Thursday, December 26, 2013

A Few Shimmering Moments

I remember the years when the days before Christmas dragged on for an eternity. At the beginning of every December, I would create a paper chain, and every morning I would rip one off. As the chain shortened, my anticipation heightened. My mom used to buy the chocolate calendars too. I remember the year our dog Chloe ate mine (yes...every one of those 25 chocolates), and my brother Owen had to share his with me. One year I actually realized how gross those chocolates were, and a year or two after that my mom stopped buying them.

The days before Christmas don't drag on anymore. Especially with Thanksgiving being so late this year, it was here and gone before I think either Owen or I really got to appreciate the full essence of Christmas. We both commented that we struggled to get into the Christmas spirit this year, but there were moments this month that shimmered.

One such moment was when we decorated the Christmas tree. Since Owen and I were born, my mom has gotten us a new ornament every year. I like looking through my pile and thinking about the stage I was in when I received the ornament. I have two monkey ornaments--I really loved monkeys for awhile. Another year I got a set of these fantastic purple disco balls, in tribute to Taylor Swift's sparkly dresses. I have one hanging in my room, and sometimes when it's sunny outside it catches the light just right, and my room is cascaded in purple polka dots. One of my favorite ornaments is a wooden Madeline doll clutching a Christmas tree. It reminds me of the mornings I would wake my grandma up at 3am to ask her to read me a Madeline story. The Christmas tree also reminds me of the years when Owen and I were small enough to sleep underneath the tree. We would pull out our sleeping bags and lay beneath the branches, waking up with pine needles on our eyelashes.

Another moment was the eve of Christmas Eve. My family and I joined my uncle and his family for service at Grace Chapel in Lexington, a non-denominational, multicultural church. My seven-year-old cousin Annie, who lately has been resisting the fact that she is no longer four-years-old and therefore cannot get away with what she used to, was insistent on sitting on my lap throughout the service, and then on being lifted up to read the lyrics on the projector screen whenever we sang a song. After realizing that she was too tall to be lifted up on someone's shoulders, I let her stand on my seat. Every song she sang her little heart out, her arms around my and Owen's shoulders. Owen was not in the best of moods that night, yet even he found it hard not to lighten up around her exuberance.

And finally, there was my little cousin Nathan, also seven-years-old, but on my dad's side of the family. On Christmas Day night, he crawled into bed with me at my grandmother's house, still full of Christmas energy.

"Did you have a good Christmas?" I asked him.
"Yeah. Guess what?" he said.
"I saw Santa Clause last night."
I gasped. "You did? What did he look like?"
Nathan held up a stuffed Santa Clause. "Like this."
"Describe to me what he looked like, don't just show me," I said.
He proceeded to describe the red suit and the black belt. "And I even heard his bells. I saw him. Right in the kitchen!"

He had no doubt in his mind that he saw Santa Clause, and it was touching to see someone with such a strong belief.

Reflecting on these shimmering moments, it occurs to me that a lot of them have to do with childhood or children. I've reflected on this subject a lot in the past few months, especially in my English classes. Nearly everything I wrote links backs to some childhood memory or coming of age moment. With college just a year and a half away, I have found myself resisting a lot these past few months. I haven't wanted to think about much. I've procrastinated more than I usually do. Like my cousin Annie, I too am perhaps resisting the fact that I do have to grow up and think about more mature things. How I wish I could be like my cousin Nathan, with such an adamant belief in something. I miss the Christmas Eves when Owen would crawl into bed with me so we could wake up together Christmas Day.

At the Grace Chapel service, one of the speakers emphasized that Christmas isn't about presents, it's about presence and being with those we love. I love seeing all my cousins every year, especially because that is the one time I can usually count on seeing them. But I also love it because for a few weeks, it allows me to be nostalgic and think back on some of my favorite Christmas memories. It allows me to be a kid again.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Every Birthday Begins With A Spark

When Mom asked me what I wanted to do for my 17th birthday, I didn't have to think twice. I wanted to go see Catching Fire at the movie theatre, and I wanted to have one of our famous themed dinners at home. 

In a house full of artists and writers, we are always looking for an excuse for a themed dinner. In honor of the start of school one year, we had a cafeteria style dinner of tater tots and other frozen entrees and ate on cafeteria trays. Mom even wore a hairnet. After my mom and stepdad returned from Italy, we had an Italian dinner of pasta, Caprese salad, and gelato for dessert. Grease dinner is a favorite of ours. You can never go wrong with burgers, french fries, milkshakes, and a record player.

The Catching Fire dinner was by far the best one yet, though. Considering that the Hunger Games arena in Catching Fire is by the sea, I didn't expect much more than fish and a decorated tablecloth. But I should have known my mom and stepdad...

Ranging from game from the woods to fish of the sea, we had quite the array of options. I'm just glad it wasn't a themed dinner for the first movie. We would've been eating squirrel. 

Lane snapper, straight from the sea. Just like Katniss would've eaten it. 

Shellfish from District 3. I had never had crab legs before. They taste really good in a sweet mustard dressing. The lobster was from my Pepere. It's a yearly tradition, and it fit perfectly into the themed dinner.

