Treating Ideas Like Cats
“Ray Bradbury, cat lover #RIP” was the tweet sent out last June 6 by Buzzfeed after Bradbury’s death at age 92. Not “Ray Bradbury, author extraordinaire #RIP,” or “Ray Bradbury, sci fi genius #RIP,” or even “Ray Bradbury, Author of Fahrenheit 451 #RIP” but “Ray Bradbury, cat lover #RIP.” Elsewhere, blogger Bobby Pfeiffer wrote an obit entitled “R.I.P. Ray Bradbury (and another proof that cats are a writer's best friend)”. Bradbury, author of this year’s One Book selection Fahrenheit 451, was clearly well known for mentioning his cats fondly in numerous contexts. He had even suggested that he treated his creative ideas (and by extension, his writing) in the same manner as his cats.
Another commenter on an obituary blog post about Bradbury also noted his ongoing interest in cats. “My first encounter with Ray Bradbury was at a book signing for Quicker Than the Eye in 1996,” writes Dale Allen. “When it came my turn to get an autographed copy of the book, I asked him as he shook my hand, ‘What’s your cat’s name?’ referring to his publicity photo on the back of the book. Bradbury said, ‘What?’ The book clerk assisting him repeated my question. ‘Tigger!’ he exclaimed … ‘I told my publishers not to change it until they brought him back to life.’”
Bradbury and his wife Marguerite (Maggie) Bradbury (nee McClure) shared their home with several cats over the years. Like his cats, his wife of 56 years helped enable his writing as, for many years, Maggie was the family breadwinner, allowing Ray to stay home and write. At one point in the 1950s, the Bradbury family home was home to 22 felines, although more recent years saw more manageable numbers, dwindling to only two, Win-Win and Ditzy, at the time of Marguerite’s death in 2003.
In a splendid simile, Bradbury was quoted as treating his writing in the same manner as his cats:
“As soon as things get difficult, I walk away. That’s the great secret of creativity. You treat ideas like cats: you make them follow you. If you try to approach a cat and pick it up, hell, it won’t let you do it. You’ve got to say, ‘Well, to hell with you.’ And the cat says, ‘Wait a minute. He’s not behaving the way most humans do.’ Then the cat follows you out of curiosity: ‘Well, what’s wrong with you that you don’t love me?” (Zen in the Art of Writing).
“Any owner of cats will know of what I speak. Cats come at dawn to sit on your bed. They may not nip your nose or inhale your breath or make a sound. They simply sit there and stare at you until you open one eyelid and spy them there about to drop dead for need of feeding. So it is with ideas. They come silently in the hour of trying to wake up and remember my name. The notions and fancies sit on the edge of my wits, whisper in my ears and then, if I don't rouse, give more than cats give: a good knock in the head, which gets me out and down to my typewriter before the ideas flee or die or both. In any event, I make the ideas come to me. I do not go to them. I provoke their patience by pretending disregard. This infuriates the latent creature until it is almost raving to be born and once born, nourished" (Columbia World of Quotations).
And also from Zen in the Art of Writing:
like cats behind your smile,
Each one wound up to purr,
each one a pride,
Each one a fine gold beast you've hid inside (...)”
Cats are mentioned throughout Bradbury’s writing, including in the title of one of his books of short stories, The Cat’s Pajamas. Cats serve both as minor subjects of discussion and more often are used in descriptive similes and metaphors. Says one short story character, “There’s no future without my cat,” a concept probably familiar to Bradbury. Bradbury also wrote a book of poetry called With Cat for Comforter, even the title giving the reader some sense of the warmth and affection he felt for these animals.
In addition to treating his ideas like cats, Bradbury stated that “I have my favorite cat, who is my paperweight, on my desk while I am writing”. Anyone who has tried to read a newspaper with a cat in the room certainly knows that feeling!
Bradbury is certainly not the only author who shares his life with cats. Blogger Bobby Pfeiffer, who alleges that cats are a writer’s best friend, notes that: “Writers are great people. They might be rambling lunatics or lazy drunkards or unpleasant anti-socials or even ordinary dullards, but they are still great. You know why? Because a) they write and b) they love cats. No man or a woman who loves language and stories, and keeps a furry friend around can be a bad person.” Pfeiffer has collected a fascinating selection of photos of authors as illustrious as Stephen King, Allen Ginsberg, Ernest Hemingway, Joyce Carol Oates, William Faulkner, William Burroughs, Truman Capote, Sylvia Plath, Samuel Beckett and Herman Hesse, in addition to Bradbury, all in the company of their cats.
Another article on writing and cats adds TS Eliot, Mark Twain, William Butler Yeats, Patricia Highsmith, Charles Dickens and Neil Gaiman to the list of ailurophile authors. Of course, we are not suggesting that it is absolutely necessary to share your home with a cat or two in order to produce prize-winning prose, but it sure sounds like it helps. Just in case, if you are an aspiring author, visit your local animal shelter or Toronto Cat Rescue to help enable your next prize-winning novel. Tell them Ray sent you.