Creative Exercise #4

Tiny Masters
The notion of tiny masters comes from author and  New Yorker  writer Susan Orlean, who once explained that she’s most interested in writing about people who are masters of their “tiny domains.' Adapting her approach to personal essays can help writers discover a rich subject near at hand — something they already know a lot about, something that interests them. It helps shift the focus from writing exclusively about the self to writing about knowledge, ideas and processes. As writers explore their mastery on the page, they instinctively begin playing with structure and making connections they never knew existed. Meaning begins emerging naturally from their drafts, pointing the way to future revisions.

This is how it works:

* Make a list of 10 things of which you’re a master. Include talents, skills, hobbies, qualities of character. I've created many lists over the years, and they surprise me every time: Making enchilada sauce. Building fires. Finding beach glass. Crossing rivers. Writing thank you notes. Collecting maps. Procrastinating. Teaching tricks to my dogs.

* Choose a mastery that appeals and free-write about it. Describe how to do it, when you learned it, what you accomplish, where you do it — whatever comes to mind.

* Now write about a person connected with this mastery. Maybe it’s the person who taught you how to do it, someone you’ve done it for, or someone who discouraged you from doing it. Include details that capture the person’s personality or mannerisms.

* Next, write about a particular scene or event that involves your mastery and/or your person. Look for opportunities to add dialogue and setting.

Be sure to also comment on a classmate's post for full credit.

26 thoughts on “Creative Exercise #4

  1. Andrew Lange

    When I was in high school, and especially now in college, I found (and others told me) that I was always extremely motivated when it came to completing my schoolwork in a timely manner. In a way, this is rather ironic considering that in elementary school I used to throw absolute tantrums over even just a little bit of math homework (To this day I wish I could apologize to my late mother for how miserable I probably made her life in the after-school hours on weekdays). I also had a fair amount of trouble with grades, or even just having run-ins with the school administration for things like unintentional plagiarism or generally being accused of things I didn’t actually do. (One classmate/friend did most of them, but I was viewed as the partner in crime- how many other teachers instituted a rule that they had to check the bathroom before and after each use because of middle schooler pranks?). It’s ironic that I pulled great grades in high school or have become a fairly studious college student.

    In high school, my (single parent) dad was often away, even out of town for days or weeks or even months at a time working. As a result, I was very much what could be thought of as a latch-key teenager; I was often home alone with no intervention from the parental rule of law besides my own responsibility and ethics. As an emerging adult, (20 now) I have since told my dad that I appreciate this in a way as it probably taught me the art of responsibility and ethics from a fairly young age.

    I had to set my own alarm clock, actually respond to it by getting up and not simply rolling over and pressing snooze repeatedly, get up, make myself breakfast, get off to school on time, not get myself in any kind of trouble in school, go home, do my homework, do whatever chores needed doing, make myself a dinner better than Ramen noodles, and get to bed at a reasonable hour to have at least eight hours’ sleep before school the next morning or chores or first jobs on the weekends.

    This continued into my college career. My first semester of my freshman year, I had an incredibly studious roommate, who also somehow managed to get his work done in time to go driving around the entire state of Alaska on weekends. Now, during my sophomore year, despite a roommate who is much more relaxed than I am, I realize how studious I am- I am presently taking 17 credits yet I have found that in many courses, including this one, I am already ahead of schedule; I am writing this on Thursday night of Week 2.

    I had a rather intensive mathematics course in the second semester of my freshman year in college. It wasn’t something I could get help with easily, but instead I would just sit there and stare at it and refer to the textbook examples and finally figure it out. This meant its fair share of late nights and setting my alarm to be awake again early the next morning despite having no morning classes simply to do homework, but I got it done nevertheless. It meant that come finals week I wasn’t concerned in the least with my grades.

    This greatly impacts my life in terms of my stress level, or lack thereof: While some students might feel the effects of slipping grades and frequent hangovers, I start realizing how, come finals week, I have little or no fear of slipping grades; I feel a sense of relief while others are pulling their hair while out pounding energy drinks in the library.

    1. Aubri Stogsdill

      That is a valuable skill. Personally, being consistent with a schedule or getting ahead on homework has always been really hard for me to do. While I am a good student and do well in my classes, I’ve often found myself putting my assignments off as long as possible. I would love to develop this skill in my own life.

