Once you’re a YAC, you always come back.
Alternatively titled per the award winner’s request:
YAC alumni wins a thing: Cassidy Nicks still salty that he left since 2015—NOT CLICKBAIT
Caleb Pan, a Young Authors Collective (YAC) alumni, won the 2019 Scholastic Art & Writing Awards program’s highest national honor, the Gold Medal Portfolio, which includes a $10,000 scholarship. Caleb is only one of eight writers to receive this award; a total of 16 high school senior earned this Art & Writing distinction.
During his time in YAC, Caleb wrote the first part of one of his portfolio pieces “Red Envelopes.” Due to other academic commitments and family travel, Caleb left YAC after his first year.
Cassidy Nicks, a graduating YAC who has participated all four years of high school, and a friend of Caleb’s said, “The Corrupted Chaotic Consortium (Triple C) was deeply fragmented when Caleb decided to quit YAC like a hater. It was a troubling time. Luckily, YAC is amazing and I found other friends, even in the pain of my abandonment (one is silver, the other gold, and all that).”
Speaking of gold… Caleb’s winning portfolio included eight separate pieces and a writer’s statement. Below is excerpt from his writer’s statement:
“Each piece is a loser, a vagrant, an orphan. Some were abandoned drafts, forgotten and static for years; others nearly crowned with gold but fell, embittered with silver; several were misidentified as stillborn, ideas left to idle without form. They were selected for self-reflection, pulled from various chapters of life. It was a recall of perspectives and styles, to see how I’ve changed in what seems like a blink of an eye. This portfolio is a culmination of time and a testament to growth.”
Caleb’s full portfolio will be available to read on April 15, 2019 on the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards website. https://www.artandwriting.org/explore/online-galleries/
About Scholastic Art & Writing Awards
The Scholastic Art & Writing Awardsis the nation’s longest-running and most prestigious scholarship and recognition program for creative teens in grades 7–12. According to the organization, this honor opens doors for students by providing access to scholarship programs and workshops and the ability to have work published and displayed in regional and National Exhibitions. The top students are invited to attend the week-long national celebration in New York City, which includes a ceremony at Carnegie Hall on June 6, 2019.
Since the program’s founding in 1923, the Awards have fostered the creativity and talent of millions of students, such as renowned alumni who have gone on to become leaders in their fields, including Andy Warhol, Truman Capote, Richard Avedon, Charles White, Philip Pearlstein, Sylvia Plath, Kay WalkingStick, Luis Jiménez, Ken Burns, Stephen King, and Richard Linklater.
All art and writing submissions are blindly judged based on the same three criteria that have been in place since the program’s founding: originality, technical skill, and emergence of personal vision or voice. Student works are first adjudicated regionally through more than 100 local Affiliates of the Alliance. Students receiving Gold Keys, Silver Keys, Honorable Mentions, or American Visions & Voices Nominations are celebrated within their communities through exhibitions and ceremonies. Gold Key works are then judged nationally by an impressive panel of creative-industry experts to receive Gold, Silver, American Visions & Voices, and Gold or Silver with Distinction Portfolio medals.
To learn more about the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards, visit: http://www.artandwriting.org/the-awards/how-to-enter
puffy, angered cheeks flush red
and with a backwards tilt the head
rears out, flops the hair,
eyes twitch, narrow, glare
ears wiggle to a silent roar
dimples fade; this means war
eyebrows arch and gesticulate
nows wrinkles to consumate
the creeping disgust, as lips part their embrace
and shoot back with a cruel hate
“You know what else is stupid? Your face!”
I write this from Kedumim (in Israel, all the road signs called it Qedumim. Inside the Green Line, it was written Kdumim. I’ve always seen it spelled Kedumim, so I’ll stick with that.). Kedumim is beyond the pre-1967 borders of Israel, in what is now called the West Bank, or the Occupied West Bank, or Judea and Samaria, depending on who you’re talking to. It was founded after the 1967 Six Day War, when Israel unexpectedly won a staggering victory against a coalition of Arab nations, tripling its size in six days and, for the first time, taking the West Bank from Jordan.
