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About the Writing Success Program (WSP) The Writing Success Program (WSP) is the longest running writing support service at UCLA. WSP is one of six projects in the Student Retention Center, housed in UCLA’s Community Programs Office. We believe in the power of words to transform and inspire. WSP offers rich, engaging writing sessions that go far beyond mere tutoring or proofreading. We support students in each step of the writing process to help them develop the tools to fully express their ideas in meaningful, eloquent writing. By supporting a more compassionate and confident approach to writing, students engage their voices with more power and joy. We collaborate with students on any writing-related project, including: essays, resumes, personal statements, and creative writing.
Mission History The Writing Success Program (WSP) was founded in 2002 by Janet E. Brown and concerned student leaders from the Campus Retention Committee (CRC). Prior to WSP’s establishment, Janet informally counseled students on their writing. In her approach, Janet centralized students’ knowledge and ideas, challenging them to think beyond the surface of an argument through her use of critical questions and dialogue. Janet’s writing methodology was clearly in line with the CRC’s goal of providing nontraditional students with the resources necessary to tap into their highest potential.
WSP’s objective is to support the Student Retention Center’s mission of retaining and graduating conscious and empowered leaders by easing writing anxiety, increasing students’ confidence, and helping students develop the analytical skills necessary to be effective, persuasive communicators.
Services 1-on-1 Writing & Creativity Counseling Workshops Resource Blog
Location: Student Activities Center (SAC) 105G Phone #: 310.794.9079 Email: email@example.com Blog: wspucla.wordpress.com Schedule Sessions: wspucla.setmore.com Facebook: Facebook.com/wspucla Twitter: @wspucla
E d i t o r ’s N o t e Self-Portraits Amidst the labyrinth of responsibilities—classes to attend, papers to write, tests to study for, internships to apply to, money to earn—we university students often forget to pause, breathe, and reflect. In high school, people would tell us that college is where you “find yourself.” It is a place for self-exploration and self-identification. For the most part, we treat this process as inevitable, as if it is something that happens to us and not something that we consciously do. For this project, I asked each staff member at the Writing Success Program, including myself, to embrace this process of self-reflection through the written word, to answer the basic but
daunting question, “Who are you?” Some of the pieces in this journal take the form of “honest poems”—frank, raw sketches. Others take the form of fairytales that use the fantastical to unveil the most real and honest angles of the writers. Rather than obsess over our goals and our futures, we took the time to remember where and who we have been and how that informs the person that we are now, in the present moment. So here, in this journal, are self-portraits. After reading this, we hope that you feel inspired to create your own. J o A n n a S c h i n d l e r , A ss i s t a n t D i r e c t o r 2015-2016
D e s i g n e r ’s N o t e When I first received the daunting project of designing a literary magazine, I felt a mixture of excitement and dread. Excitement, because I love print design and working with stories. Dread, because I was afraid of inaccurately portraying these poignant writing pieces. But, as I designed the spreads, I felt as if I got to know each staff member intimately. These are raw outpourings of their hearts; their individual voices and personalities resonated clearly in each piece. I realized that the writing pieces speak passionately alone, and my designs are mere support. Thus, these pages are designed intentionally.
