For as long as I can remember, I’ve had pets. That’s probably because my mom got our first dog, Dixie, about a year before I was born. She was my best friend for 13 years. We slept together, ate together, played together—and while we may not have cried together, she was always there to lend a sympathetic ear for the small price of a butt-scratch.
Over the years we practically had a menagerie on our nine acres of countryside in Lawrence, Kansas, including dogs, cats, lizards, fish, birds, hamsters, mice, rats, a tarantula, and at one point I may have snuck a ball python into my bedroom.
While it might be obvious that animals have had a huge impact in my life, I really didn’t register their influence on my coursework until I had a meeting with Dr. Katy Karlin last spring. “I notice all of your stories involve animals. Why is that?” she asked. “No they don’t,” I replied, flabbergasted. But suddenly I realized it was true. Even some of the fiction I wrote in previous semesters and my non-fiction in undergrad at Fort Hays State University revolved around animals—namely pets. Animals have steeped into nearly everything I’ve written during my college career. Animals were even a huge part of my sculpture minor, as most of my pieces were created from animal skulls and bones. My living room art wall is peppered in taxidermy (bat spreads, beetles, skulls, wet-preserved fetal specimens), and my spare room is a craft room littered with taxidermied bats, bones, skulls, minerals, and dried plants for building bottled displays I sell at craft shows back in Lawrence once or twice a year.
I admit, I feel pretty silly that it took a year in graduate school to realize nature has and will always be a part of almost everything I do. However, with that realization, my master’s project became clear. My project will contain a collection of short fiction and flash fiction, exploring aspects of human-animal relationships, specifically from viewpoints of stereotypically less-desirable animals, such as sharks and crocodiles (both were animals I was completely obsessed with growing up).
In my research, I discovered some mind-blowing eco-criticism regarding colonialization and humans’ insatiable need for domination—be it over indigenous peoples or nature itself, as seems to be the case in much of animal-horror. Take a recent film: The Meg. Scientists are elated to make the discovery of a lifetime: megalodons have been living in one of the deepest realms of the ocean for millennia. But that excitement turns to fear when the sharks escape the depths and become the new apex predator (a category humans notoriously hate being one-upped in—remember Jurassic Park?). Drawing on some theory on crocodiles and territoriality by Australasian cinema critic Catherine Simpson, it is clear that once an animal has killed and/or consumed humans, it must “pay for [its] sins.” This is echoed in The Meg, when the lead biologist, Dr. Zhang laments, “We [do] what people always do: Discover, then destroy.”
Ultimately, my aim is to create stories that will subvert the obsessive pattern of human dominance by utilizing fiction to explore alternate perspectives (i.e., from the “monster’s” perspective) and also contribute to the eco-critical niche of literature by showing that while animals are (and should be) a valuable part of our lives, that they should be valued for much more than entertainment or profit.
— Kat Goetting (M.A. ’19)