An author’s cut combination of some early drafts of a piece I wrote for coursework, with various excerpts of my commentaries accompanying it.
Now I will believe that there are unicorns.
I am dead.
Go. I’ll. Those are the two shortest complete sentences in the English language. I taught myself English and then I chose to spend time working those out. People – and by people I mean no person I know, but I’m sure there are many, and I envisage them debating this way in my head with their upturned noses and their saggy lips and their receding hairlines smelling of tea tree oil – say that scientific subjects are preferable over humanities for the reason that the answers are definite, factual, and less subjective or open to interpretation, that by memory alone they can gain full marks. While this is true, the former I disagree with, for the following reason: language, i.e. used in every essay-writing, creative, subject, is the most strictly defined thing that I know. Scientists, and I know this, admit that nothing is truly factual in their areas, but the most accurate theory they have. They also say that it’s unlikely they’ll ever know the ‘right’ answer to the ‘big’ questions. Those are adjectives, but they are ambiguous. I don’t like ambiguous.
I am ambiguous.
Unclear, undefined. Those are synonyms – noun. ‘Noun’ is a noun, but so is ‘verb’. I don’t like… I am ambiguous. That’s scary. I don’t like ambiguous. Doctors are scientists and scientists admit that it’s unlikely they’ll ever know exactly what’s broken in minds, what creates or causes or is mental illnesses. So I’m ambiguous, because we’re not dealing with the physical. A broken bone is a broken bone, but I don’t have a broken bone.
I am broken.
Go. I’ll. I know about extended sentences, where two or more sentences can be joined with conjunctions to make one, continuous, sentence. I prefer, and this is simply personal opinion, to think of my short sentences as dialogue.
I am gone.
Alex is crazy, and that’s the first thing you should know, because it is important. I tell Alex to go and Alex listens to me, and if you knew me you’d know that that’s the craziest thing ever because nobody should listen to me. I am here, I am whole, I am clear. I am alive.
I am going to start high school. I am going to start high school late. I am going to start high school later than everybody else, and I am going to start high school later than everybody else in my year. I am going to start high school in the November of the year I should be halfway finished with high school. I am going to start high school in five, four, three, two, 1…
I am stupid.
Alex is stupid, I am clever. Alex should hit the boy who got asked – when only Alex’s hand was raised – instead and had the right answer when Alex didn’t. Alex should hit Alex, too, for not having the right answer.
I don’t like ambiguous. Hitting is not ambiguous, but THAT QUESTION WAS AMBIGUOUS.
“Ouch,” I exclaim, because the teacher taught our class about alternative words to use in a reporting clause, even if I don’t trust teachers, “my hand hurts”. I say this because my right hand is bandaged, because my right hand is stronger than my left hand, and I am not a freak (and now for clarity, because my prose is often mangled first time, I was called a freak and thus hit someone). Everybody in the world gets a little urge to just ball their hand up into a fist or wave it in the air like they just don’t care. I don’t have to comply with these urges, but I’m asked to – I am told to, and I choose to. I CHOOSE TO.
I am free.
I am not ‘schizo’, I am not ‘bipolar’ (nor ‘bi’, because I’ve heard that one before and I am told that it’s not a shortened version of ‘bipolar’ – as ‘schizo’ is of schizophrenic, but ‘schizo’ is used in place of mad. As is ‘freak’), I am not a freak. I have Borderline Personality Disorder, but I’m told to just calmly say; “No, I’m just BPD” whenever somebody claims I’m something I’m not, because it’s more imposing, people don’t know what to make of it, it’s creepy and when I smile creepily afterwards and stare down the somebody until the somebody runs away it’s because I want to. “Somebody” I think, because I can actually think myself, “some bodies” and the thought pleases me. It is appealing to me, but I do nothing, because I DO WHAT I WANT TO DO. The second non-finite verb, ‘do’, is redundant, and I am not angry. I’m just BPD.
Alex is just BPD, and Alex knows what that means and still Alex can’t control it. I am trapped. I am not a figment of the imagination; the imagination is a figment of me.
I am Alex.
I am Alex.
