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Facts // a story by Lauren Bryan

Posted by on May 4, 2017 | Comments Off on Facts // a story by Lauren Bryan

Facts // a story by Lauren Bryan

The average human being walks a total distance of three times around the earth by the time they die.

This is something Isla Naomi Griffin has always remembered. Other facts her brain retains: the quadratic formula, the capital of Canada, exactly how many prime numbers there are from one to one hundred. Facts her brain can not retain: her name, her age, her parents, her life. On the outside, she looks normal. In fact, with her borderline almond eyes the color of a storm cloud, her raven colored mane drying in ringlets, her round face with a prominent chin, she looks more like a boxer than a “memory challenged” teenage girl. People told her so. Not that she remembered.

Every morning follows the same schedule of events. The following is a description of how her morning’s commence: Isla wakes up, her eyesight muffled by her gray plaid sheets, crumpled into a ball. She has no idea exactly where she is, or how she came to get there, but she does know to shift onto her back, so she can stare up at the ceiling. She reads what stains it in scrawling blue ink. “Your name is Isla Naomi Griffin. This is your home. Your parents are going to come get you.” After she reads this note that her previous self has written her, she’ll move her eyes a fraction of an inch to the left and soak in the name that takes over the rest of her ceiling. Ari Gray Loften. Then she’ll speak it out loud, and a sense of happiness will make her heart jump into a perfect toe touch.

At precisely six, the doors to her bedroom will open, her parents will enter, and, with words that have long ago been memorized, they will tell her what is wrong with her. They’ll assure her they aren’t aliens trying to brainwash her, and that, no, they haven’t kidnapped her from her actual parents. Then they’ll help her out of bed on unsteady feet, lead her to the bathroom and turn on the heated tile flooring, and remind her of the day’s events. She’ll shower. Eat breakfast. Get ready. Go to school. Then she’ll sink into utter and complete embarrassment.

This morning is no different. The only deviation from the normal routine is the command her mother states, business-like. “Shave your legs. You have a dance recital today.” Then she is driven to Grand Castle Private School and dropped off before the school’s impressive brick visage and soaring buttresses. As she stands blinking unhappily into the morning sun, shouldering her backpack so it does not slip off, her phone begins to fall. It plummets towards the earth at 9.81 meters per second squared. She notices its absence, though, and whirls around to try and catch it. Instead, she comes face to face with the most beautiful creature she has ever seen.

Ari Gray Loften effortlessly spins the phone to face her, right side up, and smiles. His green eyes dance beneath quirked eyebrows. “You dropped this,” he tells her. Isla does not move, and in the awkward silence, he nervously runs his free hand through his short blonde hair. He does not behave this way with any other girl in Grand Castle, and sometimes he curses himself for choosing the only human being that actually intimidates him as his girlfriend.

“Thanks,” Isla finally stammers, accepting the proffered phone. Then she smiles, and it clotheslines Ari’s heart. Oh, yes. That’s why he chose her.

“Of course, my queen. Anything for you,” he jokes, bowing. When he straightens, Isla isn’t looking at him. She’s walking away. “Hey, wait!”

“I don’t know who you are,” she says, and the agony in her voice tears at Ari’s smirk.

He catches her elbow and she rounds on him. Her muscles tense. “I know,” he says. “I know. Isla, can you guess at who I am?”

She stands perfectly still, like a doe in the meadow, before answering. “You’re Ari, aren’t you?”

“I wait for you here everyday,” he tells her, nodding. “Everyday.”

“And we’re…” Isla starts, but her words catch on the final word. The bell rings.

“About to be late,” Ari answers, letting his hand slide down from her elbow to her hand. She follows reluctantly, and he leads her to their first hour class. They don’t sit next to each other, and it hurts Ari to let her go. For the first ten minutes of A&P, Isla’s lifetime classmates introduce themselves to her all over again. Although Isla laughs and repeats their names and takes their memory jokes in stride, her gray eyes always drift back to Ari’s. Even as Mr. Greg teaches them about the skeletal system, it is as if Ari is her magnet. The cycle continues throughout the day, as he walks her from class to class and tells her which senior has done what and who exactly to stay away from. Even when she meets Hazel, her best friend in dance, she can’t stop feeling as though Ari is the only one she can trust. After all, did she not wake up with his name on her walls?

Lunchtime makes her stomach growl and lurch, and the bell can’t come soon enough. She’s out the door and into the purple-colored hall before anyone can call out her name. While she stands in line waiting for the ketchup, Ari appears by her side.

“And where do you think you’re sitting?” he asks, and the way he says it makes her annoyance spike.

“Wherever you’re not,” Isla snaps, forgetting the condiment and sidestepping away.

“Isla,” Ari laughs, and she bristles. “Did I do something to you?”

“Yes.” Her stormy eyes search the long, rectangular tables that occupy the cafeteria. Maybe she could sit with, um… Ari’s fingers wrap around her elbow and gently steer her the other way, but she digs in her heels. He sighs.

“What? Why are you mad?”

“You realize I know nothing about you. Everyone says that we’re…” Again, she can’t say the word. “Well that we’re us, but how can I be sure? You’re so confident, Ari. You’re so confident, and I’m not. How can you want to be with me? It bothers me.”

“Does it?” he asks, and she snorts disgustedly and yanks out of his grip. “Isla, wait! Wait. I’m sorry, I can’t help it. Come sit with us?” When she turns to stare into his eyes, she is shocked by the change in him. His posture is slack and loose and his mouth has let go of his normal smirk. The bright emeralds that surround his pupils no longer shine.

She takes him in for a moment, letting her eyes dart around his face. “Okay.”

He leads her to the farthest table on the right, and she is greeted by friends—Hazel, Finn, Ashlee, and Jason. Their smiles are real and genuine, and nearly dazzle her out of her mood. Ari sits beside her and watches as she takes in the others’ conversations.

“You can not walk in those heels. You’ll break an ankle!” Hazel exclaims, clucking at Ashlee’s phone.

“I can walk in whatever I want to walk in. I’m planning on being as tall as Nick, so he doesn’t have to bend so much when we dance. Ugh. It was so awful last year.” She pinches her nose and rolls her eyes, but even that gesture can’t ruin her beauty.

“Where are you dancing?” Isla asks, and the group exchanges glances.

“Homecoming, honey. It’s this Saturday!” Hazel eyes Jason and tosses a green bean at him. “Only if Jason actually manages to pick me up on time, that is.”

“Homecoming? Do I…” Isla’s voice wavers. “Do I have a dress?”

“Of course. We bought it last week,” the girls remind her, but it doesn’t make her feel any better. Her head hangs a centimeter closer to the chocolate muffin. Ari fumbles in his pocket and pulls out his phone, flicking through photos until he finds the one he is looking for.

“Here.” She takes the phone into her long, slender fingers and lets it sit in the palm of her hand. For a moment, she can’t recognize herself. The Isla in the photo is smiling and laughing, her hair in a messy bun that frames her head like a peacock’s tail. The dress is a dark, elegant purple, and the bodice is bedazzled in sparkling jewels. Ari studies her face, and then leans over to whisper into her ear. “You look gorgeous.”