Roast duck. It was surprisingly flavorful. 

Nightlock berries or blueberries? Wrong choice, and "you'll be dead in a minute." But nightlock berries do come in handy when you feel like defying the Capitol. 

We may not have had the roast pig, but we had the apple with the arrow. We may not have shot it with the bow, but I would still give this a solid ten for effort.

What would a Hunger Games dinner be without the Mockingjay pin? 

And, of course, the cake. I think even Peeta would've been impressed with the cake decorating (at least maybe he would've been before most of the raspberries and chocolate truffles were eaten from around the cake). 

This painting that my stepdad did is one of my favorite parts, though. "Every birthday begins with a spark." Every birthday gives us the opportunity to start over. It gives us a spark. It is up to us to help that spark catch fire. 

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

A Warty Apple

I like the warty apples from Farmer Frank's ramshackle farm stand, hand-picked off a modest-sized tree. I can picture him, hunch-backed, craning his neck to twist their stems off the branches and let them fall in a wooden basket.

I like the warty apples like I like the Pinocchio-Cyclops tomato and the curvy-legged carrot. I like the warty apples like I like the chickpeas that resemble little bums, the bean sprouts that look like green baby heads, and the strawberry with the mohawk stem. I like the warty apples because it makes me giggle, like how I giggle at my English teacher with his checkered bow-tie, my friend who has paint stains on all his sleeves, and my Persian cat when she stares at me from the bottom of the stairs. 

I like the warty apple because it makes my day just a little bit brighter. 

Friday, September 27, 2013

Elvis Alive and Shrugging Shoulders

Blues musicians, newsboy caps, long hair and tattoos. Bar stools and comfy cushions. String instruments I've never seen before. Shrugging shoulders and eyes closed, he feels the music––sings about a lasting love, a little boy sitting on his mother's knee. Yard sale tables and chairs, collaged and painted and glossed over from three different homes. Chinese lanterns, apple picking baskets, and a blue and green water pail. I sip "Elvis Alive" in a jar, pick apart my "Adventurer" filling bowl like I would a pomegranate. I love color in my food. I love the red beets that dye the corn pink, the avocados sliced like cantaloupe, the bright steamed kale, the curly cue legume sprouts like green baby heads with a single curl in their hair.

After a stressful week of school, all I need is good food and a quirky place––Life Alive. It's a small vegetarian restaurant in downtown Lowell, and it never fails to leave me fulfilled––both mentally and physically. It's a place where I just want to write, but never know where to start. I think I need to pick a corner to write about every time I go. There's too much to capture all at once. Life Alive is someplace you go on a date, or after a workout, or just out on a Friday night by yourself with eyebrows red from waxing while you wait to pick up your younger brother at a party. It's someplace you want to dress up in gauchos and tie-dye T-shirts and bandanas. And the best part? Every table has a ceramic pitcher of water, like the bread baskets most restaurants serve. I like the ceramic pitchers better.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

A Second Home

When my English teacher announced that we had to create a blog for our "Art of the Essay" class, I first thought about combining the two on "Crazy Dreamer." After thinking it through, though, I decided it would be best to keep the two separate.

My new blog is lamely titled (temporarily) "Art of the Essay." Writing is a collaborative process, which is why every student in the class was asked to create their own blog. On our blogs, we will be posting snippets of our work, along with ideas and questions we have, with the hope that people will leave feedback. Although the majority of the feedback will likely come from those within the class, I am always looking for feedback on my writing, and the wider audience I get, the better.

You can find all of my work at this link:

I have also posted it in the sidebar for future reference. Of course, I will still be maintaining this blog for my personal writing. My second blog will solely be a place for my academic writing.

I hope everyone is enjoying a final summer's weekend!

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Tomorrow Comes

Two containers of powdered foundation. One tube of liquid foundation. A can of hairspray. One and a half packages of bobby pins. 20+ hair elastics. Two containers of blush––one neutral, one hot pink. Two packages of makeup remover wipes. And these are only the full tubes/containers/packages I went through...I still have leftover eyeliner, makeup sponges, mascara and eye shadow. The 28 shows really made CVS happy.

Last night was the closing night of "Les Mis" at the Academy Playhouse. Thus, I felt I had finally earned the right to sign my name in the backstage staircase, where decades of performers had signed their names along with, perhaps, some witty line or inside joke from a show they were in.

It took me awhile to find an empty space to write. I didn't want to write over anyone else's signature, and I wanted to sign my name somewhere in the middle of the staircase. After all, that was always where my eyes were drawn to when I ascended the stairs every night for "At the End of the Day" and later on for the "Epilogue."

Along with my name, I felt inclined to write a quote from the show. (With a show as long as "Les Mis," there is an overwhelming number of options.) I thought about what I wanted to leave behind. I was reminded of the messages I always see written in the sand, of how what people choose to write reflects something about them.

I finally decided on this:

"There is a life about to start when tomorrow comes." It seemed apropos for a time when we cast and crew members were all melancholy about the end of the show. "It isn't really goodbye," I thought, as we all sang the last notes of the "Epilogue." "We will go on to other performances and hopefully be able to watch each other or even work with each other again."

