Make Pigs Fly

On Wednesdays, I share posts, fables, songs, poems, quotations, TEDx Talks, cartoons, and books that have inspired and motivated me on my writing journey. I hope these posts will give writers, artists, and other creatives a mid-week boost.

In his book, Life is in the Transitions, Bruce Feiler writes about the power of positive language and transformative personal stories. Here’s one of my favorite excerpts:

The novelist John Steinbeck had a quirky logo he drew after signing his name. It was a pig with wings. He called it Pigasus, which he wrote out in Greek letters. Late in his life, he accompanied the illustration with the Latin words Ad Astra Per Alia Porci, which he translated (incorrectly, it turns out) as “to the stars on the wings of a pig.” His explanation: We must all try to attain the heavens, even though we are bound to the earth.

For half a millennium, the expression when pigs fly has been used in multiple languages to mean a circumstance so improbable that its completion is nearly impossible. It’s a figure of speech known as an adynaton, a way of saying something that will never happen. Steinbeck adopted this phrase because he had been told by a naysayer professor that he would be an author “when pigs fly.”

More recently, neuroscientists have discovered that imagining this kind of unimaginable outcome is vital to recovering from a life interrupted. The more we are able to conjure up a future that seems out of reach—I will find another job, I will laugh once more, I will love again—the more we’re able to advance toward it. A big reason is mirror neurons, the part of our brains that mimic the actions we observe. When we see someone jump, laugh, or cry, our brains imitate the same activity.

The same mirroring happens with stories we tell. If we tell ourselves we will get better, or calmer, or happier, our minds will begin to simulate that outcome. This response doesn’t mean we’ll achieve these results right away, but it does mean we set in motion that possibility.

Steinbeck was right: We can make pigs fly.

Source: Life is in the Transitions by Bruce Feiler, p. 290.


4 responses to “Make Pigs Fly

  1. A great post with good substance, and I will remember that Latin phrase. We use ‘when pigs fly’ from time to time, and almost bought a weathervane of a flying pig!

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