It’s official: I’m applying to graduate school!
I’ve wanted to go to grad school for a long time, pretty much ever since I graduated college, but it’s never seemed to be the right time (i.e. I never had the $). I still don’t know if it’s the right time, but I have the money for the GRE and for the application fees, so I’m going for it! There’s no guarantee that I’ll get in anywhere, the programs are very selective, but I’m giving it all I’ve got.
I’m hoping to get into a Creative Writing program so I can earn an MFA.
All that to say: I need your help. The most important part of the application is the writing sample. 30 pages or less of original work. I’ve selected the pieces I’d like to include, but I’d like some feedback/critiquing before I send them in.
Here’s what I’m planning on:
Please let me know your thoughts. Tell me everything: room for improvement, grammatical or spelling errors, or if you’ve read other pieces you think would be better for me to submit. I want to send in my absolute best work.
Arilya burst through the surface of the water and flung her hair over her shoulder. Her pink skin shone as it absorbed sunlight for the first time, and she propelled herself into the air, performing a perfect back flip and dive. Her fins slipped back into the water effortlessly and without a splash. She felt completely alive.
The dream of emerging from the ocean’s icy depths and feeling warmth caress her skin recurred every night. Arilya had been waiting for this rite of passage since she was three years old. Since her mother told her about her own first out-of-water experience, and every day since had just been one wave closer to her seventeenth birthday.
It is amazing above the water. Sounds are clearer and colors are vibrant. But I must warn you, Arilya, you may never touch land. Death awaits the merperson who leaves the water and feels the earth.
When Arilya woke up on this fateful morning, she could barely stop her fins from swimming her straight to the surface, but she knew she must wait for the ceremony that would announce to all she was no longer a merphin, but instead, a full grown mermaid. No one had told her the ceremony would be a wedding. That part of the fairy tale told to merchildren had been conveniently left out.
You’ll just have to wait and see, Arilya. The traditions of the Ceremony cannot be known until you are old enough for your own.
“Arilya, are you ready to go?” Dalphen cried out. Her father was insistent she be on time for the Maidening Ceremony, but Arilya never liked to follow the rules. While he swam impatiently back and forth outside her cove, she and Finley stole away and made love on a bed of kelp.
“Oh Finley, will life still be this perfect tomorrow when I’m a mermaid?”
“Your life will always be perfect, because you are perfect, Arilya.” He twitched his long yellow fin towards her, and her pink cheeks blushed a brilliant shade of violet.
“Will the world still be this colorful tomorrow when I’m a mermaid?”
“The world around you will always be colorful, Arilya, because you are like a rainbow among the storm clouds.”
“What is a rainbow, Finley?”
“Ah, you will see, Arilya, when you go to the surface.”
“Will I see storm clouds, too?”
“No, they will depart from the sky as soon as you appear, your loveliness will scare them away. They only like dark and dreary things. And you, Arilya, can never be dark and dreary.”
“Will you still love me tomorrow when I am a mermaid, Finley?”
“I will still love you tomorrow, and the day after that, and every day for eternity.” He took her hands and wrapped them around his neck, smothering her lips with his mouth and caressing her blue tailfin with his own yellow one. Finley knew if Dalphen knew about his love for the merman’s daughter, the safest place for him to swim would be in a monsoon, but he didn’t care. He’d face hurricanes and sharks and piranhas before he gave up Arilya.
“I suppose I HAVE to go to the ceremony, now.” Arilya sighed as she disentangled her fin from his.
“If you ever want to see the surface you do.”
“I definitely want to see the surface.”
“Well, then you must go. But come find me here, after you taste the air.”
“What is air, Finley?”
“Ah, you will know it when you taste it.”
“But how will I know what to put in my mouth to taste if I don’t know what it is?”
“Ah, you won’t have to put it in your mouth, it will enter without your permission.”
“I don’t know if I like that. The only thing I want entering my mouth without my permission is you!” Giggling, she tapped her fin on his chest as she abruptly turned and swam away. He allowed a reasonable distance between them before swimming after her and making his way to the ceremony.
