Maybe it was all the Alf I watched, but from the ages of 7 through 12, my greatest ambition was to be abducted by aliens. My teachers were perplexed: how about astronaut, or fireman, or attorney? It’s not technically an ambition if you don’t have any control over it, I was told. Accepting this truth, I tried to put myself in the most abduction-likely situations. This proved difficult, because standing on my roof was dangerous and there were no cornfields near to hang out in. I settled for loitering in my front yard while staring up at the sky. If they weren’t going to abduct me, I at least wanted to have a good look at them. When I failed to realize even this modest goal, I decided to take measures into my own hands; I’d have to invent a UFO sighting.
It was a warm fall night—I must have been 10—when I got my chance. My parents and I were walking the dog around the block when a brightly lit object appeared above us and scuttled across the suburban sky. It was an airplane; I knew it, my parents knew it, even my golden retriever knew it. But this airplane had a flashing green light, which I had never seen before. This slight anomaly was all I needed to build upon. I told my friends at school about it, adding that it was lightning fast and absolutely silent.
“I had the sensation that I was being watched,” I said in a hushed voice. My friend Joey suggested that I was already being followed by Men in Black. I practiced that distant, harried look I’d seen Richard Dreyfuss have in Close Encounters of the Third Kind. I filled up a notebook with sketches of the craft, wearing down my emerald colored pencil to a nub.
I cultivated this willful self-deception for almost a week until I saw the same green-lighted plane in the half-light of dusk. Faced with the naked truth, I tossed my notebook in the trash. Since nobody, not even Joey, believed me in the first place, it was time to move on from my fantasy.
Now that I am married and have a job that I truly enjoy, I’d rather witness a UFO from a safe distance than be stolen by one. But the desire to see something incredible is still there, and that is why I write. The potential for the extraordinary to occur amid the ordinary is intriguing, for the same reason that an unopened envelope with your name on it has an undeniable magnetic pull. For me, the recognition and celebration of potential energy is central to the act of writing: the potential for an inert character to lurch into motion, or for a sublime moment to overtake a mundane one.
I’ve come to realize that what’s exciting is not that a UFO will appear in an ordinary Tuesday afternoon sky, but that an ordinary Tuesday sky holds this and infinite other possibilities. Whether or not a flying saucer ever appears is ultimately irrelevant; the act of staring up at the sky is creative, and therefore, important.