The Mightiest Plastic Bag of Insecurities

Katarina Coakley
     Here I am about to write the paper I’ve been putting off for weeks. I light my lavender
candle, throw on my comfy pajama pants and sit down at my computer. I am ready. I pick up my
fingers to type away, yet not a single word comes to mind. But I am ready, I have to be, I need to
do this now. No, I am hungry. Procrastination. There I go, off to the grocery store. The fact I
must write this paper in less than a day sits in the back of my mind. It is all I can think of but the
only thing I cannot get myself to do. I enter the grocery store. I am about to start shopping, but
my mind cannot help reminding me of what not to forget to include in my paper.
      I stand before the grocery store wondering which aisle to begin. The sight of the different people
pushing around carriages, bumping into each other, is overwhelming. This symbolizes all my
thoughts being jumbled and clashed around in my mind as I try to start writing. I grab a grocery
cart and start in the snack aisle. It is filled with bright colors and enticing packages. It’s like my
writing; I have so many colorful and intriguing ideas. However, you cannot stay in this delicious
aisle for too long without feeling judged. Like eating, there are writing standards you always feel
you must live up to. In writing, if you are too much of yourself, you believe you will receive
judgment. You feel as though you must do what everyone else is doing instead of being out of
the norm. I put a few of my favorite yummy snacks into the cart and suddenly, I have several
perfect ideas of what I can write. Unexpectedly, I am yanked by the other end of my shopping
     My hands are glued to the handle: I can't let go. It's swerving in every direction; I
cannot control it. I'm bumping into so many people; I'm nervous they will be annoyed with
me, but I can’t stop the cart. I think I recognize someone, but I'm moving so fast, I can’t tell who they are.
     The cart comes to a halt, and I open my eyes. All I see is green. Vegetables. I do
enjoy some veggies, but I realize while walking down the aisle that everything after the next
looks the same in a slightly different shape. However, this is what we are supposed to eat, it is
what you get congratulated for. It is just like in writing where we believe we must follow
specific, rigid rules to fit the requirements of what the authority figure wants. All writing will
somehow feel the same as the last.

     Suddenly, all those amazing ideas I had for my paper disappear as I put several different
vegetables into my cart, completely burying those delicious snacks. I decide to go back to the
more colorful aisles, but my hands are still glued to the cart handle. When I move in the direction
I want to go, it forces me back. I push harder, sick of these thoughts, but I am halted backwards
and bump into the bin of cucumbers. They tumble onto the floor one by one, and everyone stops
whatever they are doing at the moment. I just want to get out of there. I look up and notice every
single person is staring at me.
      I blink several times and realize I know all the other customers.
Why didn’t they greet me before? Past teachers, friends, classmates, family members. I recognize
everyone in this room has had either a positive or terrible effect on my writing. I feel my cheeks
getting hot; I just know I look like a tomato. Everyone is standing there with blank expressions
on their faces as if they are waiting for me to say something. “Hello?” I say, heart racing. Their
expressions immediately change simultaneously, and they all start walking towards me, like
zombies, shouting out several things about my writing. “You need to start that.” “Believe in
yourself.” “Don't forget APA format.” “Check the rubric!” “You are so boring.” “You are an
amazing writer!” I am being swarmed by people I haven't talked to in
years. For every positive comment, I hear a negative. Can they make up their minds? I begin to
sweat and hyperventilate as they surround me.
     Still stuck to the carriage, I run. I run so fast I forget I have a cart full of food I did not
pay for. Right as I reach the door a lady puts her arm out and pushes my shoulder back. “Are you
going to pay for all that?” I look up right into my sixth grade English teacher's eyes. Of course,
she would work at this establishment. I never wanted to see her again. Anger takes over my
body as I remember how awful she was to me and my writing. I was so young. She takes the
food out of my cart for me and begins to ring it up. I stand there in silence, she does not take her
eyes off me, but I pretend not to notice. She picks up the snacks that I love and says, “What is
this garbage?” “I liked it,” I reply. “No. Disgusting,” she says. We were not really talking about
the food. My hands release from the cart handle as she hands me the grocery bags. I look back
and the other customers are approaching down a single aisle, like they are in a marching band.
These bags are so heavy, I can’t move fast enough. The customers catch up to me as I struggle to
reach the door. Their words piercing through my brain, so many terrible flashbacks. The bags
become heavier as they speak, and I feel glued to the floor.

       I close my eyes as my head pounds. A little voice from inside my head reaches me and
tells me to breathe. I take a deep breath and my feet become a little bit more limber. I walk
through the automatic door, and it shuts behind me. The swarm of pests start banging on this
door, appearing as if they can’t get through. It is an automatically sensored door, why won't it
open? I don’t let the curiosity hold me back from trying to push forward. I trot quickly dragging
my feet with these heavy pieces of plastic around my arms. I reach home, and my only thought is
to finish that assignment. I’m completely shaken up by my experience and have no appetite for
any of the food I just left the house for. Kat, it is time to write, just do it. Once again, I am back
at my desk, dreading the next few hours. I pick up my hands to type and.... Clink. Ouch.
      The bags are still stuck around my wrist. Digging into my skin like a tight hair elastic. I can't write like
this, it is impossible. I can't get them off, but I manage to see inside. Where is all the food?
My “backpack” is grocery bags. Yes, the thin, crinkly bags people think of to bring home
their groceries and then to pick up after their dog with. Fragile yet so strong. Filled with different
treats both good and bad. Healthy and unhealthy. Words of wisdom and words of criticism.
When I manage to open the bag, I hear ear splitting voices shouting different words all at once.
Through the high-pitched voices shouting words of affirmations, I can make out
the several other negatives words such as “failure” in deeper tones. It is as if I can recognize the
voices...they are the same as earlier. A bag that can be blown effortlessly through a parking lot
has never been so heavy, weighing me down with words. Below all that, it is filled with amazing
ideas, experiences, and confidence. Unfortunately, that is not that last layer. Under it are my
distractions—insecurities, bad grades, preconceptions, and standards. Old papers of past
assignments piled into these thin plastic bags. Most have good marks, but most come with the
memory of all-nighters and panic attacks. Tears fill my eyes as I realize how little time I have
left, and I am still unable to free myself from this baggage.

       I gasp and open my eyes. I’m laying in my bed with my laptop open to a blank
document next to me. My back drenched in sweat. Was that all a nightmare? I look down at my
wrists and there is no sight of a grocery bag or anything else around my arms. My phone lets me
know I have 24 hours left to do this assignment. I think of the dream I just had and realize the
trip to the grocery store did not only symbolize my thoughts when I procrastinate a paper but
also the exhausting adventure of my thoughts when I try to start writing. When I write I often
become tangled in what I think my audience will want to hear. Past criticism haunts me. I never
know where to begin because I do not think my ideas are interesting enough. I compare myself
to others. But here I am, in my room, alone, with no one here to judge. I don’t ever want to feel
like I did in that dream, not ever again. I breathe, I am here, and I am present. I sit down to write,
the words flow naturally, and I feel unstoppable.
Katarina Coakley is 19 years old and from a small town outside of Boston, MA. They are a psychology major at Salem State University.
"Day 19 (Crazy about Bananas)" by The Headless Headbanger is marked with CC BY-ND 2.0. To view the terms, visit
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A magazine for teen writers—by teen writers. Under the Madness brings together student editors from across New Hampshire under the mentorship of the state poet laureate to focus on the experiences of teens from around the world. Whether you live in Berlin, NH, or Berlin, Germany—whether you wake up every day in Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe, North or South America—we’re interested in reading you!