I am talking, of course, about the miserable moment you realize you have lost your cell phone.
The first time it happened to me I was at work, having attended a tedious meeting on information technology. I could feel the blood drain from my face and, feeling faint, I clutched Alice’s arm. We looked all around the seats, up and down the tables.
As I said in the essay, I was sad about the cat all in itself.
But a smaller loss, an attachment to an animal, affects you in an unguarded place.
This piece feels much more intimate, more like one of your short stories. I would in fact call this piece memoir as opposed to a personal essay.
Yes, those two pieces are from very early on in terms of my development in writing nonfiction. Human motives are very convoluted and hard to clarify in terms of what is true or false. True feeling is often hidden under superficial or more attractive feelings; selfish motives are often wound up with truly altruistic ones. To me a personal essay might use your own experience, even in an intimate way, but the personal experience is secondary to the topic of the essay, which you’re using to explain your point of view on a subject. You once wrote in an essay about Nabokov that “an accepting and at times dispassionate approach to feeling allows for an understanding of both tenderness and cruelty.” Is it strange to use that approach in writing about your own life and your own motivations?I read somewhere that you draft your work in longhand? Is there anything else you wanted to say about writing “Lost Cat”?I wondered sometimes if it was in a way immoral to talk about my family. So in a way he’s not in a position to care, and I doubt if he’s aware of it.I express myself much more plainly or directly with nonfiction. I couldn’t have written “Lost Cat” two months after the cat had gone missing.With fiction, I am largely speaking the language of metaphor, which people frequently mistake for literal communication. I start writing in longhand usually and then at some point, I start writing on the computer. Detachment allows you to see more of what’s there and feel more of it, rather than be completely overcome by one particular emotion.If someone told me a story about a cat, it wouldn’t occur to me to have an opinion on what happened. Then I started calling shelters, and finding out there are these services, very expensive ones that help find lost animals. For example, there’s my sister, a sensible, fairly traditional person, very intelligent but fairly conventional in how she sees reality.I was telling her about what happened, but instead of talking common sense to me, she began to tell me about her mother-in-law who played a card game with these women who cursed her.When you lose an animal, it connects with that unguarded place, and it opens a way into other areas that we usually keep protected.You’ve done other nonfiction writing, I’ve seen essays on the Biblical book of Revelation and on Vladimir Nabokov.You’re strong—they probably couldn’t get you, but they might have gotten your cat.” And her husband, who is first-generation, it irritated him to hear about it, but he did, at his mother’s behest, do a counter curse or protection ritual. I was becoming more aware of the realities of limitations of our relationship.And also there were other things that are too personal to talk about.