Icarus

Suppose you were told that you could fly. Would you believe it? Let’s say you even woke up one morning and found that you had wings. Big, glossy wings, with feathers of all the right kinds and shapes and colors that you could wish for. Let us even assume that as you walked around your bedroom, or maybe your kitchen, you could feel those wings and gained control over them. You could flex them, shift them, even open and spread them wide if you have enough room. Your wingspan, we can assume, would be wider than you are tall, so you may knock over your grandmother’s favorite flower vase and break it, but then you may discover how useful your wings are in sweeping glass up. No pesky little shards left on the floor with those powerful feathers getting into every nook and cranny between the tiles.
Are you convinced of your wings yet? Can you hold their image strongly in your mind? Can you feel the bones in your back adjusting to the new weight that is suddenly set on them? Good. Now, suppose you were told that you could fly. These new wings of yours aren’t only decorative, as you may have thought, but they can actually support your weight when you leap off the top floor of the tallest building you know of. Would you protest? Would you say – Surely not, for humankind has no wings and cannot fly, this is a well established fact! Or would you, without considering it too much, take a drive to the nearest high rise, or maybe go right up to your own roof, spread your wings, look into the sunlight, and leap?
What if you knew there was a safety net spread out beneath you, just in case it didn’t work? Of course, nothing is full proof, and you might say that even if you really can fly, the ability might disappear in a few seconds once you’re not even over the net anymore. Alright, I understand your concerns. They’re valid. After all, no one ever told you, and you certainly never expected it yourself, that you would one day sprout wings and be told that you could fly. Say I promise to have four cars drive around with a net stretched between them so that they could catch you no matter where you drift to? Would that be enough, do you think, to make you jump off that ledge?
I can see your concern. It’s true, there are many risks to flying. There are other birds in the air who know their business there much better than you do. They may laugh at your flapping efforts or they might squawk when they see how big and ungainly the rest of your body is. Then there is the danger of severe sunburn – although that’s easily fixable if you wear long sleeves and make sure to rub a lot of sunscreen on your face. Perhaps you don’t think you’ll be able to navigate. It’s true, bird’s eye view is very different than seeing things from the ground. Suddenly, things are spread out below you, and you may feel that things are getting metaphorical as you fly around, above and superior to all the pesky human who can’t do what you’re doing. You don’t want to turn into Icarus, after all.
Of course, you must remember that if you can fly, that means others may be able to as well. Ah, you’d forgotten that, hadn’t you? I’m sorry, I can see how disappointed you are. And just when you were getting excited too. It’s a shame, yes, but you must remember that you can’t possibly be the only one who’s suddenly sprouted wings. Think of how large Earth is! True, perhaps it’s not as big as some other planets, but it’s quite big enough in our terms, don’t you think? There are enough people on the face of it to make it statistically very unlikely that you’d be the only one who was able to fly.
I’ve gotten rather sidetracked, haven’t I? The first question still stands. What if you were told that you could fly? Would you do it? Or would you sever your wings off in fear and then forever hide the stubby feathers and protruding bones by wearing big sweatshirts and promising that you never really liked swimming anyway? It would be a sad thing to live with severed wings. Almost worse than trying to fly and plummeting to the ground. At least, if you try it, you’ll be buried with the splendor of those glossy wings, and I promise that no one will forget you.

