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Encounter with a Great Horned Owl

We had a homestead emergency recently when a Great Horned Owl got into the chicken run. 

A Great Horned Own in our Chicken Run.
This Great Horned Owl invaded our extended chicken run, resulting in our first fatality from a predator.

The three older chickens like to roost outside, right under the roof of deer netting, and the owl looks like it made a hole in one corner. It killed one of them, poor Sasha. I think her death was quick because Sasha’s head was right next to her body. 

I discovered the owl and Sasha’s corpse while walking the dog at sunrise, which I do just before driving our nine year old to school. What a day! It was the kid’s first day back after winter break, Sarah was at work, I’d just told our boy I’d be back in five minutes, and then I see this. 

I shooed the dog inside the side door and began the effort of getting the owl out of there. The five newer chickens were huddled in the coop. The two remaining older chickens were hiding under their roosting spot. 

I opened the door to the extended run, gestured, poked the fence with a stick. The owl sat watching me with its huge eyes, head turning as I walked around the outside. Occasionally it would fly up, trying to get out, then back down. 

I even went inside, grabbed both chickens one at a time and threw them into the covered run and locked the door behind them. The owl just watched me.

Next, I began ripping off the deer netting that was the roof of their “backyard.” It was an intense and silent effort, with me not wanting the boy to come out and see what had happened, nor did I want him to get excited, yell suggestions, and perhaps endanger himself or get in the way, as sometimes happens because children can’t control their reactions that well yet.

At last, the owl flew up out of the same hole, though now much wider, that it had entered, then settled itself on a post momentarily before flying magnificently away into the woods behind our house. 

The Great Horned Owl, now free, prepares to fly back into our woods.
The Great Horned Owl, now free, prepares to fly back into our woods.

The remaining girls are now locked into their coop and covered run until Sarah and I can put a stronger roof made out of metal hardware cloth over their extended “back yard.” 

This is our first fatality due to predators. We lost two others due to disease or fatal conditions, like a blocked egg. In a way, we were lucky it was an owl. We’ve heard owls will only kill one bird and are satisfied, unlike critters such as foxes or weevils that might have killed them all. 

Sometimes bad news follows good. We had just gotten our first two little eggs of the year, laid by the new girls, yesterday. Now my first chore of the morning, after dropping the kid off at school, was to deal with poor Sasha’s body. 

Our boy came out, looking for me, just after the owl flew majestically away into our woods, with a wingspan of at least four feet. Appearing at the side door, coat and backpack on, he said cheerfully, “That was a lot longer than five minutes!” On the drive to school, I explained what happened matter-of-factly, that a Great Horned Owl had gotten in the fence and killed Sasha. He seemed to take it in stride. In addition to chickens, he’s experienced the death of pet goldfish, a dog to cancer, his beloved hamster Albert Squirmy Nocats Hamsterdam (no cats allowed in his room!); I guess he’s become somewhat familiar with life and death on a small homestead. So he acknowledged what I said and turned the conversation to his upcoming science fair project. Still, I expect he’ll want to talk about it this evening. Like the rest of us, he feels sad when we lose one of our animals. 

Our son made this tombstone for his beloved hamster, Albert Squirmy Nocats Hamsterdam.
Theo made this tombstone for the grave of his beloved pet hamster, Albert Squirmy Nocats Hamsterdam.

I found myself feeling complicated about the owl and its kill. I am sad for the loss, relieved it wasn’t worse, and in some ways awe-struck: the owl was magnificent and beautiful, especially as it flew away on its powerful and graceful long wings, and I understand how it acted according to its place in nature.

The ADD Writer

Recently, writer Nancy McCabe asked me to fill out a questionnaire for her Spalding MFA program faculty blog. Her questions prompted me to put into words, maybe for the first time, how I’ve come to understand the way I write as a person with a pretty strong case of ADD. (Since my girlfriend/partner has it too, and possibly our son, we often refer to our homestead as “Casa ADD”.)

Here are my answers to the questions, edited and expanded. I hope writers—but not just writers, anyone—pursuing life through the neurological filter of Attention Deficit Disorder will find comfort in them and realize in what ways our own “ADD Normal” (which would be FINE if society would be more tolerant!) differs from expectations foisted upon us that are just not going to conform to our “normal.”

Q. What struggles do you face in trying to carve out time to write?

A. In addition to having no time, I have a brief daily window of serene concentration as I have quite a strong case of Adult Attention Deficit Disorder, and almost all my medicated concentration goes to course preparation and grading as teaching four writing courses per semester is high overhead. When the medication wears off, that’s pretty much it for a useful day. Plus, now that I’ve reached the age of 63, I find I am both unable and unwilling to pull all-nighters like I used to. It’s not sustainable and not healthy.

Like most people with ADD, I’m not going to be able to hitch myself to a regular writing schedule.

Q. How do you manage to find time to write/remain productive? Any tips/tricks that you find useful?

Being content with slower, but nevertheless steady output is important. However, like others with my type of brain, I am not patient, nor am I easily content.

A. Due to my lifestyle, life circumstances, and neurological challenge, I have to think of writing productivity in different ways than people with more serene concentration.

