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Sometimes I wonder if there is a connection between self-image and reality. When I reflect back to my childhood, there was a very strong connection between my self-image and the child that I was in reality. I thought I was not like other children and I wasn’t. I was this scared, funny-looking European kid going to school with a lot of happy American kids. I wrote about that in my memoir, Becoming Alice. Imagine how aweful these poor kids have it who suffer from anorexia when what they see in the mirror, a perfectly normal child, is percieved as a fat kid.
As time went on, my self-image and the person I was in real life became closer. I became an American adult. And the feelings of inferiority and lack of self-confidence went away. I was pretty much the person that I thought I was. It would be up to somebody else to tell me otherwise.
But now a chunk of years have gone by and I think that misconnect between self-image and reality is creeping up again. I still think of myself as a pretty average, normal, American adult. But now I often am reminded that I fall into another category. This incident made me become aware of that fact: I am sitting around at my athletic club having coffee with a group of girls/women (why is it that the older you get, the more likely it is that older women are called girls?) talking about this and that, nothing of great significance. I did notice, however, that most of these ladies with whom I play tennis are much younger than I am. I looked at one of them and was reminded that she wrote me a very nice note telling me how much she enjoyed reading Becoming Alice and that she figured I must be her mother’s age. Okay. And then the cute young thing sitting next to me remarked that she thinks it wonderful that I still play tennis … and she hopes she will be able to do the same thing when she is older.
There it is. There is that word older that doesn’t fit with my self-image. I don’t know what to do. What behaviors should I undertake to fit into that category of old. There is a glitch between my self-image and what other people think of me. I know what I must do. I think I shall just ignore them and keep my self-image as an average American adult.
In our last Bur Bur and Friends multicultural children books blog post, we quoted Abraham Lincoln in his insightful and wise words, “Everyone is born an original but sadly most people die a copy. Expanding appreciation for children and diversity through the multicultural friends within our iParenting Media Award and Parent Choice Award winning books, [...]
I’ve often wondered why so many of the public figures in our society say “I take full responsibility for this problem.” These public figures may be congressmen, evangelests, actors, businessmen, and the list goes on. Their actions may be to abuse power, steal funds, or take part in unacceptable, and sometimes perverse, sexual behavior. Currently the inspectors of the nuclear plants in Japan admitted they haven’t done it right for years. The air traffic controller at the Reagan National Airport fell asleep, leaving two incoming planes to fend for themselves. Luckily no one was hurt. Where was the FAA in all of this? They haven’t taken “full responsibility” for the incident either, except to say there will be a “full investigation.” The controller has been fired, but we haven’t heard a word out of him.
I wonder why no one has ever come out and said, “I’m sorry.” It must be that saying I’m sorry means that you admit you have done something wrong. It implies that you must feel some guilt about what you have done. It makes you look bad. In Japan you will “lose face.” But if you say, “I take full responsibility for this catastrophe or problem,” it implies that the problem may have been caused by some other person, perhaps an employee, a spouse (for a failed marriage), an adolescent (whom you haven’t monitered closely,) a neighbor, a colleague, anyone else other than yourself.
I have always thought saying I’m sorry showed strength of character. It shows a person is confident enough in himself to admit to others his mistakes and feels he can overcome the problem and still be accepted. Perhaps I feel so strongly about the importance of saying, “I’m sorry” because my father never, ever in his whole life admitted he was wrong or had made a mistake about anything. That is, not until he was ninety-seven years old and was caught red handed in a mistake he’d made. I am so glad that happened. I can now remember him better for all the positive characteristics he had, and they were many.
My little granddaughter is twelve years old right now and entering her teenage years. She already has a group of girl friends that mean the world to her. I remember raising my own girls and learning that when in the full bloom of adolescence, their friends meant more to them than their parents.
I got to thinking about the fact that most people want to be liked … throughout their lifetime. But the intensity of that desire seems to change in a bell-shaped curve during a person’s life span.
