1. My mother’s totem was the Bear. Anyone who knew her personally knew this about her. She collected Teddy Bears. At a certain point, in her Bear collecting glory days, I think it is safe to say that she had at least a few hundred Teddy Bears (at least it seemed that way). She had A LOT of Teddy Bears, people. She named her Bed & Breakfast “The Bear’s Inn.” She collected Native American Bear Totems. And she fully inhabited this Totem. She made a comfortable, soft, homey cave. She loved nothing more than to have her cubs gathered close together. She fed and fed and fed and fed everyone (especially her cubs and her grandcubs) that she loved. She was quiet and soft but wielded matriarchal power brilliantly. She was partial to slowness and stillness. She liked to be close to nature but safe from it too. She loved wildflowers and sweet-tasting things. She was so easy to snuggle.
3. I used to think that my only Totem was the Mermaid. This was more of a wish than a belief. I have never been graceful. I used to trip and fall a lot, for example. Truly. And I have never, until recently, believed myself to be “beautiful” in the surface way that Mermaids know for sure they are beautiful. But I have wanted these things. And still, there were other ways I have felt utterly like a Mermaid. I first discovered this Totem when I was four-years-old (though I didn’t name it until much later) swimming underwater in Crystal Lake in Frankfort. I liked the way I could see my hair moving around my face. I liked being able to see the sun glinting off the surface of the water above me. I liked the darkness of the water beyond my reach. I liked being totally submerged. And under the water I felt absolutely graceful and absolutely beautiful.
Only recently have I discovered that Mermaid is not my only Totem. Mermaid simply doesn’t account for so many of my impulses, so much of my energy. Sometimes, it’s Wolf. Sometimes, it’s Bear. Sometimes, it’s Dragon.
Before I go further, “Totems” are something I have never studied, researched or even really read anything about (haha! So stop reading because I don’t know what I’m talking about!). In fact, I never even gave my fascination with Mermaids or my mother’s fascination with Bears the name “Totem” until a colleague of mine told me that her Totem was the Moose. When I said I didn’t understand what she meant, she said, “You know, like you with Mermaids.” I got it. From my understanding and for my purposes, Totems are animals or creatures we feel a kinship with. This goes beyond “liking” them or thinking they are pretty or cute. We feel that some kind of spiritual or physical energy in us is similar to their spiritual or physical energy.
When I was a very young girl, maybe seven, I remember telling my mother that I wished I was a seagull. These are the birds I saw most often in my very young life in Frankfort. I remember that when I said this, we were in the car. I was in the back seat. We were eating soft serve twists on cones we had gotten (I think) from what is now called The Dairy Maid (was it always called that?). I was looking out the back window at some seagulls flying overhead. I was thinking how nice it would be to just be able to fly away from everything whenever I wanted. Thus, was born the “gypsy” in me, I believe. And the moment I got the chance to “fly” as a young woman, I did. And I did. And I did. And I did.
Seagulls were a Totem for me as a child. Once I realized the faultiness of always always always flying from my life, they were less so. I don’t think the Seagull is a Totem for me anymore. Well… especially since that bird-watching Professor I had in college told me that the “Seagull” doesn’t actually exist. Apparently there are all kinds of gulls – none of which are actually called “Seagull.” While this may seem like just an interesting side note, it’s funny that I felt this tiny pull of betrayal on my gut when I first heard this.
This feeling of betrayal is interesting considering the other Totem of my youth, the Unicorn, was a completely mythical creature. Of course, I do not believe that as a young girl in the early 1980s I was alone in my adoration of Unicorns. They were a pretty big deal then. Still, it’s interesting looking back on my collection of Unicorns and Unicorn books and all of my Unicorn drawings, that there was something in the ultimate innocence and purity and yet ultimate power of the Unicorn that spoke to me deeply. My collection of “Serendipity Books,” chiefly about a Unicorn named “Morgan,” was my prized possession. The first book I ever wrote and made (in third grade) with my own hands was about a Unicorn (suspiciously akin to “Morgan”). I passed these books onto my nieces Morgan and Jordan when they were little girls with a little hesitancy – was I really able to part with them? And I was in my 20s!