I have a friend. I was given a friend, and now I have a friend because I was given a friend. This friend was given me. This friend is not really a friend, because I am not well acquainted with and do not trust them. My friend is a boy. My friend is my age. My friend is in my class; which doesn’t make sense, really. Apparently they’re stupid, which I can empathise with. I researched what empathy is because people – people I know and people I don’t, all people (or at least normal people) – have empathy for their friends. As friends go, I can tick One out of Three boxes, which isn’t bad, really. That’s a third, one third, because I was taught about fractions today and it is a third because it just is, which isn’t ambiguous at all. My friend was sarcastic today, so I learnt what sarcasm is, also. A third of people have cancer. That’s a lot. That’s sad. That’s sympathy, which is different to empathy. They both include ‘-pathy’ – both words, I mean. Some people – people I do not know, but which I would recognise in a criminal line-up – have called me that. I know that it either is short for ‘psychopath’ or ‘pathologically really messed up’.
I am neither.
I am both, which is sad. I want to tap the rhythm of ‘Asleep’ by The Smiths now. I want to go to bed.
I want to get up. I cannot get up, because I don’t really want to get up. THIS IS HOW IT WORKS. Urges, but I do what I want to do. Things are more tempting now, but I don’t go to school anymore, and so I am not tempted to hit stupid people (everyone in my year is stupid, I’ve figured, because me and my friend are in it and we are stupid). I don’t need to get up.
I need to get up, because when I am not up I am normal. I am nearly normal, I still have the memory of myself when I am not up; it is a dream. Dreams are good. I am good.
I am bad.
Now I follow my urges, not lead. Temptations are… tempting. They are bad. But, if I am bad, surely I must go with things that are bad? I want to follow my urges, the temptations. We are good.
I am good.
I am in control again. I have another friend, this one only tells me to be friends with my friend, though, so they’re not much of a friend. They’re not my friend, but they are right. My friend tells me to listen to the other friend, which I did in the first place (obviously). I just want to go for a jog. I am going for a jog, but my friend is intercepting me, they’re telling me not to go. I am yelling at them.
I am angry.
“You haven’t even a jacket.” I pull a garbage bag over my head in answer and set off.
“Your laces are untied.” I turn and jog in smaller steps, sticking my tongue out. My friend cannot see my tongue, because I have a garbage bag over my head. I pull it down and it rips and he can see my tongue. He chuckles, sets off after me. I speed up and he doesn’t catch me up. I am darting down the road and I don’t know where I am going but the day is beautiful: the clouds remind me of candyfloss, even though candyfloss is pink – but they are too soft and wispy to be compared to cotton wool. They float through the sky majestically, which is not what I do when I fall. I flail through the sky unceremoniously. My friend catches me up and helps me up, gently supporting me. He brushes off my knees, my joggers, and then ties my sneaker laces. I am not angry. Not anymore.
I am happy.
We are dancing through the sky beautifully; the sky is exploding with colour and all of my favourite things. I didn’t know that I had favourite things but as I waltz through the labyrinth of rainbows and heavy metal I understand that I like these things. I like rainbows because they make the best of the rain, and because colours are bright and grey is ambiguous. I like heavy metal because good music makes me sad, and I don’t like being sad. I do like good music, too, though, and ‘Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds’ by The Beatles begins playing over everything, which is wholly inappropriate because we are Alex and friend, not Lucy and diamonds. A dog with a diamond encrusted collar jumps down at me from out of another cloud – this one is pink – and suddenly we are no longer dancing. I don’t know where my friend has gone; but I want to, and so he pops up behind me and we play with the dog and for some reason I want to call it Fru-Fru so, when my friend reaches out and scares her away (he’s never been good with animals), I call the name and she comes. I smile at my friend.
I am happy.
I had clinical depression, which was caused by my BPD, which is ridiculous and wrong, as far as I’m concerned, because one disorder should not cause another because then they are ganging up on you and that’s not right. Or so says another friend, who I don’t empathise or am acquainted well with, but who I do trust. She, because it’s a lady with wavy magenta hair (like Ramona Flowers, but I don’t think she’d understand the reference), says that I no longer have depression. I didn’t feel particularly elated when I got the news, and so I don’t know whether it’s true or if I’m not trying to trick them; she laughed at this, and I didn’t understand why.
I am new.
