Do Your Own Thing

(Another short essay I wrote for my Creative Writing club!)

Art is a special talent. It is the intimate expression of emotions, concepts, themes, and messages that connect with the viewer on a certain level. Music, paintings, designs, and writings—all portals to the artist’s mind, all windows to the artist’s soul. Art is also a special craft. This means nobody is perfect at it, that it must be sharpened and built upon, honed and shaped. The artist practices developing their skill so they can control it to produce certain effects. It’s hard to be purely talented at painting or dancing—it involves plenty of hours perfecting the craft. And after all those hours, after many attempts and fails, after finally hitting what you think is the summit, you feel empowered as an artist.

But there’s just one little problem. Somebody else is still doing it better than you.

Have you ever read a fantastic and scholarly article written by someone your age? Or learned that a teenager published a highly-acclaimed novel? Just when you thought you mastered the craft, you see other people even more successful: in the newspapers, in the bookstores, on television. You think: “Why am I not doing that?” I’ve been there. As an artist, you feel personally attached to your craft. It’s part of who you are. You want to be as good as those authors, you want to experience that same success. While it can produce healthy motivation, it could also induce unhealthy competitiveness.

William Zinsser, author of “On Writing Well,” wrote: “Writing is not a competition.”

Writing is not about who is better, whether based on commercial success or pure content. Writing is not meant to be a race (although NaNoWriMo might say otherwise, but that’s not the point). Author Kristy-Anne Still says that writing is meant to be “a passion, a love.” The worth of your writing shouldn’t be based on how often it’s getting published, or if it’s generating monetary income. It shouldn’t be based on the number of fans you’ve accumulated, or the amount of publicity you get. Writing wasn’t meant to be some shiny gold medal. It can be a weapon or peace-offering, a powerful statement or the beginning of a movement, a kind note to someone in need or a fun story for your siblings. Most importantly, it is a tool instilled in you. Those people who become popular authors, most of them didn’t become published for the sake of being published. They had a story to tell, and they wanted to share it with the world.

My message to you who feel this way: do your own thing. Certainly, let yourself be influenced by authors who inspire you. Build on their craft and make it your own. But don’t worry about other writers. Don’t let their successes or failures affect you. Focus on who you are as a writer, and what you want to do with your craft. You are on your own writing path, and if that means taking more time to develop your goals and plans as a writer, then do so. Just like with any art, you are a unique artist. Your progress might be different than somebody else’s, and that’s perfectly okay. I used to be an aspiring fictional novelist, but after many years of practicing and learning, I have now transitioned to poetry and am honing my nonfiction skills.

We are all writers on different levels of progress and skill. Don’t belittle yourself when you read something ten times better than what you could write. Don’t fret if you haven’t written the novel you want to publish yet. I think the way we can measure our success as a writer is this: if our writing sincerely touches someone in some way, then it is worth the fame in the world.

My Writing Identity

(This was a short essay I wrote for my Creative Writing Club.)

When I was younger, all I wanted to be was a famous author. After reading novels like James and the Giant Peach or Harry Potter and learning that younger people could publish too, I focused on writing chapter books that would one day fill libraries everywhere. And because of this, I felt that to be a writer, you should write at least one novel in your career. So, that was my goal and that was what consisted of most of my “writing practice”: to write long chapter books. Every summer since the 2nd grade I’d sit down after consuming dozens of books from my local public library to write the “next great novel.” Needless to say, it never happened. I was a terrible planner; the process took too long and all I wanted to do was jump into the action. But without a plan, the gas eventually ran out somewhere in the pages of chapter five. Even though I was never successful, I continued to think I’d write that best seller novel one day.

One year I attended a creative writing class for a summer studies program, and the scope with which I looked at writing was reshaped drastically. I was exposed to the world of short stories and poetry, and how to elevate one’s writing and make it three dimensional. From it I found that I really enjoyed penning poems. My writing style loosened from the rigid molds of styles I was trying to imitate, and I was beginning to meet myself in my writing. It wasn’t just about trying to be published anymore—it was about writing, too! And even though I began to take greater pride in my poetry, I struggled to call myself a “poet.” I didn’t really fit the model—someone once told me that to be a deep poet, I had to be sad and depressed, emotionally bruised and hurt. I wasn’t really any of those things. So, was I not a poet, then? Watching Spoken Word, I would see people write dark and deeply emotional free style pieces, delivering lines of loneliness, depression and anxiety rapidly, with eruption of “snaps” following. Colorful stories detailed in carefully selected syllables filled my ears. As much as I was awed by their works, I had never endured any of what they endured. I wanted to be a poet, though, so I tried to write dark stuff too. But I never felt or believed in what I was writing, and it began to fall by the wayside.

