Writings and introductions marked with a # are locked entries and can only be read by members, not 'watchers'.
( Summary )
Animality, or more accurately, human-animality, is such an essential part of who I am: my very life, self, mind, and soul are painted with it and have been that way ever since at least my early childhood. It’s not just therianthropy or being otherkin. It’s not just liking or having a connection to animals or even “animalistic-humanoids”. It’s not a fetish or being a fan. It’s the life-blood of me, and though I can describe aspects of it with certain descriptors and labels, it ultimately goes above and beyond those terms and runs deeper than maybe I have tended to want to admit to myself, let alone others. Why, oh why, have I consistently remained feeling like I am “out of place” or lacking a sense of belonging amongst otherkin, therians, and nonhuman fictionkin (and fictives), seemingly no matter what their ‘type(s) or what they share about their views and experiences? Granted, yes, I’ve felt connection to such people and online communities—I still do—and I genuinely care about members and groups of individuals in such communities as I’ve sympathized and empathized with them, which has led me to offer what efforts, help, and resources I have contributed in the past (at this point) about 10 years. And yet, there remains something major, something fundamental, missing for me that these ‘communities’ have come closer to satisfying than any other people, interests, or communities I’ve come across thus far, but that still doesn’t change the fact that it’s not “enough”. But I don’t even know what “enough” would actually be, let alone how or where to find it, if it even *can* be found.
The Great Werelist Art and Writing Contest of Fall 2014, which lasts from the fall equinox to the winter solstice, is now officially started. The rules are simple: You submit a piece of writing or art, and a the end of the contest period, it gets voted upon, earning you a nifty prize (we do not currently have prizes officially lined up, but we had at least one person offer to do prizes for the short contest done previously, so we should be able to officially put up prizes soon).
The theme for this contest is the way we relate to our theriotype’s species. These should, preferably, not be guides like the ones on Project Shift. While those are an important form of literature in the therian community, this contest is not designed for them.
Entries are split into two parts: visual and literary. Visual art covers anything visual, whether sculpture, masks, drawing, glassworking, or carving. Literary covers poetry and other creative writing. At the end of the period, we will have a two week voting phase conducted via anonymous poll (though if you wish, you’re welcome to state your reason for favoring a particular piece), after which the top three entries in each category will be officially acknowledged.
Entries may either be hosted offsite and linked to, or posted in their own topic (or as part of a topic you’ve made a while back for your art/writing). If you are hosting your entry offsite, to make sure we see it PM the url to either myself or Mobius. If it’s put in a topic here, either PM myself or Mobius a link to the post, or add the tag “fall-2014-contest” to the topic.
Entries must be original and created during the period of this contest, though they don’t have to be done specifically for this contest (if you drew something which qualifies for some other reason, you are welcome to submit it).
This may be reposted or linked to on other sites (LiveJournal, Dreamwidth, et cetera) to gain traffic.
The original topic: http://www.werelist.net/forums/
If you have any question on whether your stuff is appropriate material for the contest, or any other doubt, please contact citrakayah.
Fox is like a companion.
Sometimes we are one as one can be, just me with pointed flicked back (but usually only one) ears; all my teeth at the ready to smell the wind and neatly flick-and-curl around every leaf in the forest on my way home. Or persons in a crowd, more likely.
Sometimes, we are less we, but halfway only me, in an odd ephemeral place that doesn't really distinguish itself well to words or thoughts. Not an in-between point, but still a liminality.
Sometimes, I'm just borrowing a little extra silence powder; my feet are no longer all toes and flat, but tiny lit-in-the-night pinpricks of pressure, the kind of... - remember when you did this on all fours in another life, in another book, many moons ago? You remember how it is to fly sing and dance so now let's combine all of those and put on a soundless (mundane) show of being invisible and stealing those damn sweet things and getting away. Cross reference.
Fox is I, me, companion, not separate, always there, sometimes sleeping like a cat-yawn-stretch-turn. Sometimes dis-consciously forgotten, but never never never not there.
I notice. Others don't unless they're animal too, and even then, we don't read minds, just habits and quirks and, if we're good at it, smells.
(Fox guide is sometimes not there, despairingly empty and I'll keep on trotting forward into my sleep without whispers of guidance, but it's not His or their jobs to be there all the time - just send me mail every once in a while with ordinary things like the milk and my groceries.)
It is my job to listen, always.
It's come to a point where, like learning literary theory, though I'm very capable, intelligent, even by about half of the people I know's standards, I still feel like I've gotten tired of distinguishing between things, tired of the specifics, tired of having to retell a story of an ever-changing beautiful picture.
(Can't you just see all of those be’s and inbetween’s and really - just go and fucking read the whole book will you already? It's all there, I’m all here, plain as day, dusk, and night. I’m separated and distinguished in flames and pages and phrases, writing for myself and you, except, I don’t really have to for myself, so why do I describe and redescribe myself to you?
I feel as if I should be present in your imagination, crystalline, legible… I should I should- But I know this and I may also be dismayingly as clear as mud.)
I don't feel this feeling that I do now in a deflated sort of way for the most part, but really, I know all these atoms and thoughts and furs are one and one only and I can see the parts and pieces, not usually all at once, but I'm slow and aging-edging away from wanting to try and gather words to describe the flash of teeth that are snapping in a strong stance, or just the melting into a warm cozy space and sometimes curling belly up... - back scratches are really the best.