Handwritten titles express vulnerable authenticity; layered photos imply multifaceted characters; webs of lines show that each of our unique self portraits are connected through the community at UCLA. I am blessed and humbled to design spreads that hold such precious, earnest literary works. I implore you to appreciate and cherish the individuality and rawness behind every story— including yours. Rachel Tu, CPO Graphic Designer
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Hi. My name is JoAnna—with a capital A. I was born on September 29th Six weeks before my due date. My parents tell me that I can be a bit impatient. I grew up in a pocket of suburbia in the San Fernando Valley Where nothing happened. I didn’t know what to say to college admissions When they asked for my life’s story. I’ve been trying to write significance into my narrative Ever since I was twelve years old And found my voice in a spiral notebook. The first time I got my heart broken, I told myself that I’d at least have something to write about. I like coffee. A lot. I have a weakness for journals, usually leather, Even though I prefer to type. My mind runs faster than my fingers, Sometimes too fast for me. I’ve been called a worry wart, more than once. I am half-Japanese. That is a fact. But when I tell people this, I feel like I am lying, Because I still don’t have the language to prove it. I don’t look Asian – or so I’ve been told My roots have grown into tall, winding branches that I can’t seem to reach. My straight hair sprung into curls in sixth grade, And for the longest time, I thought that my body had betrayed me. Boys weren’t into curly hair—my brother called me “unconventional.” My mother has me straighten it for special occasions. Maybe that’s why I have a weird fascination with wigs— Trying on a prettiness that I don’t seem to have.
And yet, I take picture after picture of myself. I spend a lot of time posting snapshots of my life on Instagram, Moments that I don’t really experience. Everything has a filter, including me. Too often I swallow words that might hurt others Even if they burn, fizzle, and itch in my stomach. You see, I am very self-aware, But sometimes, I need to be more present. I have a tendency to poke holes in good things, Like new sweaters and relationships To hurt myself and not be hurt by others (People say to avoid passive voice) And I’ve been trying to avoid the passivity That others read into my cuteness, my sweetness— People like to pinch my cheeks and poke my nose; They say that I look like a doll, or a hamster, Helpless and waiting to be saved. I don’t need to be saved. I I I I
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a grown woman. a beautiful woman. an intelligent, strong, and talented woman, and significant.
Before I knew this, I identified as a hopeless romantic, As if love was something that I could only hope for, Something that others had to give me. I am beginning to learn that love is something That I have to give to myself, everyday.
b y In Winged Town, a tiny rustic place near the edge of Crooked Kingdom, there lived a young girl named Cara. Cara lived with her mother and five sisters on a tiny farm. As the oldest child, Cara saw herself as the provider of the family. So, at a young age, Cara started helping her mother in the fields. By age 12, Cara could work the fields alone, sowing and harvesting as the seasons passed. On one particularly good harvest season, Cara had enough money left over to buy a horse. When she brought the little thing home, her mother, too kind to say anything about the condition of the horse, smiled and told Cara that with love anything could grow. Cara, familiar with making things grow, loved and cared for her horse so much, always feeding it bits of leftover corn and apples, that eventually it grew to be a strong stallion. With a strong stallion, Cara learned how to ride, and ride she did. Every week, Cara would mount her horse and ride through town, stretching her stallion’s legs. She’d ride and ride past the town and into the valleys. Sometimes she’d stop at other small towns and bring home lemon scones or tiny orange flavored biscuits. With every passing week, Cara had a new adventure story to tell. How she’d battled 3 ogres to get her sisters delicious desserts, or how she’d seen the prince and he’d said hello to her. How she’d jumped over ravines and river creeks. How she’d rescued young maidens from the hands of filthy robbers. Her sisters and mother would love to hear her stories. They’d sit and laugh and eat the pretty scones and breads Cara would bring back for them but they all knew Cara’s stories were just stories. The biscuits she brought back weren’t from the Golden City and the stories Cara told were only fibs. But still, they all loved Cara, and Cara knew she loved them. One day, after coming home from a ride with strawberry twists in her bag, Cara saw a crowd gather around her house. Women congregated near her
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door, talking amongst themselves. When Cara rode up to see what was going on, the women around her grew silent. Cara felt her heart clench. “What is going on here?” she said, dismounting from her horse. “What has happened?” A woman to Cara’s right spoke first, her words coming out as a tiny whisper. “Your mother…” she began, before her voice fell into mumbles. Another woman to Cara’s left raised her chin and continued, “She was out in the field. Out in the field doing men’s work when a terrible fit came over her. She fell to the ground. It took the butcher and the smith to get her inside your home.” After hearing this, Cara ran inside. Her mother lay on her bed, looking paler and whiter than Cara had ever seen her before. Her sisters all looked up to Cara with pleading eyes. Jane, the second-oldest child, told Cara how the witch doctor had stopped by. “It was terrible Cara!” she sobbed. “Mother won’t wake up. The witch lady said only the medicine of the Gold City can wake her up.” “It’s alright Jane,” Cara said, trying to keep her sisters calm. “We’ll figure something out.” The next day, after taking turns watching over their sick mother, Cara and her sisters heard a knock on the door. Cara stood and walked over to open the door. “Hello,” she said, when she saw the blacksmith at her door. “Good morning, m’am. How is your ill mother?” “Better, I think,” Cara replied, though she wasn’t sure at all if her mother had gotten better or worse. “I’m sorry to bring this up at a time like this miss, but I was wondering if I could talk to you about your sister Jane.”
