Prompted: Explain Christmas to a young pine tree

I only know what they showed me on television. But you don’t know what that is either. It’s sort of like how you, one day, might want to feel what it’s like to fly. When you grow up, you’ll have bird families nesting on you. They’ll build their homes in your branches, and they’ll use the worms and caterpillars climbing down your spine to feed their young. And they’ll fly. They’ll fly around your topmost branches and even though you’ll be intimate with the wind, you won’t know what it will feel like to touch a cloud. But you’ll think about it sometimes. And maybe even wish for it. When you see the birds flying – that’s sort of how I think Christmas is. It’s a joyous thing that I’ve seen from far away. I’ve seen others stretch into it like it’s a habit, like it’s as easy as plunging off a branch and rising high into the blue. It’s not something they need to think about. But you and me, we have our roots in different places and no matter how hard we try to picture what it’s like up there in that space, we won’t be able to.

Someday, maybe you’ll learn the language of the birds. Maybe you’ll manage to talk to them. And you’ll ask them what it’s like to fly. That’s what I did. I asked what Christmas was really like. Not the pretend kind I saw from far away. But I don’t know if I ever asked the right question, not exactly. Because even if you’re speaking the same language as someone else, when your roots are in different places, can you be sure you mean the same thing when you say “always” and “regular” and “just”? Could you explain to the birds what it’s like to draw water from the earth?

Flight

Flying was not new to Gretchen Mckenna, but it was always wonderful. Adjusting herself, she wheeled to the right, feeling the leap in her stomach as the small craft dipped and caught the next thermal. Her feet resting on a poll behind her, at the bottom of the wingspan, and she felt the inevitable itch that she always seemed to get on her calf at some point during flight. She forced her mind away from it and concentrated on watching the fields below her for a convenient place to land. She didn’t want to flatten a whole row of beautiful corn plants if she could help it.

The sky was a magnificent blue above her, and it seemed impossible that below, on the ground, there was anything wrong with the world. She wondered perversely whether it would be possible to simply exist without any human companionship; maybe then she’d never, ever, need to be exposed to the meanness, the smallness, the pettiness, the stupidity and callousness of those around her. She knew that a fifteen-year old girl shouldn’t be as negative and as done with life as she felt she was already, and she was guilty about that.

If she’d been at all suicidal, she could have snapped herself out of her harness and fallen to her death any time during this and all her other flights. But she had a deep will to live and find something better, something worth living for. She was determined to find it. The family she was born into was all wrong for her; they were bigots, they spurned any kind of education and laughed at her pleasure in reading, they encouraged her to be a “normal” girl and go out to parties where she would get plied with alcohol and lewd offers. There weren’t parents or siblings like she had in most of the books she checked out of the small, rural library that she spent her time in.

A draft carried a scent of damp earth from below and Gretchen realized her mind had wandered and she was getting closer to the ground in her circling. She found an empty expanse of weedy field to land in. She wasn’t looking forward to the long trudge home, lugging the surprisingly heavy craft behind her, but she dreaded even more arriving home and hearing her family berate her for being gone all day, again.

One day, she thought, I’ll fly away for real.

Arrived

Los Angeles is one of the most special cities in the world. Even when the weather forecast announces that it’s going to be overcast with possible showers, you can still feel the presence of a bright yellow sun behind the clouds, and within hours the sky clears and that bright orb makes its appearance just in time for a last walk in the sunlight before dusk falls.

Beautiful as it still is and will always be to me, there are things that have changed. Nothing that’s unique to LA, but rather things that have changed across the United States. Melrose, the hip-happening street of fashion, food and fun, has now more FOR LEASE signs that it ever has before. Shutters are drawn across the empty store fronts, and the glass looks dusty, as if it’s been waiting for a new tenant for longer than it’s used to.

When we ate lunch today, a dark-haired, scruffy, tall homeless man walked over to the table behind us and took the tip that was left there for the waitress. We saw it, as did a woman inside the restaurant, and none of us did anything. It seemed to happen so fast. We all were sure he was going to take some item of food, but then he was gone and so was the waitress’ tip. What do you even do in a situation like this?

I’ve been taking photos. Too many, and probably mostly bad ones, but I’m finally going to try to catch some of the essence of this bizarre half-city-half-suburb in more than words.

I’m jet-lagged and exhausted and our trip took more than twenty-four hours. I think now is the time to sleep.

Passover and Flying

Last night was Passover. While every single one of my friends and acquaintances here in Israel was at a Seder [that’s the Passover dinner] and either enjoying or loathing their families, I was at home, alone with my mother, watching Julie & Julia. Which is an excellent film, by the way. Oh no, don’t feel sorry for me! My mom and I were relieved to spend a quiet night together, and we didn’t want to be at a Seder! Some people were jealous of us for having no familial obligations here.

But tonight we’re flying to Los Angeles, and we’re going to have extensive familial obligations there. I don’t consider my brother or my aunts as obligations, of course, nor do I consider my mother’s close friends who are almost like family as such. No, the obligations come in on Saturday night, when we’ll be attending a late and unconventionally dated Seder [the reason for it is that it had to fit all the young’uns’ spring-breaks].

Hmm. I still sound bitter. But these obligations are ones I take on with joy. I love my extensive, slightly nutty, family. I love the gossip and the laughs and the way I’m finally treated as an adult and privy to such knowledge as who’s cheating, who’s getting divorced or who’s off the wagon. Not that I wish these things upon anyone in my family, but when a large group of sixty to eighty people join together for a dinner, gossip is bound to happen.

As you may be able to tell, I’m quite frazzled. I need to pack my carry-on bag, shower, and be ready in half an hour with a thermos of coffee to take to the park so that Sir. B. F. and I can spend an hour alone before he drives us to the airport.

