22 March 2012

strange swans

A strange swan showed up in the harbour uninvited this morning. I assume he was male. Immediately he started antagonising our resident swan couple, first chasing away the female and then charging after the male. He never flew. He just squatted his neck, tucking his beak into its tight curve, and motored after the resident male. Never have I seen such a wake follow a swan, and I've seen a fair few swans in my time. The newcomer pursued relentlessly, caught up, and outside the mouth of the harbour, between the pier and the beach, they fought. At that distance, I had a hard time telling who was who, but in the end one pulled away, shaken, and it seemed to be the resident. The victorious male then turned his attention to the female, lingering in by the smaller pier, and to my surprise, he chased her away too.

I don't know much about swans, other than that they are as aggressive as they are beautiful. I've lived near many in my life, and have always appreciated their presence and aesthetics. I find their proximity bizarrely comforting and admire their familial loyalty. But my admiration is mostly aesthetic. I am fond of art, but I'm not an expert by any stretch. So it goes with swans. I like them because they're pretty to look at and it is richer to have them around than to not have them around.

And so this morning's fight saddened me. Our current couple has been here for a couple of years, and to see them chased off by what I assume was a rogue male, well, that's unsettling. I couldn't be an ornithologist. Standing on the balcony in the sunny but cold spring morning, my sense of loss far outweighed my fascination at the display, and I doubt the newcomer will endear himself to me with time.

Speaking of newcomers, sat on my desk is the growing, scribbled outline of the new book. It turns out, to my surprise, that not all blank pages are created equal, and that getting lost in writing new fiction is very different from writing new non-fiction. And so yesterday, with high hopes and genuine enthusiasm, I set to it and within two or three paragraphs came to a screeching halt. With the novel that was no problem - I could just be creative; ideas could, would, and did come.

I'm not writing a novel at the moment.

And so I pushed back the laptop and pulled out the notebook and a pen, and started the clarifying task of building a scaffolding, a structure from which this new project can grow. It turns out that writing into the void is not always possible, or even preferable, and while the pages may be blank, the mind can't be.

As the newcomer swam triumphantly back toward the inner harbour, I looked towards the bank on which the old couple nested. Floating next to it was a female swan. The female swan. I turned back towards the male and realised what I should have guessed from the beginning: the newcomer was no newcomer at all, but the resident, defending his nesting area from another couple. Triumphant, he returned to his mate while in the distance the vanquished invaders sought safer harbour. My heart lifted at the return of the familiar and I shook my head at my mistake.

I guess I really don't know enough about swans.



20 March 2012

wiffle ball and the point of contact

We played wiffle ball over on West Hill Place, just off of Charles Street, by the T-station. Drivers would use it as a shortcut to get to Storrow Drive, even though they weren't supposed to. It interrupted the game. We'd have to move the traffic cones or undo the chain to let them through. There'd be dirty looks shot and much huffing and puffing, but the drivers didn't care. We were just kids playing wiffle ball. West Hill Place was essentially a circle. Car bumpers played the role of bases and a convenient manhole served as the pitcher's mound. You got a homer if you hit it fair over a second floor window. We weren't exactly power hitters - we had more luck scoring runs by grounding the ball under parked cars. On the rare days there were no cars, there weren't a lot of runs scored.

There were usually only three or four of us playing and so we had to adapt the rules a tad. You could throw the runner out by hitting him with the ball. It was a dangerous strategy as a miss would almost always result in a run scoring. We also always underestimated just how much that little white plastic ball stung when it slapped against the flesh. Shrieks of pain resulted in derision, so you had to grimace, bear it, and take your place out in the 'field', fiercely rubbing the point of impact and wincing.

Contact was sublime. It always is, whether it's a proper ball against a wooden bat or plastic on plastic, there are few better feelings than the shudder of a bat when it hits the ball, that split second of unity and ultimate harmony that comes when the ball's trajectory reverses and it becomes part of the bat's motion, exploding forward with a crack that staggers the forearms. The hitter becomes a motor; an engine generating propulsion. The balls sails and as it does an incredible sense of forward motion flows through you. There's no time to appreciate it; you have to run and maybe, if you reach base safely, you smile and clap your hands together hoping to feel again the moment of contact.

I'm writing a new book. I can't really say much about it yet, but it's not fiction. It's not about baseball or wiffle ball either. But it's new. Instead of sifting through countless pages in the big purple binder, buried in words I've already written, I've got blank sheets staring back at me, waiting to be filled. Some writers fear blank pages, but not me. For me it's a thousand points of contact, hit after hit, as each page fills so goes the forward motion and as I type I feel the shudder in my forearms and so it flows.