Growing up, my brother and I were made to wash our hands after handling paper bills or coins because, we were sternly told, money carries germs. Now, during this strange hiccup in history, I wash my hands for 20 seconds after I have taken dollar bills out of my wallet and smile at the rueful memories of childhood. But along with them comes, for the very first time, a whiff of something darker—a sense of family-transmitted fear, trauma, and death that might have kicked off this practice a hundred years ago.
We readers don’t need the writer to tell us how she felt about it. Like a punch in the gut, that simple stark fact sends us straight to the howling, unspeakable grief produced by the conflation of these two disasters, the loss of her marriage and, we have to say, the much bigger loss of her true soulmate, the cat. We don’t need her to tell us, either here or through the whole ten chapters of this section, that her cat companion was superior to her human one in every way imaginable: sensitivity, loyalty, kindness, moral character, intelligence. All that is abundantly clear from the straightforward evidence of these traits that she provides. She doesn’t need to say, Wow, wasn’t Matilda smart to figure out how to open the refrigerator door in the service of labeling and shaming disgraceful human behavior? All that she leaves to us, and we believe it much more deeply by figuring it out ourselves than we would by being told. We see the incredible cat continue to unfold new and amazing abilities as the humans stay locked in their destructive downward spiral.
In the nonfiction publishing world, proposals are supposed to be the acorns, watered by a generous advance, from which mighty oaks will grow.
Here I am again enjoying my five-month writer’s colony, tenants covering the mortgage and the cat back home, 5000 miles away from all the other mundane cares. One of the great paradoxes of our troubled times is that it’s cheaper for me to live in London than in the San Francisco Bay Area. This stripped-down life allows me to focus hard on my writing and enjoy the pleasures of a great city in my time off. My mental engine is madly racing. It’s exciting and exhausting at the same time.