#9: Cat-Schlepping: A Blog, A Book, A Kickstarter, An Act of Liberty

WRITING

 Possibly the most perfect portrait of Aífe possible. Book jacket material, for def. Photo by Juliana Socher

Possibly the most perfect portrait of Aífe possible. Book jacket material, for def. Photo by Juliana Socher

It may seem, from my neglect of this blog over the last three months, that I simply stopped writing about cat-schlepping. But actually, it’s quite the opposite – I’ve been absolutely up to my ears in the topic, and have written heaps. One of the things I wrote was a blog for REI’s Co-op Journal! REI are such an amazing company, and I use their gear daily for both cat-schlepping and non-cat-schlepping activities. Obviously I was super excited to be able to write for their website (the first cat-related article on their whole blog, for that matter).

 

I’ve also been writing an entire book on cat-schlepping. All spring and summer, I had been taking Aífe out exploring nearly every day. And I had been blogging and Instagramming about cat-schlepping quite consistently through that time, too. Which meant I was answering a lot of questions from curious individuals out in the streets and parks of Berlin, and I was starting to get questions from people online, too. One morning, after a week of answering an unusually large number of queries in person and on the interwebs, I just woke up and thought,

‘I keep answering these same questions over and over and over again. I should just write a damn book. A book that answers every question I have ever encountered about cat-schlepping. Because there isn’t a single book like that – and there should be.’

 

So I started writing it that day. I had the format, the basic outline, and the voice all figured out straight away. The thing just came pouring out of me, and I was writing several thousand words a day. And now, having thoroughly rewritten the thing several times over (often editing on park benches out in the sun with Aífe) I have something that is nearly ready to share with the world.

 

It’s called A Cat Lover’s Guide to Cat-Schlepping. It’s a one-stop resource for anybody who’s interested in going out into the world with their cat. It’s a bit different from this blog; more focused, more structured, to the point. It’s less sweary, and more appropriate for cat-enthusiasts of all ages. I’ve tried to strip away everything that isn’t strictly useful to the would-be cat-schlepper.

 

And I’ve really tried to write it for everyone. You know, dogs and their owners come in all shapes, sizes, and dispositions. Some of them just go on walks around their neighborhood. Some go charging up mountains or into the sea. It depends on the owner’s personality, physical capability, finances, location, schedule, etc. And it depends on the dog. But the dog and owner work together, hopefully, to come to an arrangement that makes them both happier and healthier together. Generally, they are glad to simply be out exploring the world together. And so it should be with cats and their owners, I believe. Whether your circumstances find you rich or poor, urban or rural, fit or feeble; whether your cat is a total chicken or a total boss; whether you are planning on traveling to far away lands or just to the farmers' market. No matter what your situation may be, this book can help you figure out how to get out that front door and into the fresh air with your cat.

 

PUBLISHING

 Breaking from the photoshoot to get blueberry sorbet. Cone, kitty, recently-acquired wedding ring, last heatwave of summer, new creative cat-lady friend - if I look happy here, it's because I damn well am. :) Photo by Juliana Socher

Breaking from the photoshoot to get blueberry sorbet. Cone, kitty, recently-acquired wedding ring, last heatwave of summer, new creative cat-lady friend - if I look happy here, it's because I damn well am. :) Photo by Juliana Socher

So now I want to publish my little book. I have most of the text finished. And an awesome, Dresden-based photographer and über-cat-lady, Juliana Socher, has taken some amazing photos for me to use in the book (including all the photos in this post). So I have the content I want to publish. The question is: how?

 

Traditional publishing takes forrr-evvver-errr. My husband is a pretty well-established writer, and even his books take years to come out. There are two he handed over to two different publishers at the start of 2015, and neither will be out until 2017. Two years! I don’t have an agent, or a track record of selling books, so it could potentially take even longer for my manuscript to see the light of day if I wait on traditional publishing channels. Which would be one thing if this were a novel. But this is a resource that could help change the lives of cats and cat-lovers the world over. Two years is a long time in human years, and a very long time in a cat’s short lifespan. Many generations of kittens would come of age in that time frame, and their owners would still lack any kind of a guide to taking them out into the world. I didn’t know it was realistic to want to take a cat out on a leash when I adopted Aífe, and she was four by the time I got inspired to start trying to leash-train her. I sorely regret those lost years, and hope to help other animal lovers avoid some of the many mistakes I made along the way.

 

The culture, I think, is really ready for such a guide now. The explosion of books, podcasts, blogs, social media accounts dedicated to everything under the sun relating to mindfulness, minimalism, tiny homes, cabin porn, homesteading, DIY, living in a van down by the river, indicates that we are living in a time when many of us are dreaming of a detachment from stuff, from being owned by debt and stress, from feeling perpetually bought and sold. We are looking for new political leaders, new ethical frameworks, new perspectives, new dreams. We are looking for new ways to inhabit the world, and for ways to feel comfortable in our skin. We are looking for ways to be free.

 

At the same time, animal welfare organizations have just started a really radical shift in their policies regarding cats. When I worked at the San Francisco SPCA, we were under very clear instructions to tell all potential adopters that the only responsible way to take care of a cat was to keep them indoors; this policy was so strong that we were supposed to think twice about allowing cats  to be adopted by anyone who said that they intended to let them go outside at all. There was an understanding that it isn’t safe to let cats wander outside alone, but there wasn’t even the suggestion that owners might consider going outside with their cats. That was in 2011. Now, five years later, they have suddenly started putting up leaflets on how to leash-train and clicker-train cats. Other orgs like The Humane Society are doing the same. And the growing number of Instagram accounts dedicated to ‘adventure cats’ out hiking, kayaking, road-tripping, etc. shows that a lot of owners have already been taking up such training with great relish and success.

