The Missing Cat
By Sarah Ahmad | Tuesday, April 13, 2021
By Sarah Ahmad
Tuesday, April 13, 2021
One of my favourite things about my writing space is that it is as intentionally placed for the act of not-writing as it is for writing. The windows in this picture overlook my landlords’ yard, where three towering birdfeeders are placed beneath a cluster of pines. A lot of my writing-time is spent crouched over the window with my cat, identifying the birds who visit. The philodendron plant got a trim recently – the vines grew long enough to start crawling through the floor, and Polka began swatting at them – but it’s a way I think of (or persuade myself) that writing is happening through the not-writing, watching the leaves slowly accumulate on this old plant that has travelled many places with me.
And now, to cut to the desk: the screen set-up was a pandemic necessity and has been such a boon, though if I had it my way, I would write on reams of paper longhand. These lines by a favourite, wondrous poet, Etel Adnan, are taped below the lamp on the wall:
"I also have to tell you: I am, each year, a year older. But there is a place in an anti-universe where I am, each year, a year younger. I love matter. I swim in atoms when I am in the sea. I get covered with sand on the beaches of the Pacific, and food, for me, is made of electric particles. I love the moon because it is cold and barren, and I love a warm bath, when I come back from it. I am of those who kiss the dust not by womanly obedience but because it is part of the earth. And the big, big, clouds, like candy, come down my throat. There is a secret about me: my mobility. I go always faster than I go. This is why I am such a stranger to myself."
On the makeshift radiator shelf beside my desk, there’s a changing rotation of books along with some fixtures. I love rituals, as melodramatic as some of mine are, and one of them involves Virginia Woolf’s A Writer’s Diary. It lives beside my desk, an old edition with the cover art by her sister Vanessa Bell, and I open it before my writing hours and read an entry from the same date as that day. I love Virginia Woolf dearly and am obsessed with her sentences; her relationship to English feels so specifically crafted to her, muscular and lean. Her mind has become the right sort of quiet company for me when I want to begin writing.
Other books on that shelf generally include books I’m thinking or working alongside for a paper I’m writing, or a writing project. Currently, this is Simon Schama’s Landscape and Memory, Alice Notley’s mysteries of small houses, and Linda Tuhiwai Smith’s Decolonizing Methodologies amongst others. The density of used bookstores in Northampton and nearby have led to tethering towers of books around my home, and the stack on the radiator often gets precariously high; when it begins blocking the circular mirror hanging above it, I know it’s time for me to organize and find nooks around the house to tuck my new finds away in.
Finally, a close friend sent me a typeset copy of my first favourite poem that is gently taped on the wall beside the mirror. This is Michael Oondatje’s “The Cinnamon Peeler” and a poem I remember by heart. Usually, Polka would be slow-blinking at me from my desk as I take this photo (we share in our habit of following the sun around the house), but she was briefly missing.
What things, words, feelings do you need to wrap yourself in to write? What sounds reach you? Do you have a creature that keeps you company? I’m so looking forward to sharing and building in this space, from this space, with you all this summer.
From your own writer's space, you can explore lists in Sarah's craft session, "A List of Possibilities" or enrich your understanding of voice in her Writing Lab, "'A Foreign Anguish' / Sounding out the Writing Voice".