Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Reality Check

An acquaintance of mine recently described how she hates the “airy fairy crap” of Disney stories because (if I understood her correctly) it masks the reality of animals’ lives and imbues the animals with human thoughts, needs and motives.

I’m not sure she was referring to actual Disney movies or simply to people who portray animals in ways similar to Disney stories, but it got me thinking about the stories I write here – particularly those in which the animals speak or in which I describe the spiritual bond I often feel with the critters in my care. Okay, I confess – I anthropomorphize.

However, I think it is important to state that when I ‘imagine” a conversation with the animals, it is not based on “airy-fairy” sweet and sappy fantasies plucked out of thin air. It is based on my observations of their behaviour, my familiarity with their communication patterns, my sense of their personality, and the emotions I feel deep in my core when I spend time with the critters.

I have previously written about pig communication (here), and how different sounds and movements mean different things. This is behaviour that is observable, and inferences can be based on those observations.

My dogs each have different personalities and different needs, as do each of the piggies. Their body language, their reactions to stimuli, their interactions with me and each other all tell me which animals are shy, which are needy, which are strong and assertive, which are bossy, which are loners and which are social butterflies.

When you put together personality and communication, it is pretty easy to imagine in one’s head just what Soda is saying to me when I scold her for being pushy, or just what is going on in Scotch’s heart when he rolls to his side, puts his head in my lap, and lets out a long, breathy, oooooooffffffff, or just what Fizzy might be thinking when he comes tearing up the pigyard hill as soon as my car turns into the driveway. I can see that Scotch relaxes more completely when I sing “You are my Sunshine” than when I sing “Happy Wanderer”, and so I know he favours that particular song. I know Sadie’s funny little clacking jaw is telling me “I’m soooo glad you’re home, you were gone so long!” because the ONLY time she does it is when I have been away from the house for more than a couple of hours.

That is not Disney. That is not fantasy. That is heartfelt connection with the animals. And that connection is just one of many rewards amid the days of scooping poop, cleaning wounds, breaking up fights, calling vets, fixing barns, building fences, mucking out stalls and doing the zillion other not-so-pleasant tasks that need to be done when you care for multiple animals.

In some of the university courses I teach, we do a deconstruction of children’s movies (including those produced by Disney), looking at how race, class and gender are portrayed and examining the political climate in which various movie themes have emerged. Many of my students hate it because [parents: please don’t read this next part aloud to your young children] it is akin to learning there is no Santa Claus – or at least that he is not what he appears to be. The movies are political, the movies are racist and sexist and classist.....and no matter how much we are entertained by them, there is a reality behind the writing and production which is not so nice.

So too there is a reality behind animal care. But that does not have to stop us from enjoying our relationships with the animals and having some fun describing them in human terms. I choose to write about the touching moments more than the humdrum or nasty moments; I choose to share with others those “imaginary” conversations with the animals; I choose to describe those spiritual, emotion-filled times when I feel a deep connection with one of my critters; I choose to write about my experiences in a way that I hope enables others to enjoy the animals vicariously. It is something I love to do. It keeps me balanced and sane and feeling positive. I think I do it moderately well, and I hope my readers enjoy it. It is not Disney, but, yes, it is creative writing and it does involve a measure of anthropomorphizing.

And I see absolutely nothing at all wrong with that.


Robyn said...

I have been accused of anthropromorphasizing forever, since I was a little girl. Who cares. I totally agree with everything you said and if I had one ounce of your eloquence in writing could have written it all myself! :-)

Anonymous said...

What she (Robyn) said!


Sheryl said...

Don't change a thing! I thoroughly enjoy reading your blog.

Anonymous said...

The animals do speak to us , to all of us and I know for sure your listening Jean. And there is nothing make believe about any of that.


Squally Reach said...

I think the "airy fairy crap" extends beyond the animals in Disney characters, doesn't it?

As for anthropomorphism, however, Ratatouille is one of my favourite movies from the past few years.

Anonymous said...

Please don't change a thing about your blog. That woman obviously doesn't know a thing about animals. Here's a recent video of my pig Harry. Now tell me he's not communicating to me how content and happy he is by that purring type noise he is making. You might have to copy and paste this in your browser.

