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I Am Learning the Language of Birds
(& they want us to make art)
Last Friday the news broke. Last Friday I got a bird app. All weekend I scrolled through news. All weekend I listened to birds.
They have a lot to say.
With the help of the app, I learned new bird calls and started differentiating among them. I never knew what a red-headed woodpecker sounded like. As I was drawing the one above, I heard—and recognized—its call.
With the help of the birds, I was able to process, reframe, and communicate amid the turmoil.
I always underestimate robins. They are so common. But I see them—and worms—differently now.
The news never got any better.
But all week I listened to the birds and recorded what I heard.
The app is the Merlin Bird ID app from Cornell Lab, and it’s FREE. But you probably already know all about it because when I posted about it on Instagram yesterday, I learned that EVERYONE already uses it and that I am one of the last to learn about it. This is a sample of bird calls it picked up from a few minutes yesterday morning, which inspired my broad-winged hawk drawing.
This Week’s Inspiration: Nora Krug
I love Nora Krug’s graphic memoir, Belonging: A German Reckons with History and Home and have read it several times. Combining scrapbook images, family photos, illustrations, and sequential art, Krug documents her search for her family’s history and possible involvement with the Nazis.
In 2021, she illustrated On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century, written by Timothy Snyder and initially published in the wake of the 2016 election. I revisited it this week when I was drawing the eastern kingbird (a.k.a. tyrannus tyrannus) and feeling overwhelmed by the world. The table of contents provides an excellent to-do list in the face of tyranny. It may be hard to see on a small screen but chapter titles include things like: Do not obey in advance. Be wary of paramilitaries. Investigate. Contribute to good causes. Listen for dangerous words. Make eye contact and small talk.
To this list, the birds and I would like to add one thing: Make art.
In my one-line description of this newsletter I say that I believe writing, drawing, and storytelling are radical acts. Václav Havel, the Czech writer-turned-president, who is quoted several times in On Tyranny, wrote novels and plays and poems. His fellow Czech dissidents made songs and collages and paintings. Amid all the bad news, I also spent the week reading and learning from other people’s comics, collages, stories, and poems. (And by “other people,” I probably mean YOU and your art since many people who get this newsletter are my favorite creators.) Art connects, calms, inflames, inspires, educates, and empowers. Keep making art.
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