Summer of Synthia

         Synthia moved in a few houses down from mine on Acorn Street. It was late May, and Boxholm, Iowa, was beginning to remind everyone of its ability to make people despise the heat. I had little intent to leave the house. For one, I hated running into kids from school. And two, humidity made a kid my size more disoriented than a polar bear in the Sahara. I once overheard my father compare the suffocating heat to a jogger’s nut-sack—“nowhere to hide,” he said to his drinking buddies.

         If I happened to venture out, it was always in a beeline towards shade. One afternoon, I made it as far as under the tree in my front yard. I was laying down writing poetry when something rustled the grass next to me: bare feet, long, tan legs cut off by short plaid shorts, a white tank top and curly dark brown hair—a girl, and so pretty that I immediately figured she had some arbitrary reason for approaching me.

         “Whatcha writing?” she asked. “Can I see?”

         Her gaze was striking and soft, and it rendered something ambiguous in me, something uneasy. She grabbed my journal and began revealing my privacy—emitted with the purest emotion a twelve-year-old can gush—to what seemed like all of Boxholm:

    “The kids at school kick my ass.

    None of them ever ask

                            my name. My father isn’t here

    to show me how to fight. I

    wasn’t there to pull him from

    the lake that winter night, so he

    stayed trapped under a sheet of ice—”

         I pried the journal from her hands.

         “A little depressing,” she said, “but good.”

         I had never wanted to punch someone in the face so much in my life. My fist was readily clenched, but then she smiled and asked my name.

         “Sam,” I said.

         “Synthia. Will you write me one?”


         She showed up at the house the next day. My mother called my name and winked that embarrassing Mom wink as I approached the open door.

         “Did you write it?” Synthia asked. I shook my head. She sighed. “Whatever. Come on,” and she grabbed my hand. Before I knew it we were hidden in the leaves of an oak tree on 32nd Street throwing pebbles at passing cars below.

         That’s how it was. Every morning she arrived, and I was conned into shenanigans until dinnertime. Once, I desperately faked sickness (“must be strep throat,” I said to my mother) to avoid Synthia’s unpredictable itinerary, her planned events that ensured a varied degree of impishness. “What’s summer for?” she’d say, acutely aware of my hesitancy. In bed, I faintly heard my mother downstairs breaking the news to Synthia of my unfortunate sickness, and only when the door closed did I unleash a sigh. I pulled out my journal to write in peace. Stanzas were flowing freely when I heard a noise outside my window. Sinking in bed, I allowed the noise to grow louder without investigating.

         There she was. Her blue eyes peeked through the window. I could see her arms and legs were dirty from the griminess of the gutter as she maneuvered impressively up and over the ledge. Her bare feet made a soft thump on the shag carpet.

         “Perfect dismount!” she said, imitating the cheers of a stadium crowd, thrusting her arms.

         I opened my mouth to proclaim my false sickness.

         “You dog,” she said, pointing at my journal. “You were trying to ditch the day so you could finish the poem I asked for.”

         She could not have been more wrong. But I was horrible at telling people off.

         Like the dicks at school. They’d spare me daily wedgies and pummels to the gut if I got down on all fours and oinked. I never spoke up. I just began wearing slit underwear so they’d rip faster, and one time I even stuck a small decorative pillow from home under my shirt as stomach armor. I couldn’t tell my mother anything. The one time I alerted her of the harassment, she stumbled through an empty platitude.

         “Just—be yourself, Sam,” she said. “Eventually they’ll know who you are.”

         It wasn’t her fault. My father was the one who had a way with words, and his absence only reminded her of the difficulty in being more than herself. I heard her late that night when I got up to pee, soft traces of her weeping into a pillow, violently sucking air when she needed to breathe. In the dark, I pissed on the ceramic wall above the water and went back to bed without flushing.

