I’m allergic to my muse

I used to think the only thing standing between me and great writing success was my cat allergy. It wasn’t true, but I still liked to think it.

A writer with a cat is almost a cliché. Search the internet for “author with cat,” and you’ll find a multitude of devoted cat lovers: Stephen King, Margaret Atwood, Mark Twain, Ernest Hemingway, Joyce Carol Oates and Truman Capote to name a few. I’m not sure why cats appeal to writers. Maybe because writers want a muse that mews. Or maybe because cats are quiet, so they don’t distract the writer from her work. Or maybe because they’re cats so they teach us to handle that staple of the writer’s life: rejection.

My son also had a cat allergy when he was growing up, so whatever the benefits, it was best if we didn’t have one. In lieu of a cat—or a dog, which was what he really wanted—we welcomed a menagerie of critters including fish, a canary and several hamsters. I tolerated the fish and adored the hamsters and the canary.

Several successful writers have kept birds. Charles Dickens apparently had his pet raven, Grip, stuffed after its passing. I didn’t do that with Mr. Tweeters when he died, though I did keep him in a small box in the freezer until the ground had thawed enough to give him a proper burial.

In my research, I couldn’t find any evidence of writers with hamsters but one author named Katie Davies did write a children’s book called The Great Hamster Massacre.

It didn’t matter anyway. At that point it was less about me having a muse and more about trying to keep my son from wanting a dog. It didn’t work, by the way.  

At one point we took in a rabbit while her owner was away. Her ears were longer than a cat’s and she showed no interest whatsoever in our canary, but otherwise she was almost like having a writer’s cat. Her feelings toward us ranged from affectionate to neutral to contemptuous. She lounged at my feet when I was at my desk. And she was quiet and prone to hair balls. Who knows how my career would have blossomed if I’d refused to return her to her owner.

Eventually my son grew up and left home as children do. But first he rescued a kitten knowing that, allergy or no allergy, my husband and I would never turn away a homeless kitty. So at last I had my writer’s cat.

His name is Sebastian which sounds like a fine name for a muse that mews. Of course, I mostly call him Kitty which doesn’t say much for my creativity as a writer. You might think this would confuse him, but it makes no difference what we call him. He only comes if we say, “treat.” Maybe we should call him that.

And just like I’d hoped, having a cat has been an immense help to my writing career. Not really. Not only does he make me sneeze, he regularly jumps onto my computer keyboard. And while he types very fast, he also makes a lot of errors—much like I do.

When he’s not walking across the keyboard, he’s sitting in front of the screen. In that way he’s less muse and more writer’s block. Nowadays I like to think the only thing standing between me and success is my cat. It’s not true, but I still like to think it.

Dorothy Rosby is an author and humor columnist whose work appears regularly in publications in the West and Midwest. You can subscribe to her blog at www.dorothyrosby.com or contact at www.dorothyrosby.com/contact.