Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Behind "The First Cut" by Katrina Lowell

Hey readers,

So I know that I had promised this post earlier and so here it is; a behind the scenes view of the writing process of "The First Cut," the first prose piece that I have written exclusively for this blog. I thought it would be easier to do this is sort of an" interviewer-interviewee" Q and A format. Here we go!

1. Why haven't you ever written prose before?

Prose is kind of a new format recently introduced to me at school in my language arts class and I fell in love with the idea of being able to make a large impact with only a small piece. I had written one before called "The Writer" which not only had I fallen in love with, but my parents and teacher as well. My teacher was so impressed that she took it and read it to all her other classes in the school and showed it to the principal. However, I'm now trying to get it back because I, believe it or not, wrote that on the way to school in the car on a whim and have no other copies. In fact, I've been trying to get it back for a year now. I'm sure it'll come through sooner or later. I just can't wait to publish it on the blog for you guys to see.

At any rate, yeah. I'm trying to familiarize myself with what prose really is and I'm gonna be working now on the technicalities, studying the techniques used to make a good prose and hopefully getting a chance to get some input here and there from my English teacher. I have actually created another segment of my blog named "Precisely Prose" and I hope to get quite a few of those under my belt by the end of this year.

2. What inspired "The First Cut"?

This story of Macy was one that came to me in a physical way, actually. I had been having some writers block because I just didn't have any real direction for where I wanted my work to go from there and then this idea popped into my head.

My school has been working with the guidance counselor who is trying to make the teenage students aware of the dangers of bullying and self harm as it has been known to happen right within our school walls. I was touched by the effort and it gave me some insight for my story. Plus, a girl that I once knew all too well took up the bad habit of cutting recently and it made me feel something in my stomach; something like empathy without the overt desire to confront and help. I've just been observing her when I get the chance and over a period of time, she became Macy. In my mind, Macy grew from the seeds of this other girl; basic things like social status, family situation, personality/ attitude, etc. all contributed to this character that I was creating in my mind. I had never been exposed to the idea of cutting in such a way that I have recently. I had heard of the practice and why people did it, but that was pretty much this. In guidance, however, we saw videos of people self harming through practices like cutting with razor blades, knives, scissors, etc., burning their flesh, biting and beating themselves up, embedding needles and various objects underneath their skin, peeling off layers of skin, putting slat in their eyes and so many more disturbing truths; that's just what they are.

Besides the exposure in class, I saw scars of cutting upon more than one girls' arms, some fresher than others. It gave me the visual that I used to portray a more lucid image to you guys, the readers. I wanted to make you see involuntarily what was happening as it happened by making the scenarios easy to relate to and my descriptions extremely vivid, no matter how unpleasant it had to be. Once I decided where I wanted to go with this story, it just all fell into place from there.

3. How you do think your readers like "The First Cut"?

Believe it or not, I didn't have a lot of confidence in this story in terms of readers' response. I thought that maybe the story was too close to home for some or maybe a little too vile for others and that the content would work how I had wanted it to, but doing so in the negative way. However, I am more than stoked to see how well this prose has been received. I actually just took a peek at the stats and just today I've gotten hits from the U.S.A, the Caribbean, and Germany, just to name a few. My mom, who used to be my editor back in the day but has even forgotten my blog address now, read this story and got really excited. She even says that she sees this story not just ending on this blog, but having a future published in text. I was kind of overwhelmed with my positive feedback and I'm just very pleased to see how its doing.

4. What are some things that you are hoping that the readers take from this story?

I definitely hope that this story inspires everyone that reads it, especially the teen girls, to take a step back and truly analyze self harm for what it is. It feels like this new thing has become a trend and now instead of writing in diaries, screaming in a pillow, exercising, listening to music and those kinds of alternatives for anger management, more teens are turning to cutting and its truly an epidemic. I thank god that my guidance teacher took the time to research this practice and take us into the goriest of places with it. I mean, there were some videos where it made you queasy just to peek at it, but it made it real. In life, sugar coating doesn't make the bitterness disappear; it just hides until the "sugar" is dusted off. When its dusted off is when we become bewildered; when we really start to ask ourselves, "what now? I'm not prepared to deal with this," and that leads to the frustration, mental illness and anger that causes things like this.