  2. Katherine Whelchel

    I am a master at deciding when you become a ‘big girl’. This wasn’t a mastery that I worked hard for; it was more like an achievement I made in one fell swoop when I was four. Though there were many things I couldn’t do at that age, a few specific tasks were the most important in my eyes to graduate from a ‘little girl status’. The official list included: snapping your fingers, blowing a bubble with gum, reading to yourself, and tying your shoes. Once you achieved every single one of these goals, in my eyes, you were a ‘big girl’. As you can imagine, I then spent most of my free time trying to check each goal off of my list. I made my siblings perform the skills over and over, and I would ask a thousand questions. I wanted to become a big girl with all of my heart! Eventually, my sister and brother got tired of blowing bubbles, snapping, etc. so I then went to my father for help.
    My dad has always been a more reserved, quiet person, but not in the way most people describe when they write about “reserved fathers”. He loved to pretend to wrestle with me, which always left me in a heap on the floor, laughing my heart out. Still to this day, we will have wrestling matches, and he always says he wins, but I never know the rules so it’s not a fair fight. My father loves to work with wood, but he carries the weight of providing for our family, so he always dream up more creations then he will have the time to make. Day after day I have watched him provide to well for me and my family. Not just financially, but in love, care, and wisdom as well. He loves to read about captains and their ships and could sit on a comfy couch all day.
    It was one of those days where my dad had planted his butt straight on the couch with a book and planned to sit there until the book was finished. I remember running up to him with the plan of complaining about my sibling’s lack of support, when I saw that my dad knew how to do one of the hardest goals on my list. I sat right in front of him on the floor and watched as his eyes darted back and forth, slowly moving down the pages of his book.
    “How do you do it?!” I exclaimed. Frustrated by my past failed attempts.
    “Do what?”
    “Read without speaking out loud?”
    “I don’t know, you sort of say it in your mind” he replied, without moving his eyes from the page.
    “Like a mind trick?” I asked. Not waiting for an answer, I plopped down next to him to get a closer look. I pressed my face to him to see if I could hear his thoughts. This skill was quickly becoming my greatest adversary.

    1. Aundrea Pierce

      This was a cute read! It’s funny because my son is four years old and he just learned yesterday how to ride his bike with no training wheels. My husband and I joke around and say “he’s a big man, doing big things now!”. You can tell when my son thinks he is such a big boy, he acts like he’s just to cool for school! I laughed at your dialogue, how do you “read without speaking out loud?” I love it when little kids throw me off guard with their wittiness! I absolutely adore the little minds of children. Thanks for sharing!

  3. Aubri Stogsdill

    One thing that I am a master of is avoiding people in public. Now, at first this might sound a bit shocking or perhaps even rude, but this is a skill that has kept the introvert in me alive for several years. I must explain that I don’t avoid people in public because I’ve got some sort of grudge against them. Honestly, I just rarely have much to say, so I’d rather avoid an uncomfortable conversation altogether. I guess part of my view on this comes from my perception of the people I’ve accidentally run into in the past. Based on my observation, they are often times just as uninterested in striking up a quick and unnecessary conversation as I am, and yet both they and I feel some sort of strange obligation to talk. I suppose I’d rather aid in the avoidance of a conversation than the completion of it.

    Perhaps this is due to my introversion, or maybe I just tend to be too rushed to talk while I’m out and about. Either way, avoiding people I know in public is something I’m a pro at. I think this skill was developed and improved during my time of working in the grocery department at Fred Meyers. One thing you learn when you work in a store like Freddy’s is that EVERYONE comes to Fred Meyers. On a given shift at work, if I stopped and chatted with every person I saw that I knew, I could easily have spent several hours talking rather than doing my job. In order to combat this, I would strategically skip aisles, head to the back room, or just generally avoid eye contact with people that I knew.

    Now, of COURSE, I don’t avoid everyone in public. There are plenty of people that I would love to have a quick in-store chat with. But if I ever see my Economics teach in public ever again, I promise you that I will avoid him. A couple years ago, I was restocking the sauce packets on aisle 24, and my infamous econ teacher rushed over to me. He is a strange sort of fellow who was going through his third divorce when I was taking his class. Anyways, when he saw me working he made his way over to me and quickly informed me of the current status of his divorce. The conversation went on for a painfully long time, and he didn’t seem to care that he was distracting me from my work. Now, of course, I’m sure he didn’t intend to come off creepy, but he did. Had I been given the change to avoid this conversation, I would have.

    The main sort of people that I avoid in public are the people that I kind of sort of met three years ago. For some strange reason, I’m often times friends with these people on Facebook, but I’ve never had any sort of real relationship with them. Yet, these people feel obligated to strike up a conversation. The truth is, they don’t give a rats butt about whats happening in my life. In fact, they likely forgot that I existed all together until they saw me doing my shopping in Fred Meyers, so why would we converse as if we were friends?

    The best way to avoid people in public is to always have your eyes peeled. People can be sneaky and corner you into an unwanted conversation. In order to avoid this, you must always be aware of your environment. Also, if eye contact is unavoidable, simply looking like you’re in a rush can often deter conversations. Smiling, waving, and then walking on at a quick pace shows the person you saw that you don’t hate them, you just simply don’t have time to talk. Another method is the duck and cover. In this method as soon as you see someone you’d rather not talk to, you simply turn as quickly as possible and start walking in another direction. Each method is applicable depending on the situation, but using the right one for your situation is necessary in order to not come off as a total jerk.

    One particular person that has experienced my skill in avoiding people in public the most is my best friend Kassie. I remember one day as we walked through the store I noticed that just ahead of us and to the left was an individual that I was acquainted with, but didn’t have the slightest desire to talk to. Immediately, I grabbed Kassie’s arm and swooped into the closest aisle.
    “WHAT are we doing???”
    Kassie asked with a puzzled look on her face. Immediately, I explained the silly situation to her. She laughed a bit and we continued shopping. Kassie is someone who understands the quirk/skill of mine, and for some reason, she seems to respect it. Whenever we are in public and she sees someone she knows that might stop and chat she warns me in advance so that my introvert is prepared. Honestly, if that’s not friendship, I don’t know what is.

    1. Caitlyn Williams

      Love it! haha I like that you included various methods of avoiding people. I liked the ‘Looking like you’re in a rush’ method, its my favorite!

