We have discussed as a part of this site, about trying to build some “shared experience of birdness”. Or, maybe, to learn if that even is possible, if there is a thing like a shared experience, or if birds are too different – with around 10,000 species in the world – to say that being a bird is “like” anything, except like being your self.
So, I thought I would work out my thoughts about this.
I was talking to Akhila about it, and, I wondered if a shared bird experience might be similar, for example, to a shared gay FtM experience, or a shared fem experience. There is not really “one experience”, there is a collection of experiences, and many will have a lot of parts that are individual. Some people won’t overlap at all with any of it. But, for most people, there will be a few things that overlap, a few shared experiences that we can say, when we think about for example the gay FtM community, it’s mostly like this. This pool, we can call “the shared experience of that group”.
The next question, I think, is if we can have a “shared bird experience”, or even a “shared raven experience” for example, in the same way we can have a “shared gay FtM experience”. The second is a much smaller group than the first! “FtM transgender people who are gay” is a sub-group of a sub-group of beings, and most of them are the same species (human) and part of human social groups. “Bird” is not a sub-group of a species, not even a single species, but a large collection of species. “Bird” is closer to “mammal” than it is to “gay FtM”. Can we say there is a “shared mammal experience”? To get to the species level, can we even say there is a “shared human experience”?
I think it’s difficult. But, maybe, to analyse it, even if the end result is a waste, we can find what works and what does not.
We already know that no single “bird experience” will cover every bird… maybe, except the scientific details. The only thing that is shared between all birds and also unique to all birds, is feathers. All birds also have wings, though they are used in different ways. All birds are bipeds. But, when we think about “what it is to be human”, for example, do we really think first about “being a biped” or “having arms”? It seems that this question is more philosophical. What do birds experience as a group?
Flight, of course. Except… not all birds fly. But, if we are talking about experiences that are mostly shared, we can say, one thing that is shared by most birds is flight. I think I want to go a little more general than this, and say, if it’s not flight that is shared by all birds, then, it is movement.
There’s a quote from a wonderful novel, Birdy by Will Wharton. It’s about two childhood friends who meet again in a mental hospital, after World War II. Al is what you might call an average human being, but Birdy is very close to what we would think as a bird therian. It’s definitely a book that I recommend, for bird-people in general and also because a lot of the theme of the book, is that nature of “birdness”… what is it, to be a bird? Birdy comes close to describing this one time… I can’t find the exact quote now (it’s not on Google Books, and, it was a library book so I don’t have it in my home), but it was something similar to this:
“There is nothing deader than a dead bird. Birds are all movement. Without movement, they are just feathers and air.”
If there is one physical thing about birds that crosses into a psychological experience, it is the fact that we move. We migrate. We do not live our lives in one place. Even the birds who do not fly are fast runners (the ostrich, for example), and if they are clumsy on land, then they are expert swimmers (the penguin). Birds are energy, fast heartbeats, constantly burning calories. We are movement in all the dimensions that we know as living beings. For many birds, a successful hunt requires surrendering your body to gravity and the natural movement of the earth… folding your wings, and falling. There is no movement that is greater for us living beings, than terminal velocity.
Here for me, is the first conflict, between my bird-nature inside, and my now-nature, the things that surround me and the circumstances I am in. I have low energy, and sometimes a lot of body pain, and I save it a lot by staying still. But, inside, I know I am to be a moving being. The simple feeling of being in a car, though it can be frustrating in other ways (like being in straps), is exciting to me… the feeling of fast motion, particularly if I open the windows, makes my heart beat faster. It makes music sound better, and I often like to listen to fast music while traveling fast, to make the experience more intense. I have experience sometimes that are similar to what is described by psychologists as hypomania: my energy will suddenly get high, and I will rush through projects for a time of hours or days, completing them at a fast speed, creating amazing work by my usual standards, not wanting to sleep. An example of my hypomania is the 10 paintings in my Deviantart gallery from “background experiment” to “owl gryphon”: I finished these all in a few days. I feel there is something about it, that is the fast bird nature rising up.
For me, the feeling of needing to fly is about many things. I often say that flying in my mind is an experience similar to how many sexual beings see sex: it is something that I never get tired of exploring, something that is a deep physical pleasure and joy, something that makes you feel you are one with the being you share it with. Of course, flying is not shared with anyone, but, I feel there is a relationship with trusting the sky. The sky has to hold you, the sky has to be right for you, and so, flying is a dance and a relationship with the sky, and when I am deep in thoughts about flying, I often feel like a worship of the sky, or like I am in love with it, or making love to it. So, there are many different experiences to flying as there are to sex. But, one of these is definitely movement. The joy of the ability to turn, to dive, to rise, to fall, to be anywhere you want to be in moments. To hear a call, and just go. To be stuck in a situation, and get out, away. Even if a bird is not flying, but only half flying, the movement makes them a powerful energy. Even if the situation in your house, have you ever tried to catch a flying bird who wishes to escape? Can you hold that ball of flapping, kicking, clawing, biting energy? Can you even touch it? For a bird, who is often fragile in many ways, flying and movement are strength, and power. And, for those birds not fragile (again, the ostrich), they turn that fast movement into a great train of power that matches even the large apex predators of mammal kingdom.
So, for me as a bird, there’s a need to move. It is not always good. It can turn to anxiety, often. It is being stuck in a situation and needing to fly now. It is not being patient. It is not being able to finish one thing because the next is coming. It is working on this writing, now, and thinking, I also have other things to finish, can I do it all in time? It is hating the clock, being afraid of sleep because when sleep starts to come, this motion will have to end. But, always, when sleep does start to come, I am feeling peace. It is just in the middle of the hypomanic mood, that sleep feels like a terrible demon that will take my movement away from me.
With movement, also, there is lightness. I think that lightness and movement are two of the traits that make flying what it is: they are not all of it, but, they are some of it. Movement when you are light is different from movement when you are heavy. Imagine how a huge truck moves: so fast, but, not able to quickly change the direction. In birds, being light allows you to stay in the air for longer, allows you to turn quick. Even the lightest birds, the hummingbirds, can do amazing tricks such as hover. Light is definitely an advantage.
Being a swan, I am a heavy bird, but I wonder if it is a thing, for heavy birds to dream of being lighter. When I was younger, I didn’t know what kind of bird I was, but, I wished always that I was a fast, small, light bird. And, stuck in this human body, I wish even for the 20pound body of a swan. I have struggled for a long time with weight, and gravity, and the fear and uncomfortable feelings of being heavy. The pain of gravity working on muscles and joints. The feeling of not knowing how to place your limbs so that gravity will not pull them and twist them in wrong ways.
So, those are my experiences of bird nature. Being bird, for me, is movement and lightness. It is running across the water and knowing you can run fast enough and light enough that the water will hold you up. It is knowing your wings move fast enough, and your body is light enough, that the air will hold you up. And if even the air will hold you… you can do anything. The painful chains of gravity are broken. It’s not true, but, for a moment, that’s the feeling.
It is more than this. This is just a beginning, to describe it. This is just a beginning of a beginning. It is nothing. It is air and movement, brain-movement, finger-movement. And, of course, these are just my experiences. But to me, if anything separates the birds from the mammals, I feel like maybe, it is this, movement, lightness, a life where time moves at the speed of your wings.