The curse inflicted on him at his own Maning Ceremony last year prevented him from warning her. But it wouldn’t prevent him from trying to stop the wedding. And if he failed, it wouldn’t prevent him from trying to swim away with her tonight after she returned from the surface and met him on their bed of kelp. He knew the penalty, knew he wouldn’t succeed in either endeavor, but again, he didn’t care, he would try anything for her.
As Arilya arrived at the preparation cove, her mother Chaslie, and sisters rushed out to greet her. Chaslie enveloped her youngest daughter in a cold embrace, and when Arilya pulled away she found a necklace of shimmering black pearls encircling her throat.
“A tradition of the Maidening Ceremony. The pearls will keep you young and beautiful for as long as you wear them,” Chaslie crooned.
“Is that why you forever have looked seventeen, mother?” Arilya asked, touching the beads around her neck. As her fingers brushed across their smooth surface, an electric jolt pulsed through her hands and down her arms, moving into chest and fin.
“Yes, I have worn my pearls ever since my own Maidening Ceremony, many, many years ago. Should I ever remove them, I would shrivel up and die!” Chaslie and her daughters laughed at the joke, knowing she would NEVER remove her strand. But her mother grew serious soon, and continued, “The jolt you felt when you touched the necklace was the power of the pearls being transferred to you.” Chaslie ended her explanation, unable to inform her daughter of the full extent of the pearls’ power. Arilya could not learn of the curse of the merpeople until after her Maidening Ceremony.
Arilya again touched the precious jewelry, but her admiration was cut short as her gaggle of sisters flew at her and stripped off the blue seashells covering her breasts. She protested, but her mother placed a firm hand on her shoulder, ending her cries.
“All merphin wear white seashells on the day of their Maidening Ceremony. ‘Tis another tradition.” Producing a pair swathed in seaweed, Chaslie handed them to her daughter, who eagerly unwrapped and held them up. The whiteness of the shells stood in sharp contrast to her pink skin and blue fin and her hands trembled as she traced her fingers along the outer edges.
“I do not believe I have ever seen anything so white before. I did not know color could shine like this,” she said with reverence. “I wish I became a mermaid everyday so I could always wear shells as beautiful as these.” With all around her watching, she pressed the shells firmly around her breasts and floated back to admire the effect in a mirror. No sooner had she confirmed her belief that these shells would make her the most gorgeous mermaid who ever treaded these waters, than the shells began to melt into her skin.
“What is happening? Owww! Owwwww! What is going on? Someone take them off! Take them off! They are burning me!” Her fingers scratched and clawed at the shells while the harem looked on horrified, but to no avail. The shells would not release her.
Chaslie grabbed her daughter’s fin and bellowed, “Arilya! You are a filthy whore! The purity shells have exposed your misdeed. With whom did you have sex?”
“Whaaat?” she sobbed back, still desperately trying to peel the shells off.
“No matter,” Chaslie regained her composure. “The burning will only last a few moments longer, and then it will not be visible to your husband until after he removes the shells. He can punish you as he deems fit.”
“My husband? What do you mean?” Fear replaced the pain around Arilya’s heart and her hands fell away from the evil shells. “Finley and I wish to get married, but we have not told anyone yet.”
“Finley? Oh, so he is your wicked merman. It is a good thing the tradition prevents him from warning you.”
“Warning me? Mother what is going on?” Tears flowed out of Arilya’s eyes and mingled with the ocean around them. Chaslie did not answer, but grabbed her daughter’s arm and jerked her away from the preparation cove. They swam to the entrance of the cavern where all Maidening and Maning ceremonies took place. Arilya had never been permitted inside before. Merchildren weren’t allowed to come to the ceremonies.
Chaslie dropped her arm as Dalphen approached them. He frowned at Arilya and turned to Chaslie. “She is late. Did all go well with the preparations?” He glanced from the pearls around his daughter’s throat to the pure white shells covering her chest. He seemed satisfied, for he did not require an answer of his wife.
