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Friday, April 4, 2014

The Mutilated Duck

The title grabbed your attention right?  And why wouldn't it?  Who the hell writes about a mutilated duck. Who the hell has a story about a mutilated duck? 

     That would be ME.

This little tale quite literally saved my ass today. I'm at a writers conference and it hasn't been going well...or rather it has been a very traumatic and enlightening experience.

     For God's sake Deb tell the damn story.

I started the day with very little sleep. This due to the fact that my life has been a raging cluster fuck of late including a madcap rush to assist a family member, a puking dog, a flood because I left the dial on the washer between 2 settings and oh yes, a writer's conference that needed a proposal for a book I wrote. To top the enchilada with some cheese, yesterday MapQuest took me to hell and back to get to Madison.

After a couple of meet and greets I was to get a critique from a college professor, an English Professor. No one other than friends and family had seen what I had written so this was a little unnerving to say the least. The session was to last 30 minutes and the instructor had been given the material several weeks ago so we would be discussing what she had already read. 

     "I love some of your language, you have a very different way of describing things. This line in particular: 

     Exhausted I flipped on my back, toes to the sun, far enough from shore that people were bits of moving color, more kaleidoscope than human landscape.        
What is missing from the 15 pages I read is story to drive the character. It's as though we're in her head."

At this point I'm confused.

     But I wrote a memoir...that's kinda in my head.

She instructively continued.

     "It would be great if you could make her interact more and have it more scene driven."

      Ummm...that would be a little hard since it already happened.

 I stare at her with what I hope is a bright and interested face. I don't want to appear grumpy and unwilling. Her next words are boldly presented in neon colors.

     "And, I'm not sure you were going for this, but she comes off as crazy."

     Wow. She said that out loud.

I squirm a little, knowing a few humans who have used this same descriptor to wound me and believed it to the bone. But at 53 I no longer hold other people's beliefs as my own. Now I make her day go from boring and methodical to rude and interesting.

     "You do realize I've written a memoir?"

She looks ill...after all she just called me crazy.

     "OH! NO! I um sorry I didn't, I wasn't told, it was presented to me as fiction. Oh. You should take this up with the conference."

     Um. Ya think?

She stutters and makes a brief attempt to make the critique relevant to memoir and I bring the ordeal to an end early. No sense traumatizing the two of us into more than the two drink minimum.
     The day is to follow with a pitch to an agent. At this juncture I figure no sense following any rules.

     Fucking GAME ON.

I am allotted 8 minutes to present a bright, rehearsed little ditty. Instead I launch into how my life was changed when my dog died and toss the twenty something young woman a tricked out brochure a very talented artist named Janet Balboa made for me. She softens into her chair and looks up.

     "So I want to know more about these gurus."

The agent looks like a human unique unto herself, but also a regular schmo like me.

     "Well a guru doesn't have to be some guy with a robe on. It could be a five year old kid or a mutilated duck."

 Startled she laughs.

    "A mutilated duck? How? What happened?"

      What the hell. I've got nothing to lose and it's a fucking great story.

     Riding on a rural bike path had been hazardous in the months after checking into Shaman School. Squirrels, chipmunks, mice, voles and birds dropped dead minutes before I rounded a bend. I’m able to clock the time of death by the warmth of the bodies. My spouse calls me an animal coroner.


     Maybe I’m a creep who unknowingly sends out voo-doo poison.

Each carcass I carefully move to the side of the path and then give last rites. Basically I make shit up and hope for the best. A spotted woodpecker is snarfed down by a hawk, leaving behind a wing and a few chest feathers.


     Blessed spirit, fly to the other side.

Another outing produces a wee bunny tail, minus the body.


     Little one, you are loved.

     I’m a freak.

One bright crisp day breaks through a late summer heat wave announcing fall. Both teenagers are living in college dorms and I mope through afternoons wishing someone other than me wanted chocolate chip cookies. Biking in a sad fog, I see a large lump ahead.

