Wednesday, September 23, 2009
I haven't read this book, YET. I wasn't going to post this entire interview that the publicist supplied to me, either. But after reading it, I just had to. Talk about a rich story.
About the book:
Homer’s Odyssey by Gwen Cooper - Homer’s Odyssey is the once-in-a-lifetime story of an extraordinary cat and his human companion. It celebrates the refusal to accept limits—on love, ability, or hope against overwhelming odds. By turns jubilant and moving, it’s a memoir for anybody who’s ever fallen completely and helplessly in love with a pet.
Tell us about Homer. Is he really and truly eyeless?
Yes, he really and truly has no eyes at all. Although he gets around so well that my husband, Laurence, swears he’s faking!
How did he get that way?
Homer was found wandering around alone on the streets of Miami when he was only a couple of weeks old. Even though he was so young, he had what was clearly a very advanced eye infection. The couple who found him brought him to my veterinarian for treatment, but after she examined him she determined that the only way to save his life would be to remove his eyes altogether.
At that point, the people who’d brought him in pretty much begged her to euthanize him, thinking he couldn’t possibly have a decent life. But my vet was convinced that a kitten that young with an eye infection that serious had never been able to see, since kittens are born with their eyes closed and don’t open them for their first week or so. Her feeling was that he wouldn’t miss what he’d never known. So she performed the surgery pro bono and then set about finding a home for him.
How did you end up adopting him?
Well, Patti, my vet, had a pretty hard time trying to find a home for this kitten. I think I was the last person she thought to call because it wasn’t the greatest time in my life. I had just gone through this really bad breakup, I was staying in a friend’s spare bedroom, and I already had two cats—and no roof of my own to put over our heads. To be honest, I was close to saying no also. But she sounded so desperate, so I agreed to meet him.
It was love at first sight. Homer was all personality and charisma, even back then! There was something about it that was so completely disarming, and almost awe-inspiring. I remember thinking that I didn’t have as much courage at twenty-four as this kitten did at only four weeks.
Your book covers more than a decade or your and Homer’s life together—was it difficult to turn your story into a book?
There was something my husband said early in the process that really clicked for me. He said that Homer’s and my story was a classic “boy and his dog” story. Even though I’m a girl and Homer’s a cat, I understood exactly what he meant. He meant that it was like Old Yeller or ET (who was also, technically, not a dog!) in terms of the journeys those stories take their characters on from childhood into maturity, with all the adventures in between.
I wasn’t sure how to construct a book-length narrative about Homer that would be more than a loose collection of anecdotes, but at the time I was in the process of planning my wedding, and I realized that I had adopted Homer right after my last serious relationship—serious in the sense that we had been living together for a couple of years, and our eventual marriage had been taken for granted—had ended twelve years earlier. It just sort of clicked that this should be a book that began with a breakup and ended with a wedding. The idea that would unite the stories throughout the book would be all of the moves, breakups, career changes, adventures, ups-and-downs, et cetera, that had taken us from that place twelve years earlier to where we were now in our lives.
How does Homer get around? Does he bump into things?
Homer has this unbelievable spatial sense, so it’s unusual for him to bump into anything at all. He pays a lot of attention to what his whiskers tell him, and even when he’s in a new place for the first time you can see him walk around a room once or twice kind of hugging the walls, then he’ll walk through the room itself for a bit to figure out where the furniture is, and after that you’d never guess he was blind to see him navigate around things.
We help him out, of course, by always keeping his food and litter in the same place, and by not leaving a lot of clutter on the floor or moving the furniture around more than necessary. After a major round of house cleaning we’re careful to put everything back exactly where it was. Even, for example, moving the couch an inch from where it was before will seem like a major difference to Homer. Although Homer’s sense of balance is phenomenal; even if he jumps and doesn’t land precisely where or how he meant to, it takes him only a fraction of a second to recover and right himself again.
What about his senses of hearing and smell? Are they more developed than other cats’?
I haven’t conducted a scientific study or anything, but they’re certainly much stronger than Scarlett or Vashti’s, my other two cats. Just this afternoon I got a tuna sub for lunch and I left it—still wrapped up—sitting on the kitchen table for a minute. Homer, who was sound asleep three rooms away, came wandering in, half-asleep with his nose in the air, and went right for it.
