Pink Velvet and Trepidation
My phone lit up with a single notification — Ping! It was approximately four minutes before my alarm was meant to go off. There was no point in trying to ignore it and preserve the remaining 240 seconds of sleep,so I decided to check the notification. The familiar, blue mailbox sat next to an email from one of my professors, reminding us about the paper due at 11:59PM the following day.
Dread set in immediately and any remaining drowsiness was shed for the jolting awakeness that the email struck me with. Writer’s block had been personally drilling my brain for the past three days — days in which I promised myself I would at least start the essay and I still hadn’t even developed a topic. I could write any other essay on any other topic, just not this one. Every time I sat down to write my brain would get sad and tired, an emotion I trained myself to associate with projects I was uninterested in, and my bed looked more inviting than ever, so I gave myself a“break.” Those small breaks would turn into self-care days and weeks and all of a sudden the assignments would pile up and any “self-care” that happened quickly transitioned into self-loathing.
I quickly forgot my commitments for the day that I would need to tend to in the next 150 seconds (and counting) and opened up my laptop to the “outline” I had made, which was really a couple of words on five bullet points that were meant to create inspiration. Circling in my head are the words: Paradise Lost, Christianity, serpents, the temptation of sex, demonization of women. All of these points meant something, I knew they did, but making them mean something to me and something to each other was an entirely more difficult task than I was prepared for. I was finding reasons to associate negative feelings with any assignments pertaining to this class. My lack of religious knowledge, the complexity of the text, and even simply being uninterested in the topic all became reasons for me to make myself ill with trepidation when I thought about that class, that book, and every assignment and reading I had to do. All of these things made me feed into the preconceptions I had decided upon when the paper was assigned: I can’t do it, if I do it will be poorly done, the teacher won’t like it, and I don’t understand what I’m supposed to write. These thoughts became negative affirmations that myself-talk would repeat every time I sat at my laptop to write. At some point, I unknowingly accepted the fact that it was “impossible” for me to do this paper,and I relented any real effort into the air.
My alarm blared at my side, alerting me that my time to dread the paper had come to a close and I needed to get on with my day. I jumped on my bed to lay back down, but the backpack on my shoulders stopped me from reaching the mattress. I didn’t remember putting it on, nor even buying a backpack like this one, but it hung to my back with an iron grip.It was pink and made of velvet, a texture I’ve always hated, and had two zippers the way a standard backpack would. Keychains hung from the two zippers,one reading positive and the other negative.
I swung the backpack off one shoulder to see what was inside (the backpack clung tightly to the other shoulder as Idid this). First, I opened the positive zipper. There were my favorite pens and highlighters, some gum, and a stack of business cards. They were orange and lilac and had the names and contact information of every person that has inspired me to write up to this point. It was a trip down memory lane to see my senior year English teacher and freshman year history teacher, my best friend from middle school, my close poet friend, and my boyfriend. On the back of each card had something positive that impacted my journey — red pen compliments from my English teacher and phrases like “You are magic” from my poet friend. I held the cards close to my chest and smiled happily, feeling the dread from before seep away as though it had never been.
Then I remembered the negative zipper.I tucked the business cards away into their rightful place and elected to not open that compartment quite yet. Inspiration was flowing again, and while I had other business to attend to, I could at least manage to put things down on sticky notes throughout the day.
With the backpack still tightly gripped to my back, I had concerns about driving my car, but when I slid into the seat,it flattened out to where it was hardly there. I could thank my positive audience for that one. They always had my back — figuratively and literally now, it seems. I turned on my playlists and began my hour-long commute to SalemState University. The ideas never stopped flowing, and since it was too dangerous to write things down while driving, I recorded voice memos of the points I was developing for the prompt. They flowed out of me like a stream andI was becoming almost excited to sit down and get to writing this paper.
