Monthly Archives: March 2016

Cribbed Notes



For more than two months, Rosaleen Murphy, the heroine of my unfinished novel, has been sitting on the buckboard of a wagon somewhere on the Fosston Trail, tapping her delicate, buckled shoe with increasing impatience as she waits for me to figure out what to do with her. Meanwhile, I’ve banged out 35,000 words of fanfic* based on the early 90s TV series, “The Young Riders,” in just under 10 days. (You’ll find my FF here.)

I’ve been writing fanfiction since before writing fanfiction was cool. Okay, writing fanfic still isn’t cool. But it is definitely a thing; there are literally hundreds of thousands of stories housed on, the best-known repository for such work on the Internet. There are many, many more stories posted on other sites.

For the uncool uninitiated, fanfic is a story written by a fan of a television show, movie, play, book or even real-world individuals (creepy), using the established characters and/or scenarios of the source material. Someone once estimated that 80% of fanfic is porn, by the way. That feels like an overstatement to me, but there’s certainly no dearth of explicit material online. Apparently people are so disappointed that the BBC’s standards of decency do not permit us to see Doctor Who get it on with his companions (or sometimes a previous incarnation of himself) that they are compelled to fill those gaps themselves.

(And an astonishing number of adolescent girls apparently imagine the members of the boy band One Direction get up to some very kinky hijinks behind closed doors. Flashback 40 years: I remember being shocked when I heard Shaun Cassidy was dating two girls at once. Times have changed.)

Another thing about fanfic is that a lot of it isn’t very good. There’s a reason some people make a living as writers, and the other 99.9% of us do not. “Grammar? Spelling? Consistent characterization? Plausible plotting? Who cares! My audience only wants to read about how Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman get their freak on. Oh, and they’re also vampires.”

On the other hand, occasionally you happen upon a fanfic writer whose talent is so astonishing that you wonder what the hell they are doing writing this stuff instead of REAL books. (E.L. James is NOT one of those writers, by the way, even though her 50 Shades of Gray empire started as a “Twilight” fanfic.). I’ve discovered brilliant authors in fandoms as diverse as “Scarecrow & Mrs. King,” “Babylon 5” and “Remington Steele.” Indeed, the stories by someone who posts “Babylon 5” fanfiction under the pseudonym kungfuwaynewho are better than the original series, in my opinion.

keepcalmNot surprisingly, given that it involves the appropriation of characters and situations from copyrighted material by people who might expect to assume they own that material, fanfic is somewhat controversial. There has long been a raging debate about the legality of the stories, in which phrases like “fair use” and “for purposes of parody and criticism” are bandied about to justify cobbing from someone else’s creative efforts.

We fanfic writers tend to justify ourselves by noting that we don’t make any money from this creative exercise. (The aforementioned E.L. James is an unworthy exception.) A couple of years ago there was a movement afoot by publishers to “monetize” fanfiction – in other words, it was just fine with them if people skirted copyright violation, as long as they [the publishers and the original copyright holders] made some money off it. In 2013, Amazon launched a Kindle service that allows readers to pay to read fanfiction based on select properties with which the company had connived made an agreement. These include “The Vampire Diaries,” “Gossip Girl” and “Pretty Little Liars.” However, since Amazon does not allow hardcore porn even on Kindle, and as far as I can tell that’s the only kind of thing written around those shows, I can’t see this being a very lucrative enterprise.

Writers can get around the who-owns-what issue, of course, by taking up where long-dead authors left off; “public domain” is very useful for those who want their cake and eat it, too. By which I mean, those who want to kink up Romeo & Juliet’s balcony scene (or more likely, explore some hot and sweaty Romeo/Tybalt slash) and make money off it. I don’t think the recent fad for mashing up genres (e.g., Pride, Prejudice and Zombies) began as fanfic, but it seems like the kind of thing that might have. In fanfiction parlance, this is known as “AU” (alternate universe). Which is shorthand for I’m-going-to-do-whatever-the-hell-I-want-with-this-material. Turn Bilbo Baggins into a horny freshman at Mordor High School? Why not? “Oh, shit, Samwise! Principal Gandalf just gave me detention. What a hardass!”