My friend is now giving me a hug. I don’t remember him getting a snazzy motorbike but he has one and I like it, and he brought me here on it. Now that he’s hugging me, he sifts his fingers through my hair like it’s liquid gold, so I’m a cat, purring and scratching into the touch; he weaves his fingers like they’re yarn through the golden thread of my hair and when I metamorphose into Fru-Fru and try to back away he’s lifting bundles of it, King Midas turning the threads to solid blocks of gold. He spins me around and it’s like we’re back in the clouds and I’m looking down at the shadow of my mind, he points out to me the towering landmarks of what I once was and I call on all my powers of Zeus to topple them but I don’t because that’s self-destructive and we need reminders of our past because it’s a constant. My friend brings me back down to Earth and asks if I would like hot chocolate before school, because he managed to scavenge a job at a coffee shop at some point and I’ve started high school again – first year, afternoons. I’m better in the afternoons. We speed off towards the nice-smelling part of town (This part smells innately wrong. I associate it with wrong) and I wrap my friend in a rib-crushing hug. I hear the bittersweet chords of ‘Imagine’ by John Lennon strum melancholically through the empty orchestra of my mind and must fill it with the sorrowful song myself. I smile a grimace.
I am alive.
I chose to write my short story, with the purpose to entertain, as an expansion on a previous idea, specifically with the theme of mental health – a key societal issue, and so was able to more deeply explore the characters. The title – ‘We are such stuff as dreams are made on’ – is a quote from Shakespeare’s Tempest which I think accurately describes the eventual perspective of the main character, Alex, in that “We” would refer to both voices in the piece as well as the friend mentioned and that they are dreamers and social outliers. The title I originally used was how Alex would have named the work in their original mind-set, discussing the convention of bildungsroman literature’s titles such as those of the novels I included in my style models (The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky and Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew Quick), whereas the final title is more resembling of the slightly cryptic nature of these titles.
I used the language and style of my piece to reflect the progression in the protagonist’s development as it is written in first person, and present tense for immediacy, so the declaratives and excessive focus on minute detail of the beginning, e.g. “I don’t like ambiguous.”, “one, continuous, sentence.”, are replaced by more complex syntax, fluency, figurative language and pre- and post-modification in the resolution – “We are dancing through the sky beautifully, the sky exploding with colour…”, enabling the reader to share my protagonist’s consciousness. There is also some description and evocative imagery with alliterated plosives for cohesion at the start with “their upturned noses and their saggy lips and their receding hairlines smelling like tea tree oil”. Here the protagonist tells us that this is their imagination which shows that Alex has a creative side but maintains control by not expressing creative thinking, needing to add “this is simply personal opinion” to what could be such. The dream state at the end is something I chose to write as a representation of Alex gaining true control and so being able to accept a less structured existence; it is not demonstrating that Alex still has mental health issues despite the rampant personification. The high proportion of Latinate lexemes like “envisage” is omnipresent to convey the intellect, but juxtaposed with colloquial language further into the story, like “creepy”, to emphasise this.
Later, I have italicised the degree modifier “just” in order to allow for various intended interpretations of the adverb, being synonymous with ‘barely’ – suggesting that Alex’s illness is not so severe and foreshadowing the improvement – ‘simply’ – implying that by giving something a name it is a simple matter, a misconception I intend to tackle with this story – and ‘only’ – suggesting that Alex is defined purely by the illness, and thus not a recipient of much support – as well as the colloquial utterance of “I’m just x” in order to derive pardon from the addressee. Italics I use near the top of page 3, too, but here to show the pseudo prosodic emphasis on “like”, creating a sense of realism due to the represented consciousness.
I chose to present the mental states of being, the single sentence paragraphs, as further detached from the narrative by right justifying them – with the exception of the two of these which are more permanent than the rest (“I am Alex.”, “I am alive.”), aligning them in the centre to reflect the security of this knowledge. This graphology also emulates the fragmented mental state/s. The antonyms and antithesis I used, especially at the beginning (“I am dead.”) and end (“I am alive.”), were in order to show that the events have come full circle. It is suggested, also, that if the two halves of the mind had cooperated then there would be fewer problems, the closing sentence of the secondary narrative’s first ‘interruption’ being the final sentence, too. As well as this repetition, there is the repetition of “I am Alex”. The repetition by the main voice of the first person pronoun is a sign of cooperation as well as the statement simply being repeated a means of becoming secure with this knowledge, like with the repetition particles and syntactic parallelism of “I am going to start high school” earlier on. However, the couplets immediately following this and until the recovery contrast, employing antonyms and antithesis, (“I am good. I am bad.”) in order to show that there is still internal psychological conflict that needs to be resolved.