         Synthia stood at the window with a perky grin. My inability to tell her off allowed her to assume herself as my poetic muse, and she elegantly tip-toed her way to my bed and sat cross-legged on the covers. I inhaled the smell of her hair—no fruity stuff. It was like she had harvested the incense of summer—wallowing in dewy grass, climbing foliage, palming handfuls of downhill air on her bike—and ignited the scent on arrival. Breathing her in made me feel indifferent about her scaling the side of my house. But the dirt her legs had tracked onto my comforter bothered me. She must have seen me looking, because she peeled a flannel case from a pillow and used it to wipe down her tan thighs.

         “Better?” she asked with heightened brows. I nodded. “Read what you have so far,” she said, placing her chin in her palms. I amazed myself with uncharacteristic on-footedness.

         “Well, I mean, I don’t want to read it until it’s done,” I said.

         She squinted. I gulped. She let out a sigh.

         “You’re not sick, Sam, let’s go.”

         There was a knock at the door.

         “Sam?” my mother said. “Can I come in?”

         I froze. The last girl I had in my room, other than my mother, was a poster of Xena the Warrior Princess, her ironclad breasts, shoulders, and skirt revealing perfectly toned arms, abs, and legs, her dark hair blowing in the wind as she lifted her sword over her head. I feared my mother would think it was too suggestive, so I rolled it up like an archaic scroll and hit it under my bed, and later I felt guilty, so I snuck out early on trash day and stuffed it beneath a bag of leaking filth.

         “Let me do the talking,” Synthia whispered.

         She stood up and sat calmly on a beanbag in the corner of the room.

         “Yeah, Mom.” I said. My voice cracked.

         The door opened. Suddenly, I was fantastic at faking sick: nervously pale, clutching the covers, sweating abundantly. She poked in a little further and was confused to see Synthia sprawled out, smiling and twirling her hair.

         “Hi, Ms. Bolton,” she said. “I was on my way back to my house when Sam shouted from his window for me to come over, and I said ‘I thought you were sick,’ and he said ‘just come over I have to read you something,’ and so I came over and he said he’d pay me five bucks if I could climb up the side of your house—which by the way I love the color of your house, Ms. Bolton, not like some in this neighborhood with that horrendous pea-green or that typical white-wash; blue is so very quaint—so I said ‘okay,’ because as you probably know, Ms. Bolton, five bucks can get a heck of an ice cream cone in this town, so I started to climb and got up here and Sam was just reading me some poetry because like you said he’s super sick and shouldn’t see the light of day.”

         Tentatively, I glanced at my mother.

         “Sam, you don’t have five dollars,” she said, and she laughed in a way I hadn’t heard for over two years.

         My father could get anyone to chuckle into tears, especially my mother. The day before the accident, I walked in on my parents dancing around the living room furniture to an old Benny Goodman record. The light from the dying fire softly encircled them like a preserved image in a snow globe. My father’s clumsy rhythm had my mother giggling profusely as she complied with every twirl. I watched them through the stairway banister until they called me to dinner.

         “Sam!” Synthia said. “No money?”

         She was playing the part too well, now standing with one foot turned sideways and her hands on her hips.

         “Tell you what,” my mother said, “I’ll go grab us all a cone. Mint chocolate chip would probably remedy that throat, huh Sam?”

         What was going to be a quiet day in my room had turned into a local gathering, and now ice cream?

         “Yeah,” I said.

         “Make it two mints,” Synthia said.


         When my mother got back, I told her I was feeling better. She laughed and said that was quick. Synthia saw my father’s old collection of vinyls along the wall next to the kitchen.

         “You guys got like a million records,” she said.

         She began running the back of her fingernail along the edges of a collection once dear to my father and now loved in privacy by my mother, who never played one when I was home. Sometimes I’d hear music outside the front door after school and wouldn’t come in until I recognized the hiss of silence.

         “Can I play one?” Synthia asked.

         She was always imposing in ways she couldn’t understand. And she never shut up. If I hadn’t already eaten my cone, I would have thrown it at the back of her head. My mother’s hesitation made me nervous. I’m sorry, I wanted to say. I’m sorry for letting this girl prod at the softest spot imaginable.

