Letter in a Bottle

I’m lost. I’m completely and utterly lost. What am I doing here? I woke up this morning, not from sleep, but from an existential daydream. In my head, nothing matters. In this world, nothing matters. Nothing matters. Not this orange sunset, not the damp, clayish sand between my toes, not the turquoise ocean cascading down on my knees.

Why am I here again? Because of a stupid vacation? I do the same thing every summer; it’s time for a change. I’m in a rut, and I need excitement. But first, I need a reason to pursue it. Just because I know what I want, doesn’t mean I know how to get it, or for that matter, even have the motivation to strive for it. I want college, I want to be a journalist, I want to experience new cultures, I want to live in the moment. To live in the moment would be a dream. I just need to figure out how to create the opportunities to reach my goals.

For now, I’m stuck on this beach; this stunning, sweltering, summery beach. A salty breeze blows my curls behind me, the sun bores into my skin. I have lived in this moment before, and now I look to the future. I pray that the moments ahead will be exotic, that they will be unfamiliar and new. I pray that the moments ahead are worth living in.”

Standing on a beach on the other side of the world, he realizes that he is stuck too. He needs to find change; and this bottle, this letter, this writer, led him to motivation. He feels eternally grateful. He pulls out a pen, flips the crusty and worn paper over, and writes. He writes for hours about everything, anything. He gets lost in a world he loves, and unknowingly finds meaning in his seemingly monotonous life.

He gently folds the paper back up, and slides it forlornly into the bottle. He kisses the bottle as a prayer, wishing for it to find it’s owner once again. He throws it into the mysterious, unending waters, and watches the current carry it elsewhere. He turns away from the letter, from the beach,  from the life he thought he wanted. He’s never looked back.

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College Admissions

Something is wrong with the college application process. You have to write down all of your accomplishments and grades and extracurriculars; and if you’re like me, they add up. But somehow, you second guess yourself. You think that your resume isn’t good enough, even though you have top grades, three years of the same community service, four year dedication to the same two sports, and variety yet coherence in extracurriculars (from drama to debate, from Model UN to creative writing, from a World News column to choir). You’re just exploring your fascination in a particular area. Maybe you want to be a writer, or work in international relations, and that’s what your classes and extracurriculars are pointed towards; your future goals. But will colleges look towards your future the same way you do?

Sure you’re not a cookie cutter model, but why would you want to be? Just because someone else is president of ten clubs doesn’t mean your resume isn’t as good. You shouldn’t be punished or reprimanded for having fun with your extracurriculars; that’s what they’re for! The extracurriculars you do show more passion than the kid who’s president of every club. You should be proud of what you’ve done if you’ve enjoyed it. But somehow you take a look at all of your success, and it feels like nothing, like it was all in vain, like you should have done more. You feel insecure, like you’re looking in the mirror and pinpointing all of your flaws in front of this admissions board. “The application isn’t everything,” people say, but it feels like it is. Its a problem when you’re willing to lose all of your connections with friends and start spending all of your time studying and volunteering, just to get into the school of your dreams. Yes you want it, you want it more than anything in the entire world, but it shouldn’t be this way. You stand out, you know you do in this moment. But when it comes time to have your future decided by the admissions office, you feel like you are just a speck of dust on a dust bunny.

Modern Classics

We are forced to read classics in school, from Sophocles to Vonnegut, from Homer to Salinger. They can be exciting, they can tell wonderful stories about the past, fact or fiction. They can be meaningful, making points true to the times. But why do we want to read books written in the past about the past, when the future is so thrilling, so bright, so mysterious? Things happened before the 21st Century, but lets leave that for the history classes. Times have changed and civilization is not the same as it was ten years ago. New technologies, such as smartphones and tablets have emerged. Art has been modernized, films and plays have been created, and different genres of music has emerged. There are books being written every day, holding brand new concepts, ideologies and stories within the pages. One day, these books might be known as classics, defining books of the times. But for now, they are contemporary, and they teach us about what’s happening in the world around us. The world has drastically changed from Homer’s time, and Fitzgerald’s too. Infrastructures have been built, economies have grown and fallen, wars have been fought, and new entities have been created. Societies standards have changed drastically; same sex marriage is legal, there is no more slavery, and woman are respected more. This seems like a better and more advanced time and place. Obviously there is still room for growth, but growth has occurred since the time of the classics. Why would we want to look back on a time that African Americans were owned by white men, when we can experience the world around us and appreciate what we have today? Why wouldn’t we want to see new and more relatable characters facing life in the 21st Century? Why would we want to be closed to the changing world around us and just read Brontë and Lee? Why can’t we explore the present as well as the past? Who knows, there might be a modern book sitting in a bookstore, waiting for it’s genius to be celebrated. Maybe one day that book will become a classic, and be read in schools everywhere; but for now it’s just a book. A book that glorifies life in the present. We just have to open our eyes, move past the former revered novels, and pick up something original, something that we have never seen before.

