Saturday, April 25, 2009

Congrats Sandy Vingoe!


Sandy Vingoe, 13, completed his first year at Writopia with a short story and an award-winning screenplay under his belt! Please help Sandy celebrate his first regional gold key by reading his screenplay:





Crime News
A Screenplay by Sandy Vingoe

1. INT. NEW YORK POST OFFICE-MIDNIGHT

A MASKED MAN is wearing a dark track suit. He moves around the office taking papers from desks and drawers. After collecting some papers he leaves the room

2. INT. THE NEW YORK TIMES OFFICE-DAYTIME

TOM BAKER is a young reporter. He is dressed formally.

TRISTAN LINCOLN has carefully combed gray hair. Beside him is a cabinet filled with Pulitzer Prizes. He is smoking a cigar and is dressed informally. He is sitting at his desk. TOM BAKER enters and walks up to him.

TRISTAN LINCOLN
Whaddya got for me shrimp?

TOM BAKER
Last night there was a theft a the New York Post's office. Hundreds of stories were stolen, effectively ruining the New York Post's papers for the next couple weeks! People are calling it the biggest theft since Watergate!

TRISTAN LINCOLN
So what do you want me to do about it? Why do I care? We've already got the story smack on our front page!

TOM BAKER
I was...um...thinking of investigating it, sir. I could finally make a name for myself.
TRISTAN LINCOLN
Why would I want to run something by some stupid novice reporter? Wait, actually that would be great!(expression lights up) Yeah, uh, actually an anonymous caller actually gave us a tip. According to our anonymous friend, the thief was actually um...uh, associated with Mario Scuioni, the Mafia kingpin.

TOM BAKER
The Mafia! You mean I have to deal with the Mafia?

TRISTAN LINCOLN
It's not that hard. Just go to pier 91 and snoop around. Or is that too hard for your microscopic brain?

TOM BAKER
Um...How do you know where to go, sir?

TRISTAN LINCOLN
Let's just say I've crossed swords with Scuioni!

TOM BAKER (Nervous)
Okay, sir, I'll take the story.

TRISTAN LINCOLN
Good, now scram, before I give that story to some other idiotic reporter!

TOM BAKER leaves the room in a hurry.

3. INT. A DARK WAREHOUSE-EVENING



MARIO SCUIONI is wearing a pin striped shirt and a hat. He is flanked by two large BODYGUARDS armed with Tommy guns. He is sitting in a chair around a round table playing Poker with other Mafia members. He is flanked with two bodyguards.

TOM BAKER enters, standing still near the entrance. He is wearing a large over coat and is also wearing a hat.

The BODYGUARDS quickly aim the Tommy guns at him.

MARIO SCUIONI
(in a heavy accent)
Who da heck are you?

TOM BAKER
Um...sorry to barge in, Mr. Scuioni, but um... could I ask you some questions?

MARIO SCUIONI
You ask us da questions? We ask you da questions! What is your name?

TOM BAKER
Tom Baker

MARIO SCUIONI
You found us here, how?

TOM BAKER
Tristan Lincoln tol...

MARIO SCUIONI
LINCOLN!

The BODYGUARDS aim their guns again.

TOM BAKER
Uh, did I do something wrong?

MARIO SCUIONI
Ya! I hate him! He constantly uses the media to damage my grand, lucrative, disreputable empire!

TOM BAKER
Oh, sorry! I didn't know you hated him so much.

MARIO SCUIONI
You work for Lincoln?


TOM BAKER
Oh, uh..no no no! I hate him too!

MARIO SCUIONI
You don't work for da Lincoln then?

TOM BAKER
No way!

MARIO SCUIONI
Ok, then what do ya want then.

The BODYGUARDS put their guns down.

TOM BAKER
Do you know anything about the New York Post theft?

MARIO SCUIONI
If I do know, why should I tell you?

TOM BAKER
Uh... I'll tell you where to find Tristan Lincoln.

MARIO SCUIONI
I HAAAAAAATE him. It’s a deal! You tell first.

TOM BAKER
He lives... at uhhh... 29 Riverdale.

MARIO SCUIONI
BOYS GO TO 29 RIVERDALE

MARIO points to Mafia members at table. MAFIA MEMBERS run out of warehouse.
MARIO SCUIONI
NOW I WILL KILL THAT MAN!

TOM BAKER
Uh... what about your side of the deal?

MARIO SCUIONI
Oh ya. Da thief is from da company called Diminito, a company that provides thieves for hire.
TOM BAKER
Oh, a contact of ours said that the thief was one you.


MARIO SCUIONI
Your contact must be a idiot and a liar! We have nothing to do with da theft.

TOM BAKER
Hmmmm could Lincoln have been lying about having a contact?


MARIO SCUIONI
What! You do work for that man! I will kill you. I trusted you!

MARIO draws a gun.

TOM BAKER
Mouse!

TOM BAKER points towards the back of the room, and all the guys turn to look as he runs out of door.

MARIO SCUIONI
I have been duped! He was probably lying about da address too! I will KILL YOU, TOM BAKERRRRRR!

MARIO SCUIONI fires several shots in the air.

4. INT. DIMINITO DIAMOND SHOP-EVENING

GEORGIO ACAMPELLI, with one long scar down his right cheek and small, dark, eyes, is dressed like a salesperson. He is behind a desk reading a newspaper and smirking.

TOM BAKER enters and walks up to him.

GEORGIO ACAMPELLI
How may I help you good sir?

TOM BAKER
I would like to inquire about your thievery business.

GEORGIO ACAMPELLI(nervous)
What thievery business? We don't know anything about thieves, we just sell diamonds.

TOM BAKER
Oh, I'm sorry but, uhhhhh... my boss Mario Scuioni said you had thieves for hire.

GEORGIO ACAMPELLI (shivering)
You are from da Mafia?

TOM BAKER
Uh... yeah. I'm an enforcer.

GEORGIO ACAMPELLI
Oh, but where is your gun?

TOM BAKER
Uhhhh... I don't need a gun. I can break your neck with my bare hands.

GEORGIO ACAMPELLI
Ok, I admit da truth. We have a thievery business!(cheerful)Now what can I do for you.

TOM BAKER
I would like to know everything about the New York Post thievery.`

GEORGIO ACAMPELLI
I'm sorry... but I can't reveal information about other clients. You know, I might get da lawsuits.

TOM BAKER
Okay, than I'll just have to tell the boss that you're hiding secrets from us. I'm sure he'll be very mad.

GEORGIO ACAMPELLI
Okay, okay, okay I'll tell you, just don't tell anyone I told you. I was the thief who broke into the New York Post offices.

TOM BAKER
Who hired you and why?


GEORGIO ACAMPELLI
He said he wanted the stories stolen because it would benefit him. He also said his name was...

There is a loud BANG! GEORGIO ACAMPELLI, dead. MARIO SCUIONI enters with two bodyguards, guns raised)

MARIO SCUIONI(sarcastically)
Oh, we killed him, too bad!

TOM BAKER(nervously)
Hey Mario... what brings you here?

MARIO SCUIONI
I'm a here to make your life miserable!

MARIO lets our an evil laugh.

TOM BAKER
Can't we uh... work this out?

MARIO SCUIONI
Da time for apologies is over. I will kill you in one of one thousand incredibly cruel ways! Get him!

The bodyguards hit TOM BAKER on the head and knock him out. They drag him away.

MARIO SCUIONI follows them.

5. INT. A DARK WAREHOUSE–MIDNIGHT

TOM BAKER is bruised and bleeding. He is tied to a post.

MARIO SCUIONI is pacing around the room.

MARIO SCUIONI
You thought you could outsmart da Mafia, da king of all da gangs?

TOM BAKER
Uh…well I didn't think you would be so dumb to fall for my simple lie.

