So much has happened in the last six months — getting the stegner, finishing at Columbia, getting married, moving across the world again, attending my first literary conference in vermont while simultaneously making American national news, grieving a close friend’s untimely passing, crying so much, setting up in the West Coast, schlepping all over the Bay Area for second-hand furniture, starting the Stegner, and then, finally, turning thirty…
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interestingly in the last six months I’ve had close brushes with fire three times, which is too frequent an occurrence for my liking. the first was the day the stegner was announced. I was boiling my weekly batch of hard-boiled eggs, as one does, when I looked up and saw a snowflake drifting past the kitchen window. I’ve been obsessed with snow ever since I was a child, being from the equator and all. To me snow isn’t real, it’s from the realm of TV and fairytales, for a long time I thought I would simply never see it in my lifetime because going to seasonal countries is expensive. Which is a large part of why I’ve always loved getting older. In my mind, age = legal ability to work = monies = choices. In fact, I think I was almost twenty when I first went to a Disneyland, in Hong Kong, and that evening it started snowing. I completely lost my shit. I thought, what the fuck is this magic. So I did what the storybooks said people did, and stuck my tongue out to catch the snowflakes, and promptly realised I was eating soap foam. But anyway. That cold morning in March, I was so taken by the real, New York snow, that I followed it immediately, and went out on the street to watch it coming down. And then I thought, since I’m outdoors, might as well go to work. So I walked to Columbia to get some writing done, and an hour later, my roommate called me and told me I’d nearly burnt the house down because my eggs had exploded on the stove. I ran home and there was actual, visible smoke hanging in the air, lingering like some kind of unwanted guest, and powdery egg yolk everywhere, in all the crevices of the kitchen, the cupboards, the refrigerator, the light switches.
While I was on my hands and knees on the kitchen floor trying to clean up egg bits, shivering because all the slushy snow had melted and now I was just straight up shivering and drenched, my phone started blowing up, and that’s how I learnt that everyone else now knew what I’d been keeping secret for two weeks — that I was one of the new Stegner fellows, that I’d been given the gift of time, that my dreams, basically, were coming true.
A week after that my partner, now husband, flew down to new york for his bachelor’s trip, so we could meet up and go to Disney World with some of his groomsmen. Yet another thing I thought I’d never do in my entire life. I often wonder what it would have been like to be privvy to so much manufactured magic as a child; I think I would have peed my pants in excitement and wonder. As an adult I still love it all, the fireworks and music and obvious emotional manipulation, but I cant stop ringing up the cost of everything in my mind. The value of your dollar and all that, I suppose. Anyway. We took different flights back to New York because I had Delta miles from a previous pandemic related flight cancellation, and said seeya later at MCO airport, fully expecting to land at JFK within 30 minutes of each other. Little did I know. Little. Did I know.
For the next thirty two hours I boarded and disembarked multiple flights as I tried desperately to get out of Orlando while they were all cancelled one by one for all kinds of reasons, the most ludicrous being that a gate agent, in an attempt to get rid of me, printed me a ticket to a flight that didn’t exist. I cycled through the rounds of being drunk and sober multiple times as I participated in the time honored tradition of oral storytelling and regaled all of MCO terminal B with my sob story, getting multiple free drinks of pity, sleeping on an airport bench, showering in the public toilet.
Hour 21, I managed to wrangle my way onto a flight and promptly fall asleep in my seat while waiting for take off with the confidence of a fool. I woke an hour later to the smell of smoke and an air stewardess beside me. The plane was on fire. It’d only happened once in her seven years of flying, this was the second time. I disembarked, went straight to the bar, and got myself a beer and consolatory fried chicken. A routine, by that point.
Third time. Less than a month after I was wed. I flew back to the States for a literary conference, which included a 12 hour SG-FRA flight, a 15 hour layover, 8.5 hour FRA-NYC, crashing a night at a girlfriend’s place, then flying out the following AM to Vermont. A recipe that did not take into consideration jet lag because I am am optimist and endlessly unrealistic. Anyway. On the Uber to La Guardia, I was chatting with my driver, Fritz, when we drove past a building that was literally on fire. I have never seen anything like it — flames really do lick the air, they also shoot, and twist, and shatter windowpanes from heat. We pulled over and he ran straight into the building while I stood on the sidewalk and did what i do best, which is yell a lot. EVACUATE, EVACUATE. Like they say in those airplane safety briefings. EVACUATE EVACUATE! The fire truck came ten minutes later, Fritz ran out having saved 2 people, and asked if he smelt of smoke. His wife would kill him, he said, if she knew he’d ran into a burning building. I tweeted about it sans names in a what the heck just happened what a crazy morning kinda way, got on the flight, and when i landed it had been retweeted over fifty thousand times. I immediately emailed Fritz and said um you know what you said about not wanting your wife to know…
Anyway. It turned out he was fine with media attention, enthused by the public excitement over choosing to do good. It feels like everyone could use a bit of hope, with the way these few years have gone. We made national news. But I was in Vermont with no cell service and shitty wifi and in between readings and classes I was on the phone with journalists and dialing in to the CNN studios for a live show by hiding in a Bread Loaf closet and trying to balance my phone on a shelf. I couldn’t hear jackshit and was really hoping for the best. When we went live, apparently Fritz said how are you and I replied I know right and my sister dragged me for the next month straight.
Anyway. That’s three fires in six months. One per two months. Far, far too many close calls for my liking. A friend pointed out that this isn’t even it — a couple of years ago, I had fallen asleep on a diving boat, and woke up to the deck in flames. People were screaming and climbing over each other trying to retrieve these dusty lifejackets which clearly had never been put to use, ever. I remember, back then, being so burnt out from work, so exhausted from juggling multiple freelance jobs while teaching at the university and trying to complete my Masters and also have a life (which was why I was even on that boat, I was trying to learn to dive in a bid to enrich my life…)
I looked at the fire, looked at my friend, a severely overworked advertising suit who had also just woken up. We both closed our eyes and went back to sleep. If this is it, I remember thinking. I’m so tired. Just five minutes more.
How far things have come. Now I am hungry to stay alive, every day aflame with the joy and pain of being able to do nothing but write, read, write some more. I’m so happy. It feels so trite to say but I am. If this is thirty, I think. I’m ready for more.