You’ve played the game. If you were an animal, what animal would you be? When I was asked, I was given three options: A Lion. A St. Bernard dog. Or an Owl. Iconic creatures. Magnificent creatures. All worthy of being spiritual guides. All represent qualities worth emulating. Leadership. Loyalty. Wisdom. But the question remained, if I were an animal, which one would I be. My answer was none. None were my totem None my spiritual animal guide. I didn’t relate to any of these animals.
Then I stumbled upon a nature show on PBS investigating cuttlefish. Heard of cuttlefish ? They’re aquatic invertebrates, related to the squid and octopus. Very intelligent creatures . . . for invertebrates.
They have rudimentary problem solving capabilities and can change skin tone to camouflage into their backgrounds. I saw a photo on the internet of a cuttlefish placed on a checkerboard. It’s skin went from looking like sand to looking like it was covered with black and white squares. Very cool.
But the truly interesting thing about these creatures is that their skin colors seem to reflect their emotions. Anger, lust, fear. Their skin can change into one color to attract a mate, another color to scare an adversary. The nature program showed a cuttlefish caught between a mate and a rival. It visually split itself in half and looked like a handsome stud to the pretty girl and a tough guy to his rival.
That’s It! That’s my animal . . . The Cuttlefish.
Cuttlefish have all the qualities I admire: Intelligence, adaptability, flashy when the mood is right, unseen when they need to hide. Master of disguise, king of camouflage, survivor extraordinaire. Watch NOVA’s special KINGS OF CAMOUFLAGE for more info.
“Imagine an alien that can float through space, with a giant brain shaped like a doughnut, eight arms growing out of its head, and three hearts pumping blue blood. This alien lives right here on Earth. It’s called the cuttlefish, a flesh-eating predator who’s a master of illusion, changing its shape and color at will. It can hypnotize its prey or even become invisible.”
Cuttlefish are seen and unseen, real and unreal, of this earth yet alien. The perfect description of a writer.
I’m an on-line cuttlefish. In my blogs, my facebook page, my twitter feed. My on-line presence reflects my emotions, not only in words, but also in colors. I actually have two blogs. One professional, the second personal. My professional blog started out with muted colors, the way professional blogs are supposed to be. White and tan and maybe a bit of light blue to jazz it up. But then life got in the way and something would make me happy or sad or piss me off and – BAM – just like a cuttlefish, my blog changed colors to reflect my emotion. Yellow or blue or bright red. Actually the bright red background was a photo of me standing in front of a bar in Dublin with a red door but only the red door showed. Red. That’s a pissed off color. Then, I thought about presenting here at the Festival of the Book and decided my red Irish bar background was a little too wild so I pulled back and now the background to my professional blog is a calm, blue and green seascape.
The background is a photo of the inside of a cathedral with a bit of stain glass color, peeking out like a ray of hope. It’s mostly dark gray and black. That’s my cancer journal. I was diagnosed with endometrial cancer in December, had surgery in January, and am now undergoing radiation treatment at the amazing Emily Couric Cancer Center at UVA. My prognosis is good but I’m not ready to change the dark gray background to something more cheerful. Not yet. Maybe after the radiation treatment is all over and I’ve been cancer free for a few years. Maybe it will go to pink or yellow. Something cheery.
I’m sharing all of this is just to point out the main advantage of being a writer.
The main advantage of being a writer is that for us, there’s no such thing as a bad experience. Every experience informs our writing, whether positive or negative, whether speaking at the 2013 Virginia Festival of the Book or being diagnosed with cancer. Each experience brings depth to our writing.
When you join a writing group, you are giving someone else (strangers, friends) access to your pain. Whether you write fiction, nonfiction or memoir. These women and men are going to peer into your heart. They’re going to see you emotionally naked. So finding the right group is important. You need to be in a group that is going to give you honest feedback, but is also going to respect your journey as a person. No one can reveal their soul if they fear gossip and ridicule.