Palo Alto Weekly 15th Annual Short Story Contest
2nd Place - Young Adults 15-17 year olds

Being Great

by Kristine Yu

About Kristine Yu

Is there a connection between suffering and good writing? Kristen Yu thinks there is.

Her 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.

--Valentine Ding

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, write!

"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 pimply nose.

"Why, you little!" Beastly flew onto Walter, pummeling the poor boy's chest, arms, legs, face until the bench ran with Walter's blood.

"I shall be avenged. The Pied Piper will call, and all of us will rise," 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 it?

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

Grandma died.

Write it! Has the suffering I have been longing for been cast my way?

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?

Stay informed.

Get the day's top headlines from Palo Alto Online sent to your inbox in the Express newsletter.