In "Pumped Up Kicks" by Foster The People. They wanted to create a forum for gun violence in this youthful generation to be recognized and discussed. Therefore they wrote a song that became an anthem to this generation; one that made the idea of outrunning a gun... familiar. In much the same way, I wanted to write this story in a format where I kinda pushed Macy's wrist in people's faces, made them watch her blood drip and feel the sting of the blade in order for them to become familiar with the concept in such a way that they understand WHY its done and also WHY NOT to do it.

I hope that my readers are able to see this message. Readers who look very deep into stories, such as good poem analyzers and such, will be able to pick up on the subtle ironies and symbolic features that I snuck in for emphasis. That in and of itself is symbolic because I didn't want the "subtle tell tale signs" to be so overt that they're obvious to the public, much like how self harm has become a "on the down low" practice for youths today. I mean, only a select few who look deep into things will be able to see the clues within someone and put the pieces together, but most people are ignorant to the fact that the same person that they go to school with every day burns her skin ON PURPOSE, you know? That's when people get shocked and confused; and unfortunately the way in which they end up finding out about the emotional status of these people are through their fatalities. Self harm leads to hundreds of deaths each year; the endings of lives that have just started. That's why I need my readers to look within themselves and others and read in between the lines, judge any underlying problems, anything that could cause something as devastating as that, and working through it not by yourself and maybe not even with a parent, but with a physician; someone that can help you in a way that non-professionals can't.

So in the end, I just want the best for my readers because I understand what it's like to struggle. This generation is in for some serious battles and the next to come will be worse off than us, but that's why we need to stand up and protect ourselves and others. The Lowell Militia isn't just a little something I made up as a cute whatever, but something that I think would help us to get better. Being able to know that you're not alone; that someone somewhere is in that same battle with you, on e of the same army, to inspire you to move forward. I would hate to hear of anyone harming themselves over something that really in the scope of life is so small. That's the basis of the problem- We focus on life in the moment instead of removing ourselves from that isolated time period and placing it in the ratio of that to an average of 80 years of life altogether. If we did that, even the toughest of situations would become a laughing matter. I even find myself correcting my behavior when something insignificant flusters me; I remind myself that whatever it is isn't going to ruin the rest of my life and that I can move on. This same message is what I wan't my readers to get.

5. What is your challenge from you to your readers?

I am challenging my readers to do some research for me- immerse yourself in the realities of some of the prevalent problems among our age group. Make sure that you're aware of the dangers of these things that can happen to ANYONE and that you're able to make a plan for yourself in case you ever found yourself falling into those traps. I know I have some parent readers- please do the same. In learning more about these things you'll be better equip to not only help your child when in need, but to detect the signs of dangerous behavior. We need your help, too, so please, please, please make yourselves aware.

I also want to answer more questions, so if you have any sort of inquiry, be it about "The First Cut" or on the general topic of self harm, feel free to ask. I will always have a Q and A open for any story that I write at any time. So even if two years from now you're reading this and you wanted to ask a question, go ahead and ask it and I will answer promptly. But yeah, I want this to become a discussion, so please ask questions and post comments of your own. Also, please participate in the survey to the right of this page. We'll see how many of you anonymous readers can relate to Macy in more ways than one.

Lastly, I challenge you guys to share the heck out of this story. Pass it around via e-mail ans social networking, print it out and give a friend, show your own guidance counselor and see if you can get a program up and running at your school. Look at this prose as a way to get the word out. Spread it like "Pumped Up Kicks" and make it stick into people's minds. I need your help guys. Let's get this thing on the road.

Thanks for reading this Q and A and have a great week!

Love Always <3,
Katrina Lowell

Monday, March 11, 2013

Busy Bee With A Sleepy Head

Hola peeps,

So it's about 12:30 P.M. over here and I'm exhausted. Why am I blogging? Because I'm determined to get a post out every day, even if it has one LETTER in it; POSTED! No but seriously guys, I've had a full day and I plan on starting another one in a mere 3 1/2 hours. Sad, eh? But hey- I'm still alive right? I give thanks for my crazy life... even when my eyelids are quivering as they are in combat with my will power to KEEP THEM OPEN! Okay, I'm losing. Gotta go- hopefully you'll get a post with more substance in it tomorrow, LOL.