MARIO SCUIONI
Idiot! You were not supposed to answer that!
MARIO slaps Tom Baker.

TOM BAKER
Oh, I thought you were asking me a question.

MARIO SCUIONI
Argh! Shut up! Now I will kill you!

TOM BAKER(genuinely
dumbfounded)
Okay, sorry for talking.

MARIO SCUIONI
Now how should I kill you? Da iron shoes, da old English hanging, stop sign impalement, Da Sicilian breakfast, watching da Teletubbies for a month, starvation... Oh so many brutal choices!

TOM BAKER
Um, before you impale me or make me watch Teletubbies, might I remind you that you need me to show you where to Tristan Lincoln.

MARIO SCUIONI
How would you know where to find him?

TOM BAKER
Don't you remember? The reason you wanted to kill me in the first place was because I work for Tristan Lincoln.

MARIO SCUIONI
Oh ya! But how do I know you won't lie again?

TOM BAKER
Take me with you. If I lie, then you can impale or hang me or whatever.

MARIO SCUIONI
Okay, but I'm a watching you.
TOM BAKER
I just need to go to the bathroom. Then I will take you to his residence.

MARIO SCUIONI
Okay, have your bathroom break. Then we will KILL TRISTAN LINCOLN!
(Fade to black.)



6. INT. POLICE HEADQUARTERS-DAY

OFFICER STRATER is a veteran police officer. He is dressed in a police uniform. He is standing in front of the police chief's desk.

POLICE CHIEF FRANCIS is a veteran police chief. He is dressed in a suit. He is sitting at his desk.

POLICE CHIEF FRANCIS
Strater! Are there any new leads on the New York Post theft?

OFFICER STRATER (trembling)
No sir...but we got a call a few moments ago from a certain Tom Baker. He said he's bringing in Mario Scuioni right to our precinct!

POLICE CHIEF FRANCIS
Idiot! We're supposed to be the best police team there is and you're telling me we can't figure out anything about a newspaper theft! Oh yeah and prepare a little welcome party for Scuioni if you know what I mean.

OFFICER STRATER
Yes sir, I know what you mean! I'll get him a cake and arrange the decorations. I think they have some nice balloons at the store across the street!

POLICE CHIEF FRANCIS
You nitwit! Not that kind of party! Get the boys ready to seize Scuioni when he comes in!

TOM BAKER and MARIO SCUIONI enter.

MARIO SCUIONI
PREPARE TO DIE TRISTAN LINCOLN!

OFFICER STRATER and POLICE CHIEF FRANCIS draw guns and aim them at MARIO SCUIONI.

BODYGUARD
Um...Boss, you might want to look around.

MARIO SCUIONI looks around.

OFFICER STRATER and CHIEF FRANCIS
In the name of the law, freeze! You are under arrest for money laundering, murder, grand theft auto, Teletubby torture and other disturbing forms of torture!

MARIO SCUIONI
What! This is not Lincoln's house, this is da police headquarters. I have been tricked!

7. INT. THE BATHROOM (Flashback)

TOM BAKER is standing in the middle of the bathroom dialing a number on his cell phone.

TOM BAKER
Hello, um yes-is this the police?

He pauses, and a loud irritating noise comes from the phone.

TOM BAKER
Oh sorry, wrong number.

He dials again.

8. INT. POLICE HEADQUARTERS-DAY

TOM BAKER
When you let me go to the bathroom you made a huge mistake! During that time, I called the police.

CHIEF FRANCIS
Now Scuioni, you're going to be spending a lot of time with me.

OFFICER STRATER and CHIEF FRANCIS drag MARIO SCUIONI and his bodyguards away.

MARIO SCUIONI
Curse you Tom Baker! Curse you!

9. INT.TOM BAKER'S APARTMENT-AFTERNOON

TOM BAKER is wearing a shirt and jeans. He is working at his computer


TOM BAKER
Okay, I have two clues, one is that whoever hired the thief would benefit some how from the acquisition of the stories, two is that the person who hired the thief gave us a false tip to go to the Mafia, but wait! What if the tip didn't exist? Ah! That's it! I know who is responsible for the theft!

TOM BAKER starts typing.

10. INT. THE NEW YORK POST OFFICES-MORNING

MIKE SHUGER is the editor of the New York Post. He is wearing a suit and is sitting at his desk.

TOM BAKER enters and walks to MIKE SHUGER's desk. TOM BAKER is wearing a overcoat and a hat. He is holding a piece of paper.

MIKE SHUGER
Hey, you work for the New York Times, don't you?

TOM BAKER
Yep, I work for Lincoln.

MIKE SHUGER
What are you here for? I don't want to hear any insults or anything.

TOM BAKER
I'm here to give you a story.

TOM BAKER throws the paper in his hand on MIKE SHUGER’S desk. MIKE SHUGER begins to look it over.

MIKE SHUGER
Holy smokes! This... is incredible. You'll get front page and two thousand dollars for this one!

MIKE SHUGER and TOM BAKER exit in a hurry.

9. INT.A PRISON – DAY

MARIO SCUIONI is a prisoner. He is wearing a white and gray uniform. He is sitting in his cell with a newspaper.


MARIO SCUIONI
Mama Mia! Da Baker finished his story.

MARIO SCUIONI reads aloud from a paper.

MARIO SCUIONI
A couple days ago some stories were stolen from da New York Post. Da perpetrator of this crime was no other than Tristan Lincoln, editor of the New York Times. Lincoln hired a thief named Georgio Acampelli from a undercover thievery company masquerading as a diamond shop, to steal the stories. Lincoln wanted to ruin the his chief rival the New York Post and run the stolen stories in the New York Times. Acampelli was found dead and Lincoln was arrested for grand theft.

(Fade to black.).
Read more!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Congratulations Louis Evans!


Louis Evans, 17, has been a regular at Writopia, dazzling us all with his daring, complex fiction and with his astute, thoughtful critiques for almost a year. Louis was one of 3000 seniors nationwide to submit a portfolio of his writing to the Scholastic Awards this year--and of that admirable group of young people, he was one of the 52 recognized with national honors. Congrats to Louis for winning a silver medal for his general portfolio (including poetry, memoir, science fiction, and realistic fiction). On top of that, his piece, Quis? (also submitted within his portfolio) was recognized with a national Gold Key (only 400 of 40,000 individual submissions are honored with this type of award). Please help Louis celebrate his accomplishments by reading his prose:

Quis?


Mark was fourteen when he first began to disappear, three weeks after his fourteenth birthday. It was something of a whim, then, as he didn’t appreciate what it would lead to.

He didn’t raise his hand in response to a question in class.

Now, to you or me of course, that seems a bit trivial and ridiculous, but it was the first time in Mark’s memory that he’d done that, and he was surprised to find that sitting there, staring up at the math board, hands idly drumming on the desk, gave him a kernel of obstinate joy. He’d always got by on the other kind of happiness, the warm mushy slightly curdled feeling of constant low-grade rightness. But this was different, a hard knot of fragrance that reminded him of chestnuts rather than gruel—altogether tastier.

He considered trying more.

At lunch, he walked into the cafeteria and sat at his customary table, surrounded by friendly like-minded acquaintances, sat down. Drummed his fingers.

Around him, spitballs and hands flew, voices raised in an inane chatter. He saw Greg, sitting next to him, exchanging pokes with that girl he’d never admit he liked. Mark opened his mouth, preparing words: Hey Greg! Greg! How’s your girlfriend—and Greg would try to laugh it off, trade sandwiches with Mark and then the both of them would turn towards Carl. But instead, Mark closed his mouth.

He felt it, deep in the pit of his stomach: the same warm sludge. What was its point, anyway? So instead of blaring at Greg, loud honks splattering across the room, he simply glanced down at his hands, and let the noise pour over him.

