|Artwork by Nicole S., Grade 9|
I Hate Personal Narratives
A personal narrative is defined as a prose narrative relating personal experience usually told in first person. However, I define a personal narrative as the ultimate conglomeration of tedium, trepidation, and disgust. Quite simply, the personal narrative is my kryptonite.
Every year in elementary school, I was forced to construct some pretentious personal narrative. Each time though, my body was overcome with dread, for my demise was in sight. For about three consecutive years, I wrote the same. exact. story. It was a poorly constructed tale of how I almost got swept out to sea. Each time I had to write the narrative, a small part of me wishes I had been. My teachers always utilized the same ritualistic chant: “Dialogue! Imagery! Dialogue! Imagery!” I am still convinced that they banged drums on a desert island in their fearsome narrative cult, for I have never witnessed any other human beings so feverish from dialogue. As a middle school student, I thought my personal narrative days were far behind me, buried deep enough to survive a nuclear apocalypse; the utter cheesiness and standardization could not hurt me anymore. Two weeks ago though, my world came crashing down.
It was an eerily quiet morning: the birds did not chirp, the leaves quieted themselves, and the sun hid behind the clouds just enough to spy on an unsuspecting ninth grade student heading to school. The calm before the storm had arrived, but I was too naïve and sleep deprived to realize.
First and second period had dragged by excruciatingly, and my eyelids flickered with exhaustion; my teachers probably think I have a medical condition, for when they begin to teach or read off a tragically misspelled PowerPoint presentation my eyes reflexively blink one at a time, causing them to gander at me with genuine fear and concern. Luckily, third period English class, the turning point of my day, was about to begin.
Following the bell, I rushed out of advisory and speed-walked down the long, sardine can-like halls to the Promised Land. As Mr. Vogelsinger tranquilly began to read the Poem of the Day, I heard the angels singing in beautiful harmony. Little did I know that this paradise would morph into a raging hellscape.
Then, he said it. Mr. Vogelsinger uttered those two horrible words that brought forth darkness on the world. They came out in horrifying slow motion, “Today we will be starting our personal narratives.” I heard a record screech in my head and the internal shrieking of my suddenly atrophied soul. Why, God? Oh, why? What did I do to deserve this torture, this punishment?
My heart sank audibly, my eyes bugged out, and I sputtered, “No!”
Mr. Vogelsinger sounded like someone hopelessly trying to sell a bizarre kitchen appliance on an infomercial, “Also, this counts toward a large portion of your overall grade, so make sure it’s good.” An odd image of me as a senior citizen in ninth grade English class flashed into my head. How would I ever pass? The rapid countdown had begun: I had to come up with an idea.
For days and weeks I wandered in a desert of uncreativity. Every so often I would see a beautiful idea glistening in the sun, but it was always a mirage. A dilemma arrived. Anything worth writing was either unfit for a school environment, violent, traumatically boring and overused, or severely uncomfortable to share. I began to type psychotically, but it would always end up being erased out of shame.
After a week of failed attempts, I begged my mom for help while we were in the car. “What should I write about for my personal narrative?” I asked her desperately after explaining my dilemma.
She pondered over my words for a few seconds before saying, “I have the perfect idea! You should write a story about how you kicked Max out of the womb.”
"I don't think that will --"
She swerved the car with enthusiasm, “Oh! Or you can write a story about Devin pulling down every single display at Kmart!”
“Is this a joke?” I asked, for I truly could not tell. I definitely asked the wrong person.
For the next few days after our conversation, every time she would do something weird or the family had a meltdown, my mom said, “You should use this for your narrative!” or she would chirp, “I’m giving you more stuff to write about!” The dysfunction only continued.
Physically attempting to write the piece was mentally draining. As I began to type, my fingers suddenly became paralyzed with fear: they were lost, abandoned, and without hope. They itched to let the words and the feelings flow, but they were trapped deep inside. My invincible walls would not crumble. The blank white of the empty word document burned my eyes.
Every so often a story would begin like a baby deer learning to stand; however, it was always shot down by cheesiness, underwhelming, and overnarration. My mind fell into a state of anguish and disarray, What is wrong with me? Why can’t I write something so simple? Is my life really this boring, this empty? For many days and many nights, I made countless failed attempts to create my masterpiece. The searing pressure and anxiousness only increased as my accidental procrastination continued.
Suddenly though, my mom hatched the perfect idea, “Madi, why don’t you write a personal narrative about how you hate personal narratives?” The stars aligned, the angels sang down from heaven, and a wonderfully bright light illuminated the living room. The wheels of creativity had begun to turn.
Bob Marley once said, “Being vulnerable is the only way to allow your heart to feel true pleasure.” For me the most difficult part of writing a narrative is the forced vulnerability. Because of this, I, along with many others, go into a self-preservation mode which ultimately detracts from the quality of the piece. Although this form of writing is extremely strenuous, the challenge is necessary to understanding my writing journey and life journey. By changing my mindset on a small scale task like the personal narrative, I can learn to adapt to anything life throws my way. At the end of the day, we are our biggest obstacles. The only way to triumph is by consciously choosing to take the hard way and forget our fears, even if it is merely a personal narrative.
by Maddie G., Grade 9
|Artwork by Ali. H., Grade 9|
“I’m NOT doing that again. Last time I tried, I think I threw up when I got home.” I shift my weight from one foot to the other and try to sound resolute; it’s useless.
“That’s because you were sick; you’re going. I’ll show you what to do and won’t let you fall.”
