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Reading Helen Macdonald’s H is for Hawk reminds me of my experiences of training parrots. The process is very different from the one that Macdonald describes, since parrots are more intelligent and more social than hawks. However, it requires the same patience and is as much about training you as the bird.

These days, the importing of parrots is banned for conversation reasons, so you rarely see wild birds. However, even handfed birds have to adjust to a new human, and many of the birds available today have been neglected or abused. As a result, the goal of parrot training remains the same as ever: to help the bird bond with you, and to teach them a few behaviors that can help keep them safe. Fortunately, you can usually accomplish both goals at once.

When you bring a new parrot home, place them in a cage where they can see what is going on around them. The cage should have a small tent or a corner covered with a cloth, where they can sit and peer out – most birds’ favorite position.

Before training, give the bird some time to adjust. Talk to them, and feed them by hand, let them come out of the cage if they want, but avoid the temptation to rush into training. Coming to a new place is enough of an adjustment without adding anything else. You can tell when a bird is ready for training, because their feathers will be relaxed and they may even make happy chuckling sounds.

When you start training, carry the bird to a small quiet room. I prefer to sit on the floor, in the hopes of looming less. Let the bird come out of the cage, and practice having the bird come up on a perch, both with and without command. This is a relatively non-threatening behavior to begin with, and can be useful for fetching the bird out of the small corners it may hide in if scared or alarmed. It is also useful for getting a bird down from a high place where you cannot easily reach.

When the bird steps up on the perch, praise them verbally, and offer a treat such as a nut or a piece of fruit. Keep each training sessions no longer than fifteen minutes, and in between sessions, continue talking and feeding the bird.

Once the bird steps consistently up on the perch, repeat the process with your hand, working up gradually to having the bird step up a ladder of hands. The exact training time depends on the bird, but ordinarily takes 3-10 days. Abused birds will take longer.

After this basic training is complete, start carrying the bird around their new home, both on your hand and on your shoulder. Show them where the windows are, and let them inspect the glass with their beak, so they know where it is and can avoid it. Feed them from your hand as much as possible, doing yur best not to flinch when you see the beak coming for your fingers. You will soon learn the difference between a friendly approach and a hostile one.

At this point, the praise, the food, the company and the training should be beginning to teach the bird that you are a friend. From there, it is simply a matter of time before you feel a stubby tongue reach out for the nearest part of you to preen you in friendship. An abused or neglected bird may take several years to start preening you, but may still enjoy your company in other ways.

However, whether the first preen arrives in a week or three years, there is no feeling quite like it. It means that you have learned to befriend a creature with the intelligence of a two to four year old human, and that they have learned to befriend you as well. Across the barriers of species and domestication, you have had your first contact with an alien intelligence.

Unrequited

Thanks to the Internet, falling in love with someone is easier than ever. Contrary to what some people assume, sometimes you really can get to know people before you meet  face to face. In fact,  intimacy or its illusion can be easier over a distance, because less is at stake. However, the fact that you have feelings doesn’t mean the other person returns them – and, from what I’ve observed, that can mean you have to steer carefully between avoiding an incident and compromising your self-respect, especially if you are a man.

The trouble with unrequited feelings is that they are easily interpreted as harassment. In fact, there is no definite criteria to distinguish the two except the unsatisfactory one of whether your attentions are welcomed by the other person. Especially among feminists, you can find people who insist that unrequited feelings and harassment are the same thing,  although that is like saying there is no difference between licensed drivers and hit and run drivers. The truth is that unrequited feelings are common among both men and women, especially younger ones, and the worst thing that can be said about such feelings in general is that they are foolish and frequently hopeless.

However, what you need to understand is that you generally have no defense against misinterpretations of your feelings. Once somebody decides that you are “creepy,” nothing you can do is likely to persuade the other person that you are anything else.  The labeling becomes a fixed conclusion, unamendable by any logic or evidence.

You may develop the illusion that if you can only talk with the other person, everything can be explained, but anything you say or do is likely to be filtered through the basic misperception. You may have stopped at a particular coffee shop every day for six years, but if stopping there increases your chance of seeing the person, you may be branded a stalker. Just your efforts to explain and to get the other person to listen to you can be interpreted as harassment, and if you persist, the interpretation can become a fair one.

This situation is easy to misunderstand; I wouldn’t be the first person to refer to infatuation as a form of mental illness, and the chances are that you are not quite sane on the subject of your unrequited feelings. But if your intentions really are good, ask yourself if you really want the person you claim to love to suffer because of what you’re doing.

