It’s advice that’s given all the time; but especially for teenagers, it’s more than a little bit difficult to follow. I don’t think it’s for a lack of trying, by any means. If anything, we are constantly trying to figure out who ‘our self’ is. For me, I am most definitely always wondering who it is I really am.
Am I the thoughtful girl who sits at her computer writing (hopefully) profound blog posts? Or am I the girl that laughs like a maniac with her friends over the silliest things, making onlookers believe she has negative three brain cells? The creative girl who creates stories, whole worlds, from her very fingertips. Or the girl who gets overwhelmed by her grades, and thinks she’ll never reach her goals. A girl with a mind and soul with depths comparable to the ocean, with so many thoughts and ideas. Or, the girl that’s as shallow as a rain puddle, worrying about how her hair and clothes look. Am I the quiet girl, who lets people speak over her and drown out her voice, or am I the impossibly loud girl, who never stops talking? Am I the one who pushes people out, or lets them in?
These are all things I wonder. I feel as if I am split between so many versions of myself, and I’m not sure which defines me. I want to know. I want to know which version is really me. So, how am I supposed to ‘be myself’ when I’m not even sure who myself is? I’m not even sure if I picked the right food to eat for breakfast, and you want me to decide who it is I am?
I am all of these versions of myself. I am not one, or a few, or none. All of these versions combine to make me who I really am. And it’s okay if I don’t know exactly who that is yet, if I haven’t figured out the problem to the equation and found the end result. This is something I have always known, but something I have come much more at peace with this past year. That as shattered as I feel? As torn between these different personalities that war within me? All those pieces are what make me, me. I’ve come to see that ‘me’ doesn’t have to be one, concrete, solid answer. We are so fascinating, so complex, and so not capable of being stuffed into a box. I’ve come to realize that everyone around me is the same way, because how boring would it be if the answer was always easy to figure out? Everyone around me is a jumble of hopeless contradictions, and that’s what makes them interesting. It’s what makes people so interesting.
So, there are several reasons why this is relevant, and why I was thinking about it in the first place. First, how different I feel in my blog posts. When I write them, I feel real. I came to thinking that the me when I’m writing is perhaps the most me, and that’s why I love writing so much. It allows me to be myself. Totally and utterly myself. Not just when I’m writing a post, but when I’m writing a story. That’s something that has always made writing so appealing to me. I get to express myself without holding back, it gives me a sanctuary from anything and everything going on. Writing gives me so much, and there’s so many reasons for me to be passionate about it. Writing is a part of what the advice, ‘be yourself’ entails for me. Because without writing, I can’t be myself.
Moreover, thinking about how interestingly complex people are makes me think about how fun, and sometimes difficult it is, to make characters the same way.
You can not construct a character by simply making a character chart or something like that. You can’t simply decide their good and bad traits, and decide that is the character they are. “Oh, Susy’s positive traits are that she’s caring and considerate, and her negative traits are that she’s bossy and overbearing. There. That’s my character.” It doesn’t work that way. Just like people are not always simple to analyze, characters must be as well. They are complicated, and not capable of being easily defined. If you can so easily decide who your character is with a few character traits, then you’re doing something wrong.
In order to make them complex, you need to make them real. They need to have motives, wants, goals, expectations. You need to be able to talk with them, eat with them, see them. If your character isn’t real to you, then they won’t be real to anyone else. No one will want to read about your character or what happens to them if they don’t feel like actual people. Just as people can’t be categorized simply, stuffed into a box that defines their personality, your characters can’t be either. They will do things that are unpredictable, and they will question themselves. Write until you surprise yourself, because chances are your readers will be surprised as well.
This is my last blog post of the decade, and I’m really happy with how I have seen personal strides in my own writing throughout 2019. It was the initial goal of this blog, and I’m glad I’ve reached it.
Also, as the year comes to a close, I’ve realized that as much as a write about writing, I haven’t posted a single story. So, here’s a little story I wrote, just for fun. Even though Christmas was two days ago, I’m still so in the Christmas spirit. I hope you enjoy, let me know what you think!
(Not) Home for the Holidays
By: Nia Mahmud
Maria hated looking out at the road. Every time the wheels below her turned, they brought her further and further away from home. All she could do was stare at the blurring landscapes before her, hands clenched around the steering wheel, trying to convince herself that this was how she could provide her family with the best Christmas possible. She tried to imagine Johnny’s beaming face when he opened his presents. She tried to envision Lucy’s delighted squeal. It worked for all but a second, as she smiled weakly and then frowned. How good were those smiles if she wasn’t there to see them? How much was it really worth if their mother couldn’t spend Christmas with them?
Sighing, Maria turned into a cul-de-sac, with blinding lights on every house. Each one seemed to be competing with the next, it was as if they had nothing better to do than string up a fire hazard. But, Maria supposed, these people liked their Christmas lights as they liked all things- perfect, neat, and in the lines.
At her own house, neither her nor her husband had enough time to do something as trivial as string up lights. If they had time to do that, then that was time that should be used to take another shift. Another shift meant more money, and inching slowly out of debt. Another shift meant more money for savings. It meant more money so that Maria could afford to send her children to college when they got older, as her parent’s couldn’t do for her. An extra shift meant that maybe, her children wouldn’t grow up in debt trying to pay off college loans, with nothing but a degree that got them nowhere.
