On the catwalk

Please enjoy this introduction I wrote to my zine Cat Party #7, which I put out in late December 2020. This issue of the zine, like most of the others in the series, is an anthology of work by a handful of people introduced with an essay by me. If you’d like to read more about the zine and/or order a copy, please visit my online shop over here.

During these last seven months of the pandemic, going for walks in my neighborhood has been a lifeline for me. I’ve always loved to go for long walks in the city (and the suburbs and the woods sometimes, too)—moving my body through space and taking in some new sights always, always makes me feel good, or at least better than I felt before I started. 

This year, however, going for walks has meant way more to me than usual. All these months into the crisis, it is still one of the only things I feel safe doing outside of my house, and I have leaned all the way in. Bored? Go for a walk. Taking a break from work? Go for a walk. Need to talk something out with Joe? Go for a walk—with Joe. Though actually, all of these walks have been with Joe. Everything I’ve done in all this time, I’ve done with him. I’m not tired of his company, I’m very happy to say, and I haven’t gotten bored of our walks, either. 

However, quarantine fatigue is a real phenomenon, and some days the stress of it all feels like it’s pressing down on us more heavily than others. We’ve found it useful to mix things up now and again. A couple months ago, while we were on one of our walks—talking about how much we hoped we’d see Steven, the indoor-outdoor tabby who lives up the block and who we call the Mayor because he’s such a badass, and then feeling victorious when we did see him, sitting there looking all stripey on the sidewalk in front of his house—the thought occurred to us to start keeping track of every cat we see when we go out. 

These little cat finding missions have really invigorated our neighborhood walks, let me tell you. For one thing, they encourage me to pay a kind of attention to the visual details around me that I tend to miss when I’m looking down at my feet or lost in my thoughts or conversation with J. There’s also something comical about this project, which brings a note of joy to the day that we sometimes really need. The cats are funny, and coming upon them in the middle of their activities is funny, too. 

There was the cat that was lying so sound asleep in the grass of a front yard that I swore was a large rock until we crossed the street toward it to get a better look and it stood up, stretched, and yawned. There’s the big orange tabby we sometimes see through his door, sitting happily on a cat tower that his humans have placed there. As we pass by we watch him, and he watches us. 

In this whole neighborhood, there is just one person who walks his cat on a leash, and we love coming upon the two of them, especially since they’re like celebrities to us because we’ve read the heated debates on the neighborhood’s amazingly petty Facebook group about whether or not this dude lets his cat poop on people’s lawns and doesn’t clean up after him. 

And it’s still a treat whenever we bump into Steven, all lean and muscular and beautiful. He rolls and squirms around on the sidewalk so that we’ll want to pat him, and the moment he’s had enough of our attention he hops up and swaggers away, cuz he’s just that cool.

We’ve even made a few new cat friends recently, like the beautiful little female calico who sits or sleeps on her front porch and comes running when we pass by. Her porch is set up high from the sidewalk, and when she see us—sometimes before we see her—she jumps up from her cushion and runs across the porch and straight down a stone wall to the bottom post, where she perches to snuggle and butt us with her head. I love that cat.

When we get home from our walks we tally up our results in a spreadsheet. Date, time of day, number of cats spotted indoors, number of cats spotted outdoors, and useful notes. (“Saw Steven chilling on his back patio”; “Three black cats on this October day!”) We don’t know yet who will find the information we’re compiling most useful (urban planners? cat behavioral scientists?) but we take our responsibility in collecting it seriously.

At this point we’ve got about 7 weeks’ worth of data, and as far as I’m concerned we’ve just gotten started. I mean, just the other day a house across the street got kittens, and the last time we went for a walk we spotted them sitting side by side, framed by two different windows, looking out at us with matching looks of wonderment on their faces. Things in the neighborhood are just gonna keep changing, cat-wise. Our work may never be finished! 

