Three Words

Here is an essay I wrote for class last term about how I identify myself. I titled it: Three Words. 
A totally random, but awesome gif. 
Survivor. Adventurous. Creative. My identity summed up in three words. What I find most fascinating about these characteristics is how they all intersect in some way. Over the years I’ve found that you are never just one thing, but rather many, and every thing that you are has a story behind it. This is my story.
Ask any one of my friends to describe me and the first thing they’ll tell you is that I am an unapologetic bookworm, which is absolutely true! On average I read about twenty books a year.  Books helped me survive high school. Between the ages of fourteen and eighteen I was constantly in and out of the hospital. With a screwed up spine that required several operations my social life was nonexistent. During my senior prom I wore a hospital gown because that’s the day my second back surgery was scheduled. Mostly, I just laid in my mom’s bed, medicated, with pillows propped underneath my knees, and a heating pad placed behind my back. Sure I’d watch TV once in a while, but I quickly discovered that it really depressed me. Maybe it had something to do with the brightly lit screen or more likely that it didn’t engage me enough intellectually. So, I turned to books. Through books I lived vicariously through another character. George R. R. Martin once wrote, “A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies … The man who never reads lives only one.” I absolutely love this quote and find so much truth in it. Through books I have had the incredible opportunity to attend Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, fall in love with a sparkly vampire, and was placed in an arena with twenty-three other kids whom I was expected to kill on a national televised program.
Catching Fire Midnight Premiere. 
Speaking of The Hunger Games, I have to admit that this book came out during a perfect time in my life, September 14th, 2008, exactly 2 months before my first back surgery. Both Katniss Everdeen and I were sixteen-years-old and while I was not forced to fight to the death I was terrified of the idea that I could possibly die or become paralyzed during surgery. Spoiler Alert: we both survived! Next came the sequel Catching Fire, which came out September of 2009, around three months before we discovered that two of my four titanium screws cracked completely in half and now I had to get another more invasive surgery. Now, looking back, it was kind of a miracle that I read these books right before my surgeries. In a way, I think they prepared me mentally for the challenges ahead.
I’m not going to lie, all of these surgeries made me equal parts angry and depressed. I felt a sort of certainty that I was never going to experience a painless day of ever have a normal social life. The film Little Miss Sunshine changed my way of thinking about having a disability during high school. One of my favorite scenes involves a teenage boy Dwayne and his Uncle Frank. Dwayne starts the conversation off with, “I wish I could just sleep until I was eighteen and skip all this crap—high school and everything—just skip it,” which is something I could totally related to (Arndt). However, Uncle Frank argues otherwise, that suffering is actually beneficial, that it develops character. He says:
[Marcel Proust] French writer. Total loser. Never had a real job. Unrequited love affairs. Gay. Spent 20 years writing a book almost no one reads. But he’s also probably the greatest writer since Shakespeare. Anyway, he uh… gets down to the end of his life, and he looks back and decides that all those years he suffered, Those were the best years of his life, ‘cause they made him who he was. All those years he was happy? You know, total waste. Didn’t learn a thing. So, if you sleep until you’re 18… Ah, think of all the suffering you’re gonna miss. I mean high school? High school—those are your prime suffering years. You don’t get better suffering than that.
The Hunger Games and Little Miss Sunshine gave me hope for the future. I started calling myself brave instead of weak, a survivor instead of a victim. This newly found inner strength lit a fire inside me; it’s what helped me graduate high school with a 3.64 GPA and an award in Language Arts. I started living more deliberately and optimistically and I craved life like never before.
Paragliding in Switzerland. 
Now that I wasn’t living in sheer agony from day to day I wanted to catch up on everything I missed. At eighteen-years-old I finally got my driver’s license, started my first term at Chemeketa Community College, made new friends, and decided what I really wanted more than anything was to travel, so that’s what I did. About a year after my last surgery, I went on a study abroad trip to Florence, Italy. Through traveling, I learned to step out of my comfort zone. For example, my mom suggested I take a train to visit her friends in Switzerland and Germany all by myself and at first I was like: No way! I’ll die. However, after much thought I decided you only live once, so I went for it. Let me just say that backpacking through Europe by yourself is totally doable and is actually really fun!
            During this trip I received an email from the editor of Chicken Soup for the Soul telling me that two of my essay were going to be published in their upcoming book Chicken Soup for the Soul: ToughTimes for Teens. Obviously, I was ecstatic about this, especially since my back surgery essay would be featured first. Also, during this time I kept up a weekly blog and it was surprisingly getting a lot of views and comments. It solidified my belief that I was indeed a creative person and could possibly have a career in writing.
Champion film crew & Lance Henriksen. 
However, writing is not my only creative outlet. I’m also passionate about filmmaking, especially with my younger brother Andrew who is a very talented cinematographer and editor. In the summer of 2012 we were asked to work on an independent film down in San Antonio, Texas for five weeks. You see, our next-door neighbor is an executive producer and his fifteen-year-old daughter worked on a film prior to the one we worked on with the same director. She showed the director our YouTube films and he said we should come help out too. Drew was hired as the first assistant cameraman and I worked as a production assistant. Even though we worked mainly outside in over 100 degree weather, had to wake up at five AM most days, got food poisoning one weekend, and were eaten alive by mosquitoes, it was one of the best experiences of my life!

Recounting my story, I am reminded of how lucky I am and what an amazing life I have led so far. Sure, I’ve been through hell and while it was totally unexpected and completely unwanted it was how I rose to the challenge and decided to be a survivor that ultimately defined me. Had I not endured that horrible experience I probably would not have as strong of an appetite for travel as I do now nor would I be the adventurous risk taker that I am today. Also, writing gave me a creative outlet for the pain I experienced. I wrote poems about it and now incorporate what I’ve learned into the novel I am currently writing. Our experiences and how we respond to them are what make our identity. I am very proud that the events in my life have identified me as a creative adventurous survivor!


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