Photo of dog and cat by flickr.com user Yukariryu.
As far as writing is concerned, I have three personalities: the cat, the dog and the fox. These are my three writing animal totems. Each of them stands for a different way of relating to my work.
Animal Totems That Inspire My Writing
1. Cat Writing Animal Totem
When the cat is dominant, pleasure is of most importance. It is the time in which the writer is out to follow visceral instinct and passionate desire. The cat is unapologetic: it will say what it wants to say without caring for being unsociable or misunderstood. It is the free flow of ideas, the wilderness of exploration, the adventurous opening up into new uncharted territory.
The cat stands for the freedom of expression: that guiltless unconditional acceptance of the self. The cat is undisciplined, chaotic, but out of that chaos, all sorts of amazing creativities can emerge. When I am using my cat writing persona, I am in touch with what is anarchic in literature and writing in general: the woman who desires without needing to give a justification for her desiring.
2. Dog Writing Animal Totem
Now, when the dog is dominant it is time for an altogether different way of relating to writing. The dog is the disciplined planner. Dog totems are about loyalty, friendship and perseverance. Under the guidance of a dog totem, you no longer follow desire untidily: you go by programming, following through goals, going from step to step steadily towards achieving whatever it is you wish to achieve.
The dog persona is reflective: it is the time of editing, plotting, strategizing. With the cat your writing is all over the place so that something new, playful and yours can be created from its primordial soup. But with the dog your writing is orderly, purposeful, well structured. While the cat listlessly roams, the dog is trained and centered. You are calling upon a dog totemic principle when the creative chaos becomes too much and a need for regaining control over your life and creative process is important.
The cat can guide you through desire, imagination, flow, while the dog can guide you through the careful channeling of that desire, slow goal setting and adherence to editing and other rules. The dog time is the time to get serious. The cat time is about the fun unserious aspects of creativity. Both are needed, and none can really do much without the other.
3. Fox Writing Animal Totem
Photo credit: PublicDomainPictures user Jean Beaufort.
And then, there is the fox persona. A fox totem is one that combines both feline and dog like elements. The fox is the silent observer, one that merges with the environment, a polymath and polyglot. Apart from strategizing, the fox urges you to read, study and write within as well as outside your comfort zone. It is able to remain unseen and as such is paradigmatic of what being a writer entails: it entails, above all, the need to be alone. Being alone with yourself, away from the superficial chit chat of daily life, getting in touch with yourself in a powerful non-self-conscious invisibility, is a gift for a writer.
The fox’s cunning is the kind of skill that is always necessary when navigating highly antagonistic and complicated publishing worlds. Its cat/dog hybridity marks it as inhabiting many different worlds at once: which is what writers do. The fox’s tail stands for how its homophone “tale” can also keep a writer warm. Indeed, a vibrant writing can become like a shelter.
As a trickster, the fox can guide you through the mischievous facets of writing. As an adaptable figure, it can lend your writing a much-needed flexibility and multiplicity. The question of the fox is not how can I find pleasure in my writing (cat) or how can I organize my writing (dog) but rather, what contribution does my writing make in a changing world that quite often demands quick thinking and cunning?
Each of these totems has its own wisdom. Each stands for a different kind of writing ritual/process for me. They can all provide you with different ways of illuminating your writing and enhancing your daily writing practice. I find value in them, as ways of relating to my craft that inspire and energize me.
As totems, they guide me. As distinct paths that create different habits and routines in my daily life, they inform the renegotiating of my identity through writing and help me find within that writing space where I can feel at home. To write, to claim your voice is to find a safe space from where to embark on your many journeys.
Writing is an intimate practice that can really transform you and, as I have found out, the animal totem tradition can help us rethink this volatile practice with all its demands and idiosyncrasies. All sorts of personas are always parasitizing on us, but as writers we know this very well: because we are also parasitizing on language. Each mask has its own strength but what is this if not the truth of every storyteller?