         “Please?” Synthia asked.

         I started to hate her. Now she had stabbed a sore, ripped it open, made it bleed bouts of blood. I wanted her gone. I felt suspicious. She was two years older than me, but with my height, she could have passed for double that. Why was she so interested in me, my mom, my house? She was pretty; I was plain. She was adventurous; I was idle. She was athletic; I was a tub of lard. She liked to get into trouble; I liked to write. I was the last kid in Boxholm she should be around.

         My mother’s eyes glazed over. I wanted to tell her it was okay. I wanted to tell her to kick her out, to fling open the door and allow the overwhelming miasma of memory to waft from our home, where it could nip the heels of Synthia as she scurried away.

         My mother walked distinctly towards the shelf and blew dust off a record she gently pulled from the masses.

         “Benny, my favorite,” she said, as if speaking to an old friend.

         When the needle hit the record, low pumps of percussion began pounding throughout the room.

         “‘Sing, Sing, Sing With a Swing,’” said Synthia, holding the empty case. The horns blared, and then pulsed the clicks of the high-hat.

         My father had always claimed two addictions in his life.

         “Your mother’s cooking,” he’d say, “and big bands!”

         He’d usually follow up with some sort of awkward shimmy to emulate the swing moves he hadn’t cared to perfect over the years.

         “Doesn’t gotta be pretty, Sam,” he’d say over music, kicking air. “Ya just gotta


         Sometimes before he got home from work, I’d sneak in his closest, pull out his favorite pair of black-white wing tips and model his moves in the mirror.

         “Sam,” Synthia said, “you should dance with your mother.”

         My mother smiled and touched her hand to her chest, acknowledging the idea. Slightly bending her knees, she shuffled her way to where I stood taut. I wanted Synthia to leave, but my mother’s demeanor seemed to disagree. She outstretched her hand before me. I looked at her wedding ring.

         “Find a woman who dances, Sam,” my father would say while showing me how to cook burgers, or how to fill the mower with gas, or how to polish the scuffs from his shoes, always moving some part of his body to the ever-present aura of tunes, “like your mother.” When we went back inside he’d kiss her on the cheek, and she’d smile as if she heard us talking.

         I grabbed my mother’s hand. Her other hand met mine. We were moving across the wooden floor of the living room, tugging one another with the infectious bustle of the band. My mother bit her bottom lip, allowing a smirk to imprint dimples on her rosy cheeks. Her hair bounced with the bob of her shoulders that compensated for my horrendous jolts of awkwardness. Embarrassed, I closed my eyes.

          “It don’t mean a thing,” my father would sing around the house, “if it ain’t got that swing!”

         I had no clue what I was doing, so I moved, convulsed, swung limbs aimlessly and hoped that somehow I was making it mean something—anything at all.

         When the record stopped, Synthia lifted the needle to the start. She watched from the side of the room, grinning, dancing her own dance, and my mother and I carried on.

         Synthia must have made an impression on my mother. After that day, it was like some sort of walk-in agreement that I knew nothing about had begun between the two of them. Without ringing the doorbell, Synthia often came up to my room to wake me up for the day, and my mother usually had a cooked breakfast waiting downstairs. As we rushed out of the kitchen, I would hear my mother’s voice stretch far enough to reiterate motherly concerns before the door slammed shut: “Don’t let me catch you in that tree again,” or “Be home by dinnertime,” or “Stay out of Ms. Lindon’s garden,” or “Be safe.” It’s funny how pertinent some of the most obvious advice really is. That’s why mothers are always right, because they nag you about things you already know, stuff you just don’t want to think about.


         Synthia urged me to jump across the creek. However, my hatred for water—and physical self-awareness (agility had always been a foreign concept to me)—told me to head downstream and meet her where the water thinned out about ten blocks away. The stubbornness we had built to repel each other’s will had now fully bloomed by late June. This tension had often resulted in such scenes: counter-productive stalemates that led to temporary tiffs. I got more comfortable saying no when I realized an argument would be forgotten by next sunrise.

