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I love world-building. I consider myself to be a fantasy writer, though I’ve never had the courage, until now, to publish. In my free time, I brainstorm the whimsical possibilities of my creations. However, my passion for world-building doesn’t just stem from my ability to build up entire civilizations and empires with my imagination and a pen. No — my favorite thing about world-building is that I have an enormous, unlimited amount of power.

For instance, if I disagree with the acts of our government, then I can build up an even more authoritarian government to be overthrown. If I’m crushing on the soccer player with ruffled hair and a gaze you could fall into, his persona might resemble that of a romantic interest for one of my characters. There’s a classmate in my group project who refuses to do any work? A dragon will devour someone with an uncanny appearance to them. 

My literary reign of terror started innocently. As a child, I had a debilitating speech disability. My mouth simply could not form certain sounds, such as “TH” or the letter “R.” It took me far longer than the average child to not only speak, but comprehend language. And while my difficulties were thought of as adorable by adults, they quickly became a laughing point for my peers. 

But their insults stopped bothering me once I immersed myself in the complexities and grandeur of “The Cat in the Hat.” I learned that reading to myself in class was a much gentler way of getting through the school day than stumbling through sentences. Books became the way for me to get through the most lonely hours. Despite this steady form of resilience, eventually, my sympathetic parents put me through years of intensive speech therapy. 

Now, people may think I talk too much. 

Yet even when I worked past my speech issues, my love for reading persisted. At seven years old, I had just finished reading “Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief” a fictional novel in which Greek Mythology exists in modern times. 

As if the bullying in my prior years hadn’t damaged my ego, I naturally decided that I was clearly a daughter of a Greek god or goddess. I then set out to alert my best friend, Madison, that she was also a demigod. After convincing her, we decided to write a book about our future adventures. The result was a four-page monstrosity that would have had Homer rolling in his grave. There was not a single period or form of punctuation in the entire project — we had utterly abandoned the notion of grammar. 

It was my hunger for reading that ultimately inspired my passion for writing. Soon, typing was more natural than talking. The words that flowed from my fingers were far more authentic than those I said, even when translated into fantasy and magic.

But the fantasy reached a conflict upon entering middle school. My unfortunate mix of braces, glasses and bangs were not considered “cool,” and neither was my Star Wars obsession or baggy clothes. I faced a bully early on who made it her mission to deprive me of friends. I’d sit in the front of my classes, waving my hand proudly in front of the teacher’s face only to disappear in a corner when it came time for recess. Many of my lunches were spent tucked away in a bathroom stall, staring at the static-inducing grey walls and thinking about the hardships I was facing, battling obstacles both in and out of the classroom. My uncle had been diagnosed with a brain tumor and I felt my parents were lying to me about its severity. 

During seventh grade, I managed to make two friends. I wanted to tell one, Peggy, about my troubles, but I had never gotten around to learning how to voice them. Eventually, I found the solution in approaching Peggy with a lengthy story that had taken place in a medieval fantasy world. We crouched down on a cold rubber playground floor as she flipped through it. I wrapped my arms around my stomach as if doing so would protect myself from a watchful gaze. The story wasn’t a diary, per se, but it might as well have been. Fiction described my deepest intimacies, and when Peggy emerged from the manuscript, she had a look of understanding and a hug ready. Her response cemented in me that when the world felt too saturated, I could simply pour my feelings out onto black and white pages. 

Writing, as it is for many others, was my escape. I’d make a habit of shutting the shades to my room, blasting music — typically stolen from my dad’s cringeworthy playlists — and opening Google Docs. I’d forget about my uncle’s tumor and the cruelty of my peers. My emotions became adjectives and my troubles overarching themes. In the world of literature, the gap of thoughts and language that had plagued me all my life were irrelevant. 

I weaved a safety net of Times New Roman and Arial font around myself, with the fortifying grips of typography protecting me from harm’s way. As a means of both protection and fulfillment, I still use the creative format to navigate the world around me. Sometimes, this simply means that characters with my little brother’s name tend to be eaten by monsters when my phone charger goes missing (a recurring theme). Other times it reflects a darker reality. 

My world of fiction became more pertinent than the real one in the face of pandemics, political stability and general life changes. I still rigorously followed the news, attended protests and learned to deal with virtual learning, but I had gravitated most toward seeking comfort in my writing. In early 2020, I finished a dystopian novel and started planning out the next one. The copious time spent in my room was where I befriended the characters of my creation. 

The excessive indulgence only grew with time, until recently. My writer’s block started when the person closest to me, my grandma, passed away a few months ago. Since then, I’ve gone through the worst writer’s block of my life. For reference, the struggle to brainstorm for my college apps or write a timed and graded essay was simple, yet now I can’t seem to finish a single sentence.

Instead of the sadness I expected to feel, I simply felt numb. Despite the enormous weight I felt from the situation, I never got around to crying following her passing. I still haven’t. Without a driving emotion, I couldn’t produce fiction to aid my coping process. 

 I sometimes equate my stories to the personification of my soul. When I reached for the misplaced emotions of grief to channel into a new story, I found nothing. How could I place my heart on the page when my entire being felt empty, carved out? After I needed it most, I felt my coping mechanism get ripped away from a remedy-less paralysis. The stillness in my brain lasted even when the school year started to approach.

As a current freshman, I quickly learned that college life suits me. I’m delighted to be in a realm where the time of day is determined by whether Insomnia Cookies is still open and squirrels are my best study buddies. Giddy with the life-altering changes, I was able to distract myself from the questions at the forefront of my mind. Will I be able to process my grandma’s death? Will my attempts at writing fiction ever not feel forced? Will I ever write freely again? I still haven’t written any pieces since arriving to the University of Michigan. My stories have felt lodged in me, and without a form of escapism, I’ve been in limbo.

Three days before I wrote this piece, I was blissfully walking to class with headphones in while irritated bike and scooter riders shouted what were probably curses my way. A Johnny Cash song came on. He had been my grandma’s favorite singer, and the first chords of “Ring of Fire” brought her to the forefront of my mind. I ran into the bathroom of Weiser Hall and focused on quieting my erratic breaths so the person in the stall next to me wouldn’t hear. The last chorus of the country song was still pounding in my ear, and I didn’t take my headphones out. 

I was woefully underprepared for the montage the song brought about. I found myself stuck in the bathroom for the better part of an hour. I missed my first lecture, which the day before, I had been sure I would never do. My mom was understanding and told me to take the day to grieve. And though I didn’t write anything at the moment, I felt myself having the urge to cry. But best of all, with the plethora of emotion, I felt myself craving a keyboard.