Did They Influence Me?

When I was in fourth grade, I was a huge hunter and a pecker. I had to whisper letters out loud to help me find them on the keyboard. Nobody wanted to work in groups with me, and I was berated for it on multiple occasions. At the end of sixth grade, when I entered the world of the internet, I started becoming familiar with the computer. It became more efficient to type my stories than to write them by hand. I wrote something–anything–every day for the next two years. Then I started a blog. At this point, I type about 100 words per minute, give or take a few.

In seventh grade, on the bus home, one of my friends said that I “made everything boring.” I stared out the window and began to cry. Over the next year, I became so anxious that I couldn’t even talk to anyone. I kept to myself, quietly and miserably, unable to reach out when I needed help. It slowly got better by the spring of eighth grade, but didn’t completely disappear until a few months after I’d met my good friends. As I got comfortable, I became weirder and weirder. My mind quickened, I got in touch with my inner wit, and I let go of some of my inhibitions. Now, boring is the last word I–or anyone close to me, really–would use to describe who I am.

All of this makes me wonder if what people say about us has any bearing on who we end up becoming. Do we subconsciously file away words and conversations that hurt us so that we become what everyone thought we wouldn’t be? Or do we simply bring a match to the depths of our heart, lighting up the dormant wicks of qualities we might not have discovered, but where already there?

Or is there no correlation at all? Some of the things said to me and about me still remain, to an extent, true today. My classmates used to look down on me because I was so sensitive, but I never became tough. Really, I’ve just used my sensitivity for good. I feel others’ pain, I try to be as kind as I can, and I use my emotions to create beauty in this world. Could others’ comments have spurred me on to develop the traits they cut me down for?

Or perhaps they didn’t influence me at all. Maybe I just grew up all on my own, finding my own path, learning how to let others’ opinions blow over and past me like the wind.

No offense, but…

How many times do we hear the phrase “no offense” before hearing some sort of insult or criticism? I hear it all the time. It’s almost used as a free pass. As long as we say “no offense” before saying something, nobody gets hurt, right?

When I was in sixth grade, we had an indoor recess (my favorite). I was getting all my papers ready for my independent, free-choice writing time, when one of my “friends” approached me. “Um, no offense, but you know what I heard? I heard that you’re a piece of crap. Sorry.” Oh! There was a no offense in there–and a sorry, too. You basically just insulted my entire existence, but you know what? No offense taken! No, my response to the girl was not that sarcastic or witty. I think I stared off into the wall and choked out, “Really?” in a typical me-fashion.

Anyway, my point is that I really don’t like hearing that phrase. (Although I do find myself slipping up and saying it sometimes. Call me a hypocrite, but we’re all human.) Too often, it’s used as a poor justification for being unkind. When I hear “no offense,” I really hear “I’m about to say something mean, but I’m covering it up.”

When it’s used in criticism, it’s best to just reword things. Instead of “no offense, but I really hated the part of the story where you wrote___” one could say “I didn’t like___because___, and I think___would make it better.” It’s more constructive that way, anyway.



Don’t Laugh At Me…

Don’t Laugh At Me…

I remember, in fifth grade, a group of guys had ganged up on me yet again. All I remember from that day is sitting at my table, crying, and doing the only thing I knew how to do–pick up my pencil and tear out a sheet of paper. A few months ago, while cleaning my room, I found that piece of paper. This is what I wrote that day.

“Everyone thinks I’m so weird but they don’t even stop to think that Albert Einstein was weird and look what he has become. All those genius people were weird. No one thinks that maybe I have human feelings too and that somehow, somewhere I could change the world. If I was treated with respect I could soar instead of being chained up in lies. No one ever thinks that beauty is skin deep and even though I’m fat it doesn’t matter. I hate all the stupid people who have made fun of me. Because you will regret it when I change the world. And I’ll give my special thanks speech and you WILL NOT BE THANKED!!!!!!!!!!!” 

At that young age, I would plead with with my tormentors to stop hurting me. “No, really,” I’d say. “I’ll change the world one day. You’ll see. Please don’t hurt me. Just give me a chance. Please? Please? I know you think I’m stupid and ugly. But please, just give me a chance. Please.” I thought that if I just begged hard enough, they’d stop and start accepting me–because who could hate a vulnerable little ten-year-old? Well, they did. They did so very much, and I didn’t understand why.

Sometime in seventh grade, I strayed from my own beliefs of kindness and acceptance and became mean (I was also being bullied myself during this time). I wanted the control for once. I wanted to feel powerful by inflicting the same harm on others that was being inflicted on me. Doing this, however, never gave me the satisfaction. It really just made me feel worse about myself–that I could betray myself in such a way. The breaking point was when I heard a girl plead with me in the way I would plead with my own tormentors. “I know you think I’m weird and disturbing…and weird,” she said, eyes full of fear and hurt. I couldn’t bear to be so hurtful after that day.

I’ve grown to a point where I don’t feel the need to spew venom at other people to try reasoning with my own pain. If you want to wear polka-dot rain boots and bright orange jumpsuits, I won’t mind. Maybe I’ll think it’s cute and try to dress like that, too. If you talk strangely, I won’t mind. I’ll talk to you like I would anybody. If you love math and reading Geometry books in your spare time, we’ll respectfully agree to disagree.