Think about kids in nursery school who relate to one another in terms of playing with a toy or fighting over the possession of a toy. They ususally want to have things going their way … at all costs without worrying about how the other might feel about them. Forget about being liked.
As the years pass, they begin to start wanting to be both liked and respected. They want their classmates to think of them as “nice” or “smart” or “good athletes” or “good at the trombone,” etc. etc. In adolescence being liked is linked to being “cute,” “beautiful,” “a hunk,” “popular,” and “part of the in-group.” Being respected has not yet become a big deal. The most brilliant kid in the class could be a “nerd.”
Then in adulthood, being respected is as important as being liked. It involves ones success in whatever career they may have, as a breadwinner or homemaker/stay-at-home-mom. One alone is not enough to achieve happiness. The most brilliant, respected doctor who is disliked by his patients isn’t going to get very far. And the “nicest” guy in the neighborhood who can’t keep a job to support his family also has a problem.
Then there is old age. Of course, if you haven’t enough money to retire and take care of yourself, you aren’t in very good shape, no matter how “nice” you are. But if you are are okay financially, you probably don’t give a hoot if people like you or not. Take a look at all the “grumpy old men” out there who are forgiven their behavior because of their age. Or, the “old biddies” who are accepted as they are.
I guess the lesson learned is that if you are lucky enough to make it into old age, it doesn’t really matter if others like you or not. Hope I get there someday!
My neighbor’s son was a nerd. I watched him grow up and could almost feel his pain. He had no idea that he was good-looking. He was a bright boy who got almost all A’s in his classes, yet he didn’t think that was much of anything to be proud of. Being tall, he played basketball and, maybe he wasn’t the star on the team, but he was a darn good player.
When he got into high school, the girls used to buzz around him, coquetish, flirting, giving him every clue possible that they woukd love to jump into a relationship. He had no clue. No response. Watching all of this as the years went by, I wondered if perhaps he was gay. But there was no indication of any of that either. He was simply a nerd … a social misfit.
I identified with him. I empathized with him. I knew exactly how he must have felt. You see, if you had read Becoming Alice, you would have known that I was that kind of a kid. I was not bad looking. I got good grades. I had no friends. I never went with boys in high school like other girls did. I was a social misfit.
Let’s fast forward a bit. My neighbor’s son is now about to graduate from college … with an A+ grade point average, of course. And, believe it or not, he is in a serious relationship with the cutest, most bubbly and fun girl one could imagine.
Recently I read that there have been studies done that showed the most poplular kids in high school didn’t end up being very successful adults in their professions, or in their inter-personal relationships. Imagine that! It seems that there is some sort of reversal of roles once someone passes from adolescence to adulthood.
Let’s look at the case of Bill Gates, who is now one of the wealthiest men in the world. It has been documented that he was a master nerd as a kid. And then there is the case of me. I am happy to tell you, I’m very much okay with myself now.
If you've ever done any sort of agent research at all you should know to be aware of the scam agent—those “agents” who prey on unsuspecting authors for money only. People in the publishing business preach constantly about scam agents. You can read in-depth on how to avoid them on Preditors & Editors, the amazing Writer Beware blog, and of course the esteemed Miss Snark. What I don’t think we talk enough about, though, are bad agents. Not the “agents” who are looking to scam you out of your money, but the agents who are just incompetent. While one will take your money and make you feel the fool, the other has the ability to cause some short-term damage to your career. While the damage is rarely irreparable, it is harmful nonetheless.
An incompetent agent is much more difficult to spot than a scam agent because she usually follows the rules. In other words, it’s unlikely she asks for reading fees, or “suggests” you hire outside editors. No, Bad Agent often has the best of intentions. She really does want to sell your book, she just doesn’t know how. She doesn’t have the contacts, the knowledge, or the publishing experience to truly be what an agent should be for you. If she does sell your book it’s probably a fluke and unlikely that her contract negotiation skills are really going to benefit you in the way an agent should. In many instances the author could have done just as well negotiating the contract as Bad Agent. Bad Agent also fails to realize that her job doesn’t end there. In fact, there’s a lot more she needs to do than just sell a book. Bad Agent doesn’t have a clue when it comes to marketing, market advice, or strategy, and rarely can she advise you on where you should go from here.