So as tempting as it was last night to look back as the lyrics and choreography trailed behind me, I knew I just had to keep rolling. Before every show, our director talked about the snowball effect of "Les Mis," and how every song, every show just had to keep building upon the last. And how we had to let it. So I rolled with it. Through every song. Through every show. And even after the final curtain call last night, that ball kept rolling–with me following–into tomorrow, tomorrow, and beyond.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

A Giuseppe Painting

There is a cyclops in our garden. A bodiless little plump cyclops with a Pinocchio nose. He tells us he didn't see who nibbled away at all our kale–he only has one eye, you see–but his growing nose indicates otherwise. It was little Peter Rabbit who ate our kale. I think Pinocchio is just happy Peter Rabbit didn't come for him instead.

All we need now is the carrot with the two legs we grew last summer and we will have an original Giuseppe Arcimboldo painting.

Arcimboldo, Giuseppe 
Oil on panel, 67 x 51 cm
Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Behind the Scenes

I park at the lodge down the street from the theatre. On average, it only takes me two tries to park now. I put my red Denison water bottle in the side pocket of my backpack, throw it on my shoulders, and warm up my voice as I walk. I know the front entrance is closer than the back door, but I always go through the backdoor. 

Anyone can use the front entrance...only the cast and crew can use the back entrance. I like to take advantage of this. 

I walk into the dressing room, find my costume hanging on the rack.

Amidst all the chaos on the counter, I find a spot to set my makeup. 

I've never had a real dressing room before. Sure, most of the lightbulbs surrounding the mirror may be burnt out, but I feel like a movie star. 

Over the course of the hour, the rest of the cast floats in. Next to the clock is Gerome the Squirrel. Apparently he has made an appearance in many Academy Playhouse productions. Fantine dedicates "I Dreamed A Dream" every night to him. 

7:15 comes around and we report to the stage for vocal warm-ups and notes. The barricade boys practice lifting Eponine after she dies, just for good measure. We review the cart crash scene to make it look like Fauchelevent actually got ran over by it, instead of casually placed underneath. The boys practice tossing the flag without hitting anyone in the audience.

7:30 now...10 minutes until pre-set for those who enter stage left. We file downstairs, chattering about how many people are in the audience, quoting Spongebob Squarepants, obsessing over Harry Potter. Thénardier grabs his pre-show Cliff bar. Everyone takes dibs on revolution cupcakes. Our costume manager glares at us from the corner, just daring us to get chocolate frosting on her King Richard's Fair costumes. 

In the past, I was always so serious about being in character from the moment I put on my costume until the moment I take it off. But with this performance, I've come to realize that it's okay to relax a little. In fact, I perform better when I do. It's also okay to bend some of the "rules." When I would perform in my school productions, the performance would take up my entire life during dress rehearsal week. I hardly talked to anyone to save my voice. I didn't eat dairy for a week (it's bad for your voice). It was the only thing on my mind all the time.

But I can't do that with 28 least not without sacrificing my sanity. I have learned how to balance a performance with my everyday life, something that is essential if I ever go on to perform professionally. Most of the adults in the cast work full-time jobs before coming to perform. Somehow they manage.

8:00 now. Our stage manager calls for "places," which means I still have about fifteen minutes until I need to go upstairs. Only now do I turn within myself and focus on my character. I touch up my makeup. Quietly keep my voice warm. Go to the bathroom. Have a mint. Drink water. Adjust my mob cap. 

8:15, I quietly ascend the dimly lit staircase to backstage, all the signatures of past performers illuminated on the cream-colored walls. At the top of the stairs, I look at the floor and think about how my character I just want to be home with my children. I think about the redundancy and misery of my everyday life. The pianist plays the familiar chords of "At the End of the Day" and on cue, I walk into a Montreuil-sur-Mer factory, ready to "graft as long as I'm able." 

This has been my night, six nights a week, since July 24th. 15 performances down...13 more to go. I have done the same thing for fifteen nights now. 

"Maybe we'll actually win the revolution today," we joke backstage.

It's crazy to think that we're counting down the performances now. I can't imagine going back to school and not performing almost every night. At least I have my school musical to keep me busy. I can't be away from the stage for too long. 

Apart from the show I performed in when I was in 5th grade––when I told my director I couldn't make dress rehearsal because of a school presentation––I have never performed on another stage before. My school stage is my home. This stage felt foreign at first. But it didn't take long for me to fall in love with it. 

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Sunday Spinners #4

For those of you familiar with the book Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli, then this exercise will sound familiar to you. I don't remember too many details from the book, but I remember the eccentric Susan "Stargirl" Caraway telling the narrator of the story (Leo Borlock) about one of her favorite past times: people watching. And not just people watching. She took it to the next level to try and come up with their whole life story––their family life, their favorite food, their education, their biggest fear. She looked at them and questioned why one person wore his coat backwards...or why the woman had a wedding ring on both hands.

So here's my challenge to you: go to a public place. A coffee shop or a park or anywhere you can sit down is great, because then you don't have to follow the person around. Find someone who intrigues you. Proceed to write their life story. Think about the questions you might ask this person if you ever were to have a conversation with them. Then, proceed to answer those questions. Let your imagination run wild. You may be writing about a real person, but their story does not need to be accurate.

