Rest is not idleness, and to lie in the sun on a warm Spring day, listening to the rustle of the wind in the trees or watching the clouds float across the sky, is by no means a waste of time. Alba, the cat.
There is a long tradition of writing from the point of view of an animal: Black Beauty, Watership Down, the Golden Ass by Apuleius—and also of writing about animals. I started considering a book about my cat Alba, when a friend at the National Geographic sent a letter to Alba from her cat Puma.
“What a great idea for a novel,” I thought and immediately started writing a cat novel in exchanged letters.
It didn’t work.
And then my beloved Alba died, and I began again. Curiously (a quality cats have plenty of), a totally new character leapt onto the page (Surprise!)– young, snarky, wise, witty, mystical, and full of observations about the emotional tangles that the 2-leggeds weave.
You’d never find a cat paying so much attention to rejection (thinks Alba, watching her owner’s despair). We’d stalk away with our tail in the air, and let the other live with his regret.
She surprised me (the writer) also by her generosity.
I went away, [says Alba] thinking … how goodhearted [the humans] are, how courageous, how rich in complexity, and how I hadn’t given them credit for trying so hard to do what is kind, even when it devolved to their disadvantage. I saw… it was up to us to sort things out. We cats! We lovely, brilliant cats! We animals, I thought, extending my gratitude to the whole animal kingdom. Even dogs!. . . . How generous, how forgiving we are! How hard we try. My heart swelled with love and happiness. I belonged to Lorna and she belonged to me.
A book has a life of its own. The characters take over. They say the first draft tells you what the book is about, and then you throw it all way and rewrite. Where I thought I was writing a simple love story, I discovered instead that Love, ❤️Alba held serious themes of aging (a topic of much interest to me these days), friendship, love, death, and life after death. (Who would have thought?) I wanted to write a love poem to my cat, Alba, and ended up writing one to the fragility and nobility of us 2-leggeds.
I should not have been surprised. In my novel, Revelations, a narrator suddenly appeared on page 10, a man in his 80s. I was so shocked that I stopped writing for months. I didn’t want him in the book (I’m not a man; not 80). But finally I was forced to complete the story he insisted on telling—and discovered at the end that the work was richer with his presence than my original third person would have been. It’s as if the writer, is nothing– a thought– a pen in the hand of a higher Spirit or Genius or Daemon; and all we have to do is get the willful ego out of the way and write . . . almost to dictation, as it were.
But each time I’m surprised afresh. The President’s Angel is a novel told from the point of view of God—or an angel—that Something Mysterious which sees with wider vision than we poor humans have. I reread it now in awe. I don’t even know those things! Where did these thoughts and images come from?
But some things in Love, ❤️Alba were known from the start. I knew I wanted no violence, no blood or murder, no sexual predation or abuse. The conflict is more terrible than that: it’s that of a mature woman with her very Self. Lorna has fallen horribly in love, and worse, with a younger man—and worse! He is involved with her best friend. What can she do but hate her image in the mirror, this face that shows she’s too old? Too ugly. Unwantable. We live in a culture that adulates youth. Magazine models, airbrushed to perfection, look about age fourteen, graceless and charmingly awkward. They are children, sucking one thumb, knees akimbo. Older women have face-lifts in terror of being despised. It is the advertisers that celebrate eternal youth. And youth IS beautiful, no question, but there is a power to the beauty and energy of age that cannot be discounted. It can be sexually exciting too.
Alba can see into spiritual dimensions. Mystical, angelic, mysterious, the cats in the book read the auras and energy fields around them, communicate across long distances, and best of all they can untangle the emotional knots the humans weave—a truism that anyone knows who has a cat. You close the book with a sigh of utter happiness. How did it happen? To the writer, it’s all a surprise.