“Come on, Pat!”
“Leave me alone, Jerry!” I lifted the lid on my Apple laptop and painstakingly made my way to the most daunting sight I could ever lay my eyes on: a blank page. As far as I knew, no elixir existed that could magically make a full-fledged novel appear out of nowhere. I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t searched for it.
Yes, there was a story lurking behind that page. As Michelangelo said about his famous David sculpture, “It is easy. You just chip away the stone that doesn’t look like David.” For me, I had to find the words that matched my story—take out whatever didn’t look like The Adventures of Barry the Beet Farmer or whatever the story happened to be about. But, alas, there was little, if any, inspiration to write—only the requisite perspiration and a deep desire to avoid it all costs. The beautiful spring morning was beckoning me to bathe in its sunlight, to embrace its warmth, and to admire its beauty. Nature can be the most cruel mistress at times.
My eyes caught sight of Old Man Jenkins—at least that’s what I called him behind his back—who was already deep at work mowing his lawn for the third time that week. I suspected that he pulled chores out of a hat. Today’s list: mow the yard, pull the weeds, water the flowers, marinate the chicken, pickle the relish, vacuum the floor, compose some poetry, clean dentures—distract me!
“Focus, Pat! Come on, Pat,” squawked my lovely multicolored scarlet macaw named Jerry…Springer.
“Didn’t I tell you to leave me alone, you silly bird? Daddy’s got to focus.” I didn’t look up from my screen. I kept staring at the bank word document, trying to use some form of Jedi mind trick to suddenly convince words to appear…the force is not strong with me.
“Nuts, nuts, nuts, nuts!” Out of the corner of my eyes I noticed that Jerry was bouncing on his favorite wooden perch. Unsalted walnuts were Jerry’s favorite snack. He’d ask for them any chance he got. There was no such thing as an inappropriate time for Jerry to indulge his walnut addiction. I could be showering, sleeping, eating lunch, or entertaining guests and I’d be subjected to his repetitive walnut war cry. That’s copyrighted, by the way.
I shot a playful look in Jerry’s direction! “You don’t need any nuts, Jerry!”
But, of course, that was never going to work. “Come on, Pat! Focus! Nuts, nuts, nuts!”
“I can’t focus and give you nuts at the same time. Did you ever consider that?”
“Nuts, nuts, nuts.” This argument was going nowhere.
“Ok, you spoiled bird. Let’s get some nuts.” I made a kissy sound with my lips and held out my finger. Jerry understood the gesture and flapped his magnificent red, blue, and yellow wings. He let go of his perch and made a quick, colorful dash toward my outstretched index finger.
As we walked over to the walnut stash in the kitchen cupboards (a Ziploc bag affectionately labeled “Bird Meth”), I spoke again to my darling companion, “I’ve said this a million times now, but you really need to work on your patience.”
I grabbed the Ziploc bag from the cabinet, opened it, and took a few tiny walnuts out, which I palm-fed to Jerry. He graciously nipped them up into his beak, letting out a little squeal of satisfaction. I grinned at the commotion he was making and walked back to my writing desk. “Okay,” I said under my breath, “I need to get to work now Jerry. I’ll play with you soon.”
Again, I stared at my blank computer, willing the words to magically appear on the screen. I thought and I thought and I thought and I thought, but the word document kept flashing that pesky little cursor right in my face. You know, the one that looks like an upper case “I.” Writer’s block was a common occurrence in my profession, but rarely at the beginning of the creative process. I could come up with ideas at the snap of my finger. I could look at my window, see a child playing with a paper airplane, and I could find a way to turn that into a bestselling thriller. But today, the thoughts were not coming to me. It was as if the creative gears of my mind became rusty overnight. The blinking cursor mocked me with my inability to come up with any ideas.
I looked over my shoulder at a contented bird, experimenting with the many different ways he could find to use his beak. Before I sat back down, I made sure there were still some nuts in his cage just in case. I smiled at my avian friend with a mixture of awe and love.
I shook myself out of my reverie, half hoping that I did some sleep writing. But reality quickly sunk in. My laptop screen was still just a blank canvas. I knew I had to start somewhere. Just write something. Maybe a random thought will spark something. Inspiration has been known to possess an uncanny ability to come when it is the least expected but most welcomed and needed.
