“We probably shouldn’t mention we went to a lower level.” Artie Chen ticks the extensive list of things not to mention to his parents on his fingers as he and Jay Dee ride the lift up to the higher levels of the OTC. “Or that we’ve been investigating things. Or that we know anyone involved with anything illegal – or even exciting. And you shouldn’t mention I rode a motorcycle.”
Writing has incredible healing properties.
And it can tear you apart limb from limb.
At least my broken hearts can be put to paper, my tears turned to words. At least chaos can turn inspiration, dreams can spin a story. I am happy with being a writer. I love finding creativity everywhere I look as I walk through my day.
But there must always be a shadowed side to balance the good.
I can use my pain to provoke a plot, but very rarely do I allow myself relive the experience entirely. Change the names, create the scenes, sprinkle in the symbolism, add some drama, make it fiction. Sometimes, even though the scenarios have evolved so drastically from an original occurance, the events hit too close to home.
A fictional character struggling with cancer can feel like an IRL family member fighting to live in the hospital.
A fictional suicide can be reminiscent of an IRL friend who could have easily succumbed to the depression and been lost.
And – my greatest problem right now – a fictional sacrificial killing (that I’m supposed to be covering in the next chapter of my novel) only makes me think of my beautiful cat that was brutally murdered this weekend.
I love writing. It is my escape, my gift, my passion. But every time I think of the fictional scene, reality invades in a fury. I don’t much like to skip around in this process but the scene is simply impossible for me to write right now.
And any tragic event is difficult enough to write into a novel already. I cry every time I kill off a character. I mourn every time a relationship ends. And I struggle to write fatal illnesses, miscarriages, and depression.
“Write what you know,” they say.
But if everyone followed that advice, we’d have no fiction to read because writing what you know is painful. Every fiction story we hold dear would simply be a conglomeration of non-fiction events. Nothing would provide our escape from reality anymore. Reading things I relate to is hard enough. Writing close to what I know borders on unbearable. There is a fine line between writing the real and writing real life. Crossing that line can be hugely detrimental to the writer (and sometimes the reader, but that’s our evil master plan anyway).
So the larger challenges we face: how do we write a real story without putting reality on paper? And how do we heal ourselves by writing through the pain?
It’s so disappointing to me how I fall out of my most valued habits as life provides excuse after excuse.
A short list of habits I fell out of last semester:
1. I stopped doing ZUMBA or really working out at all.
2. I stopped writing in my journal after every day.
3. I stopped blogging every Friday. Sorry, guys.
And I could provide plenty of excuses for why this all happened. For instance, I got back into theatre and it totally consumed my nights. Or, I raised four baby kittens for weeks off campus and they were a beautiful hassle that kept me up at night. Or, my car broke down and I was injured. Or, I was sick more individual time these past few months than I have been in years and I just didn’t feel like it.
But really, they are just that. Excuses. And it’s already halfway through February.
And I could spout off those statistics you’ve heard before about how hard it is to form a habit and how easy it is to break one. But I won’t because you’ve probably heard them a thousand times, but I can attest to how true they are. A few minor events and instead of readjusting my life, I redirected my life. I don’t take the time to reschedule to fit both events in. No, I completely throw myself into the newest excuse and dedicate myself to that.
Don’t get me wrong, I have no regrets about throwing myself into raising those cats. They stressed me out but they cheered me up and blessed my life. They all four went to happy homes with people who loved them. I’d put them first all over again if the choice came ’round again.
But look at me now! They are growing up and in good places. And I have gotten behind on all of my personal progression. Now I have to entirely restructure and rebuild my habits.
I can do it. I know I can.
Because I have a lot of goals to look forward to this year. I’ll finish my second draft of Solstice and send it off to an editor. I’ll practice my art until I can really say I have my own style. I’ll get back into shape. I’m determined to do all of these things and more because I want to live life to the fullest. I have the means to succeed and the support and I can’t wait to make it there.
Bring it on, 2014.
I haven’t performed in two years.
Well, that’s not entirely true. I was in a small singing group that did one concert. I was in the chorus of a musical. I had a decent role in a one-act play, but I was dying of illness. And I had a lead in a senior directed. So my first sentence isn’t true, but it felt true. It didn’t ever feel like I was in a full show. It didn’t feel like I was fulfilling my passion for acting.
Without the regular rehearsals to fill my time, I lost a lot of motivation. I actually think I got depressed. It wasn’t because I had nothing to do, I just wasn’t doing anything that I loved. Truly. Like acting or singing or writing.
