During an afternoon walk for the old dog and my old joints, I stood on the hillside waiting for the dog to sniff and track the myriad scents that only she can detect. Down the hill, a raucous bird cried and continued its call as it flew up the hillside, closing in on my location. When it crested a rocky rise where I stood, it paused to take stock of me from high above, and I saw it was a woodpecker with a bright bandana-red topknot and well-delineated body in black and white.
Seeing that I could do him no harm, he resumed his ascent, pausing to inspect several trees in a zig-zag sequence, darting to and fro, up and back. Not finding the insect he sought, he flew higher and farther from me until I lost him in the trees. I continued to follow his song as he circled back to my level once again before disappearing into silence.
Seeing him up close, so near, so lovely put me in mind of The Big Year, a little-seen film but one I enjoyed immensely because I love birds, their delicate features, so slight, yet masters of all they survey. I love their variety and their music as well. The film put me in mind of barn swallows that built three nests each season on the front porch of our last home. I wondered if the new owners will be hostile to their company. I hope not.
I then thought again of The Big Year and what moves people. The character portrayed by Owen Wilson was an obsessive. Nothing else mattered to him except seeing the greatest number of bird species in a season. He lost loving wives to his passion and celebrated holidays by inviting the wait staff to join him at table.
Steve Martin’s and Jack Black’s characters, on the other hand, enjoyed a wider circle of friends and loves that deepen because their passion for the birds is but one component of a meaningful life. They know that loving and being loved is the true passion in life. They take nothing for granted--not the birds, not family, not love.
Writers too may be obsessive. They may be recluses and hermits who write one great novel, then struggle to re-enter the world or find a path to another great novel. They may also be men and women of passion who marry, raise children, and praise their grandchildren. The Internet is full of such blogs, full of fine people who are grateful for a forum as they watch, listen, sniff out stories, taste exotic locales, and feel the presence of others near and far.
Which sort of writer are you? The introspective recluse, the obsessive, or the one who lives, learns and then writes.
Read Annie Dillard’s The Writing Life. If you’re tempted not to read this one, consider these words from it:
“ . . . The impulse to keep to yourself what you have learned is not only shameful, it is destructive. Anything you do not give freely and abundantly becomes lost to you. You open your safe and find ashes.”
Dillard seems to say that writing could be considered an altruistic act, one as necessary to a full life as is breathing.
In as few words as reasonable for you, explain why you write.
GUM (Grammar, Usage and Mechanics):
Just a word about those apostrophes indicating possession. I used two correctly in the sentence above: Steve Martin’s and Jack Black’s characters, on the other hand, enjoy a wider circle of friends… .Each actor’s name needed an apostrophe plus S because the characters portrayed were two distinct characters.
On the other hand, if the item possessed is not distinct or unique to two or more people and things, then only one apostrophe plus S will suffice; e.g., Mother and Father’s after-dinner rules included age-appropriate clean-up chores for each of us.