And what harm can Bad Agent do? Well, like I said, it’s not necessarily irreparable, but it can be endlessly frustrating. Since Bad Agent doesn’t have contacts within the industry she doesn’t know where to even submit your book. In fact, in all likelihood she doesn’t know much more than you. What she does know is what you already know—what editors are buying according to their listings on Publishers Marketplace. While that's a good start to making new contacts (and editors contact me through my posts all the time), it can't be your Rolodex. Contacts are those people who call you back and read work quickly simply because they know your letterhead. Any agent who tells you that Publishers Marketplace is the key to her selling strategy is not the agent for you. No good agent is going to start her submission process by posting your listing on the Publishers Marketplace Rights Board. She doesn't have to. She knows that she'll be more successful sending your work to her contacts. Bad Agent doesn't have contacts, and that's evident by the fact that her submission process means first posting your book on the rights board. She doesn't know how else to do it.
If Bad Agent does sell your book, it’s probably a fluke, and since it’s a fluke, it’s unlikely she has any knowledge of contracts. Any agent should know how to successfully negotiate the obvious things, like your advance and royalties, but Bad Agent thinks it stops there. She doesn’t have the proper understanding of things like option clauses, warranties, or subsidiary rights. She doesn’t think she really has to. While none of this will kill a career, a badly negotiated contract can certainly slow things down considerably. Bad Agent’s strategy is probably to negotiate the advance and maybe royalties, talk about the option clause, and add her agency clause. That’s it. In fact, in most cases Bad Agent’s “boilerplate” looks very similar to the publisher’s.
Publishing experience would probably have helped Bad Agent. If she had worked for a larger agency or a publishing house she would know who to call and how to negotiate a contract. More important, though, she would understand this very bizarre business. Do not be tricked into believing that because Bad Agent took a publishing course she knows the ins and outs of the industry. While publishing courses can be helpful, they do not teach the things an agent should know. (I’ve never taken a publishing course, so maybe someone can chime in to talk about what they do offer. I do know from talking to others that the biggest benefit was getting a job.)
So how do you avoid Bad Agent? How do you know, when there aren’t distinct warning signs like there are with scam agents? By carefully checking out every agent you query.
The biggest warning sign is that no one knows who Bad Agent is. When asking your writing groups (RWA, MWA, SFWA, etc.) about Bad Agent, you’ll get nothing but silence. Bad Agent doesn’t have a reputation, good, bad, or otherwise, because no one knows who she is.
References for Bad Agent will also be nonexistent. While no agent will give you contact information or a list of references, with a good agent you should be able to find a reference easily. A quick Internet search or a review of an agent’s Web site usually gives up client names. Once you find that, it’s not difficult to find an author Web site and contact information. Clients of good agents will happily give references. Clients of Bad Agent will be very, very difficult to find. If you do find clients of Bad Agent, pay attention to what she’s sold. Bad Agent will often claim client sales that were previously sold through another agent. Make sure that you ask references not only if Bad Agent sold the books for them, but if they were happy with the contract.
Bad Agent also won’t be able to tick off the publishers or agents she’s worked with, because they don’t exist. In fact, she’s likely to tell you more about her previous career as a marketer or car salesman.
Most important, though, with Bad Agent you’ll get Bad Vibe. It won’t feel right and yet you’ll do it anyway.
The worst part about Bad Agent is that by the time you realize you have one, you’ve probably already signed with her. My advice? Get out while you can. You know who she is and it’s important to remember that no agent truly is better than Bad Agent. The minute you know you have Bad Agent, there should be no looking back. Chalk it up as experience and move on.
It’s rare that I find the need to write a blog post on scam agents because sometimes I live in a bubble, feeling that anyone who has done the work to reach my blog has also done enough research to know what makes a reputable agent. Well, recently I was proven wrong. . . .