Kedumim was founded by Israeli Jews, people we would now call settlers, who bought the land from Palestinians or seized land owned by Palestinians who had fled in the war, and built a walled settlement. Today it has a population of over five thousand, making it one of the largest Jewish settlements in the West Bank, and by extension all conquered territories (Jewish settlements in the Sinai were bought out in 1980 as part of the peace treaty with Egypt, Jewish settlements in Gaza were bought out in 2006 as part of the unilateral disengagement with Gaza, Jewish settlements in the Golan were legalized as part of the annexation and unification of the Golan Heights). Included in those five thousand settlers is a significant section of my family.
My great-grandfather Isaac Kreisler fled Lvov in 1933. The rest of his family would die in the liquidation of the Lvov Ghetto in 1942, and he would settle in then Mandatory Palestine with three daughters, Rachel, Tzipora, and Shoshana. Following the War of Independence in 1948, Tzipora moved to America, followed by Shoshana after a stint in the Sorbonne. Rachel would eventually move to Kedumim. Shoshana is my grandmother, so most of my relatives in Kedumim are second cousins. (more…)
[Be sure you read Part 1 first]
The day after I last wrote, Wednesday, I left Sde Boker, got on a bus, and headed northeast. After about two hours, I arrived at my destination: Masada.
Masada sits on a red plateau or a small mesa breaking from the Negev and overlooking the Dead Sea and the Jordan border crossing. It’s about two hundred meters from the ground, which means at its very top it’s a hundred meters below sea level. The Dead Sea is a hundred and fifty meters below the base of Masada, which works out to four hundred and fifty meters below sea level- the lowest point on earth.
King Herod, some 2100 years ago, built a fortress and summer palace here, complete with vast aquifers, Roman baths, multiple bedrooms, an amphitheater, storerooms, stables, and dining halls. He had a fair point; the view is fantastic and the elevation makes it cooler than the desert around it. Herod, however, would die eventually, and Masada would be abandoned for seventy years until AD 72. There, following the collapse of the Second Jewish War, the last remaining rebels fled Jerusalem in the wake of the Second Temple’s destruction and held out in Masada. Altogether several hundred rebels and their families occupied the palace. The rebels were surrounded and besieged by Roman troops for three years, until the Romans built a vast ramp up to the walls of Masada, and broke through with a battering ram. In a final act of defiance, the rebels committed mass suicide and burned all their structures, except for their food to prove they had not been starved out. Masada was thus abandoned until British archeologists surveyed it in the 19th century. By the middle of the 20th century, it had become a popular destination for Zionist youth groups, as a symbol of the persistence of the Jewish people, and the site of the last independent Jewish state.
Today there’s a nice gondola to the top, and a state of the art visitor center at the base. At the top, they’ve restricted themselves to a small gift shop and erecting stairs and guardrails around the edges. It was only mildly crowded- incidentally, Donald Trump was set to visit it at the same time as me, but George H. W. Bush’s funeral cancelled that- so I had plenty of time and space to look around. (more…)
The desert is chillingly empty.
Israel is a crowded country, with a population density many times more than the United
States or Colorado. For reference, there are twice as many people in Israel than there are in
Colorado, at one-thirteenth the size.
Which is why it’s so unnerving to be in a place where there are so few people here. I can step
out from my bunk, walk ten meters to the edge of the cliff, and look out clear to Jordan,
with no visible settlements for just about a hundred kilometers.
I’m in the desert, the Negev, which occupies the southern half of Israel, and which, upon
reaching the neat, precise, line drawn on a map that separates Israel and Egypt, promptly
becomes the Sinai Desert. Within the Negev, I’m in the Wilderness of Zin. Standing on the
edge of the cliff, I can look down and see the place where the Zin River will wind and crash
and flood when it rains, which it is due to any day. That isn’t an exaggeration, there’s a line
added to daily prayers praying for rain during the dry season in Israel, from a varying date in
spring until December 3rd, when the rains are unleashed. Today is December 3rd .
To picture the Wilderness of Zin, picture the Western Slope of Colorado, near Grand Junction or
Palisade. Vast, dry mesas, caves, empty streambeds, miles of scrubs, few to no trees, deep
gorged canyons, and dusty red dirt swirling about. It is many things: unconquerable,
irresponsible, blasted, cruel, sickening, beautiful, staggering, sweeping, understated, fantastic,
timeless, but one superlative it is not is godless. It was here Enoch ascended, here Abram
was turned into Abraham, here Lot herded sheep, here Joshua marched, here Elijah lived as
a hermit, here Habakkuk received his revelation, and here Job lived in poverty and wealth.