“Jane?” Cara said, perplexed at the blacksmith’s request. “Well, I was wondering if you would let me marry her, seeing as how she’s unmarried and all.” “Pardon!?” Cara exclaimed, looking at the blacksmith with wide eyes. “Jane is only 15. She will not be getting married.” Cara could not believe the blacksmith’s request. What on Earth was he thinking? Jane was at least 30 years younger than he! “Come now Cara,” the smith said, his cheeks and chest growing plump. “I’ll give you a good lot for her. Do ya really think you can care for her and all them girls when ya mother’s gone? Whose to care for those girls when you go off on yer rides? If you give me Jane you can rest assured she’ll be taken care of.” “I will not give you my sister,” Cara snapped. “Leave!” “Suit yourself,” the blacksmith sneered. “But now Cara, who will take care of yer sisters when ya gone? If ya fall off your horse? If somethin’ happen to happen to ya? Who’ll protect them when ya gone?” The blacksmith turned away and whistled a tune that shook Cara to her core. She slammed the door shut, for the first time in her life, deathly afraid. Who would care for her family if she was gone? How could she care for them if her mother died? What the blacksmith had said was true. Her sisters, though she loved them, were not made for the work her mother and Cara lived by. They only stitched and cooked. They’d never needed to work. Worried and sick Cara laid down, unsure of what to do. Her whole life, she dreamed of adventures that would elevate her to greatness, she wished for them. Yet, now that the world had presented her with a real problem, a problem she could grasp in her hand,
Cara felt weak. Her stomach churned and her forehead ached with sweat. She mustn’t fail. She mustn’t fail…but how? How? Afraid and lost, not knowing what to do, Cara fell into an uneasy sleep. She dreamed of a ship that was setting sail, leaving her behind. She ran down a never-ending dock, screaming and waving her hands behind the ship, but no one heard her cries. The ship moved on past her and Cara ran after it, always trailing behind. The next morning, Cara’s younger sister, Tiny shook her awake. “Cara, Cara!” Tiny squeaked, her tiny fingers digging into Cara’s arms. “What?” Cara murmured, struggling to open her eyes.
for her, and as much as she wanted to travel the world and reach every corner of the kingdom, her fear was too large to tame. Yet Jane, gorgeous little Jane, had gone off by herself. Now Cara knew what she had to do. “I need to find Jane,” Cara said, finding courage she had never felt before. “I need to go to Gold City and find her and bring back medicine for mother.” She laced up her riding boots and grabbed her riding cape. The last thing she did before she walked out the door was look to her sisters and smile. “I’ll be brave for you,” she whispered, almost to herself. Then she turned to the door and walked out into the great unknown, with hope that her journey would be an adventure she could tell.