 

So on the one hand, we are living through a moment in time when a lot of people are looking for new routes to freedom, for new ways to take control of their lives, and to experience the here and now. And it also happens to be the moment when people are finally realizing, for perhaps the first time in several thousands of years of co-evolution, that you can leash-train a cat. So I can’t judge the quality of A Cat Lover’s Guide to Cat-Schlepping, but I can say that it’s absolutely timely. And as such, I want to see it out there in the world as soon as possible. For the kitties, and the kitty folks, who dream of experiencing more of life than a few small rooms.

 

So I’ve decided to self-publish.

 

Now, self-publishing is a lot of work. You, the lone, loopy scribbler, have to oversee everything that the traditional publishing world devotes many teams of experts to sorting out: 

  • editorial work
  • designing and formatting
  • legal concerns like registering a publishing company, ISBN numbers, barcodes, copyrights
  • printing, distribution, order fulfillment
  • marketing, promotion

It’s a lot of work, requiring a lot of skill sets. To be honest, when I first started looking into all that it would entail, it seemed really overwhelming. But, after considering the idea for a couple months, I’ve decided it’s the only way forward.

 

KICKSTARTER

 Outside Berlin Hauptbahnhof (central train station). My passport, and Aífe's. Yes, vets in the EU can issue pet passports. Read all about planes, trains, and the bureaucracy of pet travel in my little book. Photo by Juliana Socher.

Outside Berlin Hauptbahnhof (central train station). My passport, and Aífe's. Yes, vets in the EU can issue pet passports. Read all about planes, trains, and the bureaucracy of pet travel in my little book. Photo by Juliana Socher.

[EDIT: There is a perfect Yiddish saying: Man plans, God laughs. I still believe that my Kickstarter/publishing/tour plan actually was a pretty great plan. However, it was not meant to be. Within a day of launching the Kickstarter campaign, I got some news. Good, exciting news, but news that has totally changed what the coming year will look like for my little family. So my lovely plan had to be pulled, folded up, and put away, and new one quickly but carefully drafted. 

In a few weeks, Aífe and I will be schlepping our way to Ireland. That is going to be a surprisingly tricky endeavor. Followed by a very big schlep to Singapore in the summer. So if you're interested in the grand scheme that could have been, and the Kickstarter campaign that got pulled, please read on below. If you're interested in the future of the book, and details of our new plans for 2017, you can read all about it in the following December post. I hope you will; 2017 is gonna be a real humdinger!]

 

So I’m going to launch a Kickstarter next week: Tuesday, November 15. It feels a little unseemly, asking for anything in the midst of the considerable turmoil that we're all dealing with right now. But if I want to roll out everything at the start of next year, I can’t wait. And honestly, it feels like a time when we need to do constructive, empowering, unifying things. And according to the American Pet Products Association, about 1/3 of all American households have one or more cats. So I believe that my project is of great personal interest – and can offer practical guidance and joy – to a great swath of my fellow countrymen, not to mention folks of all nationalities. I know when Thanksgiving rolls around in two weeks, two of the things I will be most thankful for are the personal freedoms I enjoy, and my cat. I think this project celebrates and brings together both of those, and can help millions of other folks to do the same.

 

I’m going to try to raise $6800. That is the minimum I need to make this project work on a frugal budget. And if the Kickstarter is a success, it will make possible my magnificent three part plan, some years in the making:

  1. Self-publish the eBook of A Cat Lover’s Guide to Cat-Schlepping. I’ll have the whole book edited and properly formatted, and made available on Amazon. February is National Cat Health Month, so the goal is to publish then.
  2. Self-publish a limited-edition print version of A Cat Lover’s Guide to Cat-Schlepping. My Kickstarter goal budgets for a run of 1000, but if there is enough interest it’s possible to raise that number (they're cheaper per unit the more you print, so that's cool). I'll purchase ISBN codes and barcodes, register a publishing company, and will try to find a company in the Pacific Northwest to have them printed and bound. Then they'll be housed and shipped from my mom's place for the time being.
  3. Organize my own promotional tour for the book. This will take the form of a roughly 10,000 mile road trip with my cat, Aífe. We’ll go from Portland, Oregon to Portland, Maine and back, and explore many major cities, small towns, national parks, and roadside attractions along that route. This will give us a chance to very thoroughly put into practice all of the things discussed in the book. We’ll visit as many brick and mortar bookstores and pet supply stores as will have us. We’ll also meet with as many animal welfare groups as we possibly can, and interview them about cats, animal welfare issues, and how the wellbeing of other species is interlinked with the wellbeing of humans. There will be blogging for my website, and hopefully more guest blogs for other sites, and special behind-the-scenes updates to Kickstarter backers.

 

If you know anyone who is interested in cats, travel, or self-publishing, or who just likes big, slightly mad ideas, please let them know about my project. The Kickstarter will go live on Tuesday, November 15, but you can always just send them to read the blog here. I’m awfully excited about the project, and slightly nervous about my first Kickstarter, and would be grateful for all the support I can get. Obviously, I want the book to do well for its own sake. But mostly I just want it to do well because I think it will help in the creation of new ideas of what is possible for felines, humans, and other species – ideas of how we occupy public space and how we experience empathy. It’s about who gets to go where, and who gets left behind. It’s about life, liberty, and the PURRsuit of new smells.

So let's schlep.