Scrabbling about for inspiration

“Meaningless! Everything is meaningless!” said the author of Ecclesiastes, words that taunt me on days when I can’t decide what to write for this column.

Every day hundreds of thousands of words are dumped into the public domain, most of them inane, some of them smart, none of them ever quite as attention-grabbing as the latest funny internet video.

Who has time to read it all? I am adding to the clutter with even more words that most people have already skimmed past on their way to the next distraction.

Writers are like chefs. We spend hours in the kitchen only to watch the products of our hearts and souls getting scoffed in the commercial break. That’s just the way it is, and we go back into the kitchen to write more because we can’t stop writing.

I would love to write full time, but words are cheap and I’m a family man with a mortgage, so each morning I get up at stupid-o’clock to work on things like this column before going to my sensible job during the day.

My day job is at the city council. I don’t discuss council issues here, partly because it’s contrary to my brief but mostly because I don’t want to think about work at 5 o’clock in the morning.

So here I am, writing: just me, a cup of tea and a sleeping house. No distractions except for a gigantic cat.

We inherited a kitten earlier this year. He started out as a quivering handful of fluff and six months later turns out to be descended from an ancient breed of giant felines. He’s already as big as a regular cat and getting bigger.

The giant has taken to planting himself on my lap when I write, a purring anchor that I have to lean across to reach the keyboard.

Last week while I was writing he decided he wanted to climb out the study window. It was the morning of that sudden cold snap, our first real frost for the winter. The giant’s claws were no match for the icy corrugated roof and he slid away towards the two-storey drop. I threw a blanket out for him to grab. He spun and scrabbled for grip but it was too late.

It was just like that opening scene in Cliffhanger where the girl falls into the canyon. The cat slithered backwards, paws outstretched, eyes pleading with me all the way down into the darkness.

A heart-stopping moment but it turned out he was fine. There are probably scratch marks on the roof. Mostly it was a bother because I was on deadline and my column was struggling for its own traction.

My deadline is Thursday morning. I start thinking on Monday about what might be interesting on Friday. The hardest thing is to come up with something new each week.

It doesn’t help that I’m a perfectionist. I write and I rewrite and I scrabble about like a cat on a frosty roof until I figure out what I’m trying to say.

There’s always a moment where it seems this little collection of words are all that matter in the entire universe. Then I hand it in, Friday ambles by and not much changes. The Earth keeps on turning. People go about their business. Very soon it’s time for next week’s column.

And so it goes. But I have scratched another little mark on the world.

First published in Bay of Plenty Times 6 June 2014. Reproduced with permission.