Being Brave

   We know there are phrases that will undoubtedly change our lives. I love you’sand I do’sboth bringing cheerful memories or associations along with them. However, there are other words we hope we never have to hear. Your little sister has canceris definitely on the list. I was fourteen when my younger sister, Grace, was diagnosed with precursor t-cell lymphoblastic lymphoma, a rare type of non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

   I had been out of the country with my mom for a couple of weeks, and when I returned home my dad urgently requested that I come over the next day. I had no idea what was going on, but being fourteen, I automatically assumed I was in trouble for something. The whole drive over I prepared myself for a lecture that never came, but instead heard my Dad say the words Grace has cancer. Time seemed to stop at that moment. Everything felt heavy, the air, my limbs.  I didnt know what to say. Should I ask questions? What questions am I suppose to ask? How can you subtly ask if your three-year old sister is going to die? My dad kept talking about how the cancer was aggressive. At fourteen I wasnt aware that there were nonaggressiveforms of cancer. I focused on breathing. He asked me if I wanted to go play with Grace upstairs. I nodded.

   I went upstairs to play with my sister, unsure if I should be acting normal. At three years old one of her favorite games was dress up. I found her in her bedroom among assorted plastic jewels, shiny bows and itchy dresses. She was beaming when I walked in, proud of her collection. She handed me a purple hairbrush and asked me to do her hair. I slowly combed her soft brown curls while she looked through the assortment of bows and barrettes. After a few moments of silence, she said, Sissy, its okay if some of my hair falls out; its because of the medicine.I was stunned by her candid tone. I focused on brushing her hair to keep from crying. But then my sister turned around and looked at me and said: Its going to be okay, because Im being very brave.

   Today my sister is nine years old, finished with treatment, and less than a year away from being cleared. She has been busy helping organize toy drives and working with the hospitals dog-therapy program to help provide some joy and comfort to the kids still going through treatment. In her two years of treatment, she fought like hell to keep her spunk and sunshine demeanor, some days, though, got the best of her. Yet, on others, like the day at the park when two older boys made fun of her not having hair, she had the courage to go up to them and say, Well, I have cancer and Im cute. 

   Im so incredibly proud of her. I know some people are proud because she beat it. As happy as I am about that, it feels wrong to say because along the way I met so many other children who werent so lucky, and its not because they didnt fight hard enough. Im proud of my sister for keeping her spirit and positivity and having the insight to use them to give back even at such a young age. Ive tried to learn from her and have a more positive outlook. Thats why even though Grace has cancerdid change my life, Im choosing to focus on Its going to be okay because Im being very brave.

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The Importance of being Alone

Alone time. It’s a strange concept where we, naturally social creatures, take time for ourselves. This isn’t constricted to just sitting in your room watching Netflix, it can be anything! Of course, fill it with Netflix binges if you want but some might fill it with running, others with a much needed nap. Personally, I have always struggled with this concept. I struggled to the point that when I was alone I would panic as if I were doing something wrong. As if there had to be something I needed to do or someone I needed to see. It took me till this semester to realize the true glory of alone time.

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The Bus Mishap that Shaped a Friendship

It was the start of Spring Break. In Boston, the sun had finally begun to shine warming the air to a beautiful fifty-five degrees. The city was flocking with families taking their kids into the Common to play, friends grabbing coffee and basking in the sun, and runners freed from treadmills going up and down the Esplanade.

Federica, my soon to become best friend, and I were all packed for our trip to New York, ready to visit what we both considered our future home. We’d both traveled before, but this was our first real girls trip, no supervision.

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I’m Not Done Growing: My Journey Towards Body Positivity

At 20 years old I stand at 4 feet 9 inches tall, the same height I have been since approximately 12 years old. With this package came tremendous insecurity, not only about my height, but about my body in general. From the way my friends loomed over me in group pictures to my size of my jeans I am no stranger to the body image issues that plague so many today, especially teenage girls.

Continue reading “I’m Not Done Growing: My Journey Towards Body Positivity”

So Someone You Know Has Published an Article for “Thought Catalog”

Or Her Campus. Or The Odyssey Online. Or Total Sorority Move. Or any other “platisher” (a portmanteau of platform and publisher) website that produces content aimed at a millennial women, with the intent of getting as many clicks as possible.

It happens to all of us who have Facebook accounts. You’re scrolling down your Feed, past the new photo albums, shared videos and there it is: your friend/classmate/acquaintance proudly boasting about the personal essay they wrote for a content website.

The picture is most likely tinted blue, with a stock footage model not looking at the camera. The headline kills you. It’s another one of those “open letters” or an article about why they “totally should” date some kind of girl. Either way, the amount of times you’ve seen these click-bait headlines is excruciatingly often.