    2. Ben Knapp

      Your essay was funny and interesting to read, as well as being full of useful advice. Avoiding people in public seems like a good skill to have, and you sound like the master.

  4. Katherine Whelchel

    This was great! Not just because you kindly included me, but you so clearly and humorously described your master talent. 🙂 You’re such a great writer!

  5. Caitlyn Williams

    Caitlyn Williams
    Creative Exercise #4
    6, February 2018

    I’m an unapologetic master of setting boundaries. Sometimes that means forgetting to reply to someone. I’m not always forgetful though. Social media makes it easier to talk to people without actually meeting them and this freaks me out to some level. People I don’t even know, message me things I don’t wanna read, and it always ends up as another pointless, one-sided conversation that I regret partaking in. Text messages don’t provide accurate expressions and emotions. Any response could be given for the other to interpret. This is why I’ve become a tiny master of this thing called setting boundaries, or saying no. If I don’t want to engage in a conversation, I simply read the message and ignore. If the message is a friendly message, I respond by saying, “Sorry, I don’t want to talk.” This only applies to text messages on facebook, messenger, and any other social media.
    On the other hand, I have people that talk to me for conversation, and I enjoy it. (Most of the time). In person, I feel it’s important to be able to express yourself to others. If a friend or acquaintance were to stop by me and fire up a conversation, I wouldn’t have the choice to read and ignore it. I would respond to the person in the moment, whether I feel like it or not. Sometimes I just walk away because I have the choice to. What I’m trying to say is that we have the choice to engage with others, or not to engage with others. This is important to me because there was a time that I thought I didn’t have the choice. I didn’t have the confidence to say “No, I don’t want to talk to you.” I couldn’t leave the other person on ‘read’.(Sometimes I did; sometimes you just can’t waste your energy on someone not worth your time). This soon took its toll on me and I decided enough was enough. I was a junior in high school when I finally took charge of the conversations I had. I decided I had a voice, and that not all people need to hear it. I didn’t use my energy on the conversations I didn’t want to have. I might come off a bit selfish, but it doesn’t matter.
    I’ll be the first to admit that I am not a master, yet. I don’t know if I even want to be a master at it. It’s a confidence issue, and mine grew like flowers do under the sun. I still reply to people I don’t want to talk to. Whether it’s out of pity, or if it’s someone I can’t avoid, I still respond. It might be shallow, meaningless conversation, but it still matters to me. People are worth my time, and I like to show it. I’m not a rude person, I can’t just leave someone hanging when they talk with me. The only time I leave someone hanging is when they break boundaries, or try to talk to me in a way I simply don’t wanna be talked to. I enjoy most conversations, but the few I avoid, are the few that make me the master of this thing called ignoring people, or setting boundaries. Whatever you want to call it. Having the confidence to say no to people gives me a sense of power I didn’t have before.

    1. Jessica Honebein

      Caitlyn I think that it is awesome that you have taken your voice and decided how YOU wanted to use it. I think that it is easier to ignore people on social media then in person when they try and talk to you. It’s an important skill to have to be able to say no and call the shots for yourself. It sounds like you went through a couple stages before actually being able to resist and only say what you want to say. I think that you key in on the importance of personal conversation as well!

  6. Aundrea Pierce

    I’m a master at interacting with dogs. My love of dogs grew when I was five years old, and my mom took me to a pet store in the mall. We lived on a military base in California with a strict no cats and no dogs policy. I’m almost sure that the policy has been lifted since then. I remember how my mickey mouse voice managed to become squeakier as I voiced my excitement looking at all of the cute little puppies. They were bouncing up and down on the shredded newspaper in their temporary cubed habitats. Of course, there were the few that were drained of energy and zonked out, belly up. I remember crying and begging my mom if we could “please sneak the pug home, it’s not fair!” as she tried to lure me out of the store. This experience was just the beginning of my love story with this species full of cuteness.
    My mom loves dogs too, so much that when I turned fifteen, she ran her own in-home pet sitting services called, “Doo-littles Pet Care.” Mom would ask me sometimes after school, “wanna go on my pet runs with me?”. If I had nothing interesting planned with my friends I’d ask, “any dog runs?”. If there were a chance to get some affection from a pup, I was down, especially after a day of social torture and learning.

    As I grew older and got married, my husband and I bought an Alaskan Malamute while living in Texas. I spent hours teaching her to sit, stay, shake, and speak; I got her to say, “I love you!”. I started reading canine books and did my research to gain as much knowledge as I could about the most caring, intelligent, people pleasing animals known to man! Every interaction I’ve had so far (I’m guessing over 400) with a dog has been a positive experience except a handful; which looking back if I were more educated I could have altered the outcomes of being bitten or chased.

    Imagine you’re walking through the park, a neighborhood, wherever you’re headed to, and you come across a full grown, let’s throw a random breed out there, Malamute just sitting there all alone with no one around. You want to do the right thing and help it find its home, so you get that urge to crumble in and baby talk its way over towards you. But before you do anything we need to figure out who the Alpha is. The dog in front of you is sitting up tall and straight; its triangle ears are perched straight up at attention on both sides of its grey and white flat head. Due to its stature the dog might be trying to tell you, “I’m in charge around here human!”. You need to remember that behind those droopy deep brown eyes and fluffy white chest there is, in fact, an animal, and humans and animals see the world very differently.