Have fun!

Friday, August 2, 2013

Kangaroo Corn

"Knee-high by the Fourth of July," so the saying goes. By the 4th, our forty stalks of corn were right on track. 

Almost a month later now, and the corn towers over us with its feather duster tassels. 

We part the leaves to find the hidden ears. As I was preparing this post, I got to thinking why they are even called "ears of corn." I was not surprised to find that an ear of corn has nothing to do with the ears on our head. Apparently, the scientific word for an ear of corn is "inflorescence," meaning "a flowering." It makes sense, then, that when we grind this up, we get flour.*

Our friend told us that the raccoons would get to the corn before we did, but we beat them to it. Above is our first ear of corn from the garden...or should I say ears of corn. This corn had a baby corn attached, like a kangaroo with a baby in its pouch. 

We steamed the corn and we probably picked it a day too late but it didn't matter that it wasn't snappy––it was still some of the best corn I have ever had. 

Meanwhile, a sunflower grows amidst the stalks––a scarecrow ready to ward off thieving raccoons.

Do you garden? What do you grow? How has your garden been doing? Our lettuce and kale haven't been strong this year...the leaves have been small. Our beans and snap peas, meanwhile, have been growing generously. 

I hope you're all enjoying your summer!

*Note: The information about the etymology of "corn" comes from this blog: (

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Sunday Spinners #3

As I'm sure some of you have realized from my posts, I love to write about the characters I meet. The first night of writing camp, I was sitting alone in my dorm room, trying to settle in and adjust to the environment before I ventured out to get to know some people. I heard a knock on a door. Thinking it was someone else's door, I kept writing and munching on Honey Nut Cheerios. The knocking persisted. Finally, I opened the door to see what was going on outside, when I recognized a girl whom I had briefly spoken with earlier, standing outside my door.

"Can I come in?" She barged in. "Have you read that paper our professor gave us today?"

"I started it," I said. For our first non-fiction homework assignment, our professor had assigned us to read "The Situation and the Story: The Art of Personal Narrative" by Vivian Gornick.

"I don't know if you got to this part yet, but this part really fascinated me." She took my paper off my desk and read:
It was remarkable to me how excellent were relations between this narrator and this narration. The speaker never lost sight of why she was speaking––or, perhaps more important, of who was speaking. Of the various selves at her disposal (she was, after all, many people––a daughter, a lover, a bird water, a New Yorker), she knew and didn't forget that the only proper self to invoke was the one that had been apprenticed.
I looked at her.

"'...she was, after all, many people,'" she repeated. "I love this! Because it's true that we are all so many different people. Because we meet so many different people..."

"...and every one of those people affects us in some way," I added. We talked for a solid thirty minutes. She paced around the floor and watched our reflections in the window as we stood side by side.

She pointed her hands forward like a traffic guard waving on cars. "We're all going down our own path." I nodded. "But sometimes..." She turned to face me. "Sometimes we cross paths. We meet at intersections."

"And that's when we affect each other's lives."

It was such an intriguing conversation. As soon as she left I pulled out my laptop and wrote three pages about it. And there is so much more I want to write. Imagine how many human interactions we have every day. I'm not talking about conversations. I mean interactions: the awkward eye contact in the grocery line, the bump on the street, the woman who returned our dime.

I believe we are all a ball of clay. We all have the ability to mold each other. Some people will chip away at us. Some will add to us. Some will twist us around ourselves and make us question who we are. Some will rough us up. Some will be there to smooth us out. Sometimes we may harden with resistance. Some people will take advantage of this and pick us up and drop us. Others will be there to sweep us up and glue us back together. 

We also have the ability to look for opportunities to mold ourselves, better ourselves, redefine ourselves. The shape we are today does not have to be the shape we are tomorrow. In fact, we should never stay the same, but rather always be slightly changing, so if we were to make a stop action film of our lives, we could see ourselves shifting.

So here's the exercise: Select a minimum of two of your favorite characters. They can be from a novel, a comic, a movie, or even people you know personally. Try to combine them and spend 5-10 minutes free writing about them. (Girls, it's like finally being able to combine those two guys. You love so many things about one, and so many things about another, and you wish you could just morph them into one person.)

Happy Writing!

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Sunday Spinners #2

My phone says one hour and four minutes–my laptop says one hour–before I would have missed the second Sunday Spinners. It really would be embarrassing if I couldn't keep a series running for more than a week.

This week's Sunday Spinners is an exercise I did in a poetry workshop at writing camp. Although it is a poetry exercise, you don't need to be a poet to try it. Lord knows I'm not a poet...but I still really enjoyed this exercise. If you don't want to write poetry, feel free to be creative and stretch the exercise to whatever medium best suits your interest.

Here's the prompt (the pictures are only examples of the types of things you could write about...your possibilities are literally endless):

Write a poem about something ugly using beautiful language.

This is the bathroom in the hotel room I stayed in all by myself when my flight back from Ohio was cancelled...that's another story for another time.

Write a poem about something beautiful using ugly language.