I bounced back to the effort of writing a novel. I started projects up again, but I always became deterred if I tried to begin one with a plan. For some novels, I would get farther if I had the exposition and the ending in mind, but I’d run out of steam without the knowledge of what to write in the middle. I’d dabble in poetry, too, continuing to write with a darker tone than what I really felt. I was trying too hard to entertain the definition of “deep” in my works. At this point, a few years ago, I didn’t know what I was. Was I writer? A poet? I didn’t feel like I was doing anything right. And there was my problem.

In the process of trying to validate myself as a writer by forcing myself to do something I didn’t really enjoy, I was preventing myself from exploring as a writer. I was drowning in the fear of labels with the belief I could only be something if it had a label. But the thing is, being a writer doesn’t work in one way. Being a poet doesn’t work in one way either. I regained my enjoyment of writing poetry, finding the ability to abandon my worries about what a poet looks like. Poetry doesn’t take one shape, and it’s not driven by just one tone. We forget that just because we don’t perform the exact way another writer does, it doesn’t mean we are not just as a valid. The challenge of identity was one I struggled with. What kind of writer do I want to be? How will I be that writer? I’ve decided to not label myself. I’m not a novelist, a short story writer, or really a poet. I just enjoy writing in those forms, but I don’t concentrate myself in one area.

I’ve decided to just label myself a writer. Because a writer writes, and that is what I do.

It’s a New Year

So I’m like several days late, what else is new. But happy new year everyone!

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I hope all of you had a wonderful holiday break and a brilliant new year. As I sit back and reflect on 2016, I’m met with mixed emotions.

It’s amazing how 2016 is being hated on so fervently. It’s not surprising, however, as millions of people saw terrorism in their homes, their countries change rapidly, political upheavals swarm the media, and negativity stream through their televisions, iPhones, and tablets. This hasn’t exactly been a year of building each other up, but what year ever has been? But rather than crying about it on YouTube (yes, I’ve seen plenty a video), I think it’s more important to encourage optimism as we face the future. After all, those of us still alive have not yet fulfilled our purpose here on Earth. We are to journey on today.

I still think it’s incredible how we witnessed so many celebrity deaths this year, though. It was kind of eerie, right?

Continue reading

A Little Reassurance

It began again, the thoughts that pricked the insides of her head.

Please stop thinking them, she scolded herself. It was a constant compounding of worry after worry, twisting itself and thickening until it was a veil laid over her eyes, or a scope she put her iris to. It was the author of her view. Digging her thumb nails into the hardened skin just below the inside of her other fingernails, she conjured some imaginary force to will the pestering feelings away. Unfortunately she could not turn herself into a grand turbo fan and blow them to pieces.

She hated herself.

It wasn’t the kind of hate that dictates your every action. She was perfectly content with some of herself. But it lay in the shadows, revealing itself when she looked in the mirror, when she gazed to other people, when the words of her family bled into her thought stream. It darkened the atmosphere surrounding her, puncturing deep holes in the confidence she carried. She was weak, a physical disgrace, blabbered too many words into a sentence, laughed too hard and cried a little more than she should.

She knew perfectly well that nobody was perfect. Nobody could master the ‘norms’ that reigned as the true guidelines of the best possible version of a person. And that’s all it was: a version. Was it true? No. But she was capable of lying to herself at moments when the truth was most necessary. The girl constructed images of herself to replace who she saw in photographs and heard as she spoke. It wasn’t sufficient to completely block out the characteristics she could not change with a snap of her fingers.

There was one thing she could lose those images in. Strip them off. Push down into her core. There’s always something, you know. There’s always one thing you can’t possibly bring yourself to fake around. For her, it was a wooden instrument that fit perfectly in her arms. She could feel the vibrations of soft truths against her arms and chest. One sound–she could make it sound beautiful.

To create something is to give hope. To make something for someone else is to give love. Note after note becomes letter after letter to string together a deafening story of something, even if it is only a small echo of those thoughts.

Stop thinking them, she grilled over and over again, trying to singe the phrase permanently into her brain. She reached for the stringed body laying next to her, leveled it so it sat balanced on her knee, and brought one arm over the sound hole. She wielded a pick in her hand and poured herself into the note.

She began to play.

Instrumental Music–Wallflower

Greetings fellow poets and writers! Today I’ve written a short piece inspired by an instrumental track for my Creative Writing class (technically it’s a club, but I’m definitely learning a lot). We were supposed to select one instrumental piece and write a story from that. The music? Wallflower by Agnes Obel.

