Okay, so this is really more of a personal essay than a memoir (you rock for picking this category, by the way, because I was getting sick of posting the others every week), but it’s what I’ve got to offer you today. Lauren Oliver is currently hosting a competition for fans to send in their stories about how her Delirium trilogy has affected them, the winner of which gets a really freaking awesome ARC of the last book, Requiem. And if you’ve read the second book, Pandemonium, you should know that getting your hands on Requiem as quickly as possible is a good idea, especially after that stupid, freaking, horrible cliffhanger ending. (I love you, Lauren Oliver.)
But anyway, this week’s Wordy Wednesday is my entry to the contest, and if you’d like to enter it as well, here’s a link: http://www.goodreads.com/author_blog_posts/2786498-requiem-arc-giveaway-contest
It was the time of night when shadows crept up the walls and it was quiet enough to hear the house creak; when any reasonable human being would be asleep, dreaming, unaware of the hopelessness that comes from being all alone in the darkness.
But I was sixteen years old, and it was midwinter break, and I was awake. So awake, without a wink of sleep in sight, and I had nothing to do.
It was a waiting game, for me. I was at an in-between stage in my life: in-between friends, in-between my school’s winter play and the spring musical, in-between replying to partial requests from literary agents and waiting to hear if I’d get any full requests back, and in-between being one person and being another. I was in-between before and after, beginning and conclusion. I was stuck in the sagging middle, with no climax or end in sight.
I lay in bed with my laptop cradled against my stomach, my body curving up in a weird adaption of the fetal position so I could see the screen. Its too-bright glow cast shadows against my cheeks and my eyes narrowed against the light, and I was so, so tired, but I was too wide, wide awake to even imagine sleeping.
And of all things, I was on Facebook.
It was 2:00 in the morning during a break from school. Vacation. I was supposed to be doing things with friends, or else sleeping like the rest of my family, and instead I sat in the dark and scrolled through my newsfeed, waiting for something to happen.
Here’s the truth about Facebook: Nothing ever happens on it, least of all at 2:00 in the morning during midwinter break. Things happen in the real world, and then just get relayed to Facebook eventually once they’ve already passed.
The thing is that I knew that, too. But I was still there, scrolling and scrolling and scrolling through the newsfeed, searching for something, anything to grab onto and pull me out of my loneliness.
Freeze. Stop. That’s when it happened; the spark, the serendipity, the perfect storm, whatever.
I glanced from my central newsfeed over to the ads on the right-hand side of the screen, and there nestled amongst the advertisements for zit cream and online classes was one for Delirium.
It was 2:00 AM. I had nothing better to do but stare in increasing despair at my newsfeed.
So I clicked it.
Experts say that a person can fall head over heels in love in as little as a fifth of a second. That’s what happened with me when I stumbled upon Delirium. The writing was beautiful, the plot was exciting, the characters were flesh and blood and breathing. I couldn’t stop reading once I’d started.
I had been awake for hours. I had been awake for days. But reading the first lines of Delirium, it was like I was finally stretching my arms, opening my eyes, sitting up and seeing the world for the first time.
I didn’t have enough money to buy the ebook right then and there like I wanted to, so I only read the free sample on the Harper Teen website that night. And then finally—satisfied for the first time in weeks—I shut off my laptop, and pulled my comforter up around my shoulders, and let the stillness of the night fall over me.
It was cool, and it was dark, but all I could think of was the amor deliria nervosa, and how everything was different now. In that moment when I clicked on the Delirium ad, my entire life changed. For the first time in forever, I had found a novel that engaged me, that involved me.
It wasn’t meant to be read, but experienced. It wasn’t meant to be experienced, but felt.
I fell asleep, and I dreamed of Lena and Alex and their world. And when I woke up to the sunlight later in the morning, I no longer felt so alone.
It was an entirely different time of day two months later when, bored during creative writing class, I clicked onto a website my best friend Hannah was always bugging me to look at. It was called Figment, and right there on the homepage was a contest being judged by none other than Lauren Oliver herself.
I hadn’t written much in months—at that point, I was waiting on two full manuscript requests and hadn’t had the energy or inspiration to do much of anything since sending them out. I was awful at writing short stories, and I still hadn’t had a chance to get my hands on Delirium to finish it, but truthfully, I didn’t have a choice or a decision in the matter. I simply logged onto Figment, wrote out a scene as quickly as I could, and then submitted it to the contest, without thinking once of what might come of it.
I didn’t realize at the time how much my life would be affected by that contest. How much everything would change for me.
Heck, I didn’t even know if my story was any good or not. My thought was that it was more than likely terrible—I had just begun to experiment with a new style of writing that was more lyrical and (slightly) less jokey than what I’d previously done, thanks to my discovery of that sort of more serious writing through Delirium, and I still hadn’t quite found my way around it. On top of that, I had posted work on Figment before and gotten no comments outside of the very loyal Hannah, so I was scared to put myself out there, especially in a contest with such a big-name author judging the entries.
But it was Lauren Oliver, my idol. It was Lauren Oliver, the person who made the night seem bright as day.
I had to get my writing read by her. I had to be a finalist.