“Come. The ceremony needs to begin.” This time he gripped his daughter’s arm and pushed her in front of him into the cavern. Arilya gasped in terror as she saw her friends and family chained by a thick gold coil wrapped around each individual’s wrists and connecting each member of the merpeople community together. No one looked up as she entered, save Finley. Catching his eyes as she was pushed past him, she saw anger mingled with pity and sorrow.
“I’m sorry,” he mouthed.
Suddenly, she was thrust forward into the center of a smaller circle of merpeople she didn’t recognize. They did not belong to her community. Opposite her, a merphan unfamiliar to her was thrust into the circle as well. His eyes widened as they fell on hers and she knew he shared her fear. The circle closed in around them and a bright red coil ensnared the wrists of each member. Arilya cried out in pain as a blazing white coil appeared in the water and began wrapping tightly around her fin and wrists.
“NO!” Finley shouted from the back of the cavern. He struggled against his bindings, flapping and twitching like a fish caught in a net. “No! Leave her alone!” The community ignored his distress.
“Finley, what is happening? Finley, please stop this, please get me out of here!” Arilya shouted out. The red circle around her grew tighter and she realized the merphan’s fin and arms were bound in the same white trap. Dalphen and Chaslie suddenly swam above her head, along with another couple she didn’t know. Finley screamed, attempting to drown out the beginning of the end.
Dalphen addressed the crowd, “Today, my daughter Arilya becomes a mermaid.”
The unknown merman spoke next, “Today my son Japhet becomes a merman.”
Chaslie and the unknown mermaid spoke together, “The merphin becomes a mermaid, the merphan becomes a merman, only when wed together. This is the joy of the merpeople. Only when two becomes one can the other world be known, only when the mermaid and the merman are joined together can their heads break the surface of the water.”
The inner circle began to chant, “Marriage is right. Love is wrong. Marriage between two young souls brings peace to the merpeople. Love between two young souls brings death to the merpeople. Marriage is right. Love is wrong.”
Arilya choked on the vomit rising in her throat and struggled fruitlessly against the hot coil burning her pink skin. “Why are you doing this to me? I do not wish to marry this stranger! I am in love with Finley.” The words tumbled from her mouth, silenced the chant, and carried to Finley. A sword appeared in front of him and he braced himself against the golden coil restraining his arms, staring death in the face.
Arilya twisted and turned, desperate to see her beloved Finley, but the circle continued to grow tighter around her. His piercing cry as the sword plunged into his heart was the last sound she heard before the white snake around her cut into her wrist and dragged her into the arms of Japhet. The coil grew longer and thicker and fused their bodies together.
His fin slipped around hers and she screamed, “NOOO! I don’t want this, please.” But there was no escaping the white prison. The community watched as Japhet plunged his fin into hers. She sobbed uncontrollably as the rape continued and pleaded with her parents to end the torture. They merely smirked at her.
When he was finished, Japhet floated backwards, the white coil around his fin and wrists dissolving. “I’m sorry, Arilya, I did not want to do that to you, the coil made me.” The guilt smeared across his face told her he was not lying, but she could not look at him for long. The cords around her disappeared, too, and she tore through the circle back to Finley. The golden chains holding the community together had fallen away, and Finley lay face up on the cold floor of the cavern, a gaping wound in his chest the only indication a sword took his life.
“Tis the curse of the merpeople, Arilya. We were given a choice between a life underwater and a life with love.” Chaslie floated above Finley’s lifeless body, “We chose life underwater. We are given the opportunity to go above the surface once we have sealed the commitment to our choice with an unloving marriage. Finley himself was married in his Maning ceremony last year. His wife’s name is Gorschen. He would have left you in a few years anyways. When a merperson turns 21, they must go and live with their spouse. He wouldn’t have a choice.”
Arilya did not respond. She gathered Finley’s head in her hands and cradled it to her scorched bosom.
