Some Kind of Organization

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

What's Your Story? - Example 6

For a full explanation of this assignment and the significance of the work included, please read the post on the What's Your Story? assignment we completed.

This student used the assignment to cope with and work through emotions resulting significant childhood trauma and the struggle to find a place to fit in.  Every now and then you're going to get a story that just makes you want to hug the kid's neck and tell them it will be alright.  Thankfully the student's family took care of that when all this happened.

I Am Empty

I live in a masquerade of happiness as I drown out the voices in my head. “Just make it through the day,” I tell myself, like I do everyday. I walk down the hall with my head down and books dangling in my arms. I am invisible as long as I have nothing to hide. But the slashes underneath my sleeves whisper otherwise. The pain is the only thing that distracts me enough to keep me from falling to pieces; it makes me forget how much I hate myself and how much I hate seventh grade.
Every day is a struggle when surrounded by people made of plastic. They judge every breath I take with fake smiles on their faces. The kind of fake smile that shows deception and the lies that linger on every word. The conceited shells of everyone around me brings me back to the day when my mom told my dad she was sorry for hurting his children and leaving my brother and me. She would wear that fake smile when she gave me a bath and made me squirm and cry by putting the soap in my eyes. She would traumatize me just to have a reason to comfort me. She would drink and do drugs with my brother while I was locked up in my room. Sometimes she’d even come upstairs in a drunken rage and scream at me for no reason at all. My mom would leave me by myself outside for hours at a time while I was alone on my bike. She would send me off to friends’ houses who were strangers to me. She even left me alone with a “friend” that had an ex-convict for a father who would act so sweet on the surface, but would be a little more than nice to me once I was alone with him. She surrounded me with everything that could potentially destroy me, and it was all to get back at my dad. I was a little girl trapped in a battle that was not my own. Sadly, no one won this war, but everyone ended up with scars.
The scars on my heart slowly started to show up on my skin as I realized more and more that I would never be good enough for my mom. I would never be good enough for anyone.
I hate school and everyone in it. In the girls locker room, I try to evanesce into the shadows so no one sees my secrets carved all over me. Today, I’m running late and I don’t have time to cower in corners. Changing in front of the other girls, I try to cover up the cuts on my side the best I could. It wasn’t long before I heard someone yell out,
“What’s wrong with your side?!”
“Nothing,” I replied.
I pulled my shirt over my head, and covered my mangled sides. I turned around and the girl’s face was a mix of false concern plastered onto her judgemental assumptions. A girl who used to be my best friend gives me a sincere look of disappointment as I slink into the crowd of girls, trying to fade among the faces.
Slowly, people start finding out more about my cutting. Some people try to intervene, but their motives are never to help me. Their curiosity just got the best of them. Everyone else could care less about the downward spiral I had thrown myself into, and I don’t blame them. How could anyone care about someone like me?
My dad and stepmom have no idea what to do with me. I come home depressed everyday, but they don’t see the tracks of tears that stream down my face in the darkness. I lay in bed and feel like I’m being watched. In the silence, I begin to hear the voices beckon once again. All at once, but never in sync, the insults pour out in my brain. “Look at yourself. You are ugly and stupid. Everyone hates you. Not even your own mom wanted to stick around to see what your outcome would be. Why do you even try to be happy? Why don’t you just kill yourself right now and save some trouble for everyone else?” I lay there, paralyzed. I try to ignore them but they keep screaming at me: “Just do it! Can’t you see that you’re hated?!” I sit up and place my feet on the floor. The steady stream of tears flow in ribbons across my cheek bones. I grab a thin razor blade from my cabinet, hidden behind the pages of books. The only way to get the voices to shut up is to cut them out of my skin. I’ll finally be able to sleep, and wake up to another day of hating myself. Another day of whispered rumours behind my back. Another day of not being good enough. Another day in this abyssal void of destruction.
The days begin to blur together, and the second semester is just as dismal as the last. Time slips away when I am in confined solitude: an asylum of my own mind. Days turn to weeks as I try to climb out of this hole. I texted my few friends from my iPod as an attempt for another distraction; a way to stop me from obliterating my body. When my dad found out I had been texting people, he took it away. He took away my one attempt of trying to fix myself, so I ran. I ran out the door and down the street and into the bush of someones front yard. Sitting under the branches, I came to the conclusion that I was dreaming. This wasn’t really happening and I needed to go back to my bedroom. The overdose of adrenaline caused my rational thinking to be overridden by impulse. I trace the newest cuts on my side, thankful for the distraction of pain. I see red and blue lights going up and down the street. There are several voices calling my name into the night air. I thought I had been gone 15 minutes but I guess time speeds up when lost in this miserable world of no return. After three hours, I drag myself across the spongy grass and stagger down the sidewalk to my house. I thought to myself, “this is such a strange dream.” I walk to the garage  and nonchalantly pass my screaming stepmother. In my house, I finally see the light from my bedroom. I crawl into bed, and try to change the plot of this dream. Helen, my stepmom, had followed me into my room and inhibited any option of a new dream. I said to her, “Well since this is a dream, I might as well tell you everything.” I confessed everything in that moment. I told her about the cutting and my depression. My dad made his way into the scene at some point, and his rage slowly turned to pain and disappointment. In my head, this was a horrible dream I’d wake up from shortly, but in reality this was the beginning of a very real nightmare.