I have written two novels—well, one is technically a manuscript and the other has been published by PublishAmerica (which I seriously DO NOT recommend). My questions pertain to that of my manuscript. You see, I submitted it to the New York Literary Agency almost a year ago, knowing that a sale was not guaranteed or that being a new author. Now, after a year, I feel that my manuscript is just sitting there, idling because my agent is unable to be bothered by it. I get a monthly report in a form letter saying "...this is a normal progression of a manuscript in our care...do not get discouraged..." And I can't help but wonder if another agency would be better suited to handle my manuscript and other future works. I am in serious need some advice on the subject.
This email makes me angry, sad, and irritated. Irritated that the author didn’t bother to do any research at all. In a simple Google search of New York Literary Agency the first three hits were writers' message board warnings about the agency, the third was the agency’s horrible Web site, and the fourth was Preditors and Editors saying, “New York Literary Agency, The: Strongly not recommended.” I’m also angry and sad that there are people out there taking advantage of writers who are just desperate to find a home for their works.
Once I got beyond that I decided I would check out the New York Literary Agency, and let me tell you that with just a little research into what makes a reputable agency, that site alone should have you running. Why? Well, here are just a few of the things I see wrong with it. Nowhere is there a list of clients, books, or sales. Instead they seem busy touting the types of manuscripts they receive and how they will market your book. They are located in NYC, where they meet with “buyers.” Buyers? What does that mean? The only people I know who meet with buyers are sales reps from the publishing houses. What about editors? You know. The people who buy the books from agents. Oh, and I could go on and on. Take a moment to look at their diverse list of clients. Doctors and lawyers! Whoo-hoo.
I can go on and on, but the smartest thing I can do is remind everyone that when researching agents there are a couple of key places to visit. The first is the above-mentioned Preditors and Editors, the second is Writer Beware, and the third is your heart. You know when something isn’t right, so listen to those guts of yours.
And please, feel free to add to the list of scam agents you are more than happy to warn others about.
On another note, BookEnds is closing early today to celebrate the Labor Day weekend. Have a safe and happy holiday, and we'll see you again on Tuesday, September 4.
Susan Berger is the author of Jamie's Dream, a children's picture book she collaborated with her son, Christopher Corbin.
Did you always want to be a writer?
No. I wanted to be a ballet dancer. Then I wanted to be a nurse. (I was reading the Cherry Ames, Girl Nurse Series) Then I wanted to be a reporter. (I was reading the Beverly Gray, Girl Reporter series.) In my defense, I did not want to be everything I read. I never wanted to be an inventor (Tom Swift Series) or a detective (Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys) In my daydreams I wanted to be queen of the world so I could end all hunger and give all the orphans good homes. Then I wanted to be an actress. By this time, I was twelve and knew myself for a fickle person since I wanted to be so many things.
I did not want to be a writer. I knew I was a writer. I won my first writing prize at St Cyprians School in Cape Town, S. Africa in 1955. It was a very nice story about the Easter Bunny and Santa Claus. It began... "Far away in the land of Holidays, where no mortal child has ever been, lived the Easter Bunny...." I wish I could remember the rest of it.
In 8th grade, in Westport Connecticut, I had a poem published in anthology of high school poetry. I suppose I wrote some more after that, but it must have been schoolwork. By the time I was in 9th grade, all my extracurricular activity was acting. When I started to write again in 1992, the first story I worked on was Jamie's Dream with my son Christopher.
Tell us about your recent release. What was your inspiration for it?
I was attending the 1992 Pacific Northwest Writers Conference. They gave out an exercise. "Write about a saying as if it were real" i.e. 'There is a skeleton in my closet.' I chose "Buy a Dream". I came home and discussed it with Christopher. I asked him "Where would you go to buy a dream?" He gave me that LOOK that children give grownups when grownups are being particularly stupid. "Dream's R Us, of course" he answered. And so our collaboration began. Chris was 9, but he was going to a school where writing was highly valued. His school mornings began with 20 minutes of creative writing. Then they read their work aloud. They critiqued each other, just as they did in my adult writer's group. He was a great partner. Over the next 12 years, Jamie was sent out many times. It was rewritten at least 16 times. Then Guardian Angel said they wanted to publish it. The joy of that moment is equaled only by the moment I first saw Kim's Illustrations.