         Eventually, she gave in, and we started walking.

         The trees thickened, and we could no longer see one another. I figured Synthia would probably run to our rendezvous to prove a point, so I walked slower than usual. I knew I would reach the tunnel hangout by myself, but ignoring the reality comforted my decision to oppose Synthia’s commands.

         The tunnel hangout was a breezeway underneath Field Street where the creek passed through. All the older, guffawing dumb-asses from school lingered around there, the same guys who got their jollies from watching me oink. They spent most of their summer in the tunnel smoking stolen cigarettes and drinking crappy beer they’d garnered from older siblings.

         Ronny Dumar, known around the neighborhood as Rhino D, was the biggest jackass of them all, so that made him the clan leader. He had this weird habit of snorting at things people would say and lowering his head into a bellowing laugh, which was more like a guttural uproar rising from the depths of his broad torso.

         I heard this laugh along the creek and stopped. Blocks away from the tunnel, I was caught off guard. I decided to turn and meet Synthia some other way.

         “Who the hell is that?” said Ronny. “Little shit’s spyin’ on us. Come on out here, little pervert.”

         I could have run, but I was already out of breath from high-kneeing brush. And just the thought of Ronny hearing my retreat of fear and sprinting after me, pouncing like a lion on a wounded prey—it made me stand in shame. I walked in the clear.

         “Our little piggy!” Ronny said. He pushed off a tree where he lounged, squeezed an empty can of beer, and took a few steps toward me.

          “We usually have to wait for school to see a show, but you’ve graced us with your unexpected arrival,” Ronny said.

         He turned to his surrounding sidekicks. They burst into laughter at the sight of his cheesy smile.

         “Whattaya guys say, huh? Should Little Piggy give us a show?” Ronny said.

         “My name is Sam.” I trembled at hearing my own words.

         “Excuse me?” said Ronny. The laughs came to a halt.

         Shit. I was going to get the crap beaten out of me, and I didn’t even have a slit in my underwear or a pillow to absorb a punch in the gut. Perhaps because I already felt doomed, I spoke again with a hint of surprising confidence.

         “Sam. Sam Bolton. That’s my name,” I said.

         Ronny snorted, lowered his head, and laughed. He dropped the can and stomped on it, trampling a footprint of alfalfa flat to the ground.

         “Tell me, Piggy, who you gonna scream for when I’m destroying your fat-ass face?” Ronny said. His head was still down, and his black boot was squashing the brush as if he was about to charge.

         And he did.

         His boots sounded a tremor that echoed off the trees, drowning the instinct to bolt. My mind was screaming, “run you idiot,” but my body seemed complacent with finally speaking up. Apparently getting dismembered was of no concern.

         And so I stood, inanimately, like one of those padded dummies upon which linebackers expel their unhealthy levels of testosterone. But just feet away, his boot clipped the side of a rock, and he stumbled forward—a stout heap of fury barreling through the air. He flung his arms at me as he fell, and I lifted my arm for protection, cowering in anticipation.

         We made contact: my fist to his chin. My eyes were closed, but the hit felt clean, and I heard a crack of Ronny’s jaw as his bottom teeth lifted to the sky from the uppercut I landed. He hit the ground with a boom. Wailing in pain, he turned on his back, and I saw blood gushing from his mouth. When he mumbled for help, I saw his tongue had nearly severed where his teeth had guillotined the flesh.

         I ran.

         I ran until I thought I was going to pass out. I heard nothing behind me, so I stopped to catch my breath. It had grown dark, and I wondered how long I’d been a fugitive. With my hands on my knees, I began to laugh; I had drawn Rhino D’s blood. He had tripped, but heck, I gave him a good shot. I wanted to run and wait in front of Synthia’s house. She would understand my absence. She would tell me how proud she was, how she wish she could have seen him fall in shock like a heavyweight boxer in disoriented defeat.