And the best may simply be to just be and quit describing. It's one thing to want to excavate and discover, another to just feel and be and record the occasional thought that is usually forgotten until it's rust-melded into its surroundings.
I do not like being prompted and forced to search for my calendar and toolbag of words, but every time I read something, it prompts me to have pictures and sounds that jangle in front of my eyes, only to skitter away when it's time that I decide yes, I have enough of these that I could take my ark and rebuild the world in a paragraph.
Fox is an intersection of body, physicality, tweaked and colourful mentality. Fox is with me always, when I'm lonely, sad, - maybe then I don't feel so lonely, except they-and-we also feel lonely so it's twice as lonely sometimes. An odd distinguishing thing, we are.
Him and I; I and me.
(We're wild gods, you and I.)
In simple terms, I could call myself a snow leopard person. A year ago, I embarked on a six week snow leopard conservation project in Siberia that I initiated myself. I scaled steep, snowy scree slopes in the biting wind for the chance to stand for a moment by a shallow snow leopard scrape and drink in the views on the edge of Mongolia. It was an unforgettable experience to live in snow leopard country and listen to the locals speak of them and of their own lives, and I’ll do my best to relay some of those stories at some point if there is interest. I’ve given a good number of lectures on snow leopard conservation in my area and have spent years pouring over journal articles, following current research projects and developing personal relationships with those in the snow leopard conservation community. In other words, if you have snow leopard questions or just want to talk about them, ask and I’m quite sure I won’t be able to stop talking. I fervently look forward to the next time that I can heed the siren call back to central Asia…back to snow leopard country.
I experience the “shifts” and “phantom limbs”, so-to-speak, of those who feel deeply bonded with a species, though it’s at times exasperating to me to feel like I’m parroting back the same words I hear on forums. However, I’ve long felt more comfortable behind the pale grey-green eyes of a snow leopard and the physical features perpetually flow, ebb and mingle with my own. In short, my bond is with the reality of the flesh-and-blood animal; the snow leopard as it is, to the extent we’ll ever understand them.
My experiences and perception of reality don’t stop at being a snow leopard person, though that can be wordy to explain, so I’ll refrain from doing so here. In my mind I experience forms, animals and elements of the natural world from a variety of perspectives almost constantly, so the content of my stories will range far beyond only snow leopards. Essentially, snow leopards represent my strongest bond with a species on an emotional level, but in a more general sense any other natural form is something my mind lives to explore, with a focus more on the physicality aspects.
A few tidbits about me, to get a sense for the person behind this blurb: I’m a recent college graduate with a degree in geology (and almost in biology as well in all but name). My partner and I just moved into a new place and for the time being I’m dabbling in some things, teaching a fencing class, and exploring the idea of freelance travel writing on the side while I go through the process of researching grad school options. I’m a bit of a dabbler by nature, especially when it comes to all things science so I don’t know what might catch my interest next. I recently worked for a paleontology lab and some environmental remediation projects and before that an immunology lab and a planetary science lab (got to work with date from the Phoenix mission!). I hope to head in the direction of environmental conservation, perhaps with some travel writing on the side, but really, anything that allows travel, excessive outdoor time and the ability to work on snow leopard conservation projects at least as a hobby…that’s all I need.
I’ll close with random stuff I guess. I’ve fenced on the national level for most of my life and I also love sailing, skiing and windsurfing dearly. I also have adorable pet rats, nothing makes me happier than the fall/ early winter season, my boyfriend and I have big plans to someday construct our own part-treehouse, off-grid (as much as possible) home and we semi-seriously want pet emus someday. We have a wonderful habit of trekking off to barely-planned nowhere and setting up camp for the weekend, preferably during the winter. Snow camping! I will try any food at least once, including the horse sausage, barely cooked pig entrails and Mongolian yak cheese I consumed more than once in Russia. My rock/mineral/fossil collection is growing faster than I can manage. I’m very serious in my goal of hiking the Annapurna circuit and also visiting Hemis National Park, among other travel goals in the region. I dream of long-term “useful project” travel, as opposed to being a tourist for two weeks in a place. I…can’t stand chocolate but ginger is my one true food weakness.
That’s enough for an introduction I think. I love to talk when I find the time, and I tend to write in bursts, so posts are likely to be relatively infrequent, but lengthy. Hello again!
PS. I like to go by Ghost online, as tribute to the “ghosts of the mountain” as snow leopards are sometimes called. Their rarity is not romanticized mystery, as the name might imply, but rather in part a result of the challenges the species faces in the wild. The name is out of respect for them.
There is a beautiful and romanticized image of the doe: she is graceful, elegant, and delicate. She is shy and unattainable, disappearing softly at the slightest sound. Her eyes are a cliche for the vulnerable, docile feminine, and a glimpse of her, staring back at you for a profound moment before she flies, is precious and moving.
I am not this doe.
In a way, I hate this doe, because no doe is really this doe. This doe is all loveliness, and when we think of her as real, we are ignoring that deer are animals with all the smelly, uncomfortable, awkward, violent, and inescapable truths of being a living animal.
When I ignore those truths I feel like a liar. I have never found it good, in myself, to pretend that what is pleasurable is not also without grace or dignity, or that what is often visceral or disgusting is not also beautiful or pleasurable. To pretend that all is sweet and beautiful is to halve my joys and bury truths, whether it is about humans or deer.
