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I am twelve.
I am twelve and I spend way too much time in my room. I fall asleep on the phone talking to my best friend up the street. After the bus drops us off we steal money from our rooms and walk to the nearest gas station from our pop-up neighborhood. We buy honey buns and Mountain Dew or Skittles and Coke and sit in a flimsy booth with a composition notebook between us and talk about the story we are writing. Kids with our thoughts but in a different place: orphans full of anger, crushed in dark corners of cities we have never seen.
When I am twelve I touch my best friend’s back while we watch TV in my room. She lets me play masseuse and we say nothing. When she has to go home I walk her out. Our garage is full of my mom’s unsorted debris from her second marriage. I stop my best friend and turn her face to mine and kiss her. It’s my first kiss and steal it from her. It’s wet and her mouth is small. My mother won’t be home for another hour, but she walks up the hill in my backyard to her own house.
I am twenty-four and I have seen the jaws of the big Midwest city, crouched along Lake Michigan ready to shit me out. And it will. I finish college in four years and I slink back to my Southern town in a paint-peeling car with a botched tint job. She’s long gone and far away, and we haven’t been friends for years. I hope that I as am far from her mind as she is from mine. But nostalgia pinches at my eyes and speaks to me through old songs, even though I am longing for something that died years ago.
At Fifteen-Draft 1
I measured time in cigarettes.
Underneath the underpass I popped reds and dropped
blues next to sucked off Popsicle sticks.
I straddled the concrete curb and anointed the night with love.
I was alive—snorting coke in abandoned homes
where pigeon shit painted the floor white.
I ripped off loose wood and climbed to the top
of the roof. I wanted to feel the air against my cheeks and fuck.
I wanted to break in half. Fold like heaven and hell.
I was at war with myself.
At fifteen I hummed paradise, became those streets
that tied into other streets, became my own country.
How I talked. I could’ve been anyone. I was incurable.
“People think a soul mate is your perfect fit, and that's what everyone wants. But a true soul mate is a mirror, the person who shows you everything that is holding you back, the person who brings you to your own attention so you can change your life. A true soul mate is probably the most important person you'll ever meet, because they tear down your walls and smack you awake. But to live with a soul mate forever? Nah. Too painful. Soul mates, they come into your life just to reveal another layer of yourself to you, and then leave. A soul mates purpose is to shake you up, tear apart your ego a little bit, show you your obstacles and addictions, break your heart open so new light can get in, make you so desperate and out of control that you have to transform your life, then introduce you to your spiritual master...”—Elizabeth Gilbert; Eat, Pray, Love
Transitioning from Fiction to Creative Nonfiction
I want to try and add more samples of non-fiction writing to my writing blog but am not quite sure where to find prompts or what is “acceptable”. Do you have any advice? I want to create a professional blog portfolio to include with internship/job applications that are for social media marketing and such that show off my mechanics and creativity without it being completely fictional.
I think two genres of creative nonfiction that would be really helpful for you to look into are personal essay and reportage. Both are definitely great ways for you to showcase your creative writing abilities in a nonfiction setting, and you can really write about whatever you want!
Don’t be scared off by seeing the word “essay”. The only similarities between the papers your write about in school and personal essays is that they’re based around a thesis, but in a person essay that thesis is you opinion, a lesson you learned, or how you feel about something. And instead of using examples from research or literature, you back up your thesis with examples from your own personal experiences. Explaining these experiences is where the “creative” part of creative nonfiction comes into personal essays.
Personal essays allow you to run rampant with the first person and be as informal as you’d like, but you have to be careful that you’re not just ranting or complaining. Your central thesis still has to be clear.
And as I’d said, a personal essay would be a great addition to your portfolio because it’ll show your creative nonfiction writing skills, but you can write it about literally anything. And actually, most lengthier blog posts are personal essays anyway!
Here’s a link to one of my favorite personal essays, Goodbye to All That by Joan Didion (who is like, the master of personal essays).
What do you know, we actually have a really in depth article on forming your main argument in a personal essay in The Yeah Write Review | Issue 02 if you’d like to know more!
Reportage is probably the genre of nonfiction that you’ve never heard of that you’ve read the most. You know when you read those articles in glossy magazine about celebrities that begin, “Ryan Gosling sits down across from me in the lounge at the Beverly Wilshire wearing a black T shirt, artfully ripped jeans, and what smells like Hugo Boss cologne”? That’s reportage. Most feature writing in magazine journalism (where the journalist uses the first person) is.
