They Met at Graduation

They met 45 minutes before the graduation ceremony. Donned in suit and tie, dress and heels. Hair gelled in place, skin glowing, eyes the color of the sun.

She stood in line and waited behind hundreds of her fellow post-grad to be’s. She sipped her tea while she waited and watched guests pass her by as they ambled down the hill towards the auditorium. Only forty five minutes left, she thought.

He was standing in front of her in line. He happened to turn around and when he did, he saw her – he noticed her eyes first, then the plastic cup pressed against her lips. “Is that tea?” he asked. She looked up, said “yep.”

“Smart,” he said. He smiled.

She thought he had a nice smile – nice eyes too. She moved a strand of hair behind her ear.

They talked about graduation first – how long they’d been waiting for this day, how excited, how relieved they were to have gotten through it all. Then they talked about their families, then their goals for the future.

He was thinking about law school, public policy. She wanted to be a writer.

The line started moving and they went forward together. They received name cards from a man in a blue suit at the entrance. They wrote down their names on the cards with careful, deliberate strokes. And then they made their way through the auditorium alongside their peers, eyes gleaming, name cards pressed against their chests.

She sat beside him during the ceremony. He asked her about what super power she would want and she answered, “I would want to control time, because then I could go back.”

They were sitting at the end of the second row from the front. When it was their row’s turn to stand, he turned around to say to her: “Ready?”

“I don’t know if I’ll ever be ready,” she said.

She walked a step behind him, in line, then onto the stage. She watched him accept his makeshift diploma, shake hands with the commencement speaker, smile for the camera.

And then it was her turn – her turn to hold the paper in her hands, shake hands, grin and wave up at her family in the stands. Her mom’s camera was raised, pointed at her.

He watched her amble down the steps, down the carpeted aisle, and return to her seat beside him.

The remains of a smile still at the edge of her lips, she held the diploma in her lap – she ran her thumb over her name in print.

The chorus of applauses, one after another, echoed through the auditorium.

I’ve made it, they thought. We’ve finally made it.

 

 

Between wanting and having

Sometimes I feel such an earnest, intense desperation not just to be a writer, but to succeed as a writer, to be lauded as a writer – it is a desperation so fervent that my breath quickens and my stomach starts to churn and one thousand worlds are all at once sitting atop my shoulders.

I want to write and write and publish my work and talk to people about my work and lecture at universities too, or speak at conferences, or both. I want to do all of these things that are big and grand. But there is a disconnect between wanting and having. There is a gaping hole between here and there, we are Grand Canyons apart. It’s overwhelming because I know that I am so far from where I want to be. And there is so much work that needs to be done before I am anywhere near where I want to be.

But I suppose all I can do is keep writing.

 

Seaweed

Cigarette smoke has an aftertaste like

roasted seaweed.

It doesn’t go away even when you spit,

even when you eat icebreaker mints.

I didn’t think I would ever know

what cigarette smoke tastes like,

but I do now – it’s like seaweed.

And it coats the roof of your mouth

and the back of your throat.

It lingers on your tongue

the way the smell lingers

on your sweater. Perfume

doesn’t make the smell go away,

by the way, the two smells just mix

together and they become bittersweet –

like rose and rusted copper –

and you wonder if anyone else

can smell the copper on your collar.

I took off my sweater the first time,

just in case. Because no one can taste

the seaweed on your tongue,

but they can smell it on your clothes

because it’s so strong

it’s almost a different color.

And God knows what’ll happen

if they smell it on my clothes.

“Just write. Write everyday of your life.”

Writing is hard. Even the best of the best, the masters of the craft, can attest to that. Jim Tully said, “Long patience and application saturated with your heart’s blood—you will either write or you will not—and the only way to find out whether you will or not is to try.”

Thinking about writing is easy. We all have ideas for our creative pieces – fuzzy visions of our own fantasy world, deconstructed plot lines, conversations between characters – running rampant in the depths of our imagination… Developing the blueprint of our story in our heads takes time, yes, but it’s straightforward and it can even be fun. It can be easy to get carried away and imagine the story sent to a publisher and printed onto paper. But sitting down, translating those thoughts into coherent sentences and getting content onto the page? That’s hard – really hard.

With the advent of the internet, distractions are rife – why gruel over a blank Microsoft Word document when you can read the daily news or scan weather reports or watch Buzzfeed’s latest feature on an artisan doughnut shop selling maple-dipped doughnuts flaked with gold? It’s so easy to to find some excuse as to why we don’t write – why we don’t have time or the resources, why our attention is desperately required elsewhere.

I too experience this tireless, hair-tearing, teeth-grinding process of not being able to translate my creative ideas into words. I understand how exhausting and disheartening it is. I’ve tried multiple ways to try to overcome writer’s hump. Waking up at 6am, reading classics and emulating the author’s style, responding to writing prompt after writing prompt – I’ve tried it all, hoping to find a cure-all elixir-like technique that whips me into shape, channels every ounce of my creative energy, spurs my artistic writerly senses to the point where thoughts start overflowing onto paper in the form of beautifully crafted prose. But I’m sorry to say that nothing worked; there’s no easy way around the grueling-ness of the writing process. But although I can’t tell you the magic formula for writing (because there isn’t one), I can give you one piece of advice: write something every single day.

Ray Bradbury, author of Fahrenheit 451, said “Write. Just write every day of your life. Read intensely. Then see what happens. Most of my friends who are put on that diet have very pleasant careers.”

At the start of the new year, I made a promise to myself that I would write something everyday. I created a Google Doc on January 1st and wrote about a page on what I did that day. On January 2nd I did the same thing – and then on the 3rd and 4th. I left the document open on my desktop as a constant reminder. During midterms and finals week, I didn’t have time to write a page-long entry, but I made sure to at least write a sentence or two. I wrote about anything that stuck out to me that day – who I was with, what I ate, how I felt, why I felt that way etc. It’s not glamorous and it’s not the kind of content I’d submit to a literary magazine, but it’s still writing.

So if you’re serious about writing and developing as a writer, but find yourself unable to write, this might be a helpful exercise for you. Buy a cheap notebook or start a new document, title each entry with the date, and write whatever your heart desires. Don’t agonize over what you choose to write down or the quality of what you write. The most important thing about writing something everyday isn’t necessarily the content – though the content does has value – but developing the habit. All you need to do is spit something into a notebook or an open Google doc for a few minutes a day and that alone will suffice. Because at the end of the day, you practiced writing. In the process, you’re developing your voice, your style, and the habit.
And hey, maybe one day you’ll reread what you wrote and use it as the frame for your next novel! So stop making excuses and start writing.