    Let the dog come to you. Preferably you want pups to know you are the leader of the pack and remaining upright and calm you can send the message, “I’m friendly, but I’m in charge now.”
    Now go ahead and use your sweet talk to try and get him to approach you. As you do this, the dog’s ears twitch and pin back, and he starts to walk over to you with his tail between his legs. He’s telling you “I want to come see you bad, but I don’t trust your scent yet!” Let him come sniff you out, and if he sniffs your rear, he simply wants to get more information out of you, like maybe what you had yesterday for lunch. Dogs have an incredible sense of smell, it’s amazing. Once he’s done sniffing out your “background check” he will likely let you know you passed by wagging his tail and leaning his body on you. Congratulations he’s officially “submitting” to you! Rolling on their back is another common way for dogs to submit (exposing their guts). Now is the time you can check his collar or follow a plan that can get this beautiful wolf-like creature back to its original pack. Dogs are not humans; it’s my belief that all dogs desire is to fulfill its duty and loyalty among its pack. Communicating with dogs is simple, honestly. After all, most communication is nonverbal.

    1. Cassidy Kramer

      I love this story! I also grew up loving dogs, and love how you can train them and find out how smart they really are. Thank you for sharing this story!

  7. Jessica Honebein

    Jessica Honebein- Creative Exercise #4

    I am a master at being independent in my own life and in others. Independency has became a huge part in defining who I am since I have left my home. I am now independent financially and personally. I went from living in my parents home to living three hundred and some miles away from them. That was my first step of independence. My second step was renting a house, buying a car (which included taking out a loan), paying my bills, and going to college. I am now a dog owner to a energetic little husky/hound mix and she depends on me for her care. I think that all the sole responsibility has helped me take on the role of independency very strongly. Honestly, I love the alone time that I get with just my dog and I. Most the time that is all I wish for is a quiet night in, and snuggles from Oats (my dog). Independency is having completely control of your life, and no one tells you how to live it. I think the structure I had growing up has helped me to achieve the goals I have aimed for since being out of the house, and one of those was independency.

    I think that the reason why I have been able to master independency is because my boss. At work I am the one that manages everything, and the only trail guide. I think that she has taught me that being an independent strong person can help you go a long way in life. My boss is also very independent, she has two children and a husband. She started her business up with her father and has since then took over the business. Since she began to have kids she has ran the financial part of the business and trained me for the “action” portion that I still do today. On top of this, like I said earlier, my family has also helped me to be independent. They were loving and encouraging when I needed support for anything. I think this has carried over to my personality and I am able to be independent but know that they will always be there if I need them.

    One experience that highlights my independence is when I purchased my own car. I was eighteen at the time and I needed a newer reliable vehicle that would not only take me from my house to college everyday but back to Seward when we had long breaks. I finally decided on a car that checked all the aspects I was looking for. So I put a hefty down payment, and took out a loan for a car. I now make car payments every month and am continuing to venture in independency.

    1. Monica Gallagher

      Bravo to your independence friend, that is awesome! I can very much relate to you and you’re alone time with your doggo. I love having my alone time with my fuzzy, stinky friends. I think it’s important for everyone to have those alone moments scattered throughout, but also for little breaks. I’ve lived with my boyfriend for awhile now and I still have my room. It’s my own space, my reading place, my watching my shows place, my cry alone place, and last but not least my pissed off place. I used to think it was really odd for married couples to have “man caves” or “reading rooms”, but now I totally get it. I just recently saw this little outside mother in law type shack in the back of this ladies yard, it was her space. I love that. I would love to have a studio that’s separate from the house for just that. Art doesn’t have to happen, epic writing doesn’t have to happen, literally nothing has to happen, just to be able to go in there and do whatever I want, even if it’s nothing. My dream. Here’s to hoping it becomes reality and that you have an amazingly stupendous day!

    2. Naimy Schommer

      Girl I feel you! It’s hard to feel like you’re stable independently, but once you get to a place where you feel like you’re doing okay, its amazing! Good for you!

