I have always loved them.
Feathers are a recurring motif in my life.
One Christmas, my mother gave me a white goose quill pen and inkwell. The gift filled me with wonder. Could the quill be used? Or was it only ornamental? The tip was carved to a point, like the nib of a fountain pen. It seemed like it would snap under the pressure of my hand. I dipped the tip into the well. The nib did not carry much ink. I wrote my name. The feather pen did not fly across the page. The gift was a folly! I adored it even more. The feather pen was beautiful and delicate and rare—positive proof that my mother understood my dream to be a writer.
When I was 13, our parents took me and my two sisters to Europe. Our father insisted the first foreign soil we set foot upon would be Ireland, the soil of his forefathers. We stayed at Dromoland Castle, the supposed seat of the O’Brien clan. Then we traveled to Norway, the land of my mother's forefathers. In Paris, we stayed in a pension across the river from The Louvre. My sisters and I roamed the quais. I fell in love with a young man on the street because of the wild way the wind off the Siene twisted his tie and flipped it over his shoulder. Our last days were in London. The jewels at The Tower were mind-boggling, Buckingham Palace was grand. But shopping in London was the greatest revelation. I came home wearing a maxi-dress from Selfridge’s and frosted lipstick from Mary Quant. In my suitcase was a pair of white ostrich feathers from BIBA. Five years later, I took the plumes with me to Providence, to adorn my dorm room at Brown.
Later on, I worked a summer in New York City for Ingeborg Hecht, a minor fashion designer. My job was to perform as many menial tasks as possible in a day. I fetched her coffee, answered her phones and picked up pins from the fitting area floor. On my knees hunting for stray silver pins, I dictated to myself the features of my future. I wanted to write. I would marry someone who, like me, contributed to the arts. Yet, honestly, in the moment, what I wanted most was one of Ingeborg’s dresses. My favorite was a matte jersey smock frock with a self-belt; the flowing fabric was black and splayed with a pattern of pink ostrich feathers. At the end of my internship, Ingeborg gave me this dress. For years, my sisters and I took turns wearing it. We always named our favorite dresses. This became The Feather Dress.
Seven years later, my fiancé—a journalist-filmmaker—and I moved into an apartment in the West Village. The vestibule had antique wallpaper of gorgeous chartreuse plumes. We lived in this enchanted place for a mere three years. Then the moving van came; we followed it out to Los Angeles. Whenever I am in New York, I walk along Ninth Street and stop at our old building. I study the names listed on the buzzer. So many years later—20 years later!—many of our former neighbors still live here. I peek in the window to see my other friends: the feather, too, are still here and seem to wave hello to me.
Recently I found on the web the image below: Types de plumes, by Adolphe Millot (1857–1925). I love it because it is literal and whimsical. Feathers connote birds, flight, softness, strength, warmth, frivolity, mastery, weightlessness, protection and direction. There is an infinite variety of types of feathers. There is an infinite variety of types of writers too.
What are your recurring motifs? Our task is to find the motifs that have meaning for us, the ideas and stories that are our own, catch them with our quill and help them take flight. What are your ideas? How we fashion these, and they us, where they take us—these are the things we discover through writing. Feathers transport, and so do words, ideas and stories. Birds are known by their feathers. We are known by what we write. What are your stories? What type of writer are you?
Maybe you are in the midst of a writing project and need structure, support or guidance. Maybe you mean to write a poem or a pilot, a novella or screenplay, only you have not yet picked up your quill. Contact me. I am available to support writers of every type, stripe and feather—privately or in the small group that meets in my home.