In a crowded, noisy world where life moves too quickly, the written word became my safe harbor. As a child, my best friend was Peter Pan, and Robin Hood taught me how to stand up for people being bullied. Aslan taught me how to listen to the quiet, steady voice inside of me as the challenges I faced grew more and more complicated. My grandfather was a big man, with a bigger personality, and at six feet six and a half inches tall, Papa would not hesitate to play pretend with me, claiming to be my “little fairy named Tink” while I imagined myself as Peter Pan. Papa taught me how to tell stories, bringing one story about Raggedy Anne to life and letting me live out my own version of that story, complete with my very own doll that we “found” in a ditch.
I later learned that Papa set the whole thing up, and at first, it stung to think the magic had been a set up, but later I came to realize that the magic was in the telling of the story and not the results. The time and care it took for him to set up the entire extravagant and thorough tale was probably the most touching and thoughtful gift anyone has given me to this day, and it made fiction real for me. My family is large and loud. As the only girl amongst a gaggle of grandchildren, it was difficult for me to have a voice unless I shouted right along with the rest, and louder. I quickly learned that in telling and writing stories, my voice was stronger; not only did I have a chance to take things at my own pace, but I could experience things in new ways within the safety of my notebook, and without the stress of trying to orchestrate trips or events that only I would enjoy.
In my family, I was the only real reader, the only one who truly enjoyed the arts or theatre, but outings were never easy to schedule. I hid in my books and created worlds of my own, wove plots and developed friendships between characters that explored every type of personality I could think up or read about. I threw myself into studying people, and the different types of people in the world. My passion for literature and creative writing grew stronger every day until it became so much a part of who I am that if I don’t write every day, I feel it the same as I feel the caffeine withdrawal when I miss my morning coffee.
The characters in the books I devoured challenged me to experience different cultures, different life choices, and to ask myself important questions that built my sense of right and wrong. I learned how I felt about politics, relationships, sex and drinking and drugs—all of these things were challenges I faced in books before I faced them in the world so that when I finally came face to face with real time issues, I already knew what I believed, and I had conviction that led me to make the right decision for my life.
It is my passionate belief that literature is not only a source of entertainment for the world, but it is an important tool to developing who we are as individuals. It provides us with choices, such as Jean Val Jean from Les Miserables by Victor Hugo. Val Jean was a poor man living with his sister and her child in pre-revolutionary France. At the time, the higher class of France saw the lower class as lesser, ignoring the needs of their countrymen while living in luxury and willful ignorance, eventually leading to the revolution. Val Jean’s family was starving, so he stole a loaf of bread and it cost him years of his life in prison doing hard labor. Upon his eventually release, Val Jean was given papers that declared him a dangerous man, and he was ordered to travel France checking in and showing his papers at every city and village he came to. At first, Val Jean was bitter and angry, but a bishop showed him kindness and gave him a chance, which Val Jean turned into redemption. He tore up the papers telling him who he was and who society saw him to be, and he remade himself into something better—a man of faith and honor.
Another example that has similar beginnings is the Monster of Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley. The Monster, not unlike Val Jean, began with nothing, was seen as nothing but the discarded parts of other people. This could be seen as a symbol of how the higher class of society saw the lower class at the time, made up of waste, similar to France. The creature was declared a Monster by his maker, and with every new encounter with society, the Monster accepted its opinions of him as truth, taking each reaction of fear and rejection as a wound. He embraced the mantle of Monster so much that he could not see and truly appreciate the goodness he found or the potential he had in himself.
These two stories demonstrate the stark contrast of how easy it can be to change our lives. We determine what our lives will be and who we are, not the society we live in, or the people we surround ourselves with. There is always a choice; we always have the chance to speak out and declare who we are and what we want, and these two stories that began in such impossible, dark odds where the world was pitted against the protagonists only serve as examples of how we must choose to live.
Another example can be found in Wicked by Gregory Maguire. The Wicked Witch of the West, Eflaba Thropp, is only seen as “wicked” because she is different than the other people in her world. She has strong feelings of right and wrong, and she becomes an activist for the rights of Animals (capital A), as the government tries to take their rights away. She has a choice offered to her in which she can go along with the plot and she is offered power, prestige, and a place beside the Wizard which is what she always wanted. Elfaba gives it all up because she knows it would be wrong. While she is not a perfect heroine, and perhaps more of an anti-hero, her uncompromising determination to be wholly and truly herself in the face of persecution and so much peer pressure inspired me.
Stories and creative writing have always made up a large part of who I am and encouraged me in times where I felt like the world was against me, when the odds were stacked too high. Having the opportunity to relate with characters who are going through similar troubles and times with myself has helped me feel like I am not alone, and sometimes that is all you need to know to keep going.
You are not alone.
That is what I hope to accomplish with my own writing: To help someone feel as though they are not alone, that better times are possible. It is my desire that attaining a Master’s Degree in Creative Writing will help me achieve that goal.