Freckles, Trains and Other Identifiers

I literally just wrote this in 10 minutes for my final project in YA Ethnic American Literature and felt that the world wide web needed to hear it.

 

A typo turns into

The “Untied” States:

The land of the panicked.

The home of the fearful.

 

We are an unraveled thread

Of ethnicities

That refuse to braid into one another.

We cannot possibly envision

The final sewn project;

We just think the colors would clash.

 

But aren’t all colors related?

The best hues on the palette are

Those that are mixed.

The best salads are

Those that are tossed.

I think we need to toss our prejudice

Out of the window and

 

Color by feeling, not sight.

 

You are not beautiful because you are

White

Black

Brown

Yellow

Or red…

You are beautiful because

You are you,

And because we all have a little of

Momma’s courage

And Dad’s stubborn love…

The freckles on Nana’s back

Or the thinning hair on Abuelo’s head.

 

We are not compartments,

You see,

We are a full train.

So why do we segregate ourselves so

And mask it under the name

Of unity?

 

Get up.

Stretch your legs.

You have miles to go.

 

…But won’t you let me walk beside you?

 

~Annah

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Grade 15

A heavy workload. Aching eyes that cried too many times to count. Tough, beneficial conversations. Deep loss. Deep grief. Some 3 AM nights. Other 11 PM nights. Big career conundrums and frustrations. Little blips of clarity concerning one’s true passions. The realization of one’s youth. The realization of one’s maturity. Old friends. New friends. Internships. Housing crises. A lot of sass. The assurance of things hoped for. My very first novel draft. Large steps of independence and individuality. A fearful introvert becoming fearless in times of uncertainty. Constant pushes outside of cozy comfort zones. A broadening of my awareness for diverse opinions and lifestyles. An ear for the minority races and sexualities. An ear for the broken and confused. An ear whilst everyone else has lost theirs. Flinging into spring. Lots and lots of hopeful yellows that echo truth into my weary soul. Heavy weariness with a belly laugh of a silver lining. Crying girls in bedrooms. Crying boys in bedrooms. Smiles in between tears. Romance and the tenderness of feelings, so breakable indeed. People from the bad parts of town are people too. More attention to the minorities and outcasts. Protests for change. Sorrow that things will never be the same. Spontaneous outings for yummy treats. Professional resilience. Unapologetic appreciation for whoever puts a smile on my face. An introvert yelling friends’ names across rooms. Remembrance of commonalities. The necessity of music with its soothing narratives of pain and joy. Bittersweet, this life we have crafted for ourselves. Oh wait… It is not for yourself. Moldy hearts, forever being tilled. 💛

Junior year: defined as “how to power through anything and everything, one breath at a time.”

~Annah

Twelve-Piece Kite

Maybe I’ll be a kite today.

Throw me up in the air, so I don’t have to touch the moist muck of rejection and putrid stench of desperate feeling for a while. But if I’m transparent, I only need a tiny gust of wind to blow me into a snag, a pointy branch off a tree, a limb adding to my lack thereof. See, I pocket away what I don’t want to experience, even significant chunks of flesh and bone, deeming it inconvenience to chase after things that leave me a little worse for wear. But really? A heart broken? It could never be so; you can always mend up the patches on the snagged kite. Throw it back up, she’ll be fine. But she’s seen a little more and heard a little too much, maybe that her qualifications are not good enough, maybe that she’s a bit plain… but mostly that she’s perfect just the way she is and that still can’t black out the pain of conflict and delicate feelings that always lurk in dark corners. Flutter, fly, abide, glide, my little, sturdy, patched, kite. Don’t be tied down by the takers of the world who want to wrap you up and tell you what box you fit into. Out here the sun is closer, the wind has a wheezy laugh, and the jagged trees present daring challenges. After all, a kite is still a kite, even if it is torn into two, four, six, twelve.

I think I’ll be a kite today.

