Write What You Know

Sometimes you don’t know what you know until you see it in writing.

Author: C. J. Peterson

C. J. Peterson is a writer of science articles and science fiction who is kept as the pet of a large gray cat.

Narrator: Hannah Knight

Hannah Knight is an artist, cat lover, and mother to a rambunctious toddler.

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Please revise and resubmit. Follow the rubric!!

Cheryl quickly scrolled down the document. Yellow highlights bloomed like dandelions and teacher comments exploded like, well, also like dandelions, but dandelions in seed. Oh, god, she was a terrible writer.

You’re a fine writer, the next comment said. Just write what you know! There was even a smiley face here.

And what exactly could a teenage girl know? How to live like a normal human being was all she wanted to know, but apparently still hadn’t figure out. And maybe never would if she didn’t graduate and move out of her room and into the wider world. College would be nice. But at this rate…

Maybe she could correct some simple errors. Be careful with metaphors since they can appear to be factual statements. Okay, then. Cheryl changed “I am an alien” to “I am like an alien.” No objection to her description of practicing expressions before a mirror, wearing a conventional appearance like a second skin. The struggle to be accepted by her peers: good – very relatable. But in the sentence that began “I report my progress to” there was an overstrike through “my alien handlers” and a suggestion: my hardworking public-school teachers.

Winky-emoji or not, that simply wasn’t true. And the next comment was just ha ha. What was so funny about her ambition to search for intelligent life on Earth? And if that was amusing, why wasn’t the part about infiltrating human society as a sleeper agent? Instead, a warning appeared: Don’t joke about terrorism. I would have to schedule a meeting with your counselor.

No, no, no. Cheryl pounded her head on the desk. Luckily she didn’t pound the keyboard; it was laser-projected, and the keys were widely distributed across the surface. Though maybe a keysmash would perfectly convey her feelings about this assignment. A short non-fiction biographical essay. Check, check, and check. So what on Sol d was she doing wrong?

Maybe she could ask one of her classmates. “Hey, Buffy, how’s your essay coming along? Are you writing what you know? How’s that working out for you?”

Nah. She was on her own here.

Her head hurt now and she had totally flattened her features. She got up and locked the door. Her adoptive parents respected her need for privacy; she was, after all, an orphan from some distant troubled land. She crawled under the glass table that held the spider plants and the grow light. There she relaxed and decohered. Her tendrils snaked around the water bottle and up the power cord. This roused Max, who appreciated this cozy spot for his own cat naps. He stretched, sniffed her, and bit thoughtfully into one of her leaves. Cheryl spritzed him. He leaped over her splayed form and marched off with great dignity and nary a backward look.

“Max,” Cheryl warned, “not on the desk.” He’d poke the monitor with his damp nose, then tickety-tack back and forth with his little claws. “Max. Off.” She sighed and closed her phytochromes. Tickety tick, tick, tick.

My memories began about fifteen years ago, as if coalescing from a cloud. Though I couldn’t remember any particulars, I knew I had always existed and always will. Perhaps that was why I felt strangely incurious about my origins. The patch of sunshine in which I rolled was perfectly familiar. Those toys, I knew to knock them over; that sand, I knew to dig up. I knew to climb. The broad limbs that ascend like a staircase and the view from on high, these beckon me still. I understand why the flyers fly and I reach with my whole soul after them. Every day I look skyward.

I was cared for and felt it only natural that everyone adored me. Well, I was very cute back then. As I grew, I tired of adoration. I have never bestowed it. Equally, I fear no one. Though I am hardly red in tooth and claw, I do defend my independence, and will be leashed by neither terror nor devotion.

Instead, I perpetually test my balance, weighing confidence against caution, ambition against risk. My only nemesis is time itself. I sometimes run and sometimes hide, but I know I can’t truly evade it. I therefore seek those intervals of perfect equipoise and stare eternity in the face until it blinks, slowly, and we proceed together at the pace I choose.

In my opinion (and whose matters more?) I now rest on the eternal pillars of actualized being. Self-sufficiency: I could survive on my own but will accept material assistance. Corporeal fulfillment: the pricked ear rewarded, a novel taste, deep and dreamless sleep. Creature comforts, yes, but we are all creatures, aren’t we? Consciousness must be embodied.

Conversely, self-awareness is no greater manifestation of embodiment than grandpa’s whiskers. I have stared down eternity, should I now chase my tail seeking the nirvana of non-awareness? I am, I know it, and that is enough purpose for all my lives.

Not that I haven’t enjoyed expressing myself in this essay. Sometimes the Bodhisattva speaks, forgetting that the desire to help others is itself a desire that true enlightenment would eschew. Thank you for asking.

Max rubbed his cheek-glands against Cheryl, marking her as his slave, and obliging her to pull herself together. “At least you love me,” she said. She rose and took her seat at the desk. Max jumped up and settled sphynx-like on her lap. “What the hell is all this?”

As she scrolled through the text, another blown dandelion popped up. Still not following the rubric, it said. I can give you a C or you can revise again.

Max closed his eyes to slits and rumbled deep in his chest. He was definitely smiling. “Huh.” Cheryl stroked the cat’s bony little head. “Whaddaya know.”

She now had a passing grade and no trip to the school psychologist; besides, she had another catalog entry to write about intelligent life on Earth.

“I’ll take the C,” she typed, and hit send.