In January, columnist, writer and candle-wax aficionado Ross Murray announced to the world and his therapist that every one of his 2020 columns would reference a cat or cat-adjacent subject. The world scoffed. His therapist relocated offices. And yet, 52 weeks later, who’s laughing now? Certainly not readers of this column.
No one could have predicted that grey January morning that the Year of the Cat would become the phenomenon that would define 2020 for generations to come or at least until next Wednesday. Today, we look back at the Year of the Cat through the words of those whose lives it touched as well as the people who did the touching.
Ross Murray, columnist, visionary: Some people might call me a visionary, but l’m just a guy who looked around one day and said, “You know, people sure do like cats. Maybe I should just write about cats. Who doesn’t like cats?” After they escorted me out of the funeral parlour, I went straight home and started writing. I had no idea it would take off the way it did. I also had no idea how I got home. It’s all a bit blurry.
Gordon Lambie, Sherbrooke Record associate editor, mensch: When that initial column landed on my desk, I said, “HEY, LOOK OUT FOR MY COFFEE!” At first, I thought it was a joke, which is something I hadn’t seen from Ross Murray in some time. I thought, there’s no way the public’s going to put up with a cat reference for 52 weeks. I knew for sure we’d get letters: C, R, L, a P, maybe even a W.
Murray: The paper tried to talk me out of it. They said it was suicide. Sorry, wait: they said it was sauerkraut. Which turned out to be the mystery stain on my futon, so they weren’t wrong.
Matthew Farfan, local historian, Instagram influencer: Something like this has been tried in the past. Throughout 1884, LeRoy Robinson, founder of The Stanstead Journal, attempted to reference in every issue something called “butterscotch bum cake,” which was a popular New England treat. He lasted 15 weeks before he had to be briefly institutionalized.
Lambie: We decided to give it a shot, but if people started cancelling subscriptions, we were pulling the plug. We gave him ten weeks at best.
Douglas Trenchant, subscriber, malcontent: At first I was confused. That was normal after reading one of Ross Murray’s pieces. But as the weeks went by I started feeling befuddled and then discombobulated and finally flummoxed. Then, around the middle of March, I realized, “Ohhhhh, I see: cats.” I didn’t get it.
Elizabeth Mange, journalist, not hard on the eyes: It’s difficult to know how these things take off. Sometimes everything just falls into place, much like my hair right now. As far as the Year of the Cat is concerned, it seems the Chinese were the first to pick it up. Ross Murray quickly became popular over there. They call him “Yǒuqù de shòu māo nánhái,” which means “funny skinny cat boy.” They brought it to North America and before you know it, the Year of the Cat had seized the public imagination.
Murray: At the end of the day, I’m just a regular guy with an extra toe who’s slipping stupid cat references into his otherwise non-cat-related columns. I never expected it to become a movement. All I wanted was to make people happy. And for CBC “Breakaway” to regret canning me.
Zoe Baumgarten, activist, tattoo fancier: Ross Murray did more than anyone in 2020 to raise awareness about the almost total lack of feline content in traditionally non-cat-representative media. It’s gone on too long and too far and too many and too much and too bad, you know? I think it was when Ross made a reference to a scratching post in his column about visiting his urologist that it really came together as a movement.
Steve Lussier, Mayor of Sherbrooke, ”funny goateed cat man”: We were proud to host the first “Cat Like Me” march in Quebec. We are a cat-inclusive city and will continue to be cat inclusive, that I can assure you. However, I believe the march would have been more successful if participants had not been so slavishly cat-like by ignoring directions, wandering off and chasing balls of tinfoil.
Barrack Obama, best-selling author: Ross Murray’s Year of the Cat reminds me of this quote from James Baldwin: “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is a cat.”
Murray: By October, I was starting to get tired. But I knew I had to keep going. It was bigger than me now. Like the ex I secretly follow on Facebook, this thing had a life of its own.
Lambie: For two weeks in November, his column was just “Blah blah blah blah cat blah blah blah,” literally for 750 words.
Murray: But I made it. December 31. Here we are… Here we are…
Farfan: I think historians will look back on 2020 and see The Year of the Cat as more than just weekly references to the Al Stewart hit that peaked at #8 on the Billboard Hot 100. I think they’ll see it as a time when no Zoom call was complete without a cat wandering into camera range. A time of cuddles. A time of destroyed furniture and uncleaned litter boxes because why bother. I think history will look kindly on Ross Murray. I know I sure do. He’s right over there. Hi, Ross! Ross! Hey, Ross! It’s me, Matthew! Ross…!
Murray: Where do we go from here? I think we need to keep cats in our hearts and off our beds. As for me, I’m done with cats. 2021: Year of the Kumquat!