Which option(s) best describes you as a young child? 1. You spent your time on the front porch, sun-baking goldfish crackers and swinging too high on the porch swing. 2. You looked up Maroon 5 songs on YouTube after your Mom told you not to, told you that they were grown-up songs. You listened on the lowest volume and soaked in the feeling of rebellion and dusty piano chords. 3.You slept on the bottom bunk with your older brother above you, always jealous of your little brother who slept in a crib in his own room with blue carpet and a treasure chest full of toys.
Which option(s) best describes you in elementary school? 1. You pretended to like mint chocolate chip ice cream so you could get the same flavor as your friend. You chewed gum even though it made your mouth feel like sandpaper. You gave a girl a friendship necklace, then wrote a note asking her to give it back after you fought over boys. 2. During recess, you raced the boys to the top of the playset. You taught girls to do backbends in the grass. You stood on swings and pretended you were surfing on the ocean, waves curling like pencil shavings below you. 3. At the end of third grade, you received awards for creative writing and reading. Your best friend won the best in the class award, and even though there wasn’t an award for second-best, the entire class knew you would win it if there was. After moving across the country that summer, your mom decided to homeschool you for the next school year, and you didn’t protest.
Which option(s) best describes you in middle school? 1. You still wanted to be an Olympic gymnast, though most of your teammates had given up that dream long ago. You spent 16 hours in the gym each week, did hundreds of push-ups, sit-ups, chin-ups. Every time you didn’t land a tumbling pass, your petite, muscular coach told you to climb the rope three times. You still have a scar on your toe from rope burn. 2. Your 11-year-old neighbor told you that homeschoolers were stupid, and you tried not to care. 3. You noticed yourself falling way from friends you used to be close with. You felt so incredibly different from them. You didn’t want to talk about boys and makeup and Instagram. You lied when friends invited you over, said you had other plans. You sat at home playing Minecraft and reading Harry Potter. You wondered what happened to the extraverted, pig-tailed girl you always thought you were.
Which option(s) best describes you in high school? 1. You went to a real school for the first time since third grade. On the first day, you sat next to a boy who drew smiley faces on your paper to make you less nervous. You sat in the corner of the classroom as often as possible. You didn’t understand the references your new friends made. 2. Sleepless nights multiplied. Motivation for anything became sparse. Everyday you felt heavier than the day before. For a few months, you wondered how much more of this you could take. You relied on music in a stronger way now. Songs held you together when you were falling apart-- they were no longer an enjoyment but a necessity. You bought a ukulele, pulled your dad’s old electric guitar down from the attic. You practiced until your fingertips were raw. 3. You had to quit gymnastics when your ankles couldn’t take the constant pounding of tumbling, the burn making it hard to walk sometimes. You hated asking for things from your parents, hated the guilt that comes along with admitting you can’t do it by yourself. You didn’t want to learn to drive. You still ordered from the kids menu.
What scares you? 1. Strong wind and out-of-control fire. 2. Failure, though you would never admit it. 3. The fact that you sometimes don’t feel real. You sometimes wonder if this is all in your head. While changing into pajamas every night, you stand in front of a mirror and tilt your head at the unfamiliar girl looking back at you. Your own identity is dizzy. You feel lost in your own flesh. You stand outside yourself now, watch yourself make all the mistakes you can’t undo, say words that can’t be erased, but you let it happen. Sometimes, you feel like you’re living in a video game. Sometimes, life is nothing more than a form of entertainment.
What do you like to do on a Saturday afternoon? 1. Let your fingers glide across piano keys like ice. Every song is a conversation between the keys, a heated argument, a heart-to- heart, a friendly encounter. Sustain pedal bobbing, this back and forth of muddled discussion, Canon in D, Moonlight Sonata. Music can fly you anywhere. Your childhood backyard, with the sandbox and the tree with branches the perfect height for swinging. A lonely McDonalds’ in the middle of the night. Most of the time, it doesn’t matter where you go, just as long as it isn’t here. 2. Walk to your neighborhood park and climb the tree next to the playset, as long as the bench under the tree is vacant. You climb as high as you can go without getting shaky, then sit. You don’t look at your phone, or close your eyes, you just sit. You take it all in, the leaves that spread like inviting hands above you, the hard, betrayed ground below you. 3. You definitely don’t think about tomorrow. You don’t think about going back to school on Monday or what the next weekend will bring. You don’t think about the cycle, Sunday to Saturday, endless. You don’t think about next month, or next year, or the next generation. You don’t think about graduating school and going to college and getting a job and finding a lover and growing old and dying. Whatever you do, you don’t think.
For each question, circle either true or false. When calculating your score, True = 1 point and False = 2 points.