Her face reddens, and she hands the phone back to him. “Are we going together?”

Ari blinks. “Of course. I asked you a month ago, at the football game. Do you… do you remember?” It’s not a dumb question, or at least not one made without thought. He does this sometimes, asks for her to dig deep into her mind, just to see if she’s getting better.

She never answers.

The rest of the lunch, she lets go by in silence. The others talk, but her mouth remains firmly set in a thin line while she peels off the wrapper of her muffin. Ari’s food goes cold. School drags by in drowsy lectures, one practice fire drill, and three quizzes. When the final bell rings and the announcements have ended, Ari and Isla find themselves standing alone in front of the school. Every other sensible kid has cleared the perimeter, but they just stand. She hugs her books to her chest, and he shoves his hands in his pockets. When she finally speaks, it makes every nerve in his body fire at once.

“Do you love me, Ari?”

He answers without hesitating. “I love you, Isla Naomi Griffin.”

Slowly, shyly, she turns her head and brushes black curls out of her eyes. “I don’t know you, but I think I love you, too.” Her words are soft and thoughtful, unaware of the effect they have on Ari’s heart. Like she has found some strange creature and doesn’t want to scare it away.

“I know you don’t know me,” he whispers. “Not today. Not tomorrow. Not the day after that.” Pain leeches out of Isla’s chest and collects in molecules beneath her eyes.

“I can’t explain it, Ari. Not to anyone. Not in English. I can feel that you are a huge part of who I am, but I don’t know why or how. It’s at the very edge of my mind, the tip of my tongue, but it will never ever come to me.” She stares at the black converse that don her feet. He stares at her.

“Then don’t say it in English. There’s a word for that. Do you know what it is? The pain of wanting something you can never have.” It’s another test, and Ari regrets the words the moment he speaks them. He shouldn’t be testing her. He shouldn’t be pushing her. She’s upset all ready, and she’s crying, and she has a dance recital, and her makeup might be ruined… He starts to panic. “Hey, listen, forget it. Hazel will kill me if she has to redo your-”

La douleur exquise,” she whispers. The world stops spinning. She remembers, he thinks. She remembers.

“You told me that on our very first date,” he tells her.

“Why?” Isla cocks her head and her curls brush her elbow.

“Because,” he laughs, “I forgot to bring you my dad’s homemade cookies, and you were rather upset about it.” His smile makes her tears vanish.

Her dance recital goes by perfectly. She pirouettes, arabesques, arrastres, calypsos… her mind does not remember the song, but her muscles remember the moves. It’s in her DNA, carved like Egyptian hieroglyphs into her bones. And when Ari gives her a huge, enveloping hug afterwards, she can’t stop herself from throwing her arms around him. The next day, they go on a picnic, and the day after, they decorate the school to match the Homecoming theme. They breathe in helium and laugh so hard they cry, they make masks out of the leftover paper,  they mock Hazel in her seriousness. For every new day, Isla doesn’t remember whom Ari is, but every morning she waits at the edge of the school for the boy she knows will come. Sometimes she is annoyed, and sometimes she is elated. But everyday she waits, and doesn’t quite know why.

One day, he doesn’t show. After her parents leave, she stands there all alone on the sidewalk, waiting, searching the crowd of kids, but no one comes to her. No one. Panic makes her legs tremble and her stomach twist into knots, and even the bell can not move her when it rings. All she knows is that someone was supposed to come get her, and it’s not the red-head walking by or the boy in camouflage letting himself be swallowed up by the school’s ancient mouth. Ten minutes pass, twenty, thirty… the sky begins to cry. It allows only a few tears to succumb to gravity and splatter into millions of pieces at her feet. Isla wonders if she should just go home.

“What are you doing?” a high, clear voice raises above the sky’s mourning. Isla twists to look at her, the girl peering out from the doors.

“Where is…” but she can not fill in the blank with a name she does not know.

“Isla!” The girl trots outside, trying to shelter her caramel hair from the rain. As her face gets closer, relief nearly brings Isla to her knees.

“I know you,” she says, and her smile wobbles.

“I’m Hazel. Why are you standing outside? You have to come in,” she snaps, but she isn’t mad. She wraps her best friend in a hug and leads her towards the doors.

“I was waiting for…” Her eyebrows wrinkle.

“Ari is sick today. He should’ve told your mom. I’m sorry, I thought you were in your first hour!” Hazel laments.

“It’s okay.” But the rest of the day is not. Her mind refuses to focus, and the facts she should have remembered from yesterday vanish into the murky mess that swallows her memories. School is tasteless and bland, just like the air that fills it, and all Isla can do is breathe it in and try not to gag. Hazel told her that she had been waiting for Ari, but something else was missing. Something Isla could never have without him.

She skips dance practice, and her mom has to drive her home. “What’s wrong, sweetie? Isla, please talk to me. Tell me what’s wrong? Do you know who I am?”

“I know who you are,” she says, but that’s the only sentence she utters the rest of the ride. The moment the car stops moving, she jumps onto the ground and races inside. Her father’s “hey, pumpkin,” is ignored. There is only one destination in mind.

Her mother follows, face twisted in defeat, and her father gestures angrily at her. Arguing fills the kitchen. Car keys are slammed down onto the counter, and shouting is amplified by the walls that are closing in around Isla. Her shoulder slams into the corner. Her breath hisses out of her. Yelling. She opens her door. Cussing. The door slams closed. She huddles onto the bed and muffles the world with her gray plaid sheets before closing her eyes and praying for her memories to be taken.

~

He is waiting for her the next morning. His throat is raw from too much coughing, and the pain that bounces around between his temples is a constant burden, but he forgets all of this when he sees her step out of the car. She wears black leggings and a loose fitting blouse that blooms with red and white roses, and her hair is pulled up into a ponytail.

“Hello again,” Ari says, and smiles. She just looks at him. He sucks in a breath and prepares to explain who he is, as he does everyday, but she stops him.

“You weren’t here yesterday,” she growls.

“Yes.” He pauses. “How do you know that?”

She flashes her palm at him, and he briefly catches the ink staining her skin. Then she storms away, heaving open the doors and not looking back. Ari follows her at a brisk jog, alarmed. What did he do? What happened yesterday? He doesn’t get to ask her, though, because her long legs have already carried her to first period class. Ari stops in the middle of the hall and places his hands on his head, closing his eyes. She had been so good this week…

“Having issues?” Hazel asks, and Ari opens his eyes to find her standing in front of him with her hands on her hips.

“She hates me.”

“You left her. You didn’t text her mom.” Hazel sighs and shakes her head. “You know she’s fragile, Ari. I don’t understand-”

“She’s many things, but you and I both know she’s not fragile,” Ari snaps.

Hazel shuts her mouth, and her brown eyes blink sadly at him. “Don’t lie to yourself.”

“She’s not fragile.”

