Nobody seems to like crows.
The other day, a woman came by to pick up her girl from a play-date. When she heard I was interested in crows, she launched a tirade about how crows were murderers of songbirds and defiled the air with their ugly noise. I’m sure I saw spittle fly when she called them “cockroaches with wings.” One of my closest friends called them “big bullies” and even my four-year-old prefers seagulls to crows because, as she said, “I don’t want to be with the losers.” To some, liking crows seems synonymous with liking tattoos or heavy metal or horror films or black lipstick or vermin. Liking crows means rooting for the bad guy or embracing the dark side. It’s just anti-social.
Now, from what I can gather, this reputation is just not justified. Although it’s true that they do eat other birds’ eggs (as do I), several studies have been done which involved killing off huge populations of crows to determine their effect on other birds; in every study, killing the crows did not increase the populations of the rest. So although the movie The Crow was rather dark and had a “killer” soundtrack, and I have seen many tattoos of crows and some of them a little bit scary, I don’t see any evidence that the bird itself is evil.
This anti-crow attitude was probably passed down to us from former generations who saw crows scavenging on battlefields or flocking in fields. Even though these birds rid crops of harmful insects and help clean up post-war carnage, a hasty or emotional observer might come away with a different impression. (Although crows can be a threat to crops, we have modern inventions that are much more effective than a scarecrow as a deterrent.) Or maybe it’s Poe’s fault for putting an eerie word into a raven’s mouth, or maybe it’s just because they’re black. Did you know that black cats are adopted less than any other color? Is it superstitious or racist?! I have no idea but if crows were pink, I promise you, most four-year-old girls would want one.
One of my favorite things to do is to eavesdrop in on my girls’ conversations. We have a small house and host many play-dates, so I get plenty of opportunity. When they play, those kids seem to spend a large portion of their time comparing likes and ensuring consensus. Among the four-year-old set, princesses are good, pink is good, plain noodles are good, and they’ll only eat strawberry yogurt (probably because it’s pink). If one person doesn’t like something, the other will agree: “We don’t like boys, right?” “Right.”
The ten-year-olds agree that skinny jeans are cool but clothes with writing on them or ones that display the designer’s name are not. They think it’s better to like what no one else likes but they want a little company while they’re taking their stand. Pink (the color and the pop star) is not their favorite (and you promise not to tell anyone that they secretly like Katy Perry, right?). The vocabulary is more varied and the reasons more convoluted, but they’re basically doing the same thing as their little sisters: playing the liking game, gauging popularity.
I always assert my opinion from the other room— “Ninjas are good, too!” I yell from the kitchen. “How about pink ninjas?” Or, “What about Daddy? And Finn? Finn is a boy and we like him, right?” I don’t know why I do this. Maybe I’m trying to influence them into becoming independent thinkers (which makes no sense—if I’m the influence, then it’s not independent, now is it?). The four-year olds will usually play along (because they’re flexible) but when I put on some Queen (or Bjork or Otis Redding or Cake or Joni Mitchell or Tracy Chapman or Rufus Wainwright or Leonard Cohen) and turn it up real loud, my big girl might roll her eyes and shut her door (which I choose to interpret as a sign of her independence).
Their need for agreement with their friends makes me nervous. It seems that by making a declaration about liking (or not liking) something, we are attempting to connect with others, and the more similar we are, the friendlier we can be. If you like me, you’ll like the things I like, and because I like you, I’ll let you influence me. Aha! There’s the rub. On a small scale this is just a fun game but, if pushed to the extreme, it gets really, really scary. Think about all the stupid things groups and cliques and frats and gangs do, like organizing mass crow-exterminating parties for fun or torturing a kid because he doesn’t like girls the way a boy “should.” Think about the pregnant teenagers at Gloucester High School, hazing, and cults like Jim Jones pushing Kool Aid.
Think about war.
Yep, when I think about it, I realize large groups make me anxious, and when I look back at things I have written for this blog, I see a trend, a common theme that goes, “I like ______ (fill in the blank) and nobody gets it.” It’s often Individual vs. Society, in both my persuasive essays and my fiction. When I write, I often create an opponent, a straw man or a crowd of straw men (people who don’t like crows or think I’m crazy for not having a cell phone, for example) to whom I must explain myself or whom the protagonist attempts to woo. I wonder if this One-Against-the-World stance is my “real voice,” if it’s a part of my personality, or is it inherent in the act of writing? Does blogging predispose one to feeling or acting defensively? Is there something about sitting alone with a computer, addressing a faceless, mute crowd, that makes you paranoid? Or is it just me?
Either way, this stance is starting to feel false and rather tiresome. My straw man has become a rag doll, a scarecrow, a big boring dummy and I’m beginning to wonder if there’s another way to write. People like David Sedaris seem to do well with Self vs. Self—maybe I’ll try more of that. Or I could imagine readers as a group of friends who don’t need persuading because they’re already on my side, even if we don’t necessarily like the same things: a friendly, smiling crowd –some wearing black lipstick and some in Burberry, a couple southerners, some vegans, and some who wear uniforms to work, some who like knitting or the color orange or whisky straight from the bottle—they might not be bobbing their heads in furious agreement, but at least seem interested and willing to engage in a dialogue.
These little details, our likes and dislikes make up who we are. They define us. That’s why they call them “telling details”—they speak volumes. They make it easy for us to characterize each other but we don’t have to agree.
We can decide to like deviation.
We can disagree together.
Next on my list of things to do: Get my hands on a copy of The Made-Up Self by Carl Klaus. Check it out!
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