From My Archives: A Childhood Story

Today, I’m moving away from the kinds of things I normally write to share a story I wrote while in my Grade 12 Creative Writing Class.

The story itself is true. It is technically a piece of non-fiction writing, though I would clarify that some details were altered because my memory isn’t up to par to remember everything. That being said, I hope you enjoy this story of one of the greatest heartbreaks of my early childhood. (I will also be posting this story under the “Chiante’s Writing” tab)

The Last Days of Strider and Trek

Ice cream is the dessert of abandonment. Think about it. In all the movies, after a break-up, the food of choice is always ice cream. People drown their sorrows in ice cream. I’ve never seen the point in doing so. I think perhaps it’s because of an incident during the summer of grade 1 involving me, my best friend, and our horses Strider and Trek.

Strider was my horse. And he was a beauty. Purple. White mane. And best of all, no training wheels. That’s right. You read that right. Strider was a bike. As a young cowgirl stuck living in a town instead of a barn like I dreamed, my purple bike with the word “Strider” across the bar in bold lettering was as close to a horse as I was going to get.

My best friend, Heidi, was also a cowgirl stuck in a city-girl’s body. Her horse, Trek, was blue, a little rusty, and had to be shared with her two younger brothers. Trek was a little worse for wear. He had a pedal missing, and he had a handlebar that was slightly askew to the right, but Heidi loved Trek as much as I loved Strider. That’s what brought us together.

It was me and her. Strider and Trek.

Starting in kindergarten, we did everything together. And everything we did was horse related. We were the embodiment of that weird girl obsessed with horses in any given classroom. Neither of us could read, but that didn’t stop us from collecting all the Pony Pal chapter books. I collected magazines with pictures of horse breeds in them. Heidi supplied the hats and cowboy boots and we formed the ever exclusive and creatively named, ‘Horse Club’ of which we were the only members—Me and her. Strider and Trek.

All summer long we rode our horses around and around the block, the wind streaking through the holes of our helmets, and the sweat pooling in our cowboy boots. From an outside neighbour’s perspective, it looked like two girls endlessly riding their bikes around the block as if they expected to find something new every time they turned the corner. But to Heidi and me, we were riding in the open fields with nothing ahead or behind, the sun beating down on us as we surged forward on our powerful and mighty steads. Just me and her. Strider and Trek.

When our horses were in the stable, or being ridden by Heidi’s brothers, we piled our horse supplies into the clubhouse—Pony Pal books, horse breed magazines, and stuffed horses to match. Together we poured over the pages, learning the names and colours of the breeds we loved and wanted. Heidi always went with the classic Thoroughbred or Mustang, while I leaned toward the draft horses—with feathered feet of course.

I never thought that Heidi’s dedication to Trek, to our Horse Club, to me, was ever to be questioned. But I also thought ice cream was just a cold treat to eat in summer; however, that summer, between Kindergarten and Grade 1, I learned otherwise.

Heidi was at my house, as usual. We were preparing for a cross-country tournament. The first of the summer. It was an exciting expedition. The elementary school had just poured cement for a basketball court, but Heidi and I saw a horse-riding arena like no other. Our helmets were secured, our boots were polished, and the brakes on our bikes were checked and double-checked. We were ready to take off! I could hear the cheering crowd as we mounted our horses, waiting for the signal. I could hear Heidi’s name being chanted.

“Heidi! Heidi! Heidi!”

I opened my eyes, the stands of cheering fans faded away, and the triumphant shouts died in my ears. I saw Heidi’s little brother, Jordie, thumb in his mouth, standing in front of us, moments before our cross-country race could begin.

“Mum says we are going for ice cream. Are you coming with us?” Jordie asked, removing his thumb just long enough to deliver his wretched message.

I saw the tournament at the new horse arena fade from Heidi’s eyes. She dismounted. Suddenly Trek was just a blue rusty bike to her. She gave me an apologetic shrug.

“What about our tournament?” I asked.

“I’ll come back after,” she said, shrugging again. A dangerous sign I should have seen. The indifference of that shrug should have warned me, it should have set bells ringing, but it didn’t. I was clutching at the tiny piece of hope that after ice cream, we would have our tournament.