“She has a disease!” Hazel hisses, walking closer. “I know she fights hard. I know she’s spirited. I’m her best friend. I know. But there’s only a couple things holding her together and you’re one of them. She remembered you yesterday, and she needed you, and you weren’t there.”

They face each other, glaring, two warriors locked in a battle. Even though Hazel is a foot shorter, it’s an even fight, and at last Ari sighs. “I was sick.”

“Suck it up and say sorry,” she growls, and then turns her back and walks away.

Ari’s late to class, and Isla refuses to make eye contact with him when he slides into his seat with a mumbled apology. When first hour is over, though, she waits for him to leave the room.

“Hey,” he speaks, brushing her arm with his.

“Hi.”

“I’m sorry I left you yesterday. I was sick,” he frowns. “Forgive me, my queen.”

“I’ll think about it,” she says, but the beginnings of a smile have started to form at the corners of her mouths, tugging at her dimples.

“You missed me yesterday?” he asks, teasing.

She turns her gray eyes his way and says, flatly, with no emotion, “I don’t remember, I just know you weren’t here.” They are silent on their way to second hour. They don’t speak a word over lunch. Inside, though, Isla is screaming. Yesterday had been the start of something awful, of forgetting more than usual, of feeling less and less, and it has carried over to today. Her brain whirrs and works and tries to access the files of memory she desperately wants, but it won’t. She is totally and completely numb. Her body is betraying her. In algebra, she can not answer a single question.

Hazel asks her what is wrong, placing perfectly manicured nails gently on her shoulder. “You’re off today.”

“Was I off yesterday? I’m not entirely sure,” Isla replies darkly.

“Don’t feel sorry for yourself. You’re better than that,” her friend chides.

“There’s a term that scientists use when mentally ill or sick people have what looks like sudden recovery. They feel better, they understand everything that’s going on around them… It’s called terminal lucidity.”

“You’re not going to die,” Hazel snaps.

“It’d be better if I did,” Isla whispers. Without warning, Hazel reaches down and grabs Isla’s hands in hers. Isla waits, hair sticking to her cheeks and eyelashes. “Why can I remember that, and not him? Never him. Never you. Never me…”

“Do you know what this means?” asks a voice, and the two girls whip around to stare at Ari. The paper in his hand droops and his mouth is still open. “Sorry, did I…”

“I can’t go to Homecoming with you,” Isla says, matter-of-factly, the normal fluctuation in her voice now gone.

“What?”

“I’m not going to go to Homecoming with you.”

Ari’s eyes flick towards Hazel, but she’s just as surprised as he. “Why?”

“Because,” Isla says, looking away, “I won’t remember it.”

“We’ve gone to dances before. Why is this different?” Ari asks. His words hint at fire and water all at once. “Do you remember the last one?”

“You know I don’t.”

“Why?”

“What do you mean why?” Her eyes flash. “How dare you. You know why.”

“You don’t remember, but I do.” His entire demeanor changes, and his shoulders slump in defeat. “Don’t you understand? It doesn’t matter if you remember it. For those twenty four hours, it’ll be all yours. And me? I’ll get to see your beautiful face over and over and over again because I’ll remember for both of us. I promise. Please.” His voice cracks. “Please.”

She bites her lip and a stray tear rolls down her cheek, but she doesn’t speak.

“Do this. For me. I’ll do anything. I’ll videotape it if you want, or I’ll wear a GoPro on my head, or…” he trails off when she starts to laugh, a noise that resounds from deep in her chest, bright and clear.

“Don’t do that… don’t wear a GoPro,” she chuckles. “Just buy me flowers.”

Ari’s cheeks light up and his eyes brighten. His strong arms scoop her up into a hug. “I’ll buy you the whole world if that’s what you want.”

~

Isla can’t stop moving. She glides over the floor, her feet never falling still. Sometimes she trips and lands on her side, but Hazel is always there, laughing, helping her up. They have the studio all to themselves. It’s technically not a day for practice, but they went anyways, calling in to their teacher to ask for the code. Even though her chest gasps for air, and beads of sweat drip down her neck, and the bottoms of her feet ache from too much work, she doesn’t regret coming.

It’s the only way to release the happiness that demands to be used.

“He’s so amazing. How can he deal with me all the time? How can he handle my issue? I’m one hundred and ten percent sure he’s not of this world!” Isla gushes. “Will you help me get ready for the dance? Please?”

“Of course,” Hazel smiles, grabbing her hand and pulling her towards the stereo. While she scrolls searching for their music, Isla sighs and falls to the floor, letting her hair land in pieces across her face.

“I can’t believe he’s mine. Mine, mine, mine, mine,” she squeals from behind her raven colored curtain, which tickles her nose. “He’s so handsome, and funny, and smart. He’s-” The door opens, and Isla lifts the hair out of her face. Hazel whips around. They stare as Isla’s parents stumble onto the dance floor.

“Isla! Thank God…” her mother’s voice trembles.

“What’s up, Mom? Dad?” Isla asks, standing up. She’s never seen her mother so… so not perfect. So disheveled. Her makeup is smeared in dark clouds beneath her eyes, and the foundation she uses has nearly rubbed off completely. As they watch, her hands begin to tremble.

“It’s Ari,” her father says, grabbing his wife’s hand. “He’s dead.”

“And he… he had this…” her mom says, pulling something out of her pocket.

Isla’s eyes drift down to the crumpled corsage in her hands, and her heart stops beating.

~

When the door to her bedroom opens, Isla doesn’t bother to look for who it is. She just stares up at the ceiling and reads his name, over and over and over. She rolls the syllables, the vowels, the consonants around in her mind and urges them into her bloodstream.

“Isla Naomi Griffin,” her mother begins, voice groggy from waking up. “We’re your parents. You were born with a very rare disease that-”

“I know, Mom,” Isla says, stopping her cold. “I remember. Everything.” And she does. Only, for the first time in her life, she wishes it wasn’t true. She remembers yesterday, how he said he would buy her the whole world. She remembers their argument, their agreement, her parent’s announcement. She remembers the news. Ari Gray Loften was killed in a hit-and-run accident, crossing the street to get to his car. He was going home after buying his girlfriend the flowers he had promised so she could have the Homecoming she always wanted.

Without waiting for her parents to speak, she rolls over, curls up in a ball, and presses her face against her pillow. She lets the tears make translucent splotches on the fabric. She stays like this for two hours until she can cry no more, and then she calls Hazel. Her best friend can barely speak, especially after Isla tells her she knows exactly who she is, but Hazel agrees to help. Her parents do, too. They start cleaning the house, and go to the store to get food while she showers.

They start to show up as the sun bleeds across the sky.

Their coats, which they hang on the many hooks upon their hall, soon cover the hardwood flooring. Shoes pile up in the entryway. Music blares across the house and makes the walls tremble with its bass. In the kitchen, sandwiches and sympathy cards are served on the same tray. Kids and adults occupy the Griffin’s house, stare at the pictures on their walls, spill on their floors, dance in their living room. Nobody cares about the mess. They only care about him.

