2016 Sejong Writing Competition

Winning Entries :: Essays :: Senior third place
Stability Against the Confines of Gravity

Gymnastics is the hardest sport in the world. It takes an immense amount of dedication, mental and physical strength, flexibility, and perseverance. It is time consuming, and sometimes life consuming. Similar to life, gymnastics can be frustrating and disappointing at times, especially when goals are not met. In Songnan’s short story “Waxen Wings”, the protagonist faces a series failures but she applies her gymnastics training, which taught her perseverance, to push through the difficult times. In “Waxen Wings”the use of circular imagery and motif of balance show that balance helps center us in our circle of life.

Songnan uses the second person point of view to make ‘you’ the center of the story. This point of view is unique to this story, since most stories are either in first or third person. The distinctive point of view balances the story so that we are able to relate with the protagonist without becoming too close. Birdie describes one day in the gym as “... your hands slip and you fall to the mat. Every time this happens, the coach’s long stick jabs your stomach” (Songnan 168). In first person ‘your’ changes to ‘my’ which brings us so close to the protagonist that we become overwhelmed by the story. In third person ‘your’ changes to ‘his or her’ which makes us disconnected from the character and is less impactful. The second point of view is almost a euphemism itself; it allows us to relate to the story without feeling like we have gone through the hardships ourselves, putting a milder spin on a somewhat unpleasant story. Second person narrative balances the problem of too close and too far so that we are able to read, process, and relate to the story.

“Waxen Wings” is structured by stages in the life cycle and, although some parts of this story are tragic, it is not a tragedy. It has a circular feeling to it, going through many stages in life as well as many emotions, from embarrassment, to happiness, to ambition, to love, to fear. This story concludes in the same place it began, continuing the circular structure, starting with ten and going through the teen years, then flying through time to twenty-six. It does not follow the structure of a tragedy with rising action, a climax, and falling action. One part of “Waxen Wings”does not rise above the others because it is balanced in order for us to connect with all different parts of the story.

Songnan uses balance as a motif in “Waxen Wings” to show that we are constantly struggling to achieve balance in our lives. Since balance is key in gymnastics, it is imperative for Birdie to be able to find balance while flying through the air. She describes her bar routine as “Swing from low bar to high bar, grip, then cast to handstand, hold, release, and catch bar three time in a row, somersault and catch bar again…” (Songnan 170). Each of these skills requires a precise balance against gravitational forces so that she can successfully fly between the bars. Even just the slightest shift can throw her off whereby she misses the bar and slams into the mat. Not only does Birdie have to balance while doing gymnastics, but she also has to have balance in her life between school and gym. When Birdie is early in her career of gymnastics she realizes, “You get home later and later” (Songnan 167). The more advanced Birdie gets in gymnastics, the more hours she trains in the gym. This requires her to have greater dedication to being efficient to keep balance between her athletic goals and education. Later in life, Birdie applies the skills of balance she acquired from gymnastics to help her learn how to balance on only one leg after the hang gliding accident. While in the ICU she notices that “...the area covering what should have been your right leg had been flat and smooth” (Songnan 181). Learning how to balance on two feet can be difficult after a life threatening crash, but learning stability on one foot increases the struggle. The motif of balance in this story reminds us that we must constantly works to achieve balance in our life.

Although tragic things happen to Birdie, “Waxen Wings” is not a tragedy, nor should it be seen as a disappointing story. Rather we should see Birdie’s strength in being able to overcome hardships and we should be inspired by her determination. She works to achieve balance not only when flying through the air but also in her life. Life is a balancing act, and there is no special formula on how to make it all work. Our decisions help set our priorities in order to balance the time we have. Whether we like it or not, the hands on the clock continue to circle, and we should stay determined to find the balance that centers us in our world.