I was turning into the O’Keefe parking lot when I felt my backpack start to expand and a foreign liquid dripped down my back. It was icy and cold and had little bits of something pointy and I had absolutely no idea what it was. I pulled over into an isolated spot and turned around in my seat to see my car covered in a purple, sparkly liquid that had once held candied stars. The cork bottle it had spilled from was labeled Writing Happiness, and it was now entirely empty. My sweatpants had been stained with the purple liquid and my car was never going to recover from the amount of glitter that had spilled.Alongside the liquid, it seemed that the creativity pouring out of me had hit a dam and was dried up. The backpack began to expand in size again and the zipper with the “negative” keychain grew three times in size, scolding me for not opening it earlier.
Inside the compartment, which was the larger of the two, was a stack of papers and no less than a billion zippers containing lord knows what. I opted to skim through the papers first to see what the stack could possibly contain. At the top of the stack was the title page to my discarded novel, The Sanity ofChaos. I felt a pang in my heart when I was forced to re-examine my first project, and with each abandoned page I felt the dread invite itself back in.The next paper in the stack was an eighth-grade assignment on The Tell Tale Heart. It was a horrendous paper that I had written quickly without any real analysis because it had scared me so much. It was the first grade below an A that I remember getting on a paper, which is trivial in retrospect but reminded me of the failure I had felt. I couldn’t bring myself to read them anymore, so I set them aside.
That is when I realized that the backpack was sagging and had fallen from my other shoulder. Instead of gluing itself there, it had connected to me with a sort of umbilical cord and sat itself on my passenger seat. They wanted me to see them. I opened one of the zippers, not because I wanted to, but because I feared what would happen if I didn’t.
Out fluttered a fairy-like creature that I immediately recognized as an old friend of mine. She was wearing her signature bangs and Bermuda shorts and laughed maniacally at finally being released. It didn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out I had unleashed my harmful audience.
She flew around and took the courtesy of opening all the other zippers, some of which contained negative emotions and others contained more fairies to swat at my head. I saw my sophomore yearEnglish teacher and my Latin teachers, my AP scorers and the Write-Away board.I saw everybody that I did not want to be seeing. They flew up to my face and swatted at me. There were so many that I couldn’t get them away. They pulled on my ears like they wanted to worm inside my mind. Even if they hadn’t left the backpack in the first place, the proximity would be far too close. They could be miles and miles away and somehow they would learn telepathy and be closer than ever. Despite being rooted in my past, they were close and comfortable and not going anywhere now.
Forgetting the literal cord binding me with the bag, I swung my car door open and ran. I could hear the clack of my shoes on the tile and… the tile?
I stopped and looked around, finding myself not in the parking lot, but the English wing of my high school. I took a few steps and peered around the corner, just to be sure, and it was it. The hallways were lined with orange and yellow lockers and made a square shape,except there were no stairwells at the corners like I had remembered.
As I was peeking around the corner, the nearly-forgotten backpack slammed into my spine with the force of a truck,knocking me to the ground. It clung to my shoulders again and I could feel it changing now. There was burning on my skin and it felt like the inanimate object had gotten angry at me — until I remembered the fairies.
Though I couldn’t see behind me into the backpack, I felt the texture begin to change, to congeal. The once-velvet texture was being replaced with goop — not just any goop, but Icy-Hot. The sensation was amplified, by my anxiety or the magic, and it felt as though my top layer of skin was peeling off.
The flying creatures came out of the gel one by one and swarmed my head again, narrating
negative ideas that fed into my prior preconceptions about the paper. They were trying to reduce my mind so that they could squeeze themselves into it and take up residency, rent-free. They emphasized deadlines and writer’s block and talked down on all of my ideas, and truthfully, they were getting to me. I was crawling, still knocked out of breath and back still on fire, toward where I remembered a door having been,but when I struck the painted brick, I knew I was stuck. They kept reiterating the same harmful things over and over, and they never lost their weight on my mind as they continued hurling my way.
Among the crowd I noticed my old friend, taking out all her own writing anger on me and trying to reduce my confidence. She hated me, and while I felt similarly for her, I felt bad that she had gotten to a point where this was who she became — cruel and unforgiving.
