Prize-winning writer and poet Alison Luterman is the author of a new Shebooks collection called Feral City. Here she shares a little bit about the origin of her funny, authentic personal essays…and her newfound love of cats.
You say you are married to a cat?
In our marriage, I’m the dog while my husband is the fastidious, territorial cat, but I know there are many couples in which these roles are flipped. And perhaps there are couples out there composed of an aardvark and a screech owl, or a horse and a chicken. The possibilities, when you think of it, are endless. This is how, late in life, I find myself fascinated by animal behavior. And how, after fifty years of declaring myself not very into cats, I am now married to one (in human, male form), and the food-can-opening, litter-box-scooping love-slave to two more, in actual cat bodies. Life is full of surprises.
What is it about cats?
I was never a cat person until I got married. I was an adamant, dyed-in-the-wool dog person who scorned cats as moody, finicky snobs. I am not by nature, attuned to subtlety. I like people and animals to show their love by jumping on my lap, wagging their tails, panting and smiling and basically going over the top. My husband and the cats have really made me aware of a whole world of more quiet expressions. A soft purr. Choosing to sit on the same couch at the same time. Saving the crossword puzzle until we can both do it together. Who knew love could be so gentle and various?
How did the Internet change your experience of dating?
The Internet makes it possible to meet people whom you wouldn’t meet otherwise, which is both a good and a difficult thing. On the one hand, once you’re out of college, and if you work a non-traditional job (free-lance writer, poet-in-the-schools), it’s hard to meet eligible people, so the Internet, for me, was a terrific boon. On the other hand, the folks you do meet over the Internet are not necessarily from your world, nor are you from theirs. So you both have to do a lot of work building cultural bridges between your two separate planets, because sexual attraction will only carry you so far. The rest of it is communication, empathy and if you have the resources, good therapy. It’s worth it, but it’s not easy.
Did your writing change after you got married, having been a single person for so long?
My writing did not change, probably because I’ve been at it so long. I’ve always written about whatever was going on in my life, whether it was dating disasters or hanging out with neighborhood children, or working with drug addicts in the Tenderloin. For the last seven years, since I met Lee, I’ve written a lot about intimacy, the wonder and also the huge challenge of it: joining households, ceding power, stretching to understand another human being even when I’m feeling cranky and selfish and like I just want to do things the way I want to do them. Digesting the huge change that came over my life when we became a couple has been like eating a dinosaur. Writing is how I process whatever is going on in my life so the marriage has provided a lot of grist for the mill.
In your book you mention a couple that went to the beach and fought about the sand. What’s the strangest/funniest thing you’ve argued about with your spouse?
Oh my God, what haven’t we fought about? Well, every week when we attempt to do the New York Times crossword puzzle together–in ink, because that’s how my family does it–we have a fresh opportunity to appreciate our differences. Lee is very deliberate, methodical, and skeptical. Even when an answer is screamingly obvious (to me!) he doesn’t want to commit any ink to paper until he has checked it out from every angle. Whereas I operate much more from a first-thought-best-thought attitude, and am frequently subject to intuitive flashes, some of which are even sometimes correct.