I like taxidermy. It harkens back to the late great 1990s Harry Connick Junior tear-jerker, Hope Floats, where I first was introduced to the idea of stuffed mammals. But somehow, more recently, it’s been popping up out of nowhere, surprising me with beady eyes, stiff fur, and an eerie thought that life can end, and still go on.
I saw a lot of great taxidermy last weekend (before my birthday and my first Skillery class) on a short trip to Blue Ridge, Georgia, to meet up with two other Atlanta-based writers, Jennifer Bradley Franklin and Kate Abney. Jennifer (who is also the managing editor of this great publication), was nice enough to offer up her family’s taxidermy-filled log cabin for the weekend as a place where we could hunker down and send out as many pitches as possible in one 24-hour period.
So on Friday morning, I woke up at 6 a.m., drove for four hours listening to my new favorite music, and ended up here:
As beautiful as the scenery was, I’m sad to say I spent most of the day and night staring at my computer screen forcing words onto paper… after all… that was the point. But I was also surrounded by taxidermy. Lots of it. Animals who’d lived their lives and now stood in stoic mockery of how each and every pitch I sent sounded: dead.
It’s easy to make it look easy when it’s easy. But it’s hard to make it look easy when it’s hard. And last weekend, it was hard as the feet and the snout and the chest of each cotton-stuffed animal staring in my direction.
But those creatures looked look peaceful in repose. No longer fighting for their life. No longer concerned about their next meal or burrowing down or the frost or the predator above. I wondered if I could bring that kind of death to my life. That kind of peace to my preoccupation.
But I guess at some point you have to decide if you’re going to let the death get you, or if you’re going to live on. If you’re going to let the “thanks but no thanks,” e-mail determine that it’s time to shrivel up and stop in your tracks—or if you’ll let “no” mean “try again.”
Because unlike the beautifully dead decor—safe, unmoving, and predictable—this life is not. Taxidermy stiffens a righteous dynamic creature into one frozen moment, and we all could freeze like that too. Some of us already have. Frozen into a peaceful comfortable routine that requires less than a beating heart. Frozen into the same story lines and bylines and goal lines. I could decide this is good enough and stop right here. But I can’t. I’m still moving. Still breathing. Still unsafe, unpredictable, and unstable.
And it hurts.