Jill Bolte Taylor's Stroke of Insight

Loading...

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Raised by Wolves

People will say they are a fan of this or that writer, as in "I'm a real fan of Barbara Kingsolver, she's the queen of emotive prose." Or, "Wow, have you read Jack Kerouac's On The Road? Man, I'm a big fan of his work!" And what they mean is that they really like and admire these writers, which is a good thing; liking and admiring a variety of writers means that one is probably a well-read and balanced individual.

As a child, I was a fan of Jack London. "Fan," as in, "fanatic." Merriam-Webster defines fanaticism as "obsessive enthusiasm." Wikipedia goes a little farther in stating that "behavior of a fanatic will be viewed as violating prevailing social norms." Obsession, anyone? I don't know how old I was when I read my first Jack London story, but I suspect it was around seven or eight because that's when I gave up walking in favor of slinking around on all fours, like a wolf. I was not, at this point in my life, a well-read and balanced individual. I was White Fang. I was Buck on a quest for the Wild. I fantasized that I wasn't my mother's daughter but some kind of wolf/human hybrid that had been found as an infant in a wolf's den. I was always trying to get back there. Fortunately for me, I lived in Alaska; even luckier, I had nothing but time after school to go running through the woods for hours with my dog, howling back at the wolves who lived out there, climbing trees and digging holes like Sasquatch. Other kids were playing kickball in the street, learning social skills and making out. I would interact with them on occasion, but it was usually from halfway up a spruce tree, practicing my wild-animal sounds.

Looking back, I lucked out again that these were the days before Ritalin and child psychologists. My mother put up with my being a werewolf every Halloween for several years running, and she was so busy working and being a single mom that my after-school transformations into a wild animal just slipped under the radar. In school I was reasonably well-behaved, like a bad dog that nonetheless knows where its meal ticket comes from. I dutifully read what I was assigned. Gradually I was exposed to other writers, and though I still obsessively read and re-read every Jack London novel I could get ahold of, other influences began to seep in. I took in a few stories here and there that didn't have anything to do with wolves--that included human interactions and warm, funny, age-appropriate entertainment. In this way I managed to rehabilitate from being raised by wolves: I learned to eat with utensils instead of from a bowl on the floor. I learned to walk on my hind legs. I began to utilize human speech. I began to spend more time with the kids on the street (though I still brought my dog with me everywhere). By the time I hit high school, I was almost normal enough to kiss a boy, which I finally accomplished at sixteen, without trying to bite him.

These days, at thirty-something, I'm more at ease in my human skin. I don't fancy myself a civilized wolf anymore, but I like to think my wild-child past has given me a sense of territory, a feeling of ownership about my boundaries in the world. No matter where I travel--India, Europe, Louisiana, Colorado--I'm at home. How did I get that from running wild in the woods, howling and scrapping around with my dog? I'm no psychologist but I'm pretty sure it came from doing my own thing and having the luxury of growing through that phase a little at a time, instead of being yanked out of it with drugs, therapy or (no matter how appropriate it may have seemed) a straitjacket. Of course, I haven't read any Jack London books in ages. Maybe it's time to see what happens when I break out a copy of The Call Of The Wild.