The isolation I had before was a paradise I longed for when I woke up to find that the occurrences of that night had been real. I was shut off from contact with anyone. I had all my sharp things taken away; except for my scissors. They were dull enough to make the pain more intense, yet sharp enough to make me bleed in beads of crimson. I was a recluse. The only people I talked to at school were those I saw as resources. I wanted drugs. I wanted more than the pain now. I tried so hard to convince my friends to let me try pot or anything they had really, but they didn’t trust me. I was too volatile, and no one wanted to waste their precious drugs on a hopeless case.
My friends were people who had it worse than me. A drug addict here, an alcoholic whore there, a mixture of pain and need in all of them. We were all lost in some way. We were all trying to find ourselves, but none of us knew how. The friends who knew the old me didn’t even acknowledge me now. I had never done drugs, yet everyone saw me as a druggie. I had never done more than kiss a boy, but now I was considered a slut. I had never tried to hurt anyone except myself, but suddenly I had a disease that no one wanted to catch. I was thrown into the menagerie of freaks, and then fed to the wolves. Rumours followed my every step. I didn’t even know who I was anymore. The truth about me was hidden somewhere in all those lies.
I had one friend who actually talked to me. Katherine was more screwed up than anyone I had met at this age, and that was why I loved her. She made me seem normal. She entertained me with horrible stories of her crazy partying and intense drug habits. She was the only person who never judged me. I never judged Katherine for what she had done, although everyone else did. She would be gone when summer came. And with her absence, I thought my one connection to feeling wanted was severed. Until I found Chandler.
Toward the end of the year, I was washing dishes in my home economics class after school, and one of my other group members was forced to “help” me, by standing there while I did all the work. He was best friends with my ex-boyfriend and conveniently my ex actually did show up. Chandler and I had dated for six months last year, and I broke his heart. He was so innocent at the time but after I crushed him, he fell off the deep end. Chandler would never climb back up from how far he fell, but I loved him nevertheless. During that moment, splashing water on each other, laughing, and falling for him again, we almost rekindled what we once had.
We talked on my home phone all the time, and I tried to convince my dad we were just friends. I thought we actually were, until we made out when he came over with Katherine one day. I slowly had someone to live for, and he was teaching me to love myself as much as he loved me. His cutting habit was worse than mine, and we were sucking the life out of each other more and more everyday.
Our phone calls didn’t necessarily have the best content either and one day my dad decided to listen in. I was laughing about something Chan had said when I hear my dad say, “Get off the phone. Now.” I did what he said, and I tried to explain myself. My efforts were useless. In a firm tone, all he said was, “I never want you to talk to that boy again. Oh, and you’re grounded from the phone.” He left, and the remains of my soul left with him. I was once again a hollow shell, numb to the pain I was about to feel. Tears started to pool in my eyes, and I heard those infamous voices once again. This time I gave in. Not just to releasing them, but to fulfilling what they wanted. I grabbed my scissors out of my drawer, then ambled my way to the bathroom and cracked the door. I found an empty space on my side and dug the edge into my skin. The blood starts bubbling up, and I watch as it drips down my side. I can’t get enough pain to make me feel something other than the hate I have for myself. If Chan can’t love me, and if I’m incapable of loving me then what’s the point? There is no such thing as love, as I carve into myself deeper and deeper.
In this moment a flood gate of trapped memories unleashes itself. I remember all the parties at my moms house and the vicious fights between my mom and my brother. I remember being so alone all the time, playing only by myself because no one wanted to play with me. The memories of my friends’ stepdad that would kiss me then touch me and tell me to lie about it, came tumbling forth. Then came memories of breaking into people’s houses with a group of kids at the mere age of six. I remember my mom having sex with some stranger, unaware that I was even there until it was too late. I remember her drugged body unable to do anything but sit there on several occasions. Where was her love for me? Her only love was a love that was imbedded into being high. Memories of this past I had lived were starting to define me.
The blood was pouring out of me and suddenly the pain just wasn’t enough. I hated everything about myself from the bags under my eyes to my body that could never be skinny enough. I hated my life and everything that made me who I was. I hated my mom for leaving and my dad for letting her. There was no love left for me and I had no love left to give. I am the only one who can’t escape me, but I know how to set myself free.
I go into the medicine cabinet and grab every bottle and mixture of pills I can take: 30 tylenols mixed with half a bottle of cough syrup, on top of some old prescription pills, and maybe a few other things just for fun.
Everything was blurry and I needed something to drink. My water was all gone from washing down 

the plethora of pills. One swig of windex burns its way down my esophagus. Two more swigs and I’m 

staggering my way to my bed. I feel nothing. No pain. No love. I am just a broken piece of glass that

couldn’t be glued back together. I slowly start to drift away completely. I think of what I could’ve been if I 

would’ve tried to get better. I think of a life I might’ve had. I couldn’t even try to save myself. Regretting this

waste of life I have been, I drift farther and farther away. I do regret this now. I tell myself to wake up, but 

my mind and body are separated right now. No, wait! There has to be someone out there who loves me!