“Jane is gone.” “What?!” Cara jumped awake. “What happened?” “She went to the Gold City to try and find medicine for mom.” Cara couldn’t believe it. Jane, her younger sister of 15, had gone off by herself. “Why would she go by herself ?” Cara asked to the room, not expecting an answer, but then Tiny replied. “Because she knew you’d never go.” Cara turned around and stared at Tiny, the color draining from her face. “What?” Tiny, stammering her words and fidgeting with her dress continued. “We know why you always come back after your rides Cara, we can see it in your eyes. We know you’re scared.” Cara turned away, she couldn’t let Tiny see her cry. Her eyes welled with tears. Tiny was right. The reason why Cara only talked about the fictional adventures she’d had during her rides was because she was scared of having a real adventure of her own. She was scared of what the world had in store
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Hey my name is Monica or you can call me Moyqui like my family does I’m 22 years old but I get mistaken for 18 but I’m too fucking tall 5’9 to be exact And yes I am afraid of heights And spiders And throwing up And getting caught lying And telling people how I truly feel I’m a shitty friend Because I think about myself too much Or how I feel I have little patience and time I’m an Oakland girl Born and raised I say hella a lot And I love Hennessy And I love men in baggy jeans and t-shirts with Jordans and A’s and Raiders hats But I have to remember I can’t save them Sometimes they love me But I think they wanna fuck me This is what happens when you go from ugly to…not so ugly It’s the curly hair And the plunging neckline shirts Yes I like to show my boobs and I don’t give a fuck I used to think I was a slut And that’s what I blamed my loneliness on I spent a long time trying to be somebody’s dream girl Yet I claimed to be a strong badass woman And I’ve let every man that has touched me without consent getaway I stay silent. I look prettier when I’m silent. All I wanted to be was pretty It’s a shame when you reduce yourself to body parts It’s scary to be just be pretty and nothing more To be a spectacle but with nothing else to show or prove I need to stop serving my insides for others to eat I clearly think about this too much I am an overthinker I daydream in the classroom At the dinner table On the 720 bus line In my bed right before I go to sleep When will I ever be my own dream woman? Thin lines in between pretty woman vs. superwoman vs. wonder woman
I am always a work in progress Always Oakland af Lazy af Petty af Ride or die af Immigrant daughter af Poet af Fashionista af Makeup af Mexicana af Smart af Conscious af Traveler af Thankful af Curious af Nervous af Changing af I am always a work in progress. I tend to forget that often. 7
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Once upon a time, there was a young girl named Hanna. She lived with her family in a humble little apartment, but their home was warm and filled with laughter. One day, Hanna was playing a game of hide-andseek with the other children in the neighborhood when she found a giant gingko tree that fluttered like a wall of yellow butterflies. As she sat waiting for the seeker to find her below the ginkgo tree, she noticed something shining in the carpet of golden leaves that surrounded her. It was a charm necklace with a glass turtle that glowed cheerfully in many colors. She picked it up, and it produced a pleasing tinkle! Delighted, Hanna put on the necklace and ran back home to show her family her strange find. She had just reached the apartment door when a wart-covered goblin came riding down the hall on a dark cloud roaring, “Give me the turtle, or I’ll curse you!” Hanna became angry. Who was this rude ugly creature? She kicked the goblin’s warty shin and drove him away. As the goblin retreated, he screamed, “Bibbity bobbity boo! A curse I place on you!” A flash! A tremble! Then all was quiet, and the goblin was nowhere to be seen. Hanna skipped into her home, believing all was well. • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • The next day, a terrible storm shook the city. Howling winds tore buildings from the ground while lightning burned whole streets and black rain pounded dents into the roofs. The goblin had sent the calamitous spirit Eeju to torment Hanna! Eeju was the spirit of movement and chaos and had a body made of gray whirlwinds. With its cursed breath, the evil spirit blew Hanna and her family to a strange place on the other side of the world. There, it continued to buffet them around for seven years, never allowing them to settle down.