This is just a daffodil.


If you're feeling stuck, here's the last stanza of the poem I wrote for this exercise. I titled the poem "Full Moon." In my poem, the speaker is a heartbroken woman who stares at the beauty of the full moon and is filled with anger, because she thinks of all the lovers who share that full moon together. It's a work in progress. I need to watch out for using too many big words. I got too carried away with the thesaurus.

We may like to raise our thumbs
to the moon and cogitate 
about the “universality” of how everyone
somewhere in this world is seeing 
the same moon,
but I glower at that moon
and I raise my thumb and ruminate
about how I would crumple it like a bad idea 
or crack it like an egg and let the yolk run, 
spewing false shooting stars 
so people could wish on them and spend
their lives with the credence 
that their wish may actually come true. 

I kept looking up synonyms for words like "think" and "believe," trying to see if I could find words that had more negative connotations. The words themselves don't have to be "ugly" though...think about the images you use. The metaphors. The similes. Think particularly about the tone of your poem. As I wrote my poem, I strived to keep a spiteful tone.

Good luck!

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Merging In

"Just inch out into the road. Relax. Take a deep breath. Check both ways. You're clear. Drive." All my life, I have been used to "following." I question myself about everything, even when I know that I know what to do. I realized this particularly when I was learning to drive.

ME: Dad, can I go now?
DAD: Yes. The light is green. Green means "go."

ME: Mom, do I signal?
MOM: You're switching lanes. Yes, you signal.

One of the hardest things for me to learn has been merging into oncoming traffic. I second-guessed myself. I didn't trust myself to move unless someone else told me to.

As soon as I started driving by myself, that changed. Fast. The first time I drove by myself I forgot I had to drive around the rotary downtown. "You know what to do," I heard Mom say inside my head. "Think about your next move. Trust yourself."

This summer, I feel as if I've been merging into my own life. I've mused in previous posts about the newfound independence I've acquired over the past few months, between obtaining my license, traveling alone, and now as a working girl. I've found that with this independence also comes a new rhythm––my own rhythm.

In previous summers, I have followed my parents' schedule. When they swam, I swam. When they ran, I ran. When they ate, I ate. This summer, I'm not able to do this. I have my own schedule. I work during the day, I perform in a community theatre production of Les Mis at night. I have to run and swim when I have time to run and swim. Sometimes there are days I'm not able to fit in a run or a swim, because I choose to prioritize memorizing my lines, or reading, or taking the time to write. Or napping. Sometimes I need a nap.

I've also been making a lot of my own meals lately. My dinner tonight was one of my favorites so far.

I stopped by work on my way home from play rehearsal to pick up a portabella mushroom with my 20% employee discount. I brushed it with olive oil and cooked it in the oven until it was soft. Meanwhile, I sautéed kale, green beans, snap peas, zucchini, and tomatoes from our garden. When everything was cooked, I flipped the mushroom so that its belly faced up, and blanketed it with the kale leaves. Then I filled it with the other veggies. To top it off, I sprinkled grated asiago cheese over the mushroom and the plate, and added a nasturtium on the side for decoration.

After setting the table and taking many pictures, I finally sat down to eat...the food was only a little cold. now you're probably thinking that I only wrote this post as a sly way of sneaking in pictures of my dinner. But I actually started the post the other night and never finished it, and when I cooked dinner tonight, I realized these pictures accompanied the post perfectly. And here's why: I'm on my own this summer more than I ever have been before. I'm starting to think more for myself. I love to be I run and swim and bike, even when it's on my own. I love good food. So when I have the time, I don't just grab cereal from the cupboard or throw in a frozen pizza...I take the time to cook something for myself. 

When it comes down to it, I'm learning how to take care of myself. It has certainly been an adjustment these past few weeks...but I'm slowly releasing my foot off the break. I look both ways. And I go. 

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Sunday Spinners

Building off of my last post, sometimes I find when I haven't sat down for awhile, I just don't know what to write about. It's like when you haven't seen a friend in so long, and you feel like you have so much to say, but then all of a sudden you get on the phone and can't think of anything...because there's just too much.

So, I thought I would start something called, "Sunday Spinners." Every Sunday, I will try and post a prompt to get your mind spinning. Whether you be a painter, a writer, a can respond to the prompt in whatever way suits your craft.

This week's prompt is inspired by something my friend and I did at the Columbus Art Museum while we were at writing camp. The two of us walked around the museum, and took turns picking different paintings that intrigued us. We set our cell phone timers for five minutes, and wrote non-stop about a painting––a story, objective observation, subjective opinions, whatever came to mind. When we were done, we read what we wrote out loud (no editorializing!).

Our stories were so different for every painting we wrote about. One of the paintings we wrote about was the Norman Rockwell painting below.

Soda Jerk
Norman Rockwell (American, 1894-1953)
1953. Oil on canvas, 36x34"

When I saw this painting, I focused on the conniving face of the busboy. In my free write, the busboy was the older brother of the girl with red hair, and he was playing a prank on her and her friend. My friend focused on the lonely boy in the corner. In her story, he had bought the brunette a soda in an attempt to ask her out, but then the cocky busboy came along and started flirting with her. Definitely two very different relationships! 