I once paid good money for a real, hardcover book titled Mrs. Darcy, which began its life as fanfiction and purported to be a sequel to Jane Austen’s classic. And indeed it was, if by “sequel” you mean 450 pages of explicit, suspiciously modern Regency-era sex. It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single gentleman in possession of a throbbing manhood must be in want of someone to straddle him in the back of a carriage.

Bonanza: The Lost Episodes

Bonanza: The Lost Episodes

Another interesting fanfic convention is the “crossover.” This involves mashing up two or more original sources. Some of these make sense; I’ve read some plausible “Scarecrow & Mrs. King”/”Remington Steele” crossovers, for instance. More puzzling are stories that combine, say, “Gunsmoke” with “Doctor Who.” “Watch out, Little Joe! That Dalek’s got you in his sights!”

Then there are the author-insertion and reader-insertion stories, written in the first- and second-person respectively. The latter can be especially disconcerting: “You lick your lips wantonly as you drop to your knees in front of Justin Bieber …” Wow. That doesn’t seem at all like the sort of thing I’m likely to do.

the-quality-of-writing-in-blogbased-fanfiction-for-language-learning-2-638So why do so many people write fanfiction instead of their own original stories? In part it’s because the original creator was gifted enough to make us care about their characters. We don’t want Luke and Han and Leia’s story to be over when the credits roll. Or, conversely, we’re like Kathy Bates’ character in Misery, maddened by what the original author did to “our” characters. “How [insert series/movie title] should have ended” is a common theme in fanfiction.

And fanfiction can be easier to write than original work because the originator has already done all the heavy lifting. The characters are created and fleshed out. The scenarios are developed. Overarching themes are neatly in place. All we have to do is add an “and then THIS happened” coda to something that already has a substance and an audience. So maybe instead of trying to figure out what to do with my currently idle heroine, I should take a page from E.L. James’ lousy fanfic book (would serve her right) and crib from my fanfic to finish my “original” work. I’ll make Rosaleen a teenage rider for the Pony Express who forms an unlikely alliance with a sexy secret agent, and together they save the world from time-warped dinosaurs.

Yeah. That’ll work.


*If you’re genuinely interested in this topic, you’ll find a much more thoughtful and informative treatment of the subject here:


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Who are you calling SENSITIVE?

disappointed baby

I’m a Highly Sensitive Person. That’s a real thing, by the way, not just what your mother calls you after she suggests you’ve gained a little weight and you start to cry. Our always reliable friends at Wikipedia describe an HSP as, “a person having a high measure of the innate trait whose scientific name is sensory processing.”

Um. Okay …

More helpfully, Wiki offers attributes of HSPs: “having qualities of low risk taking, need for quiet (usually alone) high motivation to avoid overstimulation, preference for deeply meaningful conversations, greater awareness of subtleties in emotional and non-verbal communication and a sense of being different and not the ideal.”

Now we’re getting somewhere.

A website called reports that HSPs tend to possess the following “not the ideal” characteristics:

  • Easily bothered by sudden or loud noises
  • Troubled by disorder in the environment
  • Unduly affected by the emotions and states of other people
  • Deeply troubled by conflict or violence
  • Sensitive to foods, smells and environmental chemicals
  • Poor physical health
  • Emotional instability
  • Practical problems (difficulty making choices)
  • Relationship trouble

Nevertheless, the website assures me, most HSPs are “otherwise normal.” Hurray!

Apart from the item on disorder (squalor is my natural habitat), this is a pretty fair assessment of the World of Keri. Apparently the culprit is my amygdale, those almond-shaped bits of brain tissue responsible for feeling stuff. And wanting stuff. The amygdala is the villain in the following little melodrama that plays out in my life every single day.


My Nemesis

Amygdala: Gimme a cookie.

Neocortex: You don’t need a cookie. You’re fat already.

Amygdala: Gimme a cookie.

Neocortex: You know if you have a cookie, you’ll hate yourself afterward.

Amygdala: Gimme a cookie.

Neocortex: Seriously, you’re not even hungry!

Amygdala: Gimme a cookie.

Neocortex: You are SO not getting a cookie.

*sound of cookie crunching in my mouth*

Neocortex: I hate myself.

Amygdala: Gimme a cookie.