It’s amazing how the human brain works. Isla can not remember anything beyond yesterday. She only remember his death. But at this celebration of life, the celebration that is laced with agony and defeat, she meets him all over again. They tell her about how they first met, what their first date was, why he hated the card game named after a cow’s excrement. (Hint: She beat him. Every. Time.)

She falls in love with him all over again.

When she is so full of his memories that she feels as though she will burst, she retreats into her bedroom and sits, cross-legged, on her bed. The corsage holds her attention and blurs out everything—the music, the people, the chatter, the crying. She sees only him. And then she grabs the red pen that sits on her bedside table and starts writing. She records every single word she just heard, and she marks them on every inch of her skin. Ink stains her hands, her arms, her legs, her feet, and the pen’s tip bruises her. Isla does not care. One single fact keeps her writing.

She’s not going to remember him. This is a truth. As much of a miracle today is, she knows it will not last. She gets up and erases sections of her chalkboard walls that speak of her school schedule, or her extended family, or when her next test is, and she fills them with everything she knows she will forget. The way his eyes would light up when he saw her. The way he said her name. The way his face looked every time she told him she couldn’t remember who he was. At some point, the people begin to leave. The D.J. packs up last of all. When the music is gone, she knows the house is empty, but she doesn’t care. She hopes he knows it was never about them. This party, it was not about them or their memories. It was all about him.

When she has finished all the recording, she grabs the corsage and settles back into her bed. Her head tips back and she stares up at her ceiling, at his name, wondering how letters could look so much like stars. And she begins to speak.

“Ari Gray Loften,” she says, and the name sends shivers down her spines. “If I could give up every single memory in the world, every useless fact, every math equation, and exchange it for one more minute with you… I would.

The average human walks a distance of three times around the earth by the time they die. You never made it that far, but I’m so glad I got to walk your journey with you, even if I didn’t remember any of the steps after we had taken them.”

Her heart. It hurts so bad. She closes her eyes and wonders how it is still beating.

“When they ask me how I feel, I won’t be able to tell them. They’ll never understand the pain I’ll sense everyday I step onto the school’s curb, or I sit down for lunch, or I go on picnics. La douleur exquise. You are the thing I want but can never have, and I’m glad that you are the one who is causing me to feel this way. You’ll be like music to me, Ari. Music and dancing. Even if I’m born again, you’ll still be part of my DNA. Death can not change that.”

She says this, and realizes it is true. She slides under the sheets. She lays her head on her pillow, her dark black hair fanned out behind her, and curls up in the fetal position. For a minute, she lets her stormy gray eyes stare at the flowers around her wrist.

“I might forget your name, but I will always feel your pain,” she whispers. “And I’m grateful.”

She falls asleep thinking only of him.

Lauren Bryan is a sophomore at Wethersfield High School in Kewanee Illinois. She worked on this story in the Iowa Young Writers’ Studio’s Spring 2017 online fiction course taught by Liz Weiss.

The Insoluble Pancake

Posted by on Aug 30, 2016 | Comments Off on The Insoluble Pancake

“It is nearly an insoluble pancake, a conundrum of inscrutable potentialities, a snorter.”

—Flann O’Brien, The Third Policeman

Tu-Alan

Alan Tu

I commence my search in the bookstore titled “Prairie Lights.” It is not situated in a prairie. At the entrance there is a sign that decrees “World Famous Bookstore & Poke Stop.” A mingling materializes in my mind. Maybe I’ll remember what I’m looking for. A hardcover volume? A Pokemon? If so, I am quite undeniably certain that this is the right place to start. I cannot go in immediately because there are two doors. I have already encountered a tricky problem, a nearly insoluble pancake. Is one healthier than the other? Is one an exit only? Perhaps both are exits, and the entrance is inscribed on a different face of the building. My brain is already scrambled, I pancake eat just to want my now. At that moment a melodious voice says-sings “excuse me” and a girl swings open the door on the right. She disappears behind the oak. I stare at the slab of wood, slowly rotating clockwise around its hinge…at the last second I wedge my hand in the narrow crevice and wrench the door open. I walk inside with a dignified air.

I consider asking the woman at the desk the following question: What am I looking for, and can I find it in here? She will probably ask me a question as a reply, such as: I don’t know. Are you looking for a book? It is certainly possible that I am looking for a book; however it is equally likely that I am looking for something else entirely. So I decide not to stress her out until I figure out what I am looking for. I wander through the store, my gaze sprinting left to right along the spines of books, occasionally hurdling over a few that look boring. None of the titles ring a bell, though I do see the name Flann O’Brien. I knew a Flann O’Brien once. After I finish the fiction section I walk over to the next shelf but I realize that I am wasting my time; maybe it is a book that isn’t in this store, maybe it is a book that hasn’t yet been published. So I am quite sure it is not a book. Because I know I will find what I’m looking for in this town. But I might as well look around a bit more; this is a nice bookstore, and I may never come again. As I am wandering I see a girl picking books off a shelf and tasting them. I believe it is the same one with the mellifluous voice. She is doing this with a big smile. There is one book that she does not put back; eventually she takes this one to the front. She wears a sky blue lanyard with a key and card hanging from it. I have bumped into some blue lanyards today already. They seem to be very significant—does the lanyard represent wealth and distinction, like a toga praetexta? A mingling once again materializes in my mind; this time, though, it feels almost epiphanic, and with it comes a memory; not a memory, really, but a feeling, a feeling of superb happiness at the sight of so many books. A faint smile emerges on my face.

I buy the book by my friend Flann O’Brien. The synopsis on the back is very weird (a book inside of a book, it says), but he’s a weird person, I remember. After the cashier bags my book, I ask, Can I exit through either door? She looks at me curiously, then her face resolves into a smile and she says, Of course, any door you like. I thank her and walk out through the door on the right (which, you may notice, is not the one I came in through).

Now, on the sidewalk, I am lost. I look left and right (and up, for that matter), trying to determine which way I should go. Almost everyone is walking left to right, so I shall follow suit. I watch as a spaghetti of people go by (several of them wearing blue lanyards) and I casually insert myself into the noodle. For some reason I decide to follow two boys with blue lanyards. They seem to know what they are doing. Of course, I do it casually, keeping my distance; otherwise they could get suspicious. But they are talking with great density and prolixity, so I don’t think I will have a problem.

The lanyards cross the street twice, both times during the red hand signal. I stay behind and wait, not wanting to be hit by a car. I watch as they slowly amble across, then horrified I see a large vehicle driving down the road toward them at a not inconsiderable speed! I almost cry out in despair. The car approaches closer and closer and then I close my eyes.

When I look again, I have the person-in-motion signal. I pick up my pace, hoping to keep up with the lanyards (who, luckily, are still ambling and jabbering). Suddenly they disappear. I run up to the point of disappearance, and look down. Sewer drain. I look to the right, and see them behind a glass door. I enter the building (“Java House” it is called) and immediately I feel a sense of happiness. The rich smell of coffee permeates the air. I don’t like the taste of coffee (no matter how many sugars I put into it), but its aroma is heavenly. The café is rather large, yet very warm and cozy. As I wander around I see a table of blue lanyards, though not containing the two I followed earlier. They are typing on laptops or reading while drinking coffee (though I can’t say for sure it is coffee). They are all extremely focused on their own things, yet they radiate camaraderie—the lanyards must have special powers.