Cambridge Square Mile

The porters nod their heads in acknowledgement as you walk out of the gateway of Gonville and Caius. As soon as you take one step onto the sidewalk, the calm atmosphere of the college is wiped away, and replaced by a chaotic, noisy, crowded city centre. To the right you can see the smallest sliver of the marble white Senate building, The University bookshop with window boxes full of fuchsias, and the tall tower of Great Saint Mary’s church. To the left, you can see the old, beautiful brown stonework of the shop buildings, and the intricate carvings of the Michaelhouse Center. You go to step off of the sidewalk, ready for a day of exploration, when something whizzes past you, inches away from your feet. You are thrown back onto the pavement and listen to the ringing of the bicycle bell. Bicycles run Cambridge, and are never conscious of the people around them. Now, looking both ways, you go to cross the street and turn left. You are ready to venture about town, but not without some food before you begin. First stop, Sainsbury’s grocery store.

Even though it is a brisk block away from the college, it is difficult to find, tucked away by the green building near the entrance of the road. You walk down the cobblestones and come right up to the side entrance. You enter, scurry to the sandwiches, and grab the cheapest one you can find. You pay the two pounds at the self-checkout, and are onto your next stop; the market square. The outdoor market is full of brightly colored stands that sell a variety of products; from breads to hats, from records to Belgian waffles. Even though it is beautiful and sunny day today, you need a raincoat. You come straight into the market, and it is bustling as always. Bike bells are ringing, a mess of conversations come from every direction, and footsteps echo on the cobblestones. People are everywhere; buying, selling, bargaining, and sightseeing. You have set your task, and embark on your first mission; finding the pitch in the surrounding sea of people. You walk down every aisle until you finally see a simple, black raincoat hanging on the outer foundation of the pitch. “10 pounds,” the seller tells you. You hand over the cash, amazed at how little the coat cost! Content with your purchase, you decide that you must go down to Heffers and get a couple books. After all, you do have a five hour ride to Stonehenge coming up, you have to be prepared.

You walk down the uneven road and speed past all of the shops. On your way, you are asked two separate times if you want to go punting. The people advertising the punting are everywhere, there is no escape from their persistence. You know you are getting close to the bookshop, because you can now see the intricate carvings and colorful crest of Trinity college. You turn around and there in front of you is the quaint bookshop. You go inside, and get a couple books and some postcards.

You begin your walk back to the college, the smell of fried food wafting down the street the fresh breeze in your face; and you smile to yourself. The square mile of Cambridge is so full of life; it is new and exciting for you. It feels like home, and you never want to leave.

The London Eye

“Pretty cool,” Rekha answered after being asked about the London Eye experience. “We had gone to so many places in London, it seemed so huge; but once we were at the top, I felt like I had seen everything,” she commented. Rekha’s feelings about the London Eye are shared by many other students at CSP. People loved the view, especially of Big Ben. Everyone was taking pictures- especially selfies- so they could remember the moment forever. Some were scared of heights, others were claustrophobic; yet, despite their fears, they were looking over the edge and enjoying the view with the others. The Eye has powers, it puts a spell on people and helps them overcome their fears, even if it’s only for a short period of time. The view makes people forget all of their worries and stresses, and just let go and enjoy the world around them. It puts things in perspective for them, and teaches them that the world is for us to explore, and the Eye gives them a pretty good start.

Les Mis

With stomachs full of crappy Chinese food, we anxiously shuffled into the Queen’s Theatre. The smell of popcorn tempted us, as our bags were checked by security. The ushers ripped our tickets and we were escorted to our seats. The wooden walls were stained brown, and the seats were bright red; a traditional theatre set-up. We were on the top balcony, giving us a better viewing position. Projected on the screen hanging above the stage was the iconic, blue-grey picture of the ragged, impoverished girl. All of a sudden the drums boomed, sounding like gun-shots, and the orchestra played with vigour and intensity. The lights dimmed, and ‘Les Mis’ began.