After we left the museum, another fun idea we had was that after we finished sharing our own stories, we could then spend another five minutes non-stop writing, but continuing the other person's story. 

At writing camp, what I loved perhaps even more than writing form myself was listening to others read their work. The range of backgrounds these people came from...the diversity in their writing styles and topics...their willingness to be graphic and pure and let themselves bleed for us. They pointed out things I never would've thought of on my own. And that is why I love collaboration, and I love to talk and I love to share. That is why I love art. 

My friend from camp was telling me about a time she went to an art museum with a friend of hers back home. She saw a plain black canvas displayed on the wall. 

"I could do that," she said. 

"But you didn't," said her friend. And that was the difference. That is what makes an artist, an artist. A writer, a writer. A composer, a composer. The artist, the writer, the composer...they saw the ordinary and cast the spotlight on it. They found some deeper meaning or had some further motive, even if that motive was simply a rejection to the "complicated," to the explainable, to the obligatory. They had the courage to put it out there despite what others thought. 

And that is why we need artists of all kinds––not just writers or painters or actors. We need the different perspectives.

If you try the exercise, let me know what you think of it! The key is that you have to trust yourself to just write or paint or sing or whatever it is. If you can't get to a museum, try searching a picture on the internet. Or find a picture in a book. Be open.

Wishing you all a week filled with inspiration! 

P.S. This is one photograph I really enjoyed writing about at the museum. If you're interested, see what you come up with! 

View From Below
Zoe Leonard

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

"So You Want To Be A Writer?"

One would think that after a week-long intensive writing camp, I would be posting every day. Or at least writing every day. But I am ashamed to admit...I am not. Leaving camp, I had this grand idea that I would sit down and write every day. I made a document called "Writing Exercises," where, for three consecutive days, I gave myself a prompt and free-wrote, non-stop for five to ten minutes. Five minutes a hard can that be?

Mind you, I said three consecutive days, meaning that after the third day I skipped two, then remembered and went back to it, then skipped another. It's not that I don't want to write. It's certainly not that I don't have anything to write about. In fact, I have too much to write about, between all the inspiration from camp and Les Mis rehearsals and work and the beach. I think a big problem is that I don't know what to choose. I have all these scattered snippets in random documents and on scrap pieces of paper and notebooks and sticky notes on my desktop. They are all just seeds floating in the wind, waiting for someone to grab them and plant them in the ground. Unfortunately there is only one of me, and I have a history of being slightly indecisive.

But that doesn't explain why I can't sit down for five minutes to just "dump write." And I think it's because I haven't made it part of my routine yet. At camp, it was amazing to have it naturally built into my daily routine. I don't have that at home. I don't have class to go to or an assignment to complete. I only have my own self-motivation, and let's face it, it's a lot easier to say "no" to yourself than it is to someone else.

So does that mean I'm not a writer? Does that mean I'm not "serious enough" to be one? I would like to think that I still am a writer, because I am always thinking about writing. I think about writing when I read and analyze other people's work. I think about writing when I'm onstage, and I think about the words I am saying, and I ask myself, "Why did the author choose these specific words? What do they convey about my character?" I think about writing when I see a little crab stand on his hind legs and pinch the air while I squat to meet him eye to eye, and I think, "What would he be saying right now if he could talk?" And for whatever reason, all I can imagine is an angry, swearing foreigner.

I believe I am a writer because I am always noticing. I don't think the true gift of a writer is how they use words; I believe it is the things they choose to bring to light: the dead fox on the side of the road, the bruised apple, the ripped flag...all the things others may not blink twice over. I believe the true gift of a writer is his/her ability to make the ordinary, extraordinary.

The title of this post is inspired by a poem my friend shared with me, called "So You Want To Be A Writer" by Charles Bukowski. Bukowski begins his poem with the following lines:

if it doesn't come bursting out of you
in spite of everything,
don't do it.

Although these moments may not happen all the time, I have experienced the moments when it does come bursting out of me, like those times before bed when I turn my light off and on four times as I think of another note to jot down in my notebook.

He later writes:

unless being still would
drive you to madness or
suicide or murder,
don't do it.

And this is why I know I am a writer, because I love to share what I notice. I know I am a writer because I love to share things with you on this blog.

The majority of Bukowski's poem highlights the passion you must have if you want to be a writer. I agreed with most of Bukowski's points, except for the following lines:

if you have to sit there and
rewrite it again and again,
don't do it.
if it's hard work just thinking about doing it,
don't do it.

Writing is hard work and I don't think any published author could say that there are never days when they don't want to write. I think the same is true of any profession.

I guess the underlying message of this long ramble is that, no matter what profession you are interested in, there will always be days when you don't want to do it. There will be periods in your life when you aren't able to do it as much as you like. You will always meet people who practice more than you do and do whatever it is, better than you do––believe me, I learned from camp. No matter if you lose touch with it at some point, know that, if you truly are meant to be in that profession, you will always return. That is when you will know you have passion. And that is when you will know that you have what it takes.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

A Dandelion Seed

A dandelion seed floated over my notebook. Over my Pilot G-2 07 ink pen that stains my hand blue. Over the plastic spoon in my Chobani cup. It was like an exotic fairy with a white peacock headdress. It asked me to follow it. I stood on the brick wall and leaned forward on my tip-toes, but I couldn't fly and I wasn't light enough to be carried in the breeze.