Does are not all gentleness or vulnerability. They are fussily aggressive and can easily be called cruel by human standards. In the hungry depth of winter, a healthy doe, a survivor able to stand her ground against others of her kind, will certainly do so. She will actively prevent other does and fawns from food, even if she has had her fill. She will fend a starving family away from food she has claimed, and wait until they have left before walking away from the excess.
Nor do deer always flee in the face of danger - several accounts chronicle deer attacking dogs and humans when threatened, in some cases quite brutally. Not many animals hold up closely to their romanticized stereotypes when their survival is put into question, but the desperate deer can be the exact opposite of its gentle popular image. Its slim, delicate hoofs become formidable and unexpected weapons that bruise, lacerate, and break bones. There is no obviously toothy snarl – with no top teeth, an open mouth is not incredibly threatening – there is less expression in the face than in thin legs flailing and aimed to hurt.
In these, I know my distrust and the unexpectedness of it when I express anger. I know the stamp and the annoyance of simply remaining unwelcoming until someone I dislike just goes away. I know the attack that is dormant until one of my own, rather than me, is threatened. I know the unpleasantness of social distrust and dislike that is present in most creatures, but I know it in the often-quiet, near-expressionlessness of deer.
The deer is no peaceful vegetarian. We now know that deer do kill, sometimes to eat, and that they will scavenge corpses – in winter, yes, but also in the rich-grassed summer. The beached fish, the young grounded bird, the dead rabbit or pile of refuse have all found their way into the deer’s ruminant stomach.
I have never linked my diet and the deer’s – there are few things that are as wonderfully, pleasantly human to me as the way we prepare food. And yet we are both omnivores, and I take some pleasure in knowing that there is no “only this” or “none of that” even in the deer’s diet.
Deer are not always shy or skittish, nor does shyness equate to solitude. There is coalition between the whitetail and the turkey; there is play with rabbits or raccoons; there is tolerance of the lone coyote or the harmless pet dog. There is not even always shyness of humans – as many longsuffering suburban or rural gardeners can attest to. The safe deer can be a bold one or a friendly one, and deer have been known to take social interest in many other species including geese, rabbits, and cats, among others.
The deer that is bold in safety is the deer that I am. Skittish and untrusting until someone has proven themselves to be no threat, I have utter openness with those closest to me – I can do exactly as I like, most of the time, and fear nothing. And as the deer, I like to keep those I feel safe amongst close to me.
Deer are not all grace and preciousness. They are cervids, and cervids are very olfactory animals. As deer, to communicate is to smell; as nonhuman mammal, a primary tool in this communication is urine. To advertise one’s presence is to wallow in one’s own fluids or to mark one’s hoofs with urine. Courting, and therefore mating and surviving, is dependent on what we might think of as a disgusting fact. And yet we would not have deer without it.
As a human, it puzzles me to be leery of sex fluids. Barring concerns related to pregnancy or diseases, it is an alien concept to that some may enjoy sex but be discomfited by the thing that gives the activity its smell, its texture. Thankfully, I do not need to use urine to communicate my interest in my partner, but to rid myself of the smells of sex is a sad thing. It may be a human impulse, but knowing that the deer does what it can to strengthen its smell during the rut allows me to accept my own tendency to wallow in the smell of the body.
It is rare that in the realm of animals we see a mating that we can call romantic or dignified. Deer are no exception whatsoever. And in the indignity of the mating animal, I can remember that the cultural image of human sex as a flawless, seamlessly, gracefully passionate event is only a construct by omission. The undignified vocalization, the silly sound or awkward movement, is no less wonderful than the more idealized aspects of the experience: I know this in the grunt and bellow and low-thrust neck of the deer.
The grace of the doe, the elegance, is not what makes me deer. The romantic stereotype exists, certainly: A deer does flee, and I do usually feel more inclined to flight than to stand ground. The deer can be elegant, and there are times when I feel lightness of foot and ease of movement in a tall, heavy-boned but lithe body. The deer is vulnerable, and I feel vulnerable in the way that I recognize deer are very, very easy to kill – living in a rural place with a deer population larger than the human one, I saw a great deal of dead deer, and the mortality of the whitetail was impossible to ignore in a hunting community that also supports a healthy population of eastern coyotes.
And yet I do not feel graceful. Usually I feel colossally awkward, and something about deer speaks of that awkwardness to me. Being spooked about nothing, the awkward indignation of being disturbed, the skittering flight, the leggy leaps and funny-mouthed chewing – these are all deer. Some of these things are aspects of the romantic stereotype, but I do not perceive them in a romantic way. I do not think being deer makes me beautiful, desirable, or delicate.
To believe that being deer is a naked positive, without its stupid, its gross, its unpleasant-to-think-of, is to lie. Yes, there are things about deer that I think are lovely and ideal and that I relate to, often very much. I love the flick of the ears, the clarity of the gaze, the small cloven hoof poised not quite touching the ground, the flag of the tail, the sudden and fleeting bounding away. These are things that I can feel. But I can also feel the awkward stretch of the neck for browse, the indignation of being encroached upon, the need to hide, to flee, to fear. I can feel the undignified sound of the grunt and wheeze, the frozen discomfort of surprise and being caught in the headlights of night blindness, the flailing hoofs, and the hurried skitter away.