There has to be something more than this! Drifting. Away. From. Here. My. Thoughts. Slow. Down. My.

Mind. Goes. Numb. I. Am. Truly. Empty.

What's Your Story? - Example 4

For a full explanation of this assignment and the significance of the work included, please read the post on the What's Your Story? assignment we completed.

Several students did choose to write about relationships, something perhaps predictable for 15 year olds still discovering the world.  What wasn't predictable was the quality of insights the students had about those relationships.

In this article, a student examines life as the younger sibling of a person with Down's Syndrome.


Confessions from the Kid Growing Up


Scott is three years older than me. He’s a bit round around the middle from one too many of my dad’s barbeques, and he’s got this contagiously goofy smile that’s too big for his face and more gummy than toothy. People love him for that smile. When we were younger, Scott and I were the best of friends. We did everything together, from playing on his train set to exploring the yard with a red wagon filled to the brim with stuffed animals trailing behind us. We learned to ride two-wheeler bikes at the same time, and I was there when our father gave him his very first model airplane, which turned into lifelong hobby. We were inseparable…until we weren’t.
I was around five the first time I remember getting into a fight with Scott. He had pushed me down because I was hogging one of his choo-choo trains and refused to give it back. When I went to tell my parents, I was quickly told to grow up. He’s retarded, they said, just give him back the stupid train and stop provoking him. Retarded, I thought, what does that even mean? I’d heard the word before, and had a vague sense as to its definition. Retarded, an acceptable and common term used a decade ago, was the reason he still wasn’t potty trained. Retarded was the reason he got to ride on that special bus that pulled into our driveway when he went to school, and it was because he was retarded that we got to skip all the big lines at Disneyland. However, I couldn’t figure out why it prevented him from a “time out” when he’d shoved me. And, then there was the order to “grow up”. I’d heard them use that phrase with my oldest brother James when he was doing something to annoy them, but they’d never directed it at me before. It stung. What had I done? I just wanted to play with the train. Little did I know that I would be hearing that exasperated litany (grow up, grow up, grow up, grow up) for years to come.
The toy train incident was the catalyst that set off the combative dynamic that Scott and I have maintained to this day. Incident after incident would occur, and the finger would be pointed directly at me nearly every time. My parents would plead with me to “just grow up for God’s sake,” and I’d be sent to my room. Meanwhile, Scott was learning he could get away with pretty much anything. All he had to do was shout enough, and my parents would give in. Moreover, any accomplishments I made always seemed to be overshadowed by anything Scott did. By the time I learned what retarded truly meant and comprehended the extent of his disabilities, too much resentment had filled up inside me to really care. Most kids, when they find out their sibling has a disability, try to be perfect so as not to add any more stress to their parents’ lives than need be. In fact, The University of Michigan Health Center lists perfectionism as a dangerous warning sign for a sibling of a special needs child. I was, and am (for the most part), the exact opposite.
Part of me blames this on the fact that I’m younger. In most families with a special needs child, the parents, for fear of having another child with a similar condition, don’t try for another child. The older children hear that there is something wrong with this new, younger sibling and see the stress it puts on their parents. To alleviate the stress, the “normal” children try to become flawless in order to ease the parent’s burden. These children put too much pressure on themselves without even realizing it, which brings more negative results than positive. Because I’m a few years younger, it took me a while longer to figure out something wasn’t quite right with Scott. By the time I came to the epiphany, he was already too much of my perfectly average brother. He was a person, and as a person, I saw him as responsible for his own actions, regardless of mental debilities. He was also too much of a normal person for me to see why he got so much special attention. We entered the sibling rivalry stage, as all brothers and sisters do, but in our case, the victor was already predetermined. Scott soon discovered he could get away with such feats as kicking holes in walls and name calling, and, while he may get a bit of a scolding and an attempted punishment, he could still readily enjoy watching me get exasperatedly rebuked for being the instigator. And, to my parents, I was always the instigator.  If I did anything at all to annoy him, even unintentionally, they’d give me a look like I was the biggest burden in the world.  It got to the point where, if my mere presence irritated him, I was expected to leave the area. I was shunned to my room because Scott was in a bad mood. That’s not to say I never was the instigator. I’m not proud of it, but at the same time, I kept on hoping that one of those times my parents would see that I was not the only one participating in the crimes and steep the blame on him instead of me. I wanted to see his special treatment go away no matter how much trouble it got me in. I was tired of being told to grow up for my older brother, while he was getting away with things that I could never dream. At some point in this time period, I began to despise my parents for what I saw then as them loving my brother more than they loved me.  Why else would they constantly turn a blind eye?
