Department of English

Fall 2005 Edition

Emotions - A Collage

Jennifer Johnson
Expressive 2010 Voice

Simple Giggles

I always like Saturdays best,
The weekend is finally here.
There’s time for drawing with smelly markers
And tea parties outside
Where I invite all my brothers’ G.I. Joes even though they don’t know.
We chase the ice cream truck man with our bicycles
And have lots of water gun fun,
But it makes me mad when my brothers gang up on me
And get my pink dress Mommy bought me all wet
Even though I know I shouldn’t wear it
Until church on Sunday.
We watch Ninja Turtles when we wake up
And Mommy makes chocolate-chip pancakes and applesauce,
And if we’re really, really good, maybe even a vanilla cake
With super-duper extra frosting on top.
But we don’t get to eat it until dinner
And that’s even after Mommy sees our icky greens are gone
So I just stuff mine in my sock and feed them to my kitty later
Who’s a fatso and eats anything, even my broccoli and beans one time.
I eat ice cream
And play Nintendo
And there’s no school
And no meanie teachers that won’t let me bring Twinkies for lunch
And no homework in my bad cursive
And no smelly boys who pull my hair
Except my brothers.
But then Daddy punishes them
And Mommy brushes my hair before tucking me into bed.

Pure Relief

My writing is like the buildup to a doctor’s shot.  Faced with an unappealing appointment of pain, a paper to write, a task of creativity, I find myself beginning to panic, as if my brain has been ripped of ideas and left to face the world blank.  I stress over it right up until that moment when the needle punctures skin, when creative thoughts suddenly burst forth and flow out through my pen.  And that’s when I realize that it wasn’t so bad after all, this shot, this search for ideas, because all there is now is relief, the peace after the storm, the band-aid over the wound.  It was no big deal, after all.  I’m free—free to write, free to inspiration, free to relief, free to leave—and it’s nice, this clarity I suddenly have of the beautiful world now relinquished of shots and needles and needle-wielding doctors.

Bitter Delight

Before I write anything, I have to speak it out in my head.  Think of it as when you’re practicing that “insanely cool” first-time conversation you tell yourself you’re going to have with that cute boy sitting next to you in Chem class—it’s very similar.  You do it over and over and over again, maybe sometimes in front of a mirror, and maybe sometimes while daydreaming in Sociology since you’re convinced that you already have enough problems of your own without trying to learn about everyone else’s.  Only, it seems as though you can never get that conversation down right, so you just blow it off and decide to improvise the whole thing when the big day comes.  Which of course ends up turning out horrible—you squeaking, and mumbling incoherently, and turning redder than a balloon while he looks at you like you’re from Pluto or something, much less even Venus or Mars. 

Anyway, as far as my writing process goes, my date’s with my notebook.  And for some reason, I think he’s a lot more judgmental.  The annoying booger stares up at me mockingly, laughing because we’re both obviously still blank.  And worse yet, I feel so darn uninspired since he’s so darn unappealing.  I mean, it’s not like I’m looking at blonde hair, blue eyes, and 180 pounds of pure muscle. Nope, I get a sharp metal spine that keeps poking my arm every time I take a break from doodling with my pencil.  What is this, capital punishment or something?  I can almost hear my notebook shouting, “Write, woman, write…or face the wrath of the almighty non-paper cut method of torture.”  Poke!  Poke!  And then there’s those blue lines that go on again and again all the way down the page, giving you the unpleasant sensation of realizing just how much you haven’t written yet.  Let’s not even mention the fact that he goes on for another 149 blue-lined pages of blankness. 

“Enough already!”  I tell him.  “I get the point, you piece of no-good property!”  Sometimes we sound less like dates and more like an old, bickering couple.  Which, technically, I guess we are.  I hate him because he hurts my brain.  He hates me because I walk all over him (I mean literally—on those days when the ideas just aren’t flowing).   “If you’re not more careful, one day I just might divorce you and marry a keyboard.”  This threat always gets him quiet.  He hates technology.  Something about costs and production and his own extinction.  I don’t claim to understand it.  Because, hey, I could always use him for toilet paper—that hasn’t been updated since its invention.

And so with these comforting thoughts, I begin to write.

It seems like all the time I’ve wasted thus far—the pencil nibbling, the doodling, the agonizing, the bickering—it’s all built up to a crescendo and comes sweeping out at once…and I’ve got it.  A simple idea builds up into my mind and quickly I touch pencil to paper.  Everything just starts flowing smoothly then, like waves on a warm summer day back home in California.  I write.  And the more I write the more the paper crinkles, as if he’s trying to distract me from my process and pay attention to him.  But I’m oblivious to blue lines now.  It’s as if my words are flowing right off the paper, which—if I’m not careful—in some cases they are.