You may agonize over your inability to fix the situation, and hate the thought that the other person is putting themselves through needless pain, but the chances are that you can do nothing to change the situation – and certainly not quickly.  Be careful that you are not inventing excuses to see them.

If you have any chance whatsoever – and you probably don’t – it lies in leaving the other person alone as much as possible. By definition, though, this advice is difficult to follow. After all, you have strong feelings. You may have a strong social conscience that tells you to resolve unnecessary suffering. You may be angry because the other person is being so unreasonable. But as hard as acceptance may be, you need to do nothing. Otherwise, you risk getting a reputation that you don’t deserve.

In fact, you may even want to practice some avoidance. If you can skip an event where the other person will be, you might consider doing so.  If you can avoid making a public comment that will get back to the other person, possibly you should.

However, second-guessing can be difficult when you are trying to have no contact. It can easily feel like exactly the type of behavior you are trying not to fall into. Besides, at times you may have to do something, no matter what the risk. Probably, for example, you cannot chance your place of work just to avoid seeing the other person on the street.

Just as importantly, avoidance can erode your self-respect, making you feel that you are acquiescing to an unfair perception of you, or making allowances for someone who is being unreasonable. Above everything else, it can be inconvenient.

Caught by such a dilemma, the best course of action – if you can manage it – is to try to act as you would if you were not infatuated. Be honest with yourself: are you really doing something in the hopes of seeing the other person, or in defiance of their stubborn incomprehension? If so, then you almost certainly shouldn’t do it.

However, if work or some other necessity requires you to go risk contact, console yourself with the reminder that the problem is the other person’s, not yours. If you are not the way they imagine you are, then they will need to reconcile themselves to the fact that they will occasionally run into you, and the process of accepting that is one in which you cannot assist.

In saying these things, I am naturally assuming that you are genuinely confused by the situation into which you’ve blundered. If you are a stalker, my only advice is to stop at once. But if you have no criminal intentions, you need to keep busy, and think about something else than the other person. Falling out of love or infatuation is an uncomfortable process, but it remains your best hope of avoiding more trouble than you can easily get out of.

Last summer, I contributed to Haida Raid 3: Save Our Waters, an environmentalist animation. I couldn’t resist, given the cause and the perk of a print: Jaalen Edenshaw’s “K’alt’side K’aa” (“Laughing Crow”).

Edenshaw is the brother of Gwaii Edenshaw, one of the foremost jewelers on the coast. Much of his work is on poles and other community art, with only an occasional piece making it as far south to Vancouver. So I was happy when, a few weeks after the Haida Raid fundraiser closed, I received this small sample of his work. Many people assume that Haida art has no humor, and I’m glad to have a piece that proves otherwise.

What particularly interests me about this piece is its resemblance to some of the figures on the ring I bought from Gwaii Edenshaw five years ago. I had asked Gwaii to do a ring illustrating the story about how Raven turned the crows black. Not wanting to share their salmon with Raven, the crows put crumbs in the dozing Ravens’ mouth, then try to convince him that he already eaten when he wakes up. But Raven is not deceived, and throws the crows into the fire, singeing them so that their feathers turn from white to black.

bruce-ring3

On the ring, Gwaii depicts the crows in the middle of sprinkling Raven with crumbs of salmon, rolling them into his mouth and along his back. The crow figures resemble the ones on Jaalen’s print, and I mean to ask him which came first the next time I see him.

Meanwhile, the print is a good example of how I can enjoy a hundred dollar piece as much as a ten thousand dollar one. With a print run of 270, the print is unlikely ever to be valuable, but I admire it for its unusual posture, as well as the lines indicating movement on both sides of the figure. Compared to most prints, it is a cartoon – but that, I suspect, is exactly what was intended.

laughing-crow

Several years ago, Haisla carver Nathan Wilson was one of the standouts at the Freda Diesing School graduation exhibit. Unlike most of his classmates, he was already regularly selling masks to the galleries. They were well-finished, but, I thought them lacking in individuality. However, his masks also suggested that very soon he would manage that individuality – and I when I saw “ Tagwa” on Facebook, I knew immediately that he had. I immediately offered to buy it, nipping in ahead of several other buyers.

The only catch was that Wilson had done the panel for his YVR scholarship. That meant I would have to wait a year to take it home, while it hung in the Vancouver airport for a year. Then, ominously, when the year was up, Wilson said he wanted to make some adjustments to it.

