Tag Archives: passion

harriet the spy + why i write

So here I am, sitting in a cold, damp, deserted-dorm-room-turned-night-host-office and, instead of doing my homework, I am sifting through my Craft of Nonfiction portfolio compiled last Fall and came across this. I forgot I wrote this and it made me smile. Enjoy, and have sweet dreams as I sit here freezing my ears off.

Harriet the Spy and Other Reasons I Write by Liz Van Buren

It all started with Harriet the Spy. I was about seven when the movie came out, and the thought of there being an eleven year old spy exhilarated me. This was still around that time when I thought “anything was possible” and didn’t see anything wrong with that scenario. She traveled the dangerous streets of the city in her oversized yellow trench coat with all her “gear” tucked gently into coat pockets and the waistband of her pants. She also carried a composition notebook, personally decorated, which kept all of her observations and personal thoughts and speculations about all of the people she encountered in her travels. Harriet M. Welsch was the coolest girl alive to me, and I wanted to be a spy just like her.

Since the closest thing I had to a trench coat was a plastic Barbie raincoat, and my parents didn’t let me any farther than the front lobby, I settled on spying on people from my bedroom window, up on the sixth floor of an apartment complex mostly inhabited by Jewish seniors. This and my faulty binoculars did not stop me from believing I was going to achieve greatness as a seven-year old spy on my block. On my first day, I sat and scouted the building across the street, window by window, until I finally spotted someone moving on the third floor. I scrambled for my notebook – spiral not composition, and only decorated with the word “PRIVATE” in bubble letters – and began taking notes.

This lasted a total of fifteen minutes, until I realized that nothing interesting will come of a stay-at-home mom vacuuming and cleaning windows. Disappointed day after day with such poor results, I began to contrive my own observations – as a product of an overheated imagination. One night, I saw an adult male walk through his bedroom, look around for something, and then leave. He returned, looked out the window, and then shut the curtains. Though he probably saw the seven-year old Peeping Tom across the street and wanted some privacy, I imagined that he had some poor, innocent victim tied to a chair, ready to be sliced apart. He seemed like that kind of person. Because surely, a professional spy such as myself could read his facial expression accurately enough to make such a deduction from a hundred feet away.

But I suppose I am getting a little off-track.

Why do you write? I was once asked this very same question at a week-long writer’s workshop about four years ago. Many of the other impressionable young writers in my group spoke of family members, of being the first generation in their family to strive for education and success. Others said they hope to be published someday, and one kid even included that he often writes to calm himself from the paranoid feelings he gets while high on marijuana. We were a very eclectic bunch, I’d say. But the only problem is I don’t actually remember what I said. I remember it being some grandiose statement about something like “the awakening of my soul,” or a “cathartic release of emotion,” and perhaps “inspiration.” Ah, yes, I remember there being lots of inspiration.

Though I mock the sixteen-year old me, I’m almost ashamed to admit that those statements aren’t too far from the truth, as it stands now. I am now twenty years old, and essentially, I write to blow off steam. I write down my thoughts when, for whatever reason, I cannot verbalize them. I write when my friends piss me off, or when some asshole breaks my heart, or when my family hovers and overprotects me and treats me like an irresponsible, incapable invalid who can’t take care of herself. I write when I’m stressed about school, or afraid of the future. I write to escape the pain and distress of all of this. And sure, I suppose I write when I’m feeling rather jaded, hoping that maybe a word, or a phrase, or even the feeling of pen to paper will spark something exciting in my soul.

But I suppose that isn’t all there is to it. Lately, I also write because I am obsessed with the English language, and have been since the eleventh grade when Mr. Vicari introduced me to its many complexities and quirks. In eleventh grade English, he taught us to analyze a work until you could no longer read its original text, only the hundreds of notes you’ve taken in the margins and between the lines; not only did he heighten my awareness to intricate metaphors and imagery, but he also taught us to take note of every punctuation mark, when an author capitalizes words, and other seemingly minute details. These methods of reading also taught me to enhance my writing; I remember wanting to someday be so talented as to write something that could be so carefully scrutinized by the students of Mr. Vicari’s eleventh grade English classes.