“The pearls you wear seek out love and destroy it. Mermen do not have such a precaution bound to them, thus your life was spared. Finley knew to love you meant death for him. He was foolish.” Arilya still did not respond in voice to her mother’s words. Rather she ripped the pearls from her neck and the broken strand flung the beads in all directions.
“It makes no difference whether you wear the necklace now or not, save that you will not have eternal youth, for the power of the beads already lives in you. From the first touch, they destroyed your ability to love.”
“No, I still love Finley. They destroyed my ability to live.” Arilya shot upwards through the water, sending currents into the cavern. She kicked her fin ferociously, striving to get to the surface before her mother or father attempted to stop her.
After swimming a few leagues she glanced behind her, only to discover she wasn’t being followed. They didn’t care if she left. They didn’t love her. She pushed on, her heart both broken and numb to the pain caused by this realization.
The water around her became clearer, bluer. Her fin appeared darker than ever before and she thought she could see a golden orb ahead. She changed direction slightly and sped along just below the surface. Every few seconds she would glance upwards, looking for an indication her destination was approaching. Finally, she saw it. Finley had described it to her.
Boldly, she thrust her head out of the water and used her arms to propel herself closer. The waves offered their assistance, and soon she was only a breaststroke away. Her fingers closed around the grainy sand and she heard Finley’s voice, “I love you, Arilya,” before darkness closed around her.
I picked up a pen one day
And set it to paper
And words flew out
My secret fears and desires
Seeped onto the page
Suddenly I’m looking at myself
With my own eyes
I’m a different person than I thought
So I pick up another pen
And set it to paper
To see what else I can teach myself
Where do I want to go?
What do I want to see?
Who do I want to love?
It all reveals itself on the page
Finally I’m living a life worth living
Even if it is
In the pages of my notebook
So I don’t put the pen down
Even when I should
Because when its in my hand
When I set it to paper
I can make the pain go away
Or I can make the pain worse
I can FEEL
So I continue to write
Continue to discover myself
My hidden sexuality
My thirst for adventure
My longing for lust and love and friendship
Because the second I drop the pen
It all goes away
And I know nothing about myself
Or my secret fears and desires
I have nothing to teach myself
No life worth living
No longing or thirst to explore
So I cling to my pen
I cling to the paper
Praying that they are an anchor and a sail
Both at once
My tools for staying grounded
My means of floating away
I don’t know if other things remember their birth or point of creation, but I don’t. The first moment of existence I can recall is being surrounded by darkness- but I know I existed before that moment because I’ve heard talk of where I came from before it. But that is my earliest memory: blank darkness, the rustle of paper, and being jostled around while steadily gliding forward. Or perhaps it was backwards, or sideways even. And muffled sounds- music: percussion, hard strings, and indistinguishable lyrics. No talking at first. No human conversation. That came later.
I don’t know how much later. Time moves differently for me than it does for you, I would imagine. You have the luxury of clocks and calendars; you can quantify time in minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, and years. I can’t. It almost doesn’t exist for me. The concept does, but not the measurement.
The next moment I knew I existed started with ripping and then, finally, light. I wasn’t blind before, but covered in a plain brown paper I watched get thrown aside as a young woman’s pale and dainty hands gripped either side of me and held me up for closer inspection.
“Beautiful,” she sighed.
“I knew you’d like it. The instant I saw it at the gallery, I knew it belonged to you,” another voice said. Deeper in tone, it came from behind me, I imagine the man it belonged to wanted to see the look on her face when she first saw me. And I like to believe he got the reaction he’d been hoping for, because her face was pure loveliness as she gazed upon me. Bright blue eyes, whose intelligence seemed to grow as she let her attention scan up and down, back and forth, taking in every detail I had to offer, rested above a straight, simple nose and flushed, well-defined cheeks. Her smile stretched wider and illuminated her brilliant eyes when she redirected her sights to the gentleman behind me. One hand released my frame and pushed brunette hair off a smooth forehead.