The Owls

It wasn’t a long drive. We started out in Downtown, with plenty of tall buildings around us. We passed through suburbia, taking note of some of the more adorable houses around us – a memorable one had a thatched roof. Next there was a bridge. I’m almost certain it was over a river, but perhaps I am mistaken. There was a bridge, anyway, not long, but it was definitely a kind of suspension bridge, although it was a miniature of the kind that are to be seen in San Francisco or New York City.
After the bridge, the scenery began to change. There were some vestiges of suburbia, some strip malls and large gas stations, and then we passed into the countryside. It seemed incredible that there was farmland so close to the city – still, technically, IN the city – but there you go. Some places are like that.
The fields weren’t pure anymore, though. Subdivisions sprang up among them, and a few McMansions were either already built, a blight on the landscape, or in the process of being erected, their cement shells monstrously out of place amidst the huge and empty expanses of land.
We drove down a long dirt road until we saw the line of cars that were parked on the left, one after another, neatly and politely. We found an empty spot and donned our coats, gloves, scarves and hats; the sun was peeking from behind the heavy gray clouds, but it wasn’t warm by any means. We each dutifully took a pair of binoculars from the trunk, two large and expensive pairs and one small and still expensive pair, and set off towards the path that ran along the sea.
Somehow, we’d gone from city to suburbs to country to the seashore, all within a half hour.
“Look at the paparazzi,” my aunt whispered to me. Walking toward us from the seaside gravel path were a group of four adults in heavy raincoats, holding two large tripods and proportionately large cameras. None of them had the sleaze of actual paparazzo, which made sense – they weren’t there to spy on and photograph people’s personal and sordid lives, after all. They were there to photograph the owls.
That was why we were there, too. We’d come to witness the eruption of owls. Snowy owls live in the arctic tundra, but their food supply must have become scarce this past winter, because they showed up here sometime in March, and were chilling, in all their glory, on the stacks of driftwood washed in by the high tides.
It was easy enough to spot them without the binoculars. They were so white that they stood out among the rotting brown wood and the yellow and green weeds that filled the space between the path we were on and the sparkling water.
We got to see four of them that day. Three of them were older and mostly white, their feathers looking more like fur than anything. They were nervous, as any animal would be if there was a long row of people standing on a path barely fifty yards from them, murmuring and clicking away at cameras and peering at them through strange contraptions. There were also several bald eagles circling above, and the older owls glanced up every once in a while, their heads seeming to blend into their arched backs and their beaks hanging open, observing the other predators on their land.
There was one young snowy owl, who for some reason I felt was a female. She still had a lot of brown spots all along her back and head feathers, and she was the first one we saw who decided to move and give us a bit of a show. Of course, seeing snowy owls on a sunny day was already rather awe inspiring, but this young owl was fidgety and more nervous than her older counterparts, and she took a walk along the dead trunk she was perching on. We got to see her lifting her talons and witnessed the mass of feathers that cover both her legs and in between those long, sharp toes. She was ungainly as she shuffled along, her neck and head bobbing a little. If only we could have seen her flying, I’m convinced she would have proved to us just how graceful she could be.
Looking at the owls through the binoculars, I couldn’t help but think of poor Hedwig, Harry Potter’s owl. She was a snowy, and she died for her master. I doubt any real snowy owls would be willing to live in a cage – they looked much too wild for that, their powerful, big bodies spotted like snow leopards.
There is some beauty that should remain wild.

Spring Break, 2012

In one hour and twenty five minutes, I will have zipped up my suitcase, locked my windows, showered, made sure that I have my passport and boarding pass, packed up my snacks for the airplane, eaten a yogurt to fortify me for the drive, dithered about whether or not to have a cookie right then or bring it with me and made a decision. I will also have finished writing my seven hundred and fifty words for the day, and completed the nineteenth consecutive day of writing a fresh batch of such words.
In four hours, I will be boarding a plane of a design that I’m unfamiliar with because I’ve never flown this airline before. I might already be sitting in my seat, in row sixty-something, seat C, which is an aisle seat on the left side of the plane and had, when I checked in a few hours ago, two empty seats beside it, thus giving me a slight chance of having the entire row to myself (although I’m not holding my breath for such good luck).
In a little over ten hours, I should be – knock on wood – landing in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, and disembarking from a – hopefully – pleasant flight and into an airport I’ve only been in once before and which I don’t remember at all even though it was only several months ago. I might be landing in a different terminal altogether because the United States, while it is a different country, may not be lumped along with the rest of the international flights.
Although Spring Break, 2012, officially started yesterday, some twenty-six hours ago, it won’t be until I arrive in a place far enough away from my daily routine that it will sink in that I am actually on vacation. Only then, upon seeing my aunts and curling up in a bed not my own, will I be able to understand that I can relax, and will I feel the ever-clenched muscles in my shoulders, neck and back begin to soften.
During the next two weeks – or three hundred and thirty-six hours – I will need to make a final decision of whether or not to attend Oxford next year. Yes, buried almost four hundred words deep in this post is this announcement. I got accepted to attend Sarah Lawrence College’s abroad program in Oxford University in England. Yes, that Oxford, the one that we all imagine as a collection of old castles, old English men smoking pipes, High Tea and scones. Of course, only some of the stereotypes are still relevant, but what hasn’t changed as far as I know is the quality of education in this centuries-old university.
The program is too good to pass up, and is part of my reason for attending Sarah Lawrence in the first place. I will be there for three terms, and in each term I will have two classes. Each of these will be almost tailor-made to fit my academic desires and wishes, and will probably be a one-on-one meeting with a professor. I will meet with each professor once a week, receive a reading list from them, and spend the next week completing it and writing a five-to-ten page paper about said reading. Then I will come in again, discuss my paper and the reading with the professor, receive a new reading list, and do it all again. Each term is eight weeks, in between which are four-to-five week breaks. During the terms I will be living in my own room within a five-person suite. There is a gym and a grocery store across the street, and London is only an hour’s train ride away.
What all this means, basically, is that I would spend a full academic year in England, at Oxford University, and more specifically, in libraries, doing my reading. I would read and read and read some more, and I would write paper after paper and hone my skills of writing academically while also writing fast. I would, if I get my way, take mostly literature courses, and thus would get to read novels and novels. The study is largely independent, which is perfect for me because I’m very good at organizing my time and knowing how much I need to study. I would also be significantly closer to Israel, my mom and my friends there.
The downside is leaving SLC, where I’ve had one of the best years of my life. I’m already feeling my heart breaking at missing out on a year’s worth of happenings here.