Now, far beyond the eleventh grade, I use this almost-newfound love of words as something didactic. I challenge myself every time I write something, and I push my words to be something far better than they’ve ever been. Writing is almost like a puzzle for me – like a challenge or – ha! – a word problem. I’m like a “soccer mom” to my thoughts, obsessed with their performance.

If I were to concisely recapitulate what I’ve just said (which I often find a grueling task) I could say that the reasons behind why I write are ever-changing; it really depends on the day.



Filed under Non-fiction, Written Life

breakfast for the brain

Stop creativity: You are Entering a School Zone?

So my brain has been going through a drought lately. A writer’s drought. It’s like, whenever I get a somewhat interesting thought process going, it just fizzles out like a campfire in a storm. I figured it’s because I’ve been going through a funk these last few weeks, and haven’t really been up to doing anything productive. Or maybe it’s because I’ve been so focused on getting back into a school zone that I’ve sort of put my creative on the backburner, which is completely unfair to the creativity that seeps through my veins on a daily basis. Either way, I’ve been needing a creative pick-me-up, a breakfast for the brain.

Lucky for me, tonight, while at home for Labor Day week, I happened upon a box full of my old writing from high school, mostly from the hundreds of writing workshops I attended during those four years, but also a bunch of free writes and undeveloped short stories. A lot of it surprised me – I didn’t realize how good I was even at age fourteen – but it also really made me miss the good ol’ days. I was so passionate about a lot of things back then. I still am passionate, I guess, but it’s different now. Back then, I used to write all the time: on napkins at Starbucks, or in the margins of my class notes. I used to be known for this passion; my teachers would come to me whenever they heard about a writing workshop or something of the like. But now, I’ve become more passionate about writing to impress my professors, or writing to impress my blog audience, or writing to jumpstart a career, but when it comes to just plain writing, for the bloody hell of it, I can think of 100+ other things to do instead. How sad, that that’s how I treat my life’s fervor – like some old childhood trophy that’s destined to a life of dust-collecting on the back of the highest shelf in the house. I quickly shook off that heavy feeling and realized that that’s the missing piece: excitement. True, honest, raw excitement. And belief, I suppose, in my talent.

Anyway, after that momentary soul searching, I realized how helpful it was that I happened upon this little treasure chest. Like I said, the bulk of this canon-of-sorts was from local teen writers’ workshops: cheap folders full of dozens of unfinished free writes, and useful free writing ideas. Finding a large source of inspiration in the midst of creative drought? Pretty sure you couldn’t write better coincidence even if you tried.

Point is, expect to find some finished (or in some cases, updated) versions of these little gems in the near future. And it’s time for me to rekindle that true excitement and fervor!


Filed under Introspection

a rebirth, of sorts

I feel like a negligent parent. This blog has now been in existence for well over a month and I have barely written a damn thing. Without sounding like I just make excuses for myself all over the place, I believe the reason I haven’t fully pursued my new goal of becoming an accomplished blogger is because, quite frankly, I didn’t know how to blog. Sure, I know how to push my fingers against the keys to make letters, then words, then sentences, then perhaps even a thought here and there. But I was unaware of what it took to maintain a blog – a little corner of the cyber world that I could call my own. I had unrealistic goals, such as trying to include as little details of my daily life as possible. Yeah, okay, Self. I’m pretty sure 98.643% of what I write about derives from my daily life, the mundane details of my mundane little existence. I thought that if I wrote about my experiences at work, or on the bus to work, or at the gym, this blog would qualify to rank with my high school LiveJournal (Love LJ, don’t get me wrong here). What I didn’t consider was how interesting I can make things – like the faint but ever-present smell of urine on 5th Avenue or the self-proclaimed “drunken fool” on my afternoon commutes – amusing, or even relevant. Clearly, with a limiting rule such as “omit all daily activity,” this corner of cyber world was headed nowhere fast.

Okay, so it’s settled. I had no idea what the hell I was doing. I can admit failure. It’s just that I also have so many thoughts up in my noggin – that things works overtime all the time. And I was going about this all wrong. Not just what I wanted to write about. But how I was approaching it. I’d cuddle up in bed with my laptop after a long day of work/commuting/exercising/self-analysis and BAM! I was asleep in 5 minutes. Or, I’d be too engrossed with syndication (more specifically, Roseanne and Golden Girls) to want to think about my own life. Some people might call this behavior lazy. They would be 100% correct.