  8. Monica Gallagher

    I am a master at making a meal out of seemingly random ingredients. The how to basically involves looking in your fridge and cabinet to check out the supplies that you have, then getting started with whatever components you find. I sometimes will start out with the protein involved, such as meat, then I will look at other pieces of the puzzle, such as carb and veggie. It seems like I think practically and logically, but that may not be the case, I’m just trying to write a how to, to something I can’t quite thoroughly explain or duplicate. There are people in my life that tell me, “Hey, you should make that thing you made the other day!”. Very rarely will I be able to remember or even remake that specific dish. I think about writing “the recipe” down, but I’m afraid I’ll lose the magic of the cook.
    I imagine I learned this from my grandma, sort of inherently, without her teaching me. It’s proved itself to be some sort of genetic trait that she’s passed down to me. I never really spent quality time with her in the kitchen, but she is the only one that I see cooking in a similar way. With completely different ingredients and styles, mind you, but the same concept of “Let’s see what we got and throw it together”. She grew up and lived in Mexico for most of her life, her family didn’t have a lot of money, so they got creative with their cooking. They used similar base ingredients to come up with different dishes. I do the same thing, except with a wider variety of items, due to grocery stores like Earth Fare and Fresh Market. Even though most of the time I just shop at Kroger.
    I tend to do this style of cooking best in my own element, in my own kitchen. It usually fares the best when I’m alone and there’s loud, epic music playing. I can still pull it off when my boyfriend is there, and he usually gives me space, probably because I look like a mad scientist. He used to ask me if I needed help and I used to say, “I’m not really sure what I need help with”. Which is all to real an expression for my “normal” life. Anyways, he doesn’t ask anymore, he accepts the fact that my cooking plan is all in my head and to just let it happen and hope for the best. He always likes it! Either that or he lies to me profusely. I can do this type of cooking in other people’s kitchens to a lesser degree, it’s normally been a close family member though, my parents or his, and it is never quite right. I suppose I need to fully free flow with no inhibitions for it to really be the organic kitchen sink dish.
    My boyfriend’s mom is completely shocked of this skill that I have. She is a very traditional, southern lady who has a full rolodex of recipes that she’s adopted from various family and friends. She uses those recipe cards religiously in almost everything that she cooks. When I first made dinner for them, I can remember her asking me what recipe I was using, and I kind of blanked. I thought it was a test or something, then I finally told her that I didn’t really use recipes. She laughed quite loudly and probably assumed I was going to make a crap meal. I can imagine her praying to herself as I took over her kitchen to make a “Mexican” meal. To note, it is extremely hard for me to make a “Mexican” meal that is not spicy. On another note, it is extremely hard for me to make ANY meal that is not spicy. So, this was a challenge for me in my non-recipe, spicy ways. It worked out for the most part, there was a few times when I noticed his Dad’s face getting a little red during dinner and then mine would get a little red too, my embarrassment of adding too much pepper showing, as I hoped internally that he wouldn’t die from heartburn later that night.
    We all lived. Survived the ordeal without food poisoning or heartburn or excessive diarrhea. I continue to do my wild and crazy non-recipe cooking and they continue to be surprised at almost anything and everything I make. It’s a different culture, a different world, in a lot of ways. It’s helped us both to grow, maybe not so much on my end. I still never use recipes, unless it’s cookies, I use recipes for cookies.

    1. Michelle Cordova

      You have a gift! I have always been jealous of people who can pull out random ingredients and create a meal- It really is a special talent! If there was 1 thing I wish I could do, it would be to cook food that didn’t make everyone instantly nauseous! Even when I’m reading from a recipe, I manage to butcher the meal. My husband tells me I’m the queen of ordering take-out.

    2. Corbin Knapp

      Hi Monica!
      That is an awesome gift! I have always thought that it was really cool when somebody could just make food out of random ingredients. My family usually makes food out of what we have at the time too . Thanks for the great piece! I wouldn’t worry if your food is hot, after all that’s what gives life spice. XD

  9. Michelle Cordova

    I am a master of parenting; not to be confused with a master parent. I do many things wrong in my role as a mother; however, it is my biggest accomplishment on a daily basis. I have kept 3 little people alive for 5, 6, and 8 years! I parent at home, at the park, at the grocery store and everywhere in between, and it is hard. Really, really hard. I wake up at 6 am every single day to complete the same tasks: cook, clean, help with homework, cuddle, drive to gymnastics and baseball, referee, and on occasion, I am a nurse who does not get paid for working 3rd shift. Some days, I am not sure how I do it, I just do. I often times have no idea if I’m doing it right, but my kids are loved, so I’m sure that counts for something!

    I learn new things about parenting every day, and I couldn’t dream of doing it without my husband, Joshua. He is my biggest source of love and motivation as we tackle this journey together. Although we became parents at the same time, he has taught me more about being a parent than he realizes as he is the perfect picture of strength and comfort wrapped into one. He is encouraging and forgiving, yet stern and honest, and he motivates me to be a better mom every day. My husband has deployed 3 times while in the Army, and tomorrow, he will be leaving again. Although we will spend 365 days apart, where I will physically single parent our children, his hard work and dedication allows me to be a stay-at-home mom so that I can focus on our family and my degree.

    The year was 2013. My husband was overseas, and I was a full-time student and mother of a 1, 2, and 4-year-old, living in Junction City, Kansas. That’s when it happened. No amount of parenting could have prepared me for what the next 5 days had in store for this mother of 3 from Alabama. It snowed. Not uncommon, even in Kansas, but as the snow dumped from the sky, cabin fever quickly set in as my minivan had no hopes of making it up the steep hill that lead from the comforts of home to the outside world and my sanity. Our vaulted ceilings began to close in around me as little children ravaged about every square inch of our house. Little runny noses rubbed against my shirt as I tirelessly played peek-a-boo and dress up. My days ran together as I prayed for restored power and plowed streets as my husband sat in a country thousands of miles away, unable to relieve me of my duties or give me 5 minutes to bathe. Thankfully, my children and I made it out of the shows storm, just short of losing all of our hair, but through it all, when I tucked those little angels into bed at night, I was positive that I was where I was meant to be- a stay-at-home, mother of 3!
    I now realize that the little Kansas snow storm was not a life or death situation, but at the time, it made parenting seem like the most difficult job I had ever done. I am not a perfect mother, but if ever I was a master at anything, it would be taking care of my children and giving them all I have to give no matter the situation we are in.