         I jumped at the sight of red and blue lights flashing on Acorn Street. The cops were after me. Someone had already alerted them of my cold-blooded punch, how I shattered Ronny’s chin in one blow and made his tongue crease over.

         No. The car was outside Synthia’s house. I ran as close as I could, but a cop told me to go home. There were loud voices inside, and as I reached my driveway, they amplified. A burly man was being restrained by two officers, one on each arm. He was drunk, and they struggled while escorting him to the flashing cruiser. I had never seen the man before. Synthia never mentioned a father, and the only time I saw her mother was when I walked Synthia home at night. She’d stand before a screen door smoking a cigarette, waiting for her daughter’s arrival.

         “Where you been?” she’d ask.

         Synthia usually walked by without responding, and her mother tended to look at me like I was a stranger.

         Seeing the man, the lights, the cops—it made me realize how little I knew about Synthia at all.

         Outside my front door, I faintly recognized percussion, horns, and a pulsing high-hat. I didn’t wait for the music to end as usual. I had to tell my mother what was happening down the street.

         On the couch, Synthia sat in the lap of my mother, sobbing. They sat in the dim light of one lamp, and the music played softly in the background. The record faded to a hiss, and my mother, while cupping Synthia’s head to her shoulder with one hand, reached behind the couch and placed the needle at the start.

         The door shut behind me louder than I’d wanted. Synthia looked up beneath my mother’s chin, revealing an eye that had been pummeled black, her mouth slit in multiple spots, her other eye swollen from crying. Synthia threw a look my way that made me feel sick, like I had done the damage myself. She cowered back into my mother’s dampened shirt, and my mother motioned for me to go to bed.

         I sat at the top of the stairs for hours, listening to Benny Goodman on a loop. Every time it ended I thought of trying to sleep, but I’d hear Synthia faintly cough or sniff, and I’d stay bolted to the floor.

         I never saw the man again. Synthia’s mother hadn’t caused the incident, but she didn’t do much to help. She had no ability to resist her ex-husband when he found out their new location, a new place for him to make up for wasted years, to take his mistakes out on the women that had escaped him. My mother had been walking from a neighbor’s when she heard screaming and called the police.

         I never mentioned that night to Synthia. But all I could think of was her swollen face, and it made my chest hurt. I knew if we hadn’t split up at the creek, she wouldn’t have gone home alone. She could have stayed for dinner like she had mostly every night.

         When three days passed without seeing one another, I left my journal on her front porch. It was bookmarked on a blank page that read:


I want you to borrow this. I thought you might want to use it. Writing helps.



PS—I wrote one for you—Dancing with Rhino D. Hope you like it.

PPS—I miss you.

         She came over the next day and read me some poems she’d written throughout the night. They were about her father: who he was, and who he wasn’t. When she’d finish one, she’d cry. I’d touch the bend of her knee, thinking how unfair it was that Synthia still had a father but still couldn’t fill the void I’d been trying to fill for years, trying to displace what was onto what is, and finding they’re interchangeable in the face of loss. Gradually, Synthia would wipe her tears and turn to another page full of unspoken ink.


         “Be safe,” my mother said before we ran out the door. This was anything but safe. I was staring down my worst fear. Somehow Synthia had convinced me to squeeze into a swimsuit untouched in years, and somehow I was next in line.

         “Sam, just do it.” Synthia said. “There’s a line a mile long.”

         I stared straight ahead with my arms tucked nervously in a knot, no intention of looking back. I allowed the snickers and insults to grow louder in vain. I didn’t give a rat’s ass who was waiting—besides Synthia.

         Synthia’s eyes could freeze you into a block of ice, and her smile could melt you into a lukewarm puddle before you even realized she was worked up. I used to think I could see blue-gray swirls of pigment in her stare mustering intimidation. But they were only clouds, billowing masses forced to brew with the weathered shards of her past. Synthia was a storm I needn’t take shelter from, but in which I became the calm.

         “I will throw you down, Sam! On three!” yelled Synthia.

