Saturday, January 20, 2018

The thing with feathers

The term "bird watcher" seems to imply someone overdressed in khaki fatigues, wearing a floppy hat, with an enormous pair of binoculars drooping around his or her neck, a notepad in hand, in which she or he, in ecstasy, scribbles down the latest sighting of the yellow-bellied sapsucker. Profession: librarian or accountant. I mean, really, who would spend a day squinting up into trees for a possible furtive glimpse of a bird when they might be off mountain climbing, running rapids or just walking on the beach?
                                                                   
Scarlet Tanager

I would. When I lived in New York City, I loved the ten or so days when birds were migrating north (spring) and south (fall). You could go to Central Park and see up to thirty or even forty species of birds in a single daytwenty or so species of warblers alone. Birds, and most especially the songs of birds, make me feel optimistic. (Emily Dickinson used birds as a metaphor. The title of this post is hers.) These days, like all of us, I sorely need a strong dose of optimism.  At 72, even more so.  With birds, I get that.  When I was a boy growing up in in southeastern Virginia, I would wake up to the sweet cadences of the song sparrow. Take a second to give yourself a jolt of beauty by listening to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology's recording of that bird's song. (Click on the second recording for the prettiest melody.)                              

You can ask the question, why do birds sing? I'm sure there's an answer. But how do you answer the question, why do birds sing beautifully?
                                                                             
Prothonotary Warbler

I'm like any person who has ever watched a bird defy gravity. Not only that, but make a mockery of gravity, with sharp dips, pivots, swoops and dives.  It's no wonder that when in a dream you're flying, it always feels exhilarating and, in therapy, is always a positive sign.

For me, though, it's the hues of these birds that make me crane my neck, searching high in the branches, for hours. To see, even for a few seconds, the deep oceanic blue of an Indigo Bunting or the fierce black and yellow of a Magnolia Warblergo ahead, make my day. These photographs go some way to explaining the thrill, but you have to catch the glimpse in the wild, catch the appearance of the bird perched high in the treeso much color in so small a form!to get the full charge.

Sidebar:  Sometimes, there is an advantage in going to the dentist.  In the waiting room today, I found a copy of the new National Geographic.  In it, there is a elegiac, concerned essay by Jonathan Franzen, "Why Birds Matter."  I urge you to read it. I actually think he answers the question, in prose that soars like the creatures he describes.  
                                                                               
Indigo Bunting
                                                                             
Magnolia Warbler

I live in New Orleans now.  When I talk to people about Hurricane Katrina, time and time again I hear the same thing, "It was so quiet after the storm. You didn't hear a single bird singing." How, then, could you feel even the slightest bit of optimism? I can't imagine.  Because, in Emily Dickinson's words, the thing with feathers ishope.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

My insane Iran connection

I received an e-mail via my website today.  It was from Iran.  Here is the first line:

"It's so hard to find the best opening sentence when someone wants to write a letter for a great writer."

They think I'm a great writer in Iran!  Well, someone thinks I'm a great writer in Iran!  Unbelievable.  I've never had an Iranian fan, as far as I know.  I wonder how they got my books?  Or what book of mine they read?  I settled back, ready for Persian adulation.  The e-mail continued:

"It's a long time I'm trying to buy or a book of yours ; "how to hide your insanity", i live in Iran and my country is banned by the laws of US government. I can't buy it from amazon or anywhere else or even download it from some ebook websites can you help me by that? from your loyal fan Saj"

For just the briefest second, I thought: Did I write How to Hide Your Insanity?  The thing is, I want to hide my insanity.  I need to hide my insanity.  If I didn't write that book, I should have.  Thinking carefully, though, I realized I probably hadn't written it.  I'm pretty sure, anyway.  Great title, by the way.

So what Richard Goodman did write this book?  And how could I order it?

Google turned up the book on Goodreads, but the author is Richard Goodmoon.  Not me, Richard Goodman.  It's not listed on amazon. You can't buy it anywhere.  A little more poking around, and I conclude that it seems to be a fake book--i.e., ha ha.  There appears to be no person named Richard Goodmoon, either.  At least neither Google nor facebook brings up anything.  But some people really want the book!

On Reddit, somehow they link Goodmoon to me (why?) and to my website, and so I figure this is how Saj found me.

Sorry, Saj!

Then I started thinking about Saj.  (Is Saj a male name? Female?  No idea.)  I wonder if Saj is being observed writing to me, somehow.  Will this mean consequences?  I hope not.  Then I thought, how in heaven's name did Saj find the fake book, How to Hide Your Insanity?  Did Saj do a search for books that help you conceal your insanity?  Is Saj insane? 

Or, like me, does he/she just feel that way a lot of the time, especially these days? 

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Thread count

I got an e-mail from a friend telling me about an emerging literary dust-up.  Seems a writer just published a short story in The New Yorker that some people are calling out as being a ripoff of a story by Mavis Gallant.  The writer Francine Prose is probably the most vocal of those in the hue-and-cry camp.

Prose writes, "I find it painful that Mavis Gallant is now so unread that one can claim to have written what's essentially her story and publish it in The New Yorker (where in fact her story first appeared) and it’s okay...It's just wrong."

Prose then goes on to enumerate on her facebook page, with examples, the ways in which the writer, Sadia Shepard, "borrowed" from the Gallant story.

But what really is the most important aspect of this story is the enormous, multi-headed thread Prose has going for her on her page about this.  I did a rough measurement, and it's at least fifteen feet long.  I'm sure I missed some of it, too, passing by a few "more replies" without clicking on them.

I'm so jealous.  I would do anything to have a thread like that.  A thread that went on and on, with all sorts of angry rebuttals and hearty affirmations and sidetrackings and bitter renunciations.  The importance of this person and what they have to say cannot be denied with a thread like that.

Where is my long thread?  Where are my bitter renunciations?

I have none.  Not one soilitary bitter renunciation.  Not to mention my threads in general are threadbare.  They can hardly be called threads.  Maybe threadettes would be more accurate.  Or quasi-threads.  

I want a bigger thread.  I know.  I know.  I can hear you: "Well, say something interesting or provocative.  Then your thread will improve."

That's why I'm seeking your help.  Can anyone provide me with something I can post on facebook that will get me into the big leagues of threads?  I don't mean anything sensational just for the purpose of being sensational.  Sure, I could post something like that.  But that would be cheating.

Is it too much to ask that before I die that I get just one awe-inspiring, jealousy-provoking thread that goes on and on and on as far as the eye can see?

I don't think so.