One of the major reasons is guilt. No matter how little sense it makes, my mother and father will always see Scott’s disabilities as their fault. Somewhere along the way, whether it was in the very chromosomes of his being or in a mistake in the pregnancy, they believe they did something wrong, and that’s why he ended up the way he did. And it weighs on them…a lot. They make up for it by giving him whatever he wants and letting him get away with things they normally wouldn’t let anyone get away with. My father grew up the poor son of a Chilean immigrant. To him, not only food but material possessions are what someone gives to a person to show them that they are loved; with Scott, he overcompensates. Every time he gets back from a business trip, there’s another brand new model airplane for him to add to his collection. Recently, he’s tried doing it only conditionally. For instance, he’ll tell Scott, “If you’re good while I’m gone, I’ll get you that airplane you’ve been wanting.” But, no matter how rotten Scott’s behaved, he still receives the reward. Dad reasons that, since Scott will never get to enjoy the different stages of life and experience the joys of independence, he’ll give him whatever makes him happy as a sort of recompense. The irony is that my dad is really trying (whether he realizes it or not) to show Scott how much he loves him.  He already does that in so many other ways, though, that it renders the airplanes and the gifts unnecessary: getting up early every Saturday morning for donuts and to watch the airplanes fly over DFW Airport; going on bike rides with him nearly every night; taking him on golf outings, and just spending extra time with him. He’s a world class father without buying all the extra little knickknacks that Scott makes such a fuss over.   And boy, does Scott know how to make a fuss? This brings us to reason two of why my parents turn a blind eye.
The product of any little boy who is spoiled rotten (special needs or not) is a master tantrum-thrower. Now, mix the tantrum-thrower in with two other screaming boys and an often irritable little girl, and that is what my mother lived with for most of our childhood. It’s no wonder she gave into Scott’s demands. It was the only way to get him to calmed him down. After twelve hours at his office, my father would also succumb to Scott’s relentless fits. This included scolding anyone who caused even the tiniest amounts of trouble with regards to Scott.  I see their motives so much clearer now, and they make sense even if they aren’t exactly “correct”. They’re only human, but as a kid they were mom and dad, and the more I saw Scott get out of punishments scotch free the more I built up the angry wall of hurt and resentment between my parents and me.
The angrier I got the more I fought with Scott and my mom and dad’s ever-growing desire for me to just grow up! The more I fought the angrier I got still, and it repeated in a vicious, ongoing, cycle. I couldn’t talk to anybody about it either. My eldest brother James was too distant from the situation.  With a five and eight year age difference between Scott and me respectively he never took our issues very seriously. He was off to college before we knew it, and on the off chance he got stuck in the crosshairs, he always chided me.  In a lot of ways, he was worse than my parents. When he told me off, it was like a stranger was doing so, not an older brother. My other brother, Owen, was my opposite in that instead of three years younger, he was three years older than Scott. If anyone were to sympathize with me or try to help me make sense of my anger and resentment, it would be him. However, I never felt comfortable enough to vocalize my emotions: my words seemed to lose their value, and I was plagued with feelings of guilt and shallowness. Before he went to college, Owen was like a ghost in our own house. He spent so much time in his room that he rarely got involved in one of our battles, but when he did, he didn’t take sides. Instead, he tried to either separate us or threaten to call mom and dad. Since my family members had to find their own way of dealing with the dynamics, I felt I had to single handedly figure out my own problems. I wanted to find a friend with whom to commiserate, but this is a scenario that would be difficult for another adolescent to understand.
The problem with telling someone your sibling has a disability is that they never know how to react. They either don’t know what to do with themselves and settle for this solemn expression with their eyes turned down—careful to try not and look at me, or they try to relate to me by telling me stories of how this one time they did such and such with a special needs kid and aren’t they just so cute? No matter who they are though, they all almost immediately form expectations about my personality: patient, kind, supportive, compassionate, etc. I have heard them all ad nauseam. In fact, they are commonly listed by support groups and researchers as some of the benefits to being a sibling of special needs children. However, the problem is this list is not true or guaranteed for everybody. Dealing with Scott has not made me especially patient or kind or compassionate. It made me embarrassingly bitter and bitterly jealous but not really helpful, or supportive. Moreover, having a brother with disabilities does not, in any way, make me suitable for dealing with other kids with disabilities, yet that is always an assumption.
When I was leaving middle school and entering high school, I was sporadically hit with sudden bouts of depression that would leave me drained and debilitated. Other times, I would find myself stressed for no reason, over the smallest things, and it was during this period of time my mom finally got me a therapist. I’d finally found someone I could talk to about my brother without being judged, shut down, or misunderstood. I didn’t completely let go of my anger but did realize I’d stopped craving my parents’ attention. What I needed and wanted was someone to validate what I was feeling. Whenever I tried to talk to my mom or dad about my difficulties with Scott, they always said they understood but to look at it from their perspective. They said that I just had to survive until high school, and then, I’d be free of the situation whereas they’d be dealing with Scott forever. The problem with saying that was they might as well have been telling me my struggles were inconsequential compared to theirs. It’s similar to when I try telling my friends that I’m having a bad day, and they respond to me with just how much worse theirs is. That’s not to say I wanted a pity party thrown in my honor. I just wanted someone to say I wasn’t crazy or selfish for feeling the way I did. Now, I understand that the issue was beyond my friends’ level of maturation for that time in their life. Thus, talking to a therapist allowed me to take my first big steps toward growing up and away from the crippling anger and neglect I’d felt during my childhood.
Later on in my freshmen year of high school, my mom got me a personal trainer who also happened to have a son with special needs. It was with her that I found yet another person I could confide in, and this time she could genuinely relate to my dilemmas. Furthermore, she also offered insight as to what my parents were going through without ever making my predicaments seem any less important. Finally, I could start to see things through my parents’ eyes and because of that was able to rid myself of dubious amounts of anger and take that next step towards growing up.

