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  • Sam Salerno

Milking the Cat


My grandma said I needed to write more. 


Actually, my mom told me that grandma told her to tell me that I needed to write more. I guess I could scratch that whole second sentence and let the first stand on its own, but, on reading it over, it’s a good reminder of why I find myself avoiding tickling the keys more often than not.

Writing is a tricky business.


I don’t have anything against grandma. She’s one the people I love the most in this world, and if she asked me to milk the cat until the cows came home, by God’s grace I’d milk the cat until the cows came home.

The only problem is cats can be mean. Really mean.


My uncle and aunt had a cat named Tuffy whose sole purpose in life, I believe, was to eviscerate any person that invaded his personal space. No other animal has made me bleed my own blood more than this cat. Before social distancing was ever a thing, I always gave him 6ft of space; for fear of losing a finger, I’d wear oven mitts while swapping out his food dish; to avoid any sneak attacks, I never turned my back on him; and, when housesitting, I closed the door at night to keep from being killed in my sleep (and yet somehow I would wake to find him staring at me from the foot of my bed…his red eyes plumbing the depths of my soul as I remained very still and silently begged for mercy).


Milking Tuffy would have been suicide.


Truthfully, I don’t even know if you can milk a cat. Ben Stiller said you can, but I’ve never tried. I imagine the whole fiasco to be a lot like writing, though: it’s chaotic, painful, and leaves you wondering if it’s even possible.


First, there’s the blank page. It’s the calm before the storm; the silence before the flurry. You haven’t quite violated the cat’s space yet, and he hasn’t done anything to you. No one would be the wiser if you simply walked away. Harmony is maintained. Many say this stage of writing is the hardest. I think it’s the easiest. The blank page is the canvas for the infinite: an infinite amount of possibilities, worlds, heroes, villains, excitement, romance, dialogue, outcomes. You determine the future as you contemplate the blank page, all without having to put your fingers on the keys or your pen to paper. The best part: no one can judge what you haven’t written, and all your wild words and ideas remain safe and secure in your brain.


But then there’s the drafting stage. It’s the madness that comes right after you’ve laid your hands on the cat and it’s sensed that something is terribly amiss and your once beautiful, symbiotic relationship has come to an end. If you’ve ever wrestled with a frantic, clawed demon, then you have a good idea of what writing your first draft feels like. It’s a whirlwind. Clacking keys, embarrassing typos, tirades of negative self-talk, and, in my case, literal pages of half-baked, half-finished sentences that for one reason or another, I simply don’t like. I can’t tell you how many first drafts have died in my arms – mauled to death by the claws of an internal editor whisper-yelling “This is so stupid!” and “You suck!” Truth be told, by the time the final draft lands on the website or in an inbox, I’m doubled over in a corner, applying the millionth bandaid and praying I don’t bleed out from the tussle.


And don’t get me started on revising a draft. I’ll just say it’s like asking a parent to pick their favorite child and banish the rest to the void.


This is how I feel about writing.


This is what grandma wants me to do.


And while I don’t think I’m a great writer, and I sometimes go months at a time without writing anything, I’m strangely addicted to it – that rushing feeling of standing on the precipice of the infinite, battling through the onslaught of words, chiseling away at all the excess, and creating something out of nothing. 


Is it painful? Unbelievably.


Rewarding? Occasionally.


Exciting? Definitely.


And most importantly, when the dust has settled and I hobble to the publish button, I can rest knowing that I didn’t let grandma down.

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