Throughout the entire play, the audience was captivated. They laughed, gasped, jumped and cried along with the characters. They sang “Master of the House” in jollity with Monsieur Thénardier, as he jumped around on tables, and creatively stole money from his customers. They sobbed as Jean Valjean passionately sang “Bring Him Home,” praying for the life of one young soldier, Marius, who was in love with his daughter. They smiled faintly through their tears as Valjean asked for death, seeing his late love Fantine while in hysterics. They gasped as shots rang out, the theatre shaking. The actors engaged with the audience, communicating their emotions and stories through alluring melodies and exaggerated facial expressions. When the play ended, the applause was as thunderous as the gunshots. Everyone was on their feet as the actors bowed, soaking up the well-deserved praise. The experience was spell-binding, and resonated with the audience for hours afterwards.

Punting

Punting, a traditional Cambridge pastime, was one of many evening activities at CSP.  While walking to the river, many people were worried about falling off of their punt, and the mentors were trying to reassure everyone that they would be okay. Excitement and tensions were high as we waited for the punts to be set up. We looked around at the new and beautiful scenery; the people with yellow teeth and wrinkled skin smoking, the cyclists pushing through the crowd, and the grey, braided wig left on the stone wall with flies circling around it.

We were all relieved to get in our punts, and just like that, we were off! The scenery drastically changed from nauseating to magnificent as we crept up the river. We saw the back of the colleges, dorms, chapels, and libraries; and to add to the ambiance, there was lush grass and leafy trees by the rivers edge. The ducks and geese swam along side our punts, waiting to be fed. Students began to try steering the punts, and some were better than the mentors! After a hour and a half of fooling around and enjoying the picturesque landscapes, we all made it back to the dock safe, sound, and most importantly dry.

Springtime, Claude Monet, 1886

My mind was going a million miles a minute and my strides were long and fast. My heart was beating like a mouse’s. I had to find my love, my inspiration, my favorite: Van Gogh. My mind was made up, it was Van Gogh or nothing. “Wait. What’s this?” I stop in front of a wonderful array of blues and pinks and greens. The style looked similar to Van Goghs, but something was off. It was too… messy. It surprised me, as I thought no one could have a more chaotic style than Van Gogh, but then it popped into my head, “This must be Monet.” I looked closer at the brush strokes, short and spotty, with random long lines of paint strewn across the canvas. The sign confirmed my suspicion. A sense of warmth ran through me, the feeling that you get when you answer a question right or prove someone wrong. “Springtime,” I read, “1886.”

“Dad is painting us again,” Jean said in a huff, stiffening his back and arching his shoulders. His face went from a peaceful smile to a disgusting grimace. He hated it when Claude painted him. I think he felt like his privacy was being violated, like he was put on display like a zoo animal. “Just sit here and enjoy the orchard. We don’t get to Giverny often,” I mumbled. “It will be over soon.” We sat in silence after that, looking around at the cherry blossoms above our heads, and the grass beneath our feet. The smell was sweet and fresh. “Claude!” I yelled to my step-father, who was sitting on the porch, paint brush in mid-stroke. “It smells like Springtime!”

The two people in the painting are his son Jean and his step-daughter Suzanne,’ I read. I stepped back and looked at the two in the middle of the scene. It seemed as if they were having an important discussion, while also examining the pink cherry blossom trees and the white wheatgrass. It was dawn, or was it dusk? The sun cast a shadow over the ground, making the sky and the trees bright, and the ground and the grass dark. The way that their clothes were painted made them look like they were one with nature. The brown petticoat on Suzanne blended in with the dirt and her yellow hat matched the dandelions in the lush grass. The white shirt on Jean mixed in with the yellow of the wheatgrass and his orangy-yellow cap highlighted the sun setting. They were the animals, they were the plants and they were the trees. They were everything and they were nothing all at the same time.

Jean was getting fidgety, I could see him wiggling his shoulders and tapping his foot. “Jean why don’t I tell you a story?” “What kind of story,” he asked? “A story of the future,” I told him. “Okay,” he turned towards me a little bit with an excited twinkle in his eye. “One day,” I began, “your father will be so respected and so famous, that people all around the world will come and see his work. People will aspire to be like him, and his art will be taught about throughout classrooms everywhere.” “Really?” Jean asked, sparks of hope in his eyes. “Really. I promise Jean. And you know what else?” “What,” he jumped a little bit in excitement. “This painting, the one that your father is tirelessly working on? This one will be the most loved by all. The land around us is already perfect to picture in his work, and we just add to the ambiance. We are almost part of the nature; you are the wheat over there, tall and strong. I am the grass, beautiful and delicate. Together we are the shadows, mysterious and awe-inspiring. We complete the world around us, and people will be able to see that through your father’s eyes.” He just nods. A single tear glistens in his eye, and he allows it to fall down to the crevice of his nose. He is still.