True/False: One day, you want to be brave enough to shave your head. You want to invite change openly, let it refresh your heart.
True/False: You have spent too many hours in front of the mirror, studying yourself, the ups and downs of the body you should be grateful for, and wishing you were anything but you.
True/False: You feel as if your very existence is pulled tight like twine, ready to be snapped at any moment.
True/False: You promised yourself that high school wouldn’t change you.
True/False: You like to keep things simple.
True/False: You can’t count the number of promises you’ve broken.
True/False: You think life is far too complicated.
Quiz Results: If your answers add up to numbers between 13 and 32, you are not who you thought you were. The timeline of your life stacks like bricks on top of your chest, one by one, an annoyingly organized process. Your future has been built for you, yet you have trouble inserting yourself into the mold. Your parents promise that they don’t expect you to be anything but yourself, but you don’t know who you are, who you’re supposed to be. You are everything you’ve told yourself you’re not. You’re not. A girly-girl, romantic, scared of heights. You are the wrong thing at the wrong time, never the person you’ve wanted to become. You’ve been told that you’ll figure it out eventually, that these things take time. But you’ve been counting the stars for years, and you still don’t know how many there are. You’ve been cracked like an egg and flattened like fresh pavement. You’ve been searching for so long, but you refuse to stop. The beyond will show the way, one day.
Ali Clingan is a senior creative writer at Barbara Ingram School for the Arts. Her life dreams include, but are not limited to, riding in a hot air balloon, skydiving, and taking a nap in a hammock. In her free time, Ali likes to go on bike rides with her brother, do handstands in the grass, play her ukulele, daydream, and stargaze. Note: This piece was written during junior year.
Voices on the Radio by Toby Thrift
Click. She doesn’t. Believing in love is. Hard to see the world, all because of the sinking pit in. An empty. Stomach. Shouting, then the rattle of the stove. Her mom is. Drinking. Click. The golden afternoon light blocked by. Doors, slammed shut, locked, kept closed by. Depression is a real. Monsters hide in corners, swimming in soupy shadows and. It’s quiet here, the air is stuffed with cigarette smoke and dust and. Click. She doesn’t know love like. Loneliness is her only friend, her. Knights in shining armor don’t. Fathers don’t. Leave, in the dead of night, porch steps creaking and car doors squeaking and the stars. Glittering, like angels in. Glue, that’s what she asked. God went north. She needed a way to. Keeping things together should’ve never been her. Click. She hasn’t seen. Her mother won’t talk about. It’s never just because of. Money, and alcohol, and sweat and dust and cigarettes and jobs and. She only knows her father is home when. The living room is dark, and the TV is playing a football game and a can of beer falls from his hand and. Click. She can’t. Leaving the house means. They have time to run, they always have time to run and never. Come and get her, it’s the middle of the night and she’s made herself sick because of. Dawn. She never makes it to. Saying goodbye. Click. Her father is. Late, it’s always late here, late to. Come home, to dirt and dust and. She eats alone, fork scraping against. The keyhole is old and rusted, and the paper clip doesn’t quite fit, but she just wants. Her mom is quiet, behind the door, and it scares. Her voice is quiet by fault, afraid to kick up hysterics or. They push each other over the edge, with. Late nights and disappearances, and a kid who knows loneliness far too. Click. Time slips together, no one. It’s hard to speak, to look at. Absence isn’t. New, nothing is new and new won’t come, not here, not to this. Natural disaster. Abundance of unfixable. Warzone. Click. She sits, and she listens to the. Snippets, the bits and pieces she can catch in her. Fists hammering against doors, begging pleas and. Radio silence. That’s all there is sometimes, but. The roars of static and the exhaustion of. She wears isolation like a. Windbreaker, a. Take cover, it’s a. Battle. She’s not a soldier, but. At home, she weathers the war, and. She sits, and. Listens. Click.
Toby Thrift is a senior creative writer at Barbara Ingram School for the Arts. He enjoys a good laugh, the color red, and taking nonsense way too seriously.
Note: This piece was written during junior year.
from True Lies of the Sacred Heart, an encyclopedia by Madeline Marks
QUARANTINE Every generation has one defining moment. Their WWII, their Watergate, their 9-11. Whether it be war, a social movement, a political crisis, each generation has this collective experience. A shared trauma of sorts. It’s never a peace treaty or a celebration. It never seems to be anything good. I grew up hearing this. Not often; it’d come up in history classes every now and then, a lot on September 11th. Every generation has one defining moment. No one knows what yours will be, but believe me, it will come. I think some part of me knew right away, the first time they announced schools closing. This is it. I remember the Governor’s address. Last period, all 38 of us in the creative writing department crowded around our teacher’s little red MacBook, waiting in silent, communal anxiety to hear if he was going to say anything about closing schools. I watched the clock tick farther and farther past the final bell. I remember leaving that day. Putting away my books and binders and looking around the English classroom, small, dark, and windowless. Everything felt so final, and I couldn’t explain it. Like I was looking at it for the last time. I didn’t know it yet, but I guess I was. We’ve been in quarantine for six months now. It feels like two years. Everything is so different now. We’re living in a new world and we never even thought to say goodbye to the old one. To think that such a personal experience is shared by billions. It’s scary that this is what ties us together. Every generation has one defining moment. I guess it can’t be helped.