Two more loosely related thoughts I'm having:
1. I wonder if my mother had any other Totems beside the Bear. She was partial to dogs but I think more as companions than as kindred spirits.
2. I like that my mother and I have the Bear in common. I think the parts of me that are like her are my most Bearish.
When I am up and writing or working or doing yoga early in the morning before anyone else is awake in my house and even before the sun has risen, and my daughter stirs and calls me to her, I can feel my Totems stir into a tizzy inside of me. The Bear wants nothing more than to snuggle under the covers and into the daughters’ soft, warm, half-asleep body. The Mermaid is concerned only with how beautiful the image of the mother and her child sleeping together is. The impatient Wolf paces back and forth wondering when she can get back to her work. The Dragon is utterly beside him/herself (sometimes my Totems feel more male than female to me) with frustration and rage, clamoring to leave the child, get up, and go back to whatever self-centered pursuit I was engaged in. The Dragon makes life difficult but is a loyal protector of all things essentially mine, so sometimes Dragon has to be in charge. The Wolf also is a loyal protector of my immediate kin and can be swayed when the Bear feels closeness to family is important. When I allow the Mermaid free reign over the rest, she can balance out all of their energies by gracefully and peacefully negotiating the waters between them. In her magically subduing voice, she makes the Wolf lie still and close to the Bear. She assures the Dragon there will be time.
I am well aware that my intimate understanding of my own Totems probably sounds like a form of insanity to some of you dear Readers, like multiple personality disorder or some such thing. But, I assure you, something really clicked and settled down inside of me when I realized all of my (current) Totems. I think this is because before I named all of these conflicting energies, I just felt driven nuts by them. I couldn’t understand why I sometimes raged against having to go back to bed with my daughter when all I wanted to do was write. I couldn’t understand why sometimes I could lift heavy weights and run like I was training for the next Olympics and sometimes I couldn’t get my ass off my big, comfy, red couch. Sometimes I love to cook and even don’t mind cleaning because I know I’m caring for my family when I do. Sometimes I need someone else to cook and someone else to do the cleaning. Of course, accepting myself as a multi-faceted person with many different (sometimes conflicting) needs is all I really have to do to negotiate these fluctuations in desires and abilities. Also, simply accepting that I want what I want would go a long way to making me feeling less nuts. For whatever reason, I needed to put all of these conflicting feelings/ desires/ abilities/ energies into the metaphor of Totems. But when I did, it clicked. I got it.
One last loosely related thought: I’ve been wanting to say for a long time that keeping a blog feels stupid and arrogant. Writing at all often feels stupid and arrogant. The “Personal Narrative” which is essentially what MoJo’s Kitchen is, feels especially arrogant. Why in the hell should anyone care about my (very) personal Totems? Who cares that the Bear in me loves to cook or that the Dragon wants to go bang out some Chin-Ups? Honestly, I hope no one cares (except maybe my Partner, who often needs to negotiate the spaces between these Totems along with me). The fact is, Reading should be an arrogant (or at least, self-centered) act too. When we read, we are doing so in order to make sense of our own selves and our own lives. This is why some of you are reading this, rolling your eyes, shutting your computer and never ever reading my blog again. If the shoe doesn’t fit, by all means, don’t wear it! But this is also why some of you are reading this, nodding your head and thinking, “I get this. This is just like when I…”. This is the magic and paradox of our ability to communicate in Letters. We build community by looking out, primarily, for ourselves. We commune deeply with one another by simply seeking our own personal truths. It’s breathtaking. Reader, I hope you understand how utterly irreplaceable and valuable you are.
Now, Bear needs to cuddle with this gorgeous little girl for a few minutes before giving into the fact that, at some point, the real day must begin.
Vaya Con Dios!
Cook and Eat with Love (as Bear does on her best days).