Mar 12, 2007

Cat Hair and Canned Air

by Rene Allen

Sitting at my computer one day digging for words -- for thoughts -- for anything which would move that annoying blinking cursor across the screen in a productive direction, I saw a cat hair throttled around the "t" key on my laptop. Forget it, I told myself, and keep writing. It didn't happen. That cat hair attached itself to my brain.

Since I have three cats it wasn't surprising to find fur on my keyboard. But when I looked more closely, there were a bunch of hairs stuck between the keys, and one in particular, a long white one by the "t" that wouldn't go away.

I blew on it and picked at it but my fingers were too big and I couldn't blow hard enough. I got some tweezers and tried to pull it out but they were too large as well. Okay, I told myself, stay the course. Write. Forget about the cat hair. But telling myself that was like telling me to not think about the color blue. Immediately my mind turns blue and everything is sky. Don't think about cat hair. I couldn't think about anything else.

A cotton swab didn't fit into the trough and the cat hair wouldn't stick to it. I tore a corner off a piece of paper and tried to push it out but the paper tore and became wedged between the keys. I could see it next to the car hair, jamming its way underneaty the "t" key. That was when I panicked. My darling laptop was in jeopardy. The keys would stick and I would be unable to write. I would have to take my computer for repairs and lose weeks of time. The technician would shudder when he saw the hairball in my keyboard.

I would have stayed in this jam if a crashing sound behind me hadn't forced my attention away from the computer. A black cat ran out of the closet. She had knocked a box of envelopes off the shelf and there, uncovered, shining in rays of late afternoon sun like a gleaming Excalibur, was a can of compressed air with a nozzle.

I sprayed and blew until the keys were covered with frost and the can was so cold I had to put it down. The bit of paper dislodged and I pulled it out. I didn't see many cat hairs flying around, but the white one was gone.

Relief came like a fast-acting sedative. I looked at the screen, at the two lines of copy and read them. In a remote corner of my mind I saw the flicker of the idea I had been writing about. Then, in a blast of cold, canned compressed air, surrounded by flying cat hair, it went out. I was done.

I turned off the computer. Three cats follwed me into the kitchen. Tomorrow, the keyboard would be clean. Tomorrow, I wouldn't think about cat hair. Tomorrow, I would see dust in the corners of the room, a full wastebasket and an untidy collection of pencils in a drawer. They would all demand attention just as the cursor moved to the second line on the screen, just before I got into the flow, at that awful, impossible time betweent start and go when words are beginning to come but haven't errupted yet, and I'm impatient and digging and wanting them to come . . .


  1. Hysterical. I live with my dad who has major health problems but fortunately just needs someone around. So I was the lucky sibling and I do mean lucky. However, when I sit at the computer in the evenng, sometimes it's extremely dusty or full of food crumbs or his false teeth (yuck). And I find myself trying to figure out how to clean the keyboard instead of focusing on the task at hand. Thanks for a great post I could totally relate too.

  2. Rene,
    I think we can all relate to the distraction problem. You wrote about it so colorfully! I think just being aware of the problem can help us...maybe...I love it!


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