(reposted from Patreon)
Above, a photo of three adolescent kittens. Please ignore the background clutter: it's an actual picture of my actual bedroom 30 seconds ago, unretouched except for a little color correction, complete with the clean sheets I didn't manage to get on the bed yesterday.
The goofy tuxedo cleaning his toes is Duncan; the elegant blue blending into my robe is Gurney. They're littermates.
I want to talk about the vigilant little tortoiseshell on the footboard.
Her name is Molly, and she's a little over a month older than the boys, but two pounds smaller. She came home with them because when she came into rescue, she was housed with them as a near-agemate, and the three of them have bonded like true sibs; there is washing, and chasing, and spatting.
The difference is, while the boys somehow wound up in a shelter and from there eventually a rescue, they obviously had good mothering and good human socialization. They know how to play without using their claws; they have a number of vocalizations that they use liberally with humans; their favorite game is fetch.
Molly is a semi-feral who was netted on a street in New Jersey and got very, very lucky to find her way into the same crate with her foster brothers and eventually on to my nice warm bed--rather than being euthanized.
She's almost always vigilant; her head is on a swivel, and even when she's napping she almost never completely relaxes. She's difficult to approach and will only sometimes tolerate human contact, and she needs to be in control of the interaction.
In human terms, she's anxious and on the defensive all the time.
Some of this is genetic, of course; she's pretty obviously got at least one feral parent, and she'll never be the sack of comfortable snores her brothers can be.
Some of it is the kitty equivalent of PTSD. She's been traumatized, and she knows that everything can vanish under her in seconds, and she might have no control about where she lands.
The boys are rambunctious, bold, and while they're both very athletic, one of them--Duncan--has a real tendency toward getting himself into scrapes he needs to be rescued from. He doesn't follow the rules of parkour very well, and he doesn't always know how to get out of what he's gotten himself into. (Gurney generally has a plan. Duncan is like KOWABUNGA IT'LL WORK OUT SOMEHOW.)
Molly always has a plan. Molly has three plans. In addition to her plans, Molly has two escape routes, and she's prepared to fight for her life if they don't work out.
The boys crash and bang and stampede all over the house. Molly moves on little ghost feet, in doorways and around the edges of rooms.
Molly acts like she works in the publishing industry.
Specifically, she acts like a writer (or any artist, probably) who's forced to confront the realities of making a living in a field with wildly inconsistent rewards and quite a few punishments, and doing it through the means of stripping out all her fears and vulnerabilities and waving them around for people to be entertained by (or not) and to judge (and quite possibly publicly disdain.)
I know so many anxious writers.
Hell, I'm an anxious writer. Coming back from a really messy, crippling bout with it right now, actually, and currently have the upper hand, but let's not talk about the latter half of 2015, and almost all of last year.
I have so many brilliant friends who are anxious about what they are writing about, or the quality of what they are writing, or showing their writing to other people, or whether the internet will fall on their heads no matter what they do, or even being able to write at all... and it pisses me off, this anxiety (and my anxiety, which manifests in I HAVE NOTHING USEFUL TO SAY AND I AM SAYING IT POORLY SO WHY BOTHER) because it robs the world--and selfish me--of so much good art I could be enjoying otherwise.
I wish I could take all of their anxiety and roll it up in a ball and ship it to those guys who spend a lot of time stomping around the internet fussing about how the world doesn't understand their genius and plotting ways to game award processes. Except I know that that's anxiety, too.
It's a way some people deal with it--by seeking validation any way they can, and blustering if their self-image isn't constantly reinforced. Just a some people deal with it by internalizing and eating themselves away, or being paralyzed into being unable to write or unable to submit, or withdrawing, or--my favorite, and the most subtle of all!--pulling themselves back from their art, no longer being honest and making themselves vulnerable through it, and creating something more facile than true.
What's the answer?
I don't know.
I suspect everybody has to find their own solution, because everybody's anxiety manifests in a different way.
I've dealt with it recently by getting angry and sad enough that I feel like I have something to say that's worth saying, and reminding myself that it's better said poorly than not said at all. I've dealt with it by (with the help of my spouse [hello, spouse!]) making space to work early in the day, when I am relaxed and not yet feeling the press of worries and duties of the day.
I've dealt with it by bulling through, but that doesn't work in the long run. I've dealt with it through medication, which does, sort of, but you still have to use the respite to get to the underlying issues. I've dealt with it by figuring out what I was afraid of, and remembering that--like Molly (remember Molly? This is a post about Molly)--I have lived through worse.
Also, you know, this is my job. And I love it. And I'm doing it to the best of my ability, which is pretty damned well, actually, because I am good at my job.
And I am entitled to my voice, and to the space to speak out with that voice. My falling silent will not, in fact, in any way improve the commons or its diversity. It will rather diminish that.
People don't have to choose to listen to me, but they have no right to tell me not to speak.
And if people are unhappy with my books, they can write their own damn books.
I'm sure as hell not stopping them. They shouldn't let their anxieties stop them, either.
Molly doesn't need anybody. She, unlike her brothers, can take care of most things herself.
But here's the thing: they're noisy little guys. They talk to me, their toys, birbs, bugs on the ceiling, each other.
I've only heard Molly vocalize (other than a defensive hiss) on two types of occasions, and until this morning, it was only one. If she is somewhere else in the house and doesn't know where her brothers and Scott and I are, she will pause in her explorations sometimes and emit a perfect little "Meow?" or two until somebody says--in cat or human--"Molly, we're over here."
And this morning, she was sleeping on my feet, and was startled awake by a boy-noise in the hall. She sat bolt upright like a little meercat, front legs dangling, the better to survey the situation.
And while she was sitting there on my feet, she emitted a little, muttering growl, as if to say, "This is my spot, and I will fuck you up if you come for me here."
Molly may be anxious, but she also has something to say, and she apparently has a platform to say it from.
If a six pound semiferal kitten with PTSD can manage it, so can we.