The simple opening paragraph “I am dead.” I did not right justify as with the others as I wanted to retain the shock factor of the declarative when right justifying through graphology would have caused a reader to take the time to move their vision from the primary optical field and they have missed it before having started the next paragraph, the lack of immediacy reducing the desired effect. [There is one “I am good.” which remains left-justified as this and the following paragraph initially appeared in only the first official draft.]
With these single sentence paragraphs, the stative verb ‘to be’ is always used, showing the self-reflective nature. It also features in the example of syntactic parallelism “I am here; I am whole; I am clear. I am alive.” The change in punctuation and the italicisation shows, like with the frequent capitalisation throughout, pseudo-prosodic emphasis on this part, aiding reader identification.
The difference in font [Bradley Hand ITC, I have been unable to replicate this in page format but have distinguished the voices] used for the protagonist Alex and the subconscious/antagonist version expresses how the latter is more made of emotions and not facts, the anger and resentment at the ‘weak’ main narrative, and itself, shown by the text being emboldened until this side of the character’s personality accepts they are two halves of the same person. I also chose not to specify a gender of this character and selected the name Alex in order to suggest that this character could be anyone, and is androgynous, and that neither the disorder nor the mind-set is exclusive to a certain type of person whilst also being informative of the effect of living with such an illness without much support.
The allusions to music and mass culture (including the ironically placed humour of “wave [their hand] in the air like they just don’t care”) make each reader feel differently and they will recognise this as a method used to explain that the character is everyone, and that it could be anyone. The songs I chose do allude to drug usage – and so the altered consciousness – but are also relevant to the various situations: the more recent Smiths song for the more modern secondary narrative but, also, a depressed persona singing to foreshadow the impending illness, ‘Lucy in the Sky’ to create the dream state, showing a lack of realism, and ‘Imagine’ to, along with the oxymoron penultimate line “I smile a grimace”, to create a cliff-hanger, leaving the reader uncertain as to Alex’s mental health – focusing, instead, on the presented societal themes. The songs are all from the 1900s and so may create a sense of nostalgia and lost innocence for the target reader, evoking more emotions than just the songs would. This also aids in my intention to share more emotional, rather than factual, information on BPD, the plot being the growth of understanding of emotion over fact resembling this.
Overall, I feel that I have created a powerful and evocative narrative which engages the reader with a range of imaginative stylistic devices.
[What follows are items of commentary which were previously cut]
…the final title is more resembling of the slightly cryptic nature of these titles. This mysteriousness is vital, much like with Dickens’ Great Expectations, in piquing the interest of the target audience but should not be confusing, as the first title [“This Must Have A Long Title But What Is right. None Of Those Words Are Long Enough” – effectively a placeholder carrying a summary of BPD] was. The capitalisation of all the words bar ‘right’ to show how they are definitive ideals whereas rightness is abstract was a questionable choice for a title, and so for these reasons I decided to change what I called my piece, the Tempest quote fitting perfectly.
… In the sixth main paragraph I have chosen to use the syntactic parallelism of beginning each sentence with the phrase “I am going to start high school” to illustrate how the character would be coping with this fact: becoming accustomed to the new position by means of repetition, drilling into their own mind that it is happening. At the end of this paragraph there is an incomplete sentence as the narrative voice begins something new – starting high school. The numeral 1, rather than ‘one’, is used here to emphasise the sudden change experienced starting high school and with the narration, a stickler for correct English, using such a fragment. The fact that the symbol is only a line creates a physical boundary before the ellipsis, showing the change but also a continuation before the character starts to recover.
There is the caesura and ellipsis used in the third paragraph where, instead, it is because the narrative does not want to mention something they do not like – this being an emotion – as well as not knowing what would follow. Also, the voice does not want to repeat the sentiment of not liking ambiguous – which would be used as a substitute for being unable to express things which displease Alex, not ambiguity but ‘ambiguous’ in order to encompass the unknown – as this would solidify their lack of knowledge.
… The references to mythology used as Alex describes the need to remember where you’ve come from emphasises the fact that what must not be forgotten is, despite that, in the past and so aiding the reader in unconsciously acknowledging that there is development and will continue to be so, greatening the distance between the problems of the past and what promises to be an improved run at moving forward.
The music and mythology also was my own indulging in two things that I hold a great interest for, as well as the intricacies and complexities of things like Borderline Personality Disorder – likely a role in the manifestation of the base I had to expand on. One reason I chose to write specifically what I did was to share more emotional, rather than factual, information on BPD, the plot being the growth in understanding of emotion over fact resembling this.