Marge Piercy, a writer who is highly praised as both a poet and a novelist, turns her gaze inward as she shares her thoughts on life and explores her development as a woman and writer. She pays tribute to the one loving constant that has offered her comfort and meaning even as the faces and events in her life have changed her beloved cats.
With searing honesty, Piercy tells of her strained childhood growing up in a religiously split, working-class family in Detroit. She examines her myriad friendships and relationships, including two painful early marriages, and reveals their effects on her creativity and career. More than a reminiscence of things past, however, Sleeping With Cats is also a celebration of the present and the future, as Piercy shares her views on aging, creativity, and finding a lasting and improbable love with a man fourteen years younger than herself.
A chronicle of the turbulent and exciting journey of one artist's life, Sleeping With Cats is a deeply intimate, unforgettable story.
About the Author
Marge Piercy is the author of the memoir Sleeping with Cats and fifteen novels, including Three Women and Woman on the Edge of Time, as well as sixteen books of poetry, including Colors Passing Through Us, The Art of Blessing the Day, and Circles on the Water. She lives on Cape Cod, with her husband, Ira Wood, the novelist and publisher of Leapfrog Press.
Read an Excerpt
A Family of Seven
Do I have faith in my memory? Who doesn't? How can I not trust memory. It is as if I were to develop a mistrust for my right hand or my left foot. Yet I am quite aware that my memory is far from perfect. I frequently forget events and people that my husband, Ira Wood, remembers, and similarly, I remember incidents that have slipped away from him. I rarely remember things incorrectly; mostly I remember clearly or I forget completely.
I have distinct memories of events that happened before I was born or for which I was not present. This comes from having heard the stories told vividly by my mother or my grandmother when I was little and imagining those scenes and the people in them so clearly and intensely that I experience them as my own. I have precise memories of the voice and face of my mother's father, who died ten years before I was born. Stories about him that I heard as a child were so real to me that I created him as a living personage.
I have trouble remembering periods of intense pain. The summer my second marriage was disintegrating around me was a time I so hated every moment that it has almost vanished into the limbo of repressed pain. Sometimes a sound or a smell or a voice will break that seal of willful forgetfulness and out will slither those poisonous days and nights.
Once that has happened with events, I will not again forget. They are filed in a different part of my memory and can be summoned, or will drift up unbidden to torment me. But they are no longer vanquished,vanished.
I am convinced that all those people I write about would remember events and patterns of events quite differently than I do. After all, memory changes. Our pasts constantly change. When a friend betrays us or turns against us, the past is rewritten to prefigure that betrayal, that loss of intimacy and faith. When a love affair ends, we read the causes backward into the quarrels, even the minor disagreements. Those months of the inexplicable allergic sniffles of a friend suddenly become clues once we learn of their cocaine addiction. Someone we had scarcely known becomes an important figure in our lives, and in retrospect, every small meeting or passage together is invested with significance. Remembering is like one of those old-fashioned black-and-white-tile floors: wherever I stand or sit, the tiles converge upon me. So our pasts always seem to lead us directly to our present choices. We turn and make a pattern of the chaos of our lives so that we belong exactly where we are. Everything is a prefiguring of our current loves and antipathies, work and faith. We compose a future that leads from where we believe we are at the moment. When the present changes, past and future change significantly with it.
This is, after all, my perspective on my life, not anyone else's. It is neither true nor false in a large sense, because my truth of events is not the same as that of the others who lived them with me. To create a faithful autobiography would require as many years in the telling as the living of it, with transcriptions of every casual meandering conversation about what kind of soup to have for lunch, the weather, a movie seen last week. It would be filled with dirty bathrooms and clean laundry, bills paid and unpaid, overdue library books, hems to mend, We spend more time doing dishes than we do making love, but which figures prominently in the story of our lives? We choose, therefore, only certain events, certain people, certain points of crisis and joy. It is an extremely stylized map, with most of the byways omitted, even the most interesting and lovely and dangerous byways, because we are always hastening to arrive where we now think it is important and inevitable that we live.
I try to make myself look good, but I am aware that sometimes my honesty and my attachment to what happened prevent me from presenting myself as the blameless heroine. I usually try to do the best I can from day to day, but my best is often flawed and skewed, and sometimes I try to inflict harm. I aim to be good, but sometimes I am best at being at least mildly wicked. I frequently misjudge situations and people and blunder in where I should avoid. I talk myself into relationships that are good for no one, and certainly not for me. Or if good for me, bad for the other person. As I look at my life, I like the work I have done, but I often dislike how I have behaved with other people. I have intended to be a better friend and lover than I have turned out to be.
I think for the most part as time has gone on, I have become a better person in my most intimate relationships and in my relationships with the natural world and with my cats. I do not think I am any more effective politically than I was thirty years ago -- probably less so. I assume leadership more warily. I am a better writer, but I stand behind the earlier novels and poetry. My life has been full of blunders, misprisions, accidents, losses, so no wonder I forget. If I did not forget much, how could I possibly continue? At the end, I will forget everything.
Why a memoir now? Well, I am about to turn sixty-five. In common with a lot of baby boomers -- the generation after mine but the one I often identify with -- I am still surprised that I have aged. I got to have two adolescences, one at the normal time, and a second one in Students for a Democratic Society during the 1960s. I...Sleeping with Cats. Copyright © by Marge Piercy. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
Table of Contents
|List of Poems||xi|
|1||A Family of Seven||1|
|2||In the Beginning||13|
|3||A Life in Wordtight Compartments||40|
|4||Brutus the Great||62|
|5||Interlude in the Present: The February Lesson||81|
|6||My Life as a 1950s Coed||88|
|7||One Does Not Do That||103|
|9||Flirtation in San Francisco||137|
|11||A Light Apartment in Brookline||156|
|14||Open to the Cape Winds||210|
|15||The Land That Owns Me||233|
|16||Interlude on Sleep and Gardening with Cats||245|
|17||Some Things Wear Out and Some Things Don't||251|
|18||Death and Disintegration||271|
|19||Interlude: Old Cats||287|
|20||La Vita Nuova||291|
|21||All Rivers Wind at Last to the Sea||299|
|22||Digging in for the Long Haul||313|
|23||The Way Things Stand (and Sit and Lie)||327|
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This wonderful memoir compares favorably with The Liars Club by Mary Karr and All Over But the Shouting by Rick Bragg...both famous prize winning pieces. I bought it for the genre and the 'Cats' because anyone who loves them loves to read of the love of them....a club few are chosen to join. This memoir has a thousand times more honesty and love in it than I could have imagined a soul to bear to part with and share in a memoir. A must read!
Great chronicle of the rise of a major poet/novelist from the depths of detroit, with interesting glimpses of leftist politics in the sixties and seventies. A political activist with a passionate sexual nature, piercy unabashedly admits to sleeping not just with cats but basically anything with pants or a skirt. After not inconsiderable experience, she informs us that she is basically heterosexual although she knows people, she says, that swing both ways with equal ease. Good news for her current live-in, Woody - although she banishes him to a separate bed most nights (he's a tossn'turner). Each chapter is capped by a poem, which sets a nice flow. Piercy throws in interlude chapters to digress to the present and talk serious cats. This also works well and softens the edge of a memoir of a sometimes hard-edged, abrasive personality.
Hell of a life! I cried when cats died. Amazing experiences.
Piercy has crafted a well written memoir that is political, feminine, literary, but most importantly human and universally touching, with her feline companions at the center of it all. A brilliant recollection by a gifted writer.
*He shakes his head and dissapears, leaving behind a single gray feather*