Jean said...

Ha ha ha - love the video, Joelle. And the other ones accessible on that URL also. In the one of Tim and Harry running, you can see how it took a moment but Harry pretty quickly figured out how to play the game! (I was half expecting Harry to push Tim in the mud puddle at the end!).

Anonymous said...

I really enjoyed watching Harry's movies and clearly he is a very loved and happy pig!! I also caught your special voice you talk to him in as i have one similar lol Not to say that the animals are not on an equal level of intelligence or understanding still i talk to them that way. I think of them all as my animal children and when once long ago someone said to me i never call my self Mom to my animals.. well to me i am there human mom and love them as much as if they were my own litter. And this i tell them in my very serious informative voice. Clearly i have sacrificed my life for the animals here and work 24/7 for them. No differnet from many of this blog's readers and i know it to be true of Jean too.
Nothing we do doesn't have something to do with them now.. and trust me it is not for fame or glory lol. Trudging threw the mud and out to the manure pile doesn't get us the 'wave' from any one. Spending all our time off paid jobs fixing , shopping and cleaning so everyone is good for the week is tough sometimes. And the reward is from them, seeing them blossom from the path that brought them here. And no one can take the pleasure i receive from them or from being creative when i write about them And doing just that about ones own personal experience with the animals i have encountered in my life time in what ever art form i choose to use is my right as it is any bodies elses.

Funny today's little newspaper we get here was totally based on what we are all talking about here. In this case it was all about dogs and one writer wrote of her personal life based on her dog and " how they talk if your listening". I loved it!!!!!!!! This is what we want , to educate!!! To get the others to see what we see about all of them!!!!!!!! We are so few but there is a new wave coming threw and in it rides awareness of these sentient beings.

I loved your story about your First pig Jean and you have learned so much about this guys in such a short time. I have been working specifically with pigs for over 15 years now and enjoy the " happiness" you portray in your blog about all of them, in a world we both know there isn't enough of.

Janice Gillett
Hearts On Noses
A Mini Pig Sanctuary in Maple Ridge
British Columbia, Canada
I walked into the heart of a friend, and found a home


Anonymous said...

I think the "airy fairy crap" extends beyond the animals in Disney characters, doesn't it?

LOL no kidding!!!!!!!!!


Anonymous said...

I'm glad you liked the videos. The one of him running was a bit staged because I wanted to get him on video. That's why Harry took a minute to realize what Tim was up to. Every day Harry gets the "zoomies" and has to run around and he prefers to do it when we are there with him. He knows I don't run with him but I encourage him to do it because you can tell when he's getting the urge. The video didn't do it justice...it's usually longer and faster. Harry truly thinks of Tim as his playmate and when he feels like running, will go and nudge Tim in the knees as if to say "come on, let's run!". Me on the other hand, he thinks of more as a motherly figure and the person to pet and brush him and talk to him. Sometimes he seems to be very diligently digging around and then I walk into his pen and he'll go and lie right down for a belly rub as if he's been waiting for me all day. When Tim walks in his pen, it's the opposite effect, he gets visibly excited because it's play time.

I do talk to him a lot and I know there are some things he understands. For example the word "tongue". After a yawn and his tongue is sticking out a little bit, I say "I'm going get your tongue" and I swear he sticks it out further. If I'm approaching his barn and he's inside sleeping, I say "it's just me, no need to get up" and he just talks back to me and stays put. If I didn't annouce this, he would get up in a hurry to see what was going on.


Anonymous said...

Oh i am a firm beleiver they understand everything we say to them. Just because we cannot speak their language nor they speak ours doesn't mean we don't know how to coomucate with each other. And i have expressed my feelings in this regards in many of the things i have written on my site as well. Oh you bet your Harry knows what his tongue is no differnet from me when i ask a pig here to touch thier nose to mine and they do it. The pigs are so responsive to the human languarge and yet they can be as pig headed as the saying goes. But it is their right to be who they are too. ;o))

Tell Harry I think he is a very good looker for me!!