A Completely Unnecessary Vow

Let’s face it, writing is difficult. It takes a lot of self discipline and motivation to consistently sit at a blank page and say, “Hey, I’m gonna turn a bunch of crazy brain thoughts into literature.” Especially when it comes to long-form fiction where fatigue can often derail a project long before its truly done. But those truly dedicated to their craft always find ways to keep their head in the game in order to complete their projects. For example, during my sophomore year of high school I took a vow of silence until I finished writing the play I was working on.

Now I don’t know how a 15 year-old stumbles onto the idea of taking a vow of silence and I especially don’t know why I would think this would be a good idea. But needless to say on one random Thursday, in the middle of school mind you, I decided, “Hey, this stupid play I’m writing is way more important than the ability to verbally communicate with my peers.”

Two things to know: 1.) I don’t remember what play I was writing. I’m not sure I even have it anymore. So this story won’t go down in my official biography as the breakthrough moment on my way to a Nobel Prize. 2.) I was very quiet during high school, particularly during sophomore year when I had very very few friends, but it is 95% impossible to survive a day in a public high school once you’ve voluntarily and inexplicably gone mute.

I was able to get through half a day of silence with no problems. My vow was taken some time during my final period of the day on Thursday. I couldn’t stand the den of chaos that was my Spanish II class, so there was no reason for me to talk during that class and the evening bus ride home was always spent with my headphones deeply implanted in my ears and staring at Kelsey Snavely with wide, unblinking eyes.

My parents worked late that night so the vow of silence at least kept me from talking to myself which was an unexpected godsend.

Day two was a little harder.

I don’t know how I managed to get through the morning drive to school with my dad without saying a word, but I know it was done somehow. Maybe I wrote a note that was like, “In the pursuit of fulfilling my dreams as a playwright, I am currently engaging in a vow of silence until my masterpiece has been completed. I regret to inform you that our usually scheduled awkward banter must be postponed until further notice.” Or he could have just thought I was being a dick because I was 15 and that’s kind of what I did. I mean, I didn’t have a rebellious phase. I was just sort of a moody prick sometimes.

My first period was Biology. That was easy enough to get through. I usually just kept my head down and stared, unblinkingly, at Trina Baker. Honestly, I was able to get through most of the day because I was the quiet kid that just wrote in his notebook all the time. Everyone just hoped I was writing elaborate murder plots.

But there were hairier moments that were harder to get around. In classes like Journalism and Geometry I actually had a handful of acquaintances and small talk was somewhat expected. I had a tiny little flip notebook that I would scribble vague apologies and half-assed attempts to explain what it was that I was actually doing. It was met with a lot eye rolling and some judgey-laughter but mostly they were pretty cool with it. Which was good because I needed allies for when teachers would call on me in class.

Out of seven classes, I was forced to answer questions during lectures. I would quietly scream inside and then scribble down the answer (most of the time, the wrong answer) into my notebook and my friend would have to stand in front of the class and explain why they were the one reading my wrong answer. It mostly went, “Chase is doing some dumb writer thing so he’s not talking, but he thinks X is 72, but its not. Sorry Mrs. O.” And people the whole class would laugh at me and say dumb things and I would have to have to grit my teeth and know that this was in the pursuit of art.

I could limp my through most of the day, but then I had an unexpected quiz during seventh period. The kids at my table had asked why I wasn’t talking and I went through the, now tired exercise of explaining what was happening. They were oddly supportive, which would be helpful for when I had a question mid-quiz.

We all had our heads down deliberating over the subtler points of conjugation when I reached a  point that I simply could not get passed. I looked around frantically. Hoping to cheat, maybe. Anything but having to raise my hand and figure out how to talk to Ms. Rivera, who still terrifies me to this day.

But I couldn’t figure it out and so I had to raise my hand. She was on the other side of the room and when she saw my hand in the air, she simply said, “Yes? What is it?” I tried to wave her over but she was reluctant to move. “What is it?”

Then one of my table mate spoke up, “Chase isn’t talking today.”