“Take that, you puggered-brained pipsqueak!” I say, stabbing my notebook a few times for good measure.  (Actually, I’m just dotting the i’s in my name and elsewhere, but sometimes I like to think I’m exacting revenge). 

My work is done, the writing complete.  But I can’t help thinking I really need to work on my relationship issues.

Lasting Sorrow

I’m not good at expressing my feelings.  I don’t know the right way to say “I love you,” or “You’re making me cry,” or even “I hope you die tomorrow.”

But, of course, I didn’t want her to die.  I wanted the opposite: I wished she could go on living a healthy, happy life.  After all, she was my grandma; all little girls want happy things with a cherry on top for their grandmas.  But I didn’t have any cherries (in fact, my grandma and I hated cherries).  So that left one option: to accept that she had come to the end of her road, and me to mine—her physically and me verbally.  She had cancer and was dying.  I was fighting an emotional rollercoaster of feelings for the first time.  I had never had anyone I loved die before.  Sure, there was the news that would occasionally come down the family grapevine that the distant great-great aunt or second cousin half-removed had croaked.  But I didn’t know them.  You can’t truly love someone you don’t know, even if they are family.

I knew my grandma.  She was like a second mother in raising me.  Some things we did together—like eating my first ice cream cone or teaching me how to ride a bicycle—just can’t be forgotten.  But how do you express all the gratitude and love you’ve accumulated through sixteen years of living for a person who’s standing on the brink of life?  How do you express yourself when you feel you just can’t get the words out?  Tears, yes.  But words?

So I wrote a letter.  A simple letter, really.  It didn’t say “Thank you for being there for me every day of my life to guide me mentally and emotionally.”  And it didn’t say, “I appreciate all the devotion you gave to helping me grow up to be the person I am today.”  It didn’t even say “I love you.” 

But it did talk about the day we sat under the sun and watched the waves beat down on the sandy shore, as the wind whistled overhead and the seagulls danced in front of the backdrop of the soft clouds.  And it told of the time she surprised me when she picked me up from the first nightmarish day of ninth-grade.  We drove to Disneyland and spent the afternoon sipping root beer floats and chuckling at the looks on out-of-staters’ faces as they experienced for the first time the “happiest place on earth.”  It talked about the day we decided to make a cake for my little brother.  We spent hours messing up the kitchen and agonizing over the toppings.  In the end we agreed that the only way to go was with strawberries, for there is no sweeter fruit in the world than an ice-cold strawberry on a hot day.  The letter also mentioned the summer we rowed to Catalina Island and biked around the bay on one of those two-person bicycles.  It had been my first time riding one and turned out extremely fun, even if I did scrape a knee.  My grandma had told me that “to scrape one knee meant that you only had 999 more injuries left to go and that, looking on the bright side of things, it put me farther ahead on completing the human casualty list than some other people.”  I guess her list is complete now.

Even though I couldn’t tell her to her face how much she meant to me, I gave her the letter.  And she knew.  You don’t go through life experiencing that much love and not know what someone means to you.  Saying “I love you” meant nothing in comparison to remembering the times we had shared together.  She read my letter and knew what I wanted to say.

Two days later, she died.  I like to think she passed away happily, perhaps chewing on a strawberry.

Undeserved Peace

It’s early.  I’m tired.  But I’ve got homework to do and I know I better start now.  The room is stuffy.  The bed is tempting.  I know I need to get outside before this madness overtakes me. 

I am now strolling through campus on this early Sunday morning, looking for a suitable place to get my work done.  I carry stress and that work on my back, and yet…nothing seems able to break the serene temperament that has suddenly taken over my body.  I notice things that weren’t there days before.  Or perhaps they were, but how can you notice the gently blowing trees whispering in the frosty air all around (or the nearby stream’s water slowly trickling its life away down the white rocks?  Or the leaves fiercely holding on to their last shade of green before the storm of winter?) when you’re frantically running to get to your classes on time?  Or the tiny beads of water upon each single blade of grass when you’re watching that cute boy stroll by?  Or the first rays of sunlight peeking through the morning mist when all you care about is breakfast?  The earth, wet dirt under my feet—how could the mud smell so fresh and look so clean?  This peace and serenity floating over the empty campus is surreal, and yet never more real have I felt in my surroundings. 

This is how it must have been, before civilized living and metal contraptions sprang up to control the land.  Yet even the old buildings of the school seem right, in place, united with the trees and life all around as one.  Looking to my right, I see above the depths of a black, limitless window a bird’s nest resting comfortably; the inhabitant returns my gaze in curious silence.  And there, next to a wooden bench, a herd of black ants march to their own tune, happily steering themselves toward a scrap of turkey left over from some student’s club sandwich. 