         I wanted to take shelter. I pinched my eyes shut, and when Synthia trumpeted “Two!” I was shoved sideways by a girl half my size. Emphatically, she plopped herself down in gushing water, squinted, and stared at me with a slight tilt to her head.

         “You’re supposed to go down the slide, Fatty,” the girl said.

         I opposed her snobbishness with silent shame. I looked at my toes, white from clutching the ground.

         “Sorry,” I said, but the girl was already halfway down, back turned to what she couldn’t see coming, arms out to her sides—in pure ecstasy—and at the end of the elongated deathtrap, she was swallowed by the waters of the deep that glistened in the July heat.

         Synthia let out a piercing cackle.

         “Truly frightening. I mean if a six-year-old can do it—” but her voice tapered

off. I was entranced by the ripples the girl had made.


         “Be safe.” My mother had said the same thing to my father the night of the accident when he went out for a walk. It’s funny how pertinent some of the most obvious advice really is.

         Usually I accompanied my father on his nightly strolls, but that day he was upset after failing a business pitch: “Bolton’s Swing Lessons.” The manager of the nearby recreation center looked him up and down after the recommendation.

         “But, can you even dance?” the man said.

         I waited for my father’s invite, but this time he grabbed his scarf and fedora in silence, so I didn’t press it. I had downed a third glass of hot chocolate when my mother began to wonder of his whereabouts.

         So ever since: “Be safe.” Those were my mother’s parting words.

         And what else? What else to prepare me for the world, the unpredictable halt of the pendulum of life, time’s sudden defiance of itself, its ability to flip us by the ankles and shake, place us where we once stood? Time continues on and proceeds its duty, but it leaves us disoriented, stuck in the past, scrambling to find the now.


         Synthia tattooed her hand on my back. She giggled at how efficiently her encouragement beamed a brilliant red on my pasty skin. Furious, I winced in pain. Synthia knew exactly why I couldn’t go down the slide. I turned around with tears in my eyes and began shivering, suddenly cold.

         “Sam,” Synthia said. Her voice had fallen to a soft plea. “You can do it.”

         I began weeping, losing breath, and suddenly cared about the people in line. How

stupid I looked. Sitting me down on the brim of the slide, Synthia crouched and held my shoulders.

          “Alright,” she said, “you don’t have to go.” I wiped my face and looked into her eyes—no longer swollen with clouds, but vibrant with open skies.

         “But you will,” she said.

         Before I realized her shift in tone, she two-hand shoved me backwards down the slide. Desperately, I reached for her to grasp my hands, but I hit a dip, and was propelled faster, back first, speeding into what I couldn’t see coming.

         I hit the water. Submerged in silence, I thought of my father: the image of him paddling for the fractured ice that swallowed him whole, the thought of his breath being stripped by the cold, his nerves sliced with a consuming, numb panic.

          My head breached. My chest pumped. A gasp for air muffled Synthia’s laughing from above. I hurried to the edge and clutched the coping wall. All I could think about was my father, what he thought when he realized his lungs were filled, what his last advice would have been for me, the one secret I could preserve for the rest of my life.

         Synthia swam up behind me and put her arms around my waist. I was compelled to punch her, spit at her, pull her hair—anything seemed justified.

         When I caught my breath, I turned to yell at her, but she surprised me with her lips and kissed me long and good. When she pulled away, I was leveled by her smile.

         I smiled back, and this I knew: I had already gathered the remnants needed from my father, the inherent pieces to build the world I couldn’t see before.

Find a girl who dances.

It doesn’t have to be pretty.

                                    All you have to do is move.

16 July 2014 ·

Just Keep Writing: A Message for My 8th Graders

First year of teaching in the books. A lot of ups. A lot of downs. I worked with severely struggling writers, and the downs did not consist of their skills; the downs consisted of their inability to see the worth in wanting to produce a finished product—just finishing something, anything, a single thing they can hold in their hands with pride.

