by Nalini Haynes
This 800 word essay was submitted for assessment as part of my RMIT Professional Writing and Development (program) Writing Digital Content (subject) coursework. I thought I’d publish it here as a pseudo feral greeting card. I hope you enjoy.
Sitting in a shabby lounge room with runnels of sweat slithering through my hair, trailing down my body, I was surviving my first spring in Adelaide.
Just arrived home from work, my partner – like a magician producing a rabbit from a hat – flourished a VHS tape before his familial audience: myself, our teenage daughter and our seven-year-old son. We sat obediently in a row while he slotted the tape in the machine.
For the next 20 minutes, possibly the best advertisement ever – definitely the best advertisement for this family – unfolded on the screen.
A twenty minute mockumentary likened EDS, an international IT company, to drovers herding cats.
Cinematic and dramatic; the story of these heroic drovers unfolded on the screen. Their nobility, their calling, their sacrifice was revealed to an orchestral crescendo, a music score worthy of a concert hall.
The dangers of herding cats – of managing a group of determined individualists – were emphasised, while these humble men administered their own first aid after their feline flock inflicted wounds.
My partner was not allowed to keep a copy of this tape. To this day only shorter – lesser – versions of the ad are available on YouTube; a tremendous shame.
This was the first time I’d engaged with the idea of herding cats but it’s stuck with me ever since.
Have you ever tried managing a podcast with panels of creative people? It’s a bit like herding cats.
I don’t mean that you’ll get clawed although I admit I’ve been on the receiving end of a star’s ire after fans criticised the quality of her video image.
To me, managing a group of creative people is like herding cats because, like cats, they need to be treated as individuals with dignity and respect. Creative people need to feel in control of the process even when – especially when – there is a group to be organised.
Have you ever tried making a cat do something it didn’t want to do?
Occasionally Smokey, my cat, goes outside. Very occasionally she escapes out the front door and runs down the street. If anyone chases her, it becomes a game. She won’t be caught. She’ll dance and dart away at the last minute.
My partner, fearing for her safety, tries to capture her. Smokey will run him ragged while he tries, unsuccessfully, to entice her inside. I, on the other hand, close the door and walk down the hall. Before I reach the end of the hall, she’s mraow-ing to be let inside.
When it’s her choice, Smokey decides she prefers the safety of the house to the freedom of the street. She just needs her dignity, her freedom, to enable her to come to this decision.
To participate in a project, creative people need to feel free to accept an invitation and free to abstain from involvement. To contribute to a cause, creative people need to feel liberated from obligation. Creative people need to feel valued, respected and free.
Just like cats.