Each September, the newly assembled group of twelve Young Authors Collective (YAC) members are tasked with creating some form of a bio, whether it’s a standard “about me” paragraph, answers to a questionnaire, or some other familiar form.
However, one of the best ways to get to know a writer is to, well, read their writing. As YAC members will tell you, you can really get to know a person through their favorite genre and how they interpret the world through their stories.
So, inspired by Still Life with Tornado by A.S. King, in which the protagonist encounters herself at various ages, we have “the bio project.”
The prompt: Write a piece in which you encounter yourself at your current age, in five years from now, and ten years from now. Plus one bonus, random choice from the future or the past. There should be four versions of you. This is the what. The how is up to you: this can be creative non-fiction or fiction; you choose the genre, the style. Let this piece reflect you as a writer: that can be done through fact, through truth, your style, your genre, your voice.
The results: Mind-bending, hilarious, heartbreaking, thoughtful, genre-twisting poetry, short stories, and hybrid prose pieces. By far the most inspired, challenging responses to YAC bios. Truly impressive work. They slayed the assignment–and, in some cases, themselves.
Meet the Young Authors Collective (YAC) members for 2018-19:
The Holy Quadrinity
The thing is, no one ever teaches you how to deal with a situation like this, except, I suppose, yourself. That statement is significantly less profound when you consider the literal reality of the situation. I observe the trinity before me: father, son, and holy spirit. The father is crying over her precalculus textbook, the son is loudly and proudly practicing her times tables, and the holy spirit is just sitting in the corner mocking them both, absolutely drunk off her ass.
I suppose this particular trinity would be better defined as the prodigy, the broken prodigy, and the college dropout. There’s a nice chronology for you.
But then, where does it put me? As the fourth incarnation of this extraordinary downward spiral, I’m supposedly the sum of the other three. The only problem with sums is that I still can’t do simple math.
The prodigy, the last one seen with any scrap of potential, would probably have answers to this that I don’t. I’ve heard children have an innate wisdom, which is lost over time. Of course, I’m not sure I entirely trust the wisdom of someone who’s barely potty trained, no matter how well she can count. I’ve also heard you acquire an innate wisdom as you grow up, although truth be told, the broken prodigy and the college dropout are children, too, just children that have been potty trained a bit longer. (Although when it comes to the dropout, even that last part is questionable).
At what point do I just have to except the fact that none of us know anything, and never did? Is it possible that everyone simply gets stupider with age? Or did I just happen to peak at three years-old? Oh, that poor little girl, so proud of her times tables. Who’s going to break it to her that she’ll forget them all within a year, and have to relearn them when she gets to third grade? Except, that time she won’t be as good, and will proceed to spend the rest of her life forgetting everything anyone ever taught her. Who has the heart to tell her that she’ll never again be as smart as she is right now?
The other two figures turn and stare pointedly at me. I nearly do a double take.
“What, I have to be the one to say it?”
“It was a rhetorical question.”
The dropout shrugs. “Someone’s gotta, like, fucking… keep her from getting her hopes up ‘bout the future.”
The broken prodigy slumps over her book. “Someone’s gotta convince her not to take honors math.”
I survey the both of them, see the long suffering look in their eyes, and consider whether or not to nip potential in the bud. They both look so tired, a kind of tired I remember well, and suddenly I’m tempted to rewrite time. To give myself and my seventeen year-old self and my twenty-one year old-self a life free of impossible personal standards.
All by stomping on the ambitions of a three year-old.
I sigh and walk towards the little girl, who politely stops her counting and waves to me, swishing her body around in her fluffy tulle dress. “Hi!”
How is it possible for someone so small to be so terrifying? “Hi…” I say nervously. “I, uh. Heard you counting by sevens just now. You must be good at math, huh?”
She nods vigorously, pleased with herself. Poor soul. It only secures me in my conviction.
“You want my advice, kid?”
She furrows her brow, but nods. “Okay.”
“Take as many honors courses as you can.” I narrowly dodge the textbook hurled at me from behind, a muffled, drunken voice slurs out, “Ya blew it, asshole!” and the little girl in front of me looks both alarmed and amused. I regret saying it almost instantly, but hell if I don’t stick to my guns.