What are you working on now?
This week I worked on Disasters Happen: Earthquake which will be published by Guardian Angel in 2008. It is a non fiction book for the science series. It is aimed at first - third graders. (What causes earthquakes? Can we predict them? Where do they happen? How do we prepare for them? What to do during a quake? What happens afterwards.)
I am also working on a storybook called Brittany's Wall, (Needs a better title.) and a mid grade chapter book called Tasha the Magnificent. Brittany is going into its 8th rewrite. Tasha is going into its 9th rewrite. I have contacted the SCBWI for a new critique group for Tasha. I find re writing to be both drudgery and magic. When I finish a story, I am always convinced that I have written the best story I am capable of writing. It is amazing to see how much better it can become.
What is the best writing advice you have ever received?
It is not your business to question your talent. It is your business to show up at the page. (okay, it's short, but it's great advice.)
Do you have a website or blog where readers may learn more about you and your works?
http://jamiesdream.com/ links to my live journal and to mine and Christopher's IMDB.com pages. I am looking forward to making another website where I can list other books as they come out and link to other authors.
What is the IMDB?
It is the internet movie data base (http://imdb.com/) It is a wonderful site. You can look up any movie or TV show and see the full cast and credits. You can also look up any actor and (hopefully) see what movies and TV shows they have done. I say hopefully because I cannot seem to get my Hannah Montana Episode added. I don't have a large Movie and TV resume. Most of my professional work is theatre.
Is there anything else you'd like to say to our readers?
Andrea says to Melina in The Magic Violin, "I'll tell you what's magic-believing in yourself. That's magic!" Jamie says in Jamie's Dream "But mom, you said I could do anything I believed I could do." I think Andrea and Jamie's mom give very good advice. May you always find the magic.
For anyone who has seen a Shine Through program or has read Falcon’s Prey or Lymeria, you probably picked up a pretty obvious “Confidence is the way of the future!” vibe. For six plus years, I have been using writing as an esteem booster, and for four of those years, I have used motivational speaking to encourage others to find their own ways to gain confidence. But it was only this past summer that I myself learned the most important thing about confidence. It came like a slap in the face. Simple, easy, obvious, and smarted like no one’s business. Why hadn’t I realized it before? It’s not like the idea was so otherworldly that I wasn’t sure if I was dreaming. The scary thing was that it was all so there, like a shop window you pass on your way to school, but fail to notice. Then, on a rainy day, as you find shelter under the awning after dejectedly walking home from missing the bus, you notice. How could you have not seen the beautiful things inside? I have been practicing the art of self esteem my whole life. I have also enjoyed the fine sport of a good challenge. So, naturally, when I was shoved into the role of Lola in Damn Yankees a few weeks ago, I accepted the character as a worthy opponent. Boy was I in for a ride. During the short breath of air before senior year, I discovered just how tough one of my biggest fears truly sized up to be. Lola was a fierce, sassy Latin seductress who drove men wild and got all the big dance numbers. I am a short, operatic piece of white bread who giggles at uncomfortable intervals and dropped out of tap class in the seventh grade after the first day. Nonetheless, I announced my determination and dedication to both the director and choreographer with a brave face and mounting courage. It wasn’t long till I was stepping on everyone’s feet and being told that my “sexy” voice sounded like Forrest Gump. It was turning into a long summer. Opening night came on a Thursday. A long Thursday. A hot, sticky, muggy Thursday. Being a veteran of the theater since age six, I had only occasionally experienced the butterflies and the shakes. Acting has always been, well, my thing. And I was always proud of the hard work I put in to make each performance my best. On that stifling, suffocating Thursday, I was perfectly ill. Stage fright. Was I seriously falling victim to stage fright? Well, first the nausea, then the headache, and as I popped a Tylenol for the abdominal pain, my teeth chattered so loud that my friend offered me his jacket…in August. It was stage fright, the bane of the acting world, the vampire that seemed to suck all confidence