 

~Annah

Pre-Hamilton Thoughts

I’m not going to say I like Hamilton any more than the next person, because I know there are thousands of more devoted fans than me, but there’s something about listening and experiencing it as a writer that really gets to me. Or maybe I’m just too empathetic? I don’t know, but the lyrics, especially the questions, really stick to me. How does one write like they’re running out of time? Have I done enough [with my words]? Who will tell our stories—will anyone?

How does my writing play into this narrative that is the vast planet we live on? You know it’s kind of terrifying, writing. You put your heart and soul into characters, you believe in your stories in the midst of millions of others, enough to spend months and years on them. Then you publish them for anyone and everyone to read, you put your story on the line because you believe so immensely in it, resulting in inevitable rejection by some readers. Stories can easily be looked over, even if they are published, because of the sheer volume of them. But they’ve all been worked on and loved so well by the ones who penned them.

The vast majority of stories will not be heard by the general public, but does that mean we stop writing them? No. Because as scary as it is, we shouldn’t write with the numbers or lack thereof in mind. We write because we have faith, we write because we’re gamblers, we write because we’re not scared of the odds. We shoot our stories blindly into the dark because we know they’ll help someone somehow. And that’s pretty dang cool. So keep writing and “keep fighting in the meantime.”

(10 days until Hamilton.)⭐️

~Annah

What to Know about Writing a Novel in One Month or Less

I just had my first baby and she is a hefty 223 pages. I conceived her over 24 days and she is already proving to be a thoroughly sassy child. Her name is “Status: Untilled, Moldy Heart.”

1. It’s harder than you think.

For me at least, it was really difficult to get rid of my inner editor while writing. Part of me wanted to reread bits and fix them (in which case I would minimize the screen as much as possible to write) and part of me was whispering this is terrible for a majority of the time. But in both cases, you really don’t have time to stop and consider those thoughts, even though they are negative, because if you waste time it will take you that much longer to get to sleep at night. (Especially as a college student juggling 50 other things.) I made sure I never stayed up past 2 a.m. and always went to bed by the time that would give me 8 hours of sleep, which will be scandalous to some of you but was actually an accomplishment for me, because believe it or not, last semester I stayed up until 3 a.m. multiple times. (We don’t talk about it…)

It was also hard for the sake of my Novel Writing class, because our professor wanted us to write from the seat of our pants. Besides the main plot turning points, we were not allowed to plan out anything. Many times, especially in acts 2 and 3 of the plot, I had no idea what was going to happen, which made staring at the daily blank page daunting.

*We used the program Scrivener to write our novels. Some people broke up their novel documents into scenes, but I did it by day. Turns out, almost every day I managed to write a mini story, so I ended up turning my daily documents into the chapter breaks.*

Finally, and most importantly, writing a novel in a month is incredibly difficult because you actually create a story that’s much longer than 50k words, which is the monthly goal. So what I ended up with was a very rushed version that time-jumped a lot to get to where I needed to be by the end of the month. As my professor told us, and as I now know firsthand, we’ve actually created stories that are more like 80-100k words.

2. It’s easier than you think.

Now I’m going to refute my previous points–because in every case, there is an upside. Don’t get me wrong, writing a novel in a month is incredibly difficult and you should take great pride if you do it in knowing that not only have you bested all the people who want to write a book but haven’t, but you’ve bested everyone who takes years and years to write one.

If your inner editor starts nagging at you (when it clearly shouldn’t be), just dash in something completely unexpected. Use the nagging thoughts to your advantage. Feel redundant in sentence structure? Start writing one word statements. Start writing long, winding rivers of words. Character falling flat? Create some huge drama in that character’s life. Make them react to a situation in complete opposition to how they normally would. Also, my personal favorite: are you stuck on a scene? Not sure what you want your characters to do next? Have them talk it out. Dialogue will bring their personalities alive and I guarantee they’ll think of something to do.

I am one of the biggest planners you will ever meet. I thrive on planning, I need planning in my life, I get anxious when I haven’t written things down. Maybe you’re like me or maybe a lack of planning is not that terrifying. Either way, know that the lack of plot planning is actually the best thing you could possibly do going into a one month time frame of novel writing. Trust me–I was told I couldn’t write on an already formed idea and I was SO SAD. I was frustrated, I was mad, I considered doing it anyway. BUT DON’T. DO NOT. Start something completely new. Trust me. I know exactly how you feel if that sounds horrific.

