Jamie Rabideau, ninth-grade English teacher at Saugerties High School (SHS), hosted the third annual in-house Personal Narrative Writing Contest. Students studied, discussed and emulated a mentor essay entitled, “Why I Write” by Tina Chang. They then composed their own narrative essays describing an activity that speaks most to their hearts and makes them who they are.
Nine members of the SHS/SJHS faculty volunteered to judge the contest. They were tasked with voting for narrative essays that went the distance, stayed organized, engaged the reader and honored the tradition of sharing personal truths in essay form.
Winners in English 9 Honors:
“Why I Read” by Quinn Arrandale
Second Place (tie)
“Why I Spend Time with my Family” by Milo Angevine
“Eternal Daydream” by Jordan Van Valkenburg
“Why I Love Abstract Art” by Auden Schlegel
“This Moment” by Ashlynn Daughtry
“Why I Draw” by Grace McHugh
Winners in English 9R+:
“Why I Play Guitar” by Landon Hughes
“The Beginning of the End” by Sierra Edwards
“Why I Surf” by Allison Budd
“Why I Play Soccer” by Chris Mercado
“Why I Play Basketball” by Dylan Lepez
“Why I Read”
by Quinn Arrandale, first place English 9H
The roars of creatures below shock and scare Jack and Annie, but they excite me. They look out the window to a land of creatures unlike ones they’ve ever seen. I stand with them. As Jack and Annie explored a world full of dinosaurs, many carnivorous, I am there. I walk, run, and see when they do. I am experiencing everything they experience. In only first grade I had found my safe place. Books were where I escaped when everything was too much. Jack and Annie were the friends I didn’t have, but they were also a distraction from the fact that I didn’t have any.
Back then I needed them. These characters were my friends, my mentors, and my family. I was never good at making friends. I had social anxiety and I still do. When I read these books, I didn’t have to introduce myself to them because they were already my friends. When my teachers assigned me books, I could always read them just fine, but I never felt at home in their stories or with their characters. When I was assigned to find my own book, I didn’t have high hopes. All the books they gave me made me bored, so why would one I picked be any different? It was different though. I could be with these characters while they faced their troubles. Meanwhile, I could ignore all of mine, specifically the fact that Jack and Annie were the only friends I had.
When I turned 13, I asked for books for my birthday. As I opened my presents, I couldn’t stop smiling. I got the books that I wanted and more. Due to COVID I couldn’t get books from the school library, at least not easily. I stopped reading. I started facing my problems. It was overwhelming and scary. I wished I had a book so I could take a small break from these problems. I needed one badly. I went from ignoring my problems and relaxing at all times to facing them without ever relaxing. I was too scared to ask for help. I was dealing with anxiety issues, low motivation, a gender crisis, and a sexuality crisis all at once. However, it was worth it. I finally found out who I was. Unfortunately, just because I knew who I was didn’t mean I knew what to do about it. When we came back to school, I started reading graphic novels non-stop. I ended up finding books with characters facing the same issues I was. These characters were trans and gay and anxious, and they didn’t know what to do. At the time, I didn’t know what to do either. As I read these stories, I started to learn how to solve these problems. These books were teaching me.
Now I know I’m a trans guy, and I’ve come out to my family. My new name and pronouns are used all the time. If it weren’t for these books, I never would have had the confidence to be me. They taught me that who I am is okay and that I shouldn’t just push it down and ignore it. I still read and I still learn. The characters still teach me and they are still like me. They are still trans and gay and anxious and so am I. They always ended up okay and so did I.
I’m only 14 years old. I have my whole life ahead of me and I want to know I’ll be okay, but that just isn’t how it works. These books assure me that even if I’m not okay, I will still have them. There will always be characters facing the same struggles as me. They will always be by my side. I’m scared of the future. I’m scared to grow up and go to college. I’m scared I’ll stop being okay. I’m scared of a lot of things, but knowing that I’ll always have these characters makes me a little less scared. I know that when I do eventually go to college and plan my life, these characters will be planning theirs too and they’ll help me whenever I need them.
by Jordan Van Valkenburg, second place English 9H
It has always been there. Since long before I could remember, I’ve always been one to daydream. As a young child, it was my all-time favorite game. Like many children, I’d play pretend with my friends at my Preschool and with my sister at home. I’d play pretend on the playground of my Elementary School with my new friends and with my cousins during vacation. I was unchanging, a shy girl imagining that she was something more, a powerful warrior fighting the forces of evil. As I got older, however, the reasons that I daydreamed changed dramatically.
I’d always been shy, but a time came that I struggled with the social aspect of school in a much more serious manner. I began to hate almost every minute spent at school. It had become a waking nightmare that I could never hope to escape. I desperately needed an outlet. I needed a way to escape my reality. And I found it deep within myself.
Over time, I decided that I wouldn’t let other people’s opinions and actions ruin my life. You could say that I pushed people away, and in a way that was true. I formed a mental block to numb the pain that school caused me, but that very block also hindered my already-lacking social skills. I became even less inclined to be around people. An emptiness might have grown inside of me, but I had something to fill that emptiness left behind when I pushed away my childish soul. I kept daydreaming.
As time went on, my daydreaming continued to evolve. I would read books, or watch movies and TV shows, and I would be inspired to imagine my own story about the characters or their circumstances. Eventually, I started writing down those stories, putting my daydreams on paper. Those stories grew and changed. My writing became more sophisticated over time. And yet, the evolution of my daydreams was not yet finished.