Love Always <3,
Katrina Lowell

Sunday, March 10, 2013

The First Cut by Katrina Lowell

She was lost in a world that seemed so very dark. Lost in feelings of confusion, anger, frustration, self- pity and depression. Nothing made sense to her; why her parents split, why she wasn't accepted at school, why she didn't look the way she wanted too, and why she struggled in school, but nobody else did. It was all too much to manage and she expressed her feelings through fighting, pushing away all of those in her life that actually cared about her, distrusting everything and everyone, and just giving up on trying to enjoy her life as it was. The only thing that made her even slightly happy was being part of a popular crowd. Being able to say that she was in the coolest clique of the school was... gratifying. It didn't make her okay inside, but at least it didn't make it obvious to everyone else that she was "weak." And then she reached her breaking point.

It was a Thursday afternoon during a school recess. She, as usual, followed around the group of girls in the clique throughout the school. Feeling out of place, she moved her way through to the middle, and tried to pick up conversation, realizing that it was about her;
"You see Macy, the way she just 'tags along' like we want her here? Who invited her anyways?"
"She isn't pretty, she's extremely weird, and what's up with her shoes; they look like they came from a dumpster. What is she- poor?"
"I don't know- I think someone needs to just let her know that she needs to find REAL friends and try another group."

Hot, wet tears welled up in her eyes as she realized that the only thing she cared about in life- being accepted ANYWHERE- was being challenged. This threw her over the edge; she ran immediately out of the group and into the bathroom. Locking herself in a stall, her back slid to the ground as her emotions engulfed her and she bawled. Sitting on the floor, she thought about everything in her life. She blamed everything on her parents' divorce when she was five. With mom in one part of the world and dad in another, both starting separate families, she felt out of place. She had lived with her mom for a while, but now lived with her dad whose wife was a terror to her; always showing disdain and constantly shunning her. It drove Macy to hate her dad even more and even her mom for making her move away because where she was living was "becoming too dangerous and unsafe for her teenage daughter." Her sadness evolved into a fit of rage as her thoughts started to wander and she thought about everything in life that she hated. It had felt like hours before she found the strength to get up off the ground. She walked out of the bathroom and turned on the tap, staring at her reflection in the mirror- her face wore the proof of a war. Her make-up was smeared, the tears turned black by the new mascara that she bought just to impress the girls. As they trickled down her face, she then looked up at her hair. Her blonde hair disheveled, quite unlike the neat ponytail it was in that morning. Then her eyes darted to the corner of the mirror where saw that she had an audience- the clique. There they stood, looking at her like a spectacle with their phones recording the whole scene as they laughed and murmured amongst themselves.

"Macy- what the hell is wrong with you. I mean, you look psychotic, hahaha."
"You see why I wanted her out of the group. I don't wanna be known as one of the girls that hangs out with her, especially after this reaches Facebook."

Macy slammed her hand on the tap, quickly turning it off. Then she approached the group that took a couple steps back and raised their cell phones.

"You can film me all you want; this is me and its about time you knew. And don't you DARE try to make it seem like you guys aren't the same way. Each of you may be perfect to others on the outside, but you all have some sort of imperfection on the inside; and I can tell you, video taping someone at their lowest point shows apathy and malice, two hideous attributes for such 'pretty girls' don't you think?" She stopped ranting, looking around at the girls and noticing lthat none of them seemed to care about anything she had just said. Staring into the camera lenses, some flashing a bright light in the dim bathroom, she felt nauseated. Maybe it was the anger, the yelling, or the disgust that was revealed about these girls; disgust that she had always to a certain extent felt but never acknowledged until that very moment. And then it happened.

All the girls screamed as Macy's emotions were expressed finally as a fountain of vomit. She stood there crying as she held her stomach and stared at the puddle on the floor. "What's wrong with me?" She asked herself. Then she bolted, pushing through the girls who had congregated by the door, and ran out of the school. She felt the whole school's stares on her back, scorching her like her soul had been set on fire. Her eyes were red and puffy, stinging as the cool autumn air blew on her damp eyelashes. She wiped her mouth with the back of her sweater and spat on the ground, trying to get rid of the bitter, acidic taste of her puke on her tongue. She didn't know where she was going, but she knew she needed to be as far away from that school as she could.