Well, I’m fixing that this semester. I’m getting back into the performance scene, maybe multiple times this year, if I can. I’ll be doing NaNo, as usual. I’m going to fill my time with the things I love. Classes won’t be going to pot, in case my family reads this, but my priorities will lie in my passions.
It’s important to do what you love. At work or school, monotony and routine are too easy to fall into. If passion isn’t entwined with that routine, we begin to burn out. It’s disheartening. It’s exhausting. But incorporating something you love in your daily life is invigorating. An outlet for your passion can give you enough energy to make it through the rest of your daily tasks.
So I’m finding outlets for my passion. I just received the role of Jack in Sondheim’s Into the Woods. It was very unexpected, but it is a great role (I mean, I’ll be playing a boy). But I went in and did my best and I felt confident about my auditions. And playing a boy will be an awesome experience. I’m excited. It gives me a lot of opportunity to look forward to this semester. And it looks brighter than some of my past semesters have been.
(Beware Jackie the Giant Slayer!)
Not everyone on my blog may be interested in reading the fanfics I wrote for Zutara Week 2013. Still, I figured it’d be good if I compiled the links to all of them. Of course, I have no rights or claims to the characters, but it is a cool experience to try and get in their heads. And, seeing as I posted my thoughts on fanfiction already, with reference to this week-long project, I figured I’d share.
Calor “Heated Words“
Euphoria “Heritage of Water and Fire“
Voices “If Not for the Voices“
Gravity “Alone in a Nation“
Bound “Save the Cabbages“
Soothe “Searing, then Soothing“
Spark: I’m afraid I never quite finished the last one. My job got so hectic and it was the only one I didn’t get around to in time. It’s halfway finished, I’m afraid. If I get it up ever, I’ll fix it here.
I’m not proud of all of them; some of them were pretty rushed. But I had fun and that’s the important part, right? I hope you enjoy these!
Anton Chekhov represents a literary legend with works that resonate in modern society and common allusions. Chekhov’s stories, though written in the 1800’s, can still be relatable in modern-day situations. Chekhov mirrors human nature in his stories which can be applied to a variety of real-life circumstances.
When selecting a story, I scanned the titles in the table of contents, looking for any that might catch my eye, even if they weren’t quite representative of the contents. I flipped through most of the short stories, paying the most attention to the endings. Endings, especially on short stories, are crucial because they bring the generally short plot to a close. If they are intriguing or unique, I am much more enthralled with the work. This, of course, also applies to television shows, books, and movies. The best kind of ending is one that surprises me.
At the risk of sounding haughty, that’s not easy to do. I tend to put myself in the author’s shoes in any of the aforementioned medias. Most of the time, I can tell by the writer’s style where the story will ultimately end up. I can tell who they will kill for the biggest impact, I can sense important foreshadowing because it’s exactly what I would do in their position. So when a story startles me, I am pleased.
Chekhov’s “Sleepy” caught me off guard in this fashion. For one thing, it describes exactly how I feel as I’m writing this paper: sleepy. Secondly, it has a very dramatic and unforeseen ending that stands out among the stories. For Varka, the thirteen year old servant girl and protagonist of the story, the whole world is acting differently––especially the green patch of light, the shadows of the hanging clothes, and the cricket in the stove––around her for the sole reason that she has lost too much sleep. She is hallucinating and becoming more and more ill physically and mentally. She is barely functioning enough to make through the day with all the chores her master and mistress dump on her.
This story of Varka immediately intrigued me. Not only that, it was remarkably relatable to the life of a college student at the close of a semester. Sleep is a valued treasure but it is often unattainable during finals week. In a week such as this, all professors are asking for final projects to close out the year. Essays, presentations, exams, and speeches are dumped on the heads of college students. One assignment after another wears them down and cuts in to the time they sleep. It is said of college that only two of the following can be achieved at any given time: school work, social life, or sufficient sleep. Especially at the end of a semester, if a student’s priority is in a choice GPA, the other two simply have to fall by the wayside. Unfortunately, when sleep falls by the wayside, so do mental functionality and focus.
This is the exact problem that Varka is encountering. Every time she is given a new task, it adds to her exhaustion. She drifts off as she rocks the baby into a world of dreams. Her memories stress her and make her fearful and paranoid in the real world. She is jittery and the tasks that require her to stand still are by far the most difficult. At least the active chores help keep her blood flowing.