Okay, here goes…
Once upon a time…there was a parrot? He ate some bad walnuts and inherited superpowers! Really? I don’t even write fantasy and fairy tales and that’s the best I could come up with?
Well, let’s try romance for the hopeless romantic in me: I didn’t know that stubbing my toe in the Wal-Mart that day would lead me to meeting my future wife. Okay, I think everyone is laughing at that one. I couldn’t hit the backspace button fast enough.
“That sucked! Focus, Pat!” taunted my feathered friend.
I shot Jerry the dirtiest look that I could muster. To be honest, it probably wouldn’t have even disturbed an infant child, but I tried nonetheless. “Jerry, remind me to stop talking out loud when you’re around.”
“Nuts, nuts, nuts!”
“You have nuts in your cage. Why don’t you look for them?”
“Come on, Pat! Focus, Pat. Nuts, nuts, nuts!”
“Jerry, you’re going to be the death of me.”
“Dead, Pat! Need nuts, nuts, nuts.”
“Is that a threat?”
“Nuts, nuts, nuts.”
“Don’t make me come over there, Jerry!”
“Focus, Pat. Come on, focus!”
“I can’t when you keep fussing about nuts.”
“Nuts, nuts, nuts.”
“You’re nuts, Polly—you’re getting crackers instead.”
“No, crackers! Focus, Pat. Nuts, nuts, nuts.”
“You’re driving me nuts.”
Jerry flapped his wings defiantly and starting trying to chew up his perch.
“You can’t seriously be that hungry, Jerry. You have nuts in your cage! Look!” I got up and walked over to the metal cage. I scooped up some of the loose walnuts that were not yet digested and tossed one in Jerry’s direction. He arched his head and got the walnut in the blink of an eye. “Hey, good catch!”
“Nuts, nuts, nuts, Pat!”
“Ah, so you want to play a little catch, do you?” And that temptation was all it took. Before I knew it I was attempting trick tosses and quick throws. Back in the day, Jerry used to be an imaginary MVP/hall-of-famer left fielder for the St. Louis Cardinals. If a baseball was ever in left field, you could consider the batter out. I played a little ball myself but I never broke any records. I didn’t play past my high school years. As I watched my bird fly all around the house, catching walnuts in his beak, I lost track of the time. Minutes turned into, well, more minutes. I looked at the clock which informed me that I had lost thirty minutes playing with a parrot.
I hurried back to my writing desk and looked at my screen—still blank. What was I really suspecting at this point? Anyway, I felt oddly inspired by my session of Bird Baseball. I tried on a new idea—a bird invasion at the World Series—but that idea didn’t sit well with me. I am all for some classic suspension of disbelief, but that was on Home Alone levels of improbability.
My brain hurt. I felt as if I had a blocked blood vessel which would pop at any point. Against my better judgement, I pressed on. I desperately wanted—no, needed a break, but my workaholic tendencies wouldn’t let me budge. Any distraction at all would have been a welcome thing.
“Focus, Pat! Nuts, nuts, nuts!”
Right on cue…
“Jerry, I love you, but this too much! You’ve had enough nuts. You’re wasted on those things.”
“Nuts, Pat! Come on, focus, Pat! Pat! Pat!”
“Jerry, go to bed. You’re drunk!”
“Nuts, nuts, nuts.”
“You really need to learn some new words.” To quiet my bird, I tossed him some more walnuts that I kept in my pocket. He gladly chewed them and quieted down for another couple minutes. I watched Jerry as he ate. Even though he required an insane amount of attention, I was thankful for the extra company. Living alone does that to you. You get bored with your own voice, your own cooking, your own bed, everything. You long for something more. You long for company, usually people, but a macaw was a close second. Many people asked me why I never bought a dog. The answer was that I just wasn’t in a place suitable for a dog. I didn’t want fish because you can’t play with them. I didn’t want a hamster or gerbil because they were too quiet. I didn’t want a cat because…cat. I didn’t want a snake or a piranha because there was absolutely no good reason I could think of for doing so. I rationalized that a bird would be the best choice for my current life situation. I certainly wasn’t wrong about that. Jerry has kept me busy for sure. Of course, when he’s nut-crazy, he can be a bit overbearing, but he’s still fun. He’s still my bird, my companion, my friend, my family. I wouldn’t replace him for the world. You see, no matter how much I love my job as a novelist, I could never let it replace family. The story could wait. Today, well, I think Jerry needs some attention.