I gather that this overactive amygdala is also responsible for the paralyzing mortification – something others might term prudishness – that I experience over basic bodily functions. I firmly believe that feminine hygiene products should be sold in lots of 10,000 so you only have to buy them once in a lifetime; I have been known to circle the check-out area of WalMart for 45 minutes until a female appeared at the cash register, ‘cause there ain’t NO way I’m putting my Kotex on the conveyor belt for some teenage boy to smirk over.


Modern science is working hard to solve some of the problems of the overly sensitive.

For me, the “walk of shame” isn’t being seen wearing yesterday’s clothes after a night of illicit passion. It’s being caught exiting that out-of-the-way, single-unit restroom I seek out when I have Serious Business to do. I can read the knowing contempt in my observer’s eyes: “She just pooped in there!”

As a freshman in college, I accidentally passed gas loudly in front of a dorm mate and spent the subsequent four years avoiding her. Tricky, since her room was next door.

I think I inherited this brand of squeamishness from my Dad. The sight of a brassiere accidentally fallen out of a clothes basket onto the basement stairs was like an electric fence for my pops. Unable to touch the thing or even step over it, he was barred from his downstairs workshop until I came home to retrieve the offending article.

Something similar occurred to me one summer when I rented a basement room in my campus’s Catholic Newman Center. Upon bringing my basket of delicates to the little laundry room off the communal kitchen, I was horrified to discover a pair of the resident priest’s boxers left in the washer.

Cue the theme from The Exorcist.

Of course I had to flee back to my lodgings and wash my scanties out in the bathroom sink, as it was unthinkable to mix my unmentionables with any article of clothing that has contained a clergyman’s manhood. That must be, at the very least, a near occasion of sin.

Honey BooBoo

Yeah, Honey Boo Boo. We know.

An excess of empathy is another delightful effect of my disordered Lizard Brain. For years I haven’t been able to watch much television. Reality shows are a mine field, because I cringe at every awkward thing the classless denizens of those programs do – and everything they do is awkward. (The Bachelor? Real Housewives? Mama June? Oh, my God. Kill me now.) Game shows and sports competitions are also out, because I feel so bad for the losers. And for the next few months I may just move into a cave somewhere, because everything about the political process, with its inherent conflict and contention, makes me want to crawl under a table and assume a fetal position.

Especially this year.

Scut Trumpfus

Scut Trumpfus

Most of my life I honestly thought all people had these hang ups cognitive challenges. Isn’t everyone paralyzed by grief when Charlie Brown doesn’t get a Valentine from the little red-headed girl? Turns out, no, they aren’t. Because Charlie Brown is a cartoon and doesn’t actually have feelings to get hurt. But he would be heartbroken if he were real, and that’s good enough for my wonky gray matter. I weep over it every year.

sadMarsRoverI’ve learned that the capacity to feel empathy for non-living objects (and even abstract concepts, like mathematics*) is actually a thing: science calls it Einfühling. It’s what explains my desperate need for NASA to send a rescue mission after Curiosity, the little robot rover that continues its unrelentingly lonely trek over the surface of Mars and (OMG, I can’t even) sings Happy Birthday to itself once a year.

How can the rest of you live with that? Are you monsters?

There are ways, I’m told, of blunting the effects of the too-avid amygdala, through medications or “self soothing techniques” (I’m picturing myself sucking on a pacifier). I don’t know … maybe, in this increasingly hard-edged world, it is my role to take on all the feels so the rest of you aren’t burdened with them – kind of like John Coffey in Stephen King’s The Green Mile.

But when bugs start coming out of my mouth, I’m done.


John Coffey purging the bad stuff.

*I have no empathy for mathematics. Die, math! DIE

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It’s Not Easy Being Green

‘Tis almost March 17, and since I’m a quarter Irish (I know that’s true, because analyzed my spit and said it was absolutely so), I’ve decided to celebrate a little-known episode in my ancestral homeland’s history. With apologies to the Irish, and to pagans (who have the right to worship whatever they want, yo), and to ducks everywhere, I offer:

celtic book

“How Ireland Got Its Green On”:
A Folk Tale

This story, children, takes place long ago, in the time steeped in magic and mystery before St. Patrick brought the Christian religion to the pagan people of Eire. In those days, the native Gaels worshiped many gods derived from the natural world around them. But though they were a people of great faith even then, the whole polytheistic animist thing wasn’t really working out so well. For in antiquity, Ireland was not the verdant, fertile isle it is today. Instead, it was a vast, stinking swamp where the people had to subsist on cakes made from mud and pond scum, and everyone, from the tenderest babe to the most wizened elder, went to bed with wet feet every night.