I’m not perfect. Sometimes I find myself judging someone in my mind–but don’t we all? Everyone is learning. The best thing we can do is keep trying to be kind–not just to tolerate, but to accept.

Cursing in Fiction

I’ve seen this topic on many blogs (including the WordPress News one) recently, and I’ve also been thinking a lot about it myself: swearing in writing.

The common argument against it is that if one has to use swear words to express a certain thought or emotion in writing, that person isn’t a very good writer and needs to expand his or her vocabulary. While an overuse of swear words may indicate a weaker writer, I actually think that it’s sometimes helpful to the writing to have swear words sprinkled throughout a work of fiction for voice–in certain circumstances, that is.

Audience. Audience is the key. To whom are you writing? Children? Teenagers? Some audiences are more okay with swearing than others (in general, of course. There are always exceptions). If you’re writing a children’s book, you’re obviously not going to use the inappropriate language. “Billy the dog ate a f—ing hog!” I don’t think so. That wouldn’t go over well.

Next, think about your character. A frustrated teenage girl (hint: me) is probably more likely to swear than a nun. What is your character’s personality? Her occupation? Take all this into account. Also consider the scene. What’s going on? When I use language in my writing, it’s usually only in scenes of frustration, great danger, or annoyance. 

I know not everyone is going to agree with me here. Some are probably going to say “Oh, Abigail! You’re a great writer; you should rise above!” I am rising above. I’m rising above the stigma attached to swear words in fiction. Being an author includes finding ways to make my writing better. And, let’s face it–if you’re a young runaway about to be caught (a story I’m writing currently), are you going to say “Oh, goodness me! I am close to being caught! Dear heavens!” No. That’s not realistic. It’s all about creating a unique character who’s easy to relate to. If using a swear word here and there helps create that person, I say go ahead.

Again, though, I use them very sparingly. When I read books with excessive language, I become very annoyed, especially if it doesn’t make sense to swear in the situation. “Hi, would you like me to go buy you some f—ing milk before checking out?” Taking out the swear word in that sentence would be a good idea.

Also, I don’t swear here. Too many of my readers would get upset, which would basically be like shooting myself in the foot. I will, as you can see, replace letters with dashes. Even then, I use them only when I’m talking about swearing, as I have been in this post, or quoting somebody.

Just food for thought–aren’t we the ones attaching stigmas to these words? The f-word–and any of the words deemed inappropriate, for that matter–has plenty of weaker synonyms that are considered acceptable (I say weaker because they don’t have the same jarring effect on the reader that is often beneficial to writing). They’re only bad because we say they’re bad. (And I’m not talking about words that are discriminatory–those words are hurtful to other people.)

In short, cursing in writing is like salt. Just a very small amount can really improve, while too much will destroy and weaken.



Pretending on paper

I’ve been a writer, of some sort, my entire life. Before I could write, I let my stories play out in the form of crayons on paper. I played with stuffed animals and created plots aloud. I easily put myself in the famous slippers of Cinderella, the rugged boots of an Amazon warrior girl, and perhaps both at the same time.

When I began to write, it was no different. Instead of acting out the stories, I’d simply scribble them on a piece of wide-ruled paper with my jumbo pencil. In truth, writing really isn’t that different from the childhood pretending we all used to do (or, admittedly, still do). It’s playtime for the literate and grown, a time to let the mind go wild in a whirlwind of inspiration. It is pretending on paper.

But what makes writing good? What makes it fatty and juicy, so unlike some of the tough, dry writing we’ve all had to read before?

In this sense, writing is more than just childhood pretending. It is the marriage of poetry and prose, the joining of fantasy and reality. Some common force bursts from the literature we call “amazing” or “well-written.”

In my opinion, it’s heart. There is no such thing as good writing without one. Some of my best poems have been scooped from the thick goop of pain-joy mix in the deepest crevices of my soul. Others have emerged from a garden of ideas as light and airy as a seersucker dress. Writing comes from within, some white-hot center of us that burns with creative thought.

When we tap into the same spirit and innocent zeal that drove us as children, our best ideas can be molded into great sculptures using the everlasting clay of words.



Word vomit

Well, if you’ve read my previous post, you’d know that I sort of had a moment in the middle of writing it. This is a follow-up to that. You know, details and such that I may have missed in my little moment.

There’s a difference between dealing with pain and sitting in spaghetti sauce (see my previous post)–a very important difference, at that. For instance, it really helps for me to talk through how I’m feeling. I’ll go on and on about what’s bothering me until I feel that I’ve released it all. It’s like word vomit. I feel sick and full of things I need to spill out and discuss, then I throw them up in the presence of a listening ear and feel a little better. This is healthy. I strongly suggest this act of verbally throwing up. It becomes unhealthy when one returns to the emotional vomit like a dog.

Gross, right?! Unfortunately, this is what people, myself included, often do. (Metaphorically, not literally.) We release all our feelings, but we continue to sit in them. The point I’m trying to make is that it’s totally okay to feel sad, angry, hurt, or whatever, and it’s totally okay to talk about those feelings. It becomes unhealthy when we choose to cling to those feelings and not let them go, when we become attached and addicted to our own pain.

