January 15, 2002

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What is thinking without words?

A bird surely thinks as it builds a nest, just not in words. In what, then, is it thinking?

On her secret website, a friend writes:

There is a theory about how some birds learn the global positioning skills that will guide them along their migration route. The theory talks of the nights that they spend after breaking out of the egg, exhausted, eyes able to see only the nest below and the sky above. There, for the first weeks of their life, they stare endlessly at the constellations as they move across the theater of night sky. The stars, in their subtle movements, imprint themselves on the little bird brains with such force, such permanence, that the birds will always be able to know where they are in relation to where they began.

That’s what it was like, looking up from his lap into his calm eyes above for minutes and minutes. Minute movements there. And much love. A positioning, an equipping for travel.

I told her she was wrong, but she came back with evidence.

And just now I realized what’s it like when I bite my nails. It’s less like thinking than feeling. And there are no words. “Get that. Good. Again. Bite. Good. Now over. Again. Bite,” and so on. Just not in words.

Which is how it must be for birds.

However, a baby at birth thinks nothing, I suspect, beyond the baby equivalent of feels good and feels bad and also perhaps something that adds up to what the holy goddamn fuck. Just not in words.