The town is asleep, and yet I am not envious.  I didn’t expect to encounter this quiet land when I started out today—this warmth of outer peace on a chilly morning, this inner peace within me now—but I greedily suck it in like a dehydrated survivor.  It’s funny how, when I think about it, it was here all along.

Surprising Clarity (based on a poem by Billy Collins)

…It might interest you to know,
Speaking of the plentiful imagery of the world,
that I am the sound of the cat scratching at the door.

I also happen to be the wild grass growing in the yard,
the first rays of light upon your bedside,
and the loose thread dangling from a shirt.

I am also the untouched beads in the drawer
and the picture that fades with dust…

Obtuse Loneliness
I go to the park at dawn.  It is cold.  There are no kids.  I run to the swing and get on.  Is it fun?  No.  I want a girl or boy to play with.  So I go home.  The park was not fun.

I went to the park again one gloomy day at dawn.  It was chilly outside.  There was no one there that early in the morning.  But I was an early bird, and thus wanted to start out the day with some fun.  Running to the swing, I merrily jumped on.  It wasn’t very fun.  I wanted some company—somebody to pass the time with.  But there was no one.  Soon I got bored and decided to go home.  Was the park fun?  No.  So I never went again.

Formal Analysis
In writing this project, I was trying to express all the emotions that can make up my life.  I arranged my sections as each being a different emotion as specified by its title.  I also started with the happier, lighter pieces and moved towards the more solemn and serious pieces.  I originally thought to do the opposite and end with the happier and funnier pieces, but then decided that it distracted from the dramatic impact of my sadder and more serious pieces if I ended the project with humor.  Therefore, the order ended up as it appears, though, in terms of my personality and outlook on life, I think that humor and happiness always follow great sorrow and seriousness no matter where and in what situation. 

Lastly, in terms of organization, I went from simple to complex and back to simple in order to somewhat illustrate the cycle of life—youth, aging, death, then youth again.  This means that I started with the “Simple Giggles” piece.  The class requirements for this piece specified that I describe what I like best in a child’s voice or from a child’s memory.  I then followed this assignment with the brief “Pure Relief” piece, which required that I describe my writing to a simile and give explanation of why I chose that particular simile.  I ended what I dub the “happiness section” with the humorous piece about my writing process (“Bitter Delight”).  Then I entered my “serious section” and moved towards the very solemn and complex “Lasting Sorrow” piece, which required that I answer the theoretical question “Why write?” with an example from my own life.  I followed this with the stimulating “Undeserved Peace.”  The requirements for this piece were to describe a walk I took recently and do so in a first-person voice, in order to see how first-person can sometimes be advantageously over third-person when one is describing emotions and surroundings.  Next I moved towards the simpler Billy Collin’s litany piece (“Surprising Clarity”).  In this piece, I was to use a portion of the writing structure of Billy Collin’s litany and add in my own metaphors that pertain to me.  I ended my collage with the childlike piece “Obtuse Loneliness.”  This piece involved comparing simple writing to more complex writing.  Therefore, the first paragraph is written using only words that have one syllable, whereas in the second paragraph there are no requirements except for that I must describe the same event as in the first paragraph.

I believe that there is no one emotion that can define a single situation (emotions are so interconnected and interdependent among each other), but here in my project it is ironic that I tried to label each piece as so.  Therefore, though each piece is defined by its title and leading emotion, each section revolves around a series of emotions, often in contradiction to each other.  For example, in the second piece of my project, my story is about relief and the happiness that comes from such relief, but much of it describes extreme anxiety because you can’t have relief without some form of anxiety.  In my fourth piece, entitled “Lasting Sorrow,” I wanted the primary emotion to be the sadness that revolves around death, but much of the writing is filled with happy memories and positive thoughts about life.  So, in other words—the sorrow of death and the happiness of life’s memories are intertwined and almost indistinguishable.  One can get joy from remembering happy memories, but at the same time one might experience sorrow at losing the person to whom they connected those memories to. 

Though for this assignment we could write in either first-person or third-person, I found it interesting (and only realized after I completed this project) that all my pieces were written in first person.  I think that this is the perspective I feel most comfortable writing in because I tend to find my written voice is either overly dramatic or purposefully sarcastic.  Because of this, I oftentimes like to use either short, concise sentences or long, strung out run-ons to get this effect across, and much of this can be found in these pieces.  It was also much easier to write about emotions in first person.  By talking about life, I wanted to do it from my perspective, and emotionally, first person works to the greatest advantage.