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Conception

Nonfiction, Angela Townsend


When I hit nine months, I knew something had to change.


I had “blogged up” a gestation and an absurdity. Perhaps it was time to give birth.


The Blog had been my feral child and my diamond ring for fourteen years. This was as much of a surprise to me as anything I’d ever received. 


Gifted to me reluctantly in 2009 by a boss who eats metallic skepticism for breakfast, The Blog was never meant to be more than animal stories. 


This is no insult to animal stories, a genre I’m convinced we need to survive. But it has its place, and it knows its place, and I never expected I would set fire to the place and start throwing meteorites around.


Within that first year, I had a changeling on my hands. Twenty-eight, with hair nearly long enough to sit on and an inability to sit still, I was gnawing my live wires through words that were and were not about fur.


I was preaching the sermons I’d trained for, in the guise of cat updates.


I was making sense of my Master of Divinity, by telling the Big Story through a thousand tiny tales.


I was grieving the Ph.D. I thought was my destiny — and the imaginary husband and children riding its back like one of Tolkien’s oliphaunts — by giving birth to something that was more than itself.


And somehow it was working.


Five hundred to a thousand people were clicking twice a week, watching me smuggle theology and lament and exultation and the luminous numinous into reports of rescue animals. 


People told me they needed my words. People told me The Blog was a church for grizzly wizened hearts that had given up on hope. People told me they felt God’s love through my love of the animals. People told me they felt God’s love through my love for them.


This is hazardous material for any writer, but throw in a hemorrhagic heart and an introvert-flavored savior complex, with an abiding love for the actual Savior, and the flames lick the sky.


I grew emboldened, enwidened, stretching the belly of the blog until it was the only place I wanted to be. Somersaulting in its womb, my soon-to-be 42-year-old, soon-to-be-divorced bony body lived to light up my limited skies with my own words. 


I was convinced the cats could carry everything. What I felt, I wrote. What I thought, I wrote. What I worried, I wrote.

What I wanted, I wrote. I made people laugh ‘til tears with excurses on the musical career of Vin Diesel or the abomination of vegan cheese. I made people cry ‘til hope with eulogies — so many eulogies — for the animals we couldn’t save. 


I made myself manic trying to write it all down, lift them all up, bear witness to all the light I saw.


I made myself diligent to distraction, “blogging ahead” until I had pieces scheduled months in advance. Of course, I couldn’t write about specific animals at this point. The cats had surrendered to the Big Story, and I furtively used the name “CAT” for the placeholder beasts I trusted would fit the flapjacks I wanted to fling across the year.


It was a desperate delight. My third eye was open. Hypomanic with story, I wondered, for the first time in my life, if I was bipolar. Intoxicated to have a room of my own after five rounds with a tyrant, I wanted to remember that my words worked on the world. 


Emboldened by my boss, now seventy and smitten — in his stern and surly tone — with what the blog had become, I felt important, incandescent.


And then I hit nine months.


On Valentine’s Day, I reclaimed my maiden name, received an aircraft carrier’s worth of hearts from new friends and old church ladies, and glanced at the blog calendar. I had scheduled posts through November 14th. 


It was absurd.


It was exhausting.


It was not in the service of the animals anymore. 


It was still and ever, in my limping and lovestruck way, in service to the light. 


I was not mastering divinity, but I was mothering myself and the reader-children I openly addressed as my “kittens.” I was not homiletic, but I was ecstatic. I was no one’s wife, but I was a midwife. I was not the sun, but I was the moon on the water.


I was also more than a Development Director.


If all my words were knotted in the umbilical cord of The Blog, I would always be a domestic cat. 


If the bravest part of me served a man, even such a bonfire as my boss, I would never serve the Big Story. 


If I could write nine months of truth, I could meet myself outside The Blog.


If I could hold onto cats and meteors, mania and mystery, I could be held when I shook.


If I could cling to the Love that birthed me, I could become a child.


I have no idea what that will look like.


I have no idea what I’m doing here.


I have a very good idea that the kitten is becoming a snow leopard, the fear is becoming a mother, and the sun costume is becoming the moon.


May the Great Mercy be gentle and generous.


 

Angela Townsend (she/her) is the Development Director at Tabby’s Place: a Cat Sanctuary. She graduated from Princeton Seminary and Vassar College. Her work appears or is forthcoming in Arts & Letters, Chautauqua, Paris Lit Up, The Penn Review, The Razor, and The Westchester Review, among others. She is a 2023 Best Spiritual Literature nominee. Angie has lived with Type 1 diabetes for 33 years, laughs with her poet mother every morning, and loves life affectionately. She lives just outside Philadelphia with two merry cats.

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