I can't deny the beauty and seriousness of feeling deer, or of following a deer path through the woods. I can't ignore the rough comfort of bark and the darkness of the woods’ smell, the depth of moss and flat beds in tall grass. But I also can't ignore that deer paths are liberally punctuated with droppings, that fur and gristle sticks to the front bumper for too long, that the deer’s bawl and bellow are ridiculous on the ears, or the way a buck’s carcass hangs without ceremony in November. The subtlety and quiet of the deer path, yet unavoidably littered with small piles of scat, for me, is an adequate metaphor for my experience of being doe: I can acknowledge the beautiful and wonderful, but must take into account the awkward and uncomfortable as well. I would not be deer if I could not accept both the loveliness and the unpleasantness of the doe.
Some therians subconsciously view people as prey. There’s a sense of superiority, an underlying knowledge that everybody around you is a step down on the food chain. They don’t acknowledge it, but it’s there all the same. In the wild, an ordinary lion is going to eat an average human. In a shopping centre surround by slightly overweight, lumbering, distracted people, a hungry lion would be having a field day. At the least, there’s an understanding that ‘I have teeth and claws and am bigger and stronger than you,’ which leaves a lot to be desired when there’s any possibility of a physical altercation.
You’d probably assume that on the other hand, there are therians that are instinctively afraid of humans. Maybe a wary, easily startled deer, or a rabbit, caught in the headlights. Maybe these therians flinch at sudden movements and sounds, or freeze and then skitter away when someone elbows into them in a crowded space.
As someone who identifies as a wolf, I fall into the latter category, perhaps surprisingly considering others I have spoken to. I have maintained, and will always maintain, that wolves; natural, wild wolves, are shit scared of people. A wolf isn’t going to attack a person. It’s going to run away at the very sound of someone approaching. And that’s the truth for me as well. I’m acclimatised to people. If someone walks into me, I can deal with it and internalise it, but that doesn’t mean there’s not a part of me that treats everyone as suspicious. I never really understood that, when you’re in a room and a stranger walks in why, do people automatically assume they’re okay?
Realistically, unless they’re wielding a sawn off shotgun, strangers in the same space as you are not out to get you. This isn’t paranoia, and your chances of getting murdered are statistically pretty low. However, that doesn’t necessarily make other people safe. They’re unpredictable and a little crazy, and the problem with being as I am is that I am all too painfully aware that my teeth are not well suited to biting, and I am not stronger than most people, and I am not even faster than people. If somebody limps, my eyes are drawn to them. If they are ill or weak or slow, there’s a certain manner of singling them out from the group. Yet even then there’s a knowledge that they are not easy prey. They are not to be underestimated.
The instinctive reaction for some people appears to be aggression, and that’s not how I experience it. When cornered, probably, when defensive or protective, likely. But put me toe to toe with some guy outside of a tournament and I’m going to run the heck away as fast as I can.
Last year, I was bitten by a large, white, German Shepherd type dog whilst delivering papers. My reaction was not to growl, or to attack, or even to run away. I stood there. I looked at my arm. Saw the puncture wound. And then I calmly instructed my friend to ring my dad so he could take me to the hospital, as my arm was shaking too much to hold the phone properly. I distinctly remember apologising profusely to the woman who owned the dog and telling her that I was perfectly fine, because English politeness dictates that I should comfort the slightly hysterical woman regardless.
My instinctive reaction to fear is not then, to act aggressively. It’s to freeze. The image is easy to recall, the dog is running towards me, and the last thought I can remember is ‘Oh, shit’ before I put my arm up to my chest/face area to protect it. I didn’t move from the spot. And when people scare me, get too close, behave in a way that makes me uncomfortable, that’s also my reaction. I stop internally, I stifle any feelings deep inside, and I carry on.
People are not something I see as prey. I see a herd of horses or deer, and there’s that instinctive reaction, the rush of knowledge and longing. A group of people do not bring about the same effect. A group of people make me want to be invisible, quiet and small and unnoticed. I want to be able to pass by quietly, so I do.
This isn’t to say that I am shy, or do not interact with people. I have brilliant, wonderful friends, a girlfriend, and I’m more than happy to be the person who goes and asks a stranger where the closest bathroom is, or order food from a waitress. I can walk head held high down the street all I like, and make cocky arguments in debate with total strangers, but I still have an instinctive reaction of suspicion and negativity towards people’s intentions which as a rational, thinking human, I like to optimistically believe is not true.
People are a lot like wolves, in the end. A lot of what I feel, everybody feels, even if I base it in something rather more eccentric. I believe that if you pitted a human and a wolf against each other in a room, chances are the wolf would come out on top. But probably not before it tried to run away first.
Sometimes, horse is comfortable. There is respite, relaxed head angled towards the ground with eyelashes drooping close to one another, and there is high-spirited energy and determination, and there is strength for another’s need. But frequently, horse is irritated, angry, tired, panicked, overworked; it is an intolerant nag with thick legs, a heavy nose, and a poor temper. When I am horse, I am a huge animal – a creature that belongs in front of a plow or cart with straining legs or heavy clattering hooves, rather than one of flowing mane and gracefully bent trotting legs. I am not frequently a fun horse to be around; I am fussy and likely to kick, and will only grudgingly enjoy the pleasure of the curry-comb or carrot. But when I do, I will sigh heavily, close my eyes, and lean into it, grateful.
Anger, irritation, overwork, panic, and yet determination and pleasure to serve: I am horse in these states because other animals don’t fit the way I feel these things.
My anger does not have sharp teeth or claws or an agile, twisting body. It has flat, mean teeth, blunt hoofs, and weight, and sudden unexpectedness. It is not predatory – it simply desires to rid itself of all that is in its way. It will not rip or tear or devour; instead, it will bludgeon, and it will crush.