A burning resentment for these perfect people with perfect lives hit Maria so suddenly and strongly, it made the neat lawns and big houses blur together in her vision. The resentment was just a front for her frustration, as slient tears slipped their way down her face. She wanted to give her children this life. She always worked so hard, she did everything she could to provide it for them, and she couldn’t. She wanted to have one of these stupid, perfect houses. She wished Johnny and Lucy could have their own rooms. She wished that she could cook them delicious, fancy meals every single day. She wanted to give them this life she saw a glimpse of, and no matter how hard she worked, she knew she never could. That’s why she was resentful. She worked just as hard as these people, so why do they get to have that and she doesn’t?
What she received instead was a college degree that got her next to nothing. She was hired with her degree while loaded down with college debt. The pay wasn’t amazing, but she was slowly working her way up. It wasn’t the best job, but it was something. Then, a month before Christmas, she was let go. They didn’t need her anymore. So she took the best option she could, working for a delivery company. They always needed workers in the holiday time, and especially on Christmas. She had to put up with all the men on the job constantly belittling and patronizing her. Package delivery services didn’t often hire women, and she supposed they felt threatened by her. However miserable the job was, it was a choice she had to make. It wasn’t an easy choice, but it was necessary. Maria would do what she needed to get by. How many of those figurines in those perfect houses ever had to make a choice like that? So lost in thoughts as she was, Maria hadn’t realized that she reached the house her last delivery was meant for until she screeched to a halt right before it.
Karen ran around in a flurry, desperately trying to get everything ready for Christmas dinner. She was putting final touches on the beautifully decorated table when the doorbell rang, startling her out of her thoughts. Annoyed, she called out, “Can anyone get that?” She was greeted with nothing but her own echo as no one responded. Either they didn’t hear, or didn’t care. Karen guessed it was the latter; her children were off playing with their new Christmas toys. Her husband was off doing… who knows what? It didn’t really matter, because as always, he was too busy to help her.
So, with her heels clacking across the tile floor, Karen made her way to the front door. Every movement, every thought, was with a purpose. It’s not like she had much better to preoccupy herself with, anyways. When she got married, she gave up her career and stayed at home with her children, embodying the ultimate PTA mom. She had been a doctor, but that was a lifetime ago. The field was male dominated, anyways, and it was always difficult to make herself stand out. Even if it wasn’t male dominated, it didn’t really matter to her; because it had felt like it. So when she had kids, and her husband convinced her to stop working, she stopped without putting up a fight. It was so much, to fight the biases against her, all the time. She had fought long and hard to make it through med school and to where she was, but nobody ever saw that. Nobody ever saw, and they never would. There was no point in trying to change that.
Opening the door was nothing more than an inconvenience she had to put up with, throwing it open impatiently. She was met with the wide, accusing eyes of a woman that appeared to be around her own age. Instantly, everything that had seemed so vitally important mere seconds ago took a backseat in her mind. “Can you sign for this?” the woman asked her, holding out a clipboard. Her voice was pinched, annoyed. Karen wondered what she was doing delivering packages on Christmas day, and thought of how unfair that was.
Ignoring the clipboard, Karen asked, “What’s your name?” Startled, the woman stared at her distrustfully, biting out, “Maria.” It was as if she thought that Karen didn’t really care, and was just asking to seem polite. It was the exact opposite. Karen couldn’t remember the last time she had cared so deeply about the response of a stranger. Never, probably.
“Do you have kids, Maria?” Karen asked, earnestly. She wanted to know. She needed to know how much it had cost this woman to deliver this package to her. She felt selfish, ashamed of her grand house. Embarrassed of the small, trivial things she considered so deeply important. She couldn’t imagine delivering packages on Christmas day. Maria stared at her, some of the distrust slipping from their eyes as she whispered, almost sadly, “Yes, but I can’t be with them today. I have to work.” Then she looked surprised at herself, surprised that she had even said such a thing to a stranger.
“Are you done with your deliveries for the night?” Karen asked, looking into the other woman’s tired, worn eyes. “No,” Maria replied, as if not sure where Karen was leading to with her questions. Karen wasn’t sure herself. “This is my last one.”
Karen smiled, the offer spilling from her lips without a second thought, “Would you like to stay for Christmas dinner?” Maria took a step back, startled. Karen couldn’t blame her, she was startled by her own offer. There was a seating chart, and a very organized schedule. She had spreadsheets, just to make sure dinner went perfect! Besides that, she had just invited a stranger into her home without a second thought. Still, Karen couldn’t bring herself to care about any of those things. All she wanted to do was give this woman a Christmas that was at least a little bit brighter.
Unsure, Maria wavered. “I couldn’t impose on you like that…”
“I insist!” Karen cut her off, “It would make our Christmas so much brighter!”
For Maria and Karen, the holiday season had lacked magic eons ago. The days lacked magic, instead laced with monotony and tedious tasks. This Christmas, their eyes were opened to completely different worlds from their own. Once more, Christmas seemed to be laced with magic. Even though Maria wasn’t home for the holidays, she found herself happy. For once, Karen felt happy in her large home with someone as genuine as Maria in it. Both women came from different starts, and they would come to different ends. But inside? They were the same. Inside, they both held Christmas magic in their hearts.
I hope you liked the story, the first ever of mine on my blog!
Be yourself. Even if you don’t know who that is yet, or if you’re working towards figuring it out- be whatever it is you think is yourself. Design complex, real characters. And, above all, have a happy holiday and a wonderful new year! I’ll see you next year!