No. 5 >> The Pigeon Issue: Pigeonholing and bird love.

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MAKING THE WORK // Ignoring the Pigeonhole

Recently I entered into an online discussion with some women about the fear or being pigeonholed as a “woman writer” instead of being thought of as a woman (a person even!) who writes. “Do you have this fear too?” I asked. “If so, when does it come up for you and what do you do about it?”

Helen Guri is a poet I admire and her response was so candid and smart that, with her permission, I’m quoting it here in full: “This is a fear I used to obsess over, consciously and subconsciously, to the extent that in order to insulate myself against the possibility of coming across as girly or otherwise dismissible in my writing I consumed primarily male-authored texts, most often ignoring the work of other women writers unless they had substantial male followings or seemed in command of “male”-seeming personae (e.g. Gertrude Stein). When I write it out like this it sounds ridiculous—and it is. 

“I understand now that the primary cultural function of this fear is to separate women writers from each other and from the subject matter they are likely to write most insightfully about; in short, to divorce women writers from their talent. I am not trying to essentialize—obviously women are infinitely various in their insights and can be talented at writing on any subject—but to point out that the fear of contamination by subject matter (e.g., a relationship advice column, a domestic novel) is a profound creative hobble. This is because if you are female, then every subject you could possibly have a perspective on is in some sense “female” or dismissible as such; in avoiding “female” subjects you will in effect end up avoiding writing about everything you know firsthand. 

“What I do about this fear now is remind myself what a scam it is and IGNORE THE FUCK OUT OF IT. Or I play with it deliberately, interspersing ostentatiously girly creative interests with ostentatiously manly ones in my work. And I read every relationship advice column I can get my hands on.”

So here’s to ingoring the fuck out of it, ladies (and gentleman supporters). Also, a side note: in case you missed it last week, check out Szilvia Molnar’s photo series, “The Man, The Writer, and His Cigarette” in which she recreates headshots of male authors smoking. That’s Molnar and Bret Easton Ellis up there in the header image (photo credit to Maria Marqvard Jensen). So good, right?


IT'S A SIGN // Lost Pet Pigeon

Since the end of April, I've been walking by these signs in my neighbourhood that say:

very tame
will pay reward for safe
return or tips leading to it.
Owners are devastated.

I thought the signs were a parody of LOST CAT signs. It must be a thing, I thought. So I was going to write about funny street signs here. That was, until I Googled “lost pigeon sign Toronto”. Then, as they say, shit got real.

An article at The Toronto Star explains that “Pilot the pigeon was just a tiny ball of fluff when Janelle Iandoli saved him from exterminators six months ago.” Pilot. He even has a name. “He ruled the roost in their home all winter,” the article says, “ — just ask the cat he both torments and snuggles with and the dog who doubles as his pony.” 

The article goes on to detail how Iandoli, an event coordinator at The Art Gallery of Ontario, took Pilot to the park on April 12th to practice flying. He got caught by a draft, struggled to land, but blew away and never found his way back.

I located an email address for Iandoli and emailed her yesterday. I didn't want to be invasive, but I wanted to know if she’d found Pilot.

Iandoli wrote back and said that the Star had just contacted her to follow up too. Pilot has not been found, though she still looks for him every day. “Once you experience bird love,” she says, “it’s an experience you never forget.” 

Turns out, The Torontoist, CBC and Newstalk 1010 had also covered the story due to Iandoli’s posters. “I thought it was a bit extreme and pretty funny,” says Iandoli, “but was grateful for the help.” She’s received 500 tips, so far, from all over Ontario about Pilot’s whereabouts, “some mean and some helpful.” It’s also put her in touch with like-minded folks and it’s brought other pigeons into her life, like Odin and Flipper.

A woman witnessed Odin being “punted” into a wall and got in touch with Iandoli who rescued the pigeon. Though he was badly hurt and ultimately lost one eye, she hand-fed him defrosted green peas for days until he began to recover and was able to fledge off her patio. 

Flipper, on the other hand, was sitting on Iandoli’s foot as she wrote to me. He’s a young pigeon that squeaks like a dolphin and dive bombs into the sink every time dishes are being done. He’s lived with Iandoli for just over a week since some guys called her about an "overly-friendly" pigeon who flew onto their patio and wasn’t leaving. Iandoli figures he was booted from the nest. She took him home and has tried to get him to fledge from her patio too, but every time she puts him out, he flies back in.

Iandoli says, “I love Pilot and it is still an emotional roller coaster whenever I think about him,” but she also acknowledges that she “would not have had the pleasure of helping Odin, or the joy of Flipper in my life without Pilot leaving it.”

We’re so used to memes and joke notices that to follow one and find a story of love was unexpected. Here’s to you, Bird Lady.


READING // Martha, the World's Last Passenger Pigeon

There’s a wonderful article in the January 6th issue of The New Yorker about passenger pigeons, the now-extinct relative to the common rock pigeon. I had no idea I’d find passenger pigeons so interesting. Things I learned: they could “hold up to a quarter of a pint of foodstuffs” in their mouths and could “vomit at will if they saw a food they liked better.” Also, in 1813, John James Audubon witnessed a flock so huge that it obliterated the sun and took three days to pass. 

In A Feathrered River Across the Sky: The Passenger Pigeon’s Flight to Extinction, naturalist Joel Geenberg sets out to answer “how a bird could go from a population of billions to zero in less than fifty years.” The short answer is: they were tasty. Poor people could pluck them from the sky and rich people could dine on “Ballotine of Squab à la Madison.” The advent of logging destroyed their habitats too.

The real grabber for me was that we know who the last passenger pigeon was. Her name was Martha and she died at the Cincinnati Zoo on September 1, 1914. She was predeceased by her partner George. As The NYer pointed out, “Imagine knowing that the last Tyrannosaurus rex keeled over on a Tuesday in June.” 

Plans are afoot to bring back “a genetically approximate simulacrum” of the bird. Harvard geneticist George Church (of the Human Genome Project) is working on a “de-extinction” process using genes recovered from Martha’s toe pads (taxidermied Martha lives at The Smithsonian). The future has arrived, my friends. Also, the 100th anniversary of Martha’s death is coming up, so expect to see her in the news for a while. She was just in The National Post.