out of my jugular. I felt the cold breeze of terror slide beneath the walls and through the cracks of my one true stronghold. After years of struggling with my self esteem, with bullies and loneliness, I had never once thought that my acting could ever be the target. I moved out of the dressing room, where most of the cast sat in a messy circle singing the Beatles, and wandered off into the wings, or the side of the stage where everything was blindingly dark. I didn’t want to be seen in all my nervous glory. As I clung to the curtain ropes and tried desperately not to hyperventilate, I pondered. Why this? Why now? I was finally at the moment in my life where things seemed perfect. My whole life I had wanted half of what I have earned over the past few years, and I can’t possibly be more grateful for it all. I have ventured far from being the friendless, overly-obsessive fat kid. I even refused to do many things that I loved out of fear of judgment and disappointment. Now, I have more friends than I can count, am starring in roles I had only ever dreamed of playing, am the author of two novels, have had the opportunity to reach out to young people across the nation, am complimented on my previously non-existent sense of style, and I’m loving life more and more each day. I thought that, if I could valiantly vanquish Lola in all her skimpy costumes and Charo-esque accent, I would finally have reached the top of my mountain, and could sit back and enjoy the view from my throne. So it’s obvious why that slap in the face hurt so much. I realized, after sprinting uphill to receive my prize of a life’s supply of self esteem, I would never be able to. Confidence is not a destination, but a sometimes bumpy, always scenic road that can lead you nowhere but up. At the moment, I was struggling through a pothole. The lights on the stage faded to black and I realized in a panicky hiccup of time that it was my turn to go on. Still keeping my head high, but feeling my knees tremble, I felt my way across the stage and sat on the chair placed slightly stage left, my heart pounding louder than the percussion from the orchestra below. I had about twenty seconds to collect my thoughts and keep myself from fainting. What was I supposed to do now? The realization that I could never have perfect confidence was enough to throw me off balance, and with the added stage fright, I needed to resolve things fast. So, even if I completely conquered the Lola beast there and then, I would not be the queen of anything. Okay, that didn’t help… But if I overcame my insecurities anyway, I would still be proud of my performance and still have a lot more self esteem than when I started. Better… And, if I knew that I would always have challenges to face, Lola wouldn’t seem so monstrous. Getting warmer… And most importantly, if I let go of all my inhibitions with this show, and realized that I was no superman, then I would be able to relax and enjoy the challenges and rewards that life would bring with a brave heart and a deeper appreciation. A little preach-y but as close to perfect as it would get with three seconds to go… I took a deep breath. The lights came up. And I had the time of my life. So now, with Damn Yankees behind me and a life of improvement before me, I feel just fine. Knowing that I will always have a battle to fight makes me stronger. And knowing that my confidence will only grow brighter whether I win or lose makes me look to the future. We are all capable of making ourselves just a little better than we were the day before. That piece of proverbial comfort food may be just what we need to push ourselves just a little farther each day. It gives us a gratitude for the things we have and the excitement to try new things. Confidence is always right beside us, waiting for our permission to give us a little nudge or a great leap to do what we never dreamed possible. So pack your sunscreen and charge your cameras. The long road of confidence is a beautiful thing. Snap a few pictures. Write a few postcards. And above all, enjoy the journey.
I write. I write music. I write music and lyrics, heartfelt poetry in journals and silly stories on wrinkly paper airplanes. Writing is a wonderful expression of creativity. It calms and invigorates, challenges and rewards. And, most importantly, writing craves inspiration.
Being inspired can be a mystical thing. We find the word “Inspiration” on coffee mugs, greeting cards, and “Go get ‘em!” wall posters. We see inspiration in Nike commercials and Rocky parodies. We mock inspiration as goofy fashion designs made of duck feathers and oil paintings of bizarrely posed, overweight disrobed women.
So what is inspiration, really?
