Sometimes, when I am trapped in a crowded waiting room or public transportation, I like to look at the signs and make new words out of their letters. First I see if I can discern smaller words in the headlines (such as the "disc" in "discern"), but other times I try to count the number of times each letter appears, or even rearrange them to create totally new words. This habit has to do with the way I view life, as well as one of my lifelong hobbies.
"We don't see things as they are; we see them as we are." This quote, which is from the Talmud, illustrates how I look at situations. Like the tendency of my mind to change words from how they really are, I often struggle to find appropriateness for my actions. Sometimes I grossly underestimate or overestimate the urgency of a situation. When it's time to go out, I have been known to jump into the shower, get one more piece of jewelry, or stop to call a friend.
One activity that helps me to find appropriateness is my writing. Letters that are set down never change, but my opinion or "take" on a certain problem definitely does. This was never more illustrated than during my third year on the editorial staff of the Lincoln-Sudbury Fountain literary magazine. During meetings, the Fountain editors discussed anonymous submissions from our classmates before deciding to accept or reject. We read prose that described walks through the woods and rippling lakes, but we also received submissions that talked about every emotional issue from racism to family relationships to finding one's sexuality. Like the letters on the waiting room signs that change their meaning, the Fountain transfigured itself into a more personal magazine by the rearrangement of words.
I feel that I also have gone through a great deal of transformation, not just in my writing, but in my personal expression and opinions. Every day I listen to other people's rearrangements - their critiques of me as well as my own - and try to form a final opinion of myself. I wrote the following poem when I was in the fourth grade. The poem has stayed the same, but the rock and I are both changing:
The side view a sky blue parallelogram.
The top, a darker blue.
The bottom, white.
Or is it the other way around?
How can you tell which side is which
on a painted rock?
You can only guess and imagine
Light blue, the sky on a peaceful day.
A darker blue, my bag.
White, the clouds, another part of
Paint covers what was once covered with
There are red spots on a white
They are not meant to be there, but
they make the rock more colorful.
Red - the horizon.
Not smooth, not bumpy, but in-between.
Memories - of painting rocks that come
from outside, from the ground.
Size-small, but medium compared to other rocks.
All this from a single rock,
Its sides unknown.
Every year when I read my poem, I see another rock. I then remember the image of the rock that I saw before. Like a painted rock that has endured many coatings and colors, I have "tried on" many styles and friends. The contradiction is that, through the permutations and images, there are still only 26 letters and only one of myself. The principle of there being only one rock of its kind, despite the different ways in which a person can see it, goes beyond the alphabet or my personality. That the specific object or situation stays the same, that the reorganized street signs always go back to their original words and that the rock always retains its solid shape is a concept that consoles me whenever I begin a new experience or encounter a new phase of rearranging. Instead of becoming a totally new person, whenever I discard or pick up a new point of view, the remnants still stick with me like a peeled-off sticker that leaves behind a mark of its shape. -
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.