It’s just warm enough to open the window in my home office on this late March morning, so I can feel the cool, fresh air as I sit at my desk. One of our cats, Duncan, loves to watch a flock of small birds that settles each morning in the branches of a large bush outside the window. Because the bush has no leaves yet, the little brown birds (the ornithologists at the Massachusetts Audubon Society used to call them “LBJs,” or “little brown jobs”) are easily visible, balancing on the thin branches, flapping their wings and tipping their tails, hopping from one branch to another. Their tweets are shrill, quick, high-pitched calls, with an occasional burst of extended trills that sound almost like the music of a silver flute.
Duncan, a tabby-striped Scottish Fold (which means his ears are folded down and his eyes are wide and round, making him look more like an owl than a cat), never goes outside — he is too scared. He refuses any invitation to join our other two cats when I take them out in the yard with leashes and halters. Duncan prefers to sit on the radiator cover beneath the window and sniff the fresh air, and stare at that bush, sometimes for hours. Every now and then he opens his mouth and makes a sound I have never heard another cat make, half teeth chattering and half meow, as if he is trilling back at the birds.
Writing is like that sometimes for me. I open a window and try to see what’s outside, try to feel and smell and sense something beyond the jumble of restless thoughts that are always hammering away inside my head. Often I notice things in nature, but sometimes other things present themselves — events, memories, relationships. Whatever comes to me, I try to settle my mind there and still all the other thoughts in my head. That’s hard to do, and if the restless thoughts win out, it ends up being a tough day at my desk. On a good day, I just start typing, and that very act helps my mind focus.
What comes out on the computer — or on paper — is my mind chattering back at the world. On a really good day, and those don’t come too often, I just let it go.