The walk allowed her to think more; however, her thoughts weren't too positive. She thought of running away- just going home, packing a bag, and hitch hiking to another state and trying again there. She figure that foster care HAD to better than at home with the monster that her dad married. She thought of drug abuse; she knew the group of stoners at school who always said that smoking a spliff took you out of the world for a minute. It took away the pain long enough for you to forget and just relax. They also said the stronger the drug, the better the effect. Then she figured out what she was gonna do. She had thought about it a couple times, but was too afraid of the consequences of doing it. But now she had nothing holding her back; she needed something greater than the pain that she was feeling now to distract her thoughts. She needed it to help her feel something; anything, really. As she thought about it more, her body grew numb and her eyes focused straight ahead of her as she headed home.

By the time she reached her doorstep, she was determined to go and do it. Any fears she had had been long weeded out and all that was left was her desperation to find a way out. She rushed into the house, headed for the bathroom. At this point she was in a jog, taking every corner with great speed. That's when she heard her name.

"Macy? What are you doing here? It's 1:30; you should be at school!" Her step mother, Jenna, walked up behind her and pulled on her shoulder, turning her around. When she saw her face, she let go of Macy and sighed with frustration. "What happened to you, Macy?" Macy narrowed her eyes at this woman; the same woman that blames her for everything wrong in the household, the same one who treats her like garbage, the one woman that she HATES in this world now wants to act like she cares? It just made her angrier. "It's none of your business Jenna. You're not my mother, so you shouldn't care anyways. Just go back to what you were doing." As she turned to walk away, Jenna grabbed her. "I have to care because I'm married to your father whether you like it or not and unfortunately for me, you were part of the package. Now neither of us like that fact, but we have to live with it, so-" Macy shrugged Jenna's hands off of her violently and darted to the bathroom. Jenna followed her with increasing speed, and finally Macy reached the bathroom and flung the door closed, locking it immediately afterwords. Jenna began banging on the door, yelling for her to open up and threatening to call her father. Macy slowly tuned her out and focused on what she had come home to do. She pulled every cabinet, searching through, knocking everything over as she frantically rummaged through the things. Then she found the box. She held it with both hands and carefully placed it on the counter, as her hands were shaking with anticipation. She looked up to the mirror and once again saw the traces of the earlier events. Then she opened the box and took it out.

It was carefully wrapped in a thin, paper like casing. Macy took her thumb and slid it off, exposing the shiny, stainless steel blade with its sharp edges, one obviously duller than the other. Macy slowly turned the tap on, an watched as the water dripped into the sink. Taking her other hand, she gripped the dull end of the blade and gradually slid it against the inside of her left wrist. She began to take deep breaths as the stinging pain began to tear from her wrists and spread like a virus up to her heart and throughout her body. The feeling hurt, but was eerily exhilarating. As she steadied her right hand that was trembling from the pain, she took another swipe, this one slightly deeper than the last, bringing a tear to her eye as the skin tore. Cut after cut she went, her breath hastening more and more after each. After her ninth cut, she looked into the sink, stained pink from the diluted blood that had been dripping from her fresh wounds and mixing with the running water. The sight made her dizzy as she watched the blood trickle around her arm, creating streaks of deep red on her skin. To steady herself, she grabbed the hand towel and took a seat on the edge of the bath tub. She gently dabbed her raw wrists with the soft cloth and took a sigh of relief as she began to relax.

Her mind was clear and calm for the first time in a long while. She actually felt relieved and wondered why she was so apprehensive to do it before. Macy sat there, tending to her wrists, and got lost in this new feeling; satisfaction. She had never felt satisfied before; there was no real reason to. The things that would have "satisfied" her would have been a pair of parents who loved each other, lived in one home, and never made her feel like a burden by trading her off so often, and no Jenna to make her life a living hell; a better financial situation so that her dad wouldn't have to work so hard to keep food on the table and so that she didn't have to be teased over her aged, raggedy clothes; a group of friends who actually cared about her and made her enjoy being herself; a body with better shape that didn't make her look so odd and made boys laugh at rather than love her. Most of all, what would make her "satisfied" would be to feel like she was the person that she always knew she could be; a good, quality person. Someone that could actually give back to society rather than be a nuisance to it. Cutting made her worry less and made room for hope; she found her "drug," something to become addicted to. The thought actually brought a smile to her face. Just then the door began to boom with thunderous banging.