And now, your friend has succumbed to the click-bait webdemic.

So what do you do?

Let’s just say I’ve encountered these enough to come up with a step-by-step guide as to how to react to these types of situations. In the form of a listicle.

Step 1. Open it. You must.

Step 2. Immediately search the post for any clues about you.

(It’s better to call them out if they have listed you directly in the article. It’s more relevant.)

Step 3. Rate their use of GIFS. Because why not?

Step 4. What are they bragging about? According to Gawker, there are 5 types of Thought Catalog posts, but I would extend this to any platlisher. Deciphering what kind of post it is will help you if you decide if you should confront them about the issue.

Step 5. If it is someone you truly care about, contact them privately as to why they would publicly embarrass themselves like this.

Step 6. Sit back and ponder why it is mainly women who fall victim to the pseudo-personal-essay trap. Wonder if this really is the best way for women to start out in the online writing game and if it is, do they go anywhere after this? Will any news organization  really want to look at your writing if all you have are articles bragging about how you’re a “laid back kind of girl” through J.Law reaction gifs? (I thought I was being “relatable” with this sentence, but apparently there is a whole section of literature of this sort.)

I realize this post is basically a prolonged sub-tweet. But the amount of times I’ve been able to decode someone’s personal life based on what I know from them and what they write in these articles is too much for me to be comfortable with as a 20-year-old. Think about it for a second: If the girl who’s been dating the same guy since high school posts an article with the headline “15 Things You’ll Do When You Think About Your High School Boyfriend,” do we really have to guess who it’s about? Of course it’s about Jonathon, the guy she’s been dating since the homecoming dance freshman year. Why would someone do that, especially when you consider the types of people that are seeing these posts? Her aunt and favorite English teacher are probably friends with her on Facebook and can totally comment on it.

As for  the content of these articles? They aren’t well-written. It would be a stretch to even call them articles; they are 21st century diary entries for an audience of millions. Most of the time, these posts are written with the underlying message of “Look! I’ve done this!” disguised with the cover of “advice.” The hangover posts, dating posts and the sex posts all say one thing: I have done this and I want to tell everyone I’ve done this, but it would be weird and socially unacceptable if I just bragged about it, so I wrote about it for a website.

Self-awareness is the number one thing many of these young writers lack. These “platlishers” aim their content primarily at college-aged women; thus, they are written by primarily college-aged women. As an aspiring writer, I know how difficult it is to get published. But the web is a world wide place; there are so many sites you can write for if you want to get published. Articles like these are property of the sites they are posted on, and are a part of their Internet footprint…forever.

Not every article can be Pulitzer-prize winning commentary, nor should it. “Fluff pieces” have always held a place in journalism, from Dear Abby letters to celebrity interviews, they are fun to read and break up the heavy news the world usually delivers. What this style of writing means for our generation is serious. The tone of these posts are monotonous, just like the algorithm generated headlines that accompany them. What does this mean for young writers looking to find their voice?

To be frank, I don’t even know the answer. But I know it won’t be found in a listicle.

The Struggles of a Starving Writer

The “starving artist” is a condition that everyone who follows their creative talents will fall into at some point of their life. I am not referring to an artist who is literally hungry for food, but one who is hungry for success in their creative field. For these people, like myself, it is overwhelming to try to contemplate how one can possibly make it big in a career that is overridden by people with the same artistic drive. As a writing, literature and publishing major at Emerson, I would love to be a famous novelist in the future, who has people begging her for an autograph at every street corner. Realistically, I see publishers denying my best work that I have put years of love and dedication into. For this reason, I will be starving for affirmation that my passion has been worth working so hard for. Under all of the negativity, finding the drive to continue writing is difficult.

Charles Bukowski puts this struggle beautifully in his poem, “Murder” from his collection of poetry titled, You Get so Alone at times That It Just Makes Sense. He describes the writing process as “competition, greed, desire for fame.” He goes on to explain:

the writing becomes a useless
spasm
a jerk-off of a once
mighty gift.
it happens and happens and
continues to:
the mutilation of talent
the gods seldom
give
but so quickly
take. (Bukowski, 1986, p. 299-300)

His portrait of writing is genuine and the cause for much of the self-deprecation in his work, as he sees himself as an aimless writer who is lost amongst others like him. However, he built his success from his struggles, as many writers do. He became a famous poet and prose writer from writing everyday after he returned home from work during his 15-year profession in the postal service. His dedication is what ultimately fulfilled his “desire for fame.”

