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Learning How to Fly

writing books, growing up, & real-life fairy tales

By ALI RAEPublished 9 months ago 3 min read

I don’t remember how it happened but one day I looked in the mirror to see a full set of braces and this glow on my face as I help tightly to my copy of Writing Magic by Gail Carson Levine. “Writing Stories that Fly,” the subtitle read, and when I began my first story I fully believed myself to be flying. I would spend lunch trying to get my friends to look up from their sandwiches to read the latest paragraphs of purple marker that I had scribbled in my mom’s old notebook. Some days I would get frustrated because I had built this vivid, supernatural world in my mind that was so clearly stuck there, the words I had written still worlds away from the scenes I could see so clearly when I closed my eyes. But I had fallen in love with literary worlds and fantasies, a love deeper than I understood as a kid. Ye I think I knew even from my first attempt at a novel that failed after 500 words, that if I kept prodding, pushing, ripping the words apart and putting them back together, that I could turn my worlds and fantasies into something concrete too, like all the others that kept me up past my bedtime turning pages by flashlight.

I spent most of my teenage years letting my mind relax into my first dream world, full of foggy mountains and storm clouds and magic. And suddenly that dream fell away as a new one burst through. A new world, not too different at its core (because I was not too different yet), but this time a world that was full. My first world that was concrete. A story that would very quickly take over every part of my own. I guess I have always had a hard time separating reality from fiction. The worlds I read and write and dream have always been as real to me as the one I truly exist in. Maybe it is because I started listening to Taylor Swift’s love songs long before either of us knew what love was. Or maybe I was just born with an imagination bigger than my body.

By the time this story had emerged in me I was in college, thinking I had become this full, grown up person, unaware of how much I had left to learn before I knew who I was. Two years slipped by, passing by seemingly unaware to me, help captive by this world that would burn my soul until I gave it my full attention. I think I spent those two years believing that I was about to change the course of history. I learned quickly that I wouldn’t even cause a shuffle in society, but I had changed the course of my own history. When I typed the words “The End” it left me surprisingly nostalgic; I hadn’t known until it was too late that I would never be the same again. I had finally done it, achieved my heart’s cry that pushed my through loss and heartbreak and growing pains for 10 years. I had made my fictional world concrete. I had written a novel. But I had also written the start of the rest of my life.

Even though I look back now at my 5-year-old book and want to bury it along with all the old versions of myself that I don’t recognize anymore, opening my first box of printed novels will always remain the proudest moment of my life. The thing about dreams, and stories, is that they are like Hydra. Fulfill one and three more fill its place. I think I knew even in seventh grade that this would be an incurable disease, and terminal one at that. But I can’t imagine living another life than this one. How does one even live without self-editing everything you say, without having a catalog of the past in notebooks and on computers? How does one understand anything at all without writing it out?

Joan Didion’s words have been tattooed on my heart since the moment I first read them: “I write entirely to find out what I'm thinking, what I'm looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear.” I suppose writing is not how I coped with growing up, but rather how I did it. Maybe coming of age is as much of a fairy tale as Grimm's stories, and our stories are more a part of life than we think. Maybe I really did start growing wings when I opened that notebook for the first time all those years ago.

I used to believe that if I could write the best story, turning the pictures in my imagination perfectly into prose, I would feel like I was flying. But now something tells me Joan Didion and Gail Carson Levine would agree that I have been flying all along.


About the Creator


writer // reader // dreamer // punk princess

i exist somewhere between star wars & jane eyre with occasional detours to mars & idris.


los angeles, CA

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  • Alex H Mittelman 9 months ago

    Very well written

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