Sunday, June 11, 2017

What's your spirit animal?

Jenn McKinlay: Years ago,  I was driving to my new part-time gig at the Desert Botanical Garden as their head research librarian. I was nervous. This was my first run at an academic library position and I desperately did not want to screw up. 

Driving my Jeep over the dusty back road that led into the research buildings, while the rising sun was just a sliver of peachy orange on the horizon, I spotted something on the road up ahead. I slammed on my brakes. As the dust settled, I saw two Gambel's quail, herding their babies across the dirt track into the desert. The way they ran back and forth, nudging their young with the doo-dads (yes, technical term) on their heads bobbing, I suddenly felt like they were there to tell me 
that this job was a good move, that everything was going
to be okay, and I was going to be just fine. They were right.
I worked with some amazing scientists and educators over
the next two years in what became one of my most favorite 
jobs.

The quail lived in the garden, so I got to visit them every day and when they ran amidst the cactus and creosote, they always made me smile. It was then that I decided they were my spirit animal. Frankly, as my people tell me, their rather frantic personality is a teeny bit like my own. 

While raising my sons, I observed that they, too seemed to have spirit animals. Having just learned to ride, Hooligan One liked to pedal his bike FASTER on a downhill and then would spread his arms and legs wide, looking like an eagle in flight and making his mom scream (on the inside) in complete and total panic.

Hooligan Two found his spirit animal early on. I believe he was just a year old and on our annual trip to San Diego, he belly crawled toward the ocean like a sea turtle heading back out into the wild. I had to chase him before the big waves rolled him and he bellowed at me when I snatched him up, thwarting his escape. Hub recently had a moment while we were in Hawaii where he and an enormous sea turtle out in the wild bonded, so he shares the sea turtle affinity with our son, although up until then, he always reminded me of a big cat but that could just be because he has a fabulous head of hair. Truly, it's annoying.

While writing my most recent series, the Bluff Point series, I incorporated dogs, cats, and birds (but mostly dogs) into each story -- thus the titles ABOUT A DOG, BARKING UP THE WRONG TREE, and EVERY DOG HAS HIS DAY. (Sorry, I'm a punster. I can't help it.) -- and an interesting thing happened. As I researched the various dog breeds and studied their different personality types, I began to match my characters' personalities to that of their dog or cat or bird. Essentially, using the animal in the story as their spirit animal. It wasn't intentional at first but it became a new method for me to understand my characters, a lot like some authors use astrology charts or personality tests to develop their characters. I liked it so much, I think I'm going to keep using it. 

So, tell me Reds, what is your spirt animal? What tricks do you use to flesh out your character's personality?




65 comments:

  1. Jenn, for those of us who haven’t had the good fortune to discover our spirit animals on our own the way you did, there’s a Spirit Animal website [https://www.spiritanimal.info/how-to-find-spirit-animal/] where they’ll be happy to help you discover your Spirit Animal.
    According to them, my Spirit Animal is an owl. Who knew?

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    1. Joan, that's perfect! You're up late and commenting first every night. And so very wise. I love it.

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    2. Hi, Joan, I did do an online quiz once and it told me my spirit animal was a crow, which I thought was nifty but it lacks the frenetic quality of the quail so I'm sticking with my silly bird. An owl is pretty cool, though.

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    3. The quiz Joan to which Joan refers us, says I am a "Tiger". Frankly, I'm pretty convinced that my spirit animal is a catbird (Dumetella carolinensis).

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  2. There are quite a few animals that I have an affinity for, including being crazy about goats. But, I think I'll go with the Canadian goose as my spirit animal. I am always filled with such wonder when I see the geese in a V formation, and recently two Canadian geese flew low, right over my head. A connection was confirmed.

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    1. Kathy, if it's your spirit animal you can join my campaign to get the name right. It's actually Canada goose: it's a species name, as opposed to a nationality. :-)

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    2. Kathy, I love the V formation they fly in. When my father died (he was a well-known bird sculptor for Audubon) last year, a flock flew right overhead during his service. I still get chills when I think about it. Karen, we owned Canada geese when I was a kid, along with a million other ducks and birds - my dad's passion - and, like Kathy, I would use the term Canadian geese whenever I'd go plural. I think my ear just rejects Canada geese. My dad used to laugh and tell me just to use the proper Latin name (according to him, all birds are really supposed to be called by their Latin name, apparently) Branta Canadensis.