“So, uh, I was thinking, maybe . . .” Greg trailed off. Again. Mark sighed in silence. Greg was always trailing off like that, always at the last sentence. And that girl—Julie, right?—would always cock her head and give a little half sigh, and then poke him.

It was a little bit ridiculous. Not that Carl, trying to trade a clearly bitten Twix for M&Ms, was much better.

Mark stood up. Someone’s sandwich wrapper flipped past his head. Nobody seemed to notice.

Then he threw out his food, and went back to class early.



Mark’s alarm clock went off at 6:53 the next morning, continuing its noble tradition of edging up a minute whenever it thought nobody was looking. Mark awoke and dressed groggily, the repeating bra-att bra-att adding a hidden rhythm to his scattered, woolly, dust-bunny thoughts. He grabbed his bag—carefully organized and packed the night before—from his desk and stumbled out of the door, slapping the clock into rueful silence.

He slogged his way downstairs and into the kitchen, setting down his backpack and hopping up onto a stool. He shuffled his shoulders subconsciously, throwing off echoes of certain types of mice, burrowing themselves backward into the ground.

His mother entered the room, and told him to tuck in his shirt. How she saw his waistline, hidden as it was, pressed into the crevice between the stool and the countertop, was beyond him.

“I’m not going to tuck in my goddamn shirt because I don’t care what you think!” he utterly failed to shout. He tucked in his shirt. But he didn’t say, “Yes, mom,” either.

His mother nodded with satisfaction and pointed out that he’d forgotten to put his pens in his breast pocket. He’d stopped doing that nearly a year ago, and hadn’t responded to her comments since then. Which didn’t stop her from noticing it every morning. He mumbled at her, and she shook her head, reminding him that he always had to look his best. Didn’t she always look her best?

Mark was forced to admit that he’d never seen so much as a hair out of place or a speck of dust on her razor-creased pantsuits, but whether or not that was her “best,” he felt, was still open for debate. He glared at the bowl of cereal she slid before him, and as the cheerios swam into perfect geometric rows, he felt bile rise in his throat.

His father came in, told him to smile more and smiled theatrically himself. Great white teeth like alabaster calling cards popped out of his mouth. Mark didn’t smile back.

He chucked Mark under the chin, and when that didn’t work, held him in a serious gaze, the broad smile hanging fully-formed but misshapen under suddenly irritable eyes. Mark didn’t smile back.

Fazed, Mark’s father regrouped: he bustled round the kitchen, poured coffee, got a bagel, kissed Mark’s mother—a swift peck on the lips—and rushed out.

Mark’s mother busied herself with the coffee machine, but when she turned around to look for her son, he wasn’t there anymore—dragged away in his father’s wake, no doubt. Wasn’t that odd?

Mark sat on the stool, waiting to be told to do something about his hair. But his mother turned away distractedly. He cleared his throat, about to say something—and stopped. He didn’t want to hear about his stupid hair anyway.

So he picked up his bag and left.



And it was a month later; he’d changed. Fast. His only concession to speech in class was at the beginning, during roll call. When he could get away with it, he’d just raise his hand. But it didn’t always work. Teachers, even the young ones who still tried to make school fun, peered around the room, searching for it: when they’d fail to find it, they’d try his name again, and he’d be forced to interject: “yes, I’m here.”

They’d cough, awkwardly, say, “oh, yes, I see,” and keep moving down the list. He still handed in homework, but he considered it an increasingly pointless act: they seemed to grade him much the same regardless.

He wondered: why was this so easy? Or was it life before—hands stretched and little gasps for attention in the back of his throat—that had been hard?

Lunches were different, too. He’d forgone the cafeteria, which had lost its final few attractions. Tradable, multicolored candy hurt his eyes and teeth. Greg had finally finished off his eternal sentence and he and Julie were hard to find and awkward to encounter.

Carl no longer seemed worth the effort.

So Mark went out on walks. The school hired a security guard whose job, was, nominally, to glower at children who tried things like that, but mostly he read USA Today and put his feet up, fingers dabbed with French fry grease. He never noticed Mark.

So Mark found his walks rather easy. His school was near the park on one hand, and the river on the other. He’d go to either one depending on his mood, or sometimes just set off downtown or up, sliding through crowds. But most of the time he found himself on a short winding dirt path in the park, just this side of the cherry buds. March was turning into April and they were turning from green to white, which he felt provided a nice ambiance although he did not rely on it.

Instead, he watched people. It was fun and it was, he felt, a useful way of spending his time, because if he watched them, then they wouldn’t be invisible like he was. It was alright for him, he felt, but he was sure they would think differently, and so he sat perhaps a bit more formally than he might have otherwise, and would go home each day with a sense not only of having enjoyed himself, but having done something worthwhile, too. People came down the dirt path doing anything under the sun you could imagine, kissing and fighting, fuming and singing and generally with their hearts written on their sleeves, and he saw them. They thought they were alone, because they didn’t see him back. And perhaps they were: no matter how loud he laughed or sighed they didn’t seem to notice him. He, on the other hands, could see everything about them, even, he was finding, shadows of the past and future, shy couples married in two years and passionate ones fighting in one, and he sighed, for reasons he couldn’t understand and wouldn’t have admitted if he did. Sometimes he was sad, too, like with the angry man coming from his office where his boss had rummaged through his desk and stolen his ideas. Mark thought of saying things, sometimes, but it always seemed a bit too silly. Excuse me, sir, but you’re going to break your leg crossing that road if you don’t look up from your mope—and they like you anyway, it’s not worth your femur . . .

So he sat, and watched, and the cherry blossoms budded next to him.

And things stayed that way, for a time. Mark would leave with enough time to make it back to class and he’d expend the minimum amount of energy to get his name on the attendance sheet and vanish, letting himself sink into the receptive quiet he adopted in the park. It might have gone on that way for quite a while, too.



But then things changed, again. It was a Tuesday, the second Tuesday in April. He was at the river, which was unusual. (He’d more or less given up on the river, because the boats realized that they were in public and so were far less funny than the people in the park, but every now and then he felt disinterested in people, so he would return to the river.) At first, he’d contented himself with a cul-de-sac a block away and thirty feet up, which was the closest he could get to the water without walking half a mile north or south. But then he realized that they never bothered to lock that little door to the construction site on the left, because they kept coming in and out of it. So he’d simply slip through, and make a right turn at the pyramid of unused aluminum tubes, and a left at the port-a-potties, skirting the piles of fresh mocha dirt and the sprawled workers eating ham sandwiches, and then pop out the plywood door at the other end. And then he’d get to one of the real gems of the city that you find sometimes, an abandoned pier. He’d walk down one of the few surviving lengthwise struts, tightrope style. Not that he needed to: it was a comfortable five or six feet wide, but it was fun nevertheless.

And it was by that customary method that he found himself, on the second Tuesday in April, with hints of fog encroaching on the margins of the sky, sitting at the end of the pier, watching the tugboats go by, when, turning to the left, he saw her.

She was sitting cross-legged next to him, peering at him closely, with a sort of clinical intent that was not unfriendly but uncomfortable. Her hair was brown and long and hung indifferently. Her facial features were essentially unremarkable, except for her eyes, which were set at an angle perhaps five degrees past where Mark’s head kept insisting they should be set, which added somewhat to the effect of her gaze. She wore a fleece—dark, anonymous—and jeans, neither of which, Mark noticed with a twitch of embarrassed disappointment, was filled out in a particularly fascinating way.

He blushed, realizing he was staring. She stared back.

“How’d you find me?” he asked, when it became clear she had no interest in speaking. His voice came out rusty. He couldn’t remember the last thing he’d said, aside from “yes, I’m here.”

“Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?” she said, smirking at him.

“Wha—what?”

“It’s Latin,” she said, a superior look on her face. “Look it up.”

“I will—but how did you find me?” he spluttered. Plaintively, now, and almost on the verge of tears. For so long he had just wanted to stay alone, but now he didn’t and—

“Man,” she said, more to herself than him. The boy sitting across from her practically weeping, and fixing his clothes at the same time was singularly unimpressive. He was barely invisible at all.

“I thought you were like me. I thought you were better than this.” She paused, and he opened his mouth, closed it, opened it again, too late. “Yeah, you got nothing. This was a waste of my time,” she said, standing up as if to leave. She didn’t enjoy messing with him like this but it was necessary. He was still clinging to his old life. He needed a push—something to send him out the door. Something like what had been done to her.

Mark somehow got his mouth to switch to the on position, and found himself replying, albeit incoherently: “Listen, you can’t just show up and give me crap like this and not even give me something—I mean, I’m serious, I’m not a waste—I mean—”

She sighed, nodded. “Listen,” she said. “You’ve got three weeks. Meet me at the park then. Maybe we’ll talk. Right now, I’m kind of busy.”

And she left, high-wiring down the pier in a deliberate mockery of how he walked—but when he had to turn to keep looking at her, she was gone.



Mark threw himself into the next three weeks like he hadn’t ever before. He went to the public library, instead of back to school, cutting class for his first time. He leaned across the desk to ask about a Latin-English dictionary—but “better than this” echoed humiliatingly through his head, he sighed, leaned back, and found it on his own.

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes: “Who watches the watchmen?” It was cute. It was damn cute. I’ll show her “better than this!”

He took out Alice In Wonderland—really, just took—and went back to school, for lack of a better place to go, and he read all the passages with the Cheshire Cat, and smiled, great, big, scimitar-shaped smiles. He finished fast, and got up in the middle of class and strolled out the door. Nobody noticed him.

He took Invisible Man and The Invisible Man, and read their vanishing pages in alternating orders, practicing breathing in a slow, steady, shallow way. He practiced walking, too, heel toe heel toe, soft even in his flapping sandals, which it was suddenly warm enough to wear.

He read Plato, and laughed at the invisible man who committed the crimes. Nobody understood: they saw it far away, or metaphorically.

He forswore all speaking, suddenly marked absent in every class as the teachers scanned the room and couldn’t see him—and then, because simply dropping those few words was child’s play, he stopped speaking in his dreams. School, he realized, was not worth his time, and so he’d hike up and downtown with a look of quiet focus on his face, as though working through yoga poses he could barely imagine. He tried to get closer and closer to people without them noticing, even though they glanced in all directions, on full alert.

Then he tried for traffic. He knew it was dangerous, but it felt less scary than before. Those past and future shadows came more strongly to him now, and he no longer had trouble dodging cars.

He read 1984, and wrote his name down on a little scrap of paper, then stole the art teacher’s cigarette lighter and burnt his name, looking away. When all that was left was a little pile of ash in his reddened palm he blew on it, and it vanished into the sky.

He walked over the Brooklyn Bridge, back and forth one Saturday, on the bike lanes and the walking lanes, the car lanes and the train tracks and at the end, he hopped onto the sidewalk and smiled, tautly. Then he went into a Starbucks and bought a coffee from a barista who spaced out, suddenly, upon his entrance, but who nevertheless took the five and didn’t ask questions. He picked up his tall mocha latte and the man tried to thank him for coming to Starbucks, but couldn’t remember Mark’s name. And then he couldn’t remember that Mark had ever existed, so he threw out the receipt that was, oddly enough, in his hand, and went to go switch the soy milk.



Mark’s parents hadn’t really noticed his transformation. His mother’s eyes, once so piercing when it came to his wardrobe or hairdo, slid over his rumpled t-shirts like an eighteen-wheeler on an unexpected ice patch. His father tried to chuck his chin every once in a while, but missed more than he connected. But when they received rapid-fire string of concerned calls from teachers, requesting absence notes, they noticed.

So they sent Mark to a shrink. He went, dutifully, but firm in his conviction that what she—Dr. Marsha—sought to accomplish was both ridiculous and outside her power.

“So, Mark,” she said, “Tell me about your life.”

He refused to talk: not speaking was the best possible practice for not speaking he could imagine. But he was willing to scribble on a pad, and she seemed to take that well, for now.

4 the past 2 months i’ve been disappearing

“And how’ve you been doing that, Mark?”

not hard. i realized i’ve been working my whole life to stay appeared—who needs that?

Dr. Marsha stared at the smiling boy sitting across from her. She knew why he was there and had expected some surly mess looking at her as if trying to burn her with his hatred, but he just sat on the couch and smiled peacefully. She envied him, for a second there, but then pushed it out of her head. She had a job to do.

“Well, Mark, there are many things you can only get from people.”

He didn’t like that she kept saying his name: it felt like she was forcing him to stay appeared, against his will.

stop saying my name he wrote.

“Why does that bother you, M—ahmm. Do you dislike your name?”

no problem with my name. but stop saying it anyway.

“Well, fine. We’re here to talk any way you’d like. So what is it like, being ‘disappeared’?”

it’s fine you don’t have to do anything but watch people.

“Well,” she said, “well, uh, ahmm.”

He looked at her with faint surprise. Her eyes had defocused and she wasn’t looking at the pad she was writing on, anymore.

“Ermm—ahem,” she muttered, glancing around. She tried to remember who she was meeting with, but it kept slipping away. So she went over to her desk and started opening her mail.

Mark smiled to himself, a great big beaming smile that he’d practiced from Alice In Wonderland, for just this occasion, and walked out.



The next day—the first Tuesday in May—he left the house quietly, so as not to disturb his parents, and he went to school for the last time. He hung around until lunch, stealing the French fries from under the security guard’s nose and putting post its on every locker in the grade. They spelled out “Farewell!” but out of order—he was starting to get the hang of this disappearing trick.

Then, at lunch, he strode confidently into the lunchroom. Around him, his classmates poured like earthbound shadows, thin and plodding simultaneously. He found the center table in the cafeteria, the one occupied by students so stratospherically cool he would have been hard-pressed to trip over their bags only a few months before. He hopped up onto the bench between two of them, and then up onto the table. He stamped one foot down on it, and shouted at the top of his lungs:

“I, Mark Feldman, am out of here!”

The lunchroom went on, unnoticing. Did that kid in the corner glance up? Maybe just a trick of the light, or a coincidence. He glanced away soon enough, regardless.

Mark chuckled, stepped down, and left.



He walked to the park. He thought he might understand the girl’s motives better now, if they were anything like his own, and he didn’t really worry about place or time. The place would be the same as always, the time whenever he got there.

Nevertheless, he decided not to let her get away without a little ragging for how snide she was last time. He took a long way around, out past the cherry blossoms and back. She might not know about it if she’d simply been following him before. And, true to his guess, there she was, sitting on the bench. He was struck by how real she suddenly looked, filling her t-shirt and capris, now, not with body parts but simply self, in comparison to the crowds and things that sloughed around him, thin and wisplike. He snuck up on her anyway, put his hands on her eyes and whispered:

“Guess who?”

She started, swatted his hands away. He laughed as she turned and recognized him. She shot him a glare but gave up on it, ending in the flashbulb brilliance of a smile.

She indicated the seat next to her. Mark sat.

“I wasn’t sure you’d show up,” she said.

“Me either,” Mark replied.

“I’m really impressed,” she said, smiling again.

“Thank you,” Mark said, with a little seated half-bow. She laughed.

“Sorry I gave you such a hard time, before,” she said, but he shrugged it off.

“So,” he said, “what do you do?”