He can also catch flies in mid-air, which always astonishes me. It even freaks out my other two cats a little bit! It’s like in The Karate Kid where Mr. Miyagi catches the fly with his chopsticks.
How does Homer get along with your other cats?
He’s a typical annoying little brother. He’s a lot more rambunctious than they are—when they’re bored, they can look out a window and watch the world go by. When Homer’s bored, there’s no other outlet for him than action, so he tends to be very active and very playful. He’s always trying to sneak up on them, but of course Homer thinks that “soundless” and “invisible” are the same thing, so he’s rarely successful.
Tell us about Homer’s character. How can a blind cat be so fearless and mischievous?
Most people, myself included, initially thought Homer would be more timid than other cats because of his blindness. The opposite has turned out to be the case. I think to a certain extent it’s because he can’t see how potentially dangerous some of the things he undertakes are, so danger is an idea that literally doesn’t occur to him. It’s like in the Daredevil comics where occasionally Daredevil briefly regains his vision, and even though he retains his superpowers he suddenly can’t or won’t perform all the feats he does when he’s blind. His attitude is basically: Are you crazy—I’m not jumping off of that! Look at how high it is! Sometimes it’s easier to be brave when you have no idea what you’re getting into.
But I think a lot of it is also just Homer’s innate personality. He’s always been a very happy, high-spirited little cat. And it goes without saying that he’s a survivor. If he weren’t, he wouldn’t be here in the first place.
Is it true that Homer once chased a burglar out of your apartment?
That was probably Homer’s finest hour. It happened while we were still living on South Beach. I woke up at about four in the morning to the sound of Homer growling—a sound I’d literally never heard before—and when I flipped on the bedside lamp, I realized there was a strange man standing at the foot of my bed. It was terrifying.
As soon as Homer felt me tense up, he became very aggressive. I reached for the phone to call 911, and the burglar said, “Don’t do that.” Once Homer heard his voice and could tell exactly where he was standing, he went right for the man’s face with his claws. At that point the burglar turned and ran, and Homer leapt from the bed and chased after him! So I, of course, had to throw down the phone and chase after Homer, so now both of us are running after this burglar, when all I’d wanted in the first place was for him to leave! Fortunately, I caught Homer before he caught the burglar, and the police were there thirty seconds later.
I always say that once upon a time I saved Homer’s life, but that was the night when he saved mine.
HOMER’S ODYSSEY is your story as much as Homer’s. How has your life changed since you first adopted him?
It’s almost impossible for me to recognize now the person I was then and the life I was living. Homer entered my life at such a transitional moment. I was up in the air about everything—my career, my relationships, my entire outlook on things. I remember being absolutely convinced that there was no point in trying to get exactly what I wanted, and I wanted really basic things like my own home, a career I enjoyed, and a good, healthy relationship. All those things seemed so far out of reach. And here I am now, living in the city I always wanted to live in, doing what I always wanted to do, and married to the single greatest man I’ve ever met.
Homer truly was my role model in a lot of ways for trying to attain some of those things that it seemed like I could never realistically get. I couldn’t let myself be less courageous, less willing to take risks, or less of a survivor than he was.
Love, whether on four paws or two feet, is a big theme in HOMER’S ODYSSEY. How has Homer changed your attitude and feelings about love?
I think mostly in the sense that I learned that sometimes the greatest loves in your life are the most unexpected. Before I adopted Homer, I was very sure that I didn’t want a third cat. Now, I can’t begin to imagine my life without Homer in it.
My husband and I were actually very close friends for several years before we were romantically involved. When I first realized I had developed stronger feelings for Laurence, I was terrified of telling him how I felt. When I finally picked up the phone to tell Laurence how I felt, I was very conscious that I was initiating a single conversation that could potentially change my life forever. I honestly don’t know if I would have had the courage to do it if it weren’t for Homer. I kept coming back to this idea that sometimes you just have to take a blind leap into the unknown, and that if you never did that you would end up living a life as limiting and fenced in by fear as the life so many people had first predicted for Homer when he was a kitten.