Suddenly they all rise from their seats simultaneously, closing laptop lids and notebook covers and whatnot. The four of them push their chairs in and head toward the entrance. I think they are on a mission, as they are walking with great fervor and anticipation. I can hardly keep up—and by that I mean stay at an average distance of ten meters behind.

I trail them for about five minutes, catching snippets of their conversation but not able to concatenate them into sense. Soon, after crossing a street on a red hand signal, they say some final words and split. I don’t know whom to follow. Then I recognize the girl from the bookstore—how did I not notice the book in her hand? I decide to go wherever she goes, which is into a building—there is nothing special about it, really. It’s just a gray building named Phillips Hall. She walks up the stairs one-by-one, quite slowly, so I must either go one-by-one or do a very slow two-by-two. I choose the latter. She still hasn’t looked below her—I guess it’s normal for someone to follow you up a staircase. But she holds the door open for me, and smiles. I smile back, but am puzzled. Does she know me?

As we walk down the hall, I feel like a restless Geiger counter.

She stops at a door, opens it, and walks in. I follow her gingerly, and see a room of ten other students (including the girl who just walked in, that is) and a teacher. I think I’ve found where I belong. As I sit down, a swinging object lands on my desk. I see a key and a card. I trace a string of blue all the way around my neck.

“Great! Everyone’s here. Let’s get started.”

Alan Tu is a tenth grader at Pittsford Sutherland High School in Pittsford, New York. He attended Session 2, 2016 of the Iowa Young Writers’ Studio.

Not the Typical Cliquey Pods

Posted by on Aug 23, 2016 | Comments Off on Not the Typical Cliquey Pods

nick making a taco

Nick Johnson, post-camp, making himself a “non-dormitory” taco

I’ve lived in Eastern Iowa all my sixteen years. As such, I’ve visited Iowa City many times in my life, because my grandma lives there (she fuels my writing habit by providing companionship at City of Literature events and buying me books). However, before the Young Writers’ Studio, I had never set foot on the University of Iowa’s campus. Overall, there were many surprising things—pleasant and not—that I realized during my time at the Studio.

I’d been looking forward to the Studio actually since my freshman year. Upon seeing that they accepted “exceptionally talented and mature freshmen”, I figured I should hold off another year—plus, assembling a portfolio ended up being a lot more involved than I had initially thought. When I went at it this year, I knew I wanted to use the novel I’d been writing, as a) that was my only big project, and b) I was really looking for critique and readership, and figured “What better place to get that than an intensive two-week writing camp?”

The dorm food was oh-so-nicely marketed as “sumptuous culinary delights.” I’m just going to stop here and quote my amazing teacher, Maria Kuznetsova: “Um, no. Just no. Moving on…” When I didn’t want to eat dorm food, I loved the free rein we were given to explore and find food elsewhere. The Studio-sponsored activities—readings and the cat-filled rolling-hill paradise that is the Pizza Farm, namely—were all phenomenal. At every reading I attended, the wordsmiths (of all mediums and genres!) were genuinely happy to be there, as were we as Writers from Diverse Locales.

Writing exercises have always been frustrating for me. The main reason is because if it’s restrained to a certain topic or length, my writing extends beyond the word length and ends up taking a totally different approach to the topic at hand. The morning Stretch sessions and other things we did in class, however, embraced those two qualities and really let me be me in that regard.

The Missions Inscribable were something I always looked forward to; like a box of chocolates, I never knew what I was going to get. Seeing as each class only had one teacher, these provided a nice, easy way to get acquainted with the others. Additionally, the different styles of writing allowed us to get outside of the respective focuses (fiction, poetry, and creative writing). One of my favorites was definitely Christine Utz’s murder mystery at the Natural History Museum. I haven’t really gotten into a character before as deeply as that, and a whodunit is always fun.

One other thing I found in Iowa City, besides the sweltering days that occupy most of summer in Iowa, was a vast network of friends. And, I might add, not just casual acquaintance types, and certainly not the typical cliquey pods found in most settings populated by high school students. I found people who, in the end, have proven themselves to be wonderfully talented, compassionate, and charismatic in a just-shy-of-overwhelming way.

The talent shows were a fantastic way for a whole bunch of introverts to emerge from their self-created caves, and really did a great job of showcasing the many diverse talents we had there. I’m also lumping karaoke in with this as well, as I for one was eventually convinced to join into “Bohemian Rhapsody.” Everyone was engaged and supportive, which was really great considering the sheer awkwardness of the whole crowd.

Shame Prom…where do I start? The decor enhanced the experience tenfold, and having the leftover fries from graduation dinner certainly helped as well. My mild fear of dancing in public was pretty much negated, at least for that night. Seeing Judge Judy and shamed dogs on the screen alongside celebrities such as our very own Sloth Daddy made the whole experience absolute gold.

It was a great idea to create an anthology of everyone’s work, even if I didn’t get to contribute to it myself because I was overcaffeinated and working to get the project finished. I’m really happy I was able to use my graphic design skills as well, as that was another staple of conversation between my friends and me.

The weekend Dunk Tanks provided a much-needed break from the seminar/workshop routine of the weekdays. I chose songwriting, and was not disappointed. As a guitar player, I’d previously tried to blend my writing and musical skills to no avail. With the right balance of guidance and free writing time, this mini-class made me not only a better musician, but a better writer as well. When we broke down song lyrics into syllables and looked at rhyme schemes, it tapped into the poet side of me—something that I’ve tried to coax out, but it’s never productive.

As the end of camp grew distressingly closer, I tried to get as much contact information as I could from all of my friends. Socialization and writing help were my two main goals, after all. Even now, after all this time (only a few weeks, feels like eternity), I still am deeply saddened by the lack of late night lobby chats and pie shake incidents (it was sad, but also entertaining. Regardless, we don’t talk about that). With the like-minded crew of writers to aid me, I’ve been able to reach out for edits and complaining about my characters, something I honestly lacked before the Studio.

Would I go back? “Corn”, a simple one word statement-turned-question (sans punctuation) placed in the maw of the Question Hole? Will I probably infiltrate the inner workings of the IYWS just to visit Stephen Lovely? Once again stopping to quote a Studio teacher, this time the illustrious Riley Johnson: “Yes.” You may have noticed my perhaps overuse of parentheses; not entirely an accident nor just playing it off as a writing tic. Parentheses have a beginning, as did the Studio, in which I wasn’t quite sure what I was getting into. Both also have an ending, perhaps bittersweet but completing something that the author put in as an aside. That aside is what matters; it’s the two weeks of hard work, late nights, and sloth jokes that made this summer one of the best yet.

Nick Johnson is a junior at Prairie High School in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. He attended Session 2, 2016 of the Iowa Young Writers’ Studio.