  10. Sierra Russell-McCollum

    One thing I have mastered over the years is making people feel welcomed. It all started when I began playing softball. I never had a lot of friends so I looked at this opportunity to make some. Joining my first team at the age of ten, I was always pushed to the side by the “popular girls”. And from then on whenever I moved to a different team, I never felt completely welcomed. There was always an awkward feeling and being unsure if I fit in or if I was good enough. I never learned my skill until I had created my own softball team full of ten-year-olds, which so happened my cousin was on. From that moment on, I made sure that every girl would feel welcomed and like she belonged. I practiced on open to the girls so they could come up to me with any concern. After that season was finished I had all the parents thank me for making their child feel welcomed. That feeling made me so happy. I didn’t want these girls to have to go through what I went through, and I made sure they didn’t.

    The reason why I try to make people feel welcomed is because of what I went through and for my little cousin, Marissa. Marissa has followed in my footsteps in the softball world, even playing the same exact positions as I did. I see her going through what I did at her age and it breaks my heart, I know how it feels. I teach her to be patient and welcome the new girls and to be the better person. Marissa could be my biological sister, when I say she is a mini me I mean it. We both have brown hair, very tall, lean, athletic, determined, and have the same sassy attitude. When I played softball I always made sure I was doing the right thing because I knew she was watching/learning from me, and I wanted to set a good example for her and other young girls. So when it came to setting an example on making sure other people felt welcomed I always pushed her to be the one to say hi and talk to the new girls.
    One time that I really had to step up was my senior year in highschool. I was the starting outfielder on the varsity softball team. We had just lost half of the team, because they graduated last spring. After tryouts we had gained six new players who were all underclassmen. A few of the girls in my grade decided that the weren’t going to give the new girls a chance and immediately shut them out. It got to a point where the old girls would say rude things about the new girls in front of them and not care. Witnessing this was extremely hard, so i took it upon myself to make these girls feel welcomed. So everyday I would always make sure to talk to them, give them pointers, invite them to frozen yogurt, and be there for them. By the end of the season All the underclassmen got me gifts and a coffee. They thanked me for making them feel welcomed and accepted.

    I have never felt so proud of myself. I ended up creating amazing friendships with them and I still talk to them or go watch them play when I have the chance. Making people feel welcomed is definitely a skill I have mastered and I could not be prouder of myself.

  11. Leah Rego

    There are many things I excel at, but only one I would consider myself a master of, creativity! I began to express my creativity before I could walk, talk, or do pretty much anything but lay around and be waited on hand and foot. I loved music and I would hum lovely little random ditties to myself, and anyone who was around to listen. Later this would turn into a lifetime dedication to singing really well, but rarely for any long term purpose. It drove my sister, who is only eleven months older than me, crazy, it still does.
    When I got a little older I added to my creative endeavors with building things in the dirt in the backyard, my darling oldest sister decided to be funny one day as I sat contentedly fashioning mud pies with my Irish twin, “Why don’t you eat one, they look delicious!” She said with what I’m sure was a self satisfied smugness at knowing how gullible my three-year old self was. Yes, I did it, no it was not good, it’s a tale my sisters love to tell, neglecting to mention my decidedly young age when they do. After that incident, my mother decided that maybe play-doh would be a better alternative for my creative pursuits.
    Soon I learned to color well and, my oh my, did that start of something wonderful. I discovered I could color the world to suit my desires, my Irish twin, in the wisdom of her eleven additional months, made it very clear that ‘You have to color inside the lines, it looks better that way.’ She told me, not intending to be bossy, but because she liked her pretty in an orderly fashion. She also always wanted me to do well, she was the very supportive kind of sister when in came to my creative pursuits. I, however, decided that, if there were no lines I did not have to color inside of them.
    I continued adding to my creative ways of expression, not replacing those that came before, I continued to refine what I learned in those as well. When I was in third grade, a student teacher introduced our class to poetry, in particular, the poetry of Christina Rosetti. He told us he wanted us to write our own poem, to use colorful words and descriptions. I, having fallen head over heals for the subject at hand, poured all the heart and soul of my creative self into the pursuit. I wrote a poem about the fall leaves, describing their colors and sound, and the fluttering way they fell from the branches, it was quite good for a third grader. My teacher put it on display with a few others in the hall outside the classroom. It was the first time I encountered the concept of creating for the pleasure of someone other than just myself.
    I continued to write poetry, sing, draw, paint, color, embroider, knit, crochet, and so many other creative pursuits, straight up till middle school. Then, like that cosmic moment two true loves meet, I was introduced to the art of writing fiction. Now, I had been reading significantly above grade level for years, and I loved every moment of it, but it had never occurred to me that I might be able to do it. Now it had, I abandoned all my other creative pursuits except for singing, I would be hard put had I been given the choice of only doing one of those two wonderful things. I threw myself into writing with abandon, scouring dictionaries and thesaurus’s for new and exciting words to bolster my stories. All of them were fascinating, few of them were good, none of them were ever finished. My writing was not the problem, well not once I got a handle on my excessive use of the thesaurus at least, my problem was that, in my creative enthusiasm I had sorely neglected my connections with people.
    I had used my creativity as a shelter against traumatic events in my childhood, creating beauty in the midst of the storms of life. I did not understand people; why they did things, how the react to events, all the little important details to back up the outward façade of the paper people I created to fill my colorful worlds. I had many short lived but fiercely intense friendships that usually only lasted till the freedom of summer, when I would be consumed by my near obsession with finding and creating beautiful things.
    When I became a senior in high school, I finally set aside all but my singing, it became my primary focus. It was the one creative pursuits I could completely master and control. The final concert of my senior year brought a crushing blow, my final opportunity for a solo was given to a freshman. Though I wasn’t angry with her for having it, I was so disappointed that after I graduated I all but quit singing where anyone could hear me. I felt that my voice had let me down, that it had let this moment of crowning achievement fall away. Yes, in retrospect it was foolish, but no more than any other teenage heartbreak. Over the following years I began to let go of everything creative.
    My life over the next following years was a series of bad choices and traumatic consequences, outwardly I strived to be the perfect wife and mother, but inwardly I lived in darkness. I no longer turned to my creativity to brighten my days, and my then husband was quick to squash any potential re-emergence of this part of my personality. He held a firm belief that only things that made money were worth while, so if a creative outlet could not make money it was forbidden. Over a decade would pass under the cloud of that relationship.
    My creativity though, like a seed waiting under the soil for the cleansing wildfire to clear the land, was waiting to once again spring to life. When my first marriage ended and amongst the struggle of rebuilding myself and my new life, my creativity stirred. It started as it had in the beginning, with sweet nothing lullabies hummed to my children, which became silly tunes, and soon my life was blooming with life again. This time however my creativity had become a way to enhance the beauty that I found in the world, and a way to share that beauty with my children, friends, and family.
    Eventually, with the encouragement of my second husband, I began to write. This time, I had greater understanding of the people and world around me. This time, my love of words, had merged with a love for myself and others, and with their love for me. Though I have yet to finish a more than the shortest of stories, I find that now I know what I want to write. I know the story I am meant to give to the world, and I am determined, though it may take a lifetime, I will finally write the ending.