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However, Hanna never despaired of finding her home. One night, she dreamt that the glass turtle came alive and spoke to her. “I am the guardian of Happiness and Good Luck,” it said. “You protected me from the evil goblin, and for your kindness, I will tell you how to defeat the spirit Eeju and protect your home.” It beckoned to the girl. “Eeju is a wayward spirit and easily swayed. Find something of yours to hold Eeju’s interest and put it in the spirit’s core. Go now while the spirit sleeps!” Hanna awoke with the turtle’s words still echoing in her ears. She got up and found the stormy spirit snoring in a tree outside her house. She dug into her pockets and found only a goose feather. Shrugging, she tossed it into the swirling mass of wind that contained the spirit’s core, and went back to bed. The turtle had spoken true! The flighty spirit turned its interest away from Hanna and turned to geese. To this day, if you look up at a certain time each year, you can see Eeju chasing flocks of geese across the sky. • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • But, the trouble was not over. The goblin had another servant, the vexing spirit Bukkubukku, and he sent this evil spirit to play dastardly tricks on Hanna. Bukkubukku was a spirit of silence, and it tied up Hanna’s tongue so that she could not speak.
Once more, Hanna dreamt that the turtle spoke to her.
The spirit blinked its eye in surprise. “Y-you weren’t supposed to talk like this,” it whined.
“Bukkubukku is a cowardly spirit, and it only plagues those who fear it. You must tell a story from your heart to show the spirit Bukkubukku that you are not afraid.”
“I want to know,” she pressed.
Now, Hanna could no longer speak, but she could read and she could write. For many years, the girl toiled and wrote pages and pages of stories, until at last, she wrote the most magnificent story. She placed the story in front of the spirit, and freed from Bukkubukku’s spell, she declared, “I am not afraid of you, evil spirit!” Bukkubukku took one look at the story and fled in disgrace from the girl. • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • The third spirit was the biggest and baddest of them all. It came with creeping terror and spread its phantom tendrils all around Hanna. It was the notorious spirit Mooncha, whose fondness for eating human beings was only exceeded by its wicked sadism. It had a gigantic bloody eyeball and an awful gaping mouth with stinky gums and rotten teeth, and grew hair that dripped with flaming oil. This evil spirit waited by Hanna’s bed and whispered horrible, cruel things to her as she drifted to sleep. While listening to Mooncha’s whispers one night, Hanna fell asleep and dreamt again of the turtle. This time, it said, “You have looked after me all this time, and I am grateful for that. This will be the last time we meet in your dreams, but I will not leave you without hope. Make conversation with the spirit Mooncha, for it is a lonely spirit, and it can change if you show it kindness.” Hanna awoke to find Mooncha still at her bedside, poisoning her air with noxious words. But now, Hanna had a plan. She turned to the ghastly face and said, “You always talk about me, but what about you? Where are you from?”
From that night on, Hanna asked the evil spirit thousands of questions. They talked about all sorts of things, from the most trivial to their deepest darkest secrets. Hanna began to care for the spirit; she gave it eyedrops to soothe its tired eye and brushed its teeth. She cooked for it, washed its hair, and most importantly, gave it the attention it desired. Eventually, the odd pair - evil spirit and young girl - became good friends. • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • From his throne in the skies, the goblin seethed and gnashed his teeth at seeing his servants fail in their tasks. He rode in on his black cloud again and swooped at the girl. But, the spirit Mooncha had warned her and she was ready. The goblin grabbed here, reached there, but Hanna ducked and dodged the goblin’s writhing hands. But alas! The goblin’s razor-sharp nails cut the necklace’s thread, and the turtle fell to the floor. With a crash! it exploded into a million glass pieces. From within the shattered body of the turtle, out flew happiness and good luck in small iridescent bubbles. The bubbles floated high and far and all across the world. Sometimes, they bumped into people and gave them good fortune at fateful moments. Desperate to claim all the bubbles for his own, the goblin cursed these people to take away their happiness. But if she was near, Hanna would battle the goblin to make the thief release these bubbles back into the world. You may have felt these small packets of happiness at one time or another. One day, the goblin might go after you to try and take your happiness and good luck away! When this happens, call for Hanna with all your might, and maybe, just maybe, she will hear you.