As you can imagine, life was very hard (wet feet being among the most disagreeable states known to man), and it is from these dark times that the Irish developed that persistent streak of melancholy that shadows an otherwise cheerful people still today. Thus, when St. Patrick arrived on the island promising eternal salvation and dry feet, the Celtic tribes were inclined to listen.

Yet there were some who clung to the old ways. One of these was my own ancestor, Ádhamhnán, “the timorous one.” He was not brave in battle, nor clever with his hands, or even particularly bright. But Ádhamhnan (let’s just call him Ham) had one quality that made him stand out from the other soggy villagers: He had a real thing for ducks.

So great was his passion for these noble birds that he claimed tunnag lach, the Great Duck God, as his personal lord and savior. The fact that the Gaelic people didn’t actually have a Great Duck God in their pantheon was of no concern to Ham. Like I said, he loved him some ducks. The rest of his clan, who knew darned well there was no such thing as a duck god, mostly gave him a wide berth.


Ordinary duck eggs

One morning, as Ham was slogging through the swamp, he came upon a wondrous thing: a duck’s egg like none he had seen before. It was not the pale, dull green of most duck eggs, but rather a vivid, glossy hue that fairly glowed among the dank brown and gray clumps of the putrid-smelling bog.

Let us not dwell too much on where this object came from and how it came to be in the middle of an Irish swamp; God’s ways are mysterious.

“How blessed I am!” Ham declared. “Clearly this is a gift from Tunnag Lach! Now at last my clansmen must recognize the mighty power of the duck. And perhaps they will make me their chieftain!”

Ham carefully wrapped the magic egg in some rushes and brought it back home. For many days he kept the holy object next to the hearth in his tiny hovel, offering it gifts of finest mud cake and quacking to it reverently. He invited his neighbors and kinsmen to come worship it, saying, “Truly, this is the egg of the Duck God, and I am his chosen one.” And though the people had always known Ham to be full of duck excrement in the past, it was true that this egg he’d found was the damndest thing they’d ever seen.

And so the villagers began to wonder if Tunnag Lach were not indeed the one true deity, and felt a little sheepish for doubting Ham in the past. (Though by “sheepish” I actually mean less sheepish, in that they turned away from Caora, the All-Powerful Sheep God they’d pinned their eternal salvation on in the past.)

Duck God

Tunnag Lach!

Ham, now high priest of the Duck Cult, bid the people to gather up all the duck feathers they could find, with which they would construct a towering shrine to their new lord. (Ham wasn’t any smarter about architecture than he was about duck eggs.) They created a pile of duck feathers that was fully 20 feet high – and soon thereafter only two feet high, after the inevitable rain shower compressed the edifice into sodden mush – and placed the holy egg upon it. “Behold!” Ham declared. “Here is the magic egg that will give birth to Tunnag Lach, the great duck god who will dry out this land and deliver us at last from the curse of moldy feet!”

Why Ham believed a waterfowl would be inclined to solve their wetness problem isn’t clear; the guy, as you’ve no doubt figured out by now, had some funny ideas.

Anyway, High Priest Ham was just about to sacrifice a local kid who had the misfortune to be born with webbed toes, when suddenly a tall, imperious looking fellow appeared in their midst. It was St. Patrick himself. He had heard of the village’s blasphemy and came to set them straight.

“There is but one true God!” Patrick proclaimed, “and He didn’t come from an egg!”

“Lies!” Ham retorted. “For look here! It is the magic egg of Tunnag Lach. Let him who does not fear the Quack die by the Quack!”

St. Patrick


Then Patrick, who had been around the block a few times, stepped forward and grabbed up the sacred egg. “You’re a moron,” he said by way of righteous chastisement. “This is no egg.” And drawing out his knife, St. Patrick smote the egg. The crowd gasped in horror, then murmured in confusion, as the saint held up not the grisly remains of a Divine Duckling, but two halves of a pulpy fruit. He held one half out to Ham. “Take and eat of it,” he said, “that you may know the truth.”