My pen scurried across the page as I rushed to finish my analyzation before the clock struck ten and we had to leave. There was just so much detail and so much depth, I knew I wouldn’t be able to capture it in the short time frame that we were given. The crowdedness at the top where the blossoms reminded me of how little space I had for error. I had to capture the beauty of this painting. I had to make people see the ombre grass that was dark and shadowy at the bottom, but light and feathery at the top. I needed to encapsulate the way the trees stretched across the canvas, casting bright pink and orange hues across the sky. I was desperate to express the little spots of blue and yellow, the sky, poking out through the tree branches. “It’s hopeless,” I thought. “I will never be able to capture this feeling right at this moment.” I walked closer in frustration, looking for something I had missed, something that might propel me forward and take hold of my writing hand. I searched in between each brush stroke until I saw a raggedy maroon piece of paint in the left hand corner. I breathed in slowly, amazed by how close I really was to Claude Monet’s signature. The intimacy I shared with that signature at that moment gave me strength. “I can do it,” I thought, stamping my foot bravely. “Maybe…”

“Jean! Suzanne! I’m finished!” Jean scampers up,very excited to get his blood circulating. I walk calmly over to his canvas where Jean is hugging Claude. “It’s amazing,” he cries! The picture comes into view and it’s really is awe-inspiring. “The colors mix so well together! It’s like you can see the wind whistling through the trees,” I exclaim! I feel the joy welling up inside of me as I look over the brushwork and the coloration of the scene. Everything is perfect, not a thing out of place. “Papa, Suzanne told me a story when we were modeling for you. It was a story of your future and how you were going to be a world renowned artist and how this painting that you just made, how this was going to be the crowning jewel of your work! And how we were the center of the world in this painting and…” Jean trailed off and Claude just chuckled. “I hope that’s true,” Claude said as he looked off into the orchard. “Maybe…”

Feeling Blue: Art History Essay

Claude Monet and Vincent Van Gogh were the most prominent artists of the 19th and 20th century, even if their genius was not appreciated in their time. Claude Monet, a French impressionist, was very influential both in his time and today. In his day, he broke the mold of traditional art, and started to paint landscapes in a chaotic and free fashion. His brilliance is still celebrated centuries later. Van Gogh, a Dutch impressionist, was an outcast of the art world. His paintings were considered trash in his day, and he barely ever sold a piece. Today, his art is on display in some of the most famous museums in the world, such as the Musee d’Orsay. Ask anyone on the street if they’ve heard his name before, and nearly all of them would say yes. Even though these artists were remarkably talented, their lives were not easy. Monet’s wife had a serious illness that caused her much pain and suffering, resulting in financial problems and the onset of Monet’s anxiety issues; and Van Gogh had clinical depression, as well as epilepsy and bipolar disorder. Their suffering and pain is what influenced their passion, and can be seen through their works. They vocalize their crippling misery by using many different shades of blue. This is what is called a blue period, and throughout their lives, at one time or another, they faced their own. Even though they encountered the same monochrome spell, the reasoning behind the two men’s blue interval is different, and they used different styles to convey these overwhelming feelings they experienced.

Monet knew that he wanted to become an artist at a young age. He graduated art school and moved on to Paris, where he fell in love with the Louvre, and also with a young model, Camille. He used her as a model for his paintings first in 1865, and soon after in 1867 their first child, Jean, was born. They were married in 1870, and moved to England. They moved around a lot, and lived a very content life, until 1876, when Camille came down with a terrible case of tuberculosis. Even though she was sick, their second child, Michel, was born in 1878, weakening Camille’s declining health even more. She continued to get sicker and sicker until late 1878, when she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. There was only a matter of time before she had to let go. After suffering for another year, she finally was laid to rest in 1879, leaving Monet alone with the children, and also with a crippling financial debt. Monet’s servants started to quit, and no one was available to keep the children occupied. In this time, he needed his art more than ever. Thus began his blue period. His first painting was of his dead wife in a light blue veil. The blue brought across a peaceful and nostalgic feeling for Monet, and reminded him of his wife  in both life and death. The blue he felt was the blue he put on the canvas, forcing others to live his pain. He then began an affair in the spring of 1880, with a woman named Alice Hoschedé. She breathed life into his dying spirit and his colors began to brighten up. He started using more yellows, pinks and reds in his paintings, creating picturesque landscapes on his canvas. Soon after his life started to get better, Monet’s vision began to falter. He developed cataracts, inhibiting his world view, and allowing him to only see the bright colors such as red and orange. He was scheduled for surgery to remove them, and he was promised it would go without a hitch, but his vision was forever ruined after the surgery. “It’s filthy,” says Monet. “It’s disgusting. I see nothing but blue.” For the last years of his life, Monet could only see blues and violets unless he used special glasses to help him see certain pigments and hues of bright colors. This was another cause of his blue period, which lasted him for the entire second half of his life. This sounds like a long time to be so sad and see so little, but Van Gogh experienced this his whole life.  