Like most people with ADD, I’m not going to be able to hitch myself to a regular writing schedule. The ADD brain just abhors scheduled and repetitive time, and prefers impulsivity (especially during un-medicated time, but even during it). Therefore, I tend to write impulsively, and somewhat erratically, hunkering down to work when the strong mood, inclination, or desire strikes.

I find I have a cycle where writing will be done regularly, but over a longer arc, looking at what I get done in terms of monthly rather than daily or weekly. Still, due to my many other obligations (teaching career, family, music group, and more), in order to accomplish something creative for myself, I have to deliberately put aside some other thing that will then have to be made up. (People with ADD tend to take on many projects!) There’s no other way during the semester or during heavy family times, as my partner and I both work. Being content with slower, but nevertheless steady output is important. However, like others with my type of brain, I am not patient, nor am I easily content.

I try to accomplish more during long breaks between semesters, but they also overlap with our son’s school breaks, so there’s less that can be accomplished then. Nevertheless, I love being a parent, and so I judge it worthwhile to have less writing now in order to be a better parent, and defer some of my accomplishments to the future. (But note again: I struggle with contentment and deferment.)

I look forward to retirement! Whenever I can pull that off.

 Here are my writing Tips and Tricks

Enthusiasm is fairly well known by researchers to erase the trouble people with ADD have with concentrating on tasks. It’s the routine that most people can make themselves do, that ADD people just can’t push through to!

  • Writing “Small” Helps to Write Frequently: One of my Spalding MFA program poetry mentors, Molly Peacock, taught us the value of writing small poems. No matter how busy, we can often manage to write some little poem – a few lines, even, to keep the fingers moving. I do that at least weekly, often more.
  • Teaching Can Be Motivating: I am one of those creative writing teachers who gets motivated by students. Just the engagement with creative writing courses will often spur writing, even if that particular class is uninspiring, haha. But sometimes I manage to write generative assignments along with the class, and sometimes just answering their questions about creative writing or re-reading what I’m assigning them to read motivates me enough to get some writing done. The same goes for workshops. Running writing workshops prompts me to write.
  • Be Socially & Culturally Involved: Part of living with ADD means my brain tends to trick me into feeling isolated and alienated. Yet, if I go too long without social engagement or being involved in the writing community, I stagnate. The same is true with general cultural engagement. I need it in order to feel a part of things

    When I go to a play, concert, local reading, local band performance, talk to writers, or even read at an open mic; when I give a reading or performance or take part in a workshop or writing group, my desire and enthusiasm increase. When they increase to a certain point, they overcome the difficulties of ADD. Enthusiasm is fairly well known by researchers to erase the trouble people with ADD have concentrating on tasks. It’s the routine that non-ADD people can make themselves do, that ADD people just can’t push through to!

    I never do enough things-that-interest-me. There have been times when I’ve even been on the way to an event and turned back, my ADD brain having talked me out of going. In fact, a phenomenon known as Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria can contribute to this reaction. Other times I recognize the “fictions” my brain tries to tell me, and I force myself to go. I’m always regretful for not participating more often when I realize again how supercharging social and cultural engagement is. Even hearing someone read a poem makes me think of poems I want to write.
  • Take Road Trips! Though they may very well resemble the impulsive aspect of ADD, spontaneous short road trips are worth it. Allow yourself to indulge your ADD brain once in a while. Most aspects of our condition have strengths when used in moderation. Especially for us, we just have to be engaged in life and not descend into too much routine and predictability. However, I’m sure this is just as true for any creative type, not just an ADD person like me.
  • Exercise: I spent a good part of my youth backpacking. My knees are pretty awful as a result, so I do not run or hike intensively or backpack anymore, but I can do light hiking, and I also love freestyle swimming. I also practice Tai Chi. All of these assist my writing and everything else I do. Swimming, however, is repetitive. I have to take my medication before doing laps! Before I was diagnosed, I had noticed how exercise gave me some golden serene time to work. I believe this effect has now been verified scientifically. Meditation is wonderful, too, but it’s nearly impossible for me to sustain sitting still. I have to do it in short bursts. Perhaps because Tai Chi is movement, change, and flow, I find that it is the best of all worlds – exercise, meditation, concentration, flow, that I can do any time, medicated or not.
  • Promise to write something: The pressure of the deadline works for me! It has to be a real deadline, though, not a self-imposed one. And not a catastrophic one! I had enough experience with that kind of stress and failure before my diagnosis. As an example of a useful deadline, recently I was asked to read a poem at a special gathering. I drafted and revised this poem many times, with plenty of time to spare. I was excited, and that motivation allowed me to work consistently and well.
  • Things that don’t work for me: Procrastination avoidance tips like promising myself a reward after a certain amount of work – never has worked. To-Do Lists (forget to read ’em); Schedules (forget to follow ’em).
  • Frequent breaks: Take frequent breaks and write in small, very small, doses until the “groove” or the “flow” occurs. Then, as always, you enter a sort of writing coma where time no longer matters.