She walked over with a huff and stood next to me. “What do you mean you’re not talking today?” I shrugged. “What does that mean?” I wrote on the side of my quiz. “I’m trying to finish my play.” But for some reason that wasn’t enough of an answer for her.

I tried to ignore her questions and write the question that I had on the side of the paper, but she was not interested in reading it or playing along with my insane theater of dorkiness. After a few minutes of squirming, I finally whispered the first words I’d spoken aloud in 24 hours. She quickly and dismissively answered my question and I went on to stumble my way to a C on the quiz. But the magic and the vow were broken.

So my challenge only lasted for about a day. It was as valiant an endeavor as it was stupid. But hey, I think I finished the play, I seriously don’t remember. Even if I did finish the play, I certainly did not finish it in that microscopic timeframe.

Any writer has moments where they struggle to get themselves through a piece. Discipline is one of the most valuable tools in their toolbox. As I sit down to my work everyday and stare and the ever expanding list of stories and novels that I desperately want to write, I pray that I quickly find that miracle mixture of determination and patience that will allow me to start, lot less finish, these projects.

A vow of silence may not have been the answer, but I will find it soon enough.

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Too Old for Young Adult

I felt a little out of place as I sat down in the theater to watch “Paper Towns.” I was by myself, as per usual, and looking around the theater I realized that I was the only one there that was not a 15 year old girl or a parent who was dragged there against their will. No, I was a man on the verge of 23 years old sitting alone in a movie designed for teenagers.

Maybe its my crippling self-criticism, but I feel like this is a bad move. Not that anyone really cared at all. I just always have this nagging feeling that someone is lurking in the shadows judging me. Saying things like “Eww, what’s that creepy dude doing here? Why is he crying? Did his dog die or something? There is no way he’s this worked up over the lives of fictional teens.” But I am that worked up because as much as I judge myself for it, I really do like coming of age stories and YA lit.

Teenagers are always less scary when they are fictional.

Teenagers are always less scary when they are fictional.

I wasn’t always so open to the idea of young adult novels. I didn’t really read any of the Harry Potter books ’til my junior year of high school. I looked down on anything written from the perspective of a high school student with miserable disdain. After all, I was a serious writer. I tackled the hard subjects like death and loss and the inability to find a girlfriend. Anytime I asked a friend what book I should read, they’d say The “Perks of Being a Wallflower” and I would scoff like a pretentious little jerk.

Then I read “The Perks of Being a Wallflower.” It felt like life punched me in the stomach really hard but I was sort of happy about it. Never had I read a book that dealt with the issues that were currently floating around in my head. I’d never read anything that tackled anxiety and depression in such a visceral, real way. No monsters and magic. No ghosts. Just pain and emotion and hope and it flipped the script on my life.

I watched this movie in theaters three times in one week.  Ph: John Bramley © 2011 Summit Entertainment, LLC.  All rights reserved.

I watched this movie in theaters three times in one week.
Ph: John Bramley
© 2011 Summit Entertainment, LLC. All rights reserved.

Here was a book that tackled all the subjects I liked to thing I understood and it spoke directly to those who live it daily. At the end of the day all of my work was about the same things: that growing up sucks. Whether you’re 12 or 25, growing up is painful and awkward and it sucks. But here I held a book that spoke to me about those things, let me live in a world where these problems were addressed and sort of made things ok.

To this day I hold onto that book tightly. It’s the only book I’ve ever read three times and if I leave home for more than two days, you can guarantee that that book is on my person. Whenever I’m stressed out or depressed, I pick it up or watch the movie. It doesn’t quite make it better, but it makes it manageable. And that’s a powerful thing.

After that I started doing my best to find more and more books like it. That tackled the same issues, that had that same protective impact for its fans. I discovered Ned Vizzini’s “It’s Kind of a Funny Story” and Simon Rich’s “Elliot Allagash.” Rainbow Rowell and most importantly John Green. These books and writers became my guides and my teachers. Before long it dawned on me that this is what I wanted to do. I wanted to write novels about the struggles of growing up that could help teens and young adults the same ways these books helped me. To tackle life’s problems and pains with a glimmer of humor and hope.

