Posted by lisagbrown on April 18, 2008
I mostly use this blog to talk about representations of animals in popular culture. But today I want to take the time to introduce one of the animals with whom I share my home. Simon is a capuchin monkey, and he lives with me, my husband and our cat. As you may have read on my bio page, I worked for many years at Helping Hands: Monkey Helpers for the Disabled. When I left my full-time position there, I volunteered to become a foster parent to Simon, a role I took on with the support and guidance of the organization.
I have come to know Simon very well. I know that he is afraid of thunder and he likes Jon Stewart. He thinks dried blueberries are a little weird, but fresh ones are a favorite. He grunts when he’s happy and squawks when he’s startled. He adores children – even on television – but is very shy when he meets them face-to-face. He runs his index finger across my hair, face, nails, skin or clothing to groom me as a way of taking care of me, just as I care for him. He smacks his lips together to express his contentment, or to ask me for help in a confusing situation. He laughs when I tickle him and thinks it’s funny when I towel dry him after a bath. He lays on my chest and allows his limbs to sink into slumber on my body because he trusts me. He holds my hand because he loves me. I am his mother, his teacher and his friend. These are things that I know.
Knowing Simon is a privilege, one that affords me the opportunity to see the world through the eyes of the monkey. In my work in the animal field I have learned about other relationships between humans and all kinds of species – birds, dolphins, whales, big cats, wolves, primates, cows, etc. When a person says they know an animal, what they’re actually saying is – someone is in there, inside that animal head, someone who thinks and breathes and feels in a way that may be different, but is ultimately not alien to me.
These are sentiments that I carry with me in all my work, whether I’m looking at film and television, reading newspaper articles, or examining legislation about animals. I see Simon in every animal’s face – not his individual personality – but in the possibility that he represents. To me, he has in part become a symbol of the many ways that animals ought to be appreciated, understood and valued. He has come to represent to me everything that animals potentially offer, not just to humans, but simply by existing. One of the most profound things that I have learned from Simon is that each and every animal is worth knowing, whether or not I take the time to do so.
In creative writing classes, professors often say to write about what you know. On this blog, I try to do just that: I know human animal studies theory, I know the current climate of public policy about animals, and I know some of the history of how and why we look at animals the way we do. But sometimes even this broad foundation of knowledge leaves me without the answers I’m looking for. In those instances, I think to myself, what do I know? And I am reminded that I know Simon.
Photo by Nicole Hill