I told Husband recently about Anne Lamott's metaphor (suggesting that writers carve out space to write just like woodpeckers drill holes in trees to make their nests) and the post I wrote about it.
"Don't woodpeckers peck to pick grubs out of trees?"
Deflated, I consulted
The diet of woodpeckers consists mainly of insects and their grubs taken from living and dead trees, and other arthropods, along with fruit from live trees, nuts and sap both from live trees. Their role ecologically is thereby keeping trees healthy by keeping them from suffering mass infestations.Aha! So, we writers, woodpeckers we, drill our holes to find our food - to find our material. We then extract it; we write about it. And we writers serve an ecological function, too. Don't we keep society healthy by asking questions, thinking the big thoughts, and picking out, then picking apart, the nasty bugs mucking up the works?
Moreover, we do this stuff pretty well with our "strong bills for drilling and drumming" and our "long sticky tongues for extracting food." We peck and peck - we look and look. We suck out the material and nourish ourselves and our readers with it. Like woodpeckers, our "species" is known for "being both highly omnivorous and opportunistic." We can find material anywhere, anytime. Our material is our lives. Our lives are our material.
That Husband couldn't rain on my parade. Indeed, he unwittingly provided more grubs for me to feast upon.
My cake was further iced (sorry for the proximity of "grubs" and "cake" in food-related metaphors; gross) when I learned that not only do woodpeckers peck to eat and therefore keep trees healthy, they do indeed drill in order to nest: "All members of the family Picidae nest in cavities...The excavated nest is usually only lined from the wood chips produced as the hole was made."
Take that, Husband. Anne Lamott is nobody's fool. She had it right all along:
In this dark and wounded society, writing can give you the pleasures of the woodpecker, of hollowing out a hole in a tree where you can build your nest and say, "This is my niche, this is where I live now, this is where I belong." And the niche may be small and dark, but at last you will finally know what you are doing.And his tip-off about the woodpecker-y diet only helps this metaphor to grow, I think. Our society may be "dark and wounded," but it doesn't have to be as long as we woodpeckers keep picking out the grubs, as long as we writers set up shop and keep extracting the material that needs to be exposed, considered, and processed.
Oh, and one last way we writers are similar to our feathered friends: we share a distaste for being ripped off: "Woodpeckers may aggressively harass potential competitors, and also use other strategies to reduce the chance of being usurped from their nesting site."
Plagiarism? No way! Copyright all the way!
Alright, I think I'll leave it at that. Anne Lamott was wise enough to stick with one woodpecker metaphor. I should probably follow her lead and leave well enough alone. Too late?
Which woodpecker-writer metaphor resonates most with you? And - come on, be honest here - do I need to knock it off with the metaphors for awhile?
Image: Ladder-back Woodpecker on Cactus by Alan D. Wilson via Wikimedia Commons under a Creative Commons license.