We recently published Hannah Cajandig-Taylor’s otherworldly “When We Left Earth, the Whales Came With Us.”
Here, we ask her two questions about her story:
1) What really drew me to this piece was the imagery here — these whales in aquariums being tugged through space as children adore them from rocket ship classrooms, as they hold on to the things they have left behind. Why did you choose whales specifically for this lovely story, these lovely images? Did you ever consider, say, elephants instead?
The pieces of this story were actually born during a coffee shop writing session with my good friend and previous MCR contributor R. A. Matteson, and while giving elements or constraints, one of the concepts to work with was the word “whales”. Because of my undying love for outer space, I just kept thinking about what would happen to these massive aquatic mammals if humans abandoned earth in favor of galactic exploration. It seems like the world is on fire, but we just keep talking about leaving it instead of trying to fix things. I couldn’t stand to leave the whales behind on paper, so I figured why not chuck them into massive tanks and take them too? Though I was concerned about the laws of physics while writing this, it became clear to me that this piece was not specifically about the scientific impact, but more about the idea of transplanting life and attempting to understand a species that feels so distant to us as humans. I’m really drawn to whales in general, and have been on quite the whale kick since writing this, actually. There’s something so intriguing and lovely about these (mostly) gentle giants that roam the waters of our planet.
2) I love that the children write a song in honor of the whales, and that it is so long, some of the verses have to be cut, “for concision’s sake.” What is in those excised verses, do you suppose?
Funny enough, I’d actually written out a few more lines or verses for the whale song that ultimately didn’t make it into the story. One of those excised fragments talked about sperm whales, but I just couldn’t imagine children not giggling over sperm whales, so I ended up obsessively researching classifications of whales, both still alive and extinct, before deciding which lyrics would slip themselves into the narrative. I like to think that some of the unwritten verses featured narwhals. I’ve got a soft spot for narwhals. I imagine there could also be mention of other whale species with “clunky names” or such little cultural acknowledgement that they’ve simply faded into the background of history. I mean, at the end of the day, there are likely thousands of animal species and genera that humans have never encountered or classified, and that idea fascinates me because it makes me think about the creatures we HAVE taken record of and eventually lost over the course of time due to an attempt at simplifying things.