Much of this year was about me preaching about writing stamina, showing them that writing is not perfect immediately, that it takes a determined desire for self-exploration with a paper and pen to see what’s really in our heads, what we’re capable of. Some of them discovered amazing things. Others were content with hardly ever taking the first step. They chose to watch from a distance while their peers stepped into unknown territory. They stood too far away to hear of their findings and favored the worlds they currently inhabited. “Nothing good is out there,” they seemed to say most days. “Writing takes you nowhere.” 

But there was certainly one thing every single one of them left with learning from me (and probably heard to the point of insanity), and that was, “Just keep writing.” I didn’t care what they had down. I didn’t care if it was their best. But the only way to get better is to stop whining and to “just keep writing.”

At the end of the year, we watched Finding Nemo, and we charted the transformation of Marlin (Nemo’s father) and his change from clutching the past to realizing the importance of experience and living a story worth telling. They assumed it was an easy way to coast through the end of they year, and even adamantly bickered that Pixar was too kiddish, for they are “basically in high school, Mr. V.”

Then, I asked them to consider the person they are now and who they want to be after high school, and they looked at me like I had two heads. I said, “Many of you are afraid to change, like Marlin. Many of you are missing out on the experience that is needed to live life to the fullest. You, too, are characters in a story. You must take note of your transformations. I hear you talk all the time about what you want to do—or will do—but most of you know nothing of what it takes to get there. It’s time to consider how you view your experiences.”

Sound harsh? Well, students at this school are used to my tough-love talks. They are the last kids that need coddling. They need to taste reality in order to wake up some of those apathetic taste buds. Otherwise, most of them are prone to drop out from a high school just down the road. Otherwise, they will continue to live in a limiting box of stingy, negative perception.

So, I had one last message for them before the year ended. Out loud I read my letter to them all about the importance of my token phrase, “Just keep writing,” and what it means beyond classroom walls…

           At the end of Finding Nemo, Marlin finally gets to tell his son that sea turtles can live to be over 150 years old. He swam all over the ocean to get to his son, swimming away from sharks, dodging through a forest of jellyfish, freefalling down the mouth of a blue whale and getting spouted out its blowhole, and when it’s all said and done, this is the information he first wants to share—sea turtles? Why?

            That little fact, that tiny piece of knowledge, represents Marlin’s transformation as a character. Earlier, he told Nemo he never desired to meet a sea turtle, but now he finally sees that he’s living a story that he is proud to tell. That he can find joy in passing learned knowledge down to his son. He realized that experience is everything, that if you want to pass down your story, you have to live a story worth telling. What I want to talk to you about is this: You, too, should want to live a story worth telling.

            This year, maybe you walked into this class thinking that writing was only done in school, something that you should only do when a teacher tells you to. But here’s the truth: Before you even walked in my class, you wrote every single day. Maybe not on paper. Maybe not by picking up a pen. But every single day, you have been writing a story, and you will continue to write it when I’m not around. You have a say in what characters will be involved. You have a say in what your setting can look like. You have a say in the purpose of your story. And you certainly have a say in who you are. You have always been a writer, and you always will be, because being a writer means that you make the choices, and that’s an amazing opportunity.

            However, it takes effort.

            If you do not keep writing, if you do not spend your days making these important choices, do you think you’ll end up living the life you want? Do you think you will be happy? No.

            Here’s another reality: you can’t tell the future. You don’t know what experiences you will have in high school. You may know what you want to do, but you cannot predict everything. You will certainly have difficult times, and you will most certainly have joyful times. But no matter the person you are now, you can write yourself into the person you want to be.

            Marlin let his past control his life. He allowed his past to control him so fully that he lost the ability to change and to appreciate life’s unexpectedness. And like Marlin, if you meet each new experience without the ability to change, to adapt, or to be positive, you will not be able to enjoy life. You will cringe in fear at everything that comes your way.