I’ve been listening to a lot of music by Agnes Obel lately, having discovered her from Spotify’s Peaceful Piano playlist. You should all know by now my random music tastes, but I won’t bore you today with how much I love her music! This piece is absolutely 25163300beautiful, and was definitely the driving force I chose for the club assignment. It’s also a little bit inspired by the book I’m currently reading (okay, there are several ideas I took from the book) The Hired Girl by Laura Amy Schlitz. It’s a fantastic book, and I’m quite fascinated with the different elements that exemplify the time period: 1911.

Anyway, here is the story! I apologize if you catch any errors of any sort–it’s not fully embellished, and I didn’t want the story to go on and on forever. Please let me know what you think of it if you can!


Margaret tiptoed softly down the hall, the wooden panels gentle against her padded feet. It was half past four, and she had just finished her arithmetic for the afternoon. She let one hand trail against the wall beside her, the wallpaper smooth, but not the silky smooth or the soft smooth. It was rather the kind you might feel when you place your hand against wrapping paper or plastic, for of course that was what it was. She didn’t generally like that feel of smooth. It made her want to clench her hands and bite her lip and scratch her nails against a harder surface. The feeling of plastic was one she disdained. It was a strange dislike, but Margaret didn’t care much for worrying about it at that moment. What she felt in her ears was far more significant. The muffled noises of elegance were streaming from the room down the hall, as if a curtain was gracefully being dragged out, but in cut up sheets, for the notes were not one constant string, but short notes that rang out in intervals. Margaret’s heart began to beat a little faster—perhaps the longing songbird within her had heard its calling and was restless to break free, so it flapped its wings a few times. She knew it could not break free, however.

The cello with its majestic, deep hum, enthralled her. But it was the marrying piano that lowered her joy. She knew who would be playing piano: her sister, Emily. Emily was magnificent at piano, always practicing diligently every day from dinner to evening. Margaret would watch with such extreme fascination, her eyes trying to follow Emily’s fingers as they danced along the keys. But it wasn’t such a dance as one you’d might think—it was graceful, always graceful. Her fingers weren’t bopping up and down, slamming against the keys like the men would do in the club down the street. Margaret didn’t like that kind of dance; it was too fast. When Emily practiced or performed recitals on Sunday evenings, Margaret would imagine a ballet moving from her fingers to the keys, but Margaret didn’t know music save for what she heard, so she always struggled to define it in words. She neared the edge of the door to the room. The deep cello that intertwined with the keys, or rather led those higher notes into a coupled number, was what made the songbird within her beat its wings harder.

That would be Mark.

Mark was the boy a few doors down, but perhaps boy wasn’t the proper term. He was anything but a boy. Rather, he was a gentleman, and a real man at that. At twenty-one, he had strong arms and a set jaw. His laugh was as deep as the cello from which his music flowed! Margaret knew from the day they met, many years ago under the apple tree outside her house, that he was the one she would marry. Naturally, that thought probably never even crossed Mark’s mind. It’s not as if he ever showed any feelings for Margaret; she was just the younger sister with whom he shared fragmented conversations. She admired him for his pursuance of his passion. His father didn’t exactly appreciate Mark’s constant focus on music. Margaret recalled hearing from her mother, who had been talking quietly with her sister one day, that Mr. Kotcher was not pleased with the route his only son was taking. He was needed to run the family business of course. Oh, it’s like anything a man must do! Run a business. Margaret couldn’t stop hearing such nonsense. What if a man was not a business man? Was this to be the immediate cause of disownment? The girl knew Mark was on uneven ground with his father already, but if he were to turn to a career of music, that would be just about enough for Mr. Kotcher to blow his top.

She couldn’t understand why his older sister Lily couldn’t run the business. She was the smartest woman Margaret had ever met, and a true mathematician at that. She had spent a lot of time at the shop overseeing small things, like unloading items from the shipment trucks, or marking down prices—once she even ran the cash register in one aisle. The Kotchers owned a department store on Main Street, and Margaret had been several times herself, but only to see if she could catch a look at Mark when he was working. It was a wonderful store, and Margaret knew from the way Lily carried herself in that store that she was destined to be the head of it. Oh, it shouldn’t matter if a man or a woman ran it. And it didn’t matter, anyway. Margaret was being deprived of things herself.

