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I was listening to a recent episode of This American Life called “Spark Birds,” which is a concept I had not heard of before yet stumbled across several times over the course of the week.
In the show’s introductory segment, host Ira Glass talked with bird enthusiast, Noah Strycker, who explained how he went from being a “leisure birder” into someone whose life and career is devoted to the study of birds.
Strycker was just a teenager when his junior birder transformation shifted to the next level. He was watching an episode of “The Life of Birds,” where presenter David Attenborough took a small piece of spoiled steak into a rainforest and hid it under some leaves. A short time later, a turkey vulture flew directly to the spot, flicked aside the leaves, and pulled out the meat. The bird had not doddered about, looking for the food. It knew precisely where it was.
Stryker was fascinated. He decided to recreate the experiment himself with a roadkill deer carcass, which enabled him to observe the normally shy vultures up close over the course of a week.
When avian enthusiasts get together, Strycker said they often talk about their spark bird moment, since nearly all can recall an instance when something happened that pulled them more fully and fervently into the birding world.
The experience with the turkey vultures had been Stryker’s spark bird moment. The direction for his life from that moment forward was set.
The very same day I heard the Spark Birds podcast, we had a speaker, Sandy Gennaro, in our office to conduct a motivational session. Gennaro spent his career as a drummer with some of rock ‘n’ roll’s biggest acts, including Cyndi Lauper, Joan Jett, Bo Diddly and The Monkees, among many others. He is now a professional speaker.
Just a few minutes into his talk, Gennaro mentioned the moment when he knew what he would do with his life. Just 12 years old when The Beatles made their first appearance on “The Ed Sullivan Show,” Gennaro — already a drummer — was so captivated watching Ringo Starr perform that he cut out a photo of a drummer on stage in front of a large, cheering audience, and taped the picture to his bathroom mirror. He would look at it every day and visualize himself on that stage, and every move Gennaro made from that point forward was designed to get himself closer to what had struck his spark.
Later that same week, Don and I were talking about people who had made an impact in our life, although we didn’t recognize it at the time. Don told me when he was an 8th grader at Andrew Jackson in Cross Lanes, his art teacher, Mrs. Gillenwater, brought in a student teacher from West Virginia State.
Don always loved art. He was one of those dreamy kids who would get stuck in a stare, mesmerized by an album cover or creative advertising or a misty nature photo that made him want to climb through the page. But like most kids that age, Don didn’t know there were careers that might work perfectly for someone bent the wonderful, weird way that he was.
Dean Williams, the student teacher, told Don about the difference between graphic design and fine art, and explained some of the different types of jobs he might want to consider.
The direction and encouragement from that student teacher shook Don’s spark bird out of the tree. His path toward that goal never faltered. He has been an advertising art director and now a creative director, all because Dean Williams steered him toward graphic design.
And then there is me. I don’t have a spark bird.
I have a whole flock.
All yammering and chattering and talking over each other, trying to up their place in my line. Sparking their lighters and waving them around, like we’re at a concert.
But two have flown to the front. One landed on an old, fuzzy warehouse, while the other perches atop my computer, a one-word parrot chanting, “Write. Write. Write.”
I plan to keep feeding them both.
Karin Fuller can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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