“Mostly this,” she said, “mostly this. It’s more fun than they give it credit for.”

They sat on the bench, while just up the dirt path it rained cherry petals.

And I haven’t seen either of them since.


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Friday, April 17, 2009

Writopia's Dan on NY1!

Writopia Lab's in-house playwright, Dan Kitrosser, co-wrote and produced a children's musical that won much wonderful media attention this week. Check out Dan's Time Out Kids review and his NY1 spot after the jump!!


video


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Monday, April 13, 2009

Congratulations Noa Bendit-Shtull!

Noa, 16, was the original inspiration for Writopia Lab... Four years later, she has won her second national gold key from Scholastic, this time, for her memoir, "Existential Applications." Please help her celebrate by reading her essay:

Existential Applications

I have a knack for applications. Egged on by my mother, who keeps “to-do” lists on Post-it notes that litter our familial existence, I shuffle off down the hall to my room to commence my duty as the offspring of two high-strung professionals who have racked up five Ivy League degrees between them. I jog back down the hall and break off a square of chocolate from the extra-dark bar that has an eternal home on the corner of the dining room table before returning to the dimly-lit refuge of my appropriately obstinate teenage existence. These are deeply ingrained rituals, a mixture of calculated procrastination and psychological preparation.

Preparation has played a vital part in my history of applications, which extends back to my mental Stone Age. My parents used to climb into my siblings’ and my beds, clambering up ladders and ducking under wooden frames, to say goodnight. My father would immediately doze off amidst a pile of balding teddy bears and one-eared rabbits. My mother, on the other hand, took the opportunity to get a head start on interview training. As we sank into blissful, eight-hour-plus, pre-high school slumber, she would ask us questions. “Do you like your mom or your dad better?” she would ask deliberately. As we struggled to respond, weighing the day’s ice creams and bedtime stories with complex rubrics, she would prompt, “This is a force choice question…” I would respond eagerly, echoing her: “This is a force choice question. I like my mom and my dad equally, but for different reasons.” Our repertoire of potential interview questions and ripostes expanded as we mastered force-choice and moved on to hypothetical questions (“As I am not the president of the United States, I refuse to speculate”).


In ninth grade, I dutifully presented myself at my mother’s desk after dinner. Her mantra, to have an “open” mind, reverberated in my head. Having an “open” mind meant accepting constructive criticism, trying new things, and never chucking applications for prestigious programs into the recycle bin. I pictured opening iron locks, shifting steel beams and titanium crossbars, inner hinges clicking mechanically. My self-diagnosed stubbornness was a barrier comparable to the stony fortresses and impenetrable enchantments that protected Hogwarts castle, relic imagery from my middle-school days.

On Wednesday afternoon—the appointment was immediately marked on my mother’s Palm Pilot—I would have an interview as part of my application to Camp Rising Sun, an international leadership program. My mother, a business communications professor, had scheduled her own appointment with me—a coaching session on self-presentation for an interview. I was instructed to shake hands firmly, with a smile. I practiced, initially extending a sheepish “dead fish,” and then acquiescing with a tighter grip. She played the role of the interviewer, and I played the confident, top-scoring, New York Times-reading, fiction-writing, extracurricular-attending, (top) college-aspiring student. “Tell me about yourself. What do you do outside of school? What are your strengths? Why are you interested in attending Camp Rising Sun?” My responses were punctuated by my mother’s reminders (“eye contact”) and her hastily swallowed critique.

The interview was presented to me as a way to distinguish myself, separate myself from the rest of the adolescent pack. I was called upon to utilize my accumulation of verbal and social skills to make some sort of impression. But to me it seemed like institutionalized cheating, sophistry. I vaguely wondered if all of the other applicants realized what the interview really was. It was an opportunity to take myself—my body of meager accomplishments, awards, and experiences—and dress it up in eloquence, charm, and a fair measure of bullshit. I was simultaneously the artist and the block of Sculpey. I molded myself to the interviewer, pressing lumps of malleable terracotta clay into the cracks and crevices of his expectations and biases.

When the interviewer, a young alum of the program, asked me about my opinions on current events, I desperately racked my brain for information. My perusals of the New York Times are generally limited to the Style, Home and Dining sections, supplemented by the occasional flip through the Metro Section. When my journalistic bible yielded nothing but an op-ed on the season’s “in” colors and a review of Village eateries, I was momentarily stymied. I imagined blurting that the only reason I sporadically attend current events club at school is for my weekly dose of salt-and-vinegar chips. Just as my contemplative hush ripened into uncomfortable silence, I had an epiphany. I launched into an explanation of my contentions concerning the immigration situation on the Mexican border. I managed heavy, deep, and insightful; I blew him away. But it didn’t feel good. I felt like a con artist.
The situation was unnerving, but totally familiar—almost generic. Generations of first-time job applicants have struggled to list their weaknesses, grasping at the ultimate ratio of modesty to honesty to self-confidence. Some fail miserably, joining the hordes of the undistinguished unemployed. Others, the lucky chosen few, catch a current under their meticulously preened wings and coast along on conscious or subconscious quasi-pretense. Is anybody every really, absolutely, truthfully qualified for any position or program or summer camp-turned-résumé filler? Am I the only one who can’t sleep at night because the world eats up my truths decked out with lies and served up with a smile and a firm handshake? Dare I speculate, Mom?
But beyond these moral quandaries, interviews and applications pose more personal, more distressing problems. Why is it so easy for me to create a version of myself that molds to any situation? Does my personality lack strong foundations? Am I just a collection of whims dumped pell-mell into a hollowly talented brain?

Maybe my supposed interest in architecture is not founded on anything within me.

Maybe instead, it springs from years and years of compliments and encouragements that insinuated their way into my collaged persona. I used to be the artistic girl: the toddler who made the prettiest macaroni necklaces, the child who built houses for her dolls from cardboard boxes, and the teenager who attended annual origami conventions. More recently, I became the mathematician girl, the student who knew all the answers and always volunteered to explain them in multi-colored dry-erase markers on the whiteboard. All the praise and attention might have—must have—convinced me that architecture was my destiny, the perfect amalgamation of creativity and logic, custom- made by special order. Because otherwise—if my architectural ambitions were intrinsic—my application to an architecture program at the MoMA would not have felt like such a sham.

Armed with a healthy dose of chocolate, I began my MoMA application, a magnificent façade constructed from bricks of drab truth: “I am very artistic and I like to design, so a visually oriented career would suit me well. I love working with my hands and my mind to form unique ideas and creations. I want to learn how I can use these skills in a career I love.” Good, start with a clichéd answer to a clichéd question. Hackneyed, hackneyed, hackneyed. Next: After lulling the reader into a satisfactory stupor, quote. Not just any quote—quote somebody famous, somebody dead. Quote the president of the United States of America. In this case architect R. Buckminster Fuller, who conveniently expressed the sentiments characteristic of the ultimate architecture program applicant: “When I am working on a problem, I never think about beauty…but when I have finished, if the solution is not beautiful, I know it is wrong.” Marvelous. Finally, take the opportunity to express your sincere, heartfelt, tail-wagging enthusiasm: “I want to reiterate how excited I am about this program. It sounds interesting, inspiring and fun, and I would love to take advantage of all the opportunities the MoMA has to offer.”

I didn’t lie, but I didn’t exactly tell the truth either. True, I hadn’t Googled “smart architect quotes,” and I legitimately thought the quote was cool, but I just thought the quote was cool. I wasn’t invested in architecture any more than I was invested in R. Buckminster Fuller. Maybe in some parallel universe, honesty is the norm, not just an ideal decorated, displayed on a pedestal, and then shoved into the closet to be taken out and polished on the Day of Atonement. And maybe in that universe applications that read “You know, I just thought architecture was sort of cool, because you get to build and stuff. And like, it’ll look soooo good on college applications” are standard fare in the management offices of prestigious firms. But among my peers, who score in the top percentile on standardized tests, scoring in the top percentile on sincerity just doesn’t make the cut.

