Introduction: (Pier 9 AiR) How to Make Friends and Skin Things (an Instructable in Two Parts) (Part 1: Making Friends)
(if you are like, whatever this, I don't need any friends, take me to the dead things, head over to instructable 2.)
This instructable is suitable for both beginners and advanced friends. I should mention that I am an experienced friend: I have friends in many lands, small, big, old, young, black ,white, gay, straight, near, far, homo sapien and furry and four legged. i keep the good ones: some have been in my life for up to 22 years. That said, I tend to prefer not too many at once because I like to do all things well and too many would be overwhelming. I have found friends based on many of my interests and the tactics here are to the best of my knowledge are relatively easy and not dangerous.
Step 1: Have (what Some Might See As) Questionable Interests.
So. To begin with, I am a person with strange leanings, or so I've occasionally been given to believe, when I tell those around me how much I love to look at human (and animal) innards. My friends smile kindly; most of them do not share this interest, but they know me to be a relatively kind and harmless person and therefore beyond suspicion. Do I like looking at innards? Yes. Is there any threat I would ask them to provide their own for my amusement? No.
Perhaps it's the circles I find myself in, but with acquaintances and strangers the reaction is sometimes different. They look at me, look at each other, silently evaluate my tale about the time i held a human eyeball in my hand and my love of human vasculature. Is she kidding, they think. Is this a euphemism? And if so, by gum, for WHAT?!
So when I moved to Berlin five years ago and needed to start from scratch on the friends front, I started finding friends with the easy stuff. You know, biking, street art, drawing, DIY. These are pretty fail-safe in this city. (This to point out, aspiring friend seekers, if you have a my little pony fetish or penchant for bottle cap indexing, you may have to do a bit more preliminary research before you find your people. Or start simple. Look around you for the going trends, pick one that appeals, and follow the trail of interested people.)
In January of this year I left Berlin for a four month residency at Pier 9 in San Francisco (a place I'd never been and knew only one person) and I thought on this lack of morbid companions, assuaging myself with the thought that I would be meeting people who share my other interests: computers, art, food, MAKING STUFF. There was plenty of time to find a community with those interests later.
So. Imagine my glee when a month or so in, someone sent an email around mentioning taxidermy and there was immediately a flurry of excited replies. Mentions of mice with duck feet, the work of Spencer Black, sourcing roadkill...It's true I thought. Pier 9 Is indeed a place where anything is possible.
When the flurry of mails died down, i thought and thought. (Not unusual for me) Was it a joke? A passing fancy? And either way, don't I have enough to do, juggling the four thousand projects I was determined to finish and an unwieldy brain threatening to thwart me every step of the way?
I'm not an events organizer. The only kind of organizing I do effectively is the books in my book nook. But the door had been opened; it was time to step through. An opportunity to taxidermize (sic) and make morbid friends, just waiting to be snapped up.
And so, amidst tolerant chuckles from my fellow AiRs (who were just as surprised and possibly worried at the enthusiasm that surfaced) I started up the email flurry again, suggesting we all meet. An EVENT. To make friends and skin things. And this, world, is what this Instructable is about.
Step 2: STEP 1 - Assume Nothing. Like-minded People Are Hiding Everywhere.
The first person to come on board (a new friend!) was Jennifery Berry, beekeeper/artist extraordinaire, who has been skinning animals for some time and has a freezer full of roadkill. I've never encountered this before, I thought. Should I be worried? Good behaviour was definitely a must if I was not to end up gracing the freezer myself.
Then I found out that she does research into patterns of roadkill in the Bay area by collecting and recording how/where they died, and then reports this information to urban planners to lessen the sometimes fatal impact of our human development on the wildlife population of the Bay area. (Yes, people, this is a job. Someone somewhere finally realized we are wreaking havoc on the natural world and it must be confronted with open eyes (and doubled up plastic bag).)
Jen promptly came on board, offering her skinning expertise for the gathering, and the dearly departed goodies stored in her freezer as specimens. This cannot be, I thought. America is in fact the promised land, as my occasional forays into television had inferred. Glee! People, even when I did my Masters degree in medical art, I had not seen such excitement about the prospect of seeing the insides of (once) living things.
I'm not talking about the gleam in your average Dexter fan's eye, I'm talking about the excitement of being able to see a bit more of these soft machines of ours, these pudgy little miracles we walk around in daily, hearing barely a whir or a click (okay, perhaps the occasional burp) as they go about the business of keeping us alive.
(It still surprises me that we get so excited about cogs and pulleys and electronics and mechanics but come to the very stuff that all of that is based on and many of us immediately get queasy and would rather change the subject.)
So. Together we made a list, reserved the studio space for the event, and bought supplies.
Step 3: Do NOT Expect Your New Friend/s to Do All the Work.
Some small cautionary asides in your friend finding mission.