Walter Mosley found his success with the same strategy as Bukowski, by writing every day. He is an author known for his crime novels, most notably, his first book, Devil in a Blue Dress. Now with over 40 books under his belt, Mosley publishes as many as two a year. As a half-Jewish and half-African-American man, Mosley started his writing career late, at the age of 34. He had many set backs early on, especially when he made the protagonist of his first novel an African-American.

Earlier in the summer, I saw him speak during a writing conference, at which he told the audience that his first publisher asked him why the detective in Devil in a Blue Dress was a black man. Mosley said that there were plenty of white detectives in novels, so why couldn’t his detective be black? Having overcome the first obstacle of publication, Mosley continued to write routinely, and proudly told of how he writes at least a few hours everyday. When asked how he finds the time, he explained that he just makes it work. How does he find the time for sleep? Because he has to. He takes the same viewpoint on writing. He encouraged the audience to write everyday for a hundred days and they will undoubtedly notice an improvement in their writing over time.

The hurdle for the audience, and many other writers, is finding the motivation. With my desired career in the writing industry, I face the same problem. Taking writing classes at Emerson has given me a reason to work on my fiction writing, but I won’t have the luxury of forced motivation when I graduate college. So how does one write, and become able to profess himself as a writer?

The most detrimental distraction from writing is television and the internet. Since writing is most commonly done during someone’s free time, it is difficult to get into the creative mindset when it would be so much easier to just sit back with some Netflix. What I do to fight this urge is to start reading. When I read a book that I find engaging, it serves the same entertainment purpose as a TV show, but it also creates a sense of motivation. For me, reading encourages me to write in order to be read. If there is something I am reading that is captivating, I feel an urge to create the same experience for someone who is reading something that I have written. If picking up a book is too difficult with my television or computer in front of me, I tend to head to a coffee shop, or a park, or a beach during the summer. The white noise of people talking around me seems to put me at ease when digesting a good book.

Once the motivation has set in, the next hardest step is thinking of what to write. Though I can write about anything at all under the fiction genre, there seems to be too many options and none of them are compelling enough. I get my best ideas in my bed, when I am trying to go to sleep. Granted, this is not going to make me fall to sleep any faster, but it is a time when the silence takes over and I can just think about my passion. Sometimes when I wake up and remember the brilliant idea that I was so excited about right before I fell asleep, I will realize that it is completely absurd, but at least I got to thinking about ideas and maybe even gave myself something to work with later on.

Once I have even a sliver of an idea of what to write about, I like to make an outline. I think of everything and anything that could build off of this idea and write them all down. When starting to write the story, I can look back on my outline for guidance, because sometimes the point of my story will get lost. That being said, sometimes my outline becomes obsolete because I have come up with the best idea while I was writing that has nothing to do with my original plan. That’s great, but not always the case. The outline works so that when I have an idea and it doesn’t go anywhere, I can have some sort of path paved out in advance to guide my story along.

With proper motivation, a compelling story idea, and a constructed plan, writing feels less aimless and becomes an enjoyable and productive activity. Ultimately, not every writer will find fame, and not every writer is looking for fame. Having a passion for writing is the most beneficial part of the creative process. To neglect that passion with laziness and self-doubt is the most detrimental thing that a starving writer can do.

Bukowski, Charles. (1986). You Get so Alone at times That It Just Makes Sense. Santa Rosa: Black Sparrow.

Bunny Hill Champion

When I was 12, I spent a year at Catholic school, and in a desperate attempt to fit in, I joined the ski club. Joining a ski club sounds like an unconventional way to get people to like you but at Notre Dame Academy the ski club was the thing all the cool kids did. Since most of the seventh graders at the school had been skiing since they were old enough to stand up, it was really just a chance for everyone to show off their winter athletic abilities. In other words, ski club was a pretty big deal.

I was not a skilled skier by any means but one of the friends I had managed to make, Carolyn, was an avid skier and convinced me to join. I warned her that the only time I had gone skiing I had fallen off the chairlift and subsequently down the rest of the mountain. However, she seemed to translate that to, “yeah sure, I’m an awesome skier!” and didn’t see the problem.

Before I knew it, it was February: the start of ski club. The first day I found myself awkwardly strapping on some unfamiliar ski boots in the depths of Watchusett Ski lodge wondering what the hell I was doing there. All the girls around me were talking about starting off easy with a blue square slope and then spending the rest of the day on black diamonds. Obviously, I wanted to puke.

Carolyn and I went up on the ski lift together for the first slope. I felt pretty proud of myself when I didn’t fall off the lift like last time but as soon as I began to realize how high the slope was, the vomit reflex started back up again. Carolyn didn’t seem to notice my apprehension at all. So when we finally got off the ski lift and I fell on my face after going barely a foot down the mountain, she was confused.

