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How an Imaginary Duck is Helping Us to Cope with COVID-19

Imagination is powerful.

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Star Williams with Duck
Star Williams with Duck

Duck physically arrived at the beginning of the lockdown, when COVID-19 was officially scary. He’s the kind of toy you buy a toddler—soft and fleecy, with a felt beak and flippers. He was finally here for us to see.

But in truth, he’d been with us for years.

My partner Jake and I both got through our childhoods by creating stories for ourselves. For my part, starting at the age of eight, I sat down every weekend and created a cat newspaper (or mewspaper) called The Cat Mews. It told news stories of local cats, shared the cat television schedule, and even provided a cat advice column. The pain and abuse of my day-to-day childhood could not touch that spotless world—the world that loved me back.

Anais Nin, one of my writing heroes, wrote, “I had to create a world of my own, like a climate, a country, an atmosphere in which I could breathe, reign, and recreate myself when destroyed by living. That, I believe, is the reason for every work of art.”

And that is the reason for Duck.

Duck landed in our imaginations when we’d just moved to my country of origin, the United Kingdom. (I’d been living in the US for over a decade, by then.) It was an overseas move that was extremely stressful. Once we’d finally arrived, after some intense visa complications, we realized that the UK’s laws actually blocked our medical needs. We literally couldn’t get hold of the prescriptions that we needed.

On top of that, we spent the first six months being stalked by a mentally ill neighbor who was convinced that we were breaking into her house on the daily. The police became involved. We were verbally attacked over and over. Sometimes she would knock on our door five times in twenty minutes, believing she hadn’t spoken to us once that day.

The move failed, but we got through with the help of Duck.

Long after we returned to the US, Duck arrived with us physically, in a box shipped from Amazon. Since then, he’s been sitting on the couch, watching TV with us, bemoaning life as a pond manager and the lack of duck visibility in the media. When he swears, he does so by saying “ducking.” His voice is the strongest we’ve ever known. He’s won us a couple of screenplay awards and we’re currently writing a book. Heck, Duck even has a blog.

Here are some of the ways in which Duck has helped us to survive COVID-19 so far:

Duck’s enthusiasm is endless—Every time we watch a game show like The Chase and a bird comes up in a question or answer, Duck hits the roof with enthusiasm. “Duck visibility! Did you see it?” he cries, clapping his wing-hands together “That was ducking awesome! I ducking love the Chase!” Sometimes, he mistakes the words “deck” or “duct” for “duck”—which is, of course, delightful.

This has also helped my own struggle as a non-binary person, who sometimes feels like I’m drowning in the lack of non-binary or they/them representation. Duck reminds me to celebrate every spot of visibility—because that is better for my mental health, during a time when mental health is essential.

Duck also has a non-binary partner called Peacock Riley. They take they/them pronouns and are famous among birds.

Here are some of the ways in which Duck has helped us during COVID-19:

Duck can’t keep it in—No one can complain like Duck. If he feels something, he says it. (This, he tells us, is typical of ducks, who are nothing if not authentic). He’ll rant all evening about something his enemy “that beak-brain” Mallard Jones has done—like upsetting the geese on the pond that Duck manages, or investing in a swanky motor-boat called The Mallard. Then the following weekend, we’ll discover that Duck is online order Mallard some sushi, because he knows how much Mallard loves shrimp tempura rolls.

So, Duck teaches us that if you let out your anger, you can release it. During COVID-19, that’s important.

Duck is grateful—It was Duck’s idea to start spreading the word about indie businesses during COVID-19 (which is something we do on the blog). No matter who arrives on our doorstep with our groceries, Duck is always singing their praises. “We didn’t get toilet paper again,” I’d say to Jake during the worst of COVID-19. Duck would reply, “But look at the avocados! I just gave one a squeeze and it was totally ducking perfect!”

It’s true. COVID-19 continues to be a reminder that every little thing we receive is a miracle in itself. And Duck’s blog reviews help us to stay grateful.

Duck is safe—No matter who or what else we might lose in life, we can’t lose Duck. He is a part of us. His world is our world. He shows us what it is to truly play—to be so absorbed that we live in a flow state. He helps us to care for ourselves.

Because we can’t lose our imagination. In fact, the more we permit it, the more real it becomes.

• Duck makes us joyful—Most of all, Duck makes us feel pure joy—the kind of warmth that can keep us going through anything. The love I feel for this little bird is ceaseless. Perhaps he’s our vulnerability made strong.

For us, Duck is real. And if anyone wants to mock us about this, their words can’t touch us. Because Duck will still be eating his pondweed sandwiches, watching game shows, and joyfully announcing, “Oooh! Did you hear? They said ‘duck’!”

Yes, we ducking did.

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