J, my cat-walk partner and partner in most other things as well, has helpfully arranged some of this data into charts and graphs. 

Cycletherapy, that’s what they wanna give me!

Blurbing books is kind of a weird practice. I mean, it’s actually a very good idea, and I for one always notice who’s been quoted on the back (and sometimes front) of a book I’m considering reading. But I can tell you, as someone who’s written two books and was asked by her publisher to do so, seeking these blurbs out is a bit scary and awkward (though probably most people are very kind about it, as the writers I asked were). Famous and sought-after writers probably get asked to write blurbs often, which must be something of a nuisance.

Lucky for me I’m more infamous than famous, and am sought after by only a highly select few!

Elly Blue, the author of several excellent books on biking, asked me to read and consider writing a blurb for her new one, an anthology she edited called Cycletherapy: Grief and Healing on Two Wheels, put out this month by Microcosm Publishing. Elly is also the co-owner of Microcosm, which published my two books, White Elephants and Slip of the Tongue. Microcosm has been knocking it out of the park lately, if I may say so. My hubby Joe and I tabled for them at the Small Press Expo last weekend, and their books were a huge hit there. (Joe is also a Microcosm author.) SPX is comics-oriented, and Microcosm does indeed have some comics titles on its roster (the Henry & Glenn series being the best known and, frankly, awesomest), but other types of books were flying off our temporary shelves, too: The DIY ones by Raleigh Briggs; the more overtly political and wonderfully-titled The CIA Makes Science Fiction Unexciting; the silly-yet-totally-serious Manspressions, which makes fun of machismo using made-up words and charming illustrations; and yeah, my own pocket-sized memoir, White Elephants.

Cycletherapy was too new to make it to the expo, but it’s out now, and I’ve got my copy here. It’s a beautiful book. Highlights include Elly’s own essay, in which she writes about carting her partner around on a bamboo bike trailer on days when he’s too sick to bike himself; a short piece by Sara Tretter that touches on the awkwardness of burgeoning teenage sexuality; Julie Brooks’ chronicle of working through the grief she experienced after being struck by a car while riding her bike (she’s okay now); and Gretchen Lair’s fine illustration of her beloved bike Ariel, who was stolen days after their last trip to the beach together. She quotes The Tempest: “My quaint Ariel … Our revels are now ended.”

Lookit all their bike books!
Lookit all their bike books! (This is a photo of Elly and Joe Biel, from the Microcosm website.)

I’m not a biker, not since childhood, really. I’ve always felt a little too chicken to get around the city on a bike, like so many of my friends do. (They’ve all been doored by parked cars or clipped by moving ones. Plus, I love to plug in and listen to music while I’m out and about, which isn’t such a hot idea when you’re riding a bike in traffic.) But I am a big walker. I walk everywhere because I don’t drive a car, and never have: My mode of transportation is my own two legs, plus whatever SEPTA conveyance I feel like catching. But I walk for pleasure and exercise and for my mental health, too. A lot of what the folks in this anthology (all but one of them women) wrote about biking resonated with me because I use long walks the same way, to keep my mind and body healthy and strong. Some days I push through physical discomfort or miserable heat and humidity to get to that feeling that my physical self isn’t creaky and cranky and tired, but like a well-oiled machine, taking me where I need to go. Going out in the evening is different, like gliding through dark water, thoughtful and quiet. I prefer to walk through city neighborhoods because I like to look at buildings and people, and peer down little alleyways and see grass growing up between the cracks in the concrete. But I live just up the street from the Schuylkill River, which has a paved path for walkers and bikers that runs alongside it all the way into downtown Philly from a little town 25 miles from here called Oaks. Sometimes I’ll walk down to the trail and stay on it till I reach the part of the river where the rowers practice, past their charming boathouses and the sleek boats themselves, sluicing through the water. I move my body to get my head feeling right and it always helps, at least a little, which is more or less what the stories in this book are about. It’s good to be reminded how useful that can be.