“Wait,” she said as I tried to desperately untangle my skis from each other while struggling to back get into sitting position, “I thought you said you had been skiing before?”

“Well, if you recall, I told you I was bad at it.”

“Yeah, but I didn’t think you were this bad!”

I stared up at her, helmet askew and snow down my pants, not sure how to respond. I spent the next half hour tumbling in an uncontrolled fall down the hill, stopping every five minutes to pick myself back up while Carolyn verbally berated me on how I was “wasting her time.” When we got to the bottom I was on the verge of tears and she was on the verge of strangling me.

“Okay,” I said, “Since I’m obviously holding you back how about you go off and ski with everyone else and I’ll head over to the bunny hill and practice. That way, for next time, I’ll know what I’m doing.”

That plan sounded absolutely fantastic to Carolyn. She sped off like a bullet for the black diamond slope with her fellow pre-Olympic level skiers leaving behind a wake of manufactured snow. “I’ll come and get you when it’s time to leave!” she yelled over her shoulder.

Lonely, embarrassed, and a little sore, I dragged my ass over to the bunny hill. It was there, on that sad little hump of snow surrounded by three-year-olds and nervous mothers that I taught myself how to ski. I listened in on small children being coached how to do the “pizza” and “french fry” techniques and I did the same. I stayed on that hill until the sun set and the flood lights came on. By the end of the day, I considered myself proficient in the art of skiing.

I figured since it was dark that Carolyn was going to come and meet me soon so we could go get on the bus together. I pulled out my 2007-era flip phone from my pocket to call her and share the good news of my progress when I saw that I had three new voicemails and 13 text messages, all from Carolyn. The first voicemail sounded relatively calm.

“Caroline, where are you? We have to leave soon!” The second one was similar but a little more panicked. “Caroline! Seriously, we need to go!” The third was a full on shout. “WE’RE GOING TO LEAVE WITHOUT YOU, GET ON THE BUS!”

I immediately began to feel all negative emotions at once, fear being the most prominent. What did she mean, where was I? I told her I was on the bunny hill! And when she said “we’re going to leave without you,” did she mean she was already on the bus? I called her back and started hobbling towards the ski lodge.

“Where are you!” she yelled upon answering.

“Carolyn, where are you? What’s going on?” I asked.

“I’m on the bus! We’re going to leave! Where are you, we looked everywhere for you!”

I didn’t have time to answer the question she should have already known the answer to, so instead I just shouted, “DON’T LEAVE WITHOUT ME, TELL THE BUS NOT TO MOVE, I’M COMING!” I kicked off my skis and held them awkwardly in my arms and began to move as fast as I could in my ski boots. The only problem was, I had no idea how to get back to the room where I had dumped all my stuff. I began to cry but it was so cold that my tears just froze to my face. I started asking people around me where “the room with the skis and stuff” was but my lips were so cold I could barely get words out. I think most people thought I was an intoxicated child and simply ran away from me.

Out of breath, lost, and completely hysterical, I dropped my skis to the ground and simply settled with the fact that I was going to be stuck at Watchusett Ski Mountain forever. I would have to live behind the lodge in the dumpsters and adapt to a diet of melted snow and discarded hot chocolate. My family and friends would never see me again. I would simply become a legend: The Girl Who Got Off the Ski Club Bus and Never Came Back. Just as I was wondering whether anyone would pick up the movie rights to such a story, my English teacher and ski club advisor emerged from the crowd around me.

“Caroline Witts?” she asked me. She seemed relieved that she had found me since I’m sure losing a student is something that is frowned upon. I broke down in a mess of tears and snot at the sight of her.  “Did the bus leave?” I sobbed.

“No honey, come on, lets go get your stuff.” She gently guided me towards the building like you would a mental patient as I continued sniffling and apologizing, dragging my skis behind me.

When I finally had my belongings we hurried to the coach bus still parked out front. I was so eager to get inside and sit down that I fell and cut my hands on ice. When I finally pulled myself into the bus, bleeding, sweaty and covered in frozen tears, I was greeted by a chorus of boos. Loud and aggressive boos from all directions. It seems my classmates were not too thrilled that they had to sit in the bus for an extra twenty minutes while everyone looked for me. I sat down next to Carolyn who proceeded to yell at me for how embarrassing I was the whole ride back. I was too exhausted to ask why she had never come and met up with me. I didn’t care at that point. I just wanted to go home.

It may come as a surprise, but I eventually came to enjoy ski club. I got better and made more friends and towards the end I almost forgot about the whole horrific first day. However, for the rest of the school year, I was given a new nickname, Bunny Hill Champion. Not quite as catchy as The Girl Who Got Off the Ski Club Bus and Never Came Back, but still legendary.

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Photo Credit: Ben Wesemann