b y It was cold in the back of the bus where I lay on my side, one chapped cheek kissing the peeling blue vinyl of the seat. I’d woken sharply from a dream—the same dream, or rather nightmare, that had been haunting my nights for months, ever since I had another falling out with one of my friends. Before I put on my glasses, all I could hear was the hissing of the bus as it slowed to a stop. I reached in my pocket to fish for my phone and when I checked the time, blinking past a hard rheum crust, I saw a text from my therapist asking if we could reschedule the appointment we’d made for today, a windy November morning just a week before Thanksgiving. Disappointed, I put my phone back in my jacket and squinted out the window. Outside, in the sky, the sun glowed palely through clouds that clung like breath frosting on thin blue glass. We were soaring down Wilshire on wheels gently whirring and the road, broken by potholes, shook our bodies with little jolts. We said nothing, we silent travelers. Mostly, we looked into our laps. Only a baby, rocking in his mother’s arms, didn’t avert his gaze and instead had the gall to stare at each of us with his dark, blank eyes. “What a cute little boy,” remarked an old lady, smiling amiably to show teeth stained a faint blue, probably by the bottle of pomegranate juice in her hand. The inky liquid quivered with every lurch of the bus. “Actually, it’s a girl,” the mother murmured, without looking up. I turned on my back and closed my eyes, letting the endless roar of the road lull me into sleep, and with the lights shining on my face I could see the red behind my eyelids crossed by even redder blood vessels that resembled a satellite view of rivers coursing through scorched clay. And then the dream I’d woken from took hold of me again, carrying me on wings like Icarus soaring near the fiery glare of a meridian sun. In the dream, the nightmare, I woke up from the senseless nether of a coma to a light
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hanging vertically above my eyes. It was like staring directly into a tiny sun. Hovering around it, in a circle, were a dozen dizzying faces, their expressions tense with anticipation. In the silence I became restless, breathing haggardly; the sudden thrust of sensations into my consciousness gave me a rush to the head. I wanted to escape their gaze and squirm out of sight, but I was strapped to the bed—my ankles and wrists bucked against tight cloth wrappings. I wanted to know who these people were, what the hell was going on. I could hear the hum of hospital machinery and a siren, many floors below, wailed like a ghost as it passed. I cracked the quietness with a smile because it seemed like the right thing to do. I was concerned with the rustiness of my own lips, the strain of the muscles at my mouth, but everyone in the room came alive as if I’d popped a balloon. Squealing and beaming, they looked away from me and around them into one another’s eyes. I observed them quizzically but they cheered and cheered. One of them, a boy wearing all gray-toned clothes, even cried. I could almost feel their breath warm my clammy skin in one heavy, collective sigh of relief. They grabbed me all over, giving my numb limbs a squeeze. “James,” they said. “Welcome back, James!” But I was breathing erratically now, terrified. I jolted, stuck in place, and the impulse to thrash against the binds around my joints intensified into a wild, wide-eyed fear. “Who are you?” I asked, and the sound of my voice, fresh in my ears, frightened me even more. I coughed and sprayed dust from my larynx in a plume that slowly fell into my lap. I shouted, “Where am I? What’s going on?” The questions, uttered as statements, folded around each other, twisting into a knot. The babel subsided and everyone froze. “James,” they said, “it’s me—don’t you remember?” I stared at these strangers all huddled in a hush.
