For most of my teenage years, I carried around at least one of the books in the His Dark Materials trilogy with me at all times.
From ages fourteen to eighteen, every time I traveled anywhere, I put my copy of The Golden Compass in my suitcase, just in case I “needed it.” The night I got my first real kiss, I was carrying a copy of The Subtle Knife in my backpack. Carrying around The Amber Spyglass came in handy in my English class when we were studying biblical allusions in literature and were given extra credits for finding references in the wild. (I should note this was not religious indoctrination, but part of a larger cultural literacy project, meant to teach us about various references and idioms; we also got extra credit for bringing in references to “the Sword of Damocles,” “ace in the hole,” and “win one for the Gipper.”)
I even wrote one of my college short essay questions about the series, a prompt was about a work of art that changed your life. I said that it while I disagreed strongly with its atheistic views, having been raised religious, I enjoyed it tremendously as a work of fiction. It therefore taught me an important lesson about engaging with works of art that had a philosophy I didn’t agree with, and how I could learn from them and still enjoy them. (A few months later, of course, I’d rethink some things and realize I actually did agree with a lot of the book’s atheistic views, but by that time I was already accepted to college.)
So yes, of course, I have thought a lot about what my dæmon would be. If you want to get all woo about it, it was revealed to me via Ouija board one late Saturday night at boarding school when I was sixteen. But Ouija boards are just a fun way to reveal what you’re already secretly thinking or hoping at the time, which is why it also told me that night that I would go to the University of Michigan and major in musical theater and meet a zoology major named Dominic, and we’d get married and have a daughter named Mariposa and a lot of cats and dogs. Also, that Ouija board was made out of a pizza box my art major friend Kristina got from the Idyllwild Pizza Company.
Anyway, my dæmon is a raccoon! I’ve hinted at it before, but yes, this is what it is. Superficially, it just makes sense. Dark circles under the eyes? Tiny hands? Cute, but in a less conventional way (that people feel almost self-congratulatory about when they find me/them cute)? That’s me. But it’s more than that.
I know that raccoons are having a moment right now, but I want it known that I loved them before they were cool. Not that I don’t appreciate the love they’re getting — although can we calm down with the “trash panda” nickname already? Raccoons are far more noble and nimble than pandas. (Jenny, I’m sorry, but it’s true.) I first developed a respect for them as a young child, when they would come by to eat our outdoor cats’ food. We’d look through the back door, and if it was possums on the patio, they would quickly run away. If it was raccoons, they would not only stay there, they would stand up and make eye contact with us. It was as if they were saying, “Yeah, I’m here. What are you going to do about it?”
They weren’t afraid of us, and I respected that. They were feisty, in spite of — maybe because of — their fear. I’ve always thought they were right on the border of trashy and classy. When I told my friends Chris and Melissa about it, they heartily agreed, and Chris said “Raccoons do seem like they could be running a burlesque show.”
They cause trouble, but also solve puzzles and learn tricks. They’re not fierce predators, but they’re aggressive when threatened, and can even scare off much bigger animals. They’re smart enough to get themselves into trouble, and sometimes not smart enough to get themselves out of it. I feel all of that, very deeply. (This is also why, out of Henry VIII’s wives, I identify most with Anne Boleyn.) They’re adaptable and happy in both the city and the country, just as I always have been, they love Shakespeare as much as I do, and while I don’t go through other people’s trash, I am nosy as hell about other people’s lives. Their need to put their food in water before they eat it (their scientific name literally translates to “washer bear”) as a tactile thing corresponds well with my constant fidgeting and need to keep my hands busy. And I, too, have been known occasionally to wreak havoc on the city of Toronto.
Many people I’ve shared this with — other HDM fans, mostly — have said this makes sense for me. Though I do remember a friend from Connecticut saying, “Why would you want to be the animal that poops all over my parents’ backyard?” And the mom I used to nanny for once said, “I think you would have something much more intelligent and classy than a raccoon. Maybe an owl?” And I suppose it could be. I wouldn’t say no to having an elf owl, I’ve have had a soft spot ever since I did a report on them in the third grade.
But your dæmon isn’t about what you want to be, it’s what you are. I know I’m not a snow leopard or a peacock; I’m not even a cat or a dog, though I love them dearly. I’m just not beautiful or majestic, or graceful and mysterious, or hardworking and loyal enough. Raccoons are a common animal, but an interesting and polarizing (heh, polar) animal. Many consider them a pest, others find them impressive and adorable. I just find them to be a lot like me.
But I would still love to cuddle one. And if I could have one by my side all the time, to give me a little high five with its little hands? That is exactly what I’d want.
Stuff I Did This Week: Helped support Fresh Ground Pepper’s fundraising campaign! I’ve written about them before, about how they really did change my life for the better. They challenged me artistically, introduced me to wonderful new friends, and brought me closer with people I knew. They don’t just make art, they make a community. Anyone can be an artist, and Fresh Ground Pepper is helping to make that happen! Please support them! And if you’re in New York, go to their events!
Fake BBC Show of the Week: And Then There Were Several