Although his brother would try to help him, Van Gogh was a lost cause. No matter how many therapists and doctors were sent to him, his mind could not be fixed, and the void within could not be filled. The sadness overcame him, and the only way to escape was through art. As a result of the crippling emptiness he felt, he used very dark and heavy blues in his paintings, unlike Monet who was versatile in the shades he utilized. When Van Gogh began painting in the Netherlands, his subjects were always poor, lost, desolate souls- peasants, miners, beggars and squanderers. His brush strokes were long and aggressive, and he mixed ebony blues and earthy browns together. The subjects were always hiding in a shadow created with the dark colors, creating a devastating aura around them. These paintings wouldn’t sell, and drove Van Gogh to bankruptcy. He was put in a position very similar to Monet’s. In 1886, he had to leave his cottage in Belgium and move away to Paris. While in Paris, his spirits were high, and he looked to be getting better. He moved on to painting beautiful landscapes and bright buildings- a style Monet introduced to the world- yet the blue within his work still persisted. Although he was happier, he still wasn’t fully recovered; he felt the bright yellows and reds that he used, but he still bore that blue inside of him. He never really loved the ambiance of a big city, so in 1888 he moved once again to Arles. While in Arles, his condition worsened. He experienced uncontrollable fits of rage, as well as random seizures. As a result, the townspeople thought he was blasphemous and evil, and were so horrified by him and his work that they exiled him and treated him as an outcast. His work suffered and his blues became ever gloomier. This continued until 1889, when he was admitted to the Saint Paul asylum. There is where he painted the now world famous piece, Starry Night; but only after becoming so depressed that he started to eat yellow paint in order to feel joy. Over the year he was at the asylum, his brush strokes became shorter and more violent- the abrupt strokes moving his style ever closer to that of Monet’s. It was almost as if he was in a hurry to finish. He used blues that were mysterious, and so deep and unilluminated they almost looked black. When he got out of the asylum and moved to Auvers with a nurse in 1890, his paintings were still very dark and very blue. However, in this last year of his life, he painted more paintings than he ever had. He had not yet lost the will to create, but his soul was so desolate that he needed to fill the pit faster and more often with work. Here at Auvers in a wheatfield, he painted his last painting, and shot himself; dying two days later. These blues, no matter how light, persisted throughout his entire life, right up until his dying day. Although his last painting was luminous and full of yellow, the imagery of the crows predicted a death- his own.

Van Gogh and Monet had very similar life stories, and their paintings were alike in style and subject; but their reasonings for their blue periods were disparate. Although they both went through depression in their own way, Monet also had cataracts, which only allowed him to see shades of blue and violet. Van Gogh’s use of blue was only because of his many mental health issues- bipolar disorder, clinical depression and epilepsy- and lasted through his entire life. Monet’s emotional blue period only lasted him five years, but because of his cataracts, it seemed to go on for the last eight years of his life as well. The painters both used blues in their works to communicate their emotions, and centuries later, people still are able to feel that emptiness, that depression, that misery; and they relish in the power of the pieces.

Originality is Overrated

“Originality is overrated. It is restrictive. Why should one be forced by originality to be creative, to think outside the box? Originality controls people, it pushes people to the very edge, it drives them. They focus on it, they feed on it, they thrive on it. Originality is like a drug, it is addictive. Once one seeks originality, they never go back to normality. They just push and push and push and push until they finally break. They break through the bonds of societal concepts to produce unique ideas and present them to the public. What is the purpose of this? Why not just stay within the general mold of common civilization? Why strive for new ideas? Why promote creativity through originality? Why is originality celebrated? Why?”

“Well… why not?”