Something to do with monsters. Monsters and humans and the interchangeability of the two.
Something to do with serpents, dragons, ancient reptiles.
Something to do with flying and different sight abilities than what we understand currently. There are different ways to see; the power of the eyes is much more than we could possibly comprehend, and the sense of “sight” is not limited to the eyes. Sight is deeply, intuitively, connected to sense. It is here, I think, where we meet the animals’ perception of reality.
Somewhere, somehow, in some way I am so close to figuring out, language is involved.
A few days ago I was in Corey Billie’s waiting for my group to return when I overheard a dad in his 30’s respond to someone’s remark that alligators might be trainable by saying, “they can’t be, they’re just dumb animals.”
It reminds me of a moment in 11th grade, when, after completing Ethan Frome, someone in our class informed our teacher, Mrs. Nicholson, that it was a “dumb book.” I saw a look pass over her face then, a look I would later feel pass over my own when I stepped in her shoes and taught 11th grade English, that was some combination of fury, contempt, despair, defeat, and patriotism. As quickly, she composed herself and replaced the truth of her emotions with the “inscrutable teacher face.” So well did I master Inscrutable Teacher Face that it has been a real bitch trying to get rid of it now that I am a normal person trying to live a happy life. The subtext of Inscrutable Teacher Face is that the recipient knows that the Teacher is about to snap, like a wolf trap, not like a twig. There’s a bit of the “I dare you to make another ignorant remark” swimming in the murk of Inscrutable Teacher Face, enough so that students tread no further into whatever line of arrogant opinion they were beginning to offer.
“Books, young man,” Mrs. Nicholson replied, “can not be dumb. Literature, by definition, can not be dumb. However, people can be dumb. But books can not. If you did not care for the work of literature, then you must be able to explain why. Then you will not be dumb.” Here we could see her self-restrait starting to crack. Most English teachers take books quite personally, they are, I suppose, our friends, a rare and endangered species we’ve been entrusted to protect, and I, too, have felt violent when some cocky child mocks literature or poetry as worthless pursuits of people who can’t find better contributions to mankind. English teachers also perfect the art of the Verbal Bitch Slap, which is what was happening to this kid in my class who didn’t like Ethan Frome. When Mrs. Nicholson was finished with him, she forbade us all to call a book “dumb” or “stupid.”
“Do you understand me?” she asked.
Yes, ma’am. We did.
So there I was, watching this man, and I felt Inscrutable Teacher Face slide across my visage. It is a mask, I know. I have many masks. Many, many masks. I am trying to put them down, but as soon as I let one go I have made another to replace it. It is the same with the Verbal Bitch Slap, which I have given up for Lent (actually, that’s not true, but I wish it was. I’ve been trying to stop myself from verbally bitch slapping people for four years. I’m getting better.)
I wanted to punch this stranger. He was wearing a butter yellow Izod with the collar flipped up, and he had product in his hair and plaid shorts. I judged him viciously and thoroughly, probably the same way Helen Nicholson did, when her beloved book was so ignorantly dismissed by that 17 year old kid. Instead of punching this guy in the face, I wore the mask, preventing him from seeing my hatred of his remark, the idiocy of it, the ignorance and arrogance of his belief that there is any such thing as a “dumb” animal. Perhaps, sir, you are the only one who qualifies?
There is a growing part of me–and I mean growing rapidly, daily, without my consent; it is growing like an alien life form–that wants to defend and protect the “dumb” animals. The snakes and turtles. The frogs and birds. And alligators. They know something we don’t know. That’s why they’ve been here through ice ages and millennia, long before we showed up, and I figure they will be here long after we’ve gone the way of the Allosaurus.
Something happened to me a few weeks ago that took me by surprise. Really shook me.
It’s a regular day. I’m standing in the animal exhibit with Rick and my tour group at the Skunk Ape Research Center, and we’re holding the baby snapping turtles. Usually, I don’t get to handle the animals because that’s what the paying customers are there for, but on this day one of my ladies hands me the smaller of the babies, June, and I put it in the palm of my hand. My instinct is to stroke animals to calm them, and I did this to the turtle, running my index finger along the ridges of its carapace, the top of the shell. It fell asleep. Everything and everybody fell away and I was in the moment and suddenly I was overtaken by a sensation that I did not understand. I felt slightly disoriented, a little bit overwhelmed, prickled with a heady sense of emotion, almost–almost–as if I were going to lose my balance. It’s a feeling I recognize because I get it whenever I get around reptiles and amphibians. But I don’t know what it is.
I don’t understand, I said in my head. What is this happening to me?
This is what it feels like when you love something.
And the voice that speaks to me, well, I recognize it. I know this Voice. When this voice mentions love it’s not in the colloquial “I love french fries” or “I love my ipod” or any of the daily expressions intending a general meaning of “more-than-like.” The Voice meant real love, like when people have written books about doing work that you love. Not just work I more-than-like. Or work that I feel like is humanitarian or altruistic. Let’s face it, I’m not super crazy about people. I’m not. People as a species weird me out because they are manipulative and dishonest and most of the time do not understand why they do and think and say what they do and think and say. I’ve had to work overtime to understand my own motivations and boundaries, so I recognize when I’m interacting with someone who has no clue about his or her own motivations or boundaries.
It’s confusing and dangerous. Most times I more-than-like people, and I understand the grave importance of helping others, of fighting for someone else’s well-being, but I don’t have the same feeling around most people that I have around any given frog.
I know part of my journey, my struggle here, is the apprehension of love. I know that. I’ve read in a lot of places that that’s humanity’s journey, but I can only speak for myself. I want more alligators. More frogs. More turtles and butterflies. I want more nature, more. I did not realize when I said yes, that I would follow my heart’s desire, that the reward would be love, not like this. That’s what you hear: the reward is love. I’d expected a world of cake frosting and happy feelings, but what I’m experiencing is more like realizing I can speak another language.
So this is what love feels like. I can do this. I’m on another bridge, beloveds, and I don’t know where it leads. I’m crossing over into some unknown territory.
Most of what I am absorbing and experiencing right now I do not understand. I am watching a lot of tv/movies about monsters, dinosaurs, good/evil, and I am dreaming about flying. I am writing about sight, eyes, sense, about dragons and angels. Somehow it all fits, and I think it all has to do with love, which I think has something to do with shared perceptions, which I think has something to do with passing over the final bridge into being the one language and connects and created us all. I don’t know, I don’t know, it is just what is happening, and it is coming together. I don’t think I understood love at all. No, I don’t think I did. I think it is just something I am. Something everything is.
nighty night beloveds.