41456730_sAnd so Ham did take the piece of fruit and bit deeply into it. Then he made a pained expression and a ghastly coughing, choking sound.

“That is your penance,” the holy bishop intoned solemnly, “for worshipping a false egg, and for leading others into error.” Then he addressed the crowd, which had fallen back in awe.

“In sorrow shall you eat this fruit … and in joy,” he proclaimed. “For one day you will learn to make tasty desserts with it.”

Then St. Patrick took the seeds from the fruit and cast them on the ground. And everywhere the seeds fell, strong trees sprung up and spread as far as the eye could see.

And that, dear ones, is how Ireland came to be covered with lush, green forests of lime trees.*


These trees, though indisputably green, are most assuredly not lime trees.

*Ireland is not covered with lime tree forests.


In honor of this miracle, I present a traditional St. Patrick’s Day treat. (Nobody in Ireland has ever eaten this).


Key Lime “Duck Eggs” (adapted from this recipe)




Tastefully Simple Key Lime Cheese Ball Mix

1 8 oz. pkg. cream cheese, softened

3 cups Tastefully Simple Twisty Grahams, crushed (I crunched them up in a blender)

4 cups Golden Oreos, crushed

¾ cup all-purpose flour

1 pkg. green candy melts

1 pkg. white chocolate chips

Sprinkles and sanding sugar (optional)



Using an electric mixer, beat together the cream cheese and Packet 1 of the Key Lime Cheese Ball Mix. Gradually add in the Twisty Graham and Oreo crumbs and flour until well mixed.

Meatballs? Nope. Naked duck eggs!

Meatballs? Nope. Naked duck eggs.

Roll the dough into 1-inch, slightly elongated “eggs.”

Place in freezer for 30-45 minutes

In separate bowls, melt candy melts and white chocolate chips.

Dip eggs into the green candy melts or white chocolate and place on a baking rack to allow excess chocolate to drip off.

While chocolate is still wet, sprinkle with sanding sugar, sprinkles (try shamrocks in honor of the saint!)


Allow eggs to dry, then drizzle with alternating color of chocolate.


Tasty Duck Eggs (low on protein; HIGH on sugar)





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The Devil Made Me Do It


My Dad’s hero

My Daddy was a gadget-lovin’ man. He’d see an ad for something in the back of, say, VFW Magazine, and pretty soon a parcel would arrive in the mail. There was the electric food dehydrator (our basement is a kind of shrine to Ron Popeil). One time he got a meat slicer that you stuck to the counter with suction cups; it didn’t cut any better than a knife, and took up a whole lot more room in the kitchen, but it was cool.


Gadgets fascinated Dad the way magicians did. He’d watch David Copperfield or Doug Henning vanish an elephant or jet airplane or the Great Wall of China, and he’d shake his head, marveling, “How did he do that?” (My mom, unswervingly sensible and straightforward, dislikes magicians for the same reason; she can’t figure out how they do it, and resents the feeling of someone putting one over on her.)

orange juicer

The Amazing Orange Juicer

I have an early childhood memory of standing next to my Dad in some big department store, both of us transfixed by the smooth patter of an in-store demonstrator. The guy was shilling knife sets, but that’s not the show we were there to see. As a free gift with a set of these knives, you got a gadget. It consisted of a short, curved blade that pivoted on a metal skewer. He showed us how you stuck the skewer in a potato, then turned the blade around and around until you produced a perfect coil of a potato – a Slinky in starch form.


But wait! There was more! You also got a very special bonus gift: an orange plastic device with jagged teeth on one end and a spout on the other. The pitchman demonstrated how to plunge the sharpish end into an orange and then, with just a gentle squeeze of your hand, pour orange juice straight into a glass. That day we went home with a new set of knives, which we didn’t need, and these two gadgets, which we absolutely did.

One Christmas all us kids got a new-fangled digital watch (this was the early 80s) that played “The Yellow Rose of Texas” quite loudly on the hour. If you set them just right, you could make several of them perform the song in a round. I can still see my mother’s mortified face when one of them went off during the consecration at Midnight Mass.