But the truth is, you have so many stories to tell. More than you believe you do. And the other truth is, if you’ve planned too much already you WILL get writer’s block. Plus, your planned story is probably WAY longer than 50k words and you’re not going to want to have to limit it or rush the story line that you’re already so attached to. You have complete freedom without a planned story because you’ve put no set-in-stone expectations on your characters or your plot. And the coolest thing is, your plot will transform and surprise you and you’ll love it way more than you initially thought you would.

Finally, your story will end up being rushed or not wholly complete because of the lack of time in one month, but that just means you’ll have endless more ideas by the time the month is over. (However, you NEED to give yourself a break before diving back in. At least a couple weeks. You want to look at it with fresh eyes.) By the time the month is over your plot is going to need some serious surgery. But you’ll also know and love your characters way more, so it’s exciting to consider delving in to better craft their story. It’s actually their story, not yours.

3. Your characters will do their own thing.

As I kind of hinted already, you will reach a point after the first week or so where your characters start acting and thinking for themselves. Think of yourself as an archaeologist picking up artifacts as you go. Pretty soon the artifacts have a much greater story to tell than the archaeologist does. That makes writing a breeze. Once the setting and external situations are established, you cannot plan for how or when the characters will steer off your neatly carved path. Just know that they will and they’ll show you some pretty cool places in uncharted waters.

4. In one way or another, you have writing patterns.

I’m a late night writer, but I also coincidentally switched every week. Weeks 1 and 3 I wrote later at night, week 2 I wrote in the early afternoon. (Week 2 is also the hardest, so I wanted to ensure I was getting enough sleep!) Similarly, you will find that you have writing patterns. Maybe you always write in the morning or maybe you can only focus well if you go to a certain coffee shop. I enjoyed changing my writing setting frequently. The cool thing about writing in such a condensed amount of time is that you find these things out about yourself as a writer much quicker, which allows you to better adjust for future projects and writing in general.

5. You pull from more personal experience than you expect to pull from.

I found myself pulling setting details or character action out of all sorts of random places. Your mind really is a palace of thoughts ,and you realize the full depth and reach of it while writing so rapidly. Since my story is realistic fiction I really enjoyed pulling from popular culture. Sometimes I’d be listening to a certain song or reminiscing on a memory, so I’d just stick those things into my story, and it usually suited the plot or characters! Subconsciously, I also included experiences or interests of mine that I never even intended to place in my story, yet looking back on it I can see the references. For example, the primary conflict originates around a talent show and I genuinely thought I was just pulling that from the air, when really I just spent a whole summer invested in America’s Got Talent so it’s no wonder that came to mind! That’s the cool thing: the story you write originates out of that particular time in your life more than anything, so you could try to write a similar story every year and it would never be quite the same, because you’re never quite the same.

6. You will grow incredibly attached to it.

I cried at the start of my last week writing. Because once all of the inner editor comments had grown stale from three weeks and once I had accepted that most of the word choice would be crap, I peeled away the technicalities to realize how much I actually adore this story. For a moment, I halted my critical eye and just looked at it as a dear piece of my heart. And it really, really is. Even if there are plenty of revisions ahead, I think it’s perfectly imperfect. It’s broken, just like me.

7. You will feel lazy and a bit aimless afterward.

…And as my professor said to me, ‘yes, because you are being lazy.’ (Although, considering I still have 50 other things I’m working on, I don’t know if I fully agree with that.) When it really comes down to it though, if you want to be a writer, you have to keep writing. Not just when you’re in the mood. And that’s a fact that makes me really appreciate this novel challenge. Because, just like life in general, the vast majority of the time we’re not in the mood to do what we hope to do. But you have to be relentless and persistent. It’s just like your basic laws of motion. To keep it coming out, you have to keep it up.

