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.