With all of these worries in mind, I face the greatest challenge yet: the college application. It is perceived as the application of all applications, both a confirmation of sixteen years of labor, and a key to the real world. The stress of putting on a mask for a college application is partially alleviated by the knowledge that the schools themselves are also participating in this game of charades. Colleges try to sell themselves to their ideal students just as applicants vie for admission at their ideal institutions.

There is a definite irony behind this academic masquerade ball, even in an age when irony is as over-diagnosed as peanut allergies and ADD. And speaking of irony, I wonder: What if I sent this personal essay to colleges as part of my supplementary material? In a process that is always precarious, this essay could potentially tip me over the edge. How would colleges, who ask for the truth, respond to a sincere expression of my qualms? This essay, a rare specimen of pure me, might jeopardize my chances at collegiate Texas hold’em.

But don’t try this at home, kids! A memoir cannot and should not replace any type of application. On the other hand, they are not entirely foreign literary entities. An application, like a memoir, can be an avenue for self-discovery. If a memoir is a cheaper alternative to therapy, then an application is a personal appointment with Nietzsche. A memoir asks, “How do I feel about that?” while an application asks, “Who the hell am I?” The question isn’t rhetorical and it isn’t hypothetical; it demands a solid answer, and I can’t politic my way around it.

So far, none of the applications I have written have successfully answered that vital question. But for years, I have had an unvoiced, perhaps unacknowledged hope that my college applications will be 100% truth. I long to write an application that I can read over and over again and feel like I am reading about myself, not some unfamiliar architecture enthusiast or devoted scholar of Asiatic languages. I want an epiphany. I want to cross that one last thing off of my to-do list. But at the very least, my philosophy-induced anxiety will abate with the help of a new prescription: a dose of memoir therapy, one and a half pages daily.

***
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Saturday, April 11, 2009

2009 Golden Apple Teacher Award Awarded to Rebecca Wallace-Segall : Win #2!


Congrats are in order for Writopia Lab Founder and Executive Director Rebecca Wallace-Segall!

For the second year in a row, Writopia Lab has been awarded Scholastic's Gold Apple Teacher Award!



Writopia Lab won more Scholastic national awards than any other group in the country!

Help us celebrate Rebecca's back to back achievements in 2008, and now, 2009!

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Friday, April 10, 2009

National Public Radio Features Special Interview with Writopia's Eunju Namkung



National Public Radio will be featuring a special interview with 2009 Scholastic National Silver Awards Medalist (NonFiction Portfolio and General Portfolio)
Eunju Namkung, 18. The show will air on Sunday, April 12, on the program Weekend Edition Sunday. Broadcast times may vary, so be sure to check the listings on your local NPR station for Weekend Edition. Tune in on Sunday!


If you miss the interview, check the Weekend Edition Sunday site on Sunday after 1pm to hear an archived version of the segment.

Yay Eunju!!
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Thursday, April 9, 2009

National Silver Key - "Renaissance Faire" by Isis Yoon


Isis Yoon, 13, is a prolific writer who could not finish a story... but when she finally did, she won a 2009 national silver key from Scholastic for her memoir, "Renaissance Fair"!! Please help her celebrate by reading her work:

Renaissance Faire

I’d kept my umbrella up for so long that I didn’t notice it had stopped raining—the sky was still flat with fog from horizon to horizon. The rain had faded from a vigorous shower to a drizzle to a fall as fine as mist, and it was only when I started absently gazing around the park that I realized the drizzle had ended. I collapsed the black umbrella and stuffed it inside my bag.

It’s slightly disconcerting how much an umbrella blocks your upper vision, so much that you don’t detect it until the obstruction’s been removed. You can see all the things you didn’t notice before: the crows perched heavily on the top branches of trees, the bare boughs on some twisting and reaching with spindly fingers to the gray heavens, the enormous orange banner hooked on two opposite trees on either side of the road reading something like, “WELCOME TO THE MEDIEVAL FESTIVAL!” in curly Gothic script. Below, a slow but steady stream of people trickled into the festival filing past the costumed performers with the air of vague embarrassment like tourists in their own city.

Inside, a few men dressed in gaudy uniforms stood with fake halberds in their hands and called for donations to be dropped into “Thee Wishinge Welle,” a wooden cart painted red, green, and gold, built in the shape of a well. The occasional person stuffed a dollar through the grid of wooden slats over the top. Next to it was a cheese-tasting stall, and further on were three lonely-looking people playing the accordion. Past them were booths full of T-shirts emblazoned with dragons and swords and sorcery, tents of strange wooden sculpture and silvery necklaces, and a stand presenting barbecue ribs proclaimed to be “Dragon Fingers!” Two sweating men with pots on their heads battered at each other with heavy wooden swords, armored feet slipping in the damp and chilly mud; a bored-looking woman sold incense and Celtic-knot earrings; a man with a small goatee, a red and black leather outfit, and the air of a marquis surveyed the fair accompanied by two laughing women in black corsets.

This is Fort Tryon Park—but for one day, cold and wet, it pretties up the past and sends it tearing through the fields and pathways of the modern day. This is the Medieval Festival, the bizarre time that makes reasonably sane but eccentric people dress up in odd costume—the event that has taken over my life.



* * *

My first home, the memories of which are lost in the foggy mists of childhood, was a small apartment in Washington Heights, near the George Washington Bridge. I can’t remember it for the life of me, the only proof I had ever lived there being pictures of my two-year-old self, swaddled in duck-patterned blankets like some huge wailing grub, and my long-haired parents looking unusually proud of creating such a fat little creature. We were only a few blocks away from the park, so my parents had probably stumbled upon the festival by chance, maybe while taking a walk or driving to the Cloisters museum.

Some families have traditions like donating money to worthwhile causes every Christmas, or baking the best cakes in the neighborhood for their children's birthdays. Mine? We go to the Medieval Festival every year, a slapdash revival of a romanticized version of the Renaissance. And people wonder why I’m such a dork.

Even when we moved to a different part of the city, we still attended. Even when we moved out of the state when I was six, we still attended. We crossed the bridge from New Jersey just to bask in the strangeness that permeates the whole festival for a few hours. Though it proclaims itself to be a messenger from the past, there is really nothing very accurate about it. All the nasty bits of history have been sliced off by some overzealous editor and cast onto the cutting-room floor to make a prettied-up, toned-down version of the Renaissance with about the realistic depth of a kiddie matinee. Of course, the costumes are rich and exotic and the weapons are gloriously sharp and pointy, but why is there a Viking wandering around with a corseted vampire duchess on his arm, gazing at steel ninja stars inlaid with golden dragons which are more fit to hang on walls than to be thrown into someone’s skull? Reality was politically incorrect, had far too much blood, and was way too smelly. It’s all smoke-and-mirrors enchantment, which fades away the next morning.

I suppose we also went to rejoin old friends and meet new ones, but that reason for attending became null once most of our old friends moved to Arizona or Europe and I became increasingly reluctant to strike up conversations with random children. At one point, as I searched for meaningful reasons that might explain why we have stuck with this anachronistic fair for so long, up till the present day, I realized a very obvious one. It wasn’t because it helps us reconnect with our inner child, or because it lets us fool ourselves into dreaming up a romanticized past, but simply because I need yearly confirmation that there are others weirder than me. Watching the warriors in their handmade armor and wielding thousand-dollar blunted swords (who are walking alongside self-proclaimed vampires with dozens of piercings who had apparently just bought pickles from a Captain Jack Sparrow impersonator), I feel almost comfortable in a black shirt, black pants, black Converse, enormous black jacket, and black hat that is nevertheless fading to lighter shades with accumulated dust and sun-bleaching—and almost normal next to someone carrying a gigantic replica Excalibur on his back.

