Saturday, October 29, 2011

If You Could Do Anything...

In the late afternoon today I went for a walk up Løvstakken. I passed Oskar the pig’s empty hut (every time he isn’t there I worry that he’s become dinner and I’ll never see him again), trudged up the gravel path, and then took one of the myriad foot-tracks towards the ridge of the mountain. As I clambered up slippery roots and over muddy stream banks, the hackneyed question, “what would you do if you could do anything?” moved into my mind and set up camp.

Who Wouldn't?
In the past, it has always been pretty easy to answer that question. As a literature, gender studies, and philosophy major I just responded, “um, duh. Do you think I’d be doing these things if they weren’t exactly what I wanted?” Or threw out the usual bit about sheep-farming in Wales, and leading backpacking groups through the Rockies. At the moment, the question is no less easy—I suppose I would spend a year in Norway teaching English literature and American Studies and acquainting myself with Scandinavian culture and landscapes. But as I reached the peak of Løvstakken, I seated myself on a rock with my back to a tree and pondered the question again, tossing out answers over the view.

If I could do anything, I would take every course offered in university in alphabetical order, from American Studies to Veterinary Science. I would take each course in three different places simultaneously: one at an Ivy League university, one at a state school, and one at a community college, gaining the heterogeneous wisdom of my disparate peers in each. Then I would write an encyclopedia that doesn’t pretend to lack bias, but embraces the beauty of learning everything while doing nothing.

I would ask my mother to teach me how to weave, and fabricate a tapestry of the history of world poetry in scarlets, burnt oranges, and golden yellows, a swirling sunset of backwards ekphrasis.

I would run a map-less marathon from Canada to the South in autumn, following the wild geese as my guide.

I would create a language in which it is impossible to discuss difference of identity in a negative way. A language in which the very concepts of genocide, jihad, and hate crime are inconceivable. Not by destroying identity, oh no—being here in Norway has made me aware of the treasured beauty of my otherness even as class, race, and gender continue to irk in their manifold complexity. Perhaps by making difference the default, so that no human ever assumed another individual was exactly like them, and expected great glorious shades of difference…

I would sign a law that all automatic doors open within half a millisecond of detected motion, accommodating fast walkers everywhere.

I would ask Tennyson over for a round of scrabble.

I would write my parents’ biographies.

I would soar straight out into the universe, skipping the stifling claustrophobic inside of a spaceship, ignoring planets and drifting around meteors and swooshing past other petty obstacles, and never stop until my movement was concurrent with that of the universe, and I could drift my finger outside of it lazily as one does in a rowboat on a pond, only my finger would push the universe impossibly farther and then I’d become the figurehead on the prow of a great expansion.

I would… as my mind drifted in and out of possibility, I watched the shadows growing over the valley beneath me. Suddenly, I became aware that evening was drawing up over the mountain. I had lost track of time. I scrambled down from my perch and began my descent. Slipping whole yards here and there, leaping across muddy patches and sliding down the sheer rocks that presented their sparkle to me, I tried to beat the dark. But it rose as I fell, until I was in a pine grove with branches impossibly close together. Here night had already obscured the ground, and I couldn’t see where I was stepping, or in which direction the path went. I tried to feel my way downhill, knowing that all I needed was to continue down, but in the darkness, it was nerve-wracking to find a way. I began to berate myself silently; I’m supposed to be an experienced hiker who’s read enough accounts of lost backpackers not to get into these messes! I stopped a moment on a horizontal spot to orient myself. What was that? To my right, I could hear water trickling down. Perfect, I thought, and tripped towards it. Sure enough, a creek led down the mountainside, and the trees on either side were far enough apart to let the last rays of light into the forest. I splashed down the mountain and emerged on the regular path, and walked home with my neck craned upwards, searching for the first three stars.