While she and the rest of my demons continued insulting me, I tried imagining her achieving her writing goals. It was hard to remember what her goals had been, but when I thought about the story she had been writing and gave up on, I knew that it was a project she wished she could complete. I imagined her completing it, revising, exploring new storylines and characters, even getting it published. While I did not like her,the joy evident on her fictional face did bring me some, as well. She was accomplishing something the way that I wished to, and I felt happy that she had done it, even if it wasn’t real.
The fairy version of her flew closer to my head, almost sensing the thoughts I was creating up there, craving them,even. She peered into my ear and listened for the thoughts, taking them in and cherishing them the way she wished she had when she could have.
While the others were attacking, there was a moment between her and me that blocked them out as we explored this fictitious reality, one where she didn’t give up her dream. One where resentment didn’t inhibit the kindness she once knew, and where she didn’t want to bring me the harm she inflicted on herself.
She flitted back after a couple of beats and reconsidered what she was doing right now, and why. She almost felt thankful that I allowed her that moment to step back, and experience the loving-friendliness she had missed these past years. Then, she wished she could extend the same to me. She floated around to the other audience members and whispered to them something that made them frustrated until, one by one, they stopped attacking. She imagined me writing this paper and the ideas I had previously came back to me — she imagined my success.
And then, suddenly, they were gone.
The backpack returned to its prior velvet skin, which, despite hating it, was a welcome change from the Icy-Hot.The wind came back to my lungs and I was able to stand. I could sit with myself in silence and awareness rather than fear and loathing. There was a release again. But I was still stuck in this wing.
The classroom door next to me opened and it was my senior year English teacher, giving me a funny look as I sat on the floor. “What the hell are you doing here, Pullino? You’ve got class, kid,let’s get moving.” He banged on the brick beside me and the tan, metal doors I had remembered being there appeared once again and opened for me. I scrambled to stand and looked back at him, grateful for the help he continually provided despite not seeing him for nearly two years now. He patted me on the back and ushered me out the door as I stepped onto the concrete of the O’Keefe lot.
It was the end of the day now and the sun was setting, meaning I had missed my classes. I figured an email would suffice as an excuse, and really I just didn’t have the energy to seek out abetter solution. My car stood lonesome in the lot and looked… clean. As I approached, I realized that all the purple liquid had been cleaned up, my floors had been vacuumed, and the velvet schoolbag sat buckled in on the passenger seat. I hadn’t even had the time to realize that its weight was no longer on my back. I slid in next to it and started up the car, beginning the commute home where I would finally write this essay no matter what it took.
The bag next to me made some strange noises on the drive home, but I figured that may have something to do with the multiple fairies that were stored inside small compartments. They probably didn’t like being cooped up in there, but I really didn’t like hanging out with them out here. The noises came to a halt when I picked up the bag to take it inside and it nearly solidified my belief that the noises were my harmful audience nitpicking from all the way within the pockets.
Despite the fact that my bed looked increasingly inviting after my long day, I knew that the deadline wasn’t going to wait for me to catch up and I had to take some control now. I placed the bag on the ground next to my desk and opened my laptop to start writing. I completed the header and title when I remembered the voice memos and sticky notes I had written on earlier that I stored in the velvety bag. I dragged it over and reached my hand in to retrieve my phone and the notes, which marvelously were undamaged by the sludge transformation the container had undergone.
When I grabbed hold of the notes,however, a jeweled beetle scattered up my arm, sending me into sheer panic.Bugs are not my thing, and especially not creatures reminiscent of the man-eating beetles from The Mummy (1999).They spilled out of my bag onto the floor, staying close to their pink home.
I was so preoccupied with the disgusting insects that I hadn’t even realized the real kicker of it all: on my sticky notes there were words and phrases that had gone missing, almost as though somebody, or some bug, had eaten them straight off the page. All my written work had been consumed by these word thieves, but at least I had my voice memos.
Except I didn’t. When I went to play them, there were words missing from my own speech, which I didn’t even think could have been possible, but expect the unexpected when it comes to trickster audience fairies, it seems. All of the work that my positive audience had inspired was reduced to “the” and “Eden,” and I was reduced to “blah.”
