Why I Write (2018)
I think I probably started writing out of boredom. As the oldest child in my family, I spent hours by myself. I grew up, first in New York City and then in Cleveland, with my small nose constantly in a book. I soon realized one of the only other options of entertainment was to fill the empty journals my mom provided me with. They started as diaries. I still have my first ever journal entry written at 6, block letters reading: “Our cousins came to our house. It was too fun. I am happy!”
If I started writing to pass the time, later I began writing to change what I didn’t like in books: an alternate ending to Inkheart, a novel that could come after Lauren Myracle’s Eleven (I wasn’t allowed to read Twelve until I was twelve, to my great despair). Writing was the only way I could satisfy a growing curiosity and vent the creative energy reading inspired in me.
I’ve always been challenged by writing, especially as I’ve gotten older and have had to create things that are undeniably mine, my “voice”, my persona on a page. I often wonder why I try, putting in late-night tears and hours spent in dimly lit coffee shops and bitter frustration into my work, when there are already so much beautiful writing in the world. It seems futile to write when I could spend lifetimes reading all that has come before me.
But then I love how writing feels. I love that writing challenges me. It’s not only hard; it scares me. Writing makes me vulnerable. It teaches me about myself: who I trust, what hurts me, what I know that I don’t want to acknowledge. And when I finally get to that higher place— when I write a piece that means something to me, that hits something deeper that I couldn’t reach before— I am satisfied beyond all else.
Even if it was all for nothing, I could never stop writing. There are too many things I’m thinking and dreaming and wondering about not to put them somewhere. There are too many ways the world excites me not to scribble gushingly in my journal about it all. And there is too much that inspires me: standing close to the stage at a concert, the smell of freshly picked grapes, my mom telling me how the cold gets into her bones in November and doesn’t leave until March.
I write to keep these alive: the moments and people and places that mean something to me. I write to leave trails of myself behind, in every space and second I’ve been in. I write so that maybe someone else will be able to read my work and think, yes, I feel that too. But more than anything, I write to intertwine myself with the world, to hold onto everything I love and embrace it. And maybe one day, through writing, I will finally be able to do it justice.
hard candy by madonna (2018)
Recipient of a Scholastic Gold Key
When I was somewhere between seven and ten, I had a white radio CD player in my pink room and only one CD: Madonna’s eleventh album, Hard Candy, released in 2008. The duo sat alone on a desk in my pink room, the only part of it that was always clean. Playing the album was a ritual. High on anticipation, each day after school I pressed the play button and through the clear green centerpiece watched the blue and white disk start to spin fast and then faster. I shut my doors for privacy and closed my closet for an unobstructed view of the full length mirror. I stood motionless, waiting for it to start. The dun-dun-dun ticker beat of Candy Shop broke the silence first, then the first line: see which flavor you like, and I’ll have it for you.
There’s something about Hard Candy that doesn’t allow the listener to sit still. As an eight year old, dancing was irresistible. By the first trumpet toot and “freaky freaky” of 4 Minutes, I’d be on my feet. And at the “breakdown,” I’d be full out jamming, pumping my small fists against my bony frame with my knees down and butt out. Not yet corrupted by embarrassment or insecurity, I held nothing back. Alone in my bedroom, I was a full-fledged dancing freak.
Because it was the only music I had available, whether I liked it or not Madonna graced my childhood radio like this every day. And boy, did I love it. It wasn’t just the catchy tunes or perfect-for-shaking-it beats. No, it was the Madonna allure. It was the taunting, swirly pink lollipop album cover, Madonna with cropped hair, crouched down, fingernails tapping her cheeks, legs splayed wide, black corset and high black boots. It was the way she sang about sex and love and relationships and femininity, and sex, and sex, and sex. At eight, this thrilled me. Now, it still thrills me.
You see, Hard Candy has marinated within me for years. When I was younger, I looked at the album only as what it truly is: catchy, fun, exciting music. I wasn’t aware of the stigma behind listening to pop music, loving blonde girly girls, or dancing in my pink room. There was no judgement or stereotypes. But as I got older, I was told over and over again— by my teachers, parents, feminists— that the worst thing I could do was become precisely who Madonna is in Hard Candy.
As I’ve read and seen and thought more, I’ve become aware of the levels of depth present in everything. And I’ve listened to Hard Candy less and less. Of course, part of this is due to streaming, a new speaker and the fact that now listening to an album beginning to end is a rare act. But it’s also been because I’ve felt obliged to seek out music and art and culture that means something. Everything that I look at and strive to be is seemingly in a completely different world than the one Hard Candy resides in. Hard Candy has slowly become something I need to explain or justify: a childhood whim, a guilty pleasure, an indulgence.