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    4. Jenn, what a beautiful story about your father's service, so perfect! Is there somewhere I can see some of his sculptures online? That is just the coolest profession. Mary, you have a big job ahead of you in getting that correct name used. I'll try to remember to be more precise.

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  3. Jenn, I have not found my spirit animal in real life like you did but I do smile whenever I see a giraffe or a sea otter. Two totally different animals, I know.

    Thanks Joan for the Spirit Animal website. I took the quiz, and then I found and took 2 other spirit animal quizzes, and guess what? I got 3 different animals! The choice that resonated the most was deer.

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    1. Otters and giraffes - yes, very different, Grace! Deer are lovely, too. Looks like you have plenty of choices.

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    2. Grace, I should have realized there would be more than one Internet place to search for your spirit animal. I did a quick search and found a whole handful. Now I am either a wolf, an owl, a turtle, or a kangaroo ::sigh::

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    3. Exactly, Joan. With the 3 different spirit animals quizzes, I am either a deer, bison or an owl.

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  4. My running joke at work is that my spirit animal is the border collie. They're smart, funny, fond of working as part of a team, but capable of independent thought and action within that team framework. And, well, I do herd musicians around a lot. Since three border collies share my home, it seems a natural choice.

    I take a slightly different tack when developing a character for a story, though. I try to figure out what they drive. I'm something of a car geek. I think our cars are our highway avatars--the face we present to the world when we're on the road. Just want basic transportation? Yaris. Prefer a life of adult responsibility and comfort, with no surprises? Camry. Having a mid-life crisis? Mustang. (I've driven a black one and a red one.) It says a lot about a character if he putts up to the curb in a sticky old minivan, or sweeps up in a shiny Corvette.

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    1. Gigi, speaking of cars, I wonder if a musician would drive a Versa? If a pilot would drive a Pilot ? If a photographer would drive a Camry? If a equestrian would drive a Mustang?

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    2. I love the idea, but I'm not sure it holds up in real life. I am much more of a photographer than an equestrian, but I loathe Camrys, and love my Mustang. Finding your perfect "spirit car" probably goes deeper than profession.

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    3. Gigi - My s-i-l firmly believes you are what you drive. I am all about functionality but I live with three men who geek out on the whistles and bells. What does it say about your character if they don't drive?

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    4. Not driving is a deeply personal choice too, perhaps rooted in environmental concerns, or maybe financial ones. Hallie created a perfect car avatar in "You'll Never Know Dear," for the young woman who showed up with the doll. With just her description of the car she gave us an excellent background sketch for a young woman living on the edge of poverty, who might or might not be trustworthy.

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    5. I adore Camrys. Does this mean we are breaking up?

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    6. Never! My brother-in-law and beloved nephew also drive them, as do several friends. They're just not for me.

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  5. What a coincidence, we were just talking about spirit animals last night! My husband thinks his is a chipmunk. Which I'm trying to wrap my head around.

    Mine is a Great Blue Heron. The first time I realized this was on the second day of owning a new car, when a heron flew overhead and unloaded an impressive amount of "blessing" onto the front window. During the seven years our family drove that car it never got a ding, despite our two daughters driving it, too (five-speed manual, a perfect car for teenagers). It went on to greater glory at 200,000 miles to a friend, who continued to drive it another 200,000 safe miles.

    Since then I've seen herons fly over in many situations, including the first day we owned our farm, nine years ago. They bring me luck.

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    1. Oh, I love herons. This brings my dad back to me, again. He would drag us up early on the weekends when I was a kid and we'd have to go out to the marshes and take reference pictures of herons, egrets, ospreys, and bitterns. At the time, I hated it but now looking back, those are some of my best memories of him. I'm thrilled that the heron is your spirit animal.

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    2. Jenn, what was your dad's name? My husband, Steve Maslowski, redid the photos for two compilations from forty or fifty years of articles in Wildfowl Carving. One on ducks, and the other on birds of prey. Wonder if they, or my father-in-law Karl Maslowski, ever bumped into one another?

