Writing (and Living) in the Midst of Fear

From Writer Unboxed:

In Seattle, June is the cruelest month. Terrifying. Violent, too. A month where people rarely leave their homes, and if they must, they hurry from house to car, exhaling only once safely inside, windows rolled up, doors locked. In June, schools forgive truancy. Non-urgent appointments–dental check-ups, meetings with financial planners, eyebrow shaping–pretty much anything other than trips to the ER–are put off until mid-July.

Have you seen Hitchcock’s film, The Birds? Hitchcock himself claimed, “It could be the most terrifying motion picture I have ever made.”

I bet Hitchcock was inspired by Seattle in June.

Because of Poe’s quothing ravens, I’ve always found crows a bit sinister, but in general, I had no beef with any corvids, not really, until June 2013. While walking to get my daughter at school, a crow–out of nowhere–slapped me across the back of the head with a rolled-up magazine. At least, that’s what it felt like.

The June 2015 NPR story, “They Will Strafe You,” taught me these attacks are common. I was simply in the wrong place (near the crow’s fledglings) at the wrong time (June, fledgling season). This particular crow, undoubtedly sleep deprived and struggling with postpartum depression, deemed me a threat. Thus, she grabbed her June 2013 issue of The New Yorker, or perhaps The Economist, or maybe it was The New Republic, and whacked my head.

I began to fear another strafing.

“No eye contact, people!” I’d yell at my children, my husband, my dog, whenever I saw a crow. “You make eye contact, and THEY WILL STRAFE YOU!”  

The whole world was starting to feel unsafe, and not just in June. Year-round, I felt the beady eyes of crows upon me.

. . . .

At the end of May, bunion surgery left me horizontal with my sad, swollen foot in the air. For weeks, I crutched only between the TV room sofa and my Room of Convalescence. Back and forth, forth and back.

Then May became June.

June!

Bedridden and homebound, I could not escape their terrible cawing, could not ignore the murderous shadows that darkened my windows. Twenty-three days post-op, loopy with a weird mix of boredom and fatigue, tired of my POW status, I raised my fist at the crow-laden spruce in my yard.

“Nevermore!” I shouted. “NEVERMORE!”

After Googling “what do crows eat,” (the answer: “pretty much anything”) I crutched to the kitchen and found a box of stale, generic-brand Wheat Thins. I then crutched awkwardly–it’s difficult to crutch while holding a box of anything–to the sliding glass doors that leads to our backyard. I opened the doors six inches, set my crutches on the floor, sat myself beside my crutches, then frisbee’d a fistful of crackers outside.

And I waited.

Needless to say, by the end of the week, I had a handful of brainy crow-pals, all of whom I christened “Carroll,” a gender-neutral name that ensured I wouldn’t wrongly assume their preferred pronouns. Their crownouns.

Extending the olive branch of generic Wheat Thins, inviting my worst fear into our yard, having the opportunity to applaud the Carrolls for the way they neatly stacked crackers, four at a time, then transported their repast with Henry Ford-like efficiency to their roost, all that made me a little less fearful. Not fear-free, just less fear-full.

Except my husband was uncomfortable. My children, confused. My BFF, Erica, feared I had finally lost my mind. My funny friend, Robin, dropped off a little crow finger puppet.

Worse, there was exponentially more crow crap in our backyard. And things had gone missing: twine that held my husband’s raspberry bushes against the fence, a few of his melon seedlings, the pack of tiny-handed raccoons who sauntered, arrogant and badass, through our yard pretty much whenever they felt like it.

Would my dog be next?

Recently, I think a lot about fear. How, like a contagion, fear infects our hearts and brains, our relationships and communities. Even when there’s good reason to feel scared, fear tempts us to retreat, isolate, blame, hoard. Our hearts become hard, stingy. Our worlds become small. 

But thank goodness for writers! Writers invent stories that connect strangers and expand hearts, stories that make readers’ worlds bigger. Writers arrange words into images that remind people of the beauty that remains, even amid today’s difficult news. Stories, even scary ones, make us feel not so alone, not so disconnected, not so fear-filled. 

On June 1st, after spending ten years writing, and another ten years of rejection and revision, my loyal agent and I found a home for my first novel. 

I am thrilled.

Also, I am TERRIFIED. 

Link to the rest at Writer Unboxed

While not pretending to be a professional Crowologist, PG did have substantial interactions with crows during his youth.

If you would prefer that crows not hang around where you are, a twelve-gauge shotgun is a reliable preventative measure. Crows are very intelligent (for a bird) and, after only a couple of shotgun blasts followed by a cloud of black feathers drifting in the breeze, they’ll fly over to the neighboring farm for their meals instead of coming to yours.

PG is aware that shotguns are not a status symbol in San Francisco unless they’re in the hands of people with uniforms and badges who are not Girl Scouts or Boy Scouts.

PG doesn’t know whether drones are legal in San Francisco, but he speculates that if the author of the OP bought a drone and used it in an aggressive manner to attack the crows, that might do the trick.

If not, the author of the OP could hang a shotgun on the drone and fly it over the backyard to see if the crows have any genetic memory of of twelve-gauge blasts.

Even if you have a uniform and a badge, PG advises one and all to not to attempt to fire a shotgun that is dangling from a drone.

Unless you live in Ukraine and the drone is over a bunch of Russian soldiers.

7 thoughts on “Writing (and Living) in the Midst of Fear”

  1. On June 1st, after spending ten years writing, and another ten years of rejection and revision, my loyal agent and I found a home for my first novel.

    (emphasis mine)

    • Ten years to write is understandable: not everybody is a pulp speed writer and first books are often a labor of love.
      Ten years to market suggests a lack of understanding of modern publishing. They need to do their homework.

  2. Corvids in general, and crows in particular, are noted for long memories, good facial recognition and holding a grudge. I am careful not to offend the crows and jackdaws who visit my garden and so far relations have been friendly in a “we’ll ignore you but eat the bird feed you provide” sort of way. However, none of these have tried nesting locally (save for a pair of magpies last year who simply ignored us).

    I suspect that the writer did the right thing and has made some long term friends, whilst PG did the reverse. Still as long as PG kept the shotgun to hand – and eyes in the back of his head – he could rise above the hostility of crows. Anyway, crows have nothing on British seagulls when it comes to defening their nests and snatching your food.

    And you all need to stop being unkind to the poor woman. Just accept that some will always be in thrall to the publishing myth and simply cannot escape it, so just pass by quietly on the other side.

    • “Live and let die” is a good approach these days.
      And increasingly necessary.

      (BTW, We don’t have a problem with crows around here. Mostly because the hawk population is well fed. 🙂 )

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