Very recently, I had that heart to heart with my mother that I’ve been in need of since I was a child. I’ve let go of most of that bitter resentment that has plagued me for so long, and when I explained about validation, she gave it to me willingly. However, I also found myself returning that validation to her and her situation. After our tearful, heartfelt exchange, I felt as though a very large weight was lifted suddenly off my shoulders, and though Scott and I will still have our squabbles, I finally feel the freedom to move forward and grow up.

Monday, November 11, 2013

What's Your Story? - Example 3

For a full explanation of this assignment and the significance of the work included, please read the post on the What's Your Story? assignment we completed.

This is our final entry in the "metacognitive" category.  This student also wrote about the experiences with this assignment, but this essay has a much more traditional feel to it.  Standard paragraphs, depth, etc.  Still, it also has an element of narrative that moves it along.


Me, Myself, and Lies


I am a talker, but I am not an explainer, especially on topics of myself.  “How was your day today?” my mother would ask, and my customary response of “It was good.” would immediately invoke an argument over never telling her anything and supposedly hating her. However, what she does not realize is that I talk more about myself to her than any of my peers would ever think of.  In almost all social instances where my friends and I chat about what we did, I am always the listener, not because of shyness as I almost always speak my mind, but rather that expressing one’s self is a facet of other personalities that somehow missed my being.  I had never shared this aspect of me and I was never planning on doing so, but when I finally let the words pour out, I had hoped an unexplored part of me would finally be revealed.
It was the third day of my freshman year and my mind was still acclimating to the environment around me.  I had been doing great so far, and I was excited about all of my classes.  I walked into English class third block and immediately sat down and sighed while I turned towards the white board. As I read the prompt for the day in English class, I immediately searched the back of my mind for something to write about, but nothing was pulled out of the black abyss.  There were a few thoughts going through my mind, but the rest of my brain felt like nothingness.  I understood the prompt and I knew what I was supposed to write about, but still no words were on the paper yet.
While everyone else was busily writing, I just sat there looking straight through my composition book, as if expecting to see the paragraph in it like fortunes in a crystal ball.  All I had to do was list ten phrases that described me.  I felt like my IQ dropped 70 points because these types of questions were never easy for me.  Why did it have to be about ME?  Ask me to describe a family member? No problem.  A friend?  I got this!  I have personal judgements about these people.  
Ask me to talk about myself? It is like finding the base of a bottomless pit, impossible.  I have seemingly no idea how others view me  and I feel like my only option of expressing myself is to make the most generalized responses possible.  However, by calling myself  a blue-eyed, brown-haired, goal driven, and passionate person, it can be hard to tell the difference between me and Hitler.  This pattern persisted throughout my entire freshman year of high school, and it eventually got to the point where this inability of mine became my most distinct and unique characteristic, even though it was one I never intended to have.  I also had never imagined that I would call myself out on this distinguishment during one of the similar prompts that had gradually driven me insane.
By halfway through the second six weeks of sophomore year, I was just going through the ropes for English class.  Everyday I would look towards the board, begging to God that a personal prompt was not listed.  Sometimes, I was able to let out a huge sigh of relief, but others times I was left looking at the table in utter blankness.  The latter response was the case for Thursday October 3, 2013, not because of a prompt that we were only going to have to write a paragraph over, but that Mr. Bybee, my English teacher for the year, decided it would be a good idea to assign the class an entire essay over the very thing I detested to talk about the most, myself.  The requirements for the essay were very open-ended, but one thing was clear, it had to be about something that helped Mr. Bybee understand each student a little bit more.  
A thousand thoughts began buzzing throughout my brain, as I tried to think of something about me that I could write an entire essay over.  When that did not work, I even began attempting to think of previous works I had done and could recreate for the assignment. My thoughts were interrupted by the explaining of the procedure for the essay.  The first item on the list was a ten minute free-write to help figure out what we wanted to write about.  When the timer was hit to begin the countdown, he might as well have hit the starter to a time bomb inside of me.  I felt sick.  A stream of bile worked its way up my throat and into my mouth.  I unwillingly choked it back down, knowing that I had to endure just nine more minutes… eight… seven… six.
My eyes widened.  I became aware of the area around me again and also realized the topic of what I wanted to write about.  My unnamed characteristic that had plagued me for the past few years of my life and was affecting me right now was something that I had never shared before until that day.  I could not write about myself, so why not write about not being able to write about myself?  It made perfect sense(to me)!I picked up the pencil and my hand began moving automatically.  The words came rushing out of me onto the paper.  I described my feelings about it dominating my personality, about it determining who I am.  My inability to explain was my explanation now, and a true work of mine was finally put on paper.  The timer hit zero just as I finished my last sentence.  I willingly shared with the class that day because I felt that what I had written was special.  When the class did their usual applause as I finished, I desperately hoped it was not like any other work that I had shared.  However, Mr. Bybee brushed that situation off the table when he said he liked what I had written.  This was it.  This was a game changer.  Or so I thought.
So this now brings me to the due date  of the essay, the very same essay I am composing right now.  I have discovered a lot about myself while writing this essay.  The main thing being that I am a great procrastinator.  I have not, however, identified much more of my unwieldy characteristic.  This essay on the topic of myself was just as hard to write about as any other.  In fact, this subject probably determined what I wrote more than any other work I have ever created.  I could not elaborate on the topics of the introduction, so it became a narrative, I could not see how it applied to another person, so it became a first person narrative, and I could not visualize myself in any other situation besides the one I am actually living, so the work became a non-fiction, firsthand account.
I do not think this occurred because I still need come to terms with the characteristic, because I think I have.  Especially since I have continued to feel different ever since the day I finally shared my inability.  I just think it is similar to any other ailment in that you take baby steps in order to get better.  I also believe the fact that I was able to write this says a lot about my journey so far and about the potential I have of going even further.  So even though I may not have traveled as far as some might hope, I still thi- Nevermind, I have been talking about myself for too long.  How was your day today?