The thing about downward spirals is that you have to start at the top. So, by setting yourself up for success you’re also inherently setting yourself up for failure. And, yeah, I could insist that failure is a good thing which we can all learn from, but I’m not going to. The thing about failure is that it sucks. It really, really sucks. But it’s also part of the game. So I say to you, broken prodigy, at least you took honors, and I say to you, college dropout, at least you made it to college. And I say to myself, the frazzled, semi-functional adult who spent her whole life realizing she wasn’t a smart as she thought the was: get over it. You got better things to do than feel sorry for yourself.
Me, Myself, I, and a Desired Self
I sits in her room, lights off, music playing. The sun peeks through the half-closed blinds sending light across the clothes-covered floor. I is stuck in her head, thoughts speeding through as if her thoughts were competing in a race. I’s eyes flick across the room, seeing nothing. I’s ears hear the music but turn it into a story. I’s lips mouth words that are unheard to the outside world. This being a common action when I is sad the thoughts and pictures in her head are filtered in a melancholy way. The outside world and reality are shut out and the pretend, almost desired world plays in her head.
As “Paralyzed” by NF plays faintly around her head I walks into a cafe. The walls are mint green matching the checkered tile. Faceless people sit at the tables. I troubles herself with finding a place to sit, looking for one of her own characters. Instead, I sees Myself, but it isn’t a mirror reflection. Myself seems to have a bold haircut and a lightness on her shoulders. Myself’s face is the same but her smile opens wider and it looks real. Her eyes have a more weathered look to them and she holds herself as if she has more experiences. Without another place to sit, I walks over to Myself. I sits without asking and watches Myself. Finally, Myself acknowledges I.
“How are you?” Myself asks, sincerely.
I hesitates, skeptical about Myself’s response, “I’m,” I stutters, “I’m okay, I guess.”
“Don’t worry,” Myself pauses as if she lost track of what she was saying, “I was confused five years ago, too.”
I doesn’t know how to respond, she just looks at Myself, wondering if Myself recognizes her.
The song suddenly changes to “Epiphany” by BTS and the cafe fades into an old book store. Faceless people are scattered around the room looking at books and wandering around. I scans the room with her eyes and spots Me standing with a group of kids around I’s age. I can see that Me is older and wiser, her eyes crinkle at the corners when she smiles. I walks slowly towards Me, her eyes wandering over the books on the shelves. When I reaches the group of kids, Me smiles warmly at her.
“You made it,” Me states, “I was worried you would give up.”
I is taken aback, unsure what Me’s intentions are.
“Don’t worry,” Me reassures I, “It’s worth it, learning and struggling, I mean. Your attempts to find inspiration have led yourself to being an inspiration. You have achieved your goal.”
I is left speechless. Hesitantly, I turns to leave when the song changes to “Answer: Love Myself” by BTS. The scene fades back into I’s room except the lights are on and the floor is clean. The bookshelves are organized and her desk remains clean. I looks around her room and sees another form of herself. This version carries herself more confidently. Her smile is wide and her eyes sparkle. I looks around again, puzzled. This person was her age and the same person but better. This version was Desired. The Desired Self looks up and nods at I.
“I think…,” I trails off, feeling confused.
“What?” Desired Self asks, almost sounding bothered.
At that moment, I makes a decision, “Nevermind. I don’t want to be here,” I finishes, turning from the room.
“Wait,” Desired Self calls. I turns around waiting for Desired Self to continue, “Why are you leaving? What happened?”
“I decided that I don’t want to be like you. I want to be like Me, Myself, and I and that isn’t you,” I states. Suddenly the room fades into what it used to be and I finds herself back in the real world, sitting on the floor and feeling better with the idea of reality.
Yearning Experience and Advice, Right from Self
“It’s the comfort of a dark place,
the fingers one can imagine reaching for one’s legs
through a maze of slain dragons and angel tears.”
“It’s always like, really cold on the basement floor,
freezing wasteland of ice, snow, and pink hair ties.”
“That stops right where the land dips away,
and there is space, followed by time,
and both of them kinda walk up to you,
and ask where you where this morning,
and you say nowhere, because there is nowhere else.”