  12. Ben Knapp

    Ben Knapp, Master of Procrastination

    I write, a day before my essay is due and after a full week in which I could have written it. If you don’t believe me, just check my date posted. Get my work done early? Why would I do that? I find I can write much more efficiently after taking a few simple steps.

    I begin my delaying bouquet with my trademark line, “I have loads of time!” From there, I move on to the technical stuff. Once I have gone past the stage where I can simply put it off till later, I begin to employ my advanced tactics. First, I start up my computer and check for updates. Then, I charge a bottle of seltzer and peel an orange. Finally, I sit down, and re-read my assignment a couple dozen times, just to make sure I’ve got it down.

    Once the actual writing can not be put off any longer, I start to find the right font. After that, I begin changing the page color and text effects. Once I have decided that the original is the best, I begin to scroll the still blank page up and down. For three hours. This is an essential part of my writing process.

    After repeating this routine for a day or two, I begin to notice that the due date is approaching. Clearing the orange peels from my table, I will buckle down and get the assignment done, usually in under an hour. I am sure that, although I have never tried it, I would not be able to write so quickly if I didn’t spend so much time thinking about things completely unrelated to what I have to write about.

    For some reason, teachers do not appreciate my talents. I can only guess as to why they find my dawdling to be a waste of time. Perhaps they have never have tried my particular brand of “literary meditation.” I recommend at least one hour of meditation for every 100 words written. This way, you can ensure maximum efficiency. I find I write much more efficiently after a full week of meditation, rather than having to write ahead of time and cause unnecessary stress for myself.

    This time management technique has served me well in a variety of situations. Last week, when the personal essay assignment was due, I spent five days just taking in the beauty of a blank page. Unfortunately, because of the due date of the assignment, I wasn’t able to spend as much time procrastinating as I would have liked, as I was forced to actually write the assignment.

    I constantly run into these kinds of obstacles in my writing career. Sometimes it seems that there just isn’t room in today’s society for a postponement artist such as myself. Things like due dates and quotas are always holding me back. Perhaps one day, we I will be able to truly express my art in all its various forms. But, until that day, I get away with what I can.

    1. Leah Rego

      I really enjoyed that, it certainly made me laugh. I thought I was the only one who scrolled up and down the blank page dozens of times, as if the words would appear suddenly where they weren’t before. I also have a tendency towards procrastination, though mine goes more like, wake at 5am, work for 10-12 hours, fix dinner, help the kids with their homework, sit down, check my grades for the 30th time that day, check my assignments, open word, scroll up and down, tap the keys a few times but not hard enough to do anything, close word, close my computer, watch tv till 12am, repeat till Sunday. it doesn’t sound nearly as enjoyable as your process though.

  13. Corbin Knapp

    I think my mastery is overthinking things. Even when I was thinking of something that I have “mastered” I had trouble deciding. “What if I write this? Will they think that I’m a weirdo? If I write this will they think I am a moron who doesn’t know how to write about interesting topics?”

    These questions always pop into my head at the most inconvenient times, and it is a habit that I wish I could get rid of sometimes. Sometimes it comes in handy, especially if I am looking at something that could potentially be dangerous. I will think of all the possible outcomes before I make a move. It may take a long time for me to decide, but usually I make the safe choice.