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  6. For those who might be interested, check out "Animal Speak: The Spiritual & Magical Powers of creatures Great & Small," by Ted Andrews. I had a powerful series of dreams over the course of a couple of years--each with animals--and this book was recommended to me. As for spirit guides--my youngest nephew's is the elephant--that's his protector. And his brother's is a turtle--he's like an ancient soul, slow and careful in his decisions, actions--and has an innate wisdom that sometimes floors me. A bald eagle rested in a tree once on the edge of my yard--and some of those dreams I mentioned contained bald eagles. They represent 'Grandmother Wisdom,' according to the Andrews' book. I like to think my grandmothers are looking out for me.

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    1. Thank you, Flora, what a great resource. This book could be a terrific help in developing characters but also give insight into my own life journey. I'm going to look for it today!

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    2. Jenn, I can see this book working with character development--because the qualities personified by a particular animal/bird can be unexpected and totally surprise you!

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  7. I've always had an affinity for tigers. I don't know why--I'm neither remote or dangerous, but they appeal to me. When I had a Navajo flute made for me I could choose my spirit animal and I was told that the eagle means creativity so I chose that. I'd send you a picture but I'm in Spain!

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    1. Rhys, that is so cool. I love eagles and my boy with the eagle as his spirit animal is definitely a creative soul. Enjoy Spain!

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  8. Like Rhys I've always considered myself a tiger. Perhaps it comes from a lifelong affinity for cats. I just completed the quiz and it thinks I'm a deer. There is something restful in that. Who knows...never say never. Love the quail picture, Jenn.

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    1. I love to watch the big cats but they make me uneasy. I love to watch deer run - so beautiful!

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  9. A spirit animal... huh. That made me think. I'm a birder so it would have to be a bird. Maybe a lady cardinal. Loud. Brassy. Protective. But not too flashy.

    I would so have loved to work in a desert botanic garden - was it the one in Phoenix?

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    1. Yes, it was. I loved that job. They let me bring my first born into work and he'd just chill in the stroller or playpen while I worked. He became the research mascot and the scientists would take him out into the field with them.
      I love lady cardinals -- it's one of the birds I miss most living out in the desert.

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  10. Just took the quiz with lots of questions. My spirit animal is the owl. I remember wanting to fly when I was a kid.

    Jenn, I love that story about the quail as your spirit animal.

    Thinking about animals. I remember a young relative's dog is very high strung and he reminded me of another relative personality wise, though this older relative passed away a long time ago. These two relatives never met, though. I also notice that dogs, in my experience, often reflect their owner's personality. Not always, though.

    Our family dog spent a lot of time with my Dad and their personalities were so similar! My young relative's parents had this adorable little dog whose personality was similar to his owners' personality - very sociable. Just speaking from my own experience.

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    1. I have wondered about that. My mom tends to get the neediest dogs and she dotes on them. I lean toward the more independent sociable dogs. My rescue dog is super needy and, OMG, does she ever love my mom. I think you're on to something.

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  11. Jenn,

    Love your puns. When I look for a new book to read, I notice the puns.

    What tricks do I use to flesh out my character's personality? Great question! I am going to try that with my WIP novel.

    Diana

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    1. Thank you, Diana. Puns aren't for everyone but they crack me up and I've ruined the hooligans as they are punsters, too.

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  12. Do you remember the book The Golden Compass, the Philip Pullman that is one of my favorite of all time absolutely. In it he has each person with a Daemon , The animal that is irrevocably connected to them, and stays with them always, and develops over the time the person is growing up and settles in for good and a certain point in their maturity.
    ( if you haven't read this book, I beg you to. Do not, repeat not, see the movie. )
    Anyway, I have thought about this a lot since then.
    It is a different choice then spirit animal, because choosing something like a bird is not necessarily a good thing, since they have to stay close to you, and birds don't like that. Well, like, a fish. Which creates a problem.
    I almost defaulted to cat, since they are very smart, and can be clever, even though a little manipulative and demanding.
    It is fascinating to think about…

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    1. I have never read The Golden Compass but I didn't see the movie either so -- Phew! It's been on my list of books to read for a long time. I will now move it up. I am working on a YA novel (idea stage) where spirit animals are key so this fits in perfectly with my research. Thank you, Hank!