     OhmyGod, what now?

The size forecasts more than a rodent. Closer, a shape forms and it is a large fowl. A mother duck appears to have keeled over midway across the bike path, several yards from a pond. There are no signs of injury.

     Are you kidding me?

     What do I do with that?

I move the duck to the side uber carefully. Shamanic rites begin.


     Sacred Mother seek the light.

    Words arrive via mental email from the dead body.


 This was a new outcome. Usually the dead animals leap frogged themselves to the other side.

   Hey little lady move it, I got eleven miles to get in before sunset.

     “I am not finished.”

Splashing comes from the pond and I see two small ducks take off heading to parts unknown. I sense she may be ready now.

     They are ready mama, release and head to the light.


The next day when I pass the pond there is a rudely abused duck carcass. Mowers have come by and though mostly in one piece, it is a bloody mess.

     I suck at this shaman business. 

     I’m not much of a coroner either.

A heat wave arrives kicking fall back a few notches and the fowl creates an increasingly horrific site as the week progresses. Decomposition is in full swing, flies assist helpfully and a stench announces the grave well before my arrival. Long past obvious something further needs to be done I pull over alongside hoping it isn't necessary to pick the thing up. It is time to ask the all knowing Voice for assistance.

     Okay Big Guy, what am I missing?

     “Your Mother Duck is dead.”

     I’m a little dense today, what do you mean?

     “YOUR Mother Duck is dead.”


 The offspring had flown the coop, but I hadn't acknowledged the job done.

     I've got to make sure they graduate with good grades, get jobs, set up homes.

     I’m nowhere near through.


     Holy crap settle down, give me a minute.

Standing, I begin to move away from the body but I ask a final question.

     Am I supposed to take a feather to honor the process?

    “No elements of Mother Duck Love will remain.”

Back on two wheels, this statement is discussed with Big Dude while the bike drives itself.

     Mother Love is omnificent.

     “No it isn’t.”

     Of course it is, Mom’s fix the world.

     “Mom’s fix the world as THEY believe it needs to be.”

     But Mother Love if done right, keeps little ones safe.

     “Mother Love is a confining and narrow perception.”

I think about how Mother Love applied to my life. Most people were cared for in this manner, including my husband and clients. Everyone became offspring. This meant I managed lives, with an expectation they all behave, mandated of course by rigid rules set in place by a mother who knew best.

     That “Have To” list keeps getting shorter and shorter.

     “Unwinding creates space.”


Attachments are not noble, nor are they benign. Connected through genetic structure and perhaps spiritually, each breathing form lives the journey separately. When pages are stuck together, whole volumes of information are lost.

     “You don’t even know who I am.”

     “Tell me.”

     “Why?  So you can use it against me?”

When one person’s perception and expectation, cocoon around another, the butterfly can’t escape. Trapped colors, ideas, beliefs lie dormant stifled under a thick exterior. A teacher tells a student what is true. A mentor guides a quest to find truth for themselves. Every human has the right to discover what IS, un-molded from generations past.

     “Creativity will burst from the cocoon.”

     Couldn’t you have told me this before the little blobs arrived?

     “Creativity will BURST from the cocoon.”

     That’ll sure change a few things.

Back on the path the next day, I approach the pond with trepidation. Startlingly, hundreds of feathers whirl in all directions. The mowers had arrived for a second pass. The bloody body and awful smell are gone. Stopping, I stand near the fence surrounded by downy splendor.

     “Send them back from where they came.”

Grabbing handfuls, I toss feathers toward the pond, a breeze carries them the rest of the way floating between here and there.


     Gratitude from one mom to another fills the sky with light.

Mother Duck Love evaporates in a steady stream of love for ALL. Wings develop and color darkens in wide open possibility.
     Here in Madison, one lone mutilated duck brought this fucked up day back to life.  

     Go figure.

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