Friday, July 17, 2015


From, courtesy of the Google Machine. 'Tis a screenshot from the inspirationally well-written Doctor Who episode with which this essay shares its title.
I rarely write personal essays, and when one is assigned despite my protests, I make a conscious effort to write more about others--or, better yet, abstract concepts--than I do about myself. I don't know why, other that I'm a very private person. And yet, whenever I write about the characters I've created, or about the writing process in general, the resulting essay reveals more about me than I ever intended.

That's what ended up happening with this essay, "Listen". I wrote it as part of my college application, which I sent to six colleges, five of which accepted me. The college which I will be attending in the fall started their acceptance letter with a quote from the essay and a note on how deeply it resonated with their admissions staff. My parents' initial reaction was more along the lines of "...that's... different... very you, though." And I have to agree. "Listen" is a meditation on an integral part of my identity; it speaks to an experience that many and yet few share. And it is utterly, undeniably mine.


Some students have a background or story that is so central to their identity that they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.

Listen. I am going to tell you how I write, which will answer the question of why I write. And because I am what I do, because my view of the world has been changed by those I create, my writing will show you more of who I am than any lesson I've learned in life.
It starts with a voice. Some characters readily speak out to me, surprising me as I walk down the hallway. They shout in a gruff Scottish accent or a sarcastic drawl with a hint of suppressed dread. Oi, you! Listen! I've got a story to tell, and I've got a gun, so you'd best tell it right. Or I ain't gon' leave you 'lone 'til you put pen to paper. Ain't got the time. Sometimes they beg me to soothe their sadness, to show them something, anything, to keep them going, because they just can't take this anymore. Sometimes they scream and run around my mind in a restless mania that leaves me shaking. Sometimes they try to seduce me to the dark side, which is rather terrifying, especially when the most brilliant doctor in the history of neuroscience offers me tea as he plans his next nonconsensual lobotomy.
But some voices are soft. Some voices I have to listen for, and quickly, before they're silenced. These are the ones I can't afford to ignore. If I don't encourage them, they will start to believe I don't care about them. And then their voices will fade away, their stories gone from my mind forever. It's the same as with people-I owe these characters my respect and my ear. They are human beings, just like anyone else, and they chose to come to me to help them share their voices with the world. Because when you hear someone's voice, that someone becomes a real person to you. You begin to understand that no one else speaks quite like her. She may be fictional, as many of the best people are, but she is still a human with wants and needs and rights. And the more you treat a person as a fellow human, the more you get to find out who she really is at the core.
When I create, I want to become a sort of conduit, a vessel, a prism through which the emotions of humanity flow and are transformed. I want to become a part of my characters, of their inner voices, of what they really think underneath the lies they tell themselves. I want to translate their emotions into words that will evoke those same emotions in others. Writing is how true empaths are made. Sharing deep, raw emotions with someone else makes you more compassionate, more understanding, and more hopeful, I think. God knows my characters have kept me from the brink of despair, each in her own special way. They listen to me, just as I first listened to them. They know how I feel, just as I know how they feel. I am never alone, because I carry their hopes inside of me wherever I go.
So listen. Listen to my voice and to any voice, however soft, that calls out to you when least expected. Listen to the stories these voices carry with them, for it is through the telling of these tales that we humans come to truly understand one another. Listen. I think I hear a new voice even now.

-an essay in prose poetry-

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