So I watched her go down that dusty road, Trek walking beside her, Jordie running to keep pace with her, no doubt thinking only of ice cream.
I wish I could say I went inside, explained to my mum the situation, and she would have told me…told what was going to happen at Heidi’s house.

But I didn’t. I stayed on the edge of my driveway, sitting in the gravel, Strider grazing on the lawn. Halfway through the afternoon, when the sun was relentless, I took off my helmet, and then my cowboy boots. But still I waited. And I waited. And I waited. Finally, my mum called me in. We had supper.

And the summer went on. It was supposed to be me and her. Strider and Trek. But it wasn’t, and it never was again. Heidi moved away that summer. I wish I could say I went to her house and found Trek there, with Heidi’s hat and boots. As a symbol, an apology for never competing in that cross-country tournament. But I didn’t find anything. She was just gone, simple as that.

It had been me and her. Strider and Trek. Until the day I learned that ice cream is the dessert of abandonment.

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Writing for Your Writer’s Soul

Yesterday I had an experience I thought worth sharing. I had my first major day of classes yesterday, but during the day I had a three hour empty stretch. Since classes hadn’t started yet, there wasn’t any homework to do while waiting for my next class so I instead opened my laptop and started writing. I was working on my pirate novel and moved past a part that I had been struggling with for some time.

Interestingly enough, the experience of moving forward in a story I hadn’t worked on in quite some time brought me an immense sense of relief and joy. There was something so uplifting about writing just for myself knowing people wouldn’t see this story for many years to come.

Not only that, I found the fears I had been harbouring about the story’s structure melted away as I wrote too. I have been worried that this novel hasn’t even gotten to the opening part of the plot that I had planned for it and spent April Camp NaNo preparing. But during my little writing session, I was just writing, and I was having fun. I felt immersed in a world of which I had stepped away in recent months. I couldn’t help but smile at my characters as they went along doing life amidst the trials I put before them.

I found I wasn’t concerned about form or structure or how what I was writing would fit into the plot. Instead, I emphasized the fears and accomplishments that my main character was currently facing, rather than trying to fit in the fears of the plot that had yet to start.

However, despite my disregard of form and style, the things that I’ve been learning about storytelling and structure have been internalized and were brought out in the couple thousand words I wrote. It was fun writing, but it was also purpose-driven writing and I think that’s important to distinguish.

Just because what I wrote doesn’t fit in with my future plot doesn’t mean it doesn’t fit with the current plot. Today, looking back on what I wrote yesterday, I think that I was prematurely setting into stone the plot I had created during NaNo and trying to squeeze the characters and their motivations into the box I had created. Now I think I should let the characters as they have been developed change the shape and delivery of the plot. The story will mostly stay the same, but the way it is being told will shift dramatically to being character-based rather than plot-based.

All of this to say, write for you sometimes. Sometimes it doesn’t have to be about producing the best story you can create and develop. There is a time and place for that kind of writing, and just because it is producing doesn’t mean there is no joy in that kind of writing. But today I am talking about that personal writing that rejuvenates your writer’s soul. The kind of writing that reminds you of why you write. The kind of writing that reminds you to focus on the beauty of storytelling rather than the mechanics of it. The kind of writing that you approach with no pretenses and no expectations.

So instead of always writing to produce the most developed and carefully crafted plot you can, write for your soul. Because writing for your soul is the kind of writing that produces joy for your story, and ultimately produces joy for writing itself.

My Lingering Reflections From my 3Day Novels

For those of you who have been following my writing journey for longer than this blog has been around, you may remember a project I undertook in 2016. In fact, as of this posting, it has been exactly two years since the, dare I say, lifechanging project.

I’ll set the scene. Chiante was young, she was excited about going into her grade 12 year, but more than that she was giddy with the anticipation of going to Italy and Greece with her best friends. She hadn’t quite grasped the true effects of procrastination to which she would succumb in the following years.
And it was in this blissful time she found out about a writing contest that involved something she had never attempted and only dreamed possible. By the end of the week she had decided to do a test run before registering for the contest and paying the hefty entrance fee.
The challenge was to write a novel in 3 days. And write a novel she did. (two actually, but that part will come)

A much more somber, sleep deprived, and highly introspective Chiante emerged from those two weekends.

