Upon being greeted by the new academic semester, I have to admit that I was less than glad to be taking a class concerning Creative Nonfiction. Simply, it was not my thing. I completely associated the subject with the “nonfiction” part, feeling dreadful at the thought of having to read long pieces grounded to reality. I found myself to be more attracted to the creative part — I much more adored stories that explore the impossible, I suppose.
I bring this fact up now, because reading Wilfredo Pascual’s Animalia has singlehandedly changed my opinion on the entire genre. Animalia, a personal essay written in a first person POV, explores moments in the life of Pascual in eight sections (one memory per section), all presented in a manner where the real-life moments are all related to his experiences with animals. Although some sections definitely have the ability to instill strong emotions into the reader, the essay is presented in an objective matter. Never too personal with its tone, and only really presenting Pascual’s experience along with retrospective thoughts. Often straight to the point.
Reading through the text had induced a dreamlike state within me. There is something so unique in how Pascual crafts his narrative — the use of words, the flow of each scene, and the Richard Siken-like stream of consciousness of it all. There will be a few sections I’d like to talk about along with my personal appreciation and interpretation towards them, although I have to clarify that the work as a whole is still a wonderful read and each section is very unique in its own way with the message each attempts to give out and each vibe they hold.
I will always remember that night when we killed the bats because that is how I later came to realize why some stories would never be silenced. Humans don’t hear well enough. But that’s not the point. Each waking moment a voice screams, sometimes whispers, and a story bounces back against a landscape, a political event, and the whole of humanity and what it fails and aspires to be, all of these echo back to the source, year after year — amidst typhoons, migrations, fiestas, death, revolution, and romance — and it is all that matters.
First is the introduction to it all. I feel as though it sets the tone well — Pascual has a talent for building tension with just two starting paragraphs. It gets you curious. Haunting imagery that prompted a lurching reaction to the section: this is how Pascual’s association with animals start. Gruesome, painful to read, sudden, and laced with hesitance. The paragraph I’ve shown above prompted a feeling in me I couldn’t quite explain. Upon thinking it over, however, I realize that this paragraph was a reference to the entirety of this piece. More on this later.
This is it, I thought. I am going to die; desire and disaster in one bite, my transition marked by the reversal of the laws of nature, the waters obliterating all borders, turning females into males and men into ghosts of their former fish selves.
If the first section brought a sense of fear in me, the second was certainly a pleasant surprise. I wasn’t sure at first what to make of the talk regarding transgendered tilapias and the like, but once it all started to fall into place, I found myself shocked and eager to know more. I absolutely adored the simple parallel and how it connected to such a lifechanging moment and ultimately his most memorable meal, although the realization in the moment doesn’t seem or feel like it was lifechanging.
He discovers a part of his identity in such a simple moment. The line highlighted above really hit hard for me. It comes off incredibly strong with its word usage and feels like such a transcendental line referring to welcoming a new identity: here, in the quiet comfort of a nearby fire along with fish to eat, under shelter from a raging storm that threatened his life, he finds himself. I have to admit that this may be my favorite section out of all of them.
I feared my father, dogs, and guns.
The sections that follow the third are the ones that tackle the more serious issues, as well as the core of this essay I would say. See, the entire essay is a retrospect on happenings in his childhood that he ponders over and now feels different towards in the present. There was hesitance back then, but it is seemingly stronger now.
Consider the loved one that mysteriously drives you to unexplainable loathing and fear. With my father’s dog, it was easier — but with my father, love in its most mysterious way was a harder lesson to learn.
Going back to the very first paragraph I quoted/highlighted, I think that the following sections are somewhat of a “callback” to the concept of stories never being silenced — how stories always echo back to their source. Pascual is here, now, telling us this story about the bats and the dogs. It feels as though he’s kept all these feelings regarding these scar-like experiences hidden throughout the years. But as he says, stories cannot be silenced, which is why he is here now: facing his past and reflecting, coming to terms with his feelings and reservations towards his father and everything else in his past. A bittersweet retrospect.
Some scientists have speculated that the magnetic location of home is imprinted on sea turtles’ minds. It’s possible that they are also guided by scent, waves, taste, and visual cues to the beach of their birth.
I think that section 5 is where the main comparison between humans and animals shines through. Of course, it’s prevalent in the entire piece, but the quoted line above is strong in referring to this. I feel like with how humans are evolving, how the environment around us is changing and how everything in life is developing over the decades, we tend to forget that we are what we are: simply animals.
Although not like on the level of those animals we see in the wild, we still have the same traits we were given before all the evolution. We aim to survive. We communicate like the bats and the elephants. We have certain instincts. We have an animalistic side to us. In the highlighted quote, I find it interesting how the fact of sea turtles always being able to connect to their home is mentioned. We, as humans, always come back to home. No matter the circumstance, home always seems to mean something to us.
The wayward universe of the past is my new wilderness and it tugs relentlessly, this epic finding of a rightful place. It won’t let go.
To Pascual, the fact about sea turtles is a reference to how his essay is exactly that: a piece that addresses home and travels back to memories associated with it, although it was a version of home from years ago, although something now far away. It’s a natural feeling to be drawn to its clutches. A callback to what we are.
“Look,” he said, lifting a big wet rock. He showed me something underneath it — a gelatinous mass. He scraped it using his hand and asked me to look closer at the frog’s eggs. “Open your mouth,” he said, and I ate it, fresh and wild, straight from his glistening fingers to my hungry bird throat.
My online journal is not enough to express the wonder and to dissect the piece as a whole. There’s much to uncover, much to understand or misunderstand, and I think one read is certainly not enough.
One thing is for sure, though: this is a piece I cannot ever forget. A dreamlike presence with topics grounded to realities, Wilfredo Pascual’s Animalia is an outstanding piece under the genre — a piece that serves to be an unforgettable introduction and experience to many, including me.