Knowing something about carvers and perfectionism, I joked that the octopus would probably come back as a grizzly bear. Mercifully, on closer examination, Wilson decided to restrict himself to minor corrections, and the panel arrived at my front door fourteen months after I had reserved it.

“Tagwa” is an abstract piece, with the shape distorted to find the shape of the panel. In fact, the body of the octopus is upside down, with its beak at center left. The abstraction is heightened by the body, which – fittingly – resembles a loose sack of random shapes in which only the beak and eye are visible.

At first, only a few tentacles are visible, the others, presumably, being hidden by the octopus’ body. However, if you look closely, you start to realize that what at first appears to be the formlines for the body could actually be another two tentacles. You also realize that although four tentacle tips are visible in the right half of the panel, they twist in such a way that more tentacles may be present. Stare long enough, and the exact count becomes difficult to decide, because the tentacles seem to start twisting as you try to make sense of them.

The tentacles, they contrast with the body by having a contemporary design. Instead of the ovoids that many artists would have used to indicate the tentacle’s suckers, Wilson contents himself with plain ovals. Instead of a formline design, the tentacles themselves form the center of interest, twining and showing their two sides, one painted red and the other left unpainted cedar. If you look closely at the picture, you can see that the wood mimics the rubbery texture of an octopus’ skin.

This contrast between the two sides of the panel is heightened by its colors. The body reverses the traditional formline colors, making red the primary color and black the secondary one. In addition, as often happens in Haisla works, blue is added as a background color.

The result is a piece that immediately catches the eyes. It now hangs prominently in the center of one wall of my living room, where it catches my eye several times a day, and where in the last nine months it has become one of my favorites pieces. Wilson himself, I am happy to say, has continued to show his own sense of style in his more recent works, consistently proving himself the artist I always suspected he was.
nw

Lately, my mind has been focused on friendship, particularly friendship between men and women. Apparently, I am a man who finds friendships with women easy, very few of which have ever turn romantic. That’s not to say that some of these relationships are uncolored by attraction –just that, even without the possibility of sex, people are intriguing enough to keep the attention of anyone with a normal amount of curiosity. In these friends, the women and and I have simply decided  not to follow up on that attraction. Whether we have discussed the matter or come to an unspoken agreement, we’ve decided instead that what matters is the relationship. The expectations of romance can become tiresome, and to dismiss them can be a mutual relief.

Take, for example, a woman I am going to call Kari. We met a number of years ago at a workshop that I was writing an article about. She was one of the organizers, sitting to one side of the audience, and our eyes keep meeting. On my part – and, I believe, on hers – it was not a matter of love at first sight, so much as a recognition that here was a person of obvious character and individuality. After the meeting, we made a point of talking, and quickly went from professional colleagues to friends.

We don’t live near each other, and our lives only occasionally intersect unless we make an effort. In fact, months sometimes pass between phone calls or emails, and even more time between meetings. Yet I frequently wonder what she is doing, and any time we have been out of contact for too long, one of us is sure to remedy the lapse.

Part of our relationship is based on an exchange of favors. I wrote once or twice about an organization that Kari was leading, and, the weekend after my wife died, Kari invited me to just hang – a favor that I badly needed, and will never forget.

However, the relationship long ago became more than any sense of obligation. Part of the relationship is that we can talk to each other about problems and ambitions, perhaps because our interactions can be intermittent.

Yet the friendship goes beyond that. I can’t speak for Kari’s opinion of me, but I take for granted that she will one day leave her mark. It may be in social activism, or in something more mainstream, but short of some appalling random coincidence, one day she is going to be successful, and I sense that she wants that success very badly. If I could, I would like to help her ambitions along, even in a small way, and to witness their fulfillment.

Sometimes we talk about her ambitions, or mine, and what the next steps might be in fulfilling them. Mostly, however, we talk everyday events, and exchange suggestions about how to solve each others’ problems. We make plans, too, to see more of each other, most of which we never carry out. Simultaneously, it is both a distant and a close relationship between two people who think very much alike, yet lead different lives and are just different enough in temperament and pursuits to make discussion insightful.

Since I am a few years older than her, cynics might say that what I have achieved is an avuncular sublimation of sexual attraction, but that, at best, would be an over-simplification. In fact, it would be an insult to both Kari and I, and fails to explain why we have maintained our friendship at the same time as love-relationships with other people I may not understand exactly why we are friends, but it seems to be enough for both of us that we are.

Today, I learned from a comment on my blog that a friend had killed himself. His name was Gary Wadham, but I always thought of him as Daffyd ap Moran, his name in the Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA).

