The essay question was "Why is life more interesting when you are happy?"
Between the Lines: The Writing Experience
It was a windless summer night, warm enough to be wearing shorts but cool enough not to worry about sweat trickling down our foreheads. Fireworks boomed above our heads, and it felt like the world had stopped right in its tracks. For a few seconds, all I could do was relish in the laughter and newly created memories that seemed to surround me. The writers who inspired me and the friends I had made over the last two weeks ran past me, towards the colorful sky that never seemed to end. I wished we were the sky.
My sophomore year ended in anticipation and excitement for something I had never gotten to experience before: a writing camp. The University of Iowa’s International Writing Program was offering a two-week cultural exchange and writing program for teens called Between the Lines. It brought together students from the United States and all over the Middle East. I applied hesitantly, without much expectation. So when I received my acceptance email, excitement rung from my lips to all who were within listening distance.
The first thing my mom said to me, though, when I told her about my acceptance was, “How much does it cost?”
Money was an issue, but I refused to believe there was nothing I could do. This was not just some random purchase at a clothing store—this was an opportunity to take a risk. This was my chance to write something worth reading and meet people worth remembering. With the help of my mom and my brother, we put together a bake sale for my high school and middle school teachers. Almost every teacher gave what he or she could to help me—and by the end of the day, the best kind of tears filled my eyes. I was finally going to get to see something beyond Orange City, Iowa.
When I stepped out of my car, my legs shook with so much anticipation it felt like I was going to fall over. Many people from my small-town school were not quite as interested in writing; they did not seem to care when we peer edited in English class, and groaned whenever our teacher announced a new paper. For me, writing has been a passion ever since I learned I could wield stories from my fingertips. The best part of this writing program was that I was not alone in this. I joined a group of people who felt the exact same way I did when I filled an empty page with my own inscriptions of creativity: happy.
It was not long before every single person in our group of twenty-four no longer felt like a stranger. We all shared laughter and topics that I normally would not be comfortable sharing with people I had just met—but it was different with them. It felt more as if I was with family I hadn’t seen in years. Not only were we all so comfortable with one other, but as a group of writers, I could almost feel the words buzzing between us, even when there was silence. Creating stories, sharing poems, and falling in love with a character wasn’t unnatural in this setting. In the heart of Iowa City, we learned to write with our jugular. Not one word was left unsaid—written words on paper had never seemed so loud—and it was hard not to clap whenever we finished sharing a piece with one another.
On the last night, we heard fireworks shooting into the sky. And I realized that happiness was a decision, not a coincidence. When I choose happiness, there’s nothing stopping my life from being interesting. Happiness permits the brain to stop its relentless worrying, allowing me to not just experience my surroundings, but also truly embedding them into my memories. When a person is in a total state of happiness, they are less skeptical of their environment; they search for the hidden life vest in the vastest of rough oceans. When a person is in a total state of happiness, they stop dwelling on the mistakes of their past and the unknown nature of their future, but start to really live in the moment.
And that is exactly what I—we—did.
We chased the colors, the world. We were chasing our dreams—we were chasing the opportunity to be happy. This was not an end, but a beginning.