And then I go to school the next day and glare at the idiot who shouts out “emo!” as I pass his locker and write German swearwords on my hands in ink and talk about how “morphodite” was actual Victorian slang for “hermaphrodite” and get mistaken for a boy and pin yet another button on my hat and realize that normality is relative, and that for the time being, I am about the strangest person in the class – at least in the eyes of the overwhelming majority. I don’t really mind. It’s fun, and I know that next year I’ll go back to the festival all over again and be able to feel almost-but-not-quite ordinary for just one day.

After all, who is really in the mainstream, anyway?

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Monday, April 6, 2009

On Adolescence - Gold Key Poetry from Sarah Dash!



Congratulations Sarah Dash, 16, for her first national gold key from the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards for the poem below. Please help her celebrate by reading her poetry:

On Adolescence

I. Attitude (Us)

On the subway I saw a woman,

young, already rotting,

a persimmon,

hands deep in hooded-jacket pockets,

touching her boyfriend only where

their elbows meet at the crease

before their forearms burrowed into their respective pockets like such lazy young rattlesnakes, ready at a moment’s notice—

unthreatening, for now.

The adolescent and her boyfriend

are identical in position—legs wide, feet planted, firm as roots,

backs resting too comfortably on blue plastic seats, and

hands so deeply engaged

in pockets. They are both asleep. The boyfriend sways

with the familiar harmony of the train’s lull,

mouth lazily kept stiff—wait—his lower lip

droops. His eyelids rest firmly over his eyeballs. The girl,

decaying from the ribcage outward, wakes more easily, jerking

and then settling.

Her eyes

remain somewhat open at the bottom, a good quarter-inch of eerie white eye remains exposed and I do not know

whether the young woman, with

eyes half open,

notices me staring. The persimmon jolts; curtained eyelids only flutter and return to their

half-hearted zombie glare, as if the mere act of totally shutting

is too difficult for them.

There is something striking about eyes not fully closed:

a certain fluorescence—

I admire their nonconformity.

I watch the woman’s eyes stutter and flit

like so many nervous, jumbled stagehands,

forever opening or closing the curtain at the wrong time.



They and I and eyes,

empty as a pocket;

all unsure, all quiet, for now.


II. Tumult (I)


1. Spit

You have a way with knees, and muttering,

and making me feel little and loquacious and clumsy

(like I walked through a spotlight meant for someone else—

unintentionally wonderful)

Like magenta in January.

And together—we are something calculated,

breathy, something warming from the inside out,

a certain fluttering below our skin:

skin on skin,

neither fumble nor failure,

but shoestring gladness.


2. Land

Neon, ticklish as flotsam,

You crash down glass

tunnels, driving like my grandfather on I-90

(eighty miles an hour at night; new cataracts)

Deciding like an overzealous newborn bird to be reckless;

like you know you can see through

my wax-paper skin and

I know that fly paper makes a hell of a mess.



3. Grime

Niceties ferment and fester here in this foamy pink maze, this

cushioned cave sitting not-so-quietly north of my neck.

Words bubble and reduce to something sour and ugly;

Words grow, sputter, and choke here under the

needle-pointed eyes of your picture

which hangs over my thoughtful yule log like it knows its place.

Words! Glory! March across my

eyelids until I choke, sputter, and grow.


4. Sweep

All this rabble and mess, tremors,

scars, and a certain translucency—

A Siren blasts.

You are a Siren blast.
You wade in and out of my peripherals like you have no respect for rules.
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Sunday, April 5, 2009

Congrats Cat!!


Caterina Armenter, 17, joined Writopia this past fall, completed her first piece of creative nonfiction, and won a 2009 regional gold key from Scholastic for it!! Please help Cat celebrate her accomplishments by reading her memoir, below:

Disorder
By Cat Armenter, 17

I was on the V train listening to my iPod and gazing at everyone sitting around me. It was the worst train ride of my life having to see passengers pity me and stare at my bloodshot eyes. I had never felt so paranoid. I was on my way home preparing myself for what I was getting. I knew I was high and I knew I couldn’t play it off. The minute I knocked on the apartment door my mother opens it, stares at me for a good five minutes and pulls me inside. It was the worst mistake I had made in my life, Melinda told me I would be fine by the time I got home. Damn.

“Sit down.” My mom pushed me on the sofa. She knew.

The whole time she was talking and lecturing me I tried my best to listen but I couldn’t. It was as if my mind and body weren’t working together and did their own thing.

Now that I think of it, I could’ve bought some eye drops at Duane Reade!

“Are you listening?” she added.

“Yes!” I yelled back

“What are you on? Your eyes are really red and glossy!”

“It’s just weed mom, I swear. It’s not a big deal! I only took like 3 pulls; I didn’t think I was going to end up like this.” I was telling the truth. But I knew it sure wasn’t going to make things better.

“Look at you! How could you do this to me? After all I have done for you.”



My mother began to cry. She felt as if she had failed as a single mom. I cried as well knowing I had failed as a daughter. Why did I do this? I didn’t even enjoy it. Is this improving my life?

In high school I knew everyone and everyone knew me. I was known for being a very independent person yet I got along with everyone. I was getting good grades, and I even joined the newspaper. Freshmen year I already began making friends with all the juniors and seniors. I hung out with them after school and I was invited to all the hip parties. It was an artsy high school, nothing like those preppy usual stereotype high schools, but what is a high school without gossip and cliques.

Everyday after school the potheads would go to the weed park. I wasn’t a pothead but I was their friend. I wasn't trying to look cool by hanging out with them. I hung out with them because other than the fact that they smoked, they were really cool people with interesting ideas and points of view. They were very open-minded; they didn’t care about their clothes or brand names. We would spend hours talking about politics, anarchism, George Bush, abortion, religion and other interesting topics. I never felt pressured by them if they offered a hit of their joint. I was never scared or insecure to say no.

I'm not trying to say I never smoked bud, if it was a Friday night and I knew I was in a safe place with lots of time on my hands I wouldn’t always reject the offer. I am very light weight though, so three pulls would always do enough for me.

Melinda is one of my best friends. We’ve had our share of fights but we always end up together again. We have different opinions on life but we always have a great time no matter what. I remember we smoked on a roof near St. Marks one day and listened to our favorite song, Disorder by Joy Division on our iPods. As we walked down the streets of the Lower East Side we were talking about philosophy and how life was all an illusion. Oh man, good times. We thought we were on top of the world. We were crazy but it was a good way to forget reality.

Not until recently did I start getting over the fact that my parents didn’t live together anymore and I was beginning to be glad about it. I would hate the way they argued and yelled at each other. It hurt me to know that they no longer loved one another and I had a feeling it was all because of me. I guess every kid goes through that stage when their parents divorce. I felt as if it was all because of me, I felt like I shouldn’t have been born to create hatred between a couple that loved each other.

My mother always had a hard time dealing with me. My education is her first priority and she makes sure I get good grades in every class. In her opinion anything below a 90 average is not good and it means that I’m not working hard enough. It gets stressful at times, especially since I’m the lazy kind of girl. I never fully understood why my mother was so obnoxious and strict, I was jealous of my friends because they had the freedom to do whatever they pleased. My curfew would be around 10pm, while the party was just getting started and my friends would be leaving by 1am.

Sundays were my favorite, my mom would let me sleep till 12 and have pancakes ready on the table. In my opinion those were the best pancakes I ever had.
The more I was on lockdown the more I wanted to rebel. But I was a child and I didn’t know better, I didn’t appreciate what I had.

