Palo Alto Weekly 15th Annual Short Story Contest
2nd Place - Young Adults 15-17 year olds
by Kristine Yu
| About Kristine Yu
Is there a connection between suffering and good writing?
Kristen Yu thinks there is.
short story "Being Great," is an adventure of literary aspiration.
But it's also a process of self-discovery. Written in the
form of a diary, the story makes the reader wonder if our
true artistic inspiration comes not from tempestuous events
of life but from a keen spiritual examination of one's self.
"The character (in the story) is going through cycles," she
said. "He may finally have realized suffering for the sake
of literature is artificial."
She admits she has always entertained dreams of being a great
writer. A freshman at USC and a violinist and member of the
Palo Alto Chamber Orchestra, she conceived and wrote this
story when she was a junior at Gunn High School. It's the
only fiction she has written.
January 1, 2000
I've decided: I'm going to be a writer. A writer so great, that
great becomes an absolute term rather than a relative one. None
of that great compared to good crap, but simply, undeniably great.
So how to go about it?
Evidence: Sylvia Plath. Edgar Allan Poe. Ernest Hemingway. Absolutely
great writers. Tormented, abused, obsessed. People who left their
children in a room with cookies and milk and then gassed themselves
in the kitchen oven. People who died like sewer rats in the gutter
of the street or crossed the bar with a self-inflicted bullet wound
to the head. Dot, dot, dot: I'm sure that if I scouted around some
more, I could find thousands more suffering, deranged writers. Conclusion:
to be a great writer, I must suffer. There must be suffering going
on to drive writers to write stuff like this:
Epitaph of a Pessimist I'm Smith of Stoke, aged sixty-odd.
I've lived without a dame From youth-time on; and would to God My
dad had done the same. --Thomas Hardy
New Year's Resolution: to suffer!
January 2, 2000
This is tougher than I thought it would be. I've been so unlucky
to be born into a normal family. And I think that all my genes are
pretty normal, too. Everything about me is unhappily normal. My
parents: loving, devoted soccer mom and dad with penchant for reliving
tenth grade trigonometry through son. Pretty normal. My home: nice
enough, comfy, with a semi-dying lawn and naturally, an upright
piano in the living room. Pretty normal. And me: not overly bright,
but a bit of a closet nerd, decent number of friends, JV soccer,
probably varsity next year. Pretty normal. How come I couldn't be
born in a cardboard box, having to jump up and grab kungries? I
haven't had to fight for anything; everything's been spoon-fed to
me. I would be so willing to trade my life with that poor kid with
the distended belly in Somalia that my mom harps about when I don't
eat my broccoli, but I suppose I couldn't really fly over and tap
him on the shoulder and ask to switch places. And besides, I'm not
sure he would be able to write and read.
I'm going to have to come up with a plan of action. I know my parents
aren't about to spoon-feed me suffering.
January 3, 2000
Since I always seem to end up organizing my expository essays into
a progression from physical to mental to spiritual components, I
mind as well do the same in my plan. The only problem is that I've
never really been a spiritual person. I mean, I've never really
gone to church or anything, although sometimes I pray in bed the
night before a test just in case. So I guess that means I can only
suffer physically and mentally.
I will begin with the physical component.
I feel rather squeamish about hurting myself. I don't think that
Reverend Dimmesdale's flogging himself got him anywhere near being
a writer. Okay, so his sermons were supposed to be really good,
but if they really were that inspiring, it was because of his mental
and spiritual suffering. What am I supposed to do, anyway--flip
out my Swiss army knife and begin sawing off my elbow? I think there
has to be a certain unconsciousness to it. Nothing like, "Ooh, let's
cut open this vein here so that I can write." The best way to suffer
is to suffer undeservedly. It's so grand to be a martyr.
January 7, 2000
I did it! I went out and suffered physically undeservedly. I guess
this means that now I can write about something, right? So then,
"The Schoolyard Martyr" One sunny day, a small, skinny boy named
Walter Schreiber was eating his lunch on a brown bench next to his
English classroom. Women's weapons, water drops, stained his cheeks.
He was reading Jude the Obscure at the part when Arabella abandoned
the corpse of Jude to go out and frolic with her cronies. Suddenly,
the sun was blotted out from the sky by brooding clouds.
It was Beastly Savage.
Beastly snatched the book from Walter's grasp.
"Hey, wassup, crybaby? What's this piece of trash?" rumbled Beastly.
Walter trembled with fright. He trembled some more. And then he
shook with righteous anger. "It is the cretins that populate society--such
as you--the reprehensible, abominable dregs of the earth, who are
the fountainhead of social injustice! Take my defiance! Die, perish!"
cried Walter, striking out wildly, his blow glancing off of Beastly's
"Why, you little!" Beastly flew onto Walter, pummeling the poor
boy's chest, arms, legs, face until the bench ran with Walter's
"I shall be avenged. The Pied Piper will call, and all of us will
rise up...against...you," whispered Walter in his last breath.
Beastly scoffed and left as Walter crumpled up and died.
As Beastly cackled, crossing the street, the milk truck zoomed
past, crushing Beastly in its path.
Measure for measure.
I wonder how much of great writing is really autobiographical.
