I woke up thinking about an assignment I got at the Writers in Paradise Conference three years ago. The assignment was to write a paragraph that began and ended with the words, “the cat died.” We had ten minutes to finish. It was the first time I realized my creativity has limits. In other words, I am fruitful when I want to be. Inspired on my own terms. Don’t give me a prompt like “passion” or “dire consequences” or “the cat died” and expect anything from me but a blank stare.
Kind of Like How I Got Sober
I just sat there, while my contemporaries wrote as if a dead cat was the muse they had been waiting for. This may be a strange leap, but it reminds me of how I got sober. On every management or intelligence test I have ever taken, I am told that I learn, based on how entertained I am by the material. It seems that if I am bored or uninspired, I just don’t listen or produce.
When I first got sober, I went to an AA meeting and although it was where I admitted my alcoholism, I didn’t really listen to anyone else. In the early days, I probably got more out of long walks on Guana Reserve beach than I did from monologues by the local, sober community. I just didn’t get it. I remember a guy in that first meeting saying, “The rooms are where I feel safe.” He looked dramatically toward a window, blacked out with taped construction paper. “It’s out there where I don’t belong…”
Huh? Sorry, but I still think that’s a ridiculous thing to say. You can’t live in an abandoned strip mall. I firmly believe that recovery means living out there in the real, trigger filled world. All I had to hear was a minute of that guy, and my mind was wandering to a beach in The Bahamas. And a tall, cold glass of wine…
I am Learning…
Before you start telling me how great AA is, I know I was an exception to the rule. I have since been to many meetings where I am inspired to listen. And learn. And what I’m trying to say is that my snooty, exclusionary learning style not only has an impact on my writing, but on my recovery as well. I shouldn’t have to be talking to William White to get fired-up about my life saving sobriety.
And if I’m at a writing conference, I suppose I should figure out a way to write what they tell me to write…. right?
So, here is my “The Cat Died” paragraph (out of nowhere and three years in the making…)
The cat died. I suppose I shouldn’t call it “the cat”. It had a name. Fluffy. The cat’s name was Fluffy. But Fluffy wasn’t mine any more than the single, tattered tennis shoe he left in the back of the closet. More like the unwanted spoils of war. The love died. I’m not sorry. The cat died.
I don’t like it much. Try it – it’s not easy…