Music, among other things, took a new, larger role in my life, both inspiring and soothing me. I also began to run around whenever I imagined. Hearing music playing in the background while running around the house became my foremost environment for imagination. I’d learned that music and movement helped my thought process flow more smoothly, like riding a gentle river downstream.
The action of thinking in of itself became a favored practice of mine. Theorizing, calculating the most minute details, attempting to grasp an elusive understanding of my own or someone else’s stories; it all gave me a mystifying sensation of peace, wholeness, and a sense of satisfaction that human languages have no words to describe.
Maybe, once upon a time, my imagination was simply a method of escaping the unwanted reality, but has truly grown into something more. In writing, in putting my daydreams on paper, in starting the path to achieving my life goal of becoming an author, perhaps my imagination has become something that I never saw coming. It has always been there and always will be. Maybe my daydreaming is the very path to my desired reality, my fantasized future.
“Why I Love Abstract Art”
by Auden Schlegel, third place, English 9H
Unattached from the world, gazing at the finished, yet never truly finished, childish masterpiece of random and unorganized paint splatters, pen lines, and hidden faces within the canvas. Feeling the strong wafts of chilling wind coming from the cracked window with slightly opened shades. The orange light, the only light in the room, turns the red paint on the canvas into a dark orange. My favorite artwork, my favorite moment.
I discovered this love at my mother’s old apartment. I sat at the table, as my mother was taking a shower, with a Christmas cookie tin full of broken and dusty crayons. I had a piece of printer paper in front of me, and I drew. I drew myself, my mother, and my step-father camping, holding hands in front of a fire with our two old dogs in the background. Ever since my mother left that small, lively, orange lighted apartment for a gray, dull house in the middle of dark and discomforting woods, I’ve always had an attachment to that drawing. Seeing it gave me all of those comforting moments in that apartment back. For the longest time, I had struggled with leaving that apartment, but I reassured myself, knowing that the piece of printer paper with stick figures was still with me, that the moment I drew it was within those bumpy scribbles of colored wax. That was until I finally left the traumatizing life I had with my mother.
I know that the drawing is gone now. I will never see that drawing again, so that apartment will never be a part of me again. I don’t like giving my drawings away. I don’t want them sold or gifted to people. If I don’t own my art, it’s left me, and so has the moment at which that art was birthed, and every artwork has a moment within it.
No matter how childish and messy my art is, no matter how many people can’t see anything in my art, I don’t want to let go of it. Abstract art gives me a comforting mold for my unexplainable emotions and feelings to thrive and express, a place to run. When I paint I’m in a different world, a different house, a different body. There’s nobody else but me. I live in a beautifully aged, antique, pink tinted, lively house with red flowers printed to the wallpaper on the calm walls when I’m painting. There are candles melting in front of me, on the small flowered plates sitting underneath them, the plate sitting on a strong dark brown wooden tray, with carved swirls and squiggles in the corners. It’s not the place that I want to be when I’m painting;, it’s the place I am when I’m painting. It’s always raining., I can tell by looking through the beautiful antique arched window. There’s calming jazz music playing, and a kettle screeching softly, wafting the earl gray tea scent towards me. I don’t know where the sounds or smells are coming from, and it doesn’t matter, they’re there for me in the distorted childhood home of mine.
I see a soft grayish pink blanket underneath me. I notice the pink light fading away, and the orange light coming back. I feel the wind from the cracked window. I’m in my room again. I’ve left the home that is my art. I’m in the real world now, smelling cat litter and dried flowers, hearing fan buzzing and football playing on a TV two rooms away. I’m sitting outside of my favorite artwork now. I’ll never let that canvas leave me, and that moment will stay as well. The moment that lasted six seconds, will last forever now.
“Why I Surf”
by Allison Budd, third place English 9R+
The sun beat down on my face as I took a deep breath. I inhaled the salty air. I closed my eyes and felt a sense of safeness, as I pictured myself riding the waves all the way to the sand. That very moment was when I realized I found what I truly loved.
That morning, while the sun rose over the ocean, a sense of stillness settled around me. I’d been spending all this time waxing my board preparing for the waves to come in the afternoon. When the time came, and I was paddling out, I felt my heart sink. The feeling of fear crawled up on me because I’d never experienced this before. I was unsure of what was going to happen next, but when I took the courage to finally jump up on my board, I didn’t feel that fear anymore. I felt free from everything around me.
I always found surfing interesting. I grew up watching movies and reading books about people who could take on the waves. I could always picture myself towering above the ocean around me, just like them. When I went to Jersey every year I would tell myself this is the year I’d do it. I’d try what I always dreamed of doing. As the years went by and I continued to put it off, I finally committed to picking up a board and going out into the big blue. From being 8 staring at the waves and imagining what could be, to finally 2 years ago deciding it was finally time. I knew this was it.
Between my first wave to now I’ve learned to improve in what I did. I made mistakes such as paddling the wrong way out, forgetting to warm up, and even using the wrong board. I grew from these mistakes as best as I could, and even now I still am! Surfing always challenges me and that’s what I love about it! I surf because it makes me feel happy, and like I can do anything I ever truly put my mind to. I don’t think anyone around me will ever understand why I love it so much, but that’s what makes it unique to me.
As of now I take every chance I can get to surf. When I surf it gives me a feeling I never get anywhere else. It’s the feeling of being able to live in every moment with no worries whatsoever. No matter where I am or who I’m with, surfing always brings out the best in me.
Looking back at everything I’ve done that’s brought me to now, I’ve realized that I wouldn’t be who I am without it. Surfing has taught me so many things, but especially patience and to always make sure you’re living in the now. I truthfully hope one day I can teach other people those same attributes that I will always be grateful for being able to feel. That is simply why I surf.