Story by Darcy Vines, Staff Writer
Photo Courtesy of Andris Visockis
English professor Dr. Brent Chesley shared his sense of humor and latest project with students and faculty in a reading of his creative nonfiction piece, “Professor vs. Cat; or, Opposable Thumbs are Overrated” on Tuesday, September 15, in the Wege Ballroom as part of the AQ Lecture Series.
Dr. Chesley, who is known across campus for beginning each class he teaches with an exclamation of “good morning, persons of quality!” has been working on “Professor vs. Cat” for about a year and a half, with the full manuscript coming in somewhere between 45,000 and 50,000 words currently. He read selections from three chapters, beginning with the story of his wife Laurie’s persistence in convincing him to agree to get a cat. After 24 years of discussion, in what Dr. Chesley called “a moment of inexplicable spontaneity,” he conceded that adopting a cat “might not be all that bad.”
That moment was where his struggle for dominance in his own household began.
Dr. Chesley extensively researched every step of the journey that led he and Laurie to adopting little Dexter, and confidently brought him into their home. Laurie was skeptical of his research, however, politely recommending “you might just try thinking like a cat.”
Thinking like a cat is something that Dr. Chesley is still figuring out, as his writing explains, because Dexter is a problem child. He steals things from briefcases. He knows how to open doors and turn on lights and fans. He sneakily and relentlessly leaps over professor-made barricades meant to keep him in one area. Dexter believes that he is in control of the Chesley household, despite constant taunting and challenging by Dr. Chesley.
“You can’t outdo a human, Dexter,” said Dr. Chesley in a moment of frustration, while flexing his hands and fingers in the cat’s face. “I have opposable thumbs.” Yet Dexter continues to win.
His sense of humor evident both in his writing and his delivery of the reading, Dr. Chesley uniquely pushes the boundaries of creative nonfiction in “Professor vs. Cat.” He creates dialogue between himself and Dexter that is, of course, fictional. He does his best to imagine a thought process; Dexter cannot actually respond to any of the questions that are posed to him, and for that reason he will always remain a mystery to his owners. Thankfully, this only means more writing material.
After Dr. Chesley’s reading had finished, Laurie exposed another means by which he tests the limits of creative nonfiction as a genre.
“The biggest lie you told today was that you like the cat,” she said. “You love the cat.”
“No comment,” was all Dr. Chesley said in response.
About the Writer…
Darcy Vines is a senior majoring in English and minoring in writing and journalism. In her free time, she can be found consulting in thewriting center, watching endless spoken word videos, and drinking coffee way too strong to be healthy.