I watched it.

My first thought was to make a wish, but I feared I would overwrite a wish it perhaps already carried. I thought about what that wish may be. Maybe a wish for love. For a message from God. Time. "I forgive you." A call from a daughter or son. A job. A puppy. A Barbie Color-Change Mermaid doll. A college acceptance letter. A text. A hundred more wishes.

Maybe it was a message that I'm okay. That everything will be okay. A reassuring pat on the shoulder.

Maybe it was a sign to move on. Forget about what could have been or might have been. Enjoy summer.

Maybe it was just a dandelion seed, detached by the breeze. And maybe I shouldn't analyze so much.

I watched until it disappeared from sight, off to catch a ride on a shooting star.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

"Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?"

This is the front of the T-shirt I got when I arrived at the Reynold's Writer's Workshop at Denison University in Granville, OH. I was dropped off this morning. For the next week, I will be immersed in one of the things I love most: writing.

I got my binder and my schedule and all the pens and stickers. I got the key to my room and I hugged goodbye and my mom closed the door and that was it. An empty dorm room with emerald and cantaloupe braided carpet; two wooden desks with cork boards and an overhead lamp; tape residue on the walls, textured from multiple repaintings; stripped navy blue mattresses atop rickety springs; white linens and a blanket; a 100% polyester ProTech Pillow, covered with breathable fabric covering.

I unpacked my suitcase and arranged my comfort food on the shelf above my desk: dried apricots, almonds and fat, unsweetened coconut flakes, two Clif bars (dark cherry almond and apricot), and two packages of Honey Nut Cheerios that I took from the hotel's continental breakfast this morning. I've learned that I need to have comfort food with me when I travel...otherwise I have a minor panic attack. Like this morning when I mildly freaked out because they didn't have the yogurt I liked...yeah, so I'm working on that with myself...

I made my bed and tried to tuck in the corners...sorry Grandma...

I arranged my favorite pillow and my childhood comforter Puff (although it has lost so many feathers by now it's more of a sheet than a comforter)...

Yes...I'm sixteen years old and still bring my Puff with me when I travel. I've given up on carrying my childhood stuffed animals Teddy and Mocha with me when I travel, although they sit propped against a pillow on my bed at home to greet me when I come back.

With everything finally settled, I jumped on the bed and listened to the sighs of the springs. I leaned my head against a former nail hole, now smoothed over with putty. I was alone. No one else from the camp had arrived yet and my mom and stepdad were on their way to the airport to fly home. It was one of those empowering moments, like when I drove by myself for the first time and I rolled the windows down and blared 102.5 on the radio. Or when I watched the sunrise over Mt. Washington. These past few months, I've gained so much independence. I'm doing the things I love and starting to figure out the person I want to be. 

So, what is it I plan to do with my one wild and precious life? I plan to make the most of it. I plan to use my life to better others. I plan to take life as it comes and let it run wild, while always keeping a watchful eye. As I write this week, nobody knows me. And that's exciting. Because I can write whatever I want without worrying about offending someone. I can be graphic. I can be specific. I can be honest. This week, I will let my writing run wild. 

"Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?" 

Monday, June 17, 2013

Tall Like the Mountain

Photo courtesy of Melissa Morris.
The trees become shorter, but I grow taller. The pack digs into my back, my shoulders, my hips. I crawl on hands and knees, wedge the toe of my boot into a crevice. Stay low to the ground, pray I don't slip. We cross a rushing river streaming down from a waterfall. 

Photo courtesy of Melissa Morris.
One person crosses, extends a hand, and waits for the next person to go. We continue like this, extending a hand for each other. Cloud vapor melts on my face like cotton candy, rain drips down my forehead and plasters my stray hairs to my skin. The last quarter mile drags on forever.

Photo courtesy of Melissa Morris.
Finally we spot a chimney over the head of a tall rock––only 100 steps away from a warm hut and food. We are half right. The hut has food but no heat, so we eat to stay warm. Fresh salad with goat cheese and cranberries, chili and rice and green beans with cheese and sour cream and cashews. Warm pumpkin pie for dessert. Homemade bread to munch on. I fill up but still all I can think about is breakfast the next morning. 

Photo courtesy of Melissa Morris.
As an end-of-the-year celebration, my school does something called "Endersession," (it's a made-up word) in which every student selects an activity for the week. I chose hiking in the White Mountains. We set out Tuesday and stayed at a hut near the summit of Mt. Washington. Tuesday, I felt so invincible. We planned to summit Mt. Washington Wednesday, and hike along the presidential range and stay at another hut. Alas, the mountain reminded us who was the almighty. It trapped us in the hut Wednesday, forcing us to spend another night at our first hut, where we exhausted every card and improv game imaginable.