Hope and fun are important. Otherwise you become

Hope and fun are important. Otherwise you become “Man of Steel” and nobody wants that.

So I try my best to read as much of these novels as possible. Which is weird because I’m pretty sure if you saw me just hanging around the Young Adult section at Barnes and Noble for extended periods of time, you would call the cops on me.

But I don’t know enough about the genre to just shop on Amazon and have them shipped discreetly to my house. I have to get in their, pick up the books, flip around and see what grabs me. Because lets be honest, for as much good stuff one can find in that section, there is just as much, if not more, god awful garbage. So I have to take my time and sift. Which I can never comfortably do.

My trips through the Young Adult section are all designed to loo like accidents. I casually stroll up and down the fiction aisles, looking at the names I should have read in college. Giving a long linger over a handful of Nabokov’s so that any passers-by think that I am sophisticated and am a true student of my craft. “Oh, of course I’ve read “Pnin.” Like in third grade.”

I'm sorry Mr. Nabokov, one day I'll read your work. I promise.

I’m sorry Mr. Nabokov, one day I’ll read your work. I promise.

Before long the fiction section turns into the young adult fiction section. I pick up a book with a colorful cover and make a show of being interested by its novelty. I pick it up, flip it over, and then set it down. Then I’m in.

I give myself about five minutes max. It’s like moving through the porn section at old video stores. You rush through, grab something that looks vaguely like it suites your interests, and you bolt without making eye contact. If there are already people in the section, I walk away.

Occasionally I’ll be shopping and a parent will be looking for the “Hunger Games” books or “Divergent” or whatever new dystopia allegory is in theaters this weekend and I’ll debate pointing them in the right direction. The conversation in my head goes “Oh thanks, do you work here?” And I’m all like “Nah, I just reading about 16 year old’s love-lifes.” And then they scurry their pre-teen away and give them a lecture in talking to strangers with beards.

So I don’t talk to anyone. I never ask someone for suggestions or where to find something. If I can’t do it on my own, I guess I’ll just suffer.

I don’t know why I’m so weird about things like this. Between fear of judgement from parents and aggressively rude teenagers, I also have this fear that my peers and educators are looking down on me. I went to school to be a writer. I was supposed to read Mark Twain and Graham Greene and Dostoyevsky and be inspired to create great works of literature. To handle my craft to tell stories of importance.

I also write my novels here, to make sure that I am the optimum level of cliche.

I also write my novels here, to make sure that I am the optimum level of cliche.

But I have no desire to write moody dude poetry. I want to write stuff that’s goofy and fun. I want to write about stuff that freaked me out when I was younger and only continues to freak me out more as I grow up. I don’t want to take down the government with a think piece. I want to let some chubby kid know that it’s ok to be sad sometimes.

That’s the battle I have everyday. Do I write something I want to write and have fun or do I want to write something important? As if those two things don’t occupy the same space. Sometimes this battle between what I want to do and what I feel I need to do to live up to my potential is crippling. More like all the time. I oscillate between this projects and that story and what I want to do, “but no the people on tumblr will not like me” and “I’ll be letting Professor Rabb down…” so much that it paralyzes me.

Part of me wants to write the Great American novel. Part of me wants to write about vampires.

Part of me wants to write the Great American novel. Part of me wants to write about vampires.

This blog is the most that I’ve really done to write for myself lately and I can’t even keep that rolling out consistently. I’m just kind of stuck soemtimes and I want to break that. I want to tell stories that I’m passionate about. I want to write with the type of passion I did in high school when I should have been listening to an Algebra II lecture. But I’ve become so hyper-aware of expectation and what it’s like to have to live up to something, that I forget that there really is no pressure on me to do any one thing. No one really gives a shit and as horrible as that sounds, that’s really freeing sometimes.

After seeing “Paper Towns,” I kind of got reenergized to tell a story that I want to tell. To write something that may have helped me or someone like me navigate his way through college or something like that. I try to stop focusing on doing something important and focus on doing something that feels right to me. Something that makes me love writing.

