"Assholes of the bird world"
swan drama, foreboding teeth dreams, and a short film for this liminal time
SOMETHING TO READ
Do you think swans are charming and chill, like the Sarah Lawrence dance majors of the animal kingdom? Think again. Apparently these creatures are actually the “assholes of the bird world,” according to writer Susan Orlean in this romp of an essay from The New Yorker: Blanche the unusually friendly swan.
Blanche (RIP, 1994—2023) was perhaps the most famous resident of the lagoon at the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco. Her mom was a swan called Friday, and her dad was a gender nonconforming individual who came to be known as—you are not ready for this—“Stella the Fella.” Stella and Friday were originally thought to be just lady swan friends. Roommates. But then the eggs. And more eggs. And, well, you know.
But here’s the thing—Blanche’s parents are not even close to the most Shakespearian thing about this story. There’s swan murder. A kidnapping. A Game of Thrones-style bird entanglement that I was absolutely not prepared for. A poisoning. A fake egg scandal. A truly terrible scene involving the long graceful neck of one bird named Monday II that I hope I will soon forget. Enjoy!
SOMETHING TO LISTEN TO
Fair warning: Snap Judgement’s latest 32-minute feature The Baton is a heart-crusher. With nuance and dignity, producer Liz Mak takes listeners through Rizal Shahputra’s extraordinary story of surviving nine days stranded at sea after a tsunami wiped out his entire village.
The story opens with a foreboding dream of teeth, and ends in both tragedy and triumph. There are children in coconut trees and a prayer to birds. A brief friend and a promise kept. The comfort of stars. The rage of being abandoned. Resilience despite that rage.
At the end of the piece, Mak asks Shahputra what he sees now, years later, when he looks at the ocean. His response is the exactly the kind of unlikely optimism that’s at the heart of this misfit dispatch. Make sure there’s tissues nearby before you hit play.
SOMETHING TO HOLD ON TO
It’s (finally? already?) March and we’re still rocking our wool socks and Crocs; but the citrus is still sweet in the grocery stores, and buds are starting the peek out on eager tree branches, and just maybe there’s something like thoughts of warm patio evenings with old friends and cold beers starting to sneak in. It’s a weird liminal time, but there’s quiet looking ahead in there too.
This short film captures exactly this cautiously joyful, late winter/early spring vibe and I love it. Plus, it adds to our apparent bird theme of today’s issue. Here’s No Reason, by Los Angeles-based artist animator Amanda Bonaiuto:
WE DID IT. WE SURVIVED FEBRUARY.
That’s a wrap on issue 95, friends. Thanks for listening, reading, holding on.
And thank you for our new paid subscribers and Unwed Mother Agenda supporters! It’s been a wild ride relaunching our misfit dispatch and finally putting this new (okay, it’s been 15-years-in-the-making) Family Court project out into the world over the last week.
My introvert self is feeling absolutely spent, and so deeply cared for by all of the love and support this RPR community has given back in response. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
See you next week.
Did you miss last week’s ROCK PAPER RADIO newsletter announcing The Unwed Mother Agenda? I’ve got you. Here it is: Sweet returns.