Those books, pasted together by my grandmother, year after year, replaced the cognitive exercise of memory for me. Sitting on a section of wall-to-wall carpeting, drinking the bubbling red birch beer from a tinted brown glass, I reestablished my relationships with the members of my family. This is where I put it all together and perpetuated the lies. Not malicious lies, but lies with so many years to develop that we forgot the truth because nobody rehearsed it. When Mark was sentenced to sixty days in a twelve-step rehab program in 1991, he wrote an inventory of his experiences with drugs and alcohol that filled a whole notebook, and then he gave it to us to read. It was in those pages that I learned he had once tapped the powder out of horse tranquilizer capsules, melted it down, and shot it into his veins for a high that lasted fourteen days. My God, I thought, Oh my God. This is Mark’s story? Okay, now put the cooked-down shot-up horse tranquilizer against the pictures in the album. What do you get? Collage. Dry made wet and introduced into the body. Cut cut cut. It’s not so radical.
There is something beautiful about a blank canvas, the nothingness of the beginning that is so simple and breathtakingly pure. It’s the paint that changes its meaning and the hand that creates the story. Every piece begins the same, but in the end they are all uniquely different.
The real protagonist of the story, however, is the magic ring, because it is the movements of the ring that determine those of the characters and because it is the ring that establishes the relationships between them. Around the magic object there forms a kind of force field that is in fact the territory of the story itself. We might say that the magic object is an outward and visible sign that reveals the connection between people or between events. . . We might even say that in a narrative any object is always magic.
The truth beyond the fetish’s glimmering mirage is the relationship of laborer to product; it is the social account of how that object came to be. In this view every commodity, beneath the mantle of its price tag, is a hieroglyph ripe for deciphering, a riddle whose solution lies in the story of the worker who made it and the conditions under which it was made.
― Leah Hager Cohen, Glass, Paper, Beans: Revolutions on the Nature and Value of Ordinary Things
What can animals teach us about ourselves and the world around us? Perhaps humans are not as superior as we would like to be.
Beasts do not speak our language, nor do they build civilizations we recognize, so we usually consider them lesser beings. Most people are ignorant of the richness of animal life and experience, oblivious to the fact that an animal can teach us much about survival, satisfaction, and sustainability. When catastrophe strikes, the modern human being lacks skills which are intuitive for many beasts, even “domesticated” ones. On that note, I think we could argue that, in some cases, man is actually the one who has been domesticated. Did you know that science now believes that cats meow and purr chiefly to influence human behavior?
Many people recognize the unique personhood of their pets and service animals–their moods, quirks and tastes–and bond deeply with companion animals. In many cases these animals become part of our families and gain a worth slightly below or equal to our own. Precious few humans have the opportunity to enter into an understanding with a wild animal, a contact that verges on the totemic and the spiritual even as it is visceral. This short film, Man and Beast, directed by Daniel Ariola tells the story of Dr. Alan Rabinowitz. In these days of Marvel super hero films, it has a mythological ring to it.
Video via Peter Simonite on Vimeo
Growing up in Queens, the largest borough of New York City, in the 1950s and 60s, Rabinowitz was plagued by an intractable stutter. Placed into classes with troubled students as well as those with physical and mental impairments, he was lonely and frustrated. It was only with animals that he was able to relax and speak normally. The beautiful jaguar he met at the Bronx Zoo became a symbol of the voiceless and helpless. He saw himself in her captivity and frustration. It is she who lends an air of mystery and mythology to Dr. Rabinowitz’s story. His interest in animals led him to study science, which took him out of human civilization to truths that lie in the jungle, beyond human awareness. The second jaguar encounter confirmed his youthful promise and set him on a journey to protect animals all over the globe. Dr. Rabinowitz’s journey ended last year, as he succumbed to leukemia at the age of 64. What a privilege that he was able to dedicate his life the protection and study of animals that inspired him!
Dr. Rabinowitz worked for the Wildlife Conversation Society for almost thirty years. He discovered new species of mammal, including the Leaf Deer, in Myanmar, where he also helped found five national parks. He created the Jaguar Corridor, a series of protected pathways and environments, from Mexico to Argentina and established the world’s first jaguar sanctuary in Belize, the Cockscomb Basin Jaguar Preserve. As the head of Panthera, the company he co-founded to continue his mission of helping big cats, he initiated work on a Tiger Corridor in Asia. He also worked in Taiwan and Thailand, founding and championing national parks and animal sanctuaries and studying beasts. His vision and drive are legendary, all stemming from childhood pain he was able to transmute into action. You can read a tribute to him on Panthera’s website.
If you meet a woman of whatever complexion who sails her life with strength and grace and assurance, talk to her! And what you will find is that there has been a suffering, that at some time she has left herself for hanging dead.
― Sena Jeter Naslund, Ahab’s Wife, or The Star-Gazer
“It’s the shape of the stories that matters, the way belief forms around it. The story has real weight,” He pointed at himself. “Patupaiarehe look like monsters in some stories, but they’re beautiful in a lot. I guess people believed more in the beautiful version. And the ideal of beauty changes. If I’d been born two hundred years ago, I bet I wouldn’t look like this. The stories shaped me. They shape everyone, inside and out, but me more than most, because I’m magic.”
When I am gripped with despair, when I think I might stop, I speak to my dead. Tell them a story. What am I doing with this life? They hold me accountable. I let them make me bolder or more modest or louder or more moving, but I ask them to listen, and then write.
“The shoes always tell the story,” said the shoe poet.
“Not always,” I countered.
“Yes, always. Your boots, they are expensive, well made. That tells me that you come from a wealthy family. But the style is one made for and older woman. That tells me they probably belong to your mother. A mother sacrificed her boots for her daughter. That tells me you are loved, my dear. And your mother is not here, so that tells me that you are sad, my dear. The shoes tell the story.”
We need myths that will help us to identify with all our fellow-beings, not simply with those who belong to our ethnic, national or ideological tribe. We need myths that help us to realize the importance of compassion, which is not always regarded as sufficiently productive or efficient in our pragmatic, rational world. We need myths that help us to create a spiritual attitude, to see beyond our immediate requirements, and enable us to experience a transcendent value that challenges our solipsistic selfishness. We need myths that help us to venerate the earth as sacred once again, instead of merely using it as a ‘resource.’ This is crucial, because unless there is some kind of spiritual revolution that is able to keep abreast of our technological genius, we will not save our planet.