It’s a unique creative nonfiction genre because most of the other ones—personal essays, memoir, autobiography, etc.—center around you. But reportage is also journalistic, because it centers around a topic other than yourself, but you can still insert yourself into the narrative as a character. And instead of just writing about something in reverse pyramid style, displaying only the facts, you make the piece literary by inserting scenes (sort of the way you’d create scenes in a memoir, but again, centered around a topic other than yourself). You also don’t have to be completely objective. So in the same way personal essays are like writing an essay but more fun, writing reportage is like writing a news article, but more fun.
So what you could do, if you wanted, is pick a topic any topic—a new restaurant in town, a band, a person who you don’t know—to write about. Give yourself your own assignment. Then go to that restaurant/see that band play/interview that person, etc., and learn as much about the topic as you can. Then write about the experience.
One of the most famous and wonderful reportage pieces of all time that I really really love is Frank Sinatra Has A Cold by Gay Talese.
*Addendum: This piece about Frank Ocean in The New York Times from February 7 is another great example of modern reportage.
And hey, what do you know! We also have a more in-depth article about writing reportage in The Yeah Write Review | Issue 02 !
Whenever there’s an advice page like this, it’s automatically added to the list of topics on our Advice page, which can always be accessed under “Writing Advice” in the navigation or at yeahwriters.tumblr.com/advice.
How to deal with Bullies: a Guide by Public Enemy Number One
If you’ve ever been a child or a teenager, chances are you’ve been bullied, whether by a family member, people at school, people on Tumblr… It happens to all of us. Even the people who are doing the bullying are likely a victim of it! And that’s one of the reasons why I want to stress one main point in this article…
“Writing nonfiction is more like sculpture, a matter of shaping the research into the finished thing.” ”—Joan Didion
Advice for Young Idealists
This advice applies if you’ve ever been: optimistic, emotional, trusting, hopeful, needy, afraid of being alone, or self-conscious.
I used to be very optimistic. I hoped for the best out of everyone I met. I trusted people. I believed that people cared about me just because I cared about them. I’ve spent the past 21 years of my life living in a fantasy world, convincing myself that I could change people, change the way they think of me, change the way they think of the world. Then, much to my dismay, I became an adult. I became a realist. Although I miss my youthful optimism, it can only persist for so long. This is advice I wish someone had given me a year ago.
“A fool learns from his own mistakes, a wise man learns from the mistakes of others.”
1. Develop a tough exterior. If you can’t fake a smile, you’re never going to get through life. Grin and bear it. If you need to, run into the bathroom and cry for a few minutes, but girl wipe that make-up clean and get back to work. Hold yourself with poise and confidence. Radiate. Never let anyone know you’re upset. When people know personal information about you, such as your feelings, there is a good chance they will use it against you.
2. Trust no one. Yeah, that girl you work with seems really nice. Just because someone smiles and exchanges friendly banter with you does not mean they like you. Even if they do like you, it does not mean they care about you. If she wants to know about your love life, it’s not because she cares—it’s because she’s bored, curious, and wants gossip. Do not confuse curiosity with caring.
3. Divulge information carefully. It’s difficult to determine who is a true friend. My advice is stay out of cliques and groups where people have known one another longer than they’ve known you. If you confide in one of them, they’ll probably gossip about it because you’re new and naive. Also, people are dicks. Most of the time, rather than being happy that you’re happy, they’ll judge. Figure people out before you go telling them about your personal life. Test the waters.
4. Listen to what people say about other people. If someone tells you, “Don’t get too close with her, she’s crazy” or “He’s kind of an asshole when it comes to women” and they’ve known the person in question for years and you’ve only known them for months—I mean, do you really need to learn the hard way?
5. Persistence will not change anyone’s mind. You’re so confused because this guy won’t answer the phone for you. So you call again, and again, and again. You try to convince him a relationship could work out and that you could make him happy. Dude, stop it, girl! You just seem pathetic. Put the same amount of effort into others that they put into you. Only give what you receive.
6. Focus on the negative. I’ve been in faux-relationships (what are they called? Hook-ups? Friends with benefits? Man in my bed who won’t commit to me? Slam-piece?) where I have been told things such as, “I could see us dating,” “I think I’m falling in love with you,” and, “I really like you.” I, however, ignored the statements that would come before or after, such as, “I’m moving to Portland,” “I don’t want a relationship right now,” “If I were fifteen years younger.” Dude, do not ignore these negative clauses. They are the most important thing you need to hear.Listen to these clauses. This man does not want to date you. Kick him out of your bed. Now, before you cry and go crazy.