“No,” I finally said, and because I didn’t know what to do, I laughed. They stepped back and regarded me with misgivings, with glassy, disbelieving eyes, and then they all froze, turned into glass, and shattered into a thousand shards that tinkled on the floor. It was silent again, and all I could hear was my breathing. I didn’t remember who I was. In the weeks after, my doctor, a kind and balding man with whom I had regular meetings, asked me questions about what I could recall. He showed me photos of my friends and asked me if they triggered any memories, or even just a feeling or a thought. But none of the images was familiar. Finally, he handed me a tattered leather-bound book on whose pages someone—he pointed at me and said, “You!”—had scrawled bullet-point entries in a cursive script. The indigo ink shimmered in the light, as if I’d just written them. “Read it,” he said, folding his arms across his white lab-coated chest. I read, starting on the first page, dated a year before, and after every sentence a contour, and then a shadow, and then a face, formed in front of me—it was me, more spirit than flesh, but it was a maniacal-looking version of myself. You’ll become distant from your best friends, I read, because you need to learn how to be a best friend. Out of sight, out of mind. After you move somewhere far away, you’ll drift from them, they’ll drift from you, and it’ll be too late to go back when you finally miss them. The thing in front of me grew in size. Without motivation, you can’t do anything. You can’t control motivation. You’ll end up in a place in life where you give up, even if people depend on you. You’re there for yourself before your friends. You forget too easily— forget the things others have done for you. You forget what your parents have done for you. Out of sight, out of mind. People cease to exist when you’re not physically with them. “I don’t want to read more,” I told my doctor. The translucent clone in front of me
shifted on its feet, grinning, and snatched the journal from my hands. Against my will, it continued to read from where I’d left off. “You forget,” it read, “and you’ll only hurt when you remember.” Its voice was awfully gruff and the room darkened like a time-lapse of day melting into night. The temperature dropped far enough that my breath came out in clouds. As I squinted through the dark at my clone, faintly illuminated by streetlights streaming in through the window, I realized that it was nothing more than memories that made a replica of myself that had existed before but no longer did. It was the past persisting in the
present, trapping me. “Then I’ll let go of you, too,” I said to it. “I’ll start fresh. I’ll change.” It was quiet for a moment and I heard a rumble coming from its core. And then its eyes widened, burned, and it turned into blue ice and burst into snow with a soft exploding sound. I stood there watching as the flakes drifted to the floor and warmed into water. I woke up on the bus. The driver, leaning over me, shook my arm again.
The old lady had left the now-empty bottle of pomegranate juice on a seat. It had seemed only moments ago when the mother and her daughter were in the row in front of me, and I still remembered those dark, blank eyes. I nodded at the driver and slung my backpack across my shoulder, and walked out into the fog. By a bench near a coffee-shop, where a warm glow and the rich aroma of roasting beans floated out into the air, I opened my diary to a new page and looked out at the street, gray with mist, and wrote, “I want to remember, always, that a memory won’t set me free.”
“Last stop,” he said. Everyone had left.
I kept whispering to myself, steadily rocking my head back and forth while my eyes stayed glued to the computer screen, the notes for my Celtic mythology class. Like the roots of a huge tree, my anxiety steadily sucked the nutrients out from all around me. My friends, my grades, my family, myself. Myself. What have I done to myself ? I thought. I continued to robotically rock my head back and forth. The word sounded so clear to me at first. But with each formation of the word, “no” began to transform into something foreign. My mind had begged to hear the word, again and again, in order to gain the comfort of familiarity and to validate my doubts regarding my potential for doing well this quarter. But what I got instead was the opposite. “No” was becoming an alien dialect to me. “No” was beginning to become useless. “No” had told me at the beginning of this quarter that I wouldn’t be able to do as well in my classes as I did last quarter. “No” told me I wouldn’t be able to fulfill my per-
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sonal goals, like working out and reading for fun. “No” had told me I would reach out for it in my time of desperation because it knew I would start to believe I’m not worth it, that I’m stupid. And “No” was correct. The only way I could feel better wasn’t to listen to words of encouragement from friends or family, but to listen to the thing that only brought me down even more. I was in a slump. What was wrong with me? None of my classes interested me. The assignments I completed has no passion. And yet I wanted to do my best. I abandoned gym time and neglected my self-care. But my sacrifices weren’t yielding sacrifice-worthy results. So I did what “No” told me to do. I started to tell myself “no.” “No, I will not do as well as I did last quarter.” “No, you are not going to feel good about going to class.” “No, you can’t do it.” But in that moment, as I rocked my head back and forth, eyes glued to my computer screen, the repetition of “no” disappeared within the sound of something else. You know sometimes you keep repeating a word and eventually the word you’re repeating doesn’t even sound like that word at all? That is
what was happening to me. All I heard now was my voice creating a sound that resembled “no.” This sound had no meaning, no negative feelings associated with the former. And it started to ease my mind. My focus now shifted from what “No” was telling me to do to the strength of my voice as I created the sound. And that’s when I knew “No” would never overcome who I really am, because I knew I was stronger. “No” was gone. And that’s when I realized that how I do this quarter, good or bad, will be just a faded memory when I am older. I might care now. I might define this quarter as “no.” But in time, this quarter’s “no” will be just a meaningless sound. Because it doesn’t really matter. My future does not rest in the performance of this quarter. So goodbye, “No.” You don’t matter to me. What matters to me instead is who I am despite your efforts to make me feel worse. I am an individual who will continue to push myself, encourage myself, even when times are tough and trying. And whenever I have the urge to run back to you, I know you’ll become lost again within the strength of my voice.