I mean, I still only allow myself five minutes in the Young Adult section, but maybe one day I’ll allow myself a little longer when I’m admiring my work on the shelf.

Maybe An Apocalypse Sounds Good After All

The more people ask me what I’m going to do now that I’ve graduated college, the more I realize just how much I was banking on that whole 2012 apocalypse thing.I don’t think I did the best planning for life after turning 20.

I’m not saying that I believed in the whole Mayan prophecy thing, but part of me totally believed the whole Mayan prophecy. This was not the rational or even coherent part of me. This was the part of me that also often battles the fear of ghosts and enjoys watching “Pawn Stars.”

I'm not sure which creeps me out  more: ghosts or those chins.

I’m not sure which creeps me out more: ghosts, the end of the world, or those chins. I think they’re all connected, to be honest.

When I was in high school, I would laugh at the doomsday prophets, but deep down I was doing the math. I’d be cleaning the bathroom when I would get that glazy eyed thousand yard stare and wonder, “If the world really does end in 2012, how old will I be?” 20 years old. So I started planning for what I could accomplish by the time I turned twenty and subconsciously forgetting that, “hey, maybe you should figure out what’s going to happen when you turn 21 or 25. Because you know, the world was not going to end you dumbass.”

Even on December 20, 2012 I kept walking around thinking, “The world might end today.” I wasn’t quaking in my boots or anything. I was stocking up my End of Days bunker although I did happen to have a ton of cans of tuna at home. Just in case. I kind of felt like I should do the whole “Last day on Earth” hoopla. Carpe that diem. Do all the things I’d always wanted to do. You know, just in case. But I looked around my room and realized that I did have a bitchin’ Buffy the Vampire Slayer collection so I felt accomplished enough to take a nap.

I was a little surprised to wake up on December 21. The new year came and it felt weird to see dates that said 2013. I mean, John Cusak made a movie about how I was going to die. It takes some time to recover from that. But after a day or two the shock of living in this world that shouldn’t exist wore off and I went on being a normal person who wasn’t crazy. And it was refreshing.

Damn you, Cusack! Didn't you hurt me enough with "Must Love Dogs?"

Damn you, Cusack! Didn’t you hurt me enough with “Must Love Dogs?”

Until I graduated college and realized that those decisions I made when I thought I was gonna die at twenty had to carry to being an adult. I mean, it’s not like I went on some crazy meth bender or robbed seventeen banks in Missouri. To be honest, for someone who kind of thought the world was ending, I lived a remarkably boring life. I ate a lot of pizza. Probably should have done a few more push-ups.But now it seems that I have to make my little foray into art school actually payoff and that fact has a tendency to stop me in my tracks.

Every once in a while I’ll just stare off into the distance as I do the dishes and think, “I spent how much money getting a writing degree?! Why would I do that?!”

It’s hard coming back home and being showered with questions like “So what are you going to do now?” and “What does one do with a writing degree?” I sit at home and read Aquaman comic books. That’s what I do with a writing degree.

Who needs a plan for the future when you can spend all day pretending to be the king of the ocean?

Who needs a plan for the future when you can spend all day pretending to be the king of the ocean?

I want to come up with grand, oddball plans when I get these questions. “Oh, I’m moving to Spain to become a bull fighter.” Or, “I’m going to reshoot the film ‘Free Willy’ on my iPhone with my neighbor’s cat.” But then I just feel bad in comparison when the real answer is much less exciting. “I’m just kind of seeing what comes my way. I tell people I’m writing a book but I’ve been stuck on chapter 16 since February.”

But the funny thing is that I haven’t stopped fearing the end of the world. I just think I’m living in it now. I keep worrying that my world is falling apart around me, because I don’t have a plan for what comes next. It’s not the end of the world, though, no matter how much easier that would make things. It’s the exact opposite actually. It’s just the start. And it’s time to no longer be content with just having a bitchin’ Buffy the Vampire Slayer collection.