Discover more from soft animal time
soft animal time
scattered notes from dog-sitting, dance, and the suburbs
this piece was originally published on my blog, 16til26.com — i'm going to start cross-posting pieces when relevant as i build up this new newsletter. writing this in july is what inspired me to slowly step into next chapter of my writing journey, thinking about soft animal time <3
it’s the end of june and i’ve been dog-sitting at my parents’ house these past two weeks. it’s hard to communicate and the house is too big for one person and i’m outnumbered 4:1. i wake up at sunrise, but only because, no matter how much i try to exert my human-ness, my worker-ness, my productive-ness, on these little creatures, i am living according to their rhythms. soft animal time. time to run at the birds on the fences, time to sniff around the garden, time to lie in the patches of sunlight before the summer asphalt gets too hot. the more i resist the more tired i get. soft animal time seems to beg me to stay still. why do anything when we could sit and snuggle, when we can go on long walks and bask in the sunlight, when we can eat small bites of food and listen for the sounds: small hobby airplane overhead, pigeons collecting branches from the wisteria vines, neighbors barking, windchimes from another block, at least 6 different birdcalls, bigger and bigger bugs buzzing in our ears, the steady shush of cars on the nearest highway.
on my worst days- my most uncomfortable, itchy, unnerving days- i feel like i have been split into my different pieces. like an alien watching me move through the world. i know that i am a person and not an idea. i know that a relationship is an experience to continuously have, not some thing to acquire. i know that to be connected is to be curious, and there is not success nor failure in curiosity, only to be curious or not. i know this in my brain, but my body has yet to catch up.
soft animal time seems to only feel possible in the suburbs, in the privacy of my bedroom, all by myself. i keep asking if this is supposed to feel this uncomfortable, if this is supposed to feel this loud. i think the issue is that i keep forgetting that soft animal time is also vigilant, soft animal time protects, soft animal time survives, soft animal time is harsh, soft animal time is exciting. soft animal time is inside me and not reliant on place.
what makes me feel sad is that, without intervention, most of life for many is disembodied. the shrunken, saccharine trap of scrolling that steals hours away from my attention and daylight seems to be the exact opposite of soft-animal time. but also, fixating and obsessing over what i did or said or what i seem to be in thought-spirals and digital journals also seems to be the exact opposite of soft-animal time. what is it like to move through the world from sun-patch to sun-patch? to live by sunrise and sunset? to sink my toes in the dirt and perk up at every rustle of anticipation- a jar clicking open, the slam of a car door, a friend on the other side of the wall? to growl and cry and bark at real signs of life and not stories we make up in our heads?
we walked the dogs during golden hour last night and we went down a trail that i haven’t visited in years. it was all of the dogs’ first times going that way, except perhaps q-tip, who we might have taken back when his friend coco was still with us. the flower bushes have grown in, the trees are huge, the fence looks small. when i was 16, i used to ride my bike as fast as i could to catch the sunset at the train tracks at the end. i would sit on the fence and talk to the sun before she retired for the night. i don’t know if it was a conversation or a prayer. i think sometimes i would plead and sometimes we would debrief and conspire since the last time i saw her. i’d feel cold and sticky from the wind and dust and sweat and night air, i would hurry home for dinner, i would write about it in my journal.
at the beginning of june, i challenged myself to be a little bit brave every day. i started this project by framing it as discomfort, pushing my tolerance and threshold to feel a little anticipation and a little dread every day. i kept chipping away at the disembodiment and showed up to dance classes, talked to strangers on the street, went places unplanned, and it may sound silly but i found it so difficult. two weeks into the challenge, i left the city to howl and eat dinner with my dogs in my other, older home. it frustrated me that i would have to drive an hour back to my life that i was trying so desperately to chop at every day. i now know that leaving the buzz of the city actually reacquainted me with silence. i could hear my blood rush through my ears again. it told me to walk through my days, hold it without strangling it, with enough slack to not get dragged along by one distraction to another.
it’s now mid-july and i miss my dogs and their warm bellies and their big personalities. i have been dancing more and thinking less. i love dance because i don’t have to talk unless i feel moved to and now i often do. i don’t feel the anxious pull to fill silence. i am not convincing others of who i am anymore, but rather sharing the experience with others of being a soft animal that likes to move and wag my tail. i watch the sky change during late sunsets and sit in the library up the hill. i drink coffee and stare at the wall. i laugh with my new friends and say, “see you tomorrow”. i’m not that afraid to try new things. i walk in circles around my apartment until i find a soft place to lie down for now.
i wrote about “soft animal time” thinking about the iconic line from mary oliver’s “wild geese“, “you only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.” thank you mary
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting –
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.