The fact that these treasures invariably turned out to be something decidedly less wonderful than advertised never deterred my Pop. His eyes would still light up at every new doodad with the same optimistic zeal that compelled him to laboriously transfer “You could be a winner!” stickers from one piece of paper to another as part of the endless ritual of Publishers Clearinghouse mail-ins. He kept sticking stickers and mailing them in until Ed McMahon presented somebody else with the Big Check on TV. And the next year, he’d do it all again.

itouchlessIt’s possible I have inherited my Dad’s useless junk mania. Case in point: my new robot vacuum. (I’ve written about my complicated relationship with robots before.) I’ve been hankerin’ for one of these things since the first time I saw one on a late-night infomercial. Finally, after pining as long as I could stand it, I ordered one. It’s been sitting in the back of my car for several weeks, waiting for a propitious time to make its debut. I knew my mother would strongly disapprove, as she says on an almost daily basis, “Don’t you bring one more piece of junk into this house.”

Party pooper.

Anyway, I brought the thing in on Saturday morning. As expected my mother was not pleased (perhaps because she’d spent the entire morning cleaning out a closet full of pieces of junk I’d previously brought into this house).

Full disclosure: the ostensible reason I bought this was to spare my 89-year-old mother the labor of having to drag out the heavy upright vacuum whenever the cats get into a tussle and leave tufts of black and orange fur on the beige carpet. The ACTUAL reason for the purchase was my desperate need to see these same cats riding the thing around the living room, like the videos you see on YouTube. I failed to remember, though, that those robot-riding Internet cats are robots themselves, or cunningly Photoshopped Chihuahuas – complacent and biddable in a way no real cat ever was.

The gizmo I bought is called an iTouchless. It’s a low-end model, because even I can’t justify paying $500 for a cat toy. I charged it up overnight and, after my riled mom had cooled down some, brought it into the living room on Sunday morning.

I set it in the middle of the room and let the cats circle it for a minute or so. They seemed interested, but not alarmed.


Making a new friend

“Apparently people give these things names,” I commented to Mom as I thumbed through the manual, trying to figure out how to make the thing go. I envisioned something like “Jeeves” or “Giles” or “Alfred” – something butlerish – but Mom had a ready answer: “Lucifer.”

This was either a prescient choice or proof of the old adage, “We live up to the names we’re given.”

It was time. I hit the “On” button and the show started. First Lucifer lit up and emitted a series of R2-D2-esque beeps that are just about worth the cost of the machine all by itself. The cats were intrigued. Then it started to move in slow, concentric circles. The cats … were largely indifferent. They neither fled in terror nor tried to play with Lucifer. Instead, in the way that cats are with things they don’t give a damn about (which is most things, frankly), they turned their backs on it and pretended it didn’t exist. True, Peep had to move a few inches to the left when the thing tried to suck up his tail, but even that affront didn’t really upset him.

Well, shoot. At least we got a cool, new vacuum cleaner, though, right? Hm. The slogan on the box Lucifer came in says, “Let iTouchless do the work while you live your life!” Apparently, the iTouchless people define “live your life” as “hover over the robot vacuum at all times to prevent it from destroying the house.”

With the unerring precision we’ve come to expect from 21st century robotic technology, Lucifer carefully avoided every speck of link, wad of cat hair and brownie crumb it was designed to vanquish. Instead, it crawled under the easy chair and stalled, beeping pitifully, until I fished it out. Next it tried to mount the legs of the rocking chair (perhaps it’s just really lonely?) and I had to thwart that forbidden love affair before both parties were irreparably damaged (emotionally, if not physically; these things never work out).

After 30 minutes, Lucifer’s battery charge was expended and the carpet was … not much cleaner than it was before. Still, it had provided half an hour of mild amusement (for me, if not the cats), so I’d say it was worth it. Likely I’ll now find a place for it in that closet mom was cleaning and start casting about for the next can’t-live-without-it toy. (I have my eye on a robot lawn mower.)

I think my Daddy would be proud.


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It’s a Litter Bit Funny

25299252_sWe Minnesotans tend to be humble; we’re so self-effacing, we’re practically Canadian. So it’s always a little startling to discover a native of the Land of 10,000 Lakes who accomplished Something Big. Today I found out that St. Paul native Ed Lowe invented kitty litter in 1947.

Okay, he invented it after he moved to Michigan, but still.