I had been toying with the idea of turning the villain/hero concept on its head by making the villain the hero of my story. But because I was waiting to write my “true” three day novel until Labour Day weekend (when the contest annually takes place), I decided to write the novel leading up to the events of my villain/hero story. I dubbed it my “villain origin story”.

I even made a cover!
the undoing game

Over the course of one weekend before school started I sat down and wrote one of the most emotionally raw and intense novels I have ever written. I went into the novel knowing it was going to be intense. I had set up the story to lead to no other end but devastation, but even knowing the story, knowing the ending, knowing all the results, I wasn’t prepared.

My villain, Octavia, was so hurt, so alone, and so heinous. She unashamedly did things that I was highly uncomfortable writing, and I think it was through her actions that I hit a block of some kind that kept me from going to the same desperate place as Octavia despite living in her mind for the weekend.

It was God. It was Jesus. It was the beauty of salvation. It was the indescribable love of Jesus for the broken, sinful, villainous people.

Despite my character ending up having lost nearly everything and truly being in a place where she had become the villain I set out to make her, I left the novel with hope, maybe even peace.

The novel was too dark not to have hope of some kind and while Octavia didn’t have hope, the city she devastated did. The people she had warred against had hope.

In hindsight, this is a perfect example of the integration I talked about in the winter. This is exactly how my faith meets my writing. I didn’t set out to write a book about hope. I set out to write a book about the descent of a human to lowest place I could possibly bring her. God must have been working through that book for me, because the Gospel came through when the characters and I needed it most.

After finishing the novel, titled The Undoing Game, I set to work on the plan for its sequel. My story shifted dramatically, though I don’t think I was quite aware of the shift at the time. The next book I planned to write I dubbed “a villain’s redemption story”. I wanted to examine where the villain is supposed to go for help.

This book, Kill Switch, takes place eight years after the events of The Undoing Game and it is about Octavia essentially going through the same loss, pain, and chaos as the first story, but this time, the conflict has the opposite effect on her. Instead of descending into amorality, she comes up from the depths of villainy, scarred, tainted, and broken. And she asks for help.

However, as it seems to be in reality as well as fiction, the road up is much harder to transverse. Octavia slips and falls back into old habits. She struggles against the consequences of her decisions from eight years ago. And she ends up repeating some of the same mistakes from the first story.

Seeing her story, obviously amplified, helped me to see a similar struggle in my own life. It seems seeing the exaggeration is what helps bring clarity to our own situations. But I saw, perhaps consciously for the first time, that I’ve got a bit of Octavia in me. I’m not a villain, per say, but I am a broken human trying to climb out of sin and into the righteousness God calls me to. I think seeing Octavia struggle with the consequences of her actions consolidated how the process of sanctification really is a lifelong journey fueled not by my strength, but through the grace and love of Jesus that is new for me everyday.

I don’t think these two novels will ever be published, but I am not sure they are meant to be. I’ve always considered it part of my calling as a writer to share my writing with people who, through my words, would be pointed to Jesus. But I guess I never really considered that Jesus is able to work on me through the words and stories He puts on my heart.

I think these novels, whether or not people read them, are part of my testimony, and I’m reminded of that every time I read the opening,

“By now, the sound of death didn’t upset her,”

and the closing lines,

“God always triumphs in the end.”

Creating a Commonplace Book for my Writing

With school looming around the corner, I’ve been busy reading syllabi and collecting the materials I need for my classes. One of the things I encountered, which would be an understatement to say I’m excited about is, keeping a commonplace book for one of my history classes.

If you are like me, you don’t know what a commonplace book is. From the small amount of research I did, I would define it as information and knowledge collected in a single place. It is different from a journal or memoir in its content. Where a journal is quite chronological and introspective, a commonplace book is more like a collection of facts and figures pertaining to a common subject.

This idea has been around for quite some time and I think we’ve seen a sort of modern revival and revolution of commonplace books in the new form of bullet journaling.

Interestingly enough, I believe the reason the concept of a commonplace book is so appealing to me is because of the writer’s book/idea journal I currently keep. This is exactly how a commonplace book relates back to my writing life and not just my excitement as a student.