What's Your Story? - Example 2

For a full explanation of this assignment and the significance of the work included, please read the post on the What's Your Story? assignment we completed.

This example also deals with the student's frustration with the assignment, although this student ends up in a very different place that the previous assignment.  It kind of leads into our discussion of appearance versus reality in Macbeth.

Perhaps it's the rebel in me, but I just like the way this student manipulates the traditions of the expository essay.



Of Marginal Importance.


So here’s the thing. I’m looking around in this room full of people, and I feel so incredibly overwhelmed. They sit at their desks typing away, their heads full of ideas that, for them, are so easily transcribed onto paper.


And here I am.


No idea where to begin.


I am staring at this page and I am surrounded in the blankness of it and I can feel it squeezing me. Everything is made worse by the fact that I watch the beautiful girl next to me fill her blankness with beautiful black ink that forms beautiful freaking words. Because she knows. She knows who she is and what she wants to do and I am lost.


We are so different.


And I am so frustrated.


…And that little black line.  That cursor that gives me severe anxiety. It doesn’t blink in time to my music and it stares at me, constantly reminding me that I have absolutely nothing to give.


And the harsh truth of it is I have nothing to give because my brain is numb. I try to get it to feel just a little bit more, or to just feel at all, and it laughs at me. It rejects me and hides to collect dust, leaving me conflicted and muddled, encased in a web of I don’t knows. They cling to me, filling me with doubt and unsurety.


I don’t know.


And I’m sitting there in my blankness, with the cobwebs on my brain, and I realize that all I am, all I’ve ever been, is a character in everyone else’s story. I am written inside the margins. I am forgotten when the page is turned.


So I lie. I walk around these halls and I talk like I know, and like I am completely happy with all that I’ve done. I tell you that I know my story and what it is about, pretending I have written it all out and that I don’t worry too much about how it will end. I wear my lies to hide the fact that my story never existed.  


My lies have become compulsive. They ooze out of my mouth and trickle into the ears of everyone around me. And these people soak it up off of the floor where I’ve left it for them. They almost pull it out of my throat because they are so eager! They love me for it The lies.


For all the stupid things I tell them.


You’ll probably love me for it too. Because over these years, I’ve gotten quite good at lying.

You want me to tell you something interesting about me?  Well, here’s the thing.  I have Nothing. I can’t think of a single thing.

What's Your Story? - Example 1

For a full explanation of this assignment and the significance of the work included, please read the post on the What's Your Story? assignment we completed.

Several students wrote on their struggles with the assignment or school itself.  In the case of this student, the struggle takes place in a fascinating metacognitive conversation.