It seemed there was no more hope for me. The sounds of my old Latin teachers hanging out and laughing at my failure were echoing inside the cursed velvet school bag, and there were beetles filling up the crevices of my space… but then I remembered the Dangerous Method(1). It was my last resort, but it just might work.
Hope had been reinstated into my mind,and while the sound of the beetles infesting my room was giving me a massive ick, I knew I had it in me to take Paradise Lost and turn it into ParadiseFound. I crossed my legs up onto the chair — less for comfort and more for beetle protection — and cracked my neck like I was in an action movie and prepping for the big fight. I had thought about the prompt for over a week and the ideas were within me, the vague memories of the ideas of the morning itching to be digitized. It was time to write. I turned on some white noise to block out the bugging, took a couple of focused, deep breaths, and began to write.
With each sentence that I concluded, a beetle was returned back to the ancient jar from whence it had come. The laughing stopped echoing in my ears and was replaced by the familiar grumbles of the fairies being stopped like they had been back in the halls. The paper was being written and my harmful audience was being forced back into hiding. I heard struggles coming from within a few of the zipped compartments, but I was on too much of a roll to pay it any mind. And suddenly, the noises just stopped.
I kept writing for a few moments before something started feeling off about the silence. I looked around and noticed the beetles were gone and the large compartment holding my toxic audience had been zipped up tight while the smaller front compartment was wide open. The business cards from earlier were no longer in the pocket but were pinned around the lining of my desk as a constant reminder of the kindness and enjoyment they had given me for writing. Next to my poet friend’s card, there was a little note signed by each of them, reading:
Remember,the tricky audience will always be there, and it will always appear to be bigger and stronger than us, but you can beat it any day, any time.
Your helpful audience ghosts
Within the hour, my paper had been finished. It was not perfect, and while the dangerous method called for no revisions, I had the extra time now to send it to some of my friends for feedback. I sent it out to the poet, my boyfriend, and that friend from middle school asking for criterion-based (2) and believing and doubting feedback (3).
My laptop needed to be closed for the night, and I would review their suggestions when the sun came up again. There were other assignments to be done, but I had no classes the next day and the worst of it had finally come, and quickly at that, so it was time to step away from my piece and return with a clear mind. My bed, which appeared just as inviting as it always did, accepted me with open arms — no backpack blocking my peace of mind this time around.
As soon as my head hit the pillow, I began to lull off into a deep sleep. I knew that this wasn’t the end of the mischief my harmful audience would get up to, but I felt more equipped to deal with it now. I no longer felt the need to push them away and avoid them, but could take them on with a newfound strength and confidence within myself. As long as I could remain presently aware and not be carried off into stresses of my past (Thank you, Haverhill High School), audience demons were no longer an unbeatable force. They were manifestations of my self-talk and harmful writing preconceptions and were very defeatable with the right mindset.
I let sleep consume me. The pink,velvet backpack shuffled for a moment, and then fell still, put to rest alongside my mind.
1 “The Dangerous Method” by Peter Elbow is the method of writing one draft of your paper and trying to get it perfect on the first go. Typically, this method is used where this is the only draft which can encourage writers to just write and put out their best work. In this,I am using it simply as a way to “relinquish [my] conscious grip on [my]material.”
2 From Elbow and Belanoff’s “Summary ofKinds of Responses,” criterion-based feedback is beneficial to me in this scenario because with this being a Dangerous Method draft, it helps me get feedback on the nitty-gritty of the piece, from criteria to grammar/spelling.
3 Also from Elbow and Belanoff’s “Summary of Kinds of Responses,” believing and doubting feedback is when your reader reads as though they believe everything you wrote and then reads as though they doubt all of it.
Rachel Pullino is a 19-year-old student at Salem State University from Haverhill, Massachusetts, USA. Prior to this, her work has made an appearance on the mindful writing website, "Your ability to write is always present": http://www.prolificmoment.com/ She writes mostly creative fiction in a short story format. Outside of writing, Rachel loves to spend time with those closest to her exploring, reading, and making the most of the time they have together.