It’s Life List Club Friday again, and I’m pleased to welcome back Pamela Hawley from over at Hawleyville. You can find me dishing on my latest meltdown over at Gene Lempp’s Blog. Then, fix yourself some coffee and hang out with the rest of the Life List gang by stopping at our blogs through our sidebar or you can come party on Twitter at #LifeListClub.
Sit, Waddle, Scoot and Swim
I live just a short drive away from the Baltimore Zoo. In the spring and fall, my boyfriend and I like to spend a leisurely day wandering around, enjoying the sunshine and observing the critters.
He is drawn to the Wizard of Oz menagerie – the lions and tigers and bears. I love to watch these majestic creatures too. But the exhibit that could keep me enthralled all afternoon is the penguin habitat. The awkward birds fascinate me. I love to watch them waddle about like toddlers getting used to their legs. No matter what life is throwing at me, a penguin can make me smile.
But it wasn’t until we watched an Animal Planet show on penguin life that these birds also gained my complete respect. Those of us who are striving towards ambitious writing goals can learn a lot from these waddling, feathered survivors. If you think you’ve got it rough on your climb up your word-mountain, then walk (or waddle) in a penguin’s flipper-feet for a while. You’ll discover quite a lot.
1. Teamwork is Critical
In the penguin world, there are no deadbeat dads. In Antarctica, penguins mate, each female lays a single egg, and then she takes off with her fellow mommas for a very long girl’s night out. For the next two-plus months of frigid darkness, male penguins squat on top of their eggs, all in a vast huddle of feathery male bonding.
Each male is incubating his own chick. Yet, he could not do it alone. The penguins rely on their huddle to sustain warmth in the brutal winter. They even take turns sitting on the outer edge of the circle, where the icy winds are the worst, so that everyone has a turn at being warmer.
As writers, we are each incubating our own stories. However, we should take a lesson from these creatures and huddle for warmth as we work to give life to our progenies. Writing is often a cold and lonely business. We can cheer for each other when milestones are met. We can help each other find our way back to the fold when we suffer from writer’s block. We can warm each other after an icy blast of rejection.
2. Stay in Your Seat
By the time the chicks hatch and the females return to bring up their young, the long sit-in has brutalized the determined daddy penguins. They are starving and have lost nearly half of their body weight.
In a writing class I took last spring, the instructor Eva Shaw referred to something she called chair glue. Simply put, chair glue is the determination to sit at your computer and write, no matter what. You’ve got dirty dishes in the sink and a hamper full of laundry? That’s too bad. Your crew is going out for margaritas? Just say no. Your butt is numb and your eyes are bleary? Welcome to life as a writer.
If a penguin can sit on his egg for weeks, hungry and cold and probably bored out of his little birdbrain, then as writers we have no excuse for letting our chair glue get unstuck. For the duration of your scheduled writing time, there is nothing but you, your story, your numb behind and your computer. Deal with it.
Otherwise, your writing project will be as frozen as a penguin egg without a poppa’s warm pouch.
3. Get There One Awkward Step at a Time
A walking penguin looks like evolution’s cruel but funny joke. This is especially true when the stumpy-legged, silly-shaped bird is traveling over rough and rocky terrain. In a penguin’s world, that’s often the only type of terrain there is.
As soon as the momma penguins return, the males take off in a frenzied search for a fish feast. In the documentary I watched, the male penguins made their way to an icy, rocky cliff, which they then had to descend to get to the waters below. It would have been rough going even for a surefooted and agile creature. Watching these guys scoot, slip and tumble their way down to the waters below was a lot like watching me and my friends walk home after a night at the bar. Once they made it down, they had shoreline predators to contend with – equally hungry critters just waiting to dine on half-starved penguin daddy.
As writers we have our own rocky cliffs to waddle down. Often, we’re starved for more time to write as life’s million-and-one other demands chip away at our time and our energy. We find it hard to slip and slide our way through the busy chaos of the world when all we really want is to be left alone with our ideas. Our day jobs and the bills we must pay are hungry predators, ready to devour our dreams before we reach them.
I have no answer for those challenges other than this: Be like a penguin and waddle through the rough terrain. Slip, slide, scoot and tumble your way to your writing goals, stealing a few more words from the obstacles each day throws your way like a starving daddy penguin inches closer to the sea.
4. Weaknesses are Often Strengths in Disguise
As I said, a walking penguin looks like the world’s court jester. Watching them move, you wonder why nature would make something with such harsh obstacles to overcome evolve to be so awkward and ungainly. It seems cruel and unfair.
Then, the penguins reach the sea.
When these fat, funny birds dive into the water, they are transformed. Suddenly, the waddling creature becomes a streamlined, graceful speeding bullet. The bodies that are so bumbling and misfit on land are designed to be masterpieces for surviving the perils of the sea. In the water, a penguin is speed, grace and beauty.
Sometimes writers and other creative types feel like we’re just not built for everyday living. The solitary and reflective parts of our personalities can be chafed raw by the noise and chaos of fast-paced living. The sensitive natures that lead us to create are sometimes beaten to exhaustion by busy, hectic schedules that seem to just roll off the backs of others.
But when we do muck our way through the chaos and find ourselves in our element, how beautifully we swim! The aspects of our nature that lead us to struggle at times also let us breathe life into stories and weave worlds that didn’t exist before we built them.
Our creativity may have us waddling a bit on the dry land of daily life, but we are streamlined speeding bullets in the sea of imagination.
As a writer working towards ambitious goals, I often seek wisdom and inspiration in the words of others. Instead, I found them in the life of an awkward but amazing bird.
Your journey may not be pretty. You’ll need to do a lot of sitting, waddling, slipping and sliding. But if you keep at it, eventually you will swim.
Pam Hawley is a writer living in Baltimore, MD. When she’s not working at her day job, writing or in the gym, she can usually be found at her family’s pub, Hawley’s in Baltimore. So far, her new approach to achieving goals seems to be working – her first published short story, “A Wingding and a Prayer” appears in the July issue of eFiction Magazine (http://www.efictionmag.com). Pam blogs regularly at Hawleyville (http://hawleyville.wordpress.com).