A Personal Essay

We’re getting personal boys and girls.

The personal essay was written primarily for the purpose of college. So within the constraints of 650 words, literal meanings, figurative and stylistic words, we were challenged to reflect on a glimpse of us and tell that story creatively and meaningfully. This was more than an assignment. It was a determining factor of our future, and a piece of our past and present. And most difficult of all, and most inevitably, it was personal. Writing about yourself is much harder than anticipated. 

As the STEM enthusiast who preferred to quietly perfect sketches in the back of class, 15 year old me would’ve been in disbelief to hear that English is one of my favorite subjects.

If I asked her: Why not English? The answer was evident. English was enduring anxiety-inducing socratics or, on the rare occasion, diffidently raising my hand. English had no instant reassurance like seeing a bright green check mark, but rather, English was, well, how-many-academic-discussion-sentence-frames-can-I-squeeze-in, or, why-is-there-no-definite-answer-to-this-prompt-and-what-is-an-euphemism-again?

On the first day of junior year, I was too occupied with my prospective misery in English to notice how badly the carpet needed a deep clean. Except for the 11 inch sliver of pristine, light blue that stands out against the otherwise yellow-brown, this cannot be said euphemistically: The carpet is atrocious.

We dove into our first unit–poetry. Learning rudimentary Haiku rules, I tuned out at the mumble-jumble of a “kireji,” and in at the staccato of the numbers “5-7-5.” My Honors group began reading Bright Dead Things by Ada Limón. The poems were abstract and confusing. Initially, I read them to humor myself. Then twice out of frustration, and three times after grasping a vague glimpse of an idea. On the fourth read I applied the rules of line breaks and metaphors, and like taking a math theorem to solve abstract problems, green lights flashed in my head.

My book grew fat with sticky notes of my interpretations. The distorted words were like that of the peculiar clock, I thought, gazing at The Persistence of Memory on the classroom wall. Yes, it’s bizarre at first, but the oddities to questioning combinations of the same 26 letters or the unwavering concept of time leaves us to ask: So what about it? Unable to verbalize thoughts of my unconscious, I reached for my sketchbook and Limón. My artwork transformed from pretty, mindless sketches to experimental art exploring the connotations of “pro-life” and the controversies of corporate America. I wanted to be loud with my art, and as unexpectedly as the surprise of a kireji – loud with my words.

In English class, my mind never ceased racing. But rather from the fear of raising my hand, from my eagerness to be called on. For the first time, I wanted to speak. Thoughts poured out of my head, spilling onto the page as I began writing a short story.

Pulling and pasting pieces from my life – my introversion, a trip to Lisbon, and my fascination for portraiture paintings – Elio’s quest is to paint the perfect self-portrait. Tucked away from the bustling city, Elio finds peace in a dark abandoned loft. The beauty in each detail he puts on the canvas mesmerizes him. But when Elio finally steps back to observe the self-portrait as a whole, it’s a mess.

Now, what comes next? Should he re-do the painting?

My eyes searched the room for some point to end on, and that’s when I saw it: the carpet.

Is that real? Has the carpet always been that dirty? Why, look at how blue it is over there…

  Wait! I know what he has to.

He must step away from the dark loft and into the vibrant city. The comfort of isolation doesn’t bring perfection, and neither does the emulation of perfection in Elio’s painting. The light at the end of a tunnel appears brighter upon noticing it in a period of darkness.  

The truth is, Elio is a part of me. His story manifested a feeling I’d bottled up for so long: the persistent effort for perfection within my bubble of comfort. My words had never before brought such clarity. So maybe the carpet doesn’t need a deep clean. It brings out the blue every time.

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