Essay Contest: Flying Fish

As I ponder the theme of Take Flight there are so many flapping, shrieking, winged things that propel themselves to the imagination that it stalls out my own flying machine I call a brain. On the runway, engine flooded, I sit with too many ideas staring at a blank page wondering where my old friend and navigator named Inspiration has run off to. I see her book of maps sitting open in her empty seat. Timidly, I glide my eyes over the pages; images and videos of rockets, space shuttles, violent teeth rattling controlled explosions, and astronauts sitting atop their saddled sticks of dynamite launch past my eyes. No, I can’t handle more ideas. I close the book abruptly and look away. But then gingerly with one eye closed, I turn again the pages of her navigational notes. Surely there must be scribbles somewhere about a contributor to the arts at BYU?

“Dang, her handwriting is hard to read,” I say to myself. My palms get that warm sweaty stickiness as I run my fingers over my laptop keyboard– the flight controls for my flying machine. Are those sketches of flying animals or landscape designs for campus she’s drawn? Looking closer I realize I have the book upside down; I’m glad my Inspiration isn’t here to watch this. This flying thing was so much easier before there was a deadline or an audience or even potential awards– back when it was just me, the plane, and the Genius of written language.

Now right-side up, the drawings turn into a sepia-toned class picture of Franklin Harris, George Brimhall, Franklin Madsen, Lorin Wheelright, and other prominent BYU arts figures of past, present, and future. As I look closer they are not pictured as administrators or even professionals, but as students; messy hair, youthful eyes, backpacks, and the whole lot. “Clearly fictional,” I whisper, as this must be some weird time warp my imagination has thrown in, “but very interesting.”

I sit back in my seat and look once more to my dashboard. Then I see it, a glimmer of hope! A sticky note left by Lady Inspiration! “Flying Fish” it says. After a pause, I read it again, “Flying Fish”. I turn the note over. Nothing on the back but blank stickiness.

“It’s not an essay,” I say to no one, “but it’s a start.” I find the ignition once more and turn it wearily, the engine turns with it and flares to life. The propeller begins to spin and that familiar flight of words lifts off my brain and lands gently in my fingertips. “Flying fish,” I mutter while rolling my eyes and shaking my head. Goggles, check. Headphones, check. Keyboard flight controls, check. Navigator, Muse, and Inspiration… “Check,” crackles her voice from the radio. “Flying fish?” I say one more time loud enough for her to hear it. “Roger. Flying fish,” she replies.

With clean runway ahead and wind in my hair, I open the throttle and cruise down the airstrip. Well-aged wings lift my plane for brains off the tarmac and into the open air. I chuckle to myself. Flying fish are, like humans, one of the few creatures that have no business flying through the air. Any other fish out of water flops around in one of the most ungraceful displays of Mother Nature there is. Yet this silver dart is able to propel free of its watery home, extend dragon-fly like pectoral fins and achieve lift. It looks rather clumsy as it wriggles free of the surface, but once in the air, the flying fish becomes a fairy as it skims the surface. The longest flight recorded of a flying fish is 45 seconds which was filmed by a Japanese TV crew; 45 seconds of pure freedom and exquisite joy.

I think again to my navigator named Inspiration in the flight tower below. This must be what people are to her; flying fish. A creature that has no business creating art, dancing, writing, or otherwise cohabitating in the realm of genius. But we try so hard and often look so clumsy wriggling ourselves out of our dull and menial lives to experience for a moment the thrill of creation. And occasionally, if the circumstances are right, we can achieve lift like these flying fish and sail through Inspiration’s airspace.

BYU campus filled with its students must look like a silvery school of flying fish wriggling their way free from the watery grips of life into the airspace of creation before splashing back into the ocean. As I walk between classes, I can see it happening myself. Sketch and notebooks come out, rehearsals commence, faces in books; fish learning to fly.



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