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The Clumsy Bird

 

A few years ago, I started working on a children’s story about a clumsy bird, but I couldn’t figure out how to finish it. I knew who the main character was: if there was a tree or a power line or a roof in her way, Lola would smack into it. Her mom took her to every doctor she could find and the bird doctors did every possible test on Lola. They diagnosed her with bad eyesight, then partial deafness, attention deficit disorder, maybe a neurological movement disorder of unspecified origin, or bird seed intolerance, but nothing seemed to stick.

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This is what I think Lola looks like

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This is what Lola thinks she looks like

The last doctor Lola went to was a specialist in flying disorders. He squeezed Lola’s feet, and rotated her wings and had her fly to and from his medical nest twenty times. And then he stared into her eyes, with his wormy breath going up her nose, and said, “You’re fine, go away.”

The flight back home was long and Lola’s Mom had to tie a rope between them to avoid an accident along the way.

Of course Lola had an older brother, who was embarrassed to be seen with her. And mean girls in her flying class (aka gym), who made fun of her for her awkward flying technique and tendency to fall out of the sky.

There was a boy bird in Lola’s class who was taunted for being “as blind as a human,” because he couldn’t see where he was going as well as everyone else could. Lola was nice to him, thinking they were in the same situation and could offer each other support, but he resented her sympathy. He called her clumsy, and taunted her along with the rest of the class, just to feel like at least he wasn’t as low down on the social ladder as she was.

I kept looking for ways for Lola to save herself. She was an inventor, by necessity, and created parachutes and nets and trampolines out of whatever she could find in the garbage. She spent months in physical therapy with the seagull at the beach, who was a little too hard core. He made her stand on pebbles to stretch the webbing in her feet, and wrap her wings around the trunk of a tree, and then he’d drop her into freezing cold water to shock her brain, but nothing changed. And then she was sent to the wise goose, who worked at the median of the main road. He spoke in riddles, while walking in constantly changing patterns to help retrain her brain. It didn’t work, but at least with the goose Lola felt less self-conscious, if only because he wasn’t like anyone in her own community, and he didn’t laugh at her for being different.

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This bird is one hard core trainer

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“Are you saying I’m fat?”

But what I really wanted was for there to be something in the bird world that would work better than in the human world. I wanted the elders of her community to come up with a non-stigmatizing way to help the disabled birds who lived amongst them. I imagined bird community conferences, with the elders sitting in the sacred tree, and the younger birds left to line up on the telephone wires, but I couldn’t figure out how to make the birds creative and compassionate enough to make the clumsy bird feel welcome.

I have this block against writing better endings for my characters than I have experienced for myself. It feels like lying in a way that fiction doesn’t usually feel like lying, to me. But I want better for Lola than to have to be in it alone, hitting up against walls that shouldn’t be there. I just don’t know how to get that for her.

 

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“You can do it, Mommy. I believe in you.”

 

 

 

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About rachelmankowitz

I am a fiction writer, a writing coach, and an obsessive chronicler of my dogs' lives.

95 responses »

  1. Ultimately I think they wind up finding a way to save themselves. I believe in you, too! And Lola.

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  2. I like it very much so far. Perhaps a group of differently able gulls working together using each one’s difference as a strength. I look,forward to your special working out of this.

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  3. I think Lola needs to hang out with the pigeons. They stay in groups and always protect one another and allow other birds to stay in their group, too. Embrace your uniqueness, Lola.

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  4. Rachel, Maybe you can imagine the best possible resolution for you (even if it seems like fiction) and then translate that into bird language.

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  5. I like Elizabeth’s idea too! Keep going Rachel!

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  6. Clumsy birds are the ones with character and insight…

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  7. Hm…I think Lola needs to find a girlfriend, fall hopelessly in love and fly away with her to a bird street named Cardinal in South Carolina. At least, she’d have warmer weather. 🙂

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  8. Perhaps she doesn’t need help, she just needs to accept who she is and fly proud and then the other birds will leave her along? Or perhaps an animal other than a bird can help her somehow? Oh, there are so many ways to go . . . you will find the one that feel right for you. Thank you for sharing your story!

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  9. It sounds like “claw in beak” disease to me.

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  10. Perhaps Lola could find her gift – we all have talents to offer others.

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  11. Lola needs a friend. A friendship that starts with a simple smile and a, Hello. Then, as they get to know one another, they connect through their similarities and learn new things from their differences. Then Lola’s clumsiness becomes a part of who she is but not something that defines her. Keep writing, Rachel, this sounds like a good story!

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  12. I love the story and really like a lot of the comments with ideas. I agree that she needs someone, whether it be a group, a friend or a teacher to see past her disability and and at her uniqueness. And that will give her a safe welcoming space to discover her own special talents.
    You may have been clumsy growing up but you’re a damn good writer. Perhaps Lola’s nightingale teacher encourages her to find and use her voice: and she discovers that she has the most gorgeous and spirited voice in the land. Something that moves everybody and encourages everyone to try new things and be themselves. Ultimately she’s still clumsy, but that doesn’t bother her anymore because it isn’t her only identity. And the others no longer view her someone less worthy of respect just because she’s clumsy, because they come to understand that we each have our unique strengths. And maybe all the school birds then come out of their socially constrained closets with their own wild and wacky creative endeavors.

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  13. Cricket is right. You can do it. And I’m sure you will.

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  14. Think about your story when you’re out in the fresh air, walking. I find that helps when working out developments.Good luck!

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  15. Hope you find the ending you’re looking for.