The music did not cease, but rather increased its speed. The soft and short violin notes, paired with the light piano notes, began to intertwine rapidly into a climatic number, stretching itself with sharps and flats hindering the even flow. It was as if one went rock climbing, and the jagged rocks that made it difficult to climb were getting in your way. But it was beautiful and tragic, as intended.

Suddenly the music stopped—the climber had failed to keep going and had been dropped from existence. Margaret, who was crouched by the door frame, stood up quickly, straightening her shoulders and evening her breathing. Mark’s voice, his other cello, began.

“Wonderful, Emily! I’ve had a grand time, haven’t you?” Margaret wanted to roll her eyes and say something sarcastic, but she bit her tongue and shook her head. Emily loved Mark, probably the same way Margaret loved him. It just wasn’t fair, them being the same age. She was sure Mark adored Emily the same, but neither had the pride to tell the other. The way he played his notes fast and giddy only proved he liked her and liked being there, playing music with her.

Margaret wished she could play with him, but she couldn’t play at all. Margaret had a knack for writing. Day in and day out, she would devour books and imitate their voices as she wrote prose after prose. She drew from everything and everyone to construct stories, some of which she was brave enough to share with her family on Friday evenings during social hour. Her parents knew she would become a brilliant writer one day if she continued to develop, but it just wasn’t the same. She loved to write, but couldn’t she play piano too? Or maybe the violin? No, they would say, you must focus on your studies. Why does Emily get to play, and still focus on her studies? Because she is talented, they would say, a true, fine musician. It’s only because you let her, she would say, and they’d begin to grow pique with her, and tell her to stop. Somedays Margaret would question her yearning to play. Was it only because it would let her speak with Mark more, see Mark more?

Yes.

Well, maybe not all the way yes. Of course, Mark was the reason she loved music, but she could love music without Mark being there, too.

“Oh yes, Mark!” Emily had exclaimed, her voice soft and sweet, gentle as the sheets hanging to dry outside the window. Margaret wished she had Emily’s voice. “I do believe it is time to go,” Emily continued, her voice breaking a little. “Won’t you come tomorrow, then? We could practice this piece one more time.” Margaret really did roll her eyes when she said that.

“I’m afraid I can’t,” Mark replied, and Margaret wished she could see his expression, for she couldn’t read his voice to determine the emotions behind the words. “Tomorrow I am having…lunch with a friend. From Boston. I’m dreadfully sorry I can’t come tomorrow, but do let me know when we can again.” His voice was still unreadable. It irked Margaret—how she wanted to know!

Just then a flash came beside her, a blur of blue and brown and black, and she jumped a little. She had not heard any movement from the room, but before her was the back of Mark, with brown curly hair, his strong hands gripping the black cello case. The blue (was it Robin egg, she wondered?) was the shirt he was wearing, a simple collared button down. Margaret held her breath. What would Mark say if he saw her? He was reaching for the front door (the room they had been playing in was the living room just next to the entrance), but stopped suddenly, and Margaret wondered how fast she could run to the staircase. No, it was too risky.

He turned around, as if he meant to call back to Emily, but his eyes rested upon Margaret first. Her own eyes widened, mortified, and she opened her mouth to speak. He only put a finger to his lips, his expression scarcely changing, and then called, “Goodbye Emily!” Emily had still not responded to Mark’s previous statement, so she must have only nodded her head then.

“Goodbye, Mark,” came her voice. It was much smaller then, but perhaps that was because Margaret’s heart was beating like drums in her ears.

He then turned to Margaret and beckoned her outside with his finger. Margaret quickly followed, excitement electrifying through her veins, without stealing a glance into the living room. What was he to tell her? Maybe that he loved her all along? She was only seventeen, it wouldn’t be strange for someone of his age to love someone of hers.

“Margaret,” he said quickly, pulling her to the apple tree that sat out front, facing the left side of the house. “Margaret,” he repeated, something lighting up his eyes with pure joy. He set down his cello and raked a hand through his curls. “I wanted to let you know that tomorrow I will be coming.”

Margaret, who had been excited moments before, was now confused. “You are?” she answered back. Of course it didn’t matter, she would love to see him all hours of every day.

“Yes, to ask your sister for her hand in marriage.” The words sharply stung Margaret, but she knew not to flinch. “I’ve already discussed it with both my father and yours, and I’ve agreed to take over the store. Isn’t it wonderful? Don’t tell her, I want to surprise her tomorrow.” His smile pulled back into a larger grin, but Margaret couldn’t even try to reciprocate.

Remembering her manners, she quickly masked her jumbled feelings with a small smile and choked out the words, “That’s wonderful, Mark. Emily loves you, you two will be happy together.” Was that a hot tear she felt? She quickly muttered, “I must go,” and quickly pounded away without looking back.

