Last July in a fit of madness brought on by commuting to work at 6:00 a.m. Owl started composing her mother’s biography. Owl stresses that this is a highly normal activity common in all aspiring novelists.
Problem. Owl’s mother was born and brought up in Indonesia, and Owl, despite manifold affectations of foreign mannerisms, hails from the exotic reaches of heartland Americana, formerly known as the Midwest. Owl’s knowledge of Indonesia is limited to a few summers roosting in various relatives’ houses, eating shaved ice at shopping malls, and a reasonably sized arsenal of vulgarities in bahasa.
Owl’s imagination went splat three paragraphs into the bio. Owl realized she needed some hands on research experience. Owl thought about the red tiled roofs of Bandung, the green palms that line the roads of Jakarta, and running up and down the sparkling beaches of Bali while sipping coconut water. From a coconut.
Owl looked around. The bus smelled like gasoline. The woman across from her looked like she was going to be sick. In a few hours Owl would march into work, write reports, and her unborn novel—at this point, Owl was convinced would be a candidate for the Nobel if only she got the time to write it—would get a swift abortion.
Owl pulled a Rilke and thought: I must change my life.
Then she went home and applied for a Fulbright to teach in Indonesia.
(Owl has this slight problem where she takes her fits of insanity quite seriously.)
Summer faded into fall, and in turn fall froze over into winter. Owl picked up volunteer teaching jobs, enrolled in bahasa classes, expanded the language arsenal to include a few necessary pleasantries like hello, how are you, and you are beautiful like fried shrimp, dreamt of Indonesia, it's beaches, the sing-song lull of bahasa, mentally packed her bags and smiled through 50+ magazine rejections. A Fulbright, she thought, would be a sign from God that she was meant to be a novelist.
The rejection came in April.
Owl wept profusely. Owl grieved. Owl beat her chest. Owl realized she was better off anyway because Indonesia is hot and full of mosquitoes, and who wanted to go there anywhere? Plus, teaching. Owl is shy. Owl is self conscious. Owl is shit at teaching.
Owl promised herself she'd take a long vacation at the end of the year. Somewhere sunny. She went to work. She maybe didn't write as much as she used to. She realized she had a thoroughly excellent job and it would be pure madness to leave it. She moved on because that's the grown up thing to do. And her newly acquired adulthood comes the realization of a few sobering realities. Not all dreams are attainable, not everything is meant to be. Sometimes there's trying, and sometimes there's just madness, and when it's just madness, well, pray, pray that you aren't a mad dreamer, pray that you aren't doomed to spend your life howling for things you want very badly and will never get. Instead pray that you will never want.
And Owl prayed. And tried very very hard to not want. And it was difficult.
In May Owl got a phone call.
It was the Fulbright committee offering her a grant to teach in Malaysia.
Owl asked the man on the phone if he was a hallucination. He said no and told her to make a decision in two days. Owl sat down with a thump. Owl clean forgot to go to a meeting and her boss threw a marker at her and was an utter darling about forgiving her. Owl spent the rest of the day gaping at the computer.
Owl tried to discuss this Malaysia thing with her parents in a rational and grown up manner. It went something like this:
Owl: So what sane person gives up a stable job to teach for a year?
Parents: Sanity has never been your strong point.
Owl: I'm going to think this over for a few days.
Parents: Don't kid yourself. You've already decided.
Owl: I have?
Owl: So what's my decision? Wouldn't I like, be the first to know? Who did the deciding anyway?
Parents: Your gut.
Parents: Your gut.
Owl: Why wasn't I informed? Also, more importantly, what did it decide?
Parents: We don't have time to sort out your weird communication issues. Goodbye.
Owl: WHY HAVE YOU ABANDONED ME?
Owl's Gut: *whimper* I'm hungry.
Owl: Shut up and make a Malaysia related decision.
Owl's Gut: I want laksa and chicken satay.
Owl: Shut the hell up. You know I can't cook.
Owl's Gut: I want a new body.
[Ten minutes later]
Owl's Gut: Dear Fulbright, I will be happy to go to Malaysia. Please forward food samples to me and place me somewhere where the trees are thick with mangos and the mangosteens are luscious. Thank you. Love Owl.
[A day later]
Owl: OH MY GOD, WHAT HAVE I DONE?
Come January, Owl is going to Malaysia.
That's not all.
A few days later Owl went through her list of things to do before she dies. This is what it looks like:
- Live abroad for a year
- Write a novel
- Run a marathon
- Learn Chinese (preferably in China)
And Owl thought okay, Goal 1, check. Goal 2, ehhh writer's block sucks. Goal 3, on hold due to weird hip issues and shin splints, Goal 4, what on earth was I thinking? Like I'll ever have the opportunity to go to China…wait.
And Owl wrote e-mails to her lovely friend Kate, and Owl googled, and Owl researched, and Owl e-mailed and e-mailed, and come September Owl will be studying Chinese in Kunming, China.
Owl's apartment is littered with half-packed boxes and visa applications. In four weeks she'll be moving out. In six she'll be in China. Come New Year, she'll be in Malaysia. Two months ago she was pretty sure she'd spend the next ten years at her job.
Owl is in shock. Maybe she should be reading the Bhagavad Gita and meditating to cope, or at the very least attempting to shore up her nonexistent Chinese with a phrase book, but instead she's gulping down Korean dramas and Japanese manga trying to grasp the enormity of the changes coming her way, and now Owl is praying she doesn't end up with her throat slit in some random gutter because she mixed up "bathroom" and "brothel" in Chinese, or that her students don't throw tomatoes at her, and how on earth is she going to maintain discipline when she can't even speak up during meetings at work, and then there other questions like—to blog or not to blog? And if so, as Owl? Or…*gasp* in the first person? New layout? New address to mirror her journeyman status?
Whatever the answer is, Owl is sure of one thing:
|A new and more adult Owl deals with change|
Photo Credit: Richard Ercolani