I’ve mentioned that I recently finished drafting a play called Philostrate, which goes behind the scenes of not one but two Shakespeare plays (A Midsummer Night’s Dream and The Two Noble Kinsmen), using the most minor of characters from Midsummer as its protagonist. As I wrote in that previous post, I had to comb through my Arden editions of the two plays in order to try and reconcile their timelines, in order for my play to sync up with both of them. What I specifically did was sit down with a legal pad and create a three-column spreadsheet, one for each of the plays in question (two by Shakespeare, one to be written by little old me). I then wrote out a different line for each day in the time line, listing the events of the two Shakespeare plays in meticulous detail, each in its own box, then wrote down the events of my own play in the third column, lining up the incidents practically to the hour.
It was a thing of pedantic beauty. I’d love to be able to show it to you. Alas, I cannot.
I have a cat, you see.
Chloe’s the sort of cat who likes to eat paper. And she doesn’t just nibble on it, leaving pointy little teeth marks for me to find. No, she tears off great chunks of loose papers and shreds them, leaving piles of debris in her furry wake. Knowing this, I try and safeguard my loose papers; for the legal pad in question, I thought I’d had it stashed safely in a standing wooden folder on my desk. No such look – I was woken up one morning to the sound of her physically digging out the legal pad in order to start devouring it. By the time I realized what was going on, a quarter of the page was missing; later that day, my beautiful hand-made timetable chart was reduced to confetti.
Yes, my cat ate my homework.
By then, of course, I didn’t need the chart any more – Philostrate is drafted, and even though there’s lots of revising to be done, nothing I change is going to affect the play’s timeline. Likewise, I don’t need hard copies of all of my drafts, or the brainstorming notes I make before starting a project – they’re all saved on my laptop. But it’s easier for me to hold the physical copies in my hand, just as it’s easier for me to jot down notes for current projects on whatever notepads are handy. And now I have to remember to take the time to implement a multistage security system for all these scraps of paper, to keep them from being devoured by my cat.
Is this inconvenient? Mildly so. It’s certainly not going to stop me from writing. But it is swiftly putting an end to that beloved writer’s fantasy, whereby one’s notes are deemed so useful to posterity, so important in understanding the artist’s process, that they’re preserved with loving care in museums, to be viewed by scholars down through the centuries. Apart from the plays themselves, I’m not going to have much of anything to show future generations – unless they have some sort of disconcerting interest in the contents of Chloe’s litter box.