First: There is nothing more unappealing than conversing with a wet noodle. (and there are people I've met in my time that would make chatting with wet pasta the more appealing option) Assume that your new friends share your interests (or at the very least thinks they are not dumb) or s/he would not have come forth to chat with you, and S/he WOULD NOT BE HERE STICKING THEIR HANDS INTO A DEFROSTED CARCASS only for your benefit.
People, CONVERSATION IS A PARTICIPATORY ACTIVITY. Save your mute fascination/revulsion for late night TV.
Step 4: Be Responsible.
Second: When they offer to help you with your event, do NOT think aha! I have a helper, and then go off and drink a self-congratulatory whiskey and leave them to procure the plastic sheeting and the borax. Jen and I had a short conversation, and since I could provide little more than enthusiasm for the event, I procured most supplies and she contributed the 'expert' stuff (scalpels, salt, instruction, dead roadkill from her freezer)
Respect, accountability and thick skin are important aspects to making friends. Arrive when you say you will, do what you say you will, and if something gets in the way of that, own it.
And should things not work out for some reason or another, perhaps you are not meant to be friends. Don't despair, there are plenty more out there, dear readers, thick skin does not refer to your specimen. (we'll get to that in the next Instructable.)
Step 5: Friends Are Lurking Everywhere: Related Events, Invitations to Strangers, Conquering Doubt (by Not Thinking About It!)
A few weeks later, through a fortuitous notice from a near stranger (Facebook, where I hear there are friends aplenty) I was informed of a public dissection complete with DJ happening on a Friday night a few weeks hence. Amazing. Well, I heard that it was but didn't get there myself for reasons that are ridiculous. However, I thought, perhaps the person responsible for this event might like to join us?
I went to Stephanie's website. The credo at Body Appropriate (the website/museum) in question) is the idea of reinvesting the deceased with respect through lifting the taboo often involved with examining innards. I heard rumours that she was helping in the gradual dissection of a 50 tonne sperm whale washed up onto the shore of Pacifica... Cease and desist the dominion of doctors being the only ones who get to see all that stuff, we want in.(literally.)
I sent her a somewhat timorous email, asking if she wanted to join. YES! she responded, and promptly invited me to lunch. Brazen, I thought. Fantastic! We went for sushi and discussed the very things that I reserve for London morbidity over G and T's with Lucy Lyons and Lisa Temple Cox. Dissection, medical art, corneal replacements. People, finding new friends with other-than-average tastes is that easy. Who knew.
Step 6: Making Friends Is a Family Friendly Activity: Bring the Kids!
Which brings us to the day of the workshop.
We ended up being a group of 5 1/2 (again, many people will express interest but expect fewer to come. This is more often than not what happens: Life gets in the way, even for those with best intentions).
Where was I, yes, 5 1/2 participants because Christy, one of the other participants brought her daughter. Christy's work preceded her, a little preparation for the event landed me at this Instructable. As she skinned a fawn, she talked her daughter a bit through the process.
So. Those of you who are out there, worried, reticent about your interests: What if you are wrong. What if people will not call the authorities when you mention your interest in dead things, but instead talk of squirrel testicles and roadside accidents openly, in a non-taboo fashion? It is, after all, part of the stuff of life. And kids can also be raised to look at the insides of things and not just the outsides, to not be afraid, but to understand that the reason for skinning animals is to free them from their no longer functioning bodies and potentially to bring them back to life as it were.
Step 7: Opportunity Abounds: There Are More Friends Where That Came From!
Important to mention of course is that sometimes your events will keep you so busy that you might meet people but not get to talk much with them (another task relevant to making friends) Rachel was one of our workshop participants, but we didn't interact much and I know little of her activities outside the workshop. DON'T DESPAIR IF THIS HAPPENS PEOPLE. This does not mean you are not friends material, it means you need to keep at it. People, even if you don't leave your event with a new bosom buddy, being around others with similar interests is an incredibly edifying experience.
Also, make use of unexpected visits from new people (both for your event and for friend-making). Pier 9 is the land where shop staff occasionally come in over the weekend to work on their own projects and allow us to work on ours, Martin, one of the shop staff, whose primary interests do not necessarily involve skinning animals, sat and chatted with us over the course of the day, revealing ever new chapters of his previous lives involving corporate customer complaints problem solver and bow hunting (possibly the same chapter), as well as acting as photo-documentary person for this Instructable. Somebody pinch me.
And that was that. Dear readers, it was a successful day of making new friends. Easy as that.
Heed this lesson, friend-seekers of the world: there are other people out there who see strange things (in this case death and dead animals) as, well, a chance to appreciate life and share it with other people, as something that is perhaps not really as taboo as we are all led to believe. This can apply to your interests, however unique they may be.
Making friends is a task for which you have to set your inner judge aside, walk out the door, and just see what's out there.
We will now progress to part 2, the actual skinning process.
(PS. Did you notice it was all women doing the skinning? Yup, so did we. Strange, huh.)