“If you want to concentrate deeply on some problem, and especially some piece of writing or paper-work, you should acquire a cat. Alone with the cat in the room where you work … the cat will invariably get up on your desk and settle placidly under the desk lamp … The cat will settle down and be serene, with a serenity that passes all understanding. And the tranquility of the cat will gradually come to affect you, sitting there at your desk, so that all the excitable qualities that impede your concentration compose themselves and give your mind back the self-command it has lost. You need not watch the cat all the time. Its presence alone is enough. The effect of a cat on your concentration is remarkable, very mysterious.”
— Muriel Spark, in A Far Cry from Kensington, quoted by my friend Stephanie Rosenbaum Klassen
I don’t know whether Spark was being literal or ironic. My own cat loves my desk chair — he’s about the same color as the leather, creating a hazard for us both — and he’s been known to stomp across my desk and step on the keyboard, even sending an email full of periods once. And I regularly apologize on Zoom calls for the loud cries of the cat protesting being shut out of the room. But mostly, he reads (with his eyes shut) or supervises. Could I do the work without him? Maybe, but I’d rather not try.