Pigeon Feathers - New Yorkers in LA
Having a coffee, doing some pre-workout writing at the Starbucks next to my gym on Topanga Canyon Blvd. This little fellow landed on my table and wouldn’t leave. Another New York-type, wondering how he got here, not sure where he fits. I let him stay and we gave each other the side-eye, like, now what?
I went home, and after more than 25 years, re-read John Updike’s Pigeon Feathers (originally published in The New Yorker, 1961.)
“He had never seen a bird this close before. The feathers were more wonderful than dog's hair, for each filament was shaped within the shape of the feather, and the feathers in turn were trimmed to fit a pattern that flowed without error across the bird's body. He lost himself in the geometrical tides as the feathers now broadened and stiffened to make an edge for flight, now softened and constricted to cup warmth around the mute flesh. And across the surface of the infinitely adjusted yet somehow effortless mechanics of the feathers played idle designs of color, no two alike, designs executed, it seemed, in a controlled rapture, with a joy that hung level in the air above and behind him. Yet these birds bred in the millions and were exterminated as pests.”
I’d forgotten it’s the story of a boy who moves away from city life at 14-almost-15, just like my son, who has a birthday next week. It strikingly mirrors our experience--the existential questions of an old soul kind of kid, unmoored by a huge move, now, balancing anger and anxiety with unexpected bliss, caring with not caring, testosterone tough with almost unnavigable sensitivity of spirit, and an artist’s heart. NYC sense-of-self with surfer dude sensibility.
A few days ago my acting teacher, Michael Howard, passed away. What he taught me about acting--“Art is choice,” “What must be done?,” “Detail”—I also use every day in writing, teaching, yoga... mothering, too. Another of my teachers, Jim Young, when I was just 3 years older than Hutch, taught me to respect art as a spiritual practice--that beauty is holy, creation reflects and honors Creation. Pigeon Feathers was, I think, the first text he assigned us.
My son, this year I wish you arresting detail and teachers that inspire you to notice, stories that move you to write, good waves, and a swelling sense that you are exactly where you need to be.