My first semester in Creative Writing II has proved to expand and challenge my writing like never before. Every sentence, thought, or mere word I wrote down was shared with the entire group, something I always struggled with. In our poetry unit, my work progressively got more and more personal as my peers began to feel more like a family, and I came to the realization that writing is a never-ending process, and no one will judge me for presenting a poor first draft, or for writing my truth is the rawest way possible. The result of our poetry unit was a chapbook of eight or so poems. Though I read through it and noticed countless edits I’d like to make, I couldn’t help but pride myself in this small, neat package of Eva.
However, even though I was comfortable with writing about my own experiences, when it came time for our next unit, I dreaded it. Creative Nonfiction sounded like embellished essays, or a heightened version of an English class assignment. I pictured prompts like, “what is the greatest challenge you’ve overcome?” or “what achievement are you most proud of?” I’ve written my fair share of these empty essays for applications, or in the dungeon of my freshman year English class, and I feared that they were following me into the one class I actually had creative freedom in.
I soon learned that Creative Nonfiction does not include essays that are just beefy on imagery, or chock-full of thesaurus synonyms, they are fiction pieces—that are entirely factual. Ploi Pirapokin, our Creative Nonfiction Artist-in-Residence, dished out essays daily—from the acclaimed epic of “Frank Sinatra Has a Cold” by Gay Talese to “How Blac Chyna Beat the Kardashians at Their Own Game” from Buzzfeed News. I noticed that Creative Nonfiction was the most ubiquitous of all writing forms—once I began writing it, I saw it in Instagram captions of people wallowing in their insecurities, the newspaper that lives on my kitchen table, or letters from my grandmother describing her backyard.
But how do I make my own, boring life interesting to read? I had to teach myself how to shape my seemingly standard experiences into a narrative, creating characters, a climax, and a resolution, all while sticking to the truth. I began reevaluating memories I once overlooked or labeled as unworthy of sharing. Here is an excerpt from my very first in-class prompt in this unit, detailing the mundane tasks that my family adheres to without ever discussing them:
“What my parents and I don’t talk about is our household tasks. We’ve just sort of fallen into a routine. It is simply a fact that my father takes the trash out and weeds the front garden on Tuesday, my mother makes dinner, and that I do anything in between. Sometimes, after dinner, I find myself floating to the sink almost instinctively to wash the dishes. I’ll wake up abruptly in the middle of the night when the dishwasher completes a cycle, wishing that stacking plates wasn’t as loud as my uncle on NBA finals night. And I’ve been hearing my father open the laundry closet in the middle of the night—the creak of the door is very distinct. It is not often that we run into many issues with our tasks, but when we do, I become aware of the high level of order we are able to maintain without any discussion. When guests come over, my father retreats to the kitchen and my mother entertains. It is always so troubling to see my father emerging with a delicate tray of tea. For a moment, I think, “Gee, Mom looks different!” Or when there is a night that I simply cannot wash the dishes, I find myself unable to concentrate knowing some stranger is doing the rinsing. I’ve been known to burst through the door, prying the sponge out of my replacement dishwasher’s hands, admitting defeat…”
It is easy to take the more dramatic and humorous route in Creative Nonfiction, perhaps to shy away from revealing too much about yourself, or to show nonchalance about a situation. But my classmates have motivated me through their work to explore the memories that are more difficult to share. Slowly, I am approaching larger and larger truths about myself in my work.
Writing poetry in the beginning of the school year taught me how to explore personal topics covertly, but Creative Nonfiction has encouraged me to write about myself overtly, and it is one of the most liberating feelings ever.
Eva Whitney, class of 2020