Premature Author’s Notes–The Birding Story

Premature Author’s Notes are for a piece that I am still in the process of writing. For some reason, I have stalled out and need the exercise of imagining my future self talking about the inspiration, origins, and writing process for the story as if it has been accepted to a prestigious literary publication. It is a hopeful act. And not at all procrastination.

In the late innings of a St. Louis Cardinals baseball home game, a friend and I sat in the stands and chatted about a guy we knew who birded as a hobby. Apparently, he was pretty good and was known for being one of only a handful of people to have spotted a rare species. “What do you think the conversation would be like if you got a couple of those people together?” I asked. “Do you think they’d have anything to talk about besides the one time they saw a bird?”

The main character for the story took shape easily, and I knew I wanted to locate him in the lower Midwest. As I researched for the story, I stumbled across the controversial sightings of the Ivory-Billed Woodpecker in Arkansas from the early 2000s. The lack of a verifiable sighting made the Ivory-Billed Woodpecker a sort of mythological creature in the birding community. What if the conversation I had wondered about was actually between two people who saw something that nobody believed they saw?

The human experience is currently so highly customizable in terms of what we see, hear, and consume, that connection becomes more of a dialogue about similar experiences that happened in isolation than it is a shared experience. Is it enough for these characters that they have experienced the same thing separately? And how to human expectations of connection impact how we approach shared experience?

 

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