By : Ren Westerman
This is more of a speculation blog compared to my previous post, so whether it has a central point to it or not will more or less be left in the air.
Sometimes I will rummage through old computer files or boxes of old school papers and assignments, and naturally I'll reminisce over past writings. One piece I found a good while back in my first year of college was an assignment from 8th grade where we had to create a short fictional story. I think there was something to the extent of making it more of a fable, or it had a surprise ending, but I'm not entirely sure.
It was a three-wishes story with a twist. The end of the world in some form or another had occurred. What was left of humanity had a subterranean base with a massive mechanical gate to the outside. The story starts with the main character, Frank Archer (The name of a character from Fullmetal Alchemist, an anime I was highly fond of at the time) is sitting in a bedroom cell reading a journal from an old friend who'd died when the world went downhill. The journal described how the friend had found a gemstone which seemed to grant any wish. As Frank is reading this journal, he's holding said gemstone in his hand. Skeptical he decides to play along and makes a wish. The next thing he knows, a plump cat walks into the room and curls up at his feet. I can't quite remember the details of the second wish, something to the extent of water trickling into the base from a newly formed river or lake outside. The inhabitants of the base are able to open the mechanical gate to a rush of fresh air and to their surprise, green grass and various other plants. Regardless of what exactly the second wish was, Frank is thoroughly convinced of the gemstone's power. As such he makes a third wish. Here's the twist. He makes a wish to the extent of reverting the world back to normal before it had entered a dystopian state. The following events following this were the complete opposite. Suddenly the ground begins to shake, the air turns fiery and unbreathable. Essentially mass chaos erupts. Frank walks outside as he casually reads the final pages of the journal. As one might expect, the journal describes events similar to the ones occurring as Frank witnesses the destruction around him. It's left to the reader to make a connection that the world's initial apocalypse was created by the previous holder of the gemstone. As Frank himself comes to this realization, a fissure emerges beneath him and he falls. Fin.
I remember writing the story, and having a good number of people read it. In fact my teacher at the time even described it to the class as a "Ren Story." On a side note, this is around the time I developed an ego. (Insert sound of crowd ironically laughing).
Anyway, back to the speculation.
I feel that one of the most important people to have read that story, was myself. That might sound a bit self-centered, but there's meaning behind it. I feel as though our own critiques of our writing help us grow as writers just as much as any other critique. Again, here's the twist. I'm talking about myself critiquing my writing from back in the 8th grade. The reason our own critique can be so powerful is essentially because we're able to see how much we've grown over the course of a period of time.
Despite the dark nature of the described story, I couldn't help but smile as I reread it all these years later. That story really was a "Ren Story" because it was me. It was my story. I can see myself writing that story and seeing my imagination unfold.
My writing has changed considerably in the years since then.
Yeah I'm able to write exceptional papers with a clear thesis and multiple sources to back up each of my main points. Yeah I can think of an argument to make off the top of my head and defend it without a problem. But there's one thing I did lose.
Fictional writing died as part of the educational curriculum throughout the rest of my schooling years. Fantasies and fables were replaced by argumentative papers and literary analyses. As such, my writing began to conform to fit a mold. Standardized tests didn't test for creativity. Schools didn't teach you to become an individual; they taught you to become the standard. What happened to my stories? I don't know. I honestly do not know. I absolutely cannot remember any story I wrote through high school. I'm sure I wrote a story or two, but as to what they might have been, I've no idea. I can tell you everything about the Diary of Anne Frank, Kite Runner, Heart of Darkness, All the Pretty Horses, Frankenstein, Their Eyes Were Watching God. I can tell you about Antigone, Othello, Caesar, and Hamlet. I can tell you why my voice is important, how my optimism helps me overcome obstacles, and plenty of other speech topics. I'll tell you why the government should or shouldn't be subsidizing corn fields, why an adolescent should or shouldn't need parental permission to access birth control, or whether or not the cost of college outweighs the benefits. I've researched and written about all of these in great extent and detail, and can more or less tell you about them from heart. But I can promise you that I cannot tell you about a piece of creative writing from high school.
