Today in Creative Writing we had a new teacher, Ms. Eisler. (Emma E.) All the CW II students have to bring in a short story or excerpt, and then ask us thought-provoking questions based on what we just read. After, they give us a prompt. Today, Emma handed out to us an excerpt from How To Breathe Underwater called “When She Is Old and I Am Famous.” It is a smooth and powerfully written tale about the relationship and conflict between two cousins. The narrator, Mira, is a twenty-year-old visual artist who is studying art in Italy. Her cousin, Aïda, is a fifteen-year-old model visiting Mira. There are many contrasts, such as Aïda being skinny and having physical beauty in her youth, and Mira being corpulent and, in the ways of making art, creating art that lasts far beyond surface beauty.
When I’m reading any type of teenage-fiction novel or even a novel like East of Eden, there always seems to be that perfect girl. You know what I’m talking about, those girls who have ideal bodies, a gorgeous face, has everyone awestruck by her beauty and sheer perfectness. They also seem to have that manipulative personality that makes everyone like them. The cliché of all the guys wanting her and all the girls all wanting to be her. They come off seemingly getting whatever they want and having no problems what so ever. This is how I found Aïda to be portrayed, and whenever I find this character in books, I get this mixture of excitement and exasperation. Excited, because they do give the story somewhat of a zest. Exasperated, because they’re so unrealistic. (I have only ever met one person who had the physical perfectness down pat. But getting to know them more, I realized they too had similar problems to me that I would never think someone with such physical beauty would have to deal with. And they have to work just as hard as everyone else. As I’m writing this I realize how superficial I’m sounding, but in truth these past few weeks of high school has actually taught me that even if you have good looks it will only take you so far. Personality actually does matter.)
To cut to my point, these seemingly perfect characters only are in books. But authors seemingly like to leave these perfect characters perfect. There is no humanization, it’s almost as if they’re a whole other species. (Similarly to how I gave said person-in-real-life a whole different expectation than everyone else, even though they’re just another human being.) However, in “When She Is Old and I Am Famous” there was this moment where the cousin-model Aïda was talking about how she’d have a few good years in her career, then settle somewhere and be forgotten. I feel like this (along with the title) really gave the message. The longevity of art and physical beauty are not the same. Art can last on forever, a beauty that is everlasting. All these seemingly perfect looking people, whether they are in your math class or on the cover of Vogue, their beauty will fade.
And beauty is the eye of the beholder! It really isn’t that important. I’m sorry if I turned this into another rant about beauty being superficial. Super huge thanks to Emma E. for bringing in that excerpt! It was easily the best, most mind-boggling thing I’ve read in the past six months.
Killa Heredia Bratt, class of 2019