That was pretty much how it happened (well, sort of), except that
no one died and the names weren't real. Wouldn't it be depressing
if all of great literature were just trumped-up memoirs? I read
to escape life, not relive it through someone else.
January 9, 2000
All right. I tried physical suffering. And I don't think it worked.
I just reread "The Schoolyard Martyr" and it's simply not real.
Maybe it was because I was still woozy when I was writing it. I
can't believe I got all those bruises for nothing! What's wrong
with me? Even when I suffer, nothing good happens to my writing.
Well, phooey. The next thing to try is mental suffering. I learned
how effective that was through good ol' Big Brother and Room 101.
Of course, I'm not big on electroshock therapy or lobotomies or
anything like that. But I did just read the preface to Frankenstein
and I have come up with a novel idea.
"Night waned upon this talk, and even the witching hour had gone
by before we retired to rest. When I placed my head on my pillow
I did not sleep, nor could I be said to think. My imagination, unbidden,
possessed and guided me, gifting the successive images that arose
in my mind with a vividness far beyond the usual bounds of reverie.
I saw--with shut eyes, but acute mental vision--I saw the pale student
of unhallowed arts kneeling beside the thing he had put together
. . . On the morrow I announced that I had thought of a story."--Mary
Shelley Wow. I want to be able to announce that, too. Hey Dad, I
have thought of a story. How grand that sounds. So: I'm going
to make myself have dreams just like Mary Shelley did. I've never
been spectacular with dreams. I'm sure I dream, because it's a pretty
normal thing to do, but I can never remember them. I wonder, is
that a normal thing to do, too? I've heard about those people who
keep dream logs by their bedside. I guess I'll have to start one.
Another thing is, the few times I have remembered my dreams vividly,
I think I was up into the early hours of the morning finishing my
chemistry labs. I guess I'll also have to alter my sleeping habits.
Even the witching hour will have gone by when I retire to rest tonight.
January 10, 2000
Dream Log: 1/9/00
Something about purple men in brown cardigan sweaters who enjoyed
Earl Grey tea. I think they were riding giant tarantulas and trying
to conquer the Gobi Desert . . . I think. That's all I can remember.
Purple Men in Brown Cardigan Sweaters Who Enjoy Earl Grey Tea
Riding Giant Tarantulas and Trying to Conquer the Gobi Desert
doesn't seem to have quite the same ring as Frankenstein, does it?
January 11, 2000
Dream Log: 1/10/00
January 12, 2000
Thrice the brinded cat hath mew'd. Thrice and once the hedge-pi'
Harpier cries, "Tis time, 'tis time."
Well, finally . . .
Dream Log: 1/11/00
There's a machine, a kind of freezing chamber that people use to
prolong life. It's really, really expensive, so only the elect can
afford it. Therefore, while all the poor people die, the rich continue
popping in and out of life. If any of the rich become friends with
the poor, then every time such a rich person pops out of the freezing
chamber, the poor person will have aged a decade and the rich person
only a minute. Some rich kids decide not to undergo the freezing
procedure, despite the wishes of their parents. These kids have
poor friends, and can't bear to have them age so much more rapidly
than themselves. A conflict ensues between the kids and the parents.
Hey Dad, I have thought of a story!
January 13, 2000
Well, maybe not. I had to stop my regimen of dreaming because
I fell out of my chair in math twice, but I'm not sure all those
sleepless hours were even worth it in the first place. I've never
really fancied writing sci-fi. Maybe only sci-fi stories can come
out of dreams. Frankenstein is class)fied as sci-fi isn't
February 2, 2000
I haven't been writing in this for a while because I've been too
busy with to continue my quest for greatness. But
Write it! Has the suffering I have been longing for been cast my
February 3, 2000
I never thought I'd be spoon-fed suffering. It's real, though.
Not at al like my contrived regimens of suffering. Maybe it's impossible
to use (abuse?) suffering to achieve greatness as a writer. Maybe
with real suffering, I will be inspired to write something and just
happen to become a great writer. Come on, I'm no monster. I couldn't
just pillage Grandma's death for loot, could I? If I write something
great, it'll just happen to be great because it was meant to be--not
because I'm using Grandma.
February 5, 2000
Thou art but cousin to the coward night,
Who quailing, shrouds his specter under black,
And steals away when wakes the earth to light,
With dread awaiting th'eye of day to slack.
Thou art but winter cloaking summer's mirth,
Whose bootless howls decry his fleeting reign,
Protesting that his throne spring cloth usurp,
With seeds that hath within his mantle lain.
Thou art but henchman to impotent death,
Who cackles with his maw engorged with life,
Too rashly gloating though the ceaseless breath
Of deathless soul flits from the futile strife.
And yet, in snuffing her, thou hast consigned
My spirit sans day, sans spring, to life declined.
February 5, 2000
It's bogus, though. Her death hasn't consigned my spirit sans day,
sans spring, to life declined.
February 7, 2000
I went to the funeral. I threw my rose down into the hole in the
ground. It made a loud clunk on the casket.
What is wrong with me? Everyone was crying, except me. During all
those eulogies--even when I went up to see the cold, hard body,
even when they closed the casket, when they covered over the hole--
I felt nothing.
February 9, 2000
Nothing. I'm incapable of really suffering. I am a monster. Please,
I just want to be normal.
Please, make me suffer?