My irritation is the sharp slam of hoof on stall wall. It is the likelihood of lashing out with a swift and bruising kick or flat-toothed bite. Don’t come near me, don’t touch me, don’t make me do. It mistrusts. It has flattened-back ears and locked thick knees and obstinacy.
Horse is the foul mood of overwork, of being overburdened. It is the difficulty to relax after being demanded to do what benefits others. Though I need to feel useful and take great pleasure in it, there is that point where I balk, resistant to being useful for a moment longer. It is the indignant squeal, the little tricks to make it harder – puffing up to sabotage the tightening of the girth, keeping my head out of reach of the bridle, nearly squashing your foot without a thought. There is the bitter anger at those who should be working alongside me, but aren’t, and the open rage at the lazy thing pulling in the traces beside me.
There is panic, too, at being too crowded or faced with those unthreatening threatening things that come as sudden changes. It is a rearing, bucking sort that nearly topples itself and will damage others as much as it will break me. Though my body remains still, internally I rise and plunge, wild and sweating with white-rimmed, rolling eyes. It breaks when the crowd is gone and I am in the fresh air or home, or when I am spent, legs shaking, head down and done.
In these times, when I am the horse that is nag, it is comforting to remember that I am human, though somewhere inside there is an unpleasant and unhappy equine. I remember, when I am one human body packed tightly among many on the commute home, that I can will myself to stand still; picturing what I would be if I were the kicking, rearing horse reminds me that in my human body, I can remain as I am without hurting myself or those around me. I can quell my panic and wait to get home. The horse that I am would kill without qualms or intention, and most likely end up with broken legs myself – as a human, I can grit my teeth until “Next Stop: Washington Square” and then rush through the crosswalk and home.
But besides all this there is determination and hard work. There is the big, hearty energy to give to another, to take directions and leap forward with them, to pull with all my strength with the result of joy and satisfaction, shared. There is the plodding work, the steady, persevering, low-headed forward movement towards the end goal of rest or praise. When I return home, it is the comfort of cozy stall or pasture, of my own space where I can do as I like, whether it is to roll without dignity or to sleep or to frolic. There is the feeling that horse was first remembered from, when deer pulling carts didn’t make sense, but horse, yes – heavier hooves and a more purposeful movement forward, carrying the purpose of others besides myself. It is, too, the rollicking carrying of big love, the wealth of my heart in the wagon on which perch the people I love.
We are looking for essays from therians to be included in a publication, tentatively titled Under the Skin: Therian Community Voices. The goal of this project is to compile written works by therians or animalistic otherkin which describe their experiences with therianthropy/animality.
If you have essays, stories, or poetry about your animality, or on topics such as shifting, phantom limbs, discovering your theriotype, species dysphoria, or anything else pertaining to your therianthropy, please consider submitting them for this publication.
Nominations are also welcome if there is an essay or poem written by someone else which you would like to suggest to us to potentially include in this work.
- The topic of the work must pertain to therianthropy or experiences of animality from therians and otherkin.
- The work should be creative and original; consider what makes this experience unique to you, as we want to share a wide variety of experiences and voices.
- The work must be completed to a relatively polished degree. Please check for grammar, spelling and continuity. If you have a learning difference or if English is not your first language, or if for any other reason you need assistance bringing your writing to a higher level of craft, contact us - we can help.
- Works of up to 5,000 words in length will be accepted.
- The author must be available to be contacted for copy-editing.
- You may submit as many works as you wish; however, only two pieces per person will be selected for inclusion.
- Please list an author name you would like to go by for your accepted submissions.
- The deadline for submissions is July 15, 2013.
To submit your work or someone else’s, or to ask any questions about this project, please email it to firstname.lastname@example.org, or post to the “Under the Skin” subforum in the “Werelist Media Center” section of the Werelist forums, making a new thread for each submission.
I was thinking this morning that I should submit something here and these thoughts came to me. Warning: some of this might be a little gory for some folks.“From one monster to another.” – Dr. Whale, Once Upon A Time
Wolf is not a cuddly puppy. Despite the romanticized ideals society has attached to wolves, they are not the soft and gentle, noble creatures, often portrayed in popular media. Sometimes, I am not a noble wolf.
During the winter months, when wolf is more prevalent, I want to use my teeth to tear and bite at my meat. To sink my maw into hot, fresh blood and sate my hunger on my prey. I want to use my blunt claws to rip at the underbelly and get at the tender innards too. I want to crack bones with my jaws to get at the delicious marrow inside. Then I want to lick my fur clear and sleep for days.
In the midst of hunger, I see weak humans around me and children as prey. Easy prey. Soft, tender flesh which is easy, too easy, to tear into. Wolf sees humans as lazy, slow and fat and there for the taking. If it limps, my attention is instantly snapped towards it. If it shows any sign of being weaker than the herd, it’s also singled out immediately. Wolf’s mouth has been known to water at all the food nearby.
But the hunter is also wary, knowing these pink monkeys are nothing if but intelligent and therefore dangerous. When I find myself slipping into the starving wolf’s mindset, I need to remind myself that humans are not food, despite being so easy to kill.