Photo courtesy of Corey Bova.
The next morning we rose to greet the first sunlight we had seen in nearly 24 hours. We rose at 4:20am, slipped on our boots and rain jackets, and trudged off into the morning mist. We raced against the sunrise (5:04am) and made it in a record fifteen minutes. We crouched behind a giant rock and watched as the sun's rays melted away the gray-blue of a foggy night, and then as it finally peaked its baby's bonnet over Mt. Washington. 

I was so happy to be there without my parents. Here I was, hundreds of miles away, taking life into my own hands and experiencing the world for myself. No cell phone or Facebook calling for my attention. No temptation to see who texted me back or who liked my status. Just me and no one else's opinion of me or expectations of me. 

I know I will find many more mountains to climb in life. Some mountains I will climb solo; some mountains I will climb with others; and some mountains I will carry someone on my back. 

Photo courtesy of Melissa Morris.

As I stood at the bottom of Mt. Washington on Thursday afternoon, I was humbled as I looked at the Cog Railway travelling the vertical distance of the mountain we had just climbed. I remembered when we had stood up there only hours previous, and I felt so tall and regal. Here I was, no longer tall like the mountain or with the mountain, but at the base, reminded of the mountain's majesty. I only have to close my eyes, though, and I will again be standing on its summit, feeling tall and capable of anything. 

Saturday, June 15, 2013

A Wise Bear Once Told Me

"How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard," a wise bear once told me. It's funny how the childhood cartoons are often the ones with the most meaningful quotes. Winnie the Pooh was a smart bear whose wise words stick to the heart like sweet honey.

Today was my high school's third graduating class. 31 members. They are officially the smallest graduating class that will ever graduate from our high school. As our Executive Director said today, though, that is exactly what made their impact on our school all the more powerful.

It was bittersweet, seeing the seniors in their caps and gowns. The selfish side of me wanted them to stay, but I knew and I know they are destined for greater things. I am amazed by how much they have grown just in the last year. Seeing them onstage, receiving their diplomas...they all had this fire in their eyes. They are so ready for the real world, even if they don't believe they are.

As I heard the graduation speeches, I got to thinking about my own future. If I had graduated today, what would I have said in my speech? What would teachers say about me? I am halfway done with high school. Many of the teachers referenced the growth they saw in the junior and senior years of the graduates. I can't help but wonder if the person standing on that stage two years from now will be different from the one who sat in the audience today and held back her tears as her friends received their diplomas. And if so, who will that person be? It's strange to think of myself changing, yet I know I inevitably will. I just can't imagine how or when that will happen.

But for now, I just have to focus on "now." The best things in life often come when we're just living in the moment, not lingering on the past or dwelling on the future. Because, as Winnie the Pooh said,
"Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, but today is a gift. That's why we call it the present." So many seniors talked about how fast high school flew by. I'm already halfway done. Two years from now, I want to be able to look back and say I made the most of it.

Congratulations to the Class of 2013!

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Berry Tart Lemonade

Sophomore year...check. Driver's test...check. Summer, here I come!

It's amazing how you don't realize how stressful something is until it's over. As I finished my final homework assignment of the year Thursday night, I felt my body breathe a sigh of relief. But the real relief didn't come until 6:08 this morning, as I pulled out of the a newly licensed driver. Hopefully my nights will no longer be filled with overturned vehicles and failure stamps (I actually don't even think they use those on road tests).

I took a leisurely lunch today. I had leftovers from last night's dinner––an avocado BLT flatbread with sweet potato fries. I even took the time to heat up my sandwich and fries in the oven, which is much more satisfactory than the microwave. The fries were certainly less soggy than they would've been if I microwaved them.

But the 77ºF weather and the sun made me crave something more: lemonade. But not the powdered lemonade or even the frozen lemonade; I wanted real, homemade lemonade.

Alas, I only had one and a half lemons and no lemon squeezer. I squeezed the lemons with my hands and got enough juice for one very tart sip. It was time to open the freezer, open the fridge, open all the cupboard doors, and see what I could find.

In the end, I was able to make one tall glass of something I call Berry Tart Lemonade. See the recipe below!

Berry Tart Lemonade (Makes 1 Serving)

1 1/2 lemons, squeezed
1 kiwi, peeled
1/2 cup - 1 cup of frozen berries
Lemon water (or regular water)

Microwave the frozen berries in a bowl for 90 seconds. This extracts the juices. Blend with the squeezed lemons and peeled kiwi. The lemonade will be very tart. To water it down, gradually add water. (I happened to have a pitcher of lemon water in the fridge, but plain water will do fine.) Add honey for a sweetener. Pour in a glass with ice cubes and taste summer with every sip.

I decorated the glass with a strawberry from our garden. I tried to show its better side in the earlier pictures.
I don't know if you can see it, but a lot of the pulp and seeds floated to the top, leaving the bottom a bit more tart. The separation reminded me of the science experiment with vinegar and oil.

The last thing to do before I ate was set the table. I wiped the glass table on the porch clean of pollen, set a placemat, and set the table for one. I even set out a cloth napkin. Sunscreen applied and sunglasses on, I pulled in my chair and closed my eyes as I savored the taste of summer right around the corner. 

Happy (almost) summer, everyone!