What bird are you?

We have reached


which leads directly to

Christmas and Chanukah,

which lead directly to

New Year.

What bird are you in this possibly frightening or despairing time in world politics?

What bird are you in this possibly delightful or joyful season of festivity?

Swain bird-woman art victim

I am not a victim
Sally Swain © original art
You saw it here first! I tucked the painting away out of view in case of appearing too grumpy. It’s time for this particular bird-woman to show herself.

I had the privilege of

offering an Arty Party for resident elders where I work. I played the ukulele and sang; encouraging others to join in with a lalala if they didn’t know the words. This is a group of old and infirm folk; most with dementia, yet still able to speak.

Their hearts – all our hearts – seemed opened by the presence of music, by gathering together, singing songs from their 1930s and 40s heyday, as well as Christmas carols.

At one point, I complimented the elders on being an instant choir. Someone mentioned songbirds. Songbirds. I spontaneously asked the group …

If you were a bird right now, what bird would you be?

A tiny lady chirped up first. Usually her words emerge breathy and fluttery. Usually I struggle to understand what she is saying. On this occasion, emboldened by the warmth of attentiveness, the act of playing hand-held percussion, the group bonhomie, she spoke out loud.

‘A sparrow, of course’, she said clearly and strongly.

It turned out we had one sparrow, two kookaburras, a cockatoo, a whip-bird,an owl, a pigeon and a colourful rare bird as yet unnamed.

The late-middle-aged uke-playing chook who is me, was delighted by the playful responses. People were enlivened, sparky, expressing their unique selves in a context of creative connection. In that moment, the nursing-homeness melted away. We weren’t focussed on pathology, survival, clanking needs or beeping routines.

We were simply humans

sharing a space of imaginative flight.

We were tuned in to Creative Health.

But wait. Am I a chook?

Swain bird water painting

Sally Swain © original art

If you’d asked me in my twenties which bird I most identify with, I might say a flamingo. Why? I felt delicate and barely balanced on one leg.

These days, I’m more of a female lyrebird – not elegantly pink, but a creature of diverse songs. A kind of eccentric pheasant. I am plumper of spirit and more grounded.

How about you?

If you were a bird right now, what would you be?

A turkey about to be cooked?

A bird on a wire – missing those who help you feel stabilised?

A little fluffy robin with a broken wing?

An emperor penguin?

A swallow?

An eagle, soaring high above the human mess;

proud and strong and clear of sight?

I encourage you to feel free at this rich, dense, complex time of year.

I encourage you to allow yourself to play with metaphor, with image, with the joy and nourishment of creativity.

aged care art therapy bird collage

Doves of Care
a group artwork created by aged care residents according to the Leaf-by-Leaf model
coordinated by Sally Swain

‘The battle of being mortal is to maintain the integrity of one’s life – to avoid becoming so diminished or dissipated or subjugated that who you are becomes disconnected from who you were or who you want to be. Sickness and old aged make the struggle hard enough. The professionals and institutions we turn to should not make it worse. But we have at last entered an era in which an increasing number of them believe their job is not to confine people’s choices, in the name of safety, but to expand them, in the name of living a worthwhile life.’

Being Mortal by Atul Gawande, p. 141 (click link)

Confronting as this book is, I recommend it.

Love, art and soul from Sally

PS Thank you to all helpers at the Arty Party, including Janey, May, Tony, whip-birds and kookaburras.


8 thoughts on “What bird are you?

  1. This is lovely, Sally, and very inspiring. I love the Doves of Care artwork.
    Anne Howard, (from Eastwood Hills Fellowship of Australian Writers, to whom you gave a great creative writing workshop a few years ago.)

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