This is the second part of my Round Robin entry for Derek's topic: "The Animal Inside." See below for Part One, with links to the other participants. This is where I explain last night's pictures, tonight's pictures, and other related ponderings.
When I was a little girl, perhaps six years old, I made my only trip to the circus. I remember there were rings, but I can't promise there were more than two of them. I vaguely remember animals, and I vaguely remember acrobats, and I vaguely remember liking it. But that's all. It certainly didn't leave me with an abiding love for the circus, or any interest in seeing another one.
For Halloween, 1963, when I was in first grade, I distinctly remember that the Kellogg's cereal boxes had masks on the back of Hanna-Barbera characters - Yogi and Huck and Quick Draw. I would have settled for Tony the Tiger, but it was not to be. My mom didn't approve of little girls pretending to be male cartoon characters. In those days, the choices for girls at Halloween were ballerina, princess or fairy - period.
Perhaps a year after that, I went with my mom (perhaps Dad and Steve too) to see a Thanksgiving Day parade in downtown Syracuse. Normally I watched the Macy's Parade on tv, but that year, Syracuse had one of its own, hosted by Denny Sullivan. Sullivan was a kiddie host who wore a striped jacket and a straw hat, and presented birthday greetings between Popeye cartoons. I remember I got a balloon that day, the kind with an animal-head shaped inner balloon inside a clear, helium-filled round one.
I think it was after the parade, not the circus or the cereal boxes, that I got to wondering what would happen if I turned into a tiger. Tony aside, tigers can't talk or write. How, then, would I be able to communicate, non-verbally, that inside I wasn't a wild animal after all, but a young girl named Karen? This was not a problem I expected to ever face in real life, but I was much taken with the concept. How would an animal with human intelligence communicate, without such handy tools as human larynx and opposable thumbs?
Over the years, I continued to play with the idea, pretending to be a monster in the back yard, and, much later, trying to write a novel about a man who gradually turns into a gorilla. None of this ever really went anywhere, until I was in 10th or 11th grade. That's when I first typed up a scene, on my mom's manual typewriter, about Rani Fost turning into a tengrem. (If you don't know what I'm talking about, check out Messages from Mavarin or www.mavarin.com). The short version is this: a tengrem is the only species of monster in my Mavarin* novels. Last night's pictures are of me from yesterday, trying on colorized bits of an early tengrem sketch by Sherlock.
In a way, the current version of Rani turns the whole girl-inside-a-tiger idea on its ear. The original idea was, I would be my usual self, the bright, shy child, trapped in the body of a tiger, but having no tigerish attributes in terms of behavior. But Rani's not like that. Rani hears and smells things, and relates to them as an animal does. He hunts as an animal does. Sometimes he doesn't think like a human at all. Even if he ever gets to look human again, you know the animal, the tengrem, will always be inside him, affecting who he is and the way he interacts with the rest of the world.
That's true of me, too. It's true of all of us. Generally speaking, writers write about themselves - sometimes fully autobiographically, other times exploring shards of their personalities and ideas and experiences. In my failed attempts to meditate, in my writing about Rani, in a number of ways, really, I'm trying to reach that part of myself that doesn't overanalyze everything. I'm trying to get past that conscious, human layer of easily-distracted semi-rational thought, and tap into the sensory world of the animal. A real tiger doesn't wonder how to communicate its thoughts to humans. It just reacts to sensory stimuli, with a combination of instinct and learned behaviors, to satisfy basic needs of food and comfort, procreation and safety.
Just once, I'd like to really know what that's like, the animal mind without self-conscious Karen spinning her mental wheels on top of that, spoiling it.
And yet, down below our everyday human thoughts, the animal mind is there. It's the part of us that reacts to basic pleasures and perceived threats, even before we get the conscious mind in gear. It's the part that delights in the taste of chocolate, or a cool drink on a hot day, or a sexy guy at the doctor's office. And it's the part that labels someone or something as "other," an unfamiliar quantity, a potential threat. A "them." Because we're not aware of our instinctive, animal selves, we don't always realize that it's influencing us, in ways that aren't always beneficial.
So I'd like to get on speaking terms with that animal inside, or at least be aware of its inarticulate reactions to the world. It would be a great opportunity to understand better who we really are, and why we do what we do.
*Blogger currently refuses to display new instances of the word Mavarin with the circumflex over the a, probably due to the same "charset" problem AOL had months ago. Drat.
Tony the Tiger copyright Kellogg's. Top photo by Dr. Ruth Anne Johnson Funk, 1965. Rani drawing by Sherlock, colorized by Karen.