a taste of outside.

For a couple of years, Dylan was satisfied with that. Now he wonders what’s out there. He wants to expand his circle. I know how he feels. I’ve been a self-pubbed and POD-pubbed author long enough. I want to expand my publishing circle to more legitimate publishing venues. I want to see experience what’s “out there.” I know several other writer-wannabes who want to expand their circles, too. But I’m digressing.

For the last couple of weeks, I’ve been taking Dylan out—off-leash—a couple of times a day. The two outside elderly lady cats and I watch him as he expands his circle. He ventures a little farther from us each time, but always runs back to his comfort zone. He’s fascinated with blowing leaves and throws caution to the winds. (Yeah, that’s a cliché, but it works here.) When he’s distracted by the wonders of the outside world, he doesn’t pay attention to anything else. There’s no telling what might be lurking nearby—a coyote, snake, bee, etc. Does Dylan have the skill to run for nearest tree and climb it? to not be tempted by the bee? to not mistake the snake for a wiggly piece of string? I dunno.

The outside cats show him how to jump onto the flatbed wagon and how to hide under it. They try to teach him the value in sitting under a tree and watching the world go by. But he’s impatient. Why learn survival skills when there’s so much to do?

Dylan reminds me of some young writers I’ve worked with. They’re so eager to get their work “out there,” they haven’t learned that “out there” comes with risks. Just as Dylan can’t distinguish what’s harmful in the wide world, they can’t distinguish the scammy submission sources from the valid ones.

Just as Dylan wants to jump into the outside world and run amok in it before he learns survival skills, these writers want to submit their work before it’s ready—before they learn basic grammar and punctuation, before they perfect (or even find) their style. Why learn skills when you’re having fun? Why check submission sources when you want to get your work “out there”? Ignorance is bliss, right?

Granted, earning a reputation as a mediocre writer isn’t the same as losing nine lives. Submitting sloppy work for public view isn’t the same as being kicked by a horse, and being scammed by an unscrupulous publisher is better than being a coyote’s lunch—but they’re still not what a conscientious writer should do.

Meanwhile, the two elderly lady cats and I will try to teach Dylan what he needs to know before we let him leave the safety of his narrow circle. At least Dylan doesn’t think he can write.

Lately, he’s been working on his tree-climbing skills. His circle is not only wider, it's higher. You might say he's moving up in the world.

At least, he’s branching out.

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Blogger Amy Hanek said...

I loved your end pun - "branching out."

Dylan looks like a great Halloween Cat. I have always wanted a Halloween Cat! I am feeling a tinge of jealousy!! -lol

3:29 PM  
Blogger Cathy Goodwin said...

This is always tough. I adopted a cat who wants to go out, but obviously couldn't make it...and now we live in a city apartment. She likes to sit by the window. It's sad. Few places are safe for cats these days.

11:47 PM  

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