The text cursor flickers on the screen. On, off. On, off. I briefly think, It’s mocking me. This is the most open ended essay (or story?) I’ve ever been assigned in class. What point of view am I going to use? First person is the easiest for a story about myself, obviously, but I’ve always been a better writer with third person. But using you’s like it’s the reader in my shoes is a fun little view I’ve been using lately in my stories and roleplays. I sigh, and decide on first person and my new style, just to mix things up. Really, how do the other kids in my class make these decisions? I doubt they ever agonize over something like point of view before they start.
           Your name is Shane Bybee, and you’ve been given an assignment. You’re supposed to write a paper about you. Whether it’s entirely about you, something you like, or a problem you feel strongly about, it’s got to get written.’
           I stare at this intro. Nope, I don’t like it. Why on earth did I even consider starting by stating my name? If I’m going to make this an interesting story, I’ve got to try again.
           ‘You hate mornings, you decide. Six thirty AM is ungodly-o-clock in the morning, and should not be when you have to get up. But you do anyways.’
           Well, dang. I surprise myself. I didn’t exactly intend to have a narrative of my day for my paper, but it would work pretty well. I decide to go with it and see where it takes me. I can always scrap it later if it doesn’t work out.
           ‘You drift upstairs and grab a random shirt and pair of sweats. Though you have a whole rainbow of hoodies to pick from (God, you love hoodies) you grab the same one you’ve been using for a couple weeks now. It’s an oversized light blue one, with a curly pattern on the front. It’s a fandom hoodie, and you secretly hope by wearing it all the time some other member of the fandom might find you and strike up chat. It’s your twisted way of indirectly looking for friends. Either way, the hoodie was a gift from a dear online friend and it’d take more than the devil himself to get you out of it. At least for the next few days. You’ve gotta wash this thing soon.’
           I wonder if this isn’t turning into too much of a ramble, but I catch myself before I highlight and delete. I’m going to see this through. I’d just get equally self conscious about whatever retry I make, and they’d just gradually get worse and worse and more generic until I was just following the bare guidelines with no real creativity thrown in. If worse came to worst, I might not even turn anything in at all. No repeats of the Make It Memorable project, Shane, I reprimand myself.
           ‘Before long you’re headed out to the bus, armed with ramen and a sketchpad. Your two weapons against the world, those are. You could live just by eating ramen, wearing a hoodie, and drawing whatever came to mind. With a little music as well, of course.’
           All true enough.  Hoodies, ramen, music, and art. Four of my six passions.  I wonder if I’m going through them too fast, then laugh inwardly. Of course not. This essay’s already almost a page long, and there’s no end in sight. I’ve never done this much this fast on a school assignment, and it’s a little exciting. Maybe writing like this wasn’t such a bad idea.
           ‘At school you dart through the halls, hunched over as you try to navigate the overcrowded halls. You hate it when people touch you when you go, so you mostly try to shrink yourself and run through. Your mom says you have a slouching problem, and this is one of the reasons for that. Another is your total lack of self confidence.
           On A days, you spend the first two blocks of school over at the senior high, building with clay and drawing to your heart’s content. You have one real class for the day (it was WHAP, but you dropped because the work load was too heavy), which is World History, and then it’s Teen Leadership for last block. Needless to say, you love A days. But today is a B day, which means English Pre AP 2 for first block. You love that class most in that day, actually. You love the short stories and Socratic seminars (though you’re much too shy and slow to contribute) and you like it for the essay topics; they give you a little more room for originality. This class helps with your writing skills, and takes you that much closer to your goal of being an author later in life. You want to write fantasy, with a touch of reality. That’s the kind of thing you like. You’re not out much for fame, but you don’t want to be forgotten either, so you want to write something good enough to get a little notice, but you could never achieve the same level as JK Rowling or JRR Tolkein. But since it’s nearly impossible to live off royalties, you’re going to be a teacher too. An English professor, most likely, and you’ll write in your free time.
           I hurriedly catch myself – I’m going off on a tangent. At least it’s a tangent that still follows the guidelines. I hope.
           ‘But you digress. After English, you have Latin 2, then Chemistry, then Algebra 2. Latin is fun, mostly, and you like the language. Chemistry you’d like more if there was less math. Algebra 2 is synonymous with hell in your mind. It’s not that you dislike the teacher; you love all your teachers. It’s just that you can’t do math to save your life. You can’t ever seem to wrap your mind around the concepts and make the formulas work.’
           Getting some of this out on paper feels pretty good, I note. I decide I like this honesty essay, and stall its journey to the scrap bin a while longer.
           ‘As you sit, you sneak a hand into your hoodie pocket and finger the tiny stuffed animal there. You’d sewn it a day or two ago, simply because you loved the bigger versions of it you had at home and wanted an excuse to keep one with you and have something to love on while you were away from home. Besides, you normally hate everything you draw, but you can never go wrong when you make soft huggable things. It’s sort of refreshing to not feel embarrassed about one of your creations.
           As the teacher goes by, you casually put your hands back on the keyboard, to make it look like you were working. Not that you were particularly worried about getting caught this time, you were ahead of the game for once.