Madeline Marks is a senior creative writer at Barbara Ingram School for the Arts. She’s an avid piano player, film lover, and comic book nerd. She lives with her parents, sister, cat, and dog in Hagerstown, Maryland and she can’t wait to leave the house again.
My Father's Room Before I Left by Aidan Neidinger
There’s two cleaned out jam jars. One is filled with paintbrushes gleaming so much I half expect to see my reflection in it. The other with water, wisps of blue reaching out like ethereal tentacles beckoning a stranger closer. I peek over his shoulder and watch as he methodically drags a brush across the paper. He’s sketched out a bird, a jackdaw or a kingfisher or a heron, I’m not sure but he’s probably already told me a dozen times or so. He’s taped up some of his other watercolors above. Buffalo digging their horns into the ground, red-tailed hawks swooping down with their talons outstretched, horses from Mustang Island beating their hooves into the sand. Each of them labeled with his handwriting, his P’s curving like my A’s do now. There’s about half a dozen micronpens scattered around. His desk a mess when he paints but if anyone broke in they would find everything packed in old yellow and red Café Bustelo cans. He doesn’t listen to music when he’s painting. He likes the way his humming sounds. A deep growl from his chest like a bear preparing to charge. When I was younger he used to hum us lullabies or quote our storybooks in a sing-song voice when we were on road trips that lasted days. His bed is two twin mattresses stacked on each other held up by my old bed frame. He said he stacked them high because he didn’t want the dog sleeping with him. But when there’s no one else in the house he pushes a box next to his bed and lets the dog curl up at his feet. The two of them sinking a foot or so into the mattress. There are the paintings he did on cloth hanging off the walls by nails. The watercolors he’s taped up, their blue lines jutting out irregularly. He’s never wanted to sell any of them, they’re just something that keeps him sane. There’s a crate under his bed filled with old movies that he watches every night, Mutiny On the Bountywith Marlon Brando and The Ten Commandmentswith Charlton Heston. Peter O’Toole’s golden hair tucked beneath a white keffiyeh is usually on the small Toshiba television set on his bookcase. A pair of reading glasses with two small pieces of bamboo for arms sits next to the television, he’s had them for the past thirteen years and doesn’t want to pay for a new pair. There are three small crates underneath his bed filled with journals from his time in Jamaica. A sketch of an old man with long hair and a braided beard is in one of the pages, his eyes not visible behind a pair of bottle cap sunglasses. It’s titled Me in twenty more yearsin his wavy handwriting. In his closet, there are shirts he’s had since college, guayaberas that smell like wood shavings, and jeans that he pulls up by the holes at the belt loops. A black north face jacket that he’s had since the 80s is thrown over the back of his chair. His Jesus sandals are kicked under the bed because he knows the dog is too lazy to crawl under and tear them up. There are three phones stacked together, filled with pictures of my brother and me. A few of us playing lacrosse, or hiking trails with our dog, or the two of us sitting on the kitchen table sorting through Legos. He tells me he looks at them sometimes, that he wants more photos of me from now, that I should call him. I tell him I will. Just like I told him last time, and the time before that, and the time before that. He’ll put on his GSA lanyard and I’ll feel its thick plastic edges poke into me when he gives me a hug. His button down will feel thin when I pat his back. he’ll sniff and the sound of his boots will wake the dog up, the sound of the dog’s nametag jingle jangling will wake my brother up. We’ll all stand together in my fathers doorway in a tight Old Spice smelling group hug until one of the three phones goes off with a ping. A crescendo of back pats and mumbled We’ll miss you’s will follow me as I shut the door.
Aidan Neidinger is a junior creative writer at the Barbara Ingram School for the Arts. He is the product of when a young boy reads too many books with big words without knowing the meaning behind them. Born in Santa Fe New Mexico, a state which by some people’s opinions doesn’t exist, Neidinger adopts Texas as his homeland. He began his storytelling by lying to teachers about who fed pop rocks to the class gerbil and about where his homework had gone. Influenced by Kerouac, Kesey, and his family of writers Neidinger shows his love for the southwest in a soft-spoken twang that could put your toddler to bed.
Note: This piece was written during sophomore year.