I Drew a Swan – by Mark O’Donoghue

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I Drew A Swan

Mark O’Donoghue


I drew a swan. I didn’t know it was a swan while I was drawing it. I still don’t know. First I drew the body of plumage, and then the long graceful neck. On top of the neck I drew a small round head with two darkened circles representing eyes, and from center of the head I extended a slender bill. At this point it was becoming quite clear that I was not simply sketching at random. I had a swan of sorts on my hands. But could I say for sure that it was a swan? Couldn’t it just as easily be something else entirely? No, I couldn’t say I knew it was a swan, but rather I possessed the firm notion it might be a swan.

I obsessed over my drawing for quite a while, attempting in vain to discern whether I had drawn a swan or not. In the days that followed I kept returning to my drawing, feeling alternately confident and unconfident that I had drawn a swan. I was afraid too. Yes, fear was a constant. I was afraid I might not have drawn a swan, and more afraid still that I might actually have drawn a swan. For the good of my sanity I decided to hide my drawing away in the bottom drawer of my dresser. There it would stay for days, weeks, months, even years perhaps. Yes, there it would remain for however long it would take to dispel its strange influence over me.

I gave up drawing things altogether and many mercifully dull and emotionless years passed. Yet even at the most indifferent moment there was always one question, one recurrent question pecking at the shell of my brain: Swan or no swan? So one day I said enough is enough. I needed to know, one way or another, whether I had drawn a swan or not. In the naive hope that all past uncertainty would somehow have resolved itself during my absence, I rooted out my old drawing. Oh despair! Horrible despair! The terrifying ambiguity of that drawing, and my utter helplessness in its presence, returned in a flash. I decided there and then that I needed to devote the rest of my days to discovering the truth about what I had drawn. It was the only chance of a peaceful existence.

So here I am: Investigating. I have just decided that it is time to try a new angle. Let’s say that the precise identification of the bird can be cast aside, for the minute, until we have dealt with the basics. In times of despair I think it is best to go back to basics, to re-educate ourselves, if you like. So I ask myself: What do I know for sure? I drew something. That is clear enough. I have the picture in front of me and I have just looked at it again, to reassure myself beyond all doubt. I definitely drew something. I think it is also safe to assume that the something I drew is a bird. It certainly has feathers and a bill and the general appearance of a bird. Yes, I drew a bird. That much is undeniable. Ah, what a relief to even say that much! I drew a bird.

I feel better now. Let’s press on to more complex matters. What do I know about swans? Swans are birds that swim in water. They are white. They are a bird of the Anatidae family, of which there are approximately 150 species. Let’s stop there for a second. I have just had an idea! Suppose that I didn’t draw a swan, but rather something resembling a swan, something of the same family, a cousin of the swan, a duck, for example. Isn’t it perfectly reasonable to suggest I might have drawn a duck? One might think I should be very disappointed to discover I had drawn a duck, having for so long nourished the hope and (if we are honest) the belief that I had drawn a swan. But that is not the case. After all I had never my heart set on drawing a swan, or a duck, or any bird for that matter. It was just something that happened. So to discover I had not drawn a graceful swan, but in fact an ugly duckling, would, if anything, come as an enormous relief. Honestly it would.



***Mark O’Donoghue is from Ireland. He teaches English as a foreign language and sometimes writes things at https://wordsmarkscribbles.wordpress.com/  ***

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