It became a do or die mission in my mind, making it to the top ten. I posted about it on my Facebook profile, asking for people to read my entry and vote for it if they liked it. I printed out flyers explaining the contest, and passed them around during my classes and theatre rehearsals. I gave speeches, and I talked to people I had never talked to before, and suddenly I was no longer in a state of in between. I was in a state of doing, and being, and living.
I had a purpose, again. I had a drive, again. And I wasn’t spending nearly as much time on Facebook.
When I found out I was a finalist in the Dystopia Contest, I might have cried a little. Not that I’d ever admit to that or anything. But there was certainly running around my house, screaming my lungs out until my throat was raw and my voice was hoarse. There was noise, activity, laughter and happiness and pure, unabated joy that wouldn’t go away for anything.
People I barely knew, hadn’t even talked to before the contest, stopped me in the hallways between classes to congratulate me on making it to the finals, on accomplishing my goal of getting my piece read by Lauren Oliver—Lauren Oliver!—and to wish me luck, hoping that I’d win.
“Oh, I don’t care about that,” I told one of the girls who had come up to me. We stood outside our AP language and composition class, waiting for the teacher to come unlock the door and let us in. Other students crowded around us, jostling for a position closer to the door, and several of them looked out the corners of their eyes at us. Since the contest had begun, I had gone from being that shy girl who liked to write to being The Writer. A title, a recognition. People knew me now.
“What do you mean?” the girl asked, shifting her weight and scrunching her eyebrows down low on her forehead. She uncrossed her arms for a moment, drawing attention to all the medals on her varsity jacket. “Contests are about winning.”
I half smiled at that before trailing off with an, “I know, but…” I twisted my fingers around themselves as I thought it over. The bell rang, our teacher came and unlocked the door, but the girl and the people standing around us, listening in on the conversation, didn’t move. “I guess it’s just that I’ve already won, in my mind,” I said. “Lauren Oliver’s reading my story. She might even be reading it right now. Who cares if I win, as long as I know that such an amazing writer’s read my stuff? That I’m worthy of her reading it?”
The girl twirled her strawberry blond hair and kind of shrugged in this way that told me she didn’t entirely get where I was coming from, but that was okay because I did, and for the first time in my life it seemed like that was good enough. Although I was enjoying all of the attention from my classmates, it was like I finally didn’t feel like I had to be accepted by them, as long as I accepted myself.
I had made a goal, and I had set out and completed it. There was nothing else like it in the world. There was energy and confidence in the way I walked and spoke and carried myself. I felt like I was alive, like the amor deliria nervosa had taken root in my heart and spread to my mind and my hands and my feet. I had taken a leap off a diving board by entering that contest, but I wasn’t drowning. Instead, I was swimming, and so well that I’m sure I could have given Michael Phelps a run for his gazillion gold medal endorsements.
“Well, I’m really happy for you, anyway,” the girl said as she turned to walk into class.
“Thanks.” My lips turned up in a smile as I followed her in.
Entering that contest, becoming a finalist—and eventually placing second, as the runner-up, despite the fact that after I finally got to read the rest of Delirium over the summer, I realized how much of a knock-off my story was… it changed my life.
Delirium made me brave again, after I had spent so much time being silent. It made me realize that it was all right to be myself, after I had spent so much time trying desperately, desperately to be anyone in the world other than me.
I spent no more nights feeling sorry for myself, staring at Facebook. Instead, I went out and did things. I entered more contests, set a record for most wins on Figment, got interviewed by them in New York, and had my work featured on the website’s homepage. I won other writing competitions, and got interviewed by a newspaper, and the valedictorian of my class mentioned me by name in her speech at graduation.
But at the same time, I also got rejected off of my full manuscript requests, and I didn’t get the part I wanted in the school play, and I got deferred from my dream school. My cat died. I found out some truths about the people around me that I really didn’t want to know.
Because life can never be perfect for long, right?
I got hurt, and I got broken. But the thing is, every time something bad happened to me, there was my copy of Delirium and a book light resting on my desk, constant and stable and waiting for me. There wasn’t despair.
Delirium became my go-to book all throughout my senior year of high school as I battled with writer’s doubt and grief. Lena was my shoulder to cry on, when there was no one else to run to. When things sucked in my own life, the gorgeous writing and amazing storyline reminded me why I loved to write, and why I loved to live—so that I might be half as good as Lauren Oliver one day. Because when there was pain in my life, writing helped wash it away on a tide of ink and notebook paper.
Delirium changed my life. When I learned one day that some girls in my mythology class had read it too, I struck up a conversation about it with them, and now they’re some of my closest friends. When I knew I was lost in my writing career but didn’t know how to fix it, discovering Delirium showed me exactly what I needed to see: that writing could be more than just a medium to convey emotion. It could be emotion.
It gave me the forward motion I needed to get out of the sagging middle and on to the climax. It took me out of a rut and built me new and gave me hope that there was more to life than shadows and quiet and loneliness.
Delirium made me realize that maybe I wasn’t so lost, after all. I just wasn’t looking in the right places.
Experts say that a person can fall head over heels in love in as little as a fifth of a second. That’s what happened with me when I stumbled upon Delirium.
I fell in love with it. And I fell in love with myself again, too.
Choose what next week’s Wordy Wednesday should be!