Becoming Eliza

Eliza Lambeth's Gravestone
Eliza Lambeth’s Gravestone

During last semester, I was given an assignment in my Intro to Creative Writing class that involved writing a dramatic monologue. I scratched my head. A dramatic monologue? Isn’t that a theater thing? I admit that poetry is not my strong suit. Other than the angst-ridden poetry that I wrote during my Goth days in high school, I haven’t spent much time with it. Which is hilarious, by the way, because I hated writing short stories in high school, and that seems to be all I do these days. Anyway, this is why these complicated poetry assignments were freaking me out.

Needless to say, even after my prof lectured on the elements of a dramatic monologue and how I should pretend to be someone else, I spent quite a bit of time searching Google for further help. This was a portfolio piece after all, and I wanted to make sure that I only submitted my best work. I started by writing a poem as a homeless teenager. I could write a decent amount about that topic, no? It was a big issue in my hometown.

I let my boyfriend read what I had written so far. “I don’t like it,” he said, honest as always. I asked why. “Because you’re clearly not passionate about this. There’s no feeling behind it.” He had a point. I could definitely do better. More head scratching. What the hell was I going to write about?

And then it hit me. I searched frantically through folders upon folders of pictures saved on my laptop for the ones that I took in Kentucky while on a road trip. There it was: a photo of an old gravestone. You’re probably asking me how the fuck any of this makes sense. I should probably tell you that I love traipsing through old cemeteries and value the amount of history that can be found in them. As I was walking through this particular cemetery in Bardstown, KY, something about this stone smacked me on the back of the head. The stone, which belonged to a stranger named Eliza Lambeth, seemed to be calling to me, and it prompted me to take a picture of it for use in a later piece of my writing. I found that piece in my dramatic monologue.

The writing happened so seamlessly then. I wasn’t stumbling around in the dark looking for my next verse. The words kept pouring out naturally, with only a little effort on my behalf. At that moment, I was Eliza. I showed my boyfriend this new version. “Now this sounds more like something you’d write,” he said. Thanks, Eliza.


Ten Years From Now

I took a blogging class this past semester, and part of our homework each week was to complete a writing exercise. This one in particular was a favorite of mine. We were asked to have our future selves write about our present selves. I wanted to share it because I’m sure many of you can understand where I’m coming from (and because I think it’s pretty good for a first draft).

Ten years have gone by, but I still remember that feeling of anxiety and uncertainty in the pit of my stomach. I spent a lot of time holed up in the Writing Center on campus, feeling the stress of school and reality pressing down on me like a cinder block. It was the same anxiety I felt when I stepped onto the campus for the first time as a freshman. I didn’t know who I was, what I was doing, or what my future would be like. Would I feel a sense of belonging? Would I meet people who would actually “get” me?  I was ready for the change of pace, but to what extent I wasn’t sure.

I made it though. It wasn’t easy. There were a lot of late nights, term papers, and bottles of beer. There were some near nervous breakdowns too. The smell of weed at 2am permeating from my suitemate’s room started to become a strange sort of security blanket; at least I wasn’t all alone during those late nights. I kept telling myself it would all be worth it in the end.

I made Rutgers my home for five years. There was a Wednesday during the Fall semester of my senior year when I was sitting alone in the Writing Center, two hours before we were supposed to open. I was working on a writing sample for my graduate school applications, completely clueless as to what direction my story should take. It hit me then that one year from that moment I’d be starting over, in a new place, with new people and new jobs. I wouldn’t be going to work at the Writing Center, or even to my other on-campus computer job.  And if I played my cards right, I wouldn’t be living at home with my mother anymore either. It was a surreal thought.    

But the alternate thought was that my endless amounts of homework would prevent me from getting that writing sample done or filling out applications. I would have to keep living with my mother, because I didn’t get into any grad programs. I’ve come to realize that people in their early twenties doubt themselves a whole lot.

But everything turned out okay in the end, even after all of the worrying. I did manage to get away from the little bubble I created. I did move halfway across the country to pursue a degree that most people thought was a useless waste of time, which made it possible for me to write this while sitting on the couch in pajamas while everyone else is working a nine-to-five. I wish there was a way to tell the college senior version of me to slow down and enjoy an occasional lunch break, and to drink the coffee simply for the pleasure of it. 

What would future you say about present you?

It’s a Wrap

For the past three months, I’ve been busting my ass in an Intro to Creative Writing class and a Blogging class. Seriously, I’ve never written so much in such a short span of time. If I didn’t have grad school apps going out while I tried to stay on top of my work, I might have complained a little less during the semester.

That doesn’t matter anymore, because this literary form of boot camp was just what I needed. I’ve come a long way, in many ways. A writer needs confidence, and that was an area that was lacking for me. But when part of your grade involves standing up in front of a class and reading your first drafts out loud to a class of twenty, you get over that faster than one would think. Especially when you witness other people being ripped apart. I no longer feel the urge to throw myself on top of a rough draft anytime someone walks behind me or peeks over my shoulder. Let it suck, and let people tell you what sucks. It makes the next round of revisions easier.

The Holy Grail most sought after by rookie writers- that “perfect first draft”- really is just an object of legends. They just don’t happen, and they really don’t happen when you only have a day and a half to write a new 2-6 page magical realism story either. Oh, you’ve never written magical realism before? Ha.

So now I’m going to stop here, because I need to go fix this personal statement that’s due tomorrow, even though I’d rather get root canal done sans Novacaine than work on it.