It has honestly been difficult to go back into fictional writing. I didn't get back into the swing of things until after my first semester of college. I suddenly felt an inspiration after taking a class where we spent the semester analyzing and decrypting the hidden messages behind various movies and media. We talked about the importance of setting a scene and how each and every detail has something to contribute to the overall story. From this inspiration I wrote a 100,000 word story. The first chapter was amazing. All subsequent chapters I sincerely disliked. The story was going nowhere and any and all plot devices I'd thrown in were entirely forced. I've criticized it heavily and repeatedly, but the stories I've written since then have slowly gotten better. I'm beginning to regain some of that imaginative creativity that I used to have before high school. Many of my recent stories have gone unfinished. More often than not, they take on the form of quick writes that often occur at random hours of the night.
In my previous posts I have repeatedly mentioned that my stories now often take on a dark nature. They discuss death, depression, insecurity, and other topics. My old stories from middle school talked about adventures and amazing feats of heroism. One story from early in my sixth grade year was about a young man named Hiro who had to venture out to fight many mythical dragons whilst fighting a persistent antagonist all for the sake of defending his home village from the forces of the darkness. Another story describes a group of children who stumble upon an entirely other world and become cats who are forced to solve a number of problems and overcome a myriad of foes to return to their own world. In the end, both stories reach a successful end. Anymore I can't guarantee my characters will make it to the end of the story in tact. They'll face hardship around every corner which in some circumstances becomes unbearable.
I suppose I'd describe the change in my writing as a change in perspective. Back then I had a childlike innocence without a care of what was going on in the world or even remotely fathomed the concept of hardship. Now that I'm a young adult, my eyes are open to a lot of what is wrong with the world. Many people choose to ignore such things and act as though everything is just peachy. Call me a pessimist, but everything is not all sunshine and rainbows. People are being discriminated against on a daily basis because of their race, gender, color, profession, income, possessions, weight, height, beauty, handsomeness, masculinity, femininity, religion, and just about every other descriptor. Society preaches equality, but we've all heard about the 2% controlling 98% of the wealth. Entertainers get paid millions while the individuals which keep society functioning live paycheck to paycheck. The current presidential election has become more of a farce of antics than a legitimate campaign to see who will be the next head of the executive branch. We've a hypocrite on one side and a class clown on the other (I'll leave the ambiguity to your own discretion). Many schools purchase new sports equipment every year while textbooks have been reused since the 1980's. Inmates in prison experience a higher quality life than our elderly, and just take a guess who has to pay out of pocket.
That being said, if my more recent stories depict class disparities, imperfect governments, characters facing depression or anxiety, or just facing some variation of a real-world conflict in general, there's a reason behind it. I no longer want to create these mystical worlds where the hero always comes out on top. Instead I'd rather write about the ongoing battle that many people face every day. I want to write about reality and not this veil of idealistic nonsense we've used to make ourselves feel better.
Now I'm not trying to say that we're in a "hell on earth" situation. There are many beauties in our world which are well deserving of appreciation and admiration. Not everything is blanketed in misery and convoluted nonsense. But part of me has to wonder how some situations that exist in our current society, which is supposedly advanced and sophisticated, are even able to exist at all, and it baffles me how we prefer to embrace ignorance than actually deal with the problems at hand.
Everyone has their own views. Everyone has their own beliefs. I write as an expression of my own views and beliefs. If you disagree with them, go for it, but tell me why. If you agree with them, go for it, but tell me why. Create a dialogue with me. Create a dialogue where we can express and defend each of our ideas. Only then can we truly move forward. Put an end to ignorance through writing and critique. Shed some light on what's been swept under the carpet. Through discourse, new ideas emerge, and innovation is allowed to emerge.
So consider this a formal invitation to critique and debate my writing. My characters, their stories, and I will be waiting.
Do you dare to dabble in the discord of discourse?