7. Dating red flags. Learn them: He sends naked/half-naked pictures of himself to you when you’ve only just met. Your entire relationship takes place inside the bedroom (don’t be fooled by the occasional brunch). He goes days without talking to you after you’ve already started hooking up (this means he’s not thinking about you/you are not important to him). He takes longer than an hour to respond to your text messages on a regular basis. He says things such as, “I encourage you to see other people.” Just cut it off, honey. Please, save yourself the weeks to months of heartache that will inevitably follow.
8. Know yourself. Do not convince yourself that you do not want a relationship just because he doesn’t. If you’re bubbling full of feelings every time he smiles at you, be aware of this fact. Don’t pretend that you want a casual hook-up when you really just want him to fall madly in love with you. Escape your fairy princess dreamland and listen to what this guy is telling you.
9. Never take compliments to heart. Here are some things I’ve been told that have made my heart soar. “You’re hilarious,” “I like having you around,” “Isn’t she great?”, “You do a good job,” “Everybody likes you,” “You’re amazing,” “You look so good naked,” “You’re an intelligent, beautiful woman,” “You’re talented.” Ahh! All these voices in your head, telling you what you are. The thing about taking compliments to heart is that once the compliments disappear you’ve lost your self-assurance. You don’t need this. You need to know that you are wonderful—if others tell you so, thank them, and forget they ever said it at all. Find the compliments from within, not from the echoes of words others have said.
10. Fuck what other people think. So, you’ve slept with multiple people at your workplace? So, you’ve accumulated some credit card debt? So, you don’t know how to cook? So, an acquaintance told you that you come off as ditzy? So, you blew off schoolwork to catch up with an old friend? Ask yourself—are you happy with the decisions you are making with your life? If the answer is yes, fuck what anyone thinks. If your shit is under control, do not worry about people wagging fingers. If you are doing no harm to yourself or others, making it to school and/or work every day, paying your bills on time, and getting everything done by its deadline, you’re fine.
11. Sometimes it matters what other people think. When you’ve done something that makes you feel shitty, have harmed others, or have done something with the potential to harm others, that’s the time to listen when people are wagging their fingers.
12. Actions speak louder than words. No explanation needed. Take this statement to heart, observe the way people treat you. This is more important than anything they say to you.
13. No one actually cares about you. Once-upon-a-dream-world I believed that love conquered all. Every person I had feelings for, I was ready to love them, care about them, give them 100%. That’s just what I do. However, not everyone has a heart as big as me. If you have a big heart, guard it, and realize that big, loving, caring hearts are rare. Many people have cold, distant, stoic, realist, feeling-less hearts. I haven’t figured out what makes people care about one another yet, but once I do, I’ll let you know.
14. Learn how not to want. I want him to text me back. I want my friends to hang out with me. I want sex. I want Chinese delivery. I want to fall in love. I want a million dollars. I want a pony. Lady, lady, love—the key is learning not to want. Learning not to want is the most incredible, freeing feeling in the world.
15. Learn how to be alone. Enjoying the company of good people is easy. Enjoying the company of yourself is difficult. When you have some free time, instead of reaching out to others, reach out to yourself. You say you like to read, to run, to paint? Do it. Too often we get caught up in our social worlds and forget the joys we can bring to ourselves. Cultivate a sense of well-being when you’re alone, because you’re going to have to learn to be alone for much of your adult life (especially your 20’s! You probably won’t feel as alone again until you’re 65+ when everyone around you starts dropping like flies). It will be more bearable to be alone during these lonely periods of life if you enjoy your own company.
Preparing to Use a Fork, by Laura Musselman
When I dream of my mother, she is hiding in the farthest corners of dimly lit rooms, bewildered and pale-faced and all bold, brown eyes. This is not unlike the real image she inhabits, sitting in her walker or on a paisley-cushioned bench at the end of the hall as she tries to piece together the portions of my face, my hair, my body into something that falls just short of familiar or safe.
My mother looks small sitting there, every day smaller than I have ever seen her. Frail, and barely there. The clothes that used to fit her snugly hang from her shoulders, sleeves like a tent meant to house the loose, wrinkled skin that hangs from her frame. She is my mother, of course, made up of the same cells that webbed into the bits and pieces of her that used to swab my dirty face with saliva and rub my back when I was sick. Conversely, she is not my mother. She is a ghost. And I am her daughter, and I am not her daughter. I am a stranger most every day she sees me.
Each time I see her, there is less to see. When people ask how she is doing, this is what I say. She is disappearing, and one day I am afraid she might fall through the space between the bench cushions. One day, maybe she will. One day, there will be nothing left. I know this, and yet my visits become less regular, less dependable. To see her is to see the formidable truth that soon she will no longer be there. And I am not that brave.