To Iowa City (I left something there) by Mansee Khurana

Posted by on Aug 12, 2016 | Comments Off on To Iowa City (I left something there) by Mansee Khurana

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Mansee Khurana

The first thing that hits you in Iowa City is the weather: a wall of heat that seems to come out of nowhere. The clouds in the sky give no indication of the humidity,
no way of knowing what would come. Sitting in the airport, waiting for a shuttle to take me to the University of Iowa, I really didn’t know what the next two weeks would be like. Before coming to the Studio, I felt stuck. The environment I’ve grown up in puts an emphasis on math and science, and tends to shun those who don’t excel in these fields. I listened to students ridicule English and the humanities, disregarding assignments as unimportant and unnecessary. I never told anyone that I write. When I got accepted to Iowa Young Writer’s Studio, I told two people. I spent the summer waiting, waiting to be somewhere where I could be creative, wanting to leave so that I could write without the fear of being judged. I arrived at Burge Hall, with only three hours of sleep, and prepared (to the best of ability) to meet my home for the next two weeks.

As clichéd as it sounds, Andy Axel was not someone I could have prepared for. A poet by trade, Andy’s classes revolved around getting out of your own head. Writing didn’t have to be serious or have meaning, Andy said, it should be fun and exciting. For me, a nonfiction writer whose main goal was to express an idea, this came as a shock. I had always thought that the main goal of my essays was for others to view it and understand its meaning. But Andy had different ideas. One of our assignments was to just write in gibberish, another one revolved around finding internet comments and creating them into some form of poetry. These pieces didn’t have to be understood, or accepted by a larger audience. They were for you. Andy’s lazy personality and love for poetry was infectious. In this classroom, where the desks were arranged in a circle and we would frequently go off track, I met writers. Teenagers with the same passion as me, who wanted to discuss literature for fun, not because they had to. Everyone wrote differently; the three poets all had a style—prose, structured, and free verse—while the playwright attempted to channel David Mamet, and the fiction writers wrote about new worlds and familiar suburban ones. My classmates were eager to learn and share ideas, everyone’s love for art came out in different ways, and I felt like I had a place among people who didn’t disregard art, but created it.

On my last day at the Studio, I was sitting with one of my friends. We were talking about a book Andy had giving to me, a collection of personal essays by Charles D’Ambrosio.  I made an offhand joke that no one could call me an essayist, because I wasn’t a good writer. My friend got mad, said that I couldn’t say that after two weeks at a writing camp. At that moment, I realized how much I didn’t want to leave this community of writers. These were the people that constantly encouraged me, it was the first time someone hadn’t just nodded at my self hate. At the Studio, I had long talks about the styles of writing, books, and the future. Here was a place where I could share my poetry (something that I never admitted to write), I could talk about writing openly, share unfinished works without being judged. I had discussions about everything, from the correct pronunciation of words to death, and I could call myself a writer and not be ashamed of that fact. I was just me. I was me.

When I got back from the Studio, I felt lost. I started crying in the airport. Walked up to my father with tears in my eyes. He asked me what was wrong and I couldn’t tell him. That for the first time in my life, I was confused about what I wanted to be. Who I was. In Iowa, I was me, but back home, I didn’t know who I was anymore. I wanted to go back, to have more time with friends I might never see again. I wanted to be in a class that could make meaning out of nothing, around writers who would spend all night transcribing a friend’s words just so that they could show him that he was loved. In a town where people sing for fun. The Studio never asked me to learn, or to find meaning in anything, or to attempt to come out of this experience enlightened. I’m not sure if I did learn anything. But the experience, the community and the memories I now have made me realize that I have lost something by coming back home.

Mansee Khurana is a rising junior at Dougherty Valley High School in San Ramon, CA. She attended session 2, 2016 of the Iowa Young Writers’ Studio.

Congratulations to all those who will attend the Iowa Young Writers’ Studio 2016!

Posted by on Apr 18, 2016 | Comments Off on Congratulations to all those who will attend the Iowa Young Writers’ Studio 2016!

Devanshi Khetarpal

Devanshi Khetarpal

The only day my iPad was on mail alert, I felt excruciatingly nervous on my way back home. My mother was driving the car and we had just crossed Bittan Market. My iPad beeped and I jumped to check my email. It was April 1, 2015 and I had been accepted to attend the Iowa Young Writers’ Studio.

Few people knew what it meant for me. The months preceding my acceptance to IYWS were extremely painful. Due to various reasons, mostly stress regarding my academic performance, I had begun to lose faith in myself and my writing.  In fact, this lack of self-confidence made me hate myself. Whenever I was alone, it didn’t take me two seconds to sit somewhere and start crying or disparaging myself. I sometimes went to bed, wishing time would stop.

But after April 1, I had something to look forward to. I had first heard of IYWS in my freshman year and I knew I had to attend the workshop. It seemed as though someone was calling me, something was waiting for me 7,890 miles away from my hometown, Bhopal, India. Actually, a lot was waiting for me.

If you go through the journal I maintained at Iowa, you will see one sentence written on almost every page: “I feel more alive.” How absolutely true it was! I woke up, walked, talked, ate, sat, stood as a writer. For me, each day in Iowa was a day spent in paradise. Deep within I used to think of myself as an unworthy person. I believed I wasn’t as talented as the other writers who I was going to be with. Truth be told, I was on the verge of breaking down one day when I told my teacher, Dan, that my acceptance was probably an error.

I still can’t figure out what magic happened last summer that helped me grow into a better, positive and confident human being. Perhaps I failed to tell my roommate, Chloe, and my friend, Jazz, how empowering and exhilarating their friendship had been. Perhaps I never told my teacher and the fellow poets in my class that they gave me a place where I knew I belonged. Perhaps I never told Stephen Lovely, the teachers and the wonderful counselors how their smiles simply made my day. Perhaps I never told the other campers that without them, I would never have felt so unafraid. Perhaps I never told that wonderful person who once complimented me for ‘having a smile like sunshine,’ that I no longer felt ashamed when I looked at myself or that I had started laughing heartily.

Despite all of this, I must say, I have no regrets. The Iowa Young Writers’ Studio, indubitably, has been the best thing that’s ever happened to me. Not a day goes by without longing to go back to the wonderful place that was Iowa City. Not only do I believe more in the future of writing, I believe in my own voice. I have learned to embrace my roots and know that my dreams are valid. I know that there are people out there who appreciate my poems for what they are. I know that I am the writer I want to be and I will and must continue to grow. I know that home is not the place you come from but where you belong.

Congratulations to all those who will attend the Iowa Young Writers’ Studio 2016! Let the experience mold, surprise, inspire and change you!

 

Devanshi Khetarpal is an 11th grader at St. Joseph’s Convent Senior Secondary Girls’ School in Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh, India. She attended the Iowa Young Writers’ Studio in the summer of 2015.

 

The 2016 Application Period is coming!

Posted by on Jan 15, 2016 | Comments Off on The 2016 Application Period is coming!