This seems highly questionable since Kristina, my best friend since preschool, stands up to my chin. She is nimble and close to the ground and I … am not. Her dark eyes pierce my skull awaiting my assent, but all I envision is a catastrophe in super slow motion---the flailing arms, the desperate hands grasping at an unsympathetic wall, the awkward hips writhing to regain a center of gravity, the frenzied legs straining to stay upright, all crashing into a humiliating heap. Tangled on the floor, my legs refuse to unwind, weighted down by wheels of stone and stiff leather that locks my ankles straight … roller skates. Who ever thought this was a good idea? I squeeze my eyes tight and open them to the present reality of Kristina’s expectant face.
To my surprise, I hear myself say, “OK.”
The Frenchtown Roller Rink is a sight to behold. Unlike its competitors, which nestle in industrial parks, this rink perches high on a hill overlooking the Delaware River encircled by miles of green space. Rolling up the slope, our minivan wheels kick up gravel and crunch on the stones beneath. The river below packs the air with oxygen and the surrounding pastures allude to spring. The milky, blue-roofed building stretches across the summit, and I suspect the owners reside behind the shuttered windows on the second floor. As we enter, large metal doors groan and our noses transition from outdoor fresh to damp and musty. It smells a comfortable kind of old, as our eyes adjust to the dim light in the cinderblock room that holds the ticket booth.
“In-line or regular?” The woman behind the plate glass speaks through a hole like the Wizard of Oz speaking into his microphone. Her slightly overbleached hair frizzes from her hair clip, touching the glass as she leans forward.
“There’s two kinds of skates?” I fumble.
She peers through her rose-rimmed glasses and assesses that I am definitely a “regular skate” girl; in-lines are for experts. I slide my money under the glass in exchange for a “regular skate” token and enter the rink.
Kristina grasps her in-line token and nudges me toward the skate counter. The tousled teenager who glides behind it expertly sprays an unholy amount of shoe-freshener into interminable rows of skates. He smacks his gum, grabs a just-returned pair, and tucks the laces inside.
“9 ½,” I quiver.
Within seconds, a tired pair of skates clunk onto the counter. They are the color and texture of an old camel with faded orange wheels. The coffee-colored laces are inexplicably long, and I wonder if he will ask me if I would like them frayed or knotted; all appear to be one or the other. We find a seat amidst bountiful mounds of sweatshirts and backpacks. Feet slide in, laces crisscrossed, and I swallow my fear. Kristina grasps my hands to help me stand, and I roll diffidently onto the rink.
Hand over hand, the half-wall is my new best friend. I grasp it tightly for one quarter of the rink, before I realize with horror, that the remaining loop has regular walls with no railings. Kristina urges me forward, and I hug the bluff with the fingers of a mountain climber.
“One-two, one-two, one-two!” Kristina chants as she floats across the floor. “It’s not that hard. Just push your legs up and out. Try to gliiiiiiide across the wood.”
“I’m trying!” I proclaim with firm determination as my bulky skates clomp on the shimmering rink. I free myself from the wall’s gravitational pull for a few seconds until, BANG! A whirling spin, a clutch for the cinderblocks, for anything, followed by a tumble over Kristina’s small frame. I attempt to stand, but this results in a session of repeated stumbles on the floor. True to her word, my friend boosts herself up, and extends her hand to help. Little by little, my crashes transform into stumbles, and my clunks transform into something like a glide.
I finally feel sufficiently confident to look up from my feet and note that the rink actually matches its YouTube description: “164 feet long by 74 feet wide of pure roller goodness.” The walls splash with a 1990s Solo Cup theme in teal, dusty purple, and lemon yellow, and the skaters within reflect a similar diversity. Lap 9: an agile 8-year-old flies by at rocket speed – backwards. Showoff. Yes, I feel intimidated, but I press on. Lap 12: a 50-year-old man, with long, layered hair and 1970s shorty-shorts rounds the corner with a flourish, but I am undaunted. Lap 16: the mime-like, goth guy with striped leggings passes me with a rush of air; scary, but I keep my nerve. Lap 22: the gray-haired rink official prods the skaters to leave the rink for a game. I take my cue to rest and use the bathroom.
The bathroom is the pinnacle of the new skater’s experience. First off, you should know that door locks, soap, and paper towels do not exist. Bring a friend to hold the door and antibacterial wipes. Second, beware of toilet paper strands strewn on the floor like streamers after a party. They not only trip you up, but tend to trail behind your skates. (I don’t discover my straggling festoon until lap 25.) Third, know that the decrepit bathroom with its cloudy mirrors is probably designed to discourage you from lingering, and get you back on the rink. This proves an effective strategy. I exit and skate 20 more laps to the music of “Fireball,” “Cha-Cha Slide,” and “24K Magic,” among others. I coast under disco lights, fall under limbo bars, and count 3 changes in the skating direction. Kristina and I finish blistered and exhausted, but I have learned to skate.
With my newfound skill and confidence, I grow to love the Frenchtown Roller Rink. I love the snack bar, with its two hot dogs slowly rolling on the cooker and the low level of popcorn that sits in the glass popper all week. I love the vending machine covered with fingerprints from “almost falls.” I love the game room with its faded pinball machines and its claw machine filled with under-stuffed animals and wax vampire teeth. I love the lady behind the snack counter that looks astonishingly similar to the lady behind the ticket counter, the lady in the music booth, and the lady replenishing lost quarters in the game room. I tell you, that lady runs the place.
For all its quirks, the Frenchtown Roller Rink holds a warm place in my heart, probably because it turned my fear of roller skating into a fun, retro experience. It is here that I stretched to try something intimating, and my friend stretched out a hand to offer support. The place reverberates with an acceptance of all types of people and all levels of skill. I also hold it in high esteem, because it embraces its community---its bulletin boards are plastered with posters of fundraisers for sick children and messages of support for their speed skating teams. In a world of industrial businesses, I hope this place remains standing as a beacon on a hill that welcomes “regular skate” girls.
by Maddy K., Grade 9
|Artwork by Alita L., Grade 8|