Tonight I finished one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. Writing two stories, twenty-pages shouldn’t have been so stressful, had I started it over the summer like I should have… had I not waited until the last two weeks.
To be fair, I took the SAT on October 1 and spent September preparing for it (and my scores were cancelled, long story: so it wasn’t even worth it). But I’ve learned (yet again!) the value of starting things months in advance. Time to start on my TASS application (due in January)!
Things I learned about writing and my writing process:
- I don’t like to delete things. It can take me twenty minutes to come up with one good sentence, and with every hit of the ‘delete’ button, I feel like I’m erasing valuable time.
- It did take me three hours on the night of Sunday, October 2 to write about 3/4 of a page. Did I feel frustrated? Yes. I also didn’t want to delete most of it later, although it really was a bad 3/4 of a page.
- So I had this realization: with piano, for instance, every minute you put into practicing it strengthens your fingers and advances your skill. It’s impossible to erase the effects of that time. On the other hand, with writing, one swipe at a page can erase hours and hours of work and you’ll be back to where you’ve started. You could argue that the act of writing for those hours strengthened your writer’s mind anyway… but honestly, sometimes there are just bad days and nothing that comes out of your head is valuable stuff.
- I’m not as afraid to ask for help as I used to be. Ms. Taylor, Mr. Leeves, and Ms. Crocker all read my work and met with me during lunches or after school, commented on my massive Google docs after their 8-hour workdays, and were just generally awesome people. Ms. Taylor drove to Georgetown this evening to watch a nephew’s soccer game, and she texted me at 10:13pm to check if I’d successfully submitted my work.
- I haven’t shaved my legs in two weeks.
- YoungArts was due at 10:59pm today, and the next big thing is the piano Solo Contest next Saturday. This junior year, it seems as if there is always one big thing that sucks up every spare minute, beyond school (which is getting really tough, coming from a top-10 Westlake kid). First, it was the SAT. From the hours after the SAT until tonight, it was YoungArts. From now until next Saturday afternoon, it’ll be the Solo Contest. Then it’ll be the SAT again (have to retake it, yahoo). And so on. What I’ve been doing is alternatingly neglecting things and picking them up again based on what the big thing is (as in, as soon as I submitted my YoungArts application, I went to go practice piano for the first time in weeks). Is this what adulthood feels like? A chaotic mess, a to-do list with perpetually empty boxes? Gosh, that was cringe-worthy. I’m tired.
- Tonight I meant to submit my application by 7pm and head straight to Lighthouse, my youth group. Instead, it was 7pm and I was halfway through doing final revisions on the 14-page story. I never doubted that I’d be able to go to youth—I even skipped ballet and a period or so of school, shhh, so that I could finish by 7pm. By 8pm I was still not done. I think I need to get my priorities straight, or my time well-managed.
- I haven’t worn makeup in two weeks, either.
- I have an even greater appreciation for the mind-numbing work, agonizing decisions, thread-teasing process, and Thesaurus.com searching behind every paragraph of a novel.
- Another reminder of the hours, weeks, months of work behind every short story, piano piece, song on the Hamilton playlist, etc.
There’s more to this, but I’m exhausted, and my dad’s coming home from Ohio in ten minutes, so here’s the piece of story that I wrote about him at Kenyon Review Young Writers’ Workshop this summer and that I used as a jumping point for my 14-page piece. Enjoy!
Kun is seven years old, a stick-thin shrimp of a chimp. Dinner time, he’s behind—his hands scurry to wok and enough napa cabbage for six.
In, a thumb of cured-pork wafers, salty as fire. In, the firm leaves.
Eyes level with the pan’s slope, arm upthrust, he scrapes and wilts the whites inside with practiced flicks.
Presently he considers farm. The inky metal splotches slither into fingers. Snapping the stalks of kongxincai. Tucking hongshu between clods of loam. Spindly palms creaking to clench slims of leather—reins. Water buffalo, he sees. He adores their bulky amble. Someday, maybe, he will drive.
The veggies sizzle and pop with earthy salty scent. Kun stands in the stitchy kitchen heat. Where to, mind of Kun?
Splotchous Kun is in school is a singular brown squat, Kun too small for flat-on-ground feet, Kun dreaming the regular dreams, the HighTest lounging in his lungs startling him once in awhile (he prefers not to muse) and teacher roiling with bugs—and scribbled Kun thrills in trigonometry, in the visionly reverie that commonly accompanies impractical things (beautiful things, relished only wistfully, like poetry) in the broad brown room his verse is the swishling abacus deftly stroked, his rhyme the inertia of sinusoid, his meter the Gaokao, the Gaokao, the Gaokao literally slapped in his head by the headmaster but to Kun a thing to try best-footed, eagerly, just like every thing (he gets an especial rush from pleasing) so he dutifully guzzles his mitochondria and Pythagoras, eyes ever larger (he will go to university, but he won’t believe you just yet—for now, his fantasy is farm)—and he is seven years old and back in the fields to dream of Just One Book to be his to sear with eyeheat and scour his fingernails of dust before handling and wear thin with a thousand readings, dreamerboy, and then he is back in woodslap bed to dream, only, of water buffalo.
Kun puts the cabbage into wooden plates.
Red is a lovely girl. Red scratches in her concrete desk. Donce, says pasty-face. Donce. Shews. Shews. Clossroom. Clossroom. Red rides three hours home. Home is a concrete gun factory. Look at Red study. The books glue-shut to her eyes and fingertips and they’re sticky in her skull. Red knows two words. College. Win. For both, she knows how.
Kun in room, Kun in head. Kun in field, Kun in bed. Room, head field bedroom headfieldbed
Kun under citylights! fifteen, pawing at the ground under saggy bursting backpack,
for four years,
Kun reads as fast as his eyes can eat,
a sponge of a kind, and it is here that
Kun meets Red, Kun is wed, Kun has sex, (Kun is great in bed),
and Kun discovers, married, that he is great at debate and politics when
Long Live Chairman Mao shoots her at Tiananmen Square and
the trees burst with disassembled Hawaiian leis and
the vein on the back of his hand looks different, somehow
and who is that handsome man, with the slate-gray shiny shoulders and slender gaze? Why, it’s Kun on stage! 2013 Technical Conference of the National WIC Association ripples above his inky hair, much fuller than it was… Let’s clap for Kun, as he finishes, thank you, and strides behind the wings of the stage, and let’s hustle with the crowd to meet the speakers and there’s our grown-up Kun, shaking some man’s smooth hand, grinning whitely.
“Hi, nice to meet you,” he says. “I’m Kevin,” he says.
Red is dead.
Isabella – 10/14/16