High school age creative writers, Hark, Hear Ye, Hey, Yo, Spread the word! The Application Period for the 2016 Iowa Young Writers’ Studio is approaching! We’ll start accepting applications via Submittable at 8 AM central time on Monday, February 1 and stop at 8 AM central time on Monday, February 8. Details about the application process here.

These girls applied, and look how happy they are!

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Fish Tales & More from Session 1, 2015

Posted by on Oct 1, 2015 | Comments Off on Fish Tales & More from Session 1, 2015

20509showingThis past summer, during Session 1 of the Iowa Young Writers’ Studio, fiction writer and radio wizard Liz Weiss took students into the studio at KRUI, Iowa City’s sound alternative, to tell true stories and read from their poetry, fiction, and essays. Here’s the first of two podcasts. You’ll hear about a Russian girl’s family that adopts a pig and conspires to serve it to her for New Year’s dinner; an American patriot who finds a portrait of George Washington hanging in a British aristocrat’s bathroom; a woman who falls through a wall during an earthquake in Japan; a boy who mourns the loss of a cheap watch he bought at 7-11; and a terminally ill fish euthanized in vodka. Enjoy!

Technical difficulties? Contact our Audio Help desk at iyws@uiowa.edu. It’s staffed by a person with absolutely zero expertise, but he’ll try to help.

I Left My Heart in the Burge Lobby by Sarisha Kurup

Posted by on Sep 16, 2015 | Comments Off on I Left My Heart in the Burge Lobby by Sarisha Kurup

 

There is a certain beauty in saying goodbye. The idea that you may never see some place again, some people again, causes such a profound ache, such a flurry of memories, that you can’t help but notice a certain grace in it. Maybe it’s just my teenage melancholy speaking, but that’s how I felt, leaving Iowa.

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Sarisha Kurup painting a page of her accordion book in a Book Arts class at the Iowa Young Writers’ Studio.

We make things more beautiful in retrospect, everybody knows that, but the funny thing is, even when I was at Iowa, even when I was in the middle of a heated discussion about Fitzgerald or Ginsberg or what it means to be a writer in the modern age, there was a little voice in the back of my mind that would whisper, These are some of the happiest times of your life. You will miss these moments later.

My roommate and I began emailing long before Iowa started, very soon after we were assigned to each other. We would share little bits of information about ourselves, the books we loved, the music we couldn’t stop listening to, and all the little things that make a person real—her favorite punctuation mark is the m-dash, her favorite flower is the carnation, her favorite time period is the Renaissance (because Shakespeare!), she’s a granola fiend, she listens to the Inside Llewyn Davis soundtrack just as much as I do. I was stunned at how similar we were, how perfectly we seemed to fit, but when I finally set foot in the Burge Lobby that first day, I realized it wasn’t a coincidence. I had something in common with everyone there. Everyone there could feel the words of great authors, not just read them. Everyone there could write for days on end or argue about Wes Anderson films or tell stories about symbolic turtles, long into the night. We were a motley crew, but we complimented each other perfectly.

I spent two weeks honing my craft in ways I didn’t even knew I could. I spent two weeks learning to find the stories around me, to write the ghosts in characters without ever mentioning their troubles, to hear the poetry in the noise, to turn a city into a sonnet. Every night I went to sleep having written something I wanted to keep, or having read something I never wanted to forget.

I fell in love in Iowa. I fell in love with these people who would risk having to pay overweight fees on their luggage, just so they could bring more books to share and devour. I fell in love with my workshop, a group of people who inspired me and transformed the way that I write, who provided me with a reading list that will last me until my final days. I fell in love with Iowa City, a cement wonderland among the cornfields that bleeds ink and poetry, that opens its cafes and bookstores to young and hungry storytellers clutching Moleskins and watching the world with inquisitive eyes. What I wouldn’t give to relive those two weeks again.

The moment I set foot on the plane back to San Francisco, I knew I had left a piece of my heart behind. It’s still sitting there somewhere—maybe reclining on the couches of the Burge lobby, or lying hidden in the drawer that my roommate and I filled with sugary snacks. Perhaps it’s hidden among the bookshelves of the Iowa City Public Library, where I almost saw Hillary Clinton, or in a coffee cup at Java House, where I curled into a couch at least once a day and just wrote. Maybe it’s nestled somewhere among the cornfields, drinking in the sunlight.

My roommate and I still send each other letters. Not emails anymore, but real, pen-and-ink letters. Every time I tear open one of her new arrivals, I can’t help but feel that ache for Iowa.

There is a certain beauty in saying goodbye, but I don’t think I’m ready to say it yet, even now.

Sarisha Kurup is a junior at The Harker School in San Jose, California. She attended the Iowa Young Writers’ Studio this past summer.

 

A Cohesive Structure of Paragraphs

Posted by on Sep 9, 2015 | Comments Off on A Cohesive Structure of Paragraphs

 

Maya Osman-Krinsky

Maya Osman-Krinsky

I’m sure I’m not the only one, but it’s hard to crystallize my two weeks at the Iowa Young Writers’ Studio into a cohesive structure of paragraphs somewhere between a testimonial and something that’s actually fun to read. But I’ll try anyway, for the sake of Stephen Lovely (he is really lovely!), Sloth Daddy, Margaret Reges, and the crazy, amazing, passionate, sincere family I found in the middle of a state I never thought I’d be enthusiastic about.

I’m listening to Vanessa Carlton, drinking watery orange juice on an airplane from Cedar Rapids to Minneapolis to New York, from home to somewhere that doesn’t quite fit me anymore. This song reminds me of driving and looking out of the window – but it’s all clouds out there and I find myself wishing Iowa still had a place for me – because I’m almost kind-of home and my roommate hasn’t yet left.

And it’s my twenty-seventh consecutive awake hour and this watery orange juice tastes partly-cloudy, like under-salted eggs and a dull whine. I long for 3 a.m., eating Chinese snacks that taste like shrimp and honey and listening to Stevie Wonder really loudly.

I’m sitting here and willing myself to be back in Iowa City. I find some comfort in knowing that I’ll be back in the state for a debate tournament in a little over two months, but it’s hard to find peace in that when I know that the pictures I take there will be missing some of the most important faces in my life.

I got on the plane to Iowa completely blind as to what I was going into. Well, that’s not quite true. My upstairs neighbor, Anna, was also going, but I always thought she was way too cool to want to have a conversation with me, so we largely avoided anything but awkward smiling and eye contact in the elevator on the way up from school. As we got on the plane to first Detroit, then Cedar Rapids, we were making polite conversation about our assigned reading, whose workshop we were in, what we had to come prepared with, and that sort of thing. We were supposed to find three people named Sean, Violet, and Pearse in Detroit, and luckily we did – Violet and Sean were sitting behind us on the plane and Pearse sauntered over at our Detroit gate, sporting a hilariously small suitcase and a hilariously large camera around his neck.

Fast forward to the van from Cedar Rapids to the Studio – I was one of six in a car with four complete strangers and one Pearse, but I knew that we were all here for the same thing and that we were all bubbling with nervous energy and excitement. I really didn’t know what to make of my situation, and honestly, I still don’t. All I can say is that the Studio taught me things I didn’t even know I didn’t know.