Expectations

Prepare for liftoff. Count down the days, hours, minutes, and seconds. Ten, nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two, one. Feel the beat of blood through veins. Hear the thrum of an engine. Taste the stale air of unfulfilled expectations.

Empathy can go too far, and yet George Eliot had it right in Middlemarch when she tried to teach her readers to feel for the whole of unsung, everyday humanity. So what if the growing of the grass is deafening and overwhelming? So what if being able to read another’s thoughts on his face is searingly painful? Isn’t it worth it?

Scratch a pen over paper. Scratch over written words but don’t forget that they existed. Chalkboards don’t leave behind a trace – they waste words. What if there were a finite number of letters, syllables and words in existence? White boards are just as bad.

Fly with the aid of an umbrella from the roof of a doghouse, but nothing higher. Jump off a tree but only if it’s already been cut down and is lying on its side. Crawl along the ground and look at the busy ants in their long lines. Try to imagine what the sunshine is thinking as it bathes the cold-blooded lizards in its warm rays.

Expect to be disappointed. Expect to be happy. Expect to be sad. Expect things to change. Expect the earth to turn, the sun to rise, the moon to shine, the wind to blow, the ground to shift, the sea to overwhelm. Expect people to be not what they seem, to become different than they were, to throw you off guard. Expect people to be disdainful. Expect people to love.

Ready… Set… Write!

Okay, so this post might just have the single most corny title I’ve ever written. I hope you’ll all forgive me for it, because it’s actually reflecting what my feeling has been since this morning.

NaNoWriMo is starting tomorrow – so one minute after midnight, I am going to start writing, and hopefully get to my entire word count before going to bed. This is the second year I’m participating in NaNoWriMo,while last year I was living at home, someone else was doing my laundry, and I had very little that I needed to do besides write, this year I have so much to do that the 1667 words I need to write a day seem extremely daunting and threatening.

Unlike last year, I haven’t created an outline for my novel. I have a cast of characters, and I know, in general, what I want them to deal with. I know some of their motives, some of their histories, some of their attitudes and voices, and that’s helpful, but I don’t know where I want them all to end up, so I’m very unclear about where they’re going exactly. But that’s exciting – writing is, for me, a lot like reading in that I discover things along the way.

I’m writing literary fiction this year rather than steampunk/fantasy, so that’s going to be very different as well, since I feel that I write the genres quite differently.

It also happens to be Halloween today. I didn’t dress up as anything, and I probably won’t, since I feel like I’m storing up all my creativity for 00:01AM tonight when I start writing. I really feel like I’ve spent the past couple weeks crouching low, ready for the gunshot that will announce that the race is on. It’s strange.