I always strive to have a place to put unique ideas, names, conversations and quotes as I hear and encounter them in the world. (I have a note on my phone titled “Things to add to Books”). I have names, quotes, titles, worldbuilding pieces, random facts about culture, psychology, and science, but I thought it might be an interesting experiment to compile these notes I have collected from various spots and put them into a common place—A commonplace book! I would like to create a journal that is brimming with ideas, concepts, characters, names, quotes, and anything else that I might want to add to a book one day.

I currently have a drawer filled with paper scraps, journals, and odds and ends that have all sorts of scenes, character designs, drawings, outlines, maps and stories scattered throughout. My desire would be to gather these pieces together in my writer’s commonplace book.

I will keep the form of the book loose and informal. I won’t organize it according to sections. I don’t want it to be neat and tidy, I want it to be well of inspiration and ideas fueled by my years of collecting such inspirations. I’m really excited to get started on this project and I’m very interested to see how it will vary from the other commonplace book I will be working on throughout the semester.

As I embark on this adventure, I would like to share my progress on this book as its aim is not meant to private (though of course personal), but rather it is a collection of the facts and information I’ve gathered in the form of raw research and idea material from my time as a writer and general curious person.

I am quite interested to know if you keep any sort of commonplace book that is separate from a writer’s journal. What kinds of things do you find fill its pages? When did you first start keeping a commonplace book?

Am I Future Chiante?

For as long as I can remember, I have wanted to be the kind of person that journals. And for as long as I can remember, and have evidence of, I start a journal intending to write everyday only to abandon the habit and journal in less than a week.

At some point I came to accept this and I stopped getting upset at myself for ‘failing’ to journal, but I still periodically wish I could keep a journal (like this year for example)

This thought has been spurred on by a recent discovery of a journal I don’t remember writing. It was maybe 10 entries about my life as I went through grade 12. I laughed and grimaced along with my younger self as I relived what I had written about, but the last entry ended on a sour note. I was distressed about the future. My parents were moving in the summer and I didn’t know where I was going to go and how it was going to work out with my cats, my living situation, my finances, and which school I was going to go to.

Of course it has worked out. My cats and I found a place to stay and I’m attending the school I always wanted to go to, but at the time, I had no idea about where I was or what was going to happen. I felt sympathy for my younger self and proceeded to write a follow up entry where I basically outlined all the important—good and bad—life events that had happened in the two years since.

What I encountered in the journal was something I always do when I start a journal. I address the journal to “my future self,” or “future Chiante.” Occasionally, throughout my entries at various points, I talk directly to my future self and ask her questions and give her reminders. This has led me to reflect on the concept of “future Chiante.”

I noticed while reading my grade 12 journal that I felt like an intruder reading a letter addressed to someone else. But the journal isn’t addressed to someone else. It’s addressed to me. Future me. The question then becomes, am I Future Chiante yet? When does Future Chiante arrive? What is the appropriate span of time between Past Chiante, Current Chiante, and Future Chiante?

am i
Did I become future Chiante by responding to the last entry of the journal in order to let Past Chiante know that everything worked out? Writing the entry felt like continuing a story abandoned by someone else at the best part, and I had this unique ability to finish the story, knowing what was about to happen.

I think my inability to accept my current role as Future Chiante stems from the fact that the Future Chiante I imagined while writing is this far off adult of a Chiante who has a family and a career and is sorting through old boxes from her youth.
And yet, future Chiante from my grade 8 journal was more like the 20-something Chiante who was still figuring out life—which is very close to where I am today. Is it possible for me to be future Chiante for some journals and not others?

I have a journal from one of my high school English classes where we were instructed to write a letter to ourselves ten years in the future. I’ve refrained from re-reading the journal because the letter isn’t addressed to Chiante of 2018, it is addressed to Chiante of 2026. In that case, I can’t be future Chiante yet.

This has been a curious discovery and reflection for me this week. I’d like to hear about your thoughts on journaling. If and when you journal, who, if anyone, do you address the journal to? Have you ever encountered the intruder syndrome I’ve discovered while reading my journals? Which past self are you the future of right now?