“It’s perfect. Thank you. I love you.” With that, I was set aside and could no longer stare in wonder at her face- but it wouldn’t be the last time I saw it. In fact, I saw it forever after that- sometimes in fleeting moments as she’d walk past me, going from one room to another, and sometimes in marathon sessions when she’d sit alone on the brown leather couch, her feet tucked under her, a narrow knit blanket around her shoulders and a mug of hot chocolate warming her hands as she lost herself in whatever world the sight of me created in her imagination.
Of course, once I had a permanent place, I saw his face, too. It never seemed to express any honest emotions, though. At least, that was my assessment. In the beginning, she didn’t seem to notice this- she would hug or kiss him any chance she got- he alone was rewarded with her most joyous laughter. And he generally seemed pleased with her, but gone was the anticipation, the eagerness with which he’d waited for her reaction over me. I never heard him say, “I love you.”
I didn’t know her laughter had stopped until one day I ached from its obvious absence. She began looking at me more and more often, with an earnest desire of longing and hopeless sadness etched in her pretty eyes. I wanted to find a way to comfort her, knowing all her contemplation was no comfort at all. Torturous, more likely.
I did know when she reached her breaking point, though. It would have been pretty difficult to miss. The man had long ceased to pass by me and she had begun to revert her eyes whenever she was in my room, until suddenly, things were in boxes and two strange men carried the brown leather couch out of my view. A blonde lady I’d seen many times before gripped the sides of my frame and lifted.
“Is this going with you or him?”
“It’s mine. It was a present. But I don’t think I can look at it anymore- too many memories.”
“What are you going to do with it, then?”
She shrugged and started to weep. The blonde set me down, turned against the wall so I could no longer see either of them.
“Don’t worry, I’ll take care of it for you.”
Darkness once again and the sick feeling that I’d never see her again- that there would never again be a smile so genuine in the face of anyone who looked at me.
When the darkness lifted, some time later, I found myself in a white, square room. On the opposite wall hung other paintings and portraits whose stories I’ll never know. I could see the outlines of more frames in my peripheral. People walk by in streams. I can see their faces. Their pensive, intelligent, stupid, bored, happy, sad faces. Their smiles are never enough. No smile belongs to her.
I’ve been thinking about this off and on for the last several months. The nice guy. Why does he get such a tough break in the dating scene? I was recently an audience member at a comedy club and the opening comedian talked about this- how he often was rejected by women and given the explanation, “You’re just too nice.” He asked the crowd if that is really possible. My immediate reaction? YES.
How is it possible to be too nice? It seems like a ridiculous thing to say, I know, but I can’t help but feel it’s truth. And here’s why. In my (limited, I’ll grant) experience, a lot of guys are nice, but I don’t refer to them all as “nice guys.” If the only way I can think to describe a man is “nice,” then he is just too nice. If nice is the only descriptor I can come up with, then he isn’t showing me anything else. He isn’t displaying any passions or any flaws. And those are two very critical things I need in a man. I personally don’t want to be with a guy I feel I’m always going to get along with, or who always lets me have my way. Guys who are “too nice” present absolutely no challenge, and therefore, no fun.
And that doesn’t mean I’m not looking for a nice guy, because believe me, I am, but a nice guy (as opposed to too nice) is someone who treats women with respect, honesty, and consideration WHILE ALSO holding his own ground in opinions, interests, and other relationships.
So, for all the guys out there living with that “too nice” cloud hovering over your heads, my advice to you is to think about what a woman is really saying when she gives you that reason. It doesn’t mean she wants you to ignore her phone calls and texts, call her mean names, break plans, and sleep with other women. It means she needs a man who can speak for himself. Who isn’t afraid to disagree, who lives his own life with his own hobbies and friends. She wants a nice guy who is also an interesting guy. You may be those things, but you probably aren’t showing them. And if you are, and she’s still not feeling it, then the chemistry just isn’t there, and she doesn’t want to hurt your feelings (but at least she gave you a reason, instead of not returning your last phone call).