How Margaret Atwood Helps Me Write


The Captain once sat on my head.

It’s April in Wisconsin, so it’s like it’s still winter. Well, it’s been raining a lot, so maybe it really is spring. But it’s been cold, so before the rain started it felt like nothing was moving.

Last night before I fell asleep my cat stepped on my head to get to the other side of the bed. It reminded me of another time a different cat sat on my head, and how happy it made me because he was basically saying “We’re such good friends that I can sit on your head and you don’t even care–in fact, you think it’s funny, and so do I.”

The Captain had a wonderful sense of humor.

There’s a neighborhood tom who swings by a lot to come and sit on the other side of the window and stare at my current cat. They howl at each other and Henry can’t stand it; the tom is basically saying “I have my balls, so I’m big enough of a cocky bastard to strut by and whiz on your bushes to let you know that I want your territory.”

He does that year round; he even traversed the tundra of my yard on stormy days in January, crossing the frozen bank like a road, or ear-deep in fresh snow and a commitment to showing us that he wants to be boss.

Last night I woke up because there was howling. When I turned on the light, Henry was in the hall with another tom who had followed him through the catflap and was now like “What the fuck am I doing in this foreign house at 2 in the morning?”

What ensued was like something out of a cartoon. The tom tried to scramble the hell out of the hall, but he just ran in place for a while. When he finally gained some ground he slid on the tiles and took a tumble into a bookshelf. Then he tore ass toward the catflap and slammed into it but didn’t pass through–he was a pretty fat cat, and a big fluffy fucker too.

This went on and on with repeated scrambling and repeated attempts at getting out through the flap, and the flap always slamming a second before the sound of claws sliding on the floor precipitated a new crash into a box or a chair. At some point he ended up flying into one of the bedrooms, and I thought “Maybe I’ll close the door and open the window and he can jump out that way,” but just then he shot past me, clambered down the hall, and finally bulleted through the catflap with a bang and a slam.

When I was a teen trying to teach myself how to write, I used to type up pages from Margaret Atwood books–not to a T, but emulating her style. If she had a young female narrator arriving in an unfamiliar town, I had a young female narrator arriving in a cafe. It was pretty fun practice.

This afternoon I read a poem by Margaret Atwood that a friend sent me in a Facebook message a few days ago. I think it’s interesting that I didn’t read the poem till after I had had the two recent cat experiences.

There was no cosmic need to wait to arrive at a similar perspective on the desolation of humanity and our desperation for hope–I have long felt that.

I have no permission to reprint the poem here, but I’m doing it anyway in the spirit of felicitiousness. Felicity? I’ve always loved the word “felicitous” because it means both “marked by general happiness or good fortune” and “very well suited or expressed.”

Actually, please step over to the Poetry Foundation to read Margaret Atwood’s “February.” I’ve never read a more amusing or timely poem that so completely embodies my current existence.


About Erin Harris

I'm a copywriter by day and a fiction writer by night. I also write about food, travel, music, film, and much more.
This entry was posted in Art, Books, Writing and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to How Margaret Atwood Helps Me Write

  1. Pingback: 11 Original Cover Songs | Erin Harris

  2. Pingback: Why I Hate the Present Tense Right Now | Erin Harris

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