I don’t want to go on and on and drone. Andy Axel (my workshop leader and mustachioed man extraordinaire) taught us that if you remember something in too much detail or too frequently, it gets diluted with bits and pieces you may tack on somewhere between remembering and wishing. But I know that every single person I met in those two weeks was willing to welcome me and whatever poetry I threw at them with open arms, and that they would even love me for it. I know that we will still send each other paper letters and emails, and there’s never not a moment I’m relating something from the workshop to what I’m doing in the moment.

I know that I can never listen to the soundtrack of ‘Inside Llewyn Davis’ without thinking of late night writing bursts with my roommate and granola sent from home. I can’t smell peppermint Orbit without remembering long walks around campus, into bookstores and out of the real world. I can’t even think of sloths without remembering our fantastic workshop – our safe haven of desks with the blackboard as our backdrop, sporting quotes from us as proudly as an athlete sports a varsity jacket (but we wouldn’t know. We aren’t sportsy).

It’s really difficult to express just how phenomenal each and every person is. On the very first day, we had to link elbows and realize that whoever was next to us would become our family. We went through countless icebreakers and questions from the Question Hole, made trips to CVS in the rain, spent hours and hours at Java House and Prairie Lights poring over story after story, learned that we had to split pie shakes and that Bohemian Rhapsody karaoke in its entirety burns about 500 calories, and visited the storied Pizza Farm (no, the pizza doesn’t come from the ground, to my disappointment). 

I wish there was a way I could pour my whole experience into a final thought. I’ll leave you with this: if there’s one place that I could say affected me the most, I wouldn’t even hesitate before naming the Studio. It’s the only place I’ve felt my essential self, like I could be sincere and like I didn’t have to hide what I wanted to do because everyone else wanted to do it, too. We no doubt created a bond that will last long after camp is over (CAMP IS NEVER OVER!) and we made friends who will always be willing to read our work, tell us the good and the bad, and who will be there for the rest of our lives (and who will lend us money while we’re writing our magnum opus). We’ll look forward to finding them on the bookshelf, buying their books for our friends and family, or even just pointing and saying “I knew them when!”

Now, please excuse us because we need to speak in private.

Iowa, you don’t know how you’ve changed me. Thank you for everything.

Maya Osman-Krinsky is a junior at the Bronx High School of Science. She attended Session 2, 2015  of the Iowa Young Writers’ Studio.

Finding My People and Reclaiming Myself

Posted by on Aug 17, 2015 | Comments Off on Finding My People and Reclaiming Myself

kayla

Kayla Bruehlman (at a different camp where they do mud archery)

Have you ever thought about how incredible fiction writing is?  Strangers slap words down on paper about fake people struggling in a fake world against fake villains/problems/disasters and somehow make me care enough to weep when a character I adore is thrown to the lions.  It’s beautiful.  It’s why I set out to be a writer.  But if you’re a writer, you probably understand what a lonely existence it can be.

It’s a solitary endeavor few people understand.  I’ve been blessed to have supportive parents captivated with books, and to have friends who write a little.  Even so, I felt alone.  My parents might have an idea of the volatile impact writing has on a person from listening to me ramble excitedly about a new plot development in my novel, or despair over an flat scene on different occasions, but they couldn’t really help me.  I could bounce ideas off my mom, for which I am deeply grateful, but when it came to the actual craft, I needed more.  I needed someone who understood the mechanics of it, who knew the fierce joy of having written a beautiful scene, who experienced the crushing certainty that his or her writing was pathetic and the sheer delight when they realized it was not.  That it was a stunning gift to the world and worth doing.  I wanted to talk with people who enjoyed writing, who loved creating characters and imagining worlds, people whom I could relate with.  I wanted to know people who treated writing as a passion. 

I found that at Iowa.

I found people who cared as much as I did.  I made friends who loved nothing better than to sit over the surprisingly tasty meals offered in Burge and discuss literature, or plot problems.  I learned under brilliant instructors like Ashely Clarke and the hilarious director, Stephen Lovely. 

I’ll never forget my fiction class with Ashley.  I miss our circle of eleven desks where we discussed anything from the plausibility of John’s undead skeletons moving without muscle to the wild crazy theories I threw out that my class actually listened to.  I miss questing out into the artsy city on writing missions.  I miss proofing my classmates’ amazing stories and receiving feedback on my own.  There is nothing more thrilling than hearing people discuss your characters and world like they actually exist.  I had fun figuring out how to steal a taxidermied polar bear from the museum for a writing exercise (the stairs were an issue).  I miss making puppets and costumes for the ridiculous swede Margaret helped us make of The Wizard of Jaws.  I miss the silly and profound questions shoved in the Question Hole.  I miss the late night writing sessions and the inherent comradery of being in a roomful of writers.  These superb human-beings came from all walks of life, with different beliefs and experiences, but all of us were bound together by our passion to write. 

This camp didn’t only change my writing, it changed me.

When I was younger, my parents worried I’d be snatched someday because I would go up to strangers and confidently strike up a conversation with them about anything and would even walk away with them.  As I grew older, though, I slowly became more antisocial, began to question my self-worth and struggled with self-esteem issues.  I still do some days.  As a cause, social situations became awkward, uncomfortable things that made me feel like an idiot.  I hated it.  Understand, no one ever bullied me.  I’m gracious with others, but merciless with myself.

On the last night before we all had to depart, we had a prom themed:  “The Sorrows of Youth in the Context of Youthful Sorrows.” I usually hate dancing.  It’s only ever made me more aware of my inadequacies, but that night, I didn’t care.  I just danced.  And danced.  And had an amazing time.  Later, lying in awake in bed at two in the morning, it struck me how great I felt.  How radiant, how beautiful, how incredibly myself I felt.  It hit me then how comfortable I was with these people; I felt like an equal.  Finally what God has been trying to tell me for years got through to me:  I was special.  I had worth, I didn’t need man’s approval, only God’s.  I felt like I could do anything.     

I still do.  Iowa started the process of reclaiming me, from secret fears, from self-doubt, from the cage I had put myself in.  Of course I still struggle, but I’m stronger now.  More confident.  And it’s a magnificent feeling. 

I originally chose the Iowa Young Writer’s Studio because it was the closest to my home out of all the camps I found online.  If I could, I’d choose it again because the city was beautiful (think cobblestone, trees, and pianos in the street!), the program structured just enough to teach me, but loose enough to let my writing thrive, and the people beyond wonderful.    

It’s the people I miss the most.

This fall I’ll be starting senior year a different person.  And though I will be busy applying for scholarships, fighting senioritis, and rushing to finish my novel before I graduate, I’ll always remember.  The Studio might be done for me (though I still dream about it sometimes), but the impact it had isn’t.  Thank you, Iowa, for the incredible experience. 

Kayla M. Bruehlman is a rising senior at Argyle High School in Argyle, Wisconsin. She attended Session 1, 2015, of the Iowa Young Writers’ Studio.