Projection: A Love Story

Every Thanksgiving, we spend a few days at our favorite spa in Calistoga. And every year, as we bask in the warm mineral pools beneath a chilly, starry sky, we enter anew a discussion of snow monkeys, a.k.a. Japanese Macaques.

These heart-breakingly adorable primates live in frigid climates and, to warm themselves, spend the lion’s portion of their days soaking in mineral baths. Of course, dudes have to eat. And there’s no food in them there pools. So survival requires that the super-relaxo monkeys exit the steamy soak-zone, dripping wet, to search for food. In the snow.

In one nature documentary I saw, the narrator ventured that snow monkeys must be “miserably cold” as they leave the water. To illustrate the point, the film cut to a shot of a big, hairy, senior monkey, hanging his head and shivering as he gathered himself on the rocks.

Every time John and I have to pull ourselves from a mineral pool in Calistoga, venturing a treacherous ten yards or so to a still warmer pool, I think of that monkey.

M: Wouldn’t it be better if they just never went in the pools? Because God, getting out. They must be in so much pain.

J: No, they’re not in pain. They’re really warm!

M: No, they’re not! They’re freezing!

J: They’re so not! They’re really warm and cozy!

M: But the documentary said—

J: But that was speculation! After I get out of the hot tub, it takes me hours to cool down.

M: Yeah, well I’m freezing, immediately. And the snow monkeys aren’t in Northern California. They’re in snow.

And so it goes. Every year.

This, we have noticed, is a global tendency. When I see an animal or an object that can’t express its feelings in English, I imagine that it’s suffering. John imagines that it’s doing great. Not merely fine—great.

Fast-forward to a few days ago. John was frying some Tofurky sausage in a skillet, and he had turned his attention away from the stove. I could see that the oil was getting hot enough to burn and the sausages badly needed to be turned.

M: Ow! Ow! Your sausages are in pain!

J: No, they’re not. They’re really happy and warm.

M: Pain! Pain! Pain! Turn me over! Turn me over!

J: Whee! Whee! Whee! I feel so good! And a gentle roll will make me feel even better!

Eventually I had to put my hands over my ears and start humming. Because merely by joining me in endowing the tofu with feelings, John had succeeded in reifying my sense that it was suffering.


One month until we return to snow monkeys!

2 Responses to “Projection: A Love Story”

  1. […] Remember the snow monkeys? […]

  2. […] referred previously to ways in which my projection of suffering onto animals has gotten me into trouble, particularly […]

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