Inspiration is the very thing that moves us forward. It sets our pulse racing and dares us to set the bar higher than we ever dreamed possible. Inspiration can come from anywhere, at any time. To feel inspired, a person must dismiss the stresses of life and simply observe life. What does nature do? What do inorganic things—buildings, clothing, machines—do?
When I write songs, I draw my inspiration from other people’s stories and personal emotions. The words are a part of the natural flow of an experience. The tempo of the music matches the feeling a person would have if the lyrics were happening to him.
If you desire inspiration, you can find it anywhere. Everywhere. You don’t need a coach shouting encouragement. Just notice the craftsmanship of the bird’s nest outside your window. You don’t need a great revelation, complete with dramatic music and fireworks, to create a wonderful story. Just witness the lovely, small moments an elderly couple shares sitting side-by-side on a park bench.
Finding your own creative inspiration is the first step toward inspiring others. By expressing our true selves through music, art, and literature, we become more unique and more understanding of others. We learn to respect ourselves and the wonderful things we have accomplished. And, in turn, we learn to respect and appreciate others’ accomplishments.
Finding inspiration can be incredibly valuable. Finding inspiration can set off a chain reaction which can change the course of our lives.
And all we have to do is open our eyes and let it find us.
Turning the page doesn’t always mean the book is ending. It means that there are better, more exciting things to come. This “book” which is our lives is constantly being written. Characters enter and exit the story. It is filled with grand adventure, some peril, and perhaps some romance. And, if we play our cards right, there will always be a happy ending. Sometimes, starting a new chapter can be tough, especially when certain things get left behind. But the book keeps going, and so should we. This summer, I am learning to say goodbye to old, familiar things and brave the threshold of a fresh start. It isn’t easy, but what I have learned so far is that turning a page doesn’t have to be frightening. In fact, new beginnings are what make a story wonderful. Take last Friday, for instance. It was midnight (well, Thursday night, but you get the idea) and a huge group of my friends and I went to see Toy Story 3. Now, before I begin, let me tell you a little about my history with the Toy Story movies. The main character, Andy, was a preschooler in the first movie. So was I. Then, in the second, he was about 7. So was I. This movie opens with Andy during the summer before he goes away to college. Get the picture? So, imagine a movie theater packed with 18-year-olds all sobbing because they, too, were all leaving their homes, loved ones, and toys in search of their own lives. Did I mention that I graduated high school last Friday, the day the movie came out? I had been anticipating this sort of thing. Everyone realizes that the “last time” is now. Last time to see friends, go out to dinner with grandma, give Fido a belly rub. At least until December. It’s safe to admit that Friday morning in the three hours I had to sleep before school; I grabbed every teddy bear I could find and brought it to bed with me. So, how could I possibly say that leaving all this stuff behind is okay? Well, even though saying goodbye might sting a bit, it’s like a band-aid. It’s got to come off when the wound has healed up. But the reason many people find it hard to start a new chapter is because they are afraid of what lies ahead for them. They are afraid of what they don’t know. Well, everything comes down to confidence, in the end. If you know yourself and are comfortable with who you are, you can be sure that, no matter what, you will still have the courage to be yourself. What? Let me put it this way. If you are afraid that you won’t make any new friends, think about how you made the friends you already have. They were attracted to your personality, the brightness of your smile or the funny joke they overheard you telling. Don’t worry about making new friends. You did fine just being yourself before. Your confidence is a surefire way to connect with the right people, and your respect for yourself will bring about respect from others. The same goes for any other worries. It doesn’t matter if you’re starting college, high school, a new job, or even moving to another place. Being yourself means being able to overcome whatever obstacles are in your way. Don’t ever fear the next page in the story of your life. If you keep your chin high and always remember that you are perfect just the way you are, there will always be a happy ending. And don’t forget to go see Toy Story 3. It’s awesome. But make sure you bring a teddy bear and some tissues. And maybe a Barbie doll. And some Twizzlers, but buy them at the theater, don’t smuggle them in. Okay, that’s all.