My fur is not clean, but rather is flea bitten, has burs, sometimes with patches here and there, and is mangy. Not cat-clean. Not rabbit-fur soft. Rough and wiry to the touch. And wolf does not like touch. Humans touch to show affection, but they do it wrong to wolf. Wolf touches noses, and smells companions, rubs heads and along bodies, wags tail, paws at the ground. Sometimes mouths pack mates. Wolf does not like to be petted, wolf likes to initiate contact.
Sometimes wolf will lick in fondness, to invite proceedings and nuzzle. But then wolf wants to bite during romantic interludes, to pull away and snap to draw blood. To snarl and growl and not in an enticing way. The reaction to pain, intense sensations, heightened emotions, is always to bite. Wolf courtship is rough and not romantic.
Wolf wants to hunt, eat, sleep, fuck. Wolf is definitely not the family dog.
Great horned owl is intensity, power, fire and earth. It is defined by action, feels alive in aggression, is prey to nothing.
For this owl, flight is about strength. Great horned owl is all muscles, pushing downwards against air, against the wind with exertion and the subtle flicking of feathers. Wings are symbols of power, not freedom. Flight is for survival, find the prey, and dive with silence and speed born of strength. Talons clench, crushing bones. Beak snaps necks, tears into flesh, while the filoplumes feel the tickle of fur and the tongue feels the hot blood. Swallowing whole, until the facial disk fluffs forward and an ache comes from the belly. The bones fall to the base of the tree. Owl lives on the graves of those who give it life.
Gripping a rough branch, beak preens feathers, gently rearranging the prickling shield against the cold winds. Ear tufts perk at surprise, flatten when aggressing. Head turns and bobs to locate the rustle. The owl hears the world as much as sees it, keeping an image in the mind of the world based on sound. Location is judged by the change in sound at the turn of the facial disk. Sight drawn to motion, the rustle of leaves, a pigeon taking off is a sensory bombardment of motion and noise. Its relationship with its mate kept strong with calls as much as mutual preening.
Owls can be sensitive, and have been known to die of grief after a mate is killed. Great horned owl reacts with anger to pain. Annoyed easily, it threatens at the mobbing of crows. It is devoted to persons and places, territorial and possessive, stubborn. Owl takes itself very seriously. It attacks intruders without hesitation, and will eat any other owls it kills.
The great horned owls call is an omen of death to many cultures. It is the only species of owl recorded killing a human.
What giraffe sees is far away.
Giraffe belongs to the open spaces. Wide and lacking coverage, the giraffe feels safe only where all is visible. Above it, and breathing it in. Aware, vigilant seer who is always seen. There is no hiding when you’re a giraffe. Always seeking threats, never relaxing the aerial visions. The giraffe fears only what it cannot see, too many lions to focus on, what unknowns lurk in shadows and bushes. A giraffe must know. But the threats, when found, are either far away or close enough to kick. Cautious of the world though it may be, the giraffe is above-it-all in more than a literal sense, feeling almost otherworldly in its consciousness. Detached.
Eyes wide on the horizon, stilts walk without feeling the ground, giraffe lives in the treetops while the hooves remain earthbound. But for the tickle of grass against the ankles, the world of under-foot is too far to know, or care. Giraffe moves as if levitating, drifting through life without attachments. The giraffe does not form lasting bonds, groups being loose and ever-changing. A giraffe may make company of zebras, or birds even, but isn’t prone to kinship.
Neck is more than height. It is for touching, a way to communicate desire or competition. A strong appendage that will take beatings of bones and poundings of flesh. Feel the air blowing around it, catching scents from above, and hearing the distance. Blood rushes through it, pounding, for war, for love, for food. It is the life-giver to a giraffe. The tongue extends onwards towards leaves, wrapping around rough branches, taking even the thorns, which the mouth is hard enough to devour without feeling their pricks. Many things to the giraffe are without feeling.
The Egyptians made the hieroglyphic of “prophecy” in the shape of a giraffe, and depicted them in tombs as a means to foretell danger, because its keen vision saw beyond the horizons of others. In The Book of Going Forth by Day, the giraffe is said to be a demon that guards travelers in the underworld. They were kept as pets by many cultures, and the giraffe, though wild, can take captivity in stride, not being a creature willful for wildness.
I am sitting in a small classroom at the run-through for national conference presentations. Men surround me, older, physically larger than I.
Is there ever a moment when I am completely unaware of how out-numbered I am in this place? Thinking, and yet not -thinking-, of survival strategies in any new territory?
I scope out safety: the new, female capoeira scholar to my front-right, a young female professor behind me to the left, the trans-identified man directly in front of me. In their own way, in their queerness and in their gender, I know they will protect me if this goes sour. I have established a pack of four in an inherently volatile space.
The presentations progress; my potential dissertation advisor -- huge, arrogant, intimidating to everyone, including the younger professors in the room -- gives a bumbling presentation in which technology fails and a shallow argument is made. No one questions him; even amongst humans hierarchy is recognized. One other professor, male, makes a largely complimentary comment.
Annoyed by the silence the presenter turns on me, eyes angry though his voice is mockingly amused.
"You know this material, Kaitlyn. Say something."
Blood rushes to my face as my heart pounds thick against my chest. I do not count the beats, but take some comfort in the awareness that my body is doing as it should in the face of a potential threat. A tail I do not have tucks, though my every physical muscle is taut, ready to fight or flee if the words coming out of my mouth -- submissive, agreeing with the statement given moments before, expanding on them just enough to get the aggressor to leave me alone -- are not enough of a display to prove that I am nothing. Nothing to pursue. Nothing to hurt.