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1. Every time we went out, my grandpa always wore a sombrero. A white cream sombrero that was specifically for special occasions. On our church visits to Igualapa. When he’d pick me up and drop me off from the airport. On his birthday, on his grandsons’ weddings, on the nights the town would come out to visit us that come from “El Norte”. That’s what made him Don Carlos Mendoza. 2. I always told my father that he was a spitting image of my grandfather. Both of them moreno. They both smile rarely. They sit and stare off into space like they will find the words to what they have always wanted to say. Like I’ll finally get a peak into their souls. But they expose their rumbling laughs that come from the bottom of their bellies and the whole world feels it. Their eyes sometimes look sunken. A little tired I believe. They both like to hang out shirtless with soccer shorts on. Hairy chests and bellies exposed. 3. My grandpa likes to lay in the hammock and ask me questions about my father. Cuando va regresar? I always gave him the response, “Ojala pronto.” Every trip is the same question. The same answer. I never told him how alike they were. 4. Whenever people would come over after dinner, my grandpa liked taking out Corona. I have never been a fan of beer. He would hand me one and force it in my hand. This one’s for my granddaughter. For my son who I haven’t seen since he turned 18. Gracias a dios que hay un pedazo de el aqui con nosotros. I’d force the sour frothy liquid down my throat to stop myself from tearing up. 5. On one of my trips to Mexico, I didn’t get to say bye to my grandpa. He always woke up early to feed the cows and the horses at the ranch a few miles away. He hadn’t came back in time. I told my aunts and uncles to say bye to him for me.
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6. I once got to Mexico in time to celebrate my grandpa’s birthday in September. The photographer snapped away at my grandpa standing in front of his bright orange house. I stood next to him after. The photographer started yelling at me. My grandpa defended me. Defended his granddaughter who he’s only seen 10 times in his lifetime.
7. The only time I saw my grandpa show any emotion was when he dropped me off at the airport once. He hugged me right at the gate of TSA. In my arms he started sniffling. We clung on to each other a little longer. I wasn’t going to cry. We knew it wasn’t a goodbye. We’d see each other again sooner or later.
8. The only piece of his son has left.
9. My grandparents celebrated their 50th anniversary together last April. The longest relationship I have witnessed. It is said that my grandpa always accompanied my grandma everywhere. Rarely were they ever seen separate. A rare type of love.
10. The last meal my grandpa had was enchiladas. He still spoke and moved up and about on his last day. Medals should be given to those who fight till the very end.
11. My dad slept next to the altar for the first three days. I sat next to him and accompanied him in silence. “I always dreamt of going back to Mexico and seeing my mother and father. I imagined us in a truck, driving through la Costa Chica juntos. I dreamt of seeing them again and being with them. Now it’s forever a dream.”