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Write Like an Animal





Once upon a time in Los Angeles I was the managing editor of a magazine called Buzz. My job—one of my jobs—was to make sure the editorial staff met its deadlines. This meant coming up with a production schedule and—the hard part—enforcing it. I was a cop, in other words. A friendly one. A neighborhood cop. I used to go around to everybody’s stall and say, “How ya doin’?” Whenever somebody said, “Not so good,” I tried to help. I spent a lot of time with Veronia, our only fact checker. The poor girl was drowning in work. To cheer her up, I invented Spot the Fact-checking Dog, an assistant fact-checker. Spot came to the office at night and left little notes on Veronia’s desk, telling her what he had done while she was sleeping. He wrote things like “This article is boring” and “I love you, Veronia,” and “Please fill water dish” followed by a smiley face. His handwriting was big and wobbly (I’m right-handed but Spot was left-handed) and he signed his notes with a paw print. He had his own logo, a black dot encircled by the words “Spot the Fact-Checking Dog.”

 

Recently I had occasion to reflect on my association with Spot, who retired from fact-checking in November of 1993.


Exercise: Start with a familiar story—yours or someone else’s—and write it from a new point of view. If it’s a story about you and a horse, for example, tell the story from the horse’s point of view. If it’s the story of a boy who climbs a beanstalk and encounters a giant, tell the story from the giant’s point of view. Same story, different perspective.

In my writing workshops, we have been experimenting with different points of view. Last week’s assignment was inspired by a student who loves animals, especially cats. She told us cats are not allowed in the house where she lives, and I found this very sad, so I suggested that she write a story about a cat. Then, I suggested that everybody in the group write a story about a cat. Then I went one step further and suggested we write our stories from the point of view of the cat. I later amended the assignment to include all animals.

 

When I sat down to write my story, I got stuck. I couldn’t write like a cat, nor a pig, nor any other member of the animal kingdom.  It just wasn’t happening. Then I remembered Spot.

 

Spot couldn’t tell a fact from a fish, but that didn’t matter, because his real job was to show Veronia, on a regular basis, that she was appreciated.

 

I started my story with a writer, Pamela, who has a weekly podcast for cat lovers. One day, she receives a letter from somebody called Verushka.

 

Dear Miss Pamela,

 

I am writing in response to your recent solicitation for true stories about the lives of cats.

 

In my younger days, I lived with a very nice lady. This lady's name was Dot. We lived in a house by the river. I had my own chair, with a soft cushion. We spent many happy hours together.

 

The man who lived upstairs was not a nice person. He was rude and unpleasant and he smelled funny. This man was called Son.

 

One day I will never forget. Such a terrible day. The end of my happy life. On this day, the man, Son, told Dot he was taking her to get a new television, and then he drove Dot to an old-people’s house and left her there. I heard him talking about it on the telephone—plotting, plotting, always plotting to get rid of her, but I could do nothing. When Son returned to the house, he put me in a cage and put the cage in his truck and drove to a farm. My new home.

 

The farmer says to Son, is she a good mouser? Oh, yes, says Son. Excellent. Liar! Imagine, I, Verushka, catcher of mice. Never in my life did I kill a mouse or even a termite. I cannot. No. It is not possible.

 

So now I live in a barn with horses, and chickens, and yes, mice. I am skinny. My eyesight is poor. My soft-chair days are over.

 

So that is my story, Miss Pamela. I hear many beautiful things about you, how kind you are, how nice to cats. I feel better knowing that somebody listens to Verushka.

 

Your friend,

 

Verushka

 


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