            Now, I know there are unexpected dangers in this enormous, mysterious ocean we call life. But that’s where writing comes back in. The best writers—and the happiest people—know how to write themselves out of the unexpected. The best writers just keep writing. Sometimes, like Marlin, all you will be able to do is act, and you may not feel like you can plan for anything in your life. But even then, you are still a writer, and you can tell yourself: “I’m going to write my way out of this.” You will reconsider your story: its characters, its setting, its purpose, and the hopes, dreams and desires of its main character—you.

            The best writers understand that the life you want is written by picking up the pen and planning, trying it out, giving it all you got, constantly editing and revising for what works best. Sure, at times, you will want to look back at what didn’t work and scratch it out, cross it out until it’s behind a block of ink. Like Marlin tried to do.  

            But it doesn’t matter. Like Dory would say, just keep writing. Otherwise, life will write you.

            This world owes you nothing. It’s harsh, but it’s true. This world hasn’t promised you a darn thing. So if you let the pen rest on a blank paper, you can’t expect the world to write a story you want to live. You have to write it yourself.

            Just keep writing, and create a story worth living. Just keep writing, and take every unexpected moment in life as a chance to edit and revise, to make your story stronger. Just keep writing, and be able to tell those after you about the ages of sea turtles, so to speak.

            Just keep writing. 

            Just keep writing.

            Just keep writing.



Mr. Varney

16 July 2014 ·

Tucked away in the cozy, aged maze that is Venice, across one of the 400 some odd bridges linking one cobblestoned street to another named Calle Pinelli, around a couple of curvy courners, you will find Il Libreria Acqua Alta, a bookstore that has survived its precarious location-just above canal water-for years and years because of the owner’s necessary abandonment of common organization. In other words, take me back.  (at Il Libreria Acqua Alta, Venice, Italy)

Tucked away in the cozy, aged maze that is Venice, across one of the 400 some odd bridges linking one cobblestoned street to another named Calle Pinelli, around a couple of curvy courners, you will find Il Libreria Acqua Alta, a bookstore that has survived its precarious location-just above canal water-for years and years because of the owner’s necessary abandonment of common organization. In other words, take me back. (at Il Libreria Acqua Alta, Venice, Italy)

16 July 2014 ·

An artistic nod to my favorite writing quotation.

An artistic nod to my favorite writing quotation.

16 July 2014 ·

The Swiss Mountains to my left, an alpe to my right, and the dairy cows by our side all the way up. What a hike. What a day.

20 June 2014 ·

"A good piece of fiction, in my view, does not offer solutions. Good stories deal with our moral struggles, our uncertainties, our dreams, our blunders, our contradictions, our endless quest for understanding. Good stories do not resolve the mysteries of the human spirit but rather describe and expand up on those mysteries."


Tim O’Brien 

Another reason to love your words, Tim. Thank you.

If writers are not looking to “expand up on those mysteries,” then they are forging pure optimism or pessimism, which are simply not the lenses to view anything truly worth writing about.

(Source: writersrelief)

18 December 2013 ·


So, we meet again.
Made With Paper by doinkmagasin

…said every one of my students like 10 times a day. #donstopwriting #oryougetanF


So, we meet again.

Made With Paper by doinkmagasin

…said every one of my students like 10 times a day. #donstopwriting #oryougetanF

21 November 2013 ·

Love this so much. Too many people want to be part of a storm, but no one wants to get wet. They want to cause the storm, not live in it.

Love this so much. Too many people want to be part of a storm, but no one wants to get wet. They want to cause the storm, not live in it.

(Source: icanread)

17 November 2013 ·

(Source: amandaonwriting, via writersbloqinc)

17 November 2013 ·

Perhaps it’s because I’m having Breaking Bad withdrawals, but I immediately thought of Walter White while reading this.
Thank you, Vince Gilligan, for the characterization ride of a TV-viewing lifetime.

Perhaps it’s because I’m having Breaking Bad withdrawals, but I immediately thought of Walter White while reading this.

Thank you, Vince Gilligan, for the characterization ride of a TV-viewing lifetime.

(Source: aseaofquotes, via writersbloqinc)

12 October 2013 ·

About Me

Lover of words and their ability to extract meaning from the world.