Dozens


Here’s something from memory lane: I’m currently listening to Kelly Clarkson’s “Breakaway” from the soundtrack of The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement on loop.

The movie and song came out in 2004. I was twelve years old. Now, it’s 2016 and I’m twenty-four.

What a wild ride.

It has been twelve years since I first listened to “Breakaway,” but I remember how quickly I integrated that song into my personal canon. Like every preteen at the time, the song painted a romantic picture of leaving home, of exploring the world, of growing up and doing Big Things. The repeated plays fueled my daydreams of living an exciting life in a place that wasn’t my hometown.

For all intents and purposes, I’ve achieved that dream, and have been living it for the past six years.

When I sit and think about 2016 in particular, I am surprised by just how much has happened. On a personal level, these twelve months were packed. I made a commitment to my health, and, holiday season aside, I exercised regularly. I came out to my parents as bisexual and polyamorous in June. I changed jobs in July (something I kept referring to it as my “Big Life Change”). I won this year’s NaNoWriMo events (both Camp NaNoWriMos and the November NaNoWriMo).

My younger self would have thought these were meager accomplishments, but to me right now, they feel colossal. Right now, I’m closer to living my “ideal” life than I ever have been before. And maybe it’s different than what I dreamed up as a twelve year old, but it’s still good.

But outside of the things I’ve accomplished for myself, the world turned. We lost iconic figures who made indelible marks on human history and culture. Politicians seemed to constantly give us cause for despair, from Duterte in the Philippines to Trump in the U.S. And throughout, there was a steady thread of injustice that plagued vulnerable people.

I can already see that 2017 will be a challenging year, and not just because I will do my usual thing and force myself out of my comfort zone. The Trump administration looks more and more like a disaster every day. What we thought were mere specters of racism, sexism, homophobia, and other types of bigotry have turned out to be warm bodies, alive and kicking. We have so much work to do.

What will we say in twelve years about 2016 and all that happened after?

So here’s my (cheesy, but true) 2017 motto: “Take a risk / take a chance / make a change / and breakaway.”

This post was inspired by this week’s Discover Challenge: Retrospective. Check out a few more responses below.

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New New York

I am not a native New Yorker. But, like many people in this city, I have given myself the title of “Honorary New Yorker.” I am not from here, and six years is not nearly enough time to explore the decadent history and fervent artistry of this place, but I’m on my way to getting there. I’m on my way to knowing.

Yesterday, I spent the day writing in the Milstein Division at the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building of the New York Public Library. The heater next to me blew warm air onto my face as snow and freezing rain fell outside, and there was a faint rattling sound in the stacks—I found out as I left that it was the clacking of a keyboard as someone used a library computer to look up a book.

Best seat in the house.

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On days like yesterday, I can feel just how much I am a cliché—I am yet another young writer aspiring for greatness in the literary arts, and I believe that if I can make it in New York City, I can make it anywhere. I sat in that room, grinding out words as I waited for divine inspiration to strike me and make me write the next great American novel, one that will redefine what “American” is.

I came to this city not intending to be a writer. Before this city, I wrote in my journal, personal flash fictions of emotions that ran through me as I went through my teenage years. As a freshman at NYU, I wanted to capture all of the glorious hustle of living in a place so radically removed from what I had grown up knowing, and I did it in the two ways I best knew how: in photographs and in words. And New York has never stopped giving me reasons to take pictures and write, and write, and write. I didn’t come to this city intending to be a writer, but my god, it made me one.

Call number: Oversize PS.I9 G72 1973 c.1

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(A quick note about the image above; this was one of the first Instagram photos I took, about four years ago in NYU’s Bobst Library.)

This isn’t to say that if you intend to be a writer you better get yourself to New York because it will magically make you one. (Just look at me and my magical transformation in just six years from not-a-writer to definitely-a-writer!) But New York has a way of taking what was already within a person and magnifying it. The city reflects back to us who we are in our entirety, and we make the choice what to amplify.

And sometimes, New Yorkers, Honorary or not, like to return the favor, and show the city what its citizens are made of.

Union Square motivation.

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(A quick note about the sticky note above; I did not write that particular one, but it is one of my favorites from the Union Square subway station.)

This post is in response to this week’s Discover Challenge: Finding Your Place. Check out a few more responses below!

The view from December

I entered this November with a very particular set of expectations, and came out of it with those expectations shredded, taped back together, then ripped apart again as I tried to squeeze out 50,000 words for NaNoWriMo.

And I did it. I reached 50,000 words, bragged about it (with charts!), and now, on the first day of December, I’m sitting at my desk, thinking about writing, being a writer, and the election.

To start, a quotation that has been with me all year:

Art can’t save you from pain, but the discipline of hard work can drag you through it.

—Molly Crabapple, Drawing Blood

Before November 8, I focused on the part after the comma: “but the discipline of hard work can drag you through it.” This was the phrase that got me to pick up my pen every day and write. I was intent on gaining the discipline I had so sorely lacked as a student. I was intent on getting better at this craft. Whatever “it” was, I dragged myself through by digging my pen into the page and scratching deeply.

After November 8th, I focused on the part before the comma: “Art can’t save you from pain.”

I wrote some in the time immediately after, but I engaged more in all the feverish activity of calling representatives, supporting organizations fighting Trump, and having those conversations of “What now, what now, what now?”

NaNoWriMo slipped away. I had built an early lead of a few thousand words, and as the days after the election passed by that lead got narrower and narrower. When I decided to try and write for NaNoWriMo again, I felt hollowed out and drained from the tears, the anguish, and the uncertainty. It was so hard to bring myself to write the story I set out to write.

I made peace with the possibility that I wouldn’t reach 50,000 words.

And at first, it was fairly easy to give it up. Everything else seemed more important: supporting vulnerable communities, engaging with people, and gearing up for the fight ahead. It was easy to tell myself that winning this year’s NaNo would be minuscule compared to everything else. (If I’m being honest, I still feel this way to a certain degree.)

But then I picked my novel back up. After a few days away from it, I saw its worth again. I saw that though it isn’t the most topically relevant story, it’s still an important story. I reaffirmed my belief that I must finish a draft, even if it’s a terrible, sloppy, incoherent mess of a draft. (Because turning it into something great is what editing is for.)

I got so close to 50,000 that suddenly the idea I wouldn’t make it seemed unconscionable. I needed to make it, more than I had needed it in the past.

Now, I feel like I can see the quotation as a whole.

I reached 50,000 words, but I’m nowhere near done with the draft. I still haven’t decided if I’m going to keep adding words to it in December, or if I’m going to shift gears and edit some short stories from the summer before coming back. But I’ve decided that I can keep fighting the good fight while still caring about the little fictions I eke out in the in-between times.

Art may not save us from the incoming administration, but the intrepid act of making it can drag us through it.