Wanderlust

Cateriam: A Cat Cafe in Tokyo

Shimokitazawa is popular for its independent music scene and trendy boutiques. Delicious restaurants line the streets serving almost anything you want from actual poutine and handmade udon noodles to spaghetti and okara donuts. Most importantly, Shimokita is where you'll find Cateriam—an adorable cafe where you can sip green tea lattes like a queen while letting your freaky cat lady flag fly. About a block or two from the train station, there's a doorway with a Cateriam sign right next to a 7-Eleven. You climb up a flight of stairs and enter through another set of doors. A friendly proprietor will use an English menu to explain the rules. You basically prepay for the amount of time you plan on staying, and if you'd like, you have the option to add on food or drinks. You'll take off your shoes then place your things in a cubby hole. Once you wash your hands, you're free to commence with the all-you-can-snuggle fest.

I will admit that my animal rescue side was a little anxious before I arrived—I've heard one too many bad stories in my lifetime—but all the cats seemed happy and healthy. I surreptitiously checked the paws of a cat lounging on my lap, and he hadn't been declawed. The state of the scratching posts in the room told me the same. During meal times, the oldest cat was fed in a separate area which is what I have to do for my own animals at home too.

As for litter boxes, there was a room behind glass walls with what appeared to be its own ventilation system. Each time a cat did his business, the proprietor scooped it out right away. More than once, I got the impression that us humans were there to entertain the cats instead of the other way around.

IMHO, this is the best (and only) way to live.

LONG LIVE OUR KITTY OVERLORDS.

There's nothing quite like starting off a hectic day with thirty minutes of awwwwfully adorable cats, and Cateriam's ambiance was as peaceful as a spa. When things got a little too mellow, the proprietor would bust out cardboard boxes, crinkly toys, and strawberry hats! You don't know happiness until you've been in a room with ten cats—some dressed as strawberries—zooming, swatting, and pouncing.

Most of the chairs were too small for this American-sized ass, but the seating seemed better suited for cats than humans anyway. Cateriam was popular with both tourists and locals alike, and most people opted to sit on a pillow or the floor while flipping through pet-related manga and books. While there, I tried the hot chocolate, green tea latte, and black sesame drink. Everything was delicious. They even decorated the drinks with cocoa powdered paw prints!

Each time I went—AND YES I WENT BACK MORE THAN ONCE HOW COULD I NOT—I took plenty of pictures. Thanks to a handy dandy pocket wifi, I texted photos to our petsitter back home so I could show my cats how much fun they were missing out on. She texted back to tell me they didn't seem impressed :( which kinda goes to show you that no matter where you are in the world, cats will always be cats.

 Image by Susan Pi

Image by Susan Pi

 Image by Susan Pi

Image by Susan Pi

 Image by Susan Pi

Image by Susan Pi

 Image by Susan Pi

Image by Susan Pi

 Image by Susan Pi

Image by Susan Pi

 Image by Susan Pi

Image by Susan Pi

 Image by Susan Pi

Image by Susan Pi

The Writer as a Modern Nomad

I sit down to write another thousand words in my work in progress, but my writing seems a bit more mehhh than usual. I'm having a hard time focusing. I think I'm getting sick or maybe my body is trying to recover from traveling so often the last six months.

It's hard to be back home, to be forced into a regular schedule. I miss being on the move, but writing while traveling is hard for me too. It takes a while for me to put an experience into words, because I don't realize how things affect me until long after I'm home. It's always the smallest things that end up sticking to my brain.

In Rambles: A Field Guide to the US, Eric Peterson writes that stories are about a man leaving home or a stranger coming into town. I think that's why I need to travel every so often, I'm happiest when I'm unsettled, because stories are about movement.

Life should be about movement.

If I stay in one place too long, I feel like a stranger in my own skin, like all the boxes we're supposed to check off in the game of Life become the only measure of a life well lived. It's a load of crap. I know this. What's on our business cards shouldn't mean more than who we are, yet I'm guilty of judging people and allowing myself to be judged. My family includes doctors, surgeons, pharmacists, lawyers, and here I am, just a vagabond writer, struggling to put experiences into words.

Traveling isn't only about seeing sights, it's about the experience of being a stranger in someone else's town. I'm a solitary traveler. Some people make friends easily, but I'm not one of them.

Being a nomad means not having a home. It means always moving and being unsettled. Hard to do because biologically and culturally, we're supposed to form attachments with people and places. I have my day job where I'm as attached as a house to its foundation, and then there is my writing where I feel the best when I'm unsettled.

There is a lot in common between traveling and writing. Our ability to create art expands our metaphorical horizon the same way our literal boundaries expand each time we travel to a new town. To be able to stand as an observer when we're strangers in someone else's town is to be able to witness what it means to be human: chaotic, unfathomable. To write someone's life, even if it's the life of a fictitious person, is to find a bit of meaning in that chaos.

On the side of Dog Bark Park Inn, a giant dog-shaped bed and breakfast in Idaho, there is a sign that reads: A Noble and Absurd Adventure. After driving a thousand miles, I stumble out of my car to stand beneath this sign. There's not much around me; I'm surrounded by fields of wheat. There's no reception, no wifi, and the nearest town has a population that's less than the number of students at my old high school.

I don't know why I drove so far out of my way or why I chose this place as my destination, but all it took were those five simple words to illuminate the thinnest thread of meaning throughout my life. Writing is like building a giant dog-shaped bed and breakfast in the middle of nowhere just because you can. It's noble and absurd, and that's why I do it.

On Secret Worlds

I'm sitting at the airport watching people come and go. My laptop's plugged in, and I'm trying to write another hundred words before it's time to board. I'm feeling my way through a new project at the moment. Not sure what will come of it, but I'm enjoying the story and the characters. That's all I really need to keep going. There are so many different kinds of people around me. Family people. Alone people. People with pink suitcases and people with backpacks. Some are in a hurry. Others not so much. There are so many stories at an airport but not enough time to write them all.

“Everybody has a secret world inside of them. I mean everybody. All of the people in the whole world, I mean everybody—no matter how dull and boring they are on the outside. Inside them they've all got unimaginable, magnificent, wonderful, stupid, amazing worlds...Not just one world. Hundreds of them. Thousands, maybe.”—Neil Gaiman in The Sandman, Vol. 5: A Game of You

I want to write these worlds. All of them. And maybe one day I'll be good enough at this writing thing to actually do it.