But also, you have to live. It’s okay to feel aimless and sad that you can’t write about your characters anymore, but you’ll get the chance to revise and dive back in later, and if you really care a ton, you can always write a series. I truly believe to be a writer you have to keep writing, but you also have to live. You can’t be cooped up all the time, you can’t expect to write every day of your life, you can’t be too hard on yourself. You need experiences to draw from, you need the other stories within entertainment to inspire you, you need family and friends to remind you what you care about.

Most importantly, the world desperately needs you. Not just your writing, but you with your unique thoughts and passions and talents. So as much as you love your books and your characters and your plot, take time to offer yourself to the world and see what the world has to offer you.

8. You CAN do it.

Stop speaking those lies. Stop making up those excuses. Because the truth is, you can. Anyone can.

~Annah

book

My Favorite Gems of 2017

As the year closes off, I wanted to take a moment to reminisce. While 2017 was emotionally draining in many ways for me, there were also golden nuggets of goodness everywhere. I wanted to highlight random bits and pieces that made this year a little brighter. Some aspects of this list are unique to 2017, while others have been around and I only just discovered them this year. While you read, feel free to come up with a list of your own, and I’d love to hear your thoughts. (…especially anything music-related!)

Song: This has two parts: my favorite song I discovered this year was “Knock on my Door” by Faouzia, but my favorite song that actually released this year was “Rhythm of Your Heart” by Marianas Trench. (Shout out to my sister Cassidy and my friend Hannah for these finds!) In both cases I think they’re great to dance to, maybe even at a New Year’s Eve party?! Sometimes a good dance party can make or break your day.

Book:The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

The Book Thief
Photo Credit: Wikipedia

Apparently I missed this bandwagon a few years ago… but better late than never! Rudy stole my heart and Zusak took all of my tissues, but I’m grateful and now I have my own copy. YAY! (99% of the time I only buy books that I already love and would read again/to future children. My book collection is only my absolute favorites.)

Musician/Band: Almost Monday

Still waiting for new music, because these guys ROCK. That’s all I have to say about that. *cues Forrest Gump’s voice*

Bible Verse: Hebrews 12:1-2

This verse has been the tune of my heart this year, and whenever the going gets tough I just remember ‘run with endurance’ and ‘endure for the joy’ set before me. I also shared this verse in a letter to a yellow angel named Luke, with some unique Annah annotations that I copied down in my own Bible. Keep running, friends.

Movie: I found my all-time favorite movie this year, yet it’s an oldie: Harold & Maude. Since watching it and sniggering alone in my dorm room last April, I have watched it approximately five more times. However, my favorite movie that came out this year was probably Dunkirk (which I just watched again last night!)

Dunkirk.jpg
Photo Credit: FanFest

It made me cry within the first five minutes, as most of my favorite entertainment does, and I thought it left a powerful impact with its unique musical rhythm and bare movie essentials. It put me constantly on edge and as empathetic as possible to situations I have never experienced. Time and time again, through literature and imagery, soldiers and their sacrifices astound me. Sometimes it seems like the ones that survive sacrifice even more than those who gave up their lives, because the remainder of their lives are transformed by tragedy. To have to rebuild sanity afterwards… I could never imagine the pain.

TV Show: Riverdale

Honestly, I watched season 1 in three days… Based on Archie comics, the dark mysteries alone will keep you watching episode after episode. They certainly know how to attract viewers, I’ll give them that.

YouTuber: Mark Ferris

Honestly, I don’t watch television. Instead, I watch YouTube, and it’s probably one of my favorite ways to unwind after a long day. I subscribe to many different people, but most are usually entertainers, comedians, or daily vloggers (video bloggers). Mark Ferris, a lanky, lovable, amiable man from Britain is probably my male alter ego. His videos make me laugh all the time, probably because we have the same sense of humor. Mostly he just makes vlogs, which I also appreciate as they’re essentially a visual alternative to blogs.