We lost touch years ago, but there was a time when Trish and I considered Daffyd one of our closest friends. We were living a few blocks from him in New Westminster, and frequently saw him several evenings a week. On weekends, we often saw him at SCA events, where he served as a marshall during fights and played his guitar at feasts. He had a thin voice, but enthusiasm and a large repertoire of SCA songs more than made up for it. I can still see him in my mind’s eye, playing “Duke Paul,” the “Sam Hall” parody about Paul of Bellatrix,” and, later in the night, the off-color “The Ball of Ballinor,” and, more reluctantly – because he hated the song for its mediocrity despite its local popularity – “Lions Gate the Fair.”

In fact, we were close enough that he presided over our medieval wedding in Druidical green. Although not a pagan, he took his duties seriously, fasting beforehand despite (if I remember correctly) being borderline diabetic, and taking the trouble to pick the exact marble goblet for use in the ceremony. I still have that goblet, enclosed by the wooden ring used in the ceremony.

However, even then, we knew he had troubles. He had a taste for greasy spoons and seedy rented rooms, and his engagement fell through partly because of his moodiness, although it lasted long enough to get him into a marginally more upscale apartment. But he seemed to take a stubborn pride in living, not just simply, but on the edge of squalor.

Even more seriously, he was a mostly functional alcoholic. He did manage to hold down his job as an engineering designer, although he sometimes arrived at work hung over and his idea of breakfast was a couple of beers. But in his own hours, he often drank steadily. I remember one evening in particular when he left our group at the Simon Fraser University pub without saying anything, and a half dozen of us spent an anxious hour or two in the cold night, wandering the campus trying to find him – only to find him, eventually, asleep in his own bed with no memory of how he got there. He was never a nasty drunk that I heard, but his binges often alarmed his friends.

Trish and I lost touched with Daffyd when we moved and quit the SCA; in the circles we had moved in, if you weren’t in the SCA, you didn’t really exist. But from the rumors that reached us from time to time, he continued much as he had been when we knew him, but going slowly downhill, increasingly withdrawing and increasingly ill. In the last few years, I gather, he had largely dropped out of the SCA, and was going blind.

I regret, now, that I never got around to looking him up. Not that I suppose for a moment that I could have done much for him – if anyone ever had their fate written on their forehead, it was Daffyd. But I’ve learned a little about being solitary in the five years that I’ve been widowed, so the feeling persists that I could have done something. But the fact remains that I didn’t keep up the connection, and I lost the right to mourn him long ago, no matter how sorry I am that he died alone.

with-daffyd

A few weeks ago, I quit the fantasy book club I had attended for several years. I didn’t especially want to, but I could not have done anything else.

What happened was this:

We had just finished discussing what to read next when, out of nowhere, the woman in whose house the book club met, said something like, “We all love you, Bruce, but I’m glad when we read something you don’t know. When you’ve taught a book or met the writer, it’s too much.”

I was relaxed, so this remark took me by surprise. I kept polite as the meeting ended, even smiling and joking as I left, but, the more I thought, the more the remark vexed me.

True, I have taught third year university courses in fantasy, and for several years attended conventions where I met a variety of writers. But I am not the only one who has met the writers we discussed, and I never brag about my experiences, or mention them to shut down the discussion. I only mention them out of enthusiasm, and because I think they add something to the discussion. Perhaps the woman felt inadequate because I am at least fifteen years older, but shifting the blame to me seems unfair – especially since she tends to dominate the discussion at each meeting.

However, what left me trapped was not the unfairness so much as the lack of alternatives. After that comment, I could either ignore it, making me feel loutishly insensitive, or else watch every word I said, censoring myself during what, after all, was my leisure time, and all because of something I didn’t consider a fault.

Even worse, continuing to attend meetings would mean accepting the hospitality of a woman who – her initial remark not withstanding – obviously held a grievance against me. The meeting location was unlikely to change, and, given her views of me, I would neither eat nor drink – nor even sit – in her house.

Later, waking in the night with the incident in my mind, I also realized that no one else at the meeting had objected to the remark. They might have been as unprepared as I was, but they possibly agreed with the remark. There was no way of finding out without endless discussion, and I would doubt the sincerity of any apologies.

Under these circumstances, I could see no reason for remaining. The next morning, I resigned, keeping quiet when the club organizer asked why I was leaving. I have thought since that I might be over-sensitive, and in some ways I regret leaving, but I didn’t have any other choice that I was willing to accept.

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