Well now that I’ve finally owned up to my laziness and pleaded my case, I suppose I should move this baby along. Perhaps start it off with the basics – the 4 W’s. Call me old-fashioned (or lame) but I find this always works when I’m at a loss for words.

Who: The name is Liz. I’m not going to bore you with a laundry list of likes, dislikes, and favorites. I am 21 years old majoring in English (Creative Writing) and minoring in Art Studio and Jewish Studies You weren’t expecting the last one, I know. I’m a non-practicing Jew but I’d to feel Jew-y somehow. I love to paint. And photograph the world. And create things in general. Huge fan of music. And food. And sleep. My goals? I have many, some yet to be discovered, but for now I’ll offer up my long-term goals. I’d like to decorate. Create. Until now, it seemed definite that my decoration dreams were those of an interior nature, but because of my aforementioned New York-style brain (never sleeps. get it? no? moving on…), I have started to consider other options. One example: a career in party decor. Centerpieces. Sounds lame on paper, but I spend all my time (and money) in Michael’s anyway. And I’m always the first to steal the centerpieces at a party. It seems logical. In addition to spending all my days drowning in ribbon and silk flowers, or paint chips and fabric samples, I’d love to write. Reword: I’d love to become an author. Get published, have my writing mean something to someone other than myself and my writing professors. As mentioned in my last and long-lost blog entry, that’s why I started this thing (see: Why).

What: I want to say everything. I want to tell everyone what I’m feeling, what I’ve been through, and how it’s all affected me, while keeping in mind both the elements of eloquence and realism. I want to finally be honest, as opposed to biting my tongue and reading half-truths off of cue cards. I don’t think there is enough honestly in this world, or at least my world. Think of it as a therapy session, minus the comfy chair. And the confidentiality, I guess.

Don’t get me wrong, I understand the boundaries of what’s appropriate for a public forum and what’s not. However, I have spent most of my adolescent-adult life hiding how I really feel, in fear of the reactions of others. And as a result, I let people rule my life. And as a result of that, I guess, I have fair-weather self-image and lack of confidence to boot. A frustrating and unrelenting cycle: I let people walk all over me, so I never feel that I deserve what I want, so I let people walk all over me. Quick, someone please tell me if the chicken or the egg came first because my head is spinning! But seriously. What I’m getting at is that I need somewhere to release all this bottled-up bullshit. The fact that I still even have to deal with petty nonsense is bad enough. But if I can’t find a place in this world for my side of each story, then I may just have a stroke before I’m 30. And I figure if I can channel this passion into writing, I may just come up with something potentially prize-winning or best-selling.

Where: Here?

When: I’d like to contribute to my little nook of the world every day. HA! Who am I kidding? I spent an entire month a slave to syndication; I’d be lucky if I can conjure up a brilliant thought once a week. But I’ll push myself, for now, to write three times a week. Hopefully my life will get more fascinating as time goes on, thus causing an increase in updates. I have an on-off relationship with reading, so I’ll be throwing in my two cents in that department every now and again.

Why: I guess I sort of covered this category with, oh I don’t know, this entire post, but going back to what I was saying in Who, I decided to start this as a way to jump-start my writing career. I haven’t sorted through the details yet, like how I’m going to gain enough readership to achieve relevance in this world, but for now it doesn’t matter. I’m using this blog as a cathartic release. It’s about time I take life by the balls and run with it and stop whining (internally) about the fallen state of my life. Or my social life, to be more specific. I’d love to say that “I don’t give a shit about all a y’all!!!!!!” like some crazy person. I’ll admit, I tried it. But it doesn’t work. Thus, this blog. I can’t keep running from how I feel, but I can make life a little more bearable.

So in conclusion, I apologize to the blogging world for my negligence to my non-existent (for now) readers. I hope everyone who reads henceforth enjoys listening to my honest and hopefully enjoyable and occasionally humorous rants. Oh, and we can’t forget humor. Because no matter how intense and mind-numbingly unbearable life gets, I always try to smile through it. Even if it’s just a happy face on my Post-Its.

Until next time,

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Filed under Introspection