The Value of a Good Story

You may have noticed I changed the header image of my site. That was actually sparked by the comment of a close friend. Why have a random photo of books when I can display the ones I loved most growing up?

I actually had a lot of fun choosing exactly which books I would include in that photo. And of course it was an extremely difficult task – I was and still am a voracious reader, and being forced to exclude some books was heartbreaking. But I do think I managed to capture many of my favorites! You’ll probably notice that most of the titles are well-worn (“Island of the Blue Dolphins” is barely legible), and I guess that’s the true mark of the countless days I spent reading as a child. I have distinct memories of pretending to be Karana, stranded on an island and making a skirt of cormorant feathers.

I still love reading children’s books. Sometimes it seems to me that novels written for older audiences underestimate the value of a good story and try too hard to evoke a deeper theme. The adult is more sophisticated, the author feels. I must write something intellectually stimulating; I need some heavy prose. Some deep emotion. And in the search for something profound, the good story falls by the wayside.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not saying every novel written for older audiences fails to tell a good story. It’s just that due to the nature of the genre, middle grade books don’t feel the need to wow their audience with anything more. In children’s books, we’re more likely to find adventure and the hero’s journey. We get unforgettable characters with runaway imaginations. And more than anything, the stories are just plain fun. As we journey into young adult, we (understandably) get into more angst, and before long we reach the adult section, where a good story is simply not enough. No, we’re too old and wise for that now; we’re no longer children. We expect more.

I think the best books, regardless of their audiences, are well-written, tell a good story, and leave us with a meaningful message. Does it have to be over-the-top brilliant? Heck no. But if it makes us feel, makes us laugh, cry, or smile – well, that’s enough for me.

I’ll leave you with a quote by C.S. Lewis that I absolutely adore. It has to do with growing up and the fear of being childish:

“Critics who treat ‘adult’ as a term of approval, instead of as a merely descriptive term, cannot be adult themselves. To be concerned about being grown up, to admire the grown up because it is grown up, to blush at the suspicion of being childish; these things are the marks of childhood and adolescence… when I was ten, I read fairy tales in secret and would have been ashamed if I had been found doing so. Now that I am fifty I read them openly. When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.”

-C.S. Lewis

 

An Adventure in Morocco

I apologize for the immense delay in posting, but winter semester of college was pretty hectic, and not long afterwards, I embarked on an international journey.

For three weeks in May, I had the amazing opportunity to volunteer at a nursery school in Rabat, Morocco with three of my closest friends. It was an experience I’ll never forget – for more reasons than one. Of course walking into a room and having about forty little kids get super excited to see us every single day was extremely rewarding, but so was immersing ourselves in the culture and learning how to make Moroccan mint tea, planning weekend trips to other cities and having to find the train station and book hotels all on our own, and figuring out how to communicate with people without being able to speak Dareeja (Moroccan Arabic). Even battling a fierce cockroach to the death was rewarding in its own way (albeit terrifying).

Five days a week we spent at the nursery school in Rabat. We taught a little bit of English (ABCs, shapes, numbers) and games like “Duck, Duck, Goose” and musical chairs. We also created activities like coloring and connect-the-dots worksheets. For me, the highlight of the trip was definitely the kids. Each kid had his/her own unique personality, and they all loved the attention we were able to give them. We’d just be sitting there and suddenly kids would climb into our laps or want high fives or give us kisses.

Suhail was one of the most enthusiastic and energetic kids there!

Suhail was one of the most enthusiastic and energetic kids there!

Yusuf, one of the little kids at the nursery, would not let go of me!

Yusuf, one of the little kids at the nursery, would not let go of me!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On the weekends, we took the train to other cities in Morocco. We traveled to Fez, Marrakesh, and Casablanca. While the cities themselves were beautiful and exciting to visit, I honestly just loved the notion of grabbing our backpacks and hopping on a train to somewhere. I think that was when we felt most independent and truly adventurous. And some of our best (and funniest) memories were created on the train.

The other really nice thing about our trip was that we lived with host families during our stay in Rabat. Some aspects were challenging (my host mother did not speak any English), but this meant I had a chance to practice using the basic Arabic that I knew. Our host families also lived within the walls of the medina, or the old city, which is basically a maze of narrow streets crammed with shops and markets, called souks. At first the prospect of finding our way through this veritable labyrinth was quite daunting, but soon we knew exactly how to get back to our homes and felt comfortable exploring on our own. Living in the medina itself really added to our experience.

A street in the medina in Fez. The Rabat medina was very similar, but not as hectic.

A street in the medina in Fez. Every city has its own medina.

Living with host families also meant home-cooked meals. And my host mother was an amazing cook!

My host mother's fabulous couscous, the traditional Moroccan dish that is eaten on Fridays.

My host mother’s fabulous couscous, the traditional Moroccan dish that is eaten on Fridays.

After all of the adventures we had in Morocco, from hopping on the train to unfamiliar cities to learning how to communicate to managing forty little kids at the nursery school, the biggest takeaway for me is now being able to say this:

“I’ll figure it out.”

Morocco was a whirlwind of new experiences, all of which we had to navigate ourselves. For me – someone who likes having things planned and organized – this trip was the best thing that could have happened. I realized that not knowing where you’re going all the time and having to figure stuff out on the way isn’t so bad. In fact, it can be a lot of fun, especially when you’re with friends. The best part is that now I feel a lot more comfortable figuring things out for myself as well, whatever they may be.

So here’s to the wonderful unplanned adventures the future holds, and here’s to figuring them all out!

Why I Love to Write

To be honest, I’m surprised I didn’t think of writing this post earlier. I think it’s obvious I love to write, but I don’t think I’ve actually mentioned why.

Maybe that’s because I myself didn’t realize why until today.

I’ve been busy lately. Really busy. With high school, college apps, marching band, and SAT subject tests.

And the truth is, until today, I hadn’t written anything creative since last summer. Which is a pretty long time for me.

Today, I sat down and wrote a poem. You can read it here.

Maybe the poem itself isn’t brilliant (or maybe it is – I don’t know). But it doesn’t matter. The point is, I felt brilliant writing it. I felt lighter, somehow. Definitely happier.

I don’t think writing does this for everyone. But maybe fellow writers can attest to the wonderful feeling of liberation that writing brings after a long period of not writing at all.

Even writing this post is making me feel happier! 🙂

The more stressed I get, the more I tell myself I have no time for writing. Other things fight for attention and my poor writing gets left in the dust.

But I think also that the more I write, the freer I feel. And I don’t have to write a book every day.

A poem once in a while is enough.