“There are infinite pages,
my mind dripping ink intolerably slow onto impressable ivory.
The world out loud in sheet music, too frantic for hundreds of fleeting gazes to pierce.”
“Clocks run in rings,
pulling us back
to our own cold faces
Make your twin as perfect as possible, the ticks are eating your only infinity.”
“One second out of a year I see the cold truth of it actually walking away.
I pretend time is forever,
I pretend I am forever,
because I have forever every second.
Until I don’t, and then I just don’t.”
“Oh, the monotony of rain.
It is the same, it is
And it is everything else pitifully endless in its own fragile finitely”
“Time is the construct that lets us believe in changes, in endings, in beginnings,
and the illusion of something in-between.”
“There are walls over there, and then it dips and this just sits here.
Silver, I remember.
Burning hot, glassy spires all frozen at the second they should have reached me.
Just this endless moving.
Not going anywhere,
“I guess it is just kind of, what I have control of? Maybe?
There is this and I can touch my arm,
but who can touch who’s arm and who is doing the noticing?
It like a maze, just goes on and on, and I can say I don’t see an end
But I also can say I won’t ever believe there isn’t one.”
“I don’t know,
I still don’t know if there is a goal to the twisting walls, to the endless.
I want that end though.”
“I always remember July,
its just heat for the sake of heat.
Worlds infinite, cradled in chipped imperfection
grubby with life’s messiness.
She is chewing her nails,
they are stubby,
the skin underneath, red, blistering, calloused.
“Don’t let me down.”
She is playing with her pencil,
It’s matte black, highlighted with red,
I can hear the lead clicking around its metal inside
She has cracked her knuckles to punctuate almost every paragraph,
She does it again.
It’s a hollow sound.
I hate it
“Be lost, it will be good for you.”
She is perfectly still.
Her eyes always on me.
Kinda cold, kinda bored.
Or maybe just different.
Do I want to be that?
“I don’t know.”
I think that might have helped, I have the tapes.”
“No, no, I haven’t listened to them again.
It just a lot you know.
I mean there is nowhere new anymore.
But there is also nowhere new anymore.”
“Yes, I would recommend this.
It’s…..you know useful.”
“Yeah, just as the pamphlet says, ‘know yourself,’”
now i do
I was walking my dog that Friday morning, trying and failing to whistle, because it was just that sort of day where if you were a character in a movie you would whistle, but I can’t whistle. My dog was trying to whistle too, but that wasn’t because she was a character in a movie, it was because she wanted to bark at the rabbits, and I didn’t want her to bark at the rabbits, and she knew that, so we compromised and she was whistling. I can’t help but think I lost out in that deal. Still, I suppose I can bark at the rabbits now, if I wanted to, and she can’t.
She stopped whistling and started barking, and turned from admiring the mountains on the clear Friday morning to yanking her leash–I would have to bring her violation of our sacrosanct agreement to international mediation–when I saw what she was barking at. It was her, or more precisely, a dog that looked exactly like her. I gaped at the dog before realizing she was connected to a leash, and followed that leash up to a hand, which was connected, naturally, to an arm, which was connected, my god, to a body, which was, save me now, exactly like me? I mean, there were my clothes, and while I hadn’t looked in the mirror in a bit, I felt the face was a fair replication of my own. He too had been staring at the mountains, but he lowered his eyes and his and mine met.
I’d like to say that we then proceeded to engage in a symmetrical ballet, miming each other’s movements in perfect sync, gliding alongside like butterflies, but that didn’t happen. Instead, a rabbit darted past my dog, and she jumped, and his dog strained at her leash, and we lost whatever sync we had had.
After we got our respective dogs under control, I hailed him with a nod, and we walked towards each other. He really was precisely like me, I thought.
“Hold up.” I held out my hand. “Where are you from?”
“Here, I suppose. I was just taking my dog out for a walk.”
“So that means you live where I live–”
“And yet we never met before?”
“Unless this is a one off–”
“They’d have to hire twins though–”
“And your name is–”
And we both said “Huh” simultaneously.
We tried to do a secret handshake, but it failed miserably.
What do you say to someone exactly like yourself? More to the point, what do you say to yourself? There’s a principle in communication theory that if both participants have the exact same knowledge, communication is impossible. There’s nothing to exchange, and communication is, under this theory, an exchange. Communication is predicated on differing levels of knowledge, and without that, you can’t make it work.
