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Thursday, May 24, 2012

What Chickens Taught Me About Writing

We writers worry if writing is too hard. After pounding our heads against the same obdurate wall for too long, it’s natural to think that maybe we’re taking the wrong tack – maybe instead of pounding, if we felt along that same wall eighteen inches to the right, we’d find a handy latch to an unlocked door. Or maybe we’re working on the wrong thing altogether: maybe this story, or poem, or essay doesn’t want to be written. Or not written by us, anyway. If it doesn’t come natural, maybe we shouldn’t do it.

But we’re also worried if writing is too easy. If the words flow out like un-stoppered dishwater, then maybe dishwater’s what they are: filmy, tepid, thoroughly-used.

So is writing supposed to be easy or hard? When should we be concerned and when cocksure?

A couple of days ago, I opened the pop-door of my coop to check for eggs, and saw my chicken Sorche in the act of laying an egg, not as rare a sight as beholding the Eastern Gossamer emerge from her cocoon, but unusual enough to take a careful visual inventory when it happens. There was no mistaking what she was up to. She was not lying down as you might expect, but half-standing, knees bent at 40-degree angles. (You must recall that chicken knees bend backward to ours, for an accurate image of this.) Her breathing was calm, her beak set in a resolute frown, her eye – normally as expressive as an average collar button – wore a look of determination mixed with pensive reflection, an expression that I can only describe – and now as I’m about to write it, the word becomes obvious – as brooding.

Chickens do not rank high among nature’s nobility. When speaking of the avian kingdom’s glory and wonder, chickens do not spring readily to mind. They are not bright. They are poor flyers. Their plumage could not be called magnificent, or even gaudy. Seeing chickens trot across the yard for leftover grits will bring a laugh to the lips of even the most careworn. But at that moment, Sorche had dignity; I do not lie or jest, there was a solemnity to the moment to which I was an uninvited witness. I closed the pop-door at once, and waited until she emerged a few minutes later, worthily tired and a few ounces lighter; then I reached back in and extracted the still-warm egg from where she’d left it in the straw.

Here is the thing I keep returning to – how humbly yet seriously she went about this daily chore. Granted, Rhode Island Reds are bred to do exactly this, and I know she doesn’t choose to lay eggs, but still – ! She goes through the miracle of childbirth every day, and she neither complains, nor brags, nor frets if she’s doing it right.

And this is what Sorche has taught me about writing – it isn’t much, but how much wisdom can you expect from a chicken? It’s hard to articulate, but it has something to do with patience and humility. So I’m going back to work now; I’ll close the pop-door of my office, grit my beak, and brace myself against the impact of the muse, and I won’t leave until something comes out of me. And I’ll try to learn what every chicken already knows: just because it comes natural doesn’t mean it comes easy.

1 comment:

  1. What a great metaphor for writing, beloved brother. Bravo!