Sunday, March 18, 2012

Idea Garage Sale: Persistent Cat is Persistent

We're having a battle of wills in our house right now.

One of the improvements made during the work on the back of the house last year was a railing on the back porch directly under a window. When the screens were taken away for repair and painting, the cats found this to be an ideal arrangement, and when the screens were returned, they quickly broke through the screen to continue using what they had come to regard as their personal portal. We had the screen repaired with a more flexible mesh anchored more deeply.

The result is that they will now spend hours on that railing, or sitting on the cabinet under the window in question on the inside, glaring from window to nearest available human. When we open the door, they often refuse to go through it. Thai has gone so far as to grab me by the arm and lean her head against the screen. You don't have to be as practiced at projecting words into a cat's mouth as I am to get the drift here: "Mommy! How can you be so dense? I don't want to go through the door, I want you to leave MY WINDOW OPEN."

This is a picture book set-up. Cute cats (standing in for obstinate toddlers trying to impose their will on the world), human (standing in for parents trying to instill a certain behavior - in a picture book the human would almost certainly be a child), simple situation that can be elaborated to suit. Either the cat would come up with more and more ingenious and funny ways to make the human see reason and meet with more and more deliberately absurd obliviousness, or the obstinancy would spread around the house, with the cat also trying to impose her will on eating, sleeping, and playing arrangements. I can almost see it.


Except for the ending.

In real life, sooner or later Thai goes through the door and there's no practical reason why this should not become one of our daily life rituals. In the story, there has to be some resolution which will satisfy the reader. Some compromise which allows the cat/toddler a degree of control over her own life at the same time that she learns she can't always have her own way.

Without the resolution, I only have a situation, not a plot. Nobody wants to read a picture book story without a resolution. That would be pointless.

So even if I could write picture books, it appears I wouldn't be able to write this one.


  1. The first book in a very long time that really caught Gideon's interest and didn't have Thomas the Tank Engine in it was Mo Willems' Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus. I supposed that he would empathize with the demanding - wheedling - ploy-attempting - tantrum-throwing pigeon, but instead he got a huge kick out of getting to be the one who says "No".

    In each of those books, the Pigeon always gets a sort of consolation prize / moral victory, usually in the form of a silly joke (he can't have a puppy, so now he wants a walrus, &c).

    Not sure what would be an acceptable resolution for the window-vs.-door scenario, though.

    Maybe a variation on Heinlein's Door Into Summer: the cat dithers over trying to go out through the window so long that the sky clouds over, drops begin to fall, and when he is finally persuaded to go to the open door, it is pouring rain, and he glares reproachfully at the human?

  2. Picture books empower the reader; the pigeon has no power. Of course the toddler gets a kick out of being the person who says "no!"