Varka is also haunted by the past. As a servant girl from a poor family for a very rude cobbler, she has seen her share of hardship. The dreams she sees as she fades in and out of sleep are not just whimsical hallucinations, they are painful memories that follow her through time and do not let her forget. Her father’s death and her mother’s mourning become vivid as if she is reliving them in her waking hours. She is only dreaming, of course, but these haunting memories make Varka’s situation and continually growing exhaustion so much worse. Everything seems worse when one is deprived of sleep. Though these memories are not pertinent to Varka’s current position, they add to her stress.
A college student experiences a similar phenomena during finals week. Not only do the current assignments loom over them, so do past assignments, failures, and the ultimate question: “can I still pass?” Not just school work follows them into finals week, but also all the drama among friends and family, making it that much harder to focus. Stress has a tendency to pile. When stress is an issue in one part of life, all the other parts become more stressful as well. At times, this can even lead to hallucinations and insanity similar to what Varka experiences.
Though professors perhaps do not intend to fill the shoes of the tyrannical cobbler and his wife, they fit best into their position in this metaphor. Professors, though perhaps not as cruel as the couple in the story, are the student’s slave drivers. They give out regular assignments and ask every ounce of effort from their pupils. Instead of asking students to wash the steps, they demand an eight page essay. Instead of requesting peeled potatoes, they demand a fifteen minute presentation. They are the ones who smack the students on the back of the head to keep them awake through the night. Though perhaps unintentionally, the professors are the reason that students get no sleep during finals week.
Chekhov’s story has a very gruesome end. Varka is so deprived of sleep that she ends up strangling her master’s baby because it won’t stop crying long enough for her to rest. Her murderous instincts are a result of her hallucinations which are, in turn, a result of pressure and stress which was magnified by her sleep deprivation. Her retaliation is not only revenge against the baby, but revenge against the master and mistress who ask so much more of Varka than she can physically give. Her actions are directly the product of desperation, perhaps, but a desperation she was driven to by her surroundings: the oppressive masters, the chilling remembrances, the constant labor demands, and the wailing child.
Students at the end of a semester are not so far removed from the state of desperation Varka reaches. Lack of sleep can lead to a person’s crazy actions during wakefulness. As students wade through the stack of assignments they face at the end of the year, they get less and less sleep and their mind becomes more and more irrational. This scenario with Varka and the baby presents a fearsome warning to professors: be wary what you drive your students to during finals week or they may just kill everything you love. Perhaps this irrationality of the sleep-deprived mind explains how this essay turned from analytical to satirical.
The most notable thing Chekhov does not accomplish in his short story is italicizing everything.
Chekhov’s works should be remembered, not only because they are undying works of literary art, but because they are timeless. Varka’s story may be set in the 19th century, but her situation can still be recognized from a modern viewpoint. Therefore, Chekhov has created a piece of work that can be related to human circumstance for years after he penned it. These timeless tales are the ones worth reading, worth studying, and worth writing analytical satires on.
“Hey!” He swung his head toward me and laughed. He actually had the gall to laugh. I imagined he wasn’t challenged by girls often, but he’d clearly never messed with an older sister before.
“He keeps the cards,” I said in a monotone, like my favorite superhero did on tv.
“What are you gonna do about it, girly-girl? Call your mommy?”
I stepped toward him threateningly, but he didn’t seem to find it very threatening. He clenched a fist and I worried he’d shove me too. He was stronger than me any day.
But I still hadn’t shown my weapon. I may not have had strength, but I had claws. I stared at him defiantly and when he reached toward my shoulders to push me back, I lashed out. With all the force I had, my hand connected with his neck and I dragged my nails across his skin. No, into his skin.
He gasped and clutched his neck where blood already pooled in the little red welts. “Ow! You made me bleed, you cow!”
Now, I’m not a mean person, but in defense of my brother, I’d do anything. Say anything. You do not mess with my kid brother, or you will face my wrath.
“What’re ya gonna do about it, whiny pants? Call your mommy?” I taunted. “You can tell her a girl put you in your place.”
I was still on fire with rage and I’m sure he could see it. He backed down slowly and ran away. I ran a finger over the sharp edge of my nails, feeling rather proud of myself.
“You didn’t have to do that,” my brother said.
“I know,” I replied. “But I’d do again in a heartbeat. No one messes with my brother. Ever. Unless it’s me.”
A thought occurred to me and my smugness evaporated. “Don’t tell Mom?”
He grinned. “Never.”
And we never did.