Tag Archives: Still Life: Adventures in Taxidermy

One thing I know will stay true for the next four years: Guinea pigs will still be cute.

63. Furiously Happy – Jenny Lawson

Last year ended for me under a dark cloud, this year started under one, and frankly I’ve been debating a lot about what to say or to post this year. I was tempted to just cover nothing but horror novels, and they might heavily feature in my posts, but I have a hard time with that because it isn’t as easy as I’d like it to be to find horror novels by female authors that appeal to me and I like to try to be balanced in my review coverage, especially when things don’t appear to be getting any easier for so many people. We are living in a time when people think feelings matter more than facts, being reactionary is somehow applauded, and being an elected official is losing its true focus – public service – when it comes to the highest office in the U.S. because of endless tweets and indignities. When your brain already tries to trick you into thinking nothing is going to get better, it just doesn’t help to watch someone light the match to make the world burn. It’s a lot to fight against both internally and externally.

However, I also appreciate a little escapism as much as the next person who can’t believe this is reality and that’s a little bit of what I’ve been providing content-wise here for several years. So, now I’ll let you gentle readers in on another little cloud that prevented me from posting – Miss Peregrine, queen to my herd, made it clear that she had ovarian cysts and had to be spayed; her surgery took place one week ago. I have never lost a pig to surgery and I know that’s unusual because I’ve had about sixteen pigs all together and several have had surgeries. Every time I’ve noticed and researched symptoms that would lead to surgery I’ve seen accounts of people who have lost their pigs that way. I also lost Danger Crumples last January, so January and anesthesia and I are not necessarily on non-terrified terms. Peregrine made it through, I’ve spent a lot of time hand feeding and staring at her and asking her to tell me how she feels to very little interpretable response, and she is doing well now.

Her back feet remain okay. They didn't need to shave her feathery little legs and for that I am grateful.

Her back feet remain okay. They didn’t need to shave her feathery little legs and for that I am grateful.

To bring in a book, as would be tradition, I read Furiously Happy by Jenny Lawson two years ago, but it surely will be helpful to people now and in the dim future. One of Lawson’s methods for dealing with depression involves a bit of funny extremism in that she will not strive to be happy, she will strive to be “furiously happy.” My version of that is being able to say “I’m actually a depressed person! I’m not just sad! I sometimes have very little will to live! Spring break!” to people who mention they’re “depressed” when their brain is not currently trying to tell them the world would be better off without them. Not that I do say those exclamations out loud – I’d never use that many exclamation points unironically. For shame, spring break, for shame. Many people are actually just temporarily sad, which is fine, but it’s not the same and should never be equivocated with depression. There are a lot of ways to be temporarily depressed, but they’re not all in need of medication or therapy and it’s not nice to equate things that will definitely alleviate with true depressive symptoms because it does tend to make people who need more significant help feel ye old stigma. Nobody needs that. Everyone’s sadness counts. Everyone’s sadness will not alleviate and you should be happy if yours does. Furiously happy.

A lot of whimsical descriptions of taxidermy appear in Furiously Happy, as does a Republican husband. I wonder about the current status of both of these, and Lawson does have a blog. It’s very popular, which is still not enough to cure depression. And if whimsical taxidermy did, I’d probably still be scared of most of it.

Peregrine eating expensive fruit. That's what queens do.

Peregrine eating expensive fruit. That’s what queens do.

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Megatherium and me

8. Still Life: Adventures in Taxidermy – Melissa Milgrom

This book is glorious. I learned so much from it and took away so much more appreciation for sculpture and silicone and Damien Hirst than I would have expected.

Taxidermy and I have a complicated relationship. I’ve been going to the Museum of Natural History at the University of Iowa since I was a small child.  Mammal Hall, and Bird Hall, and Rusty the giant sloth, have tortured/inspired me. The wombat in Mammal Hall may have been a part of jump-starting my love of small, guinea pig shaped mammals (there is no guinea pig in Mammal Hall, there are a lot of terrifying mice though) and since I have yet to see a wombat in person, I’m happy I got the opportunity to see that one. My other favorite piece in there is the skunk that’s posed to spray with its back feet up in the air – nice one to whoever decided on that pose. Mammal Hall also includes a giant room full of skeletons, including an Atlantic right whale skeleton suspended from the ceiling, that I have always loved. Bones are my favorite thing to draw, and they’re just so damn important to understanding why vertebrates look the way they do and how they fit together. The main level of the museum also includes the terrors of my childhood – Rusty the giant sloth and that Devonian Coral Reef beast creature springing out of the wall. I thought Rusty was real for a very, very long time. I also thought that bones were inside the stuffed animals, even though there’s a very clear display on the ground floor of the museum that should have clued me in about that but it didn’t sink in until I read this book.

Rusty is a recreation of a Giant Ground Sloth. A terrifying, costumed for holidays, recreation that many people enjoy. He’s a pretty awesome achievement. In Still Life, I learned that taxidermists and naturalists recreate animals from other kinds of animals in competition and I did wonder what was used to make Rusty happen (and the Gigantopithecus in the basement). The competition discussed in the book takes place at a hotel that I drive by on my way to and from Mississippi, so that struck a chord too. Now I just need to visit the Dead Zoo (not mentioned, but it’s not like I can just go hang out with Damien Hirst’s official taxidermist in her clearly awesome set up) and the Museum of Natural History in New York to finish my appreciation tour. And I’d like to see one of Walter Potter’s works in person. Preferably one with guinea pigs, it’s unfortunate that the collection couldn’t stay together, almost as unfortunate as guinea pig taxidermy usually looks.

I still feel sorry for the Victorian-diorama stuffed guinea pig at After Life.

It is next to impossible to produce an effective guinea pig via taxidermy. That nose is not meant to be preserved, apparently, and it is one of their cutest features – just look at Peregrine’s beauteous nose for proof.

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