I’m going to try, as hard as I possibly can, to keep writing every day, and keep track of all my friends here. Wish me luck!

Travel Fever

There are two kinds of travel fever, as far as I am concerned.

The first is the one that can be a curse, but is ultimately a good feeling. It’s that itch, that undefinable wiggle in your heart that tells you to go, to get out, to move, to travel, to be somewhere else. It’s that feeling that begins to mount inside your chest two or three months before the blessed event of the vacation or trip – that stomach-leaping, heart-racing, whoop-of-excitement sort of fever that grips you joyfully in moments when you don’t expect it. It’s that feeling of anticipation that’s almost unbearable because it’s so wonderful and intense.

Then there’s the second kind of travel fever. This is the kind that is only a curse, and comes with some similar symptoms. This time, though, the stomach leaps with fear and nerves, the heart races with anxiety and worry and the sound caught in the throat is more of a moan, a stifled sigh, a cry of dismay and exhaustion and an instinct that says that home is the best and travel is unneeded, a hassle and a trial. It’s the kind of travel fever that puts the entire household into a bad mood, that makes the various packers snap at each other and rush around trying to recover lost objects while inevitably finding them in the entirely wrong place and blaming everyone else for it. It’s the feeling that grips your very guts as you push yourself through the various tasks and chores of lugging, checking in, being polite to security and trudging around dismal shops in the airport.

I am in the grips of this second travel fever. My mother and I fly to New York tonight in order to complete that dreaded chore – vacating my dorm room and putting all my things in storage to await my return, hopefully, in the fall. We will be flying back on Friday, and this is most assuredly not a pleasure jaunt but more of a necessary and emotionally painful inconvenience. Hopefully, all will go well and we’ll suffer no travel delays due to various weather conditions!

Jasmine’s Alarm

Jasmine lay on her back with her head turned to one side, looking at the big red numbers of the electronic alarm clock. 6:57AM. She turned her head the other way, her eyes falling on the back of Jordan’s head. He lay beside her, on his stomach, just barely snoring as he slept. One of his arms was tucked close to his side while the other was flung out casually, resting on Jasmine’s stomach above the thin blankets that covered them both. Three more minutes, Jasmine knew, and the alarm would ring.

She shifted her eyes back to the clock and then to the bare ceiling above, slightly stained from that leak that Jordan had discovered last year but had done nothing about. She pondered the stain for a moment, thinking again how much Jordan needed her when it came to stupid things like taking care of his rented flat, before another image came to her mind and made the stain blur as her eyes lost focus. The image was of a large, rectangular room. In one corner, next to one small window, was her bed. Two more beds and two desks separated it from her desk, by the corner next to the door. She then thought of her roommates – one whom she liked a great deal and another whom she pitied for her lack of style and seeming lack of the capacity to relax. She thought next of the pile of books under her bed, books she’d barely glanced through at all this year.

The next image that came to her mind was that of Jordan again, but this time a fuzzy Jordan in the screen of her computer, speaking to her through a web-cam image, as he’d been doing for the last month. She hated the way he looked in that camera image – like a pale ghost, disfigured by the insecure Net connection. Just then, Jordan turned her head towards her in his sleep and she saw his real face and the lovely, normal color of his skin.

She tore her gaze away from his face, soft with sleep, and looked back at the clock. 6:59AM. She thought of the airport, the bustle and hassle, the packing she still had to do and the bother it would be to lug all her things down the stairs. All at once, she made a decision. With a deft flick of her finger, she turned the knob on top of the clock from “ON” to “OFF.”

When Jordan woke her with a panicked tone of voice four hours later, she pretended to panic too. “But the alarm-” she said. “What happened to the alarm?” It was no good panicking, though. She’d already missed the flight. Jordan confessed to her that night that he was secretly glad that the alarm hadn’t gone off. Jasmine smiled and kissed him, leading him by the hand into a dimly lit pub where music was blaring and a young crowd was milling about. All feigned upset and distress were gone from her face and she drew him close to her, holding a beer in one hand and a lit cigarette in the other. This was the life, she thought. This was the life.

Respectful Fear

Well, I’m in the United States of America, using a new and adorable miniature laptop, also known as a net-book, and finally catching up with this blog. I cannot, sadly, keep up with my usual schedule of all the blogs I usually read – I hardly have time to write, let alone browse at my leisure. However, if I happen to find the time, I will definitely pop over and say hi to you all. Hopefully, I will be forgiven for my lapse of attention for the time being.

I would like to share some thoughts I had while on the long [long, long, long] flight to the US.

Some people are afraid of flying. Mortally afraid. Many know how unreasonable their fear is and how safe air-crafts are these days, but still, something about being so very high up in the air in a vehicle they cannot control on their own – something about all this terrifies them in a way they can’t deal with, and it is enough to make them give up travel to distant countries altogether.

I am not one of these. As one who has traveled back and forth to Europe and the US at least once every year since birth, I suppose I could be considered quite the veteran on airplanes. Heck, I even remember the days where you could go to the back of the plane to a “smoking row” if you so wished. So, as I say, I’m quite confidant about flying.

HOWEVER-

I still believe there is a healthy amount of fear and respect due to a few tons of aluminum that manage to rise into the air and race across the face of the Earth for hours. I suppose you could say that I regard airplanes like I would a horse – handy mode of transportation and all, but hurt it or disrespect it and you might just end up in the mud. And, in the case of airplanes, probably very dead too.

So every time the airplane stars to shake with turbulance, my stomach can’t help but get tied in knots, my jaw clenches of its own accord and my hands squeeze each other for comfort. That’s jut the way it goes, I suppose.