My next post will talk about why I think pain can be addicting. But, for now, I’m tired. Abigail needs her beauty rest.

Happy vomiting!

SSaW part three: the shy ones

There was a time in my life when I did not have the confidence to talk to anybody, mostly due to being rejected so many times. If it had been permitted at my school, I would’ve been the girl eating lunch in the bathroom stall. In class, I rarely raised my hand–not to answer questions, and certainly not to ask them. While my peers interacted with each other and formed friendships, I simply existed. There were so many people I wanted to talk to, so many conversations I wanted to have, but I couldn’t bring myself to follow through with it.

There are shy ones in every school. Not all of them are shy for the same reason I was–perhaps they’re just naturally quiet people. However, it’s always nice to go check in on them. The cafeteria is a great place to do this. You know how to spot them–sitting alone, eyes downcast, perhaps fidgety and nervous-looking. Find a spot close to them at the beginning of lunch (or class) and simply start talking. Give them time to talk about themselves, but be careful not to overwhelm them. When I was shy, I preferred to listen to others talk until I began to warm up to talking myself. Personally, I’d start out with 60/40 (talking-to-listening) and adjust based on how talkative the person is.

I think more of us would try to put these tips into practice if it weren’t for one thing–our own friends. Friends are great, don’t get me wrong. They’re very important. Sometimes, however, we get so involved with our own friends that we forget those who don’t have anybody to talk to or laugh with. Choose a day to reach out to the people sitting alone. Good friends will understand this–some of them might even want to try it themselves. Also, don’t forget the power of inviting someone to sit with your own little group. Even if the person doesn’t say much, they will most likely feel included and happy that you were kind enough to let them into your circle.

Many people who regularly reach out to others are missing one key point–laughter. What do you do with your friends–you laugh together, have inside jokes, and tell funny stories, right? Well, these shy people are no different. Being kind to these people is better than not talking to them at all, but believe me, they will pick up on the fact that the two of you aren’t sharing a good laugh. I remember seeing people with their friends, wondering why they put on a completely different image for me. After getting to know the person a little bit, share some of your humorous experiences. Believe me, laughter really is good medicine for someone who’s lonely.

Today, remember the forgotten ones. Perhaps it’s the janitor at your workplace or that quiet neighbor of yours. Make it your mission to engage with them. I promise you, helping someone else is often the best way to brighten your own day.

Sticks, stones, and words.

I remember a time in fifth grade (the beginning of my bullying experience) when all the guys were discussing girls in the class. “Which girl would you most like to date?” asked the boys. Their answers varied–some preferred Lea or Sue, others liked Lindsay or Beth (names changed for privacy, by the way). When they asked each other, laughing, which girl they’d least like to date, it was unanimous. Me.

I’m not sure why that particular instance sticks out to me–I had worse things said and done to me as the bullying increased. Perhaps it was because this particular instance was one of the first in a long few years of bullying? I don’t know.

Because of all the resulting pain from the bullying, something began stirring in me. Around January of my seventh grade year, I decided to reach out to victims and make a huge difference. Unfortunately, I got away from that plan. Although I don’t usually tell people this, I bullied a few girls that year. It didn’t last long, and one of those girls is now one of my best friends, and the other is a good acquaintance, but it was still unacceptable and wrong.

It’s the cycle of bullying. Due to hurt from the words and actions of others, I wanted to gain control of my own. This control was hurting another in the same way I was hurt. I believe this is so for many other bullying victims. Of course, it’s no excuse, and this is not true for all victims, but it is part of a cycle of pain. A cycle of pain that I am trying to crush.

Many tears and scars later, I’m returning to my plan. I don’t have a specific idea yet, but I know that thought and prayer will carry one to me, and I will most likely put this plan into action in September.

One thing I would like to focus on is eliminating the victim mindset. So many others have had the same burden as I do, but have treated those who have been bullied as helpless sheep that need to be fed mashed peas with a plastic spoon. I want people to know that they are strong, loved, capable, and not defined by their tormentors. I want the bullied and the broken to stop thinking of themselves as victims, but as people who can withstand and bounce back.

And by bounce back, I mean emerge stronger, wiser, and even more capable of helping to eliminate bullying.

Do the words of my bullies still hurt? Yes, they do. However, I recognize them as lies. I can look at myself in the mirror and know that I am beautiful. I am adequate, loved, and talented. Sometimes I have to force my brain to remember these truths, but they are there.

The same goes for you, you beautiful, adequate, loved, and talented person. Hopefully, reading this has inspired you to join my cause, or at least made you more aware of this devastating problem. If you have been or are being bullied, please take some time to take a deep breath and remember the words that I have just written. If I knew you, I’d take you out for a big ole’ Slurpee and talk time. But because I most likely don’t, I hope this post will suffice. Hang in there, okay? Remember that you are capable. You are capable and strong. Don’t strive for revenge.

After all, the best revenge is dusting off your knees, reminding yourself of the truth, and continuing to push through the hardship.