He backs away, and I realize that I have been staring at my desk since he confronted me. A quick glance to those named earlier reassures, and I exhale. I take in air once again through my mouth, allow the tension in my back to release. The tiny hairs behind my neck fall as though they had risen as ruff, protective in display and in function. I played the game successfully, but even such a brief encounter is enough to leave me yearning to move on and away. I allow my mind to wander through the bulk of the remaining presentations; the freedom of imagined movement through a familiar Maryland forest soothes. I do not see the body in which I run, for I am behind the gaze, wholly myself.
This is red wolf to me of late. Instantaneously, fluidly here; albeit most often in moments of duress or physical pain. There is little conflict between something human and something not; I am what I need to be in any given moment and thus inherently, permanently both. I have created myth around her in order to have a way of putting the identity into words that others would understand, I have pondered psychological definitions as well, given the recognition of how that aspect of self comes to the fore when I need protection or strength.
But red wolf, in and of itself, is not something so readily written in words, just lived. Accurately conveying that way of being continues to elude me.
Subtle and unseen but striking to behold, the marbled cat has many traits unlike other felines entirely, making it both feline and other-than-feline in essence and form. The full zygomatic arch of the skull, the long canine teeth which are remnants of another time, combined with their own recent adaptations of smallness, a tail the length of the body, an arched back, and a coat pattern unique to the species, make the marbled cat a creature of its own design. Indefinable, it undulates between past and future, large and small feline.
The marbled cat may curl its tail in a circle when sitting and holds it parallel to the spine and upwards when moving, never letting it fall lower or touch the ground. The tail is a most important appendage, more than claws, or teeth, it is necessary for movement in the treetops, necessary for the agility and balancing abilities that allows this cat to capture it's life's blood. An acrobat with its baton.
The spine is supple as oiled sinew. Arched, then contorting, curving, forming to the shape of the branch it stands on. It's like a young green sapling itself, strong enough to hold the fruit but flexible enough to bend to the strongest wind. The back legs are longer than the front, looking clumsily made of mismatched parts when on the ground. Paws are large and toes conform to every nook in the branch, pads feeling the shape and roughness underneath, claws keeping the contact. Legs muscles made for springing, balancing branch to branch. Form shifting from round crouch to straight leap, sleek in body, light, formless.
Each cat has their own unique coat pattern that can vary more wildly between individuals than in any other cat species. Each is like a quilt made of parts of other fabrics. Mottled down the spine, spotted on the legs, marbled down the sides, rosetted on the shoulder, striped on the face, running random down the tail. But always soft, thick, tongue rough against the plush.
The marbled cat perceives the world mainly through sight and touch. Large eyes capture every light. Movement fascinating to behold, shadows and sparks of bright through the branches giving definition to the forms it will chase. Cheeks rub against bark to define boundaries. Whiskers feeling every twig and leaf brush past with a tingling pressure on the cheeks. Scent is a signature. Sounds give shape to the unseen.
The marbled cat energy is intense and subtle, sweet and spicy, easy to see and impossible to behold. It cannot be captured, categorized, or caught in a grasp. It deludes touch, defies shape, a substance that is everything and nothing. In-between here and there. It is said to be a ghost.
So... I volunteer my services as a beta-reader if anyone wants 'em. I could probably use someone to help proof-read my own stuff before I publish it on Beyond Awakening or Birds of a Feather as well, if anyone is interested in that sort of thing.
Earlier that day I had collected the sour apples that had fallen on our car and eaten them, core and all; previously in that week, on a visit to a nature preserve, we had both departed from the path to collect wild blueberries and mushrooms. My father, his bulk supported on thin legs and fragile ankles, moved between the trees and shrubs in a gait somewhere between a lumber and a trot. I found and followed deer paths and trod the slope delicately, movement unhindered by the wearing of age. We left the park with our hands stained purple, edible mushrooms held gently in my father's palms.
In the car, both of us sitting quietly, I could not help but think of missing my partner. I wished so much to share this, this wilderness and rural summer on another continent bringing deer, raccoon to surface every other moment. I resolved to document all I saw and did for the remaining week, to collect, to present. I picked flowers, collected feathers, pine cones, snail shells, seeds, took photos, wrote. And in that absence of my love I felt horse as I had not in years - the feeling of running, of pulling, of the strength of my chest and back and the speed of my legs, all for another. As I gazed out the window of the car I felt a gallop, thick knees and flat hoofs pumped by legs, pulling the welcome weight and importance of purpose.
And thinking about this animal that I had not felt in years (then 21, I had not understood myself in terms of horse since age 13), realizing it and understanding myself in it, I thought of what parts of us are animal. What parts of our personality translate into the form of another creature and take off, informing our actions and senses of self?
I thought about my father, who, I am lucky to say, is one of my truest role models and influences in my life. I thought about his infallible work ethic and energy, his persistence, the sacrifices he chose to make to create a comfortable and safe life for his family. I thought about how burly he is but on such thin legs and delicate feet, about his perpetual beard, eager laugh, and warmth in welcoming old friends and new acquaintances alike, his slow words and thoughtfulness. And I thought, what animal is my father? I expected some sort of ungulate, perhaps because of the sudden revelation of horse I had just had - perhaps another equine, perhaps buffalo, perhaps caribou?
After letting this sit on my mind for a time, I formulated the question in my head, and asked it. I framed it from the back forwards, presenting my thought in the expository way that my father and I have in common that often drives so many others to frustration, that always makes me think of Treebeard and his cautioning to "not be too hasty."