           When the bell rings for Latin, you head down, try not to get sardined in with other students in the hall, and go to your seat at the very back of the classroom, far end. When the teachers give you a chance to pick a seat, you always pick the secluded corner. It’s mostly to avoid people, but if others come to sit with you because they pity you, they’ve passed the first test and you spend the rest of the year eyeing them curiously, wondering if you could be friends. But of course, you don’t ever say anything first unless you’re required. Their talking to you first is the second test.
           If the readers haven’t figured it out yet, you are a very mistrustful individual.’
           By this point I almost hope other people will read this and learn that it’s not that I don’t want to be friends, it’s just I’m no good at social relations. Most people interpret it as unfriendliness, I think. And honestly I think most people would be creeped out by how much I want to be friends with them. I mentally slap myself back to work. Don’t get self conscious, Shane, there’s still the editing stage after this if you decide you’re too humiliated about a part to put it in the final draft. Then I laugh at myself. My first draft is more often than not my final draft. Maybe I actually will make a second draft this time, though.
           ‘Latin passes quickly. The bell rings for lunch, and as you walk down the hall you imagine one of your story characters walking beside you. You miss them, and you miss being able to enthuse about them and work on their story, but after National Novel Writing Month (Nanowrimo) last year, you lost all motivation for the story. After only 30000 words, even. You’re still ashamed of not making the goal of 50k, so you’ve resolved to try again this year. You feel like Nanowrimo is sneaking up behind you, getting ready to pounce, and it’s making you edgy. You hope your characters are happy. This is their fault.
           You locate your lunch table. You like your B day table better than A day, because on A days the table is so full you and Darcy are forced to sit on the concrete ledges. You want to be friends with her, and have talked to her every time you see her since she passed the second test, but the conversations never get far. Despite your similarities, it’s hard to keep a topic alive for long, and it’s frustrating. But on B days you sit with more people. There’s Katie Hansen (a newer friend from Teen Leadership who’s been trying to help you with math and is incredibly easy to talk to) and Noah Harston (an old friend from way back in fourth or fifth grade) and Darcy’s there too. Another boy sits at the table, but he’s a friend of Noah’s and you don’t really know his name.
           Lately you’ve spent lunches watching various animes suggested by- actually, that will be the last topic. You watch an episode of whatever show you’re watching at the time (presently Durarara) and lunch is over before you know it. You head up with Noah to the third floor and go to your Chemistry room. This is one of those rare classes where you don’t hide in the back, because you have a friend to cling to. You wonder if you should initiate a note-based punoff again (you’re the master of fish puns) but decide it would be better to take notes on the lesson.
           Math comes all too quickly, and that’s pretty much torture. You refuse to say more than that. Then it’s the bus ride home, and you sleep all through that while listening to Lovett songs on your iPod. As soon as you’re back in wifi range – also known as your house – you greet your two best friends on skype.
           This brings you to the last topic. You may have a spine made of tissue in the real world, but online you’re the bold, witty person you wish you were. You have several online friends, but two of them are hands down your best friends. None of your real life friends hold a candle to them, to be brutally honest. It’s just that you don’t have to edit and ponder everything you want to say, and you never trip over your words on the computer. The first of these two, Niki Goodacre, is a girl your age in Canada, and after many allnighters and videocalls and incidents where you finished each other’s thoughts, you’re hellbent on getting up there and seeing her in person, not through video. You’ve been hellbent on this since the end of first semester in ninth grade. The second is Moira Marks, who lives about an hour away from Washington, D.C. She’s your favorite roleplaying buddy and the one you enthuse about books and shows with.
           You already know whenever you mention these two, people clam up and give you the Stranger Danger talk, but it’s kind of hard to be afraid of them when you’ve seen them as their younger-than-you, hormonal, teenage selves. And you know better than most that sincerity is a difficult thing to fake.
           In case the readers haven’t figured this out either, you pride yourself on being an excellent judge of character, and you’ve never once lost a friendship to anything but completely external circumstances. For example, your friends moving to China (Ariel), Mexico (Hannah W), or switching to a college masquerading under the name of highschool (Madison).
You spend the majority of the evening talking with them, with occasional homework or chore stops if you have either of them unfinished. If you’ve got the time, you do some drawing, and should inspiration make one of its rare strikes you might write a bit.
Dinner is more often than not just a cup of water or milk if you don’t really want what’s in the fridge, and the time before going to sleep is spent reading. The cycle of the day just repeats for the five days of the school week, until the weekend comes around. That’s when you’re free to take on longer art projects, sleep in late, hold silly video calls and write letters. Needless to say, you like weekends better for their more lax pace.’
I look at this last sentence with annoyance. I’m ready to conclude the paper, but I don’t know how. After all, my life doesn’t have a nice neat conclusion - it just loops, hours to days to weeks to years, with no simple and effective finishing line. I should have anticipated this problem when I started this written trip through the average day of myself. I sigh, then decide to wing it and use what you have.
‘This is how the time passes for you, and how it will continue to. Minutes, days, months. That’s another thing you tend to dwell on a lot. The passing of time, and what will happen to you as it comes. But you think yourself a patient person. You’re in no hurry to be an adult, and you don’t dwell much on the past. You’re ready to see how things will change in the future, but you can wait, one average day after the next.’
I put on a period, label the document, and close Google Drive.

My work here is done.