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    2. Oh, cannot wait to talk with you about it. It is amazing. And it will be perfect for your research.

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    3. Was the Golden Compass also a movie with Daniel Craig and Nicole Kidman?

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    4. Jenn, yes, The Golden Compass--actually the whole trilogy, which is called His Dark Materials--is a must-read for you. These books have a very special place for me. I read them when I was alone in London post 9/11, in a strange flat, out of communication with home and family. I swear they got me through those weeks.

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    5. Oh, Hank, I know I should have read The Golden Compass (the whole trilogy) before seeing the movie, but I did enjoy the movie, and I loved the Daemons in it. It is rather puzzling that I haven't read this trilogy, because Pullman's Sally Lockhart series is one of my favorite ever. If you haven't read this mystery series, I so highly recommend it. Four books that start with Sally as sixteen and having just lost her father and inherited a lot of mystery to solve. Setting is London in the Victorian era.

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    6. The books are even SO much better! Cannot wait for you to read oxo

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  13. So interesting, Jenn! (And, Hank, I agree about The Golden Compass, totally.) This is going to require a good bit of thinking. I thought I might be a hummingbird, but I took the quizz and it says I am a bear. Hmmm. Going to do some reading, too.

    Love the idea of adding this to character profiles.

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    1. A bear? Like a protective Mama Bear? I could see that. Oh, and a double recommendation for The Golden Compass - okay, I am in.

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    2. I'm having serious questions about this quiz, if it thinks you are more bear than hummingbird. I think the hummingbird is a lovely choice for you: small but fierce, beautiful, and surrounded by beauty as it lives in the garden . . . Contrast that to an animal that is big, slow, and sleeps all winter? Nah, you're a hummingbird.

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    3. Gigi, I agree. Maybe this explains why I am easily distracted, lol....

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  14. I love this! My spirit animal is the owl. And the test agrees. (thanks for the link, Joan!)

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    1. Kaye, I love the pictures you put up of owls. My dad carved some pretty amazing owls in his time. I wish I had a picture to share with you. Owls fascinate me.

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    2. Did he?! What treasures, Jenn!

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    3. I got owl too. Isn't that a hoot?

      Ann

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  15. I didn't take the quiz, but I think my spirit animal is a dolphin or something in the sea. I'm happiest when in the water, and the dolphin generally fits my personality, except for the mean part. Many people don't realize that dolphins can be mean. So think Flipper!

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    1. Wow! Never knew dolphins could be mean! I remember the friendly dolphins at Marine World Africa USA when I was a kid. They used to have elephant rides too. Now it is more like an amusement park these days.

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  16. Haven't taken the quiz. I'm afraid my answers would vary from day to day. I love dogs, especially terriers and terrier mutts. I've always loved elephants. I was over the moon when our tour got to ride elephants up to a fort in India. Over the moon! I feel akin to Donald Duck. Don't laugh! He explodes over the most ridiculous things and so can I.

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    1. I did laugh - Donald Duck as your spirit animal is awesome!

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  17. So fascinating jenn! I would have said I was a fox or a cat until reading that website reminded me that they are both creatures of the night–definitely not me anymore! The quiz told me that I am a bear, grounded and strong, but needing Time alone to regenerate. But then I remember I have had two unusual deer sightings over the past week, so I wonder if there is a message there?

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    1. Interesting. I like the bear but I can see a deer in you, too.

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  18. My spirit animal turns out to be a turtle. I'll have to give that some thought. As I was answering the questions I reflected how my answers would have been quite different if I had taken the quiz many years ago. Have others of you found this to be the case, too?

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    1. Yes. I do think it changes with age and wisdom - although I've always been a spaz so the quail has fit me forever.

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  19. I took the quiz, and I'm a turtle. Fast in the water, but grounded. That works!

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    1. Oh, I like that. Lots of turtles in my life! It's a good thing.

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  20. I got snake. Apparently this is a wonderful and spiritual thing. But I will have to think about that.

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