I asked him, "If you were an animal, what would you be?" And, "I don't mean what your favorite animal is, or what animal you would WANT to be. I mean, what animal do you think is most like your personality?" I clarified, "It can be anything - mammals, but birds, fish, and bugs too," and told him to take his time answering.
I sat waiting for a while, listening to the quiet as he thought. And as per request before he answered, I explained to him how animal identity works for me: how deer, raccoon, hyena, lion, and horse each explain parts of me and allow me to know myself. Knowing now that he could choose more than one, he fell back into thought.
When he finally answered, it was first with, "Bear." When I asked why, he explained that bears are often seen as something other than they are, and a lot of what he thought was "truer" about them was what he felt about himself. They are perceived as vicious but are often gentle, shy, and silly; they are perceived as slow and lazy but are often quick and suddenly powerful; they are perceived as carnivorous but spend much of their time feeding as much as possible on berries, sweet little snacks; above all, their most passionate actions are in protection of family. He paused for a short time, and then with a wry smile and sigh, added, "And bee, because I feel the need to keep working constantly, until I'm dead." (This last I struggle to articulate, because my father's words are written here in translation from Polish, and the way he said it in our native language somehow lends an extra flavor of doggedness so self-necessitated as to be pathetic.)
There wasn't much to say after that - I took a while to digest what he'd said, to think about it, understand, and muse on what it is we understand about ourselves. My father is not notable for how much he loves animals - certainly, he is affectionate with family pets and as excited as anyone to point out footprints of a fox in the snow - but his thoughts are in the beams of houses, stone and mortar, roofing tiles and drawings on graph paper. He thought only for a matter of minutes, but it seemed a testament to how well he knows himself to be able to say what he is in the context of animals so quickly. For an older immigrant man, a gentle, sentimental, devoted workaholic with a strong sense of family and surprising sweet tooth to think for only several minutes understand his self in bee and bear - it made sense to me.
Talk turned easily to family we were visiting, to landscape, to plans for the next day and return home. We never returned to the subject, but it's a conversation that comes to mind quite frequently. It was easy to talk about. And of course, I can understand my father the way I do myself - through the lens of an animal.
Also, this may border what the spirit of the group says should be posted here; if so someone tell me and I'll delete it.
My parents, Polish immigrants, call me Mania (Mah-nyah); it is my nickname since childhood. As a little thing my fingers were always bent to form hands into paws, arms spread as wings, toes pointed into hoofs - I was any animal, all the animals; I could find a home in cat, dog, mouse, horse, hawk. I remember my mother urging me to uncurl my fingers and hold my hands normally, her discomfort with my need for paws. I remember my dad helping me make a jumping course in the backyard by hammering nails into picket stakes that I could force into the ground and place a dowel across and gallop around, leaping over, whinnying.
My childhood friends christened me Mare - with my deep love of horses - drawing, riding, pride in imitating snorts and whinnies, it was naturally what made sense when we sought nicknames in a childish pledge of eternal friendship.
My best friend, and I in our quiet teenage mischief lived in the symbols of fox and raccoon - she with her quiet rage, pride in her tail, and physical playfulness, me a little more friendly with stripes and little deft hands and curious nose, we gave testament to this with countless drawings, figurines, and matching fox and raccoon plushies.
I wrote a lot of stories in high school, and found it easy as one heavily invested in fantasy novels to create a species that would be the focal point for my drawings and fictions for four years: a patchwork and exaggerated combination of horse, deer, hyena, and raccoon: a blunt, toothy head with long delicate ears, a long maned neck, long thin legs ending in deft and ankled paws, a barrel chest, arching hip, matriarchal social structure, and vastly bushy striped tail. When I made prints at the local Staples they knew me as "the girl with the bunnyhorses".
My ex-girlfriend called me a lion, and it perplexed and somehow hurt me - I did not feel, at the time, like lion was anything pleasant - entitled, possessive, lazily male. She had meant it lightly, a pet name referring to my then-spiky mane and boyishness, but I was doubtful for a long time before embracing it as a sleepy, possessive, protective, and sexually starved identity of the adolescent lion with half-grown mane, lanky legs and stark ribcage, of not-there-yet, of waiting.
Deer had been building slowly for years and then came to the surface all at once. One of my favorite books as a child was about deer; at home in northern New England the white-tail and its tracks and bones were a common finding; across the road a hunting camp had a buck every season and brought venison to my parents which I refused to eat; I found a skeleton of a doe the first winter after leaving home and cleaned and disassembled it and reassembled it in sections - it hangs in my bedroom at my apartment. Deer was woken up within me by another animal-person who was living as such, while I had been tucking away any animality for years. It was pointed out to me that I was doe, skittish with a long, quiveringly sensitive neck, long thin legs, alternating indignation and readiness to flee. I have heard "You really are a deer" numerous times from numerous people over the past year.
At the present juncture I let these all flow through me as distillations of the aspects of my character, I am each at different times. Sometimes it is the stress and strength and powerful destructive jaws of the hyena that I feel; sometimes the deft paws, mischief, indignity and confidence of the raccoon; sometimes the willingness to pull for another, the heavy hoofs, steady gate and flat teeth of the horse; sometimes the desire, entitlement and sleepy possessiveness of the lion; usually the swiveling ears, skittishness, the long neck and the quiet of the doe.