I once watched a calf being born. The sides of the mama cow distending, stretching like a rubber balloon. I saw the leg of the calf pushing, the knees bending. There was steam and the morning was cold. I was wearing a hat, I remember, and I put my gloves in my pocket because I could not reach and pull with the gloves tangling up my fingers. That was enough of birthing for me, although when I saw a goat birthing the next year, and then a number of children over the years after that, I did not have the same visceral response – the steaming breath, the labored grunting, the mud, the sensation that my arms would be torn out of their sockets. Everything else seemed like a Hallmark card by comparison.
Back when I first started writing copy, my hair went past my waist and all the way down to where I could sit on it. I wrote copy for condolences, for congratulations, for best wishes and for getting well again. I wrote my copy in a little room with a wooden desk, a Selectrics electric typewriter, and a window that opened. The building was old; there were pigeons on the ledge, and since the window opened, I kept it open and wrote copy for pigeons: thinking of you and your missing foot; congratulations on your new eave; best wishes to you and your hatchlings. Then there were the hawks and the condors hovering over the city, nesting in historic sites. Higher copy. That was when copy was cheap. There was an intern, a little baby intern getting work experience while in college, who made copies of copy that I was paid almost nothing to write. Then the intern would finish college and come in as a baby journalist, ready to know more about copy than me a scant six weeks after retiring their copy machine.
It’s possible to know too much about nothing and thereby to step into space, unaware of gravity, of gravitas, of the somber impact of doubt and failure. I was writing Hallmark copy, cheerful and vacuous, and looking out the window at the pigeons, and started a punk rock group, the Mangy Pigeons. We played head bang all night and wrote happy chappy greeting card copy all day. Paid by the line, the first year, then by the page when we could crank it out in bulk. Line after line. Me and three pale punk writers, great vocabularies, a bit too existential to acknowledge a plan. What do you want to be doing five years from now? Remember that team building activity? Let’s see, in five years I want to be attending the funeral of yet another pigeon, whether punk or feathered, and I want to be selling lines of copy to big corporations to print on pastel paper and be bought by ladies in tailored pant suits. Yes, there is a path like that, that may be followed. That may have been followed, although never expressed in a clear, concise, greeting card format:
Congratulations and best wishes on your aimless creativity.
Your parents must be proud.