As my mother continued to lecture me on life and my future, I began to worry about that 5 page research paper I had due the next day.

“You need to be focusing on your studies! Not worrying about your friends and smoking weed with them!” She tells me.

I blanked out.

“Listen to me! I’m talking to you” I didn’t understand why I had to listen to her blabber, why couldn’t she listen to me for a bit?

“Mom, I know you’re upset, I got the picture. I took a couple hits and that’s all. You should feel lucky that I'm not some kid going around tripping on acid or E. I get great grades! I’m not just some fuck up. I promise it won’t happen again. Now can I go to my room? I’m really tired.”

“I don’t care what other kids are doing, I’m not their mother. I care about you because you are my daughter and it’s my job to be the best mother I can be.”

And she was. As I thought about it, I realized that although she can get strict and annoying it just shows how much she cares for me. Once in a while we go out for dinner just the two of us, explore museums, or we could spend hours at Loehmann’s looking at clothes. My mom and I have a great time together and she deserved better, I appreciate everything she does for me but I never showed it.

The argument lasted a lifetime and I was grounded for a good month. I didn’t complain because I told her I understood where she was coming from. If I was her I’d do the same to my daughter. God knows I don’t want children though.

That night I received the silent treatment. We didn’t say a word the whole night and I could feel the tension between us. It was sad. I was disappointed in myself.

The next day I was quiet thinking things over and what we had discussed. I realized that my mother is my first priority and then come my friends. I thought about this for a long time. It took me a while. I thought of all my friends and how friends change easily and how I could never really trust them. I want my mom to be proud of me and see me grow up into a smart, strong, and independent woman.

The next morning I apologized to my mother. I was still grounded. Oh well. The best part was that we were talking to each other again and I really loved her and appreciated everything she did for me.

Funny enough, I never said anything about not smoking weed anymore. But it has been over 6 months that I have no interest in it. Don’t get me wrong, it can be fun, but I have better things to do.

After that day my grades began to improve and I felt more active. I joined a gym, took swimming classes and I joined a DNA after school program at the Museum of Natural History. I was still good friends with Melinda and she continues to smoke her blunts. I know that one day we’ll go our separate ways and things come and go. She told me one day she wanted to move to Amsterdam and open a marijuana cupcake café. Isn’t that funny?

Sometimes I tag along with her and her friends after school for a coffee or whatever but I don’t get too close with them, I have other plans ahead. I’m not quite sure what I want in life yet but I know for sure that I want to be happy. I want to afford to buy myself nice clothes, pay for a nice loft, eat good food, go out to a nice fancy restaurant once in a while, treat my friends to a drink and even help those in need.

I’m looking into medicine although that would be another 9 years of study. Oh man, wish me luck. My passion is and always will be photography but I know that I have no desire to struggle for a career living as an artist.

Sometimes I feel like I want to just let go of everything, just forget about all my problems and never have worries in life. That’s what drugs do to you, they make you forget about all your problems but the truth is that once you are sober again you realize that those problems are still there and you have to solve them. Everyone wants an easy breezy life, including me. But I know this can’t happen because people need to make choices in life, everyone makes mistakes in life, and we all have to go through obstacles and learn our lessons. I find people like Mother Teresa and Gandhi a great inspiration to people on this planet. If everyone were like them, then the world would be an amazing place. But there is no such thing as a perfect world, a Utopia. And how would we learn from our mistakes and improve if there was such a thing?
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Saturday, April 4, 2009

Reserve Tickets Now!

Writopia is holding its first annual celebratory theatrical reading at Scholastic Publishing's theater in SoHo on Tuesday, May 19th at 6:00pm in honor of our writers' remarkable accomplishments!

Over 60 of our writers (ages 8 and up) completed creative works over this last school year, 50 of whom (ages 12 to 18) submitted multiple pieces to the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards. Whether they won recognition or not, meeting this deadline in the face of all other academic pressure is an impressive accomplishment. Our event is in celebration of all of these writers; they are an astounding group of talented, dedicated writers.

In addition, we are thrilled that 83 of the Writopia pieces submitted won recognition this year on the regional level! And that while 1% of all submissions win national recognition, 15% of ours did this year! (Also, every single Writopia portfolio submitted won a regional gold key, and 3 won national silvers!) Also, one of our writers won Best Play in the 2008 YoungPlaywrights festival, and a dozen others were published this year in TeenInk Magazine, and other places.



However, it is important to remember that NO ONE wins the recognition they hope for each year. As my editor from the Village Voice used to say, "It takes three things to become a successful writer: Talent, Luck, and... Resilience!"

Email Celebration2009@WritopiaLab.org to reserve tickets!
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Friday, April 3, 2009

TeatroStageFest 2009 - April 8 Deadline!

Calling all Writopia writers!

TeatroStage Fest is sponsoring its 3rd Annual Young Playwrights Latino Challenge!


All NYC high school students are invited to participate, the only requirement is that one of the main characters must be Latino.


Plays can be any length and style, but entries must be postmarked by April 8,2009.



Each entrant receives written evaluation of their play by a theater professional, and an invitation to the Awards Ceremony. There is no limit to the number of plays each student may submit.


Find more details on this opportunity, including how to submit, here.


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Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Congratulations Heather!


We are so proud to announce Writopia teacher Heather Duffy-Stone's first novel, This Is What I Want to Tell You, received a great review in Publishers Weekly magazine last week. Celebrate her success by reading the review (below) and of course her book, which is available now at Amazon.com! Enjoy!



This Is What I Want to Tell You.
Stone, Heather Duffy (author).
Mar. 2009. 240p. Flux, paperback, $9.95 (9780738714509). Grades 9-12.
REVIEW. First published January 1, 2009 (Booklist).

Nadio and Noelle are 15-year-old twins; Noelle's best friend has always been Keeley; now Keeley has feelings for Nadio. Seem simple? It is. Fortunately, Stone's central triangle of relationships is both strong and universal, and her details are authentic. As the new school semester is beginning, Keeley is just returning from a summer in England. "I couldn't figure out why I was mad at her," Noelle says, but it becomes clear that these are the fitful growing pains of two friends drifting apart. While Keeley and Nadio begin secretly seeing each other, Noelle furthers her relationship with Parker, an older guy who works at a restaurant. It's these scenes with the more experienced Parker that feel the most painfully realistic; other sections become overwrought and spill over into melodrama. Thankfully, Stone is a sharp writer; here she alternates between the twins' viewpoints and eschews quotation marks in paragraphs that sometimes read as poetry. Often impressive is the amount of hope and anguish contained within single words of dialogue—"Hey" has rarely felt so heavy.
— Daniel Kraus




Publishers Weekly
This Is What I Want to Tell You Heather Duffy Stone. Llewellyn/Flux, $9.95 paper (240p) ISBN 978-0-7387-1450-9
This compelling first novel is structured as a confessional, with 15-year-old Noelle and her twin brother, Nadio, alternately telling their sides of a story. When their best friend, Keeley, returns from a summer abroad, the twins view her differently. Noelle has become resentful of the opportunities awarded to her wealthier, strikingly beautiful friend; Nadio now finds himself attracted to Keely. He and Keely soon become involved in a secret romance while Noelle strikes up an unlikely relationship with archetypal-bad-boy Parker, a cook she meets at a party. The story’s appeal lies mainly in its unveiling of secrets, but Stone also offers insight into feelings of jealousy and lust. Noelle’s growing bitterness is clearly defined, as is Nadio’s chilling realization that he possesses the same “animal instinct” as a boy who sexually assaulted Keely in England (“Just for one second, I knew what he felt like. That’s the part I can’t get rid of”). Readers will likely guess that poor judgments made by both siblings will lead to explosive confrontations, but that won’t lessen the story’s dramatic impact. Ages 14–up. (Mar.)
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