But this is a mistake. By discarding everything without depth or purpose, as we are so often told to do, we are missing out on so many experiences that fulfill a different necessary part of us. And this part of us is just as important as our desire for meaning and thought. Two days ago, I was coming home from school with my eighth-grade sister. This was after a day I had spent in a workshop with an author, where we thought and wrote and meditated for hours. During an awkward lapse in our conversation, I frustratingly burst out, “Why can’t we talk about something deep for once?!” And that did it— suddenly we were bellyache laughing, back in our usual groove.
We laughed for a good five minutes at the stupidity of my comment. “Well, how about Madonna then?” I asked. So we put on Hard Candy, and of course we couldn’t help but dance. And then the same thing happened when I put it on while trying to write this essay, abandoning my computer screen for a good dance battle that my mom and other sister came and joined from downstairs. Because that’s what Hard Candy is, essentially: the opposite of depth, what you turn to when you need anything but.
The beauty of beginning my adolescence with Hard Candy is that I started listening to it without caring about the meaning behind it, or perhaps, the lack thereof. There was no looking up the lyrics; I memorized them blindly through hearing the songs on repeat. I was aware of what she was literally talking about, but not that this was anything that could or should be scoffed at. And this is how it should be. As much as we should give our respect and attention to the parts of us that want to delve into philosophical questions, reading, inquiries about the world, there is no shame in sometimes, with moderation, allowing ourselves to fully appreciate the bubblegum happiness of the shallow. As Madonna says, “get stupid. Don’t stop it.” Because, in reality, there is some part in all of us that enjoys that one person or that one show or that one pop song that dumbs us down and allows us to simply be in the frivolous sweetness of our own existence.
What I still love about Madonna’s Hard Candy is this ruthless, unapologetic possession of herself. There is the misconception that in music, an artist must delve deep within themselves, producing some form on commentary: on their lives, the world, politics, anything. Hard Candy is none of this. Instead, it is the foam at the top of the cappuccino, the kiddie pool, the eight year old girl energetically swinging her hips and pumping her arms in the mirror.
And while all of these are shallow, they are not bad. In fact, without the foam on the top of the mug, there is no way to reach the dark coffee. Without the kiddie pool, there is no prospect of one day reaching the ocean. And without eight year old girls dancing in the mirror, to whatever it may be, Madonna or Miley Cyrus or Taylor Swift, there would not be the same amount of self love. And really, that’s what Hard Candy is all about. It’s about Madonna’s refusal to apologize for growing older and still being a material girl, about her love for everything we toss aside with the words “shallow” or “surface.” It’s about her loving herself enough that she is unafraid to say, yes, I love being in this sugary, pink, girly, dirty, intoxicating, sexy world.
Hard Candy is an ode to a world that we have been trained to scoff at. It’s a reminder that there’s a such thing as immersing ourselves in too much thought and losing sight of the shiny and beautiful things the world offers right at its surface. At it’s core, as Madonna sings gloriously through nights of dancing and long-lost loves, Hard Candy challenges us to get out of our heads and egos and prejudices— and simply live.
Poetry: Selected Works (2018)
I see you when I drive
on all of the roads, in every car
in every driver’s face
through every dusty windshield
then behind me in mirrors
leaving ash on my shoulders and neck
2. tuesdays are hard for me because you read in that voice; i can never tell if it’s worn out or just worn, in that nice way of French cloth
already, I’ve forgotten how to breathe normally, how to take in a blue sky. every tuesday I count the seven fingers on my left hand to make sure I’m not dreaming. i drink tea. i never am. i figure i couldn’t be, because dreams are full of faces I choke on and skies that stain my eyelids like dye. you take me through bumpy streets toward rivers pressed into the night, here i uncurl my fingers, in dreams i am gripping your wrist and we are fading
the dripping outside my window // reminds me of stories we told as kids // lying on a mustard-colored floor // eyes closed // and after these images // i still wake up sweating // the reckless beat // clings // to my sticky skin // there is no rain // that does not consume me
although we’re falling out of love
we’re falling into something else
a collection of hollow spaces
what exists if you scrape a Picasso out
softly, like unhurried rain
your emptiness bounces off the car walls
cold fog lingering at the windows
my body is absorbed,
a sea grey feeling
muted, like your eyes
what we fall into has no real name
5. in the hotel room, we linger on a movie
leonardo dicaprio plays a man whose face is bleeding
while the orange moon plays music
dancers twirling onto the width of its stringy cloud
a box of glow washes over the scene
he sees the man is dead and touches his chest
his fingers red and warm and then it’s all reversed
blue arteries twinkle in the sky
time to shoot the other man says, and does it
the careful burst of color floating softly into the foggy warmth
the man still kneeling with his head pressed to the dirt
gun left open to the sky in his trembling hand
only when the doves fall singing
does he dare dream of redemption