“So long!” were the words that followed her, but she didn’t turn to wave.

Opening the door with a hard tug, Margaret made a dash for the stairs and into her room. Even though it was silly, she threw herself onto her bed and began to cry. She was seventeen and crying as if she were seven. It was ludicrous, but her scorning mixed with her disappointment and disbelief only heightened the pain to a new level, and she soaked her pillowcase indefinitely.

She clenched her pillow and screamed into it, biting hard on the fabric. All of these emotions she had bottled up for years, a whole decade at that, were pouring out, running out, and she felt no need to write them (as she was often told to do by her mother). What was the use? She wouldn’t be able to see the paper through her mountainous tears. All she would write anyway was how angry she was, how confused she was that Mark was suddenly going to ask Emily to marry him, how she learned none of this until now, how she had fooled herself. What a fool she had been! None of it would be poetic or worth reading later. Though, thinking about writing began to calm her down, and her heart reduced itself to its normal beat. Her face was on fire from the harsh crying, but she was able to sit up and breathe. Her door was shut, Father and Mother were out, with Emily all the way downstairs, hopefully, so nobody heard her. Nobody probably would have cared to listen, anyway.

Was that all that Margaret was? A shadow…a wallflower. Maybe her writing meant something, but it was only something you could read, not hear. It probably didn’t give anyone much of an impact, not the way music does. She wanted sounds, hundreds of violins surrounding her. A trombone, a flute, large noises—the drums, the crashing of cymbals! Anything to get this idea out of her head, this truth out of her head: Margaret was a wallflower, an afterthought.

Oh that was all she ever was.


So there you have it! Thank you for taking time to read it, and I hope you enjoyed the music as well!

~Grace

 

The Cottage

(c) Grace 2013

Her hands were intertwined in the gnarled, dark green grass. Her feet the same; she could barely make out the ten bright blue nails staring back at her. The breeze danced around her hair, playing with it and twirling it in many different directions. The waves rushed to the shore and then retreated once more to dwell in the ferocious ocean before her. The sand was wet and cold, like soggy cereal on a Monday morning. The girl peered up at the cottage, now, from where she was the size of a life-size dollhouse. The large rock loomed in the distance, and the fog strolled along the beach, as if the ghost of a couple were having a conversation alongside the murky tide that rolled in. The chills of the morning sprang upon the girl’s bare shoulders, marching down her arms and sitting finally on her fingers. Trees rustled, shimmying right along with the breeze that tried to bring life to the cold place. And especially to the girl.

Oh how she despised this place! Her hatred for it was a hundred times hotter than the temperature that day. Summer vacation used to be one of the girl’s most anticipated times of the year. That ended when her mother took her to the cottage this year for “fun.”

“She has no idea what the definition of ‘fun’ is,” the girl thought harshly. Her phone, with its sleek case and thin screen staring up at the sky (a sky that did not provide cellular wifi) was untouched for the first time in a long time. No Twitter. No Facebook. And in the girl’s case, no life. “Oh yeah, ‘nature will do you just fine, too,’” the girl mimicked. She knew she should have appreciated her mother, who was in a difficult financial time to begin with, but did the girl not have authority over decisions either? The fog’s humidity stuck to the girl’s face, its sticky substance enraging the girl.

“Don’t you know this is expensive makeup?” she cried at it, but the fog didn’t care. It just ambled right along. “I hope this fog leaves and takes me with it!” she muttered.

Just then the wind picked up, its dance number transitioning to a final finish. It rushed past the girl, but the fog would not leave. Amidst the fog, though, was a beautiful young girl. The angry teenager stared at her some more. Ten bright blue toenails glittered back, to her surprise.

It was her.

Her hair, which was already being played with, was pulled upward. To the teen’s dismay, the blond locks began to dissolve like wet paper. The particles began to whirl around and around, and then disappeared. The fog was beginning to disperse. The young teenager began to feel herself being pulled up as well, like a marionette. As she was pulled, she saw a more middle-aged woman with a Nikon in her hand in a clearing. Camera in hand, she was trying to take the perfect photo for her nature blog.

The girl could not scream. Her voice had probably already disintegrated. In her mind, she tried to scream, “Wait, I take back that wish! I take it back. Please, don’t take me away!” Fear was pushing through her veins; her eyelids were pulled back to where she couldn’t blink. The cottage wasn’t a life-size dollhouse anymore to her. It was a white speck on a small, green island, in the middle of nowhere. And now the teenager was nothing.

Nothing at all.