Phone App: Spotify

Most people frequently use Spotify, so it’s no secret that everyone loves this music-streaming app. However, I constantly find and adore different features of the app what seems like every week. As someone who tries to listen to anything and everything, I appreciate that they make playlists of music for you based on your interests. My favorites are “Discover Weekly,” “Release Radar,” and “Your Top Songs 2017,” kudos to a recent feature that summarizes what you listened to the most over the year and how often you listened.

Class: Intermediate Creative Nonfiction

This category is exclusive to students, but  my favorite class I took through the spring and fall this year was definitely “Intermediate Creative Nonfiction.” We focused on writing memoirs, read some great memoirs like The Glass Castle and The Mountain and the Fathers, and workshopped one another’s work. It helped me further develop my creative writing voice and allowed me to let loose with my writing humor.

Album:Self-Titled by Harry Styles

I talked about this recently, but I thoroughly enjoy Styles’ album every time I return to it. There’s no way for me to describe how much I love Styles’ musical work without it sounding corny. Basically, he’s bringing fresh work into what I would consider a ‘bland’ popular music scene. (Controversial opinion, I know…) I still appreciate techno and electronic pop sounds, but that really can never beat the sound of real instruments in my opinion. Also I just read in an interview article that Styles’ popular single “Sign of the Times” is meant to be a mom talking to her baby, so that just added another layer to an intriguing tune. I’m linking the video because the filmmaking is incredible as well! (Did I mention Styles debuted in Dunkirk?! Multi-talented at 23 years old.)

Food: Bunnies

Seriously, just go buy some of these crackers and eat the glorious food. It’s organic. 😉

Concert: Jon Foreman (9/29)

My favorite musician makes for my favorite concert. Foreman asked us for a Grand Rapids ‘Yeehaw’ and we gave it to him. My sister and I had a great night and the honest, intimate question-and-answer at the end was pretty cool. Wise words were spoken by all.

Creative Writing Piece: “Yellow Birthday” poem

I posted this in a previous blog from August with the poem’s title. This was inspired by Luke, previously mentioned. Loss: short-term sadness, long-term joy.

Event: Dance Marathon

DSC_1458.jpg

Back in March my college hosted this annual 24-hour event, and we raised money for the Helen DeVos children’s hospital. Money went towards casts, bills, and other medical necessities. Luke used to go to that hospital frequently; it was an incredible opportunity to support those in need. I moraled and cheered on my 24-hour dancer friends for 8 hours. We had a blast and I’ll likely participate again.

Experience: Joining flute choir

This past semester, I joined my college’s flute choir. I joined for zero credit, because flute has always been a great way to de-stress for me. As a junior, I am now officially sad I never knew about the group sooner. It has been an incredible once-a-week relaxation, with lots of laughs and smiles. I’m definitely looking forward to more fun this semester.

I always think simple pleasures are necessary, and this list definitely supports that claim. If you and I were to count the little blessings and enjoyments over the years, I think we’ll likely find that they far outweigh any pains, large or small, that have come our way. There is always more light and hope than we think in dark situations. Here is to another exciting, joy-filled year in 2018. Here is to finding the silver linings, even when our outlooks are looking grim.

Remember, you can and will persevere, you always do.

~Annah

A Trace of Joy

Yesterday in my British Literature class, our professor had us write poems modeled after some of the modernist poets we read. This poem is loosely based on “Valentine” by Carol Ann Duffy. I wrote it on the fly with no revisions and I appreciate that unapologetic way of writing. Maybe it’s flawed, maybe the word choice could be improved, but it’s bold in its imperfections.

 

Not a giggle or a hug.

 

I give you a scraped knee.

Scab oozing over in blood

It echoes contentment

Like happy toes squirming through mud.

 

Here.

It will leave a foul stench,

But one that whispers

Like a butterfly wing

Of rapidly beating hearts

Playing make-believe.

 

I want you to remember the truth.

 

Not neat pews at church,

But raucous, rowdy adventures.

 

I give you a scraped knee

To soften your heart

That has confined itself

To cubicles

And tax forms.

 

Take it.

Feel the rough edges on your

Weathered, weary hands.

Find joy in simplicity again.

~Annah