Finally, let me end this extremely disorganized and badly composed post by saying that I will probably be posting to my blog less in the coming month because of NaNoWriMo. However, I succeeded in posting every single day of October! Huzzah!

Weirdos of the World: Unite

fruit loop.

Read the post above, if you’d be so kind. Mckenzie, the writer of The Unabridged Girl is an incredibly talented writer. I mean it, she is. Whenever she’s posted fiction in the past, I’ve hungered to read more of it. In the post I linked, she talks about how she’s always been considered weird. I can empathize.

In elementary school, I was picked on a lot. The boys hit me, and even a couple of the girls. That was okay with me. It was better than the alternative. You know that old adage about sticks and stones? Well, If somebody hit me, I could at least try to hit back. Not the most peaceful or responsible way to deal with a problem, but self-defense was something I could do. It was the teasing that I didn’t know how to handle. My face would begin to redden, spurring on more lovely comments, and my brain would go blank as I tried to think of something witty to say. I tried the whole “ignoring” trick; I really did. But since I blushed furiously and teared up whenever anyone would tease me, I think that they realized they were getting to me no matter how hard I kept my head down.

I was called weird a lot. I wanted to fit in so badly that it hurt. I still get those moments of wanting to be popular, confident, blonde and skinny and pretty and perfect. I still get moments of wanting to be someone else, someone entirely different, and the urge to jump out of my skin in those agonizing minutes is overwhelming. It feels like there is literally something inside me bubbling furiously and wanting to erupt out of the flesh I live in and prove itself to be the person I should have, could have, would have been if only this, if only that.

But the thing is – I like being weird. I like the fact that I read while I walk. I like the fact that I have lip-piercings but don’t wear any makeup usually and don’t care about how I dress most of the time. I like the fact that when I do dress up, I sometimes do the goth thing and sometimes do the classy, white blouse and nice pants thing. I like the fact that I’ve read the Harry Potter books so many times that I remember that Nearly Headless Nick’s real name is Sir Nicholas de Mimsy Porpington. I like the fact that I play computer games but am still a hopeless romantic. I like the fact that I find pleasure in being on my own with my books, curled up in bed.

Are there things I regret about being weird? Sure. Of course. Do I still have issues? Oh my goodness, yes. If you could hear the inside of my mind, the extent to which I feel guilty about things that aren’t my responsibility, and the amount of time I spend judging myself, you might just go crazy yourselves. And yet… And yet I’ve come to accept that I wouldn’t give up the joys I get in my weird pleasures in order to be “normal,” whatever that’s supposed to mean.

I also realize that I’m incredibly lucky to be going to a university where being weird is encouraged and that I live near New York City where being weird is a much coveted quality. Maybe there are places where I would feel much less secure in my weirdness.

Have you been called weird? Do you embrace, shun or hide your weirdness?

Bright Side?

My dorm room has three windows; four, if you count the one that’s in the emergency exit door, which I don’t, because I keep the blind down on it at all times. The reason for that is that I’m on the first floor of my building, directly overlooking, from two windows, the main entrance used by students to come and go from main campus. The window in the exit door overlooks a little hill on which people sometimes sit and smoke when the weather permits. The last window overlooks an ugly tarred roof and from it I could see, if I wished, the windows of the apartments in what I can only call the second wing of the building. I keep that blind closed most of the time as well. So really, I have very little light coming into the room during the day, and at night all my blinds are closed except one, and that window is blocked by a screen so that the people walking below won’t be able to see me changing.

I’m a pretty private person, which is why I’m still ecstatic to have this single room, even if the windows aren’t quite as useful as I’d hoped. There are other downsides to the room, though. Since it’s right by the entrance, I get to hear all the drunk partiers who go out to smoke at one, two and three in the morning. At first, it really irked me. But lately I’ve grown used to it and have even come to see it as a plus. I can’t recognize people’s voices because of the echoing quality, but I can sometimes pick out some words and I try to remember them, to weave stories from them, to put images and faces to them.

I’m back at school after a lovely mini-break with my brother and his girlfriend in Washington D.C. I’m halfway through the semester. There are bright sides, too.