Friday, September 21, 2012

What's a Gull to Do?

Did you ever read ‘Jonathan Livingston Seagull’? In junior high I begged my parents to let me buy it. They could have said that no child of theirs would read that drivel.
Instead, they let me spend 4 and a half hours worth of babysitting money on a book that took an hour and a half to read and contained half a teaspoon of substance.
I squeezed every possible emotional response from that half teaspoon, trying to convince myself that the very obscurity meant I was reading Truth and Beauty. Preteen girls frequently cry over Truth and Beauty.

From my vague recollections, and for those who managed to avoid the book, it concerned:
-a seagull who thought he was too good to do what other seagulls did
-something about flying fast equaling heaven
-‘don’t be afraid to be different, that is what makes you special.’
-Oh wait. There was also ‘Reach perfection and be at one with the universe’.
-And the ultimate secret: 'Begin by knowing that you have already arrived.'

What preteen girl wouldn’t take those entirely original, never-before-stated-in-the-history-of-mankind axioms and use them to conquer her looming teen years?

I tried. I reread it to make sure I hadn’t missed any secret knowledge.
-I told my parents I was too good to do what other preteen girls did. Like dinner dishes. They agreed, and told me I could therefore also wash breakfast dishes.
-I ran for awhile but, bothered by a vague notion that ‘speed equals heaven’ smacked of heresy, never achieved my full speed potential.
-Of COURSE I was afraid to be different. I didn’t want to be special in junior high. Just invisible.
-My failure in the above arenas eradicated any chance I had of reaching perfection and being one with the universe.
-But since I had already arrived, I reasoned, why bother beginning? I went back to reading Tiger Beat magazine and Jonathan flew out of my life.

Recently I reflected on the basic flaw in Jonathan Livingston Seagull. The one that all the other nonsense tottered upon.
The world doesn’t need seagulls who behave like ethereal sonic booms.
It needs seagulls who behave like seagulls.
Seagulls clean up human’s messes. They nibble dead critter carcasses that could cause disease. They tidy up beaches and parking lots and picnic spots and the city dump.

Seagulls are photogenic and can make even the land-locked Midwesterner dream of the ocean.

Jonathan Livingston Seagull, go ahead. Fly high and fast. But could you grab that McDonald’s bag in parking lot on your way?


Sue Vick Finley said...

A lovely peek into your preteen world. I would have to think hard to remember mine. I will do that later. Thanks for the post. The photos were delightful too!

Lori Lipsky said...

I remember reading Jonathan Livingston Seagull. It was so short, I think my mom and brother read it, too. I don't remember much, except that it was an easy read and my mom didn't like it much.

I loved the photos! There were a lot of seagulls out on Lake Mendota today. They make a pretty sight from a far.

Thanks for the post. I'm with Sue. It's nice to peek into the earlier-Prude world.