Kity-litter-brandApparently Mr. Lowe had his litter-al (see what I did there?) stroke of genius in the service of a neighbor, who had been using ashes for the purpose and ended up with sooty little pawprints all over the house. Back then, people used sand, sawdust, dirt and paper to attend to Mr. Kitty’s comfort. These substances, though, were messy and ineffective in reducing odors.

Katherine C. Grier, author of Pets in America: A History, says that similar materials were used in the 19th century, but people’s homes back then were already smelly and dirty, so they didn’t mind a little more stench. Ah, those were the good, old days.

For me, the most surprising part of all this is that pet cats had recourse to indoor facilities even as recently as 1947. Surely before the age of the cat-decimating automobile, both country AND city cats were indoor/outdoor. Frankly, if my own cats had access to the great outdoors, I’d damned sure expect them to take care of their business out there. Even the most ardent catlady must agree that providing the means for our furred friends to poop in a box, while convenient for Fluffy, is the least delightful part of cat ownership.

Recognizing this, and in no way influenced by the potential to make big money off gullible catladies, a robust industry in cat litters and cat litter accessories has developed. Being a gullible catlady, I have been conned into trying almost all of them. Here, for your benefit, is a brief overview.

Stone Age Simplicity

As noted above, there is the original clay-based litter first marketed by our pal Ed. It usually comes in a 40-lb. bag that you tear open and spill all over the linoleum, effectively making the entire room a catbox.

However, only members of primitive societies use such quaint and antiquated materials these days. It does have the benefit of being cheap. But in every other respect it’s a big, old fail. Doesn’t clump. Has no fresh, lemony scent. Doesn’t change color to help you monitor your cat’s urinary tract health. Seriously? This is the 21st century, people!

Poo Packaged for Your Convenience


Another option is clumpable litter. This is still clay, but a very special, space-agey type called bentonite. According to some site that purports to know such things, “approximately 987,000 tons of bentonite was mined in 2003” for this specific purpose. This raises the worrisome prospect that, like other vital natural resources such as fossil fuels, clean water and the ozone layer, earth’s store of super-litter may one day be depleted. The morning some cat lady scoops the last clump of Fresh Step into a plastic bag is the day civilization will fall.

(It’s equally possible that, before that happens the crust of the earth will collapse into its molten core under the accumulated weight of the non-biodegradable plastic buckets this litter comes in. Either way, when the end of the world comes, you know cats will be involved.)

Some experts have asserted that clay-based litters are unhealthy for cats, especially if ingested in large quantities. Seems to me, if your cat is eating its litter, it has bigger problems than what it’s pooping in.

The Circle of Life

14626514_sIf you’re some kind of hippie, “environmentally friendly” alternatives such as wood chips, shredded newspaper, wheat, even pebbled-up orange peels are available (Since orange oil is often the key ingredient in cat repellents, I’m not sure how this is supposed to be a congenial proposition for cats.). I recall a litter called Feline Pine that was being marketed heavily a few years ago with the added benefit of being “recyclable” as compost or a mulch around your ornamental plants in the garden.

Um … sure.

An Inconvenient Truth

37506678_sThere are new-fangled options that glitter like those sparkly vampires in the teenage angst movies. This is supposed to represent “extra odor-busting power” and “clump-and-seal technology.” I’m sure you’ve seen that classic commercial in which a catlady invites her friends over, then reveals she’s had a litterbox full of week-old excreta hidden under the coffee table all along. Her friends politely protest that they had no idea, suggesting the kitty litter involved here eliminates odors completely. But here is the painful truth, commercial catlady: Your friends didn’t notice anything different because your house always smells like cat doo. This is the reality of being a catlady, and it’s the reason your friends typically suggest you meet at THEIR homes for coffee.

It seems “lightweight litter” is the newest thing. “Lightweight” is advertising talk for “finely ground styrofoam that will kick up a toxic cloud of dust as you pour it.” It has an unusual texture that, in my experience, cats absolutely despise.

Doin’ What Comes Naturally11284906_s

The painful reality is a cat is likely to turn up its nose at any type of litter (even if it’s sparkly!) if offered an appealing alternative: the potted ficus plant in the corner of your living room. Easy and economical! (And let’s be honest, it’s not like those coffee klatch ladies were ever coming over again anyway.)


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