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  16. What if you simply write a realistic ending? Perhaps Lola realizes that she just has to work through life bouncing instead of flying…she makes frequent stops and most enlightening of all…decides she doesn’t care what others think of her. That message gets lost so quickly and easily in this day and age. And it’s then she realizes the one bird always supporting and encouraging her has been her friend this whole time. Is he/she in there? I like the friend idea.

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    • I agree. I don’t think Lola needs a savior. I think she has the power to ‘save’ herself through acceptance, adaptation and being herself not trying to be someone else or like the other birds. And I think saying the truth that that is a lonely place to be often can be enlightening. Maybe she makes up an imaginary friend, or maybe she starts a support group for other animals (not just birds) who have decided to make their own mark in their species. She could be a leader and a change maker instead of a victim seeking answers from other places. Just a thought. Or if you wanted make up some apocalyptic ending where the world changes massively maybe there is a massive storm with winds, or an earthquake, or fire, and the birds that fly are not suddenly not able to and Lola is the heroine as she’s the only one who has already learned the realities of not being able to fly, she’s able to instruct her fellow birds to safety. Something that creates the scenario for her fellow birds to learn empathy towards her through life experience. Sounds like a nice story 🙂

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      • So many good ideas. Thank you!

      • This is similar to what I was thinking. Your story reminds me of the Bumblebee who couldn’t fly. He was mocked by the other bees until a great storm came. Then he was the only bee who knew how to walk home to the hive and led the others to safety. Lola may not be the best flier, but she has a gift…she is a beacon to so many. Her voice can lead others out of the darkness. She is so wise and beautiful that others come to her on her mountain top for help. She doesn’t need to fly for everyone comes to her.

      • That’s lovely! Thank you!

    • Bouncing! I think Lola can work with that!

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  17. I’m thinking of Hans Andersen’s Ugly Duckling. Combining this with Dragontearsoflove’s idea, I wonder whether this video would inspire you:

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  18. This is a lovely story Rachel and since you are writing this for children there are so many directions you can take with this. Other birds have offered to help her in the best ways that they know. What they are teaching Lola is that everyone has their own way of doing things and this can inspire her to find her own solution. Each individual is unique and the best help a friend can offer Lola is one that is empowering – believing in her ability to find the answers within herself rather than providing all the answers for her. This story has so much potential and I am sure you can find a way to finish this chapter in Lola’s story in a way that is inspiring for children while leaving the door open for a potential second book in the series. Enjoy the process Rachel, we believe in you! ☺💖 xxx

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  19. Sounds good! Don’t give up. An idea will come to you when you least expect it!

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  20. I really loved this, Thank you 😊

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  21. You’ll get there, and Lola will blossom.

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  22. It takes a flock to raise a baby bird. Perhaps there is story idea(s) in one of your internship clients story. Or what kind of happy ending would you want for your clients and how can that be reflected in your story, which I like so far.

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  23. I love this! I agree that the ending will come. Probably when you least expect it, like while you’re sleeping.

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  24. Something that occurs to me is that maybe the story IS finished, a parable (if you will) of how sometimes, despite our best efforts, we just never know the answers. It’s the lesson that’s important, not the conclusion. Me? I’d end it with Lola finding her own strength and the compassion for herself not to mind being different and to celebrate her difference; potentially finding other ‘disabled’ cranes that have a community where she eventually goes to live and ends up content and happy among her own kind. To me that’s the best ending that any unique creature can hope for; because there’s always someone who will belittle us for being unique and ‘different’. Maybe those belittlers are jealous of our ability to be different. Good luck. It sounds like a lovely story, one that should be told.

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  25. I think Lola should have to come to someone’s rescue, and when she stops thinking of herself, she is able to fly and perform just fine. Her own self image changes when she focuses on others.

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  26. I think it’s a charming and inspirational idea. I’m sure you’ll find your ending! 😉

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  27. I immediately got pulled into the story and pictures and didn’t want you to stop. Everyone has given you great ideas -just let them settle and the right one will stick with you. Please be sure to let us know how to get the story when you are done.

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  28. It is a lovely story. I am not creative enough to help you with your ending, but, as others have said, it will come to you when you least expect it. Just be open to the possibilities. You can do this.

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  29. I have a bird who has been quite abused by other birds and by previous owners. She has been improving, little by little. She has finally found a home and family where we are trying to help her over her trauma. Couldn’t Lola find a helpful friend? Someone who doesn’t care about her flying prowess, but loves her for her kindness or soul?

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  30. Maybe your book doesn’t have a single ending but many. You could have fun writing all of the endings proposed and let the reader find the one she likes best.

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  31. Lola is unique and will find a unique solution, as will you. In the meantime I think Derrick may be on to something. Jumping may jog an idea loose! lol

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  32. I love this story. You are so creative! When you do decide on an ending, I want to hear it.

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  33. She could go on a vision quest and end up in a zoo where a Penguin helps her value her whole self–just as she is–not needing to be fixed.

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  34. Love this clumsy bird, she’s perfect just as she is

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  35. How about writing it lije it is – not perfect, no easy answers, and yet Lola still accomplishes a lot in the learning to adapt process?

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  36. What a top story. Lola is going through a lot.

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  37. Whippetwisdom is right! Perhaps this book doesn’t end with a solution. Maybe Lola’s problem is too much to wrap up in one simple ending in one book. Perhaps she learns to accept her clumsiness and your book becomes a series of books all about her adventures and self discovery.

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  38. Love the story. What if you market it as an unfinished book, and part of the fun of it is that kids can make up their own endings which you would post on your blog? Might even be picked up by teachers as a teaching tool.

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  39. What a brilliant story idea! Hope you finish the story. I’m like you – I want a better ending for her than I’ve had for myself. God bless.

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  40. nice blog..very informative and thoughtful..

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  41. Pingback: The Clumsy Bird – SEO

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