As a self-identified static ball of anxiety, when I received the syllabus for my first ever creative writing class in college, my heart immediately began to pound against my chest, my hands turned ice cold, yet clammy, and it felt like my body was irradiating nervous tension throughout the room and everyone could see it.
The syllabus was three pages long in the standard 12px Times New Roman font, with loads of repetitive details that I saw in all my other classes, but the only line that seemed to glare back at me was the required workshop presentation. Dread swept over me. I immediately tried rationalizing picking myself and leaving the classroom mid-introductions (another favorite classroom activity of mine), and yet I remained. “Don’t be dramatic…” I scolded myself.
Blessed (or cursed, depending on how you want to look at it) with a last name that helps me practice my grade-A neurotic-influenced procrastinating nature, I was able to choose my presentation date first when we did the sign-ups in alphabetical order. Shamelessly, I picked the very last day possible, hoping it would never come.
Well, my wish almost came true. This was the year good ol’ Sandy hit and school was closed for a week. I thought that maybe I can somehow get away without presenting, but really, I was just lying to myself. I knew that I had to do it—it wouldn’t be fair if everyone else had to and I didn’t.
I should mention that the class was Creative Nonfiction—aka: Shy & Private Person’s Worst Nightmare 101. Or maybe that’s just my nightmare. Anyway, December 6th was fast approaching and I had to be strategic in what I wanted to present to my classmates. I remember thinking to myself, “Don’t reveal too much,” and “You’re an emotional wreck. Don’t write anything that will make you cry.” Even though our classroom was a safe-haven and everyone in it was respectful, I still didn’t want to let anyone in. “Keep a safe distance and please, for once, don’t embarrass yourself?” At this point in my undergrad, I was quite proud of my self-depreciating sense of humor and figured to be ahead of the game: make fun of myself before anyone can make fun of me. The tone of my story was set. I refused to write a depressing story about a depressing episode in my life—too much misplaced pride mixed in with an irrational fear of looking helpless.
All the while, I complained to my partner about this assignment. “Nothing to it, but to do it,” he said. And that was all I needed.
The story I wrote was probably corny (excuse me, as I peer over my glasses, but do the kids still use this word today?), but it explored the relationship between me and my partner–my co-pilot–and our support system. I wrote this short story with an emotion I didn’t know I was capable of conveying. It highlighted my messy and awkward personality in it, my (un)award-winning self-deprecating humor, and a small touch of my heart.
I love my short story now, but moments before I had to read it, I thought its proper place was in my middle school’s literary magazine. Particularly, when they were scrambling to meet the 20-page mark and were accepting any submission coming in from bright-eyed 7th graders. It belonged somewhere in the middle of the magazine, too, where it would go unread, due to poor attention span and so many words! But then, when I realized my personal apocalypse was about to commence, I took a deep breath and said quietly to myself, “Nothing to it, but to do it.”
It felt like I entered face first into the fiery pits of Hell while the rest of my body was submerged in Antarctic waters. I could almost see the steam coming off my skin as I read the first sentence aloud. And then it was okay. I remember smiling as I read, which made some of my words come out funny, and after what felt like an hour’s worth of hearing my own voice, reading my own words, of my own deeply personal story, it was done and I did it.
My classmates laughed and I didn’t cry. I probably forgot to breathe.
This short story, I’m still convinced, is the closest I’ll ever come to feeling like I own my writing. In all its roughness, pre-critiques, and silly typos and grammatical mistakes, it is still Mine, dedicated to someone who helped me in ways I thought were too hard to put into words. I received about eleven copies back, adorned in different colored ink and handwriting styles, with productive and helpful feedback (so much that I applied it to my future writing projects (ex: Watch out for those hyperboles! There’s too many interjections!) (Side note: I still struggle with both of these, clearly)), but the feeling I had when I wrote the original remained unmatched. In under three pages, I accomplished many things and overcame my (many) silly fears. Really, there was nothing to it, but to do it.