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25Jan/112

Eulogy of a Writing Companion

Writers live lonely lives.  It's part of the job.  Alone with your brain while everyone else is working.  (Believe me, they'll never consider what you do "working" until you become J.K. Rowling or Stephen King and then they'll assume you live a charmed life and the books just write themselves .)

Many writers set up at coffee shops, just to be around other humans, but I've never really liked that in the long term.  I'm so chronic of coffee drinker my daily overhead would be a fortune, I enjoy writing in clothes typically unacceptable if not unwearable in public, plus the great writing break inspiration/procrastination of onanism is a good way to get permanently 86'ed from the 'bucks.  This fear of all-day loneliness is why so many join writing teams for shitty sitcoms or magazine staffs or college faculties, just to be around others with some 9-to-5 camaraderie.

I never needed any of this because I had a writing companion.  His name was Steven.  He was a good friend.  He was a cat.  He died last week.

Over the past five years, I doubt I've spent more time with any one over Steven.  Sure, laugh, call me pathetic, but most other writers "spent most time with" rankings would probably be headed up by an aloof barista, a crazy bum who uses the one comfy sofa in the corner as his bed, or an annoying editor or dean.  Luckily, I had Steven.

Steven was my friend and former roommate Lisa's cat and after I met him he soon became one of my friends.  My bro.  (You can't really tell people you're friends with a cat.  They'll assume you mean you own a cat.  "Nope, I don't own him.  I'm just friends with him."  They will snicker at you.)  While Lisa was at her office (just like everyone else), she encouraged me to hang out with Steven while I worked.  So there'd be someone to feed him, play with him, take care of him.  So he wouldn't get lonely.  He wasn't feeble or anything--far from it--he was just kinda needy.  He loved being around people (as long as they weren't ethnic delivery men or shrill women).  He loved being around me.  He totally destroyed the archetype of the haughty and independent feline who treats humans like his servant.  Over the last few years, I spent many of my daily work hours with Steven as opposed to anywhere, or with anyone, else.  There was surely no better and more productive environment.

Steven was the ideal writing buddy.  So much better than a person.  People have that unfortunate ability to talk.  For all his brilliant attributes, Steven didn't.  Thus, there was no one to verbally annoy me, to try and converse with me, while I tried to work.  But, even though, he couldn't talk, that doesn't mean he lacked personality.  He was a hoot.  Yeah, I know, everyone thinks their animal has a great personality while everyone else's animal is lame and stereotypical, but you've got to believe me.  Steven was the best.  He liked to run around the apartment like a maniac, beg you to feed him some of your food, jump on you for hugs, and sometimes just flat out lay on my computer.  So, come to think of it, even though he couldn't talk, he did screw with my productivity quite often.  But, I didn't care.  So I wrote a few hundred less words a day, did a little less networking and marketing and freelancing.  Big deal.  I was much happier.

I missed him while on my 30 Bars in 30 Days book tour and, like the crazy cat lady I had apparently become, made Lisa text me pictures just so I could see what he was up to.  What he was up to, though, was losing weight.  A typically zealous and insatiable eater, late in 2010 he started disdaining his food.  Had he finally become that stereotypical snobby cat, refusing his cheap pelleted chow?  Always egotistical, I kinda just figured he was bummed out and missed me (though, to my knowledge, Steven wasn't asking Lisa to acquire daily iPhone pics of me).  He got frequently checked out at the vet and they said nothing was wrong with him, he just wasn't eating.  By the time I'd finished the tour, he was under ten pounds.  I was confused, but not all that concerned.  He was as happy go lucky as ever, still running and jumping around, sleeping on the warm radiator, yapping out the window at his hated pigeons, and flopping on my lap or astride my Macbook as I wrote.

On Thursday, Lisa took him to the vet for yet another check-up and, this time, the vet found he had aggressive and previously undetectable kidney lymphoma.  By the end of the day he was gone.  It had happened so quickly.  The vet was shocked he had held on this long, that he had been so playful and happy until that day.

Over the past year I've told lots of people I couldn't have written How to Fail without their love or inspiration or flat-out help.  Sometimes I was being honest; other times, just blowing smoke.  But I really couldn't have written How to Fail without Steven's friendship and companionship.  I would have been too bored, unfocused, and lonely.  He was one of the first few people I thanked on the book's dedication page.  And, yeah, it's cheeky to thank a cat, but I really meant it.  I'm not one of those Sylvia Plath or Kurt Cobain types that derives creative writing flourishes from sadness.  I need to be happy or, at least, placid to produce.  And with a fat orange ball of fur by my side, by my laptop, I was never alone and never that unhappy (and only unproductive when we were goofing around together).

This is the first thing I've written in a long while without Steven next to me.  I hate the idea of having to write more things without his help.  I always thought one day, after the How to Fail fortunes started rolling in (ha!), after I became a wise "man of letters," I'd get a nice office in the Village.  A place Steven and I could commute to every day with the other working stiffs.  I'm sad that'll never happen.  I'll miss him for the rest of time.  I miss you badly, Steven.

I chose to make this a fitting first edition in what will be a new, consistent series called A Life of Writing, about writing and shit.

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  1. I am a complete and total wuss when it comes to animals. I get choked up when that Sarah MacLachlan ASPCA commercial comes on, and that Rainbow Bridge poem, which is as hokey and maudlin and quite frankly stupid as writing can be, never fails to gets me.

    I grew up in a menagerie (at the peak we had three dogs and four cats), and have always had pets. Right now I have two dogs who I adore and who adore me. My mid-life goal is to be a good enough person to be worthy of the devotion of my dogs. I know I will fail in this endeavour, but your reach should exceed your grasp, shouldn’t it?

    My all time favorite pet was my cat, Hemingway. He did not have the extra toe that EH’s Key West cats all had, I just thought it was a cool name for a cat. He was my constant companion for 12 years, through cross country moves, school, courtships and breakups, everything. Every morning I’d get out of the shower, and he’d be sitting on the sink, meowing. Every night, he’d be sitting on the window sill, waiting for me to get home from work. He was not aloof in the least. If anything, he was aggressively affectionate. As crazy as this sounds, we communicated with each other. He could tell by the sound of my voice whether I needed him to just sit quietly or if I need him to jump up, purr loudly and lick my face, and I knew when he was off kilter by the sound of his mewling. When he died suddenly a few years ago, I wept for days. The woman I was seeing at the time eventually told me he was “just a cat” and that I could get another one. She didn’t understand, not at all, and to this day, I have never gotten another cat. It has been almost five years now, and I still reach to the back of the couch to pet him.

    I understand what you are going through. I am sorry.


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