These are my tips/tricks. When I’m “on” I can write anywhere, any time, with any distraction. But I need these tips to get to the “on” stage.

Q. Is there anything else you want to share about maintaining productivity and balance?

As I don’t (and can’t) adhere to the common dictum of making writing like a job, with a daily, strictly adhered to schedule, and given all the activity I engage myself in to have what for me counts as a meaningful life, and on top of that adding the vexing problem of coping with an intractable case of Adult Attention Deficit Disorder with its impulsivity and all else it entails, I’m probably a terrible example of how to maintain productivity and balance in creative writing for your readers!

More info on Adult ADD and ADHD: I have found the online magazine ADDitude to be very useful for understanding our condition.

If you have any tips and tricks, or any comments regarding being a writer with ADD, please share them! I hope you find this article helps you understand that as people with ADD, you need to find your own ways of coping, your own “ADD Normal” not imposed by others’ expectations and judgments.

Generative Exercise: “Sasha’s Flight”

LOL – this is not a poem I’m ever going to send out, I don’t think – so I’m sharing it with you. I promised to do a generative exercise along with my poetry students based on an assignment called “Twenty Little Poetry Projects” by Jim Simmerman in The Practice of Poetry. The exercise has 20 random instructions for constructing a poem, such as “9. Use an example of false cause-effect logic” and “14. Refer to yourself by nickname and in the third person.” You never know how weirdly letting-go the results will be. So…enjoy the strange! – mj

Sasha’s Flight
By Michael Jackman

Our garden is a hamster stuffing
weeds in his cheeks. The tomatoes
dare the chickens in the run,
frightening them by spitting
seeds and tomato juice. Fat chickens
shriek and huddle in the coop.
Sasha, a Barred Rock hen, wishes
she lived in Jeffersonville, Indiana.

The tomatoes didn’t dare the hens,
they were flirting, but dinosaurs
have never understood this gesture.
The huddled chickens lick each other’s
tart feathers.

When will the highway grow quiet?
When will the neighbors silence
their polluting porch lights?
At night the light coats the collard greens
like an endotoxin. The highway’s tritones
curdle the corn and they try to cover their ears.
The sound bites their sensitive silk and chews
through a number of kernels.

Breaking dawn makes politicians chew onions,
grinding the teary skins all over God’s green acres,
as onion skins are the diaphanous shawls 
of rhetoric. Politicians mend fences with wire cutters.

Sasha, the Barred Rock, discovers
flight one day and beats her beak against
the netted ceiling until she breaks free
to join a flock of wild turkeys running uphill.
Jackman never sees her again, though he will search
the knobs of Floyd County, finding only splats
of her particular green guano, and he will call,
“Sasha! Sasha!” to the scolding of crows and coos
of mourning doves. The situation will be derelectly
novel, as he knows willows are the arbiters of hen
grievances, and the forests call, “Sasha, cherie,
fais comme chez toi
!” On cold winter nights,
even the chert will light her fires, with one spark.
The tomatoes spit, corn wails, lights ooze down
the sides of collards.

Muriel Rukeyser on Why People Hate Poetry

As a teacher of poetry, I often hear dislike of poetry expressed. When I hear it, I’m dismayed, and struggle to understand why. At least until I discovered Muriel Rukeyser’s The Life of Poetry at a conference presentation. Seventy years ago, Muriel Rukeyser wrote these words explaining why people hate poetry that seem to me just as true today.

Anyone dealing with poetry and the love of poetry must deal, then, with the hatred of poetry, and perhaps even more with the indifference which is driven toward the center. It comes through as boredom, as name-calling, as the traditional attitude of the last hundred years which has chalked in the portrait of the poet as he is known to this society, which as Herbert Read says, “does not challenge poetry in principle–it merely treats it with ignorance, indifference and unconscious cruelty.”

 -Muriel Rukeyser, The Life of Poetry (1949)

These days, you often hear a truism by poets and poetry faculty that turns Rukeyser slightly askew. It goes something like, “Everybody loves to write poetry, but nobody loves to read it.” Just as dismaying, but I think Rukeyser’s statement explains it just as well.

Until we teach poetry in a way which raises the bar in understanding, enjoyment, and sophistication; until we properly offer this art in a way that is cross-cultural, multi-faceted, and inclusive, we won’t be able to get poetry the respect it deserves. I believe what poets and poetry teachers would want would be for people to find in poetry a way to explore what it means to be alive, to find comfort in difficult circumstances, to grow as an individual, and even to find a way to give praise for and to existence.

Molly’s Mutts Plays Rockabilly: Mel Tillis’ “I Ain’t Never”

Molly’s Mutts rocks to Mell Tillis’ “I Ain’t Never” during a practice session in David’s living room. Enjoy! Molly’s Mutts is Molly McCormack (dulcimers, guitar, vocals), Michael Jackman (guitars, ukulele, dobro, vocals), and David Rodger (stand up bass).

Molly's Mutts group photo
Molly’s Mutts is (L-R) David Rodger, Molly McCormack, Michael Jackman

Check out Molly’s Mutts jamming to Bob Wills’ “Roly Poly.”