Is Your Cat Your Creative Muse?


Ever since I can remember, I’ve been fascinated by cats. I guess, then, it’s not surprising that when I’m pursuing creative bliss, cats have provided at least some of the inspiration that formed the ideas I try to transform into things I can share with others. I’m not the only one, though; just look at the burlesque artists Phillip Mlynar interviewed yesterday.

When I was a kid, I was crazy about superheroes. I didn’t obsessively collect comic books, but after I read my first superhero story around age six, my mind was full of ideas about costumed crime-fighters. I drew them, I thought about their origins, constantly coming up with new ideas about how my heroes (actually, mine were heroines; all of them were women) obtained their super powers. Cat Girl — not to be confused with the Batman villain Catwoman — was a gymnast whose mutation of super-sharp claws at the ends of her fingers and toes served her well in climbing and shearing the crap out of villains.

In a high school art class (you know, back in the days when art was actually taught at public high schools), I created a clay sculpture whose semi-abstract form was clearly influenced by the cats in my life.

In college, I drew a bunch of cartoons featuring life from a cat’s point of view. My notebooks were filled with doodles of cat-like forms and screaming punk rockers.

My doodling didn’t stop after I left school. Most of the work meetings I attended, when I appeared to be copiously taking notes on the management team’s latest visioning summit results and strategic plans, I was actually drawing pictures of cats in various poses.

When I started writing fiction, a lot of my early stories were pretty dark, rife with cold-war and post-cold-war angst, gothic sensibilities, and intense personal struggles. They reflected what was going on inside my head, as most creative work does, and there was little relief from the pain other than an occasional run-in with a pet cat.

I continued to write stories with depressive themes for many years. One such piece, which died of Fading Novel Syndrome after about 25 pages, began with several neighborhood cats sunning themselves on the back porch of an apartment building, chit-chatting and gossiping.

I have a half-finished science fiction novel sitting on my hard drive that features a secondary protagonist from a race of cat-like people. I know — how original, right?

I’m glad to say my life has lightened up a lot. A contemporary fantasy novel I recently began opens with a cat coming inside with a winged fairy between its teeth. The protagonist looks down and says, "Bad kitty! No fairies!" and releases the poor thing before the cat could eat it. This is one novel I actually do plan to complete because the subject matter I’m writing about won’t make me suicidal — a nice change of pace from my previous opuses.

Even my blog was inspired by my cats. If it hadn’t been for Sin├®ad and Siouxsie, I never would have come up with the idea for a cat advice blog written by cats, in their voices. Ten years later, Siouxsie is the only remaining member of the original Paws and Effect Gang, but several other cats have graced the site with their wisdom and unique personalities. I still think it’s ridiculously fun to deliver advice with a healthy side of kitty conversation.

My sweet Dahlia inspired a kitty memoir that appeared in the blog for several months in 2011. Dahlia Tells All was very popular with my readers, and I plan to expand the story and put it into e-book format in the not-too-distant future.

I don’t know what kind of creative life I’d have if it hadn’t been for the cats who graced my life from my childhood on. What would my muse have been if it hadn’t been a cat? I can’t even begin to guess.

Has a cat been your muse? How? Let’s talk!

About JaneA Kelley: Punk-rock cat mom, science nerd, animal shelter volunteer, professional cat sitter, and all-around geek with a passion for bad puns, intelligent conversation, and role-play adventure games. She gratefully and gracefully accepts her status as chief cat slave for her family of feline bloggers, who have been writing their award-winning cat advice blog, Paws and Effect, since 2003.

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