"Open up, Macy. Talk to me, hun. What's wrong?" Macy was frantic; she didn't want her dad to see her like this. She looked down at her wrist; the slits were sticky as they began to heal, but they began to crust over with spots of blood and were swollen pink from the cuts. She turned the towel over and scrubbed at the black marks on her cheeks. When they looked least visible, she folded over the the towel to the cleanest section and opened the door.

"Hi dad," she said, with a reassuring smile on her face. He grabbed her and began to sob.
"Don't ever do that again, Macy. You had me so worried; all Jenna told you was that you came in and locked yourself in the bathroom, and you've been here silent for over an hour and- and I feared the worst." Macy felt worse knowing that she had hurt the person she loved most in life. Without realizing she wrapped her arms around his waist. That's when she saw it.

Jenna gasped, bringing her hand over her mouth. Upon hearing this, Macy's dad loosened his grip on his daughter an turned to see what was wrong. Jenna just stood there, pointing at Macy's left arm, stunned at a sight she never thought she would see. Macy looked down at her arm and quickly hid it behind her back, panicking. She didn't need her dad to see this; the first thing he'd do is seek help for her and this experience-this first cut- was amazing. She couldn't have something so newly exhilarating in her life suddenly taken away. Her dad approached Jenna with a puzzling look on his face. He began to question her repeatedly as a single tear rolled down her pale cheek, then finally she yelled over to Macy. "Show him; show him what I just saw Macy." Macy's dad turned to look at Macy. "What is she talking about, Mace? Jenna, just tell me what's going on." Macy kept her mouth curled up and her arm behind her back; her heart was now racing. It was official- Jenna had seen her cuts- and now she had no choice but to come out and show her dad.

After several moments, Macy spoke. "Dad; before I show you this, I need to know that you won't freak out on me." Her dad cocked his head to the side with concern. "Show me wh-" before he could finish, Macy pulled her arm from behind and exposed her wounded wrist. For what seemed like hours, Macy's dad stared at them blankly, trying to process the image that he was seeing. In disbelief, he slowly reached out and ran his fingertips lightly over each tear in her flesh. Macy held her breath as the soreness crawled up her arm and down her spine.

"Who did this to you? I will go down to that school tomorrow morning, I swear to god!" Macy's dad dropped her hand and flew into a rage. By now, Jenna had gone upstairs to her and Macy's father's room to cool off. Upon hearing his raised voice, she came downstairs. Macy's throat went dry. What was she supposed to do? She could always play along and pretend that someone at school cut her. That could be a grand fabrication, one that gave her enough time to figure out how she was going to come out to her dad and tell him about her new obsession. Or she could just tell him the truth now, but she didn't know if she could handle the consequences of her actions at that given moment.

Macy zoned out between her father's sudden angry rant and Jenna's dazed self, trying to calm him down. It just didn't make sense. The worst part was that she couldn't do anything; she was frozen in the middle of everything.

 Before she knew it, her world began to spin rapidly, the light distorting until finally it focused and she saw her reflection in the mirror. There she was, torn apart, black mascara dripping down her face and her rosy cheeks looking deep red, like blood, against her pale face. She closed her eyes for just a moment and placed the blade back in its paper wrapping, back in the box, back in the cabinet. She took a deep breath and washed her face, renewing the beauty hidden underneath the weight of the world that shown upon it. She gently dabbed her face with a cotton wash cloth and opened the bathroom door.

"Macy- I'm sorry for what I said. I just- I just think we should talk about what happened today, okay? Then maybe after we can start figuring out where our relationship stands." Jenna stood outside the door with a facial expression of genuine guilt with a reassuring smile. Macy stepped out of the doorway and without realizing flung her arms around Jenna's neck. "Thank you Jenna... I think that'd be just what I need..."