Dearest, Birdiest Readers! In non-birdy news, I will regale you with an essay I wrote called The Chestnut Roast, which has just gone live over at The Toast — a fabulous, quirky, hilarious, slightly subversive online hub of greatness. The action takes place a mere two years before the narrator (aka:yours truly) discovers Birds and she is, admittedly, in a bit of a sorry state. Aren’t you happy she found birding (or birding found her)? Otherwise, it might have been a life of chestnut chasing… And if you like what you read, please do share!
Beloved birders! This changing of the seasons is a bit emotional for me. You see, I get so invested in Spring and then poof, it’s gone. Perhaps not quite that suddenly, but it really does feel altogether too quick, these 31 days of May. A quick recap of the season, which has been my most productive yet. (Although, I should note that right when I thought my birdsong recognition was improving, I had an embarrassing moment wherein I confused the Cardinal’s song for the Ovenbird’s. And of course I still think that everybody is singing “drink your tea”, not just the Eastern Towhee… more on mnemonics later… and I seem to hear “whitchety whichety whichety” even when the bird is saying something else altogether. Humbling, as always.)
This season yielded 29 warblers and, perhaps even more notably, a warbler dream! On Friday night, I dreamt I was teaching my husband how to distinguish the Blue winged warbler song from the Golden-winged warbler’s: bee-buzz vs. (a trilled) brrrr bzz bzz bzz! And I got the song right in my dream. I don’t remember my husband’s reaction to such technical bird-talk, but I woke up completely startled by my birdy prowess. This hobby that I thought would be so temporary is now weaving its way into my subconscious! This elevates Spring Migration to a whole new order of magnitude.
The highlights? A Hooded warbler peeking out of the foliage in Backus Woods (Long Point area), a Canada Warbler (misidentified as a Hooded by yours truly, but such is life) fluttering about in Rondeau, an Indigo Bunting singing his heart out at eye level at Carden Alvar, a Cerulean warbler frenetically jumping from branch to branch at eye level (Long Point), a Scarlet Tanager adorning a tree — almost like a Christmas ornament, a Prairie warbler demonstrating the full range of his crescendo on the ascent of his staccato song at Carden Alvar, Black-throated blue warblers showing off the elegance of their inimitable metallic blue coloring, Black-throated green warblers greeting me unexpectedly, countless American Redstarts — decked out in Halloween colors, and, the piece de resistance, a Yellow-headed Blackbird screeching his cacophonous song at daybreak.
We ended the season yesterday with a Mourning warbler sighting, which brought me to a grand total of 29 warbler species for the month of May. Of those, I managed to learn four songs. But it’s better than last spring, when I managed to learn one (!) song! It doesn’t come easy, this birding business, but it delights me more than I ever imagined.
So you might be wondering, dear birdy readers, what it is that I do in those hours when I’m not misidentifying birds or suffering from warbler neck. In my other life, when I’m not lecturing to later life learners, or teach writing to exuberant teenagers or massacring a Beethoven piano sonata, I’m writing. And this post is dedicated to just that.
Thanks to the brilliant Maria Meindl for inviting me to join on this literary blog tour. Next week I will pass the torch to two wonderful writers, Heidi Reimer and Rebecca Rosenblum. Heidi writes both fiction and creative nonfiction and her brilliant essay about becoming a mother was most recently featured in The M Word. Rebecca has published two fantastic short story collections (Once and The Big Dream, which has one of my all-time favorite stories, Loneliness). Tune in next week to read their answers to the following four questions.
What am I working on?
Currently, I have a few things on the go. I’m usually not a multi-tasker, so this is new for me, but it seems to be working (thanks to generous support from the Toronto Arts Council, Ontario Arts Council and Access Copyright). I am tinkering with a memoir, Geographical Error, about my failed attempts at finding love and a home in mid-Missouri. I’m also working on a nonfiction project about how I unintentionally became a (somewhat crazed) birder. Another nonfiction project is all about how learning Yiddish is helping me unravel my family history.
How does my work different from others’ in this genre?
I write somewhere at the crossroads where fiction and reality meet. Happily, there’s a name for this world my writing inhabit, and it’s called creative nonfiction, but I hesitate to put a label on what I’m doing. I strive to bring a world to life, to fuel it with energy. I have great admiration for Gary Shteyngart – especially his memoir, Little Failure. In particular, I love how he pays homage to a tradition of humorists who have the power to make you laugh and cry in the same sentence. I like to think that my writing highlights the absurdities of life, the ridiculous inconsistencies, and also the accompanying pain. Most often, I write out of admiration, out of a love of literature; most of all, I want my words to add to a conversation with writers whose language I cannot fathom living without: Chekhov (always Chekhov), Tolstoy, Babel, Franzen, Munro, Proust, Lahiri, Robinson.
Why do I write what I do?
I write because I’m addicted to making sense of the world around me. There’s nothing stranger and more fascinating to me than what I see and hear on a daily basis, whether it be family stories, overheard conversations, absurd interactions with my movers, what have you. I write to hoard and embalm the present moment. Yes, I’m a hoarder at heart.
How does my writing process work?
I wake up. I walk. I pour a cup of coffee. I settle into my office chair, turn on the computer, activate Freedom (it keeps me off the internet for large chunks of time; yes, I paid for this program; yes, I have an internet problem; no, I cannot write with any sort of online temptation; no, I’m not working through this issue at the moment, I’m just living with it), and attack the blank page. I hit the delete key a lot. There’s a notebook next to me. I write in it when things stall (often). Sometimes I take a hot shower. I read Marilynne Robinson and Anton Chekhov. Over and over, for the wisdom, the deceptive simplicity, the rhythm. I turn back to my computer screen, armed for another benevolent attack, desperate to figure out where my story is headed. I stare out the window (a lot). Eventually words accumulate. It’s humbling, and tortuous, and brutal and exhilarating (usually after the fact, rarely during).