    Other times I overthink about something somebody did. For example, if one of my friends is busy talking to somebody else and I mention something and it doesn’t look like the they hear me. My mind will start racing, “Did I make her mad? Is it something I said? I must have done something since she isn’t even talking to me.” When in reality she just didn’t hear me. This kind of overthinking will get me down, even though there is no reason for me to think like that.

    When I was taking my learners permit test at the DMV when I was younger, I started to overthink as I started on the test. I had taken the practice test about a thousand times, but I was still thinking, “ Did I forget everything? Is this the right answer or is this one?” My brother who was taking the test right next me was selecting his boxes without a second thought. “He knows all the answers so that is why he is doing it so fast. You don’t know any of this stuff and that is why you are taking so long to select your answers.”

    After the test my brother and I both passed without error and I realized I had been worrying about nothing. Or when I took an English test before registering for college classes. As questions started popping up in my mind, I shook my head, gritted my teeth and took the test. A while later I emerged tired but happy. I immediately found out my results, I had passed with a good score. I had been overthinking for no reason!

    Overthinking is not something I am proud to say I have mastered, but is probably the only thing that I can say that I have truly mastered. I am getting better at shutting the questions out of my head, now that I realize that all it does is cause unnecessary stress in my life. As I get older, it is much easier to not worry about what people may or may not think about me , and just be myself. Maybe soon I will have mastered something else, the ability to not care too much about what people think about me.

  14. Naimy Schommer

    One of my earliest memories takes place at the Anchorage Curling Club on what was probably a Friday night. My dad was probably curling while my mom steered toddling me away from falling brooms and tried to keep me seated at the large viewing windows. Its a dangerous place for a small child, but its where I grew up.

    My dad started curling when he moved to Fairbanks in 1986 in order to have an excuse to talk to my mom, who he was friends with on campus at UAF, but was interested in dating. He walked into the Fairbanks Curling Club on a Saturday morning and asked a random stranger if they’d be willing to teach him how to curl, not knowing that stranger would be his future uncle-in-law, Ronnie.

    My mom’s family has curled since we have record of them–its a family affair. They all curl and they’re all great at it. Some have won National Championships, World Championships, and other prestigious competitions in both America and Canada. They go way back.

    So it worked, obviously. My dad and my mom got married and moved to Anchorage because my dad got a job down there. After they moved, my dad started playing with a team out of Anchorage, and discovered he was actually fantastic at curling. He and his team won every competition in Alaska, and competed in the 1996 Olympic Trials. They did well, but didn’t win.

    I was born in 1997, and after my brother came along in 1999, my dad quit curling to focus on The Dad Life, but never lost his love for the sport. Once my youngest siblings got to elementary school, my dad decided it was time to re-introduce his kids to curling and resurrected the Anchorage Junior Curling program using his four kids as seedlings. My dad believed it was important to train up a younger generation in the sport, and took on the role of head coach. Every Saturday morning, we’d load into the family van with all our gear at 6:45am, and drive around picking up the few other kids in the program for practice. We’d get to the curling club at about 7:30, and practice would start at 8am sharp.

    I took to it like a duck to water. It was my job to make sure everyone stretched and was warm when practice started, and eventually, when I was 13, I became the official President of the Junior Curing program. I attended board meetings to vote on behalf of the Juniors, completed coaching clinics, and coached the 5-10 age range until I moved to Fairbanks in 2015.

    I, along with my teammates, have won the State Championship eight times and have competed in seven Junior National Championships. We earned a bronze medal in the 2014 Arctic Winter Games, and I earned a silver for my mixed-doubles play. I’ve had great success with the sport and enjoy playing with my parents, siblings, and extended family.

    Due to my rigorous athletic career, I had four reparative surgeries last summer. This is my first off-season in over 10 years, and I initially found the adjustment hard to accept. But I’ve followed in my dad’s footsteps and am now the head coach for the Fairbanks Junior Curling program. I take great joy in sharing something that has been so pivotal in my own life with young kids. We have great fun and learn how to curl while we’re at it.

  15. Cassidy Kramer

    Something that I am particularly good at is volleyball. When I am on the court, everything just comes naturally. I learned it when I was in 6th grade, but I didn’t acquire a love for it until my sophomore year of high school. I have accomplished many things through volleyball. Accomplishing things through it is how I know I am good at it, and one of the reasons I love doing it. I have accomplished things like achieving All-State three years in a row, getting recognized at tournaments, and it has helped me improve my character.
    The person that comes to mind when I think of volleyball is my mother. She has helped me so much throughout the years in it. Supporting me in everything I do, and helping me realize my mistakes when I make them. My mom is everything I would hope for as a mother, and is someone I desire to be. Being a teenager, I am sometimes annoyed with her. Although, even when I am, I know that she is just doing what is best for me. Her way of telling me that I am doing something wrong is straight forward. Why can’t she coat it with a little sugar? I think to myself.
    I particularly know the time when I did realize why I love playing volleyball. It was the end of a five-set game, and my team barely one. I look up at my family, their eyes filled with pride, looking at who I have become. They know that I have worked hard to get to my playing level, which makes their eyes glisten even more. After our team meets discussing our game, I run over to my family. “Good job babe, I am so proud of you and of the person you have become.” My mom says to me. Once these words leave her mouth, my heart sinks, and tears start to form in my eyes. However, I hold them back the best I can because I know that if I let my family see, this happy tearless moment would turn into a cryfest for all of us.

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