I am a bird // a short story

I am a bird. I have spent much of my life in the skies. Unfortunately, there isn’t much to do in this endless gouache of blue and white.

At first, flight was magical. I could soar to unimaginable heights. I could shrink the world into a canvas and appreciate from that exclusive space the meticulous strokes and brushes of nature. More than that, I felt free. There was something about flying, so light and quick across clouds, like the swift hands of an artist, that excited the spirit yet calmed the mind. But that is no longer the case. I have grown bored of it all.

Sometimes, whilst in the air, I would look down and observe those strange beings seemingly bound to the earth by their weight. They have neither wings, nor feathers, nor talons, nor a tail, nor a beak. But they have limbs – long, sturdy and dexterous, with little claws at the end. I see them climb trees, run across fields, wield objects, write symbols, paint pictures, and all these with the aid of those trusty limbs. How delightful it would be if I too had limbs like theirs.

Perhaps, if I think hard enough and let my mind consume the world, the skies will solidify, and my feathery wings turn into hairless limbs. Perhaps, with an ardent enough belief, I shall be able to convince myself that I had, upon seeing a bird streak across the sky, climbed down my favorite apple tree, dashed across a brown field of barley, pulled out a wooden stool, and begun to write in the language of those strange beings. And I thus started: “I am a bird.”

The existentialist in Birdman

I couldn’t help but to recall Sartre’s famous words, “existence precedes essence”, after digesting Iñárritu’s almost psychedelic Birdman.

The story follows one Riggan Thomson, a retired actor who used to play a popular superhero, Birdman. Riggan decides to reignite his fading career by directing and starring in a Broadway adaptation of Raymond Carver’s What We Talk About When We Talk About Love. However, he is constantly tormented by a coarse, commanding voice in his head that is Birdman; or rather, a parasitic vestige of him. Throughout the film, Birdman taunts and derides Riggan, incessantly telling him that he deserves better for the very fact that he once played that marvellous superhero.

It is this voice that drives Riggan to long for that lost stardom, for the illusory prestige birthed by a cult of celebrity. He wants to be heard, to be known, to be appreciated for the talents he believes himself to possess. Most of all, he wants to be remembered, and be through all generations, admired and revered. Slowly, we begin to see this obsession turn into a fear of being forgotten. Riggan becomes afraid of petering out into an indiscernible memory and of being divested of all that makes him him.

Riggan had developed a sense of awareness – that life eventually amounts to nothing, and that, at the end of it, our existence would have mattered as little as that of a speck of stardust. Riggan does not accept this and so, desperately, he tries to defy the inevitable. If immortality in being is unattainable then he shall have to settle for immortality in thought; that is, to be remembered for something extraordinary and find eminent residence in the universal tome of history.

As it was, Riggan appeared to have cared more about his existence than the things that comprised his life. He felt it more important to let his name survive him than to simply enjoy the production and live in however ephemeral a satisfaction. He knew that his essence, everything that comprises his being, would be extinguished completely by death, and that there would be no point in building it up or reveling in the culmination. Faced with such an inevitability, he then willingly allowed his existence to precede his essence.

This is but one of the many, many ideas that can be deciphered from the film. Speaking of which, another worth mentioning was its bold and blatant satirical assault on the state of cinema: “People, they love blood. They love action. Not this talky, depressing philosophical bullshit.”

The stranger in reality

For a moment, reality had seemed divested of itself. Everything appeared strange, like strays that belong to no proper place. I couldn’t even recognize myself when I looked into the mirror. My voice too sounded faraway, as if it were not really I who was speaking but a puppeteer of the tongue, hidden in some unseen dimension. Downstairs, I heard my parents talking about a friend of theirs, to whose house they had been the previous night, and of the puzzling scarcity in furniture. I am aware of the identity of this person, and know him by the name of Winston, but at that moment, he had seemed a stranger, a fictional work of the mind. And my parents’ words – did they not sound hollow, devoid of genuineness and scripted like the superficial lines of actors? Everything seemed to be a play. My world was really just set on a grand, immense stage, and Winston was that new actor whom I knew from the outside but whom, on the stage, became a stranger to me.

When I went downstairs, I saw the maid cooking outside; I saw her through a glass partition. Consciously, I knew the pan she held was hot and would scald any skin that dared challenged it. But so strangely did the entire image of her cooking seem an act. Her motions were as unerring as those of a practiced actor, and the pan which I had believed all the while to be searingly hot is but a cold, convincing prop. And I thought that were I to burst out spontaneously and place my palm on the pan, I would realize that all is but a lie, and so quickly would the set-piece crumble; and everyone who stood behind the curtains of the non-reality would have to reveal themselves.

It is almost terrifying, though at the same time quite mesmerizing, to be subtracted from the equation that is reality. It is as if your being remains but your consciousness drifts, and you are not yourself but a separate entity controlling yourself. You glissade from one end of the stage to the another, performing as you are impelled by a mysterious force. You soon begin to wonder from where comes this force, and in your wonderment, you try to oppose it; but it is futile, for you cannot see the strings that are bound to you any more than you can the hands at where they end. It is all very terrifying because you realize that reality is as much a stranger to you as it is someone familiar.