My doppleganger seemed to realize this too. He raised his hand in a salute.
“See you around.”
And we walked off, both admiring the mountains, with both our dogs barking at rabbits.
I stepped out of the sanctuary, and couldn’t help but to gasp. It has always been stuffy, every shul’s sanctuary has always been stuffy, it isn’t a value judgement. The temperature, too, had dropped ten degrees outside the sanctuary. The door closed behind me, and the pious drone was cut off abruptly. I set off, a jaunty spring in my step, towards an intersection in the corridors.
The air felt thinner, and I was looking around with a quiet–and entirely unearned–sense of satisfaction, when I accidentally ran into someone.
“Sorry,” we said simultaneously. I looked at the poor fellow I had just ran into.
“No, really, it was my fault,” we said, in unison.
“Not at all, it was mine,” we followed. We stopped. I had run into, for lack of better terminology, myself. He seemed, older, perhaps more tired. He had a more rigid posture than me, an almost military air.
“What’s your name?” I asked curiously.
“Jonas Rosenthal. You see, I haven’t been here for a while, ever since the war began in–” he suddenly stopped. He saw my face. “Hold up.” His eyes widened. “Nope, just wait here one minute–” and he took off running, pushing down an old man mumbling to himself and broke into the sunshine. I stared.
“Huh,” I said to myself, and walked off.
I awoke in a cold sweat. Hoping to change my odd feeling, and get thoughts of my mysterious doppelgängers out of my head, I set off on a run. The cold morning air breezed by me as I set out. Then out of the corner of my eyes I saw him.
Huh, I thought, That runner has the same lilting gait as me. And suddenly begin to speed up. I noticed then that the person had. I had an upsetting thought.
“Not today!” I shouted and sped off suddenly. I changed my normal pace, and pushed after him. Luckily to be some years older than me, and had–a peg leg? Even with the leg he was still definitely quick. I broke into a sprint as be rounded onto Cranmer Park, and I tracked right behind him.
I tackled him. As soon as my hands touched him, he collapsed to the ground. I stared into his face: it really was another doppelgänger, older still than the previous one. His hair was in crisp military cut and was graying.
“Alright–I want answers, and I want them now!”
He gasped. “You read a lot of Heinlein, right?”
“What happens when you meet a version of yourself from the past or the future?” I considered it.
“You either explode, create a paradox, or kiss.”
He nodded. “We haven’t exploded yet, by some miracle, but it’s only a matter of time. Clearly the author is doing some hackneyed Christmas Carol thing, with different versions of yourself, but we’re too smart for that. If we meet again, the world may not survive it.”
“Wait,” I said. “What if ’50s sci-fi troops are just that, tropes?”
He looked at me, pityingly. “Where science can’t help us, we must rely on sci-fi. I learned that- you’ll learn that once you join the war.”
And he leapt up and ran off, leaving me running behind him, shouting about “what war, and when?”
All day at school I was jumpy, looking around for aged versions myself. Aged is normally reserved for cheeses, not people, certainly not yourself. I broke out of English when I couldn’t stand it any longer.
I had just entered the bathroom, when I felt a tap on my shoulder. I spun around to see a grizzled man, with an eye patch and a peg-leg staring back at me. I gasped. It couldn’t be.
“I thought we weren’t allowed to touch?” I asked.
He chuckled. “We figured out time-travel rules shortly after that guy left. You were going through your paranoid stage then–course, the fact that they really were out to get you then didn’t help.”
I nodded, mutely.
“Anyway, the author’s demanding I leave my moon base one last time, to wrap this ridiculous farce of a story up and give some advice.”
“Moon base?” I perked my ears up.
“It’s not voluntary, I promise you. Anyway, advice. Your life’ll be like, as Charles De Gaulle once said, ‘Successively banal, then glorious, then deplorable, but never mediocre.'” And with those words, future me started to fade away.
“Wait!” I called out. “Didn’t he say that about Philippe Pétain? The collaborator? And didn’t he die alone, insane, and imprisoned? And what was that about a moon base?” But he didn’t respond, and I was left shouting at a soap dispenser.
Sentence: Jonas Rosenthal will bet you 2:5 that he will not end up like Philippe Pétain.