Shaving Cats with a Fountain Pen

First of all, you have to make sure that the nib of your fountain pen is VERY sharp—cats can be pretty critical of a sloppy shave. If you’re not a pen-based cat shaver yourself, you absolutely must find a specialist—a mere penknife dog-shaver or needle-nose pliers hamster-hair plucker won’t do, no matter if they have the skill basics.

I bring up the specialist notion because I was mulling over a post that my pal Jodi Kaplan put up on her blog about creatives having a niche. Jodi provides a lot of helpful links about how focusing on a business niche can refine your business and concentrate your customer base, the whys of setting up separate sites for separate niches, how to market to a niche and more.

That caused me to reflect that I not only shave cats, dogs and hamsters, but balloon animals too. My trouble is that I truly love the variety of writing a writer can do, and dabble in so many of its forms. This week, for instance, I finished a travel piece that will run in the Los Angeles Times, I am working on a 30-second radio spot for a Philadelphia restaurant, and I wrote a number of website pages of marketing copy for a company promoting its Colorado ranch properties for weddings. Love the travel writing, love radio ads, and marketing piffle for weddings? Well, there are bills to pay.

I’ve spent long years writing user manuals for software, and marketing pieces to flank the documentation. But as the Monty Python skit goes, “I don’t want to own land; I want to sing!” (Translation: I want to write fiction. So I do that too.) One of the reasons my sweetheart angled to meet me, those many years ago, was because she wanted to meet someone who wrote the back-side descriptions for the photographs on pretty notecards. Guilty. And I find the personal essay to be a potent form for persuasion, polemic or poetic meandering, so it’s a genre I return to again and again.

I’ve even been forced by a certain criminal musician/canny marketer/business-maven madman, Joel D Canfield, to write songs. Torment though it be, it was torment sweet. And then there’s the YouTube indulgence—look mom, I can make videos too!

Mr. Twain and Blatherskite
I think there is some danger in the dilution of dilettantism. But my hero, Mark Twain, wrote plays (badly), essays, poems, short stories, novels, advocacy pieces, travel articles, satire, straight journalism, handbills, speeches, jokes—and if you dip your toes into a wide reading pond, you’ll be convinced that he must have sat down and decided to write an entire book of quotations. (Twain had a cat named Blatherskite, but he probably would have procured an outside vendor for the shaving.)

I’ll have to keep mulling over how I can trim my own whiskers. Jodi, I’ll take your post to heart, but I’m not sure I want my travel-writer self to be a website away from my marketing-writer self. I like them all to be on the same page, but damn, it’s crowded.

[Note to self: write synopsis of “Convincing Your Cat to Settle for Monthly Shaving” post.]

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9 thoughts on “Shaving Cats with a Fountain Pen

  1. Tom, you’re the exception. You get to write whatever you want. Although I do wish you’d finish that novel. You know the one I mean.

    Well, maybe not the technical manuals. It’s like trying to squeeze Sophia Loren into a gray flannel suit with one of those 19880s floppy ties. So wrong. On sooo many levels.

  2. Hey, wasn’t the Annie Hall look in the 70s/80s, with those mannish shoulders and ties, all the rage? I’ll still bet that Sophia looks pretty good in grey flannel, even now. But I know what you mean.

    Thanks for stopping by, you Linchpin, you.

  3. Many people talk about the advantages of specialization. Select a narrow focus, put in your Gladwellian 10,000 hours of practice, add a Greyhound bus-sized dollop of natural talent, and you’ll be the best in a sizeable world at whatever it is. This is because:

    (1) Few people do specialized things, and
    (2) Even fewer do the work that it takes to get *really* great at it.

    I agree with all of that. However, there are also extradinarily rare folks in every age who can be protean- who can do many related things at the highest level. Mark Twain certainly. Anthony Trollope. I.K. Brunel. Fred Harvey. Emma Lazarus. Madam C. J. Walker. William Wilberforce. Charles Darwin, actually.

    Tom, you can rise above the “dilution of dilettantism” and achieve great things in these many varied areas of the writer’s art. I say: examine the lives of some of the folks above and go for it. Gladiate in all the arenas that wou want.

    And- write the G___ novel!

  4. Rick, I am going to check out some of those stalwarts you mention. (Anyone named “William Wilberforce” undoubtedly has some figurative brass knuckles in his swing.) Is the Fred Harvey the one who invented the Pullman car?

    I do want to know how I’m to “gladiate” as you suggest in your last sentence? Is that the back-formation for “gladiator”? Wordplay as swordplay, eh?

  5. Tom, that might be the best thing I’ve ever been called (well, second-best, right after ‘Daddy’)

    You will be volunteered to write more lyrics, until the film-noir-abilly album is done.

    Jodi, the idea of squeezing Sophia Loren into a grey flannel anything is almost more than I can bear. You’re the wrong gender to full appreciate the deadly force of that sentence.

    Re: gladiate—it could be spelled sWordplay, with the capital dub, eh?

    Also, keep the Harvey Girls separate in your mind from the little Wharvey gals, the five daughters of Ulysses Everett McGill in “O Brother Where Art Thou?”

    Oh, fine; I’ll comment on the actual topic. Some writers specialise in a genre. Others have such a clear voice that they specialise in that voice. Sorta like how Dwight Yoakam gets to act, because he’s darn good at it.

  6. Joel, Dwight Yoakam in Sling Blade—very convincing as a Very Bad Dude. Pretty good in Red Rock West, an underrated film all around.(Though I don’t think he ever got to squeeze Sophia in flannels.)

  7. >>Jodi, the idea of squeezing Sophia Loren into a grey flannel anything is almost more than I can bear. You’re the wrong gender to full appreciate the deadly force of that sentence.<<

    Joel, I'm actually the right gender to appreciate the situation from Sophia's point of view.

    Besides, I'm a copywriter. I specialize in weaponizing words. 🙂

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