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Scholastic Achievement

By NAN BIALEK

September 24, 2012

Pius XI High School grad Amy Mrotek received the M Magazine Editorsí Choice Award for the writing portfolio she entered in the 2012 Scholastic Writing Awards. She received a silver award in the local contest.


Amy Mrotek is holding her breath. Her Pius XI High School creative writing teacher, Dan Martin, has handed back her short story, "Oil and Water," not with a grade, but a note: "See me." She wonders what sheís done wrong. After class, Martin explains.

"He said, ĎIíve been teaching 20-plus years and this is really something special,í" Mrotek says.

The story became part of a portfolio of prose and poetry that Mrotek entered in the 2012 Scholastic Writing Awards. Before Martin suggested that she enter, she was not even aware of the competition. The portfolio earned her a silver key in the local contest and M Magazineís first-ever Editorsí Choice Award.

"We were really impressed with the range Amy displayed in her writing," says M Managing Editor Janet Raasch. "She really developed a unique and believable voice in every story."

Julie Schumann, communication and program coordinator at Still Waters Collective, the organization coordinating the writing portion of this yearís local competition, agrees: "When I first read her portfolio, I was impressed by her distinct poetic voice, and how convincingly she was able to narrate experiences of such a broad range of characters in her works of fiction.

"All of our students were especially talented this year, but Amy writes with the precision and maturity of someone twice her age," Schumann says.

Mrotek, 18, will major in English education and creative writing at St. Norbert College this fall. "If it would be possible to support myself writing, that would be ideal. But teaching would be just as awesome. I look at my teachers and theyíre the ones who got this whole thing going," she says.

Mrotekís inspiration comes from poets like Frank OíHara, Vladimir Mayakovsky, Jeffrey McDaniel and Wislawa Szymborska. Although she enjoys writing fiction, poetry is her first love.

"What I really like about poetry is how thereís really no format to it. You can literally make it entirely your own," she says.

Her most satisfying moments come when she completes a piece, she says, but thatís only after dissecting every word, especially on the stories and poems she submitted to Scholastic. "I canít even tell you how long I spent reading them over and over and changing words here and there, perfecting it," she says.

Mrotek isnít sure if she has the patience to write a novel, but "I actually have one idea that Iím trying to work on right now."

She rejects the idea of outlining a piece, letting the story develop a life of its own. "When I sit down to write, itís centered around one specific person and how I think they handle life," she says. "I try to be as specific and as into the head of one person as possible, and I go from there."

For more information on the Scholastic Writing Awards, go to www.stillwaterscollective.com

An excerpt from 'oil and water'

My mother always warned me to never date an artist. 

"They have no sense of responsibility!" I remember her enraged face shouting after boyfriend No. 6 left. Or maybe it was No. 7. I canít really seem to recall, they were all so similar with their too-shaggy hair and Kafkaesque clothes. This one had been a poet, though. I do remember that little detail. He had written my mother a whole notebook of verses calling her "his Aphrodite." Maybe thatís why she was so hurt when he left. He took the notebook with him.

Growing up, I learned from a very young age not to take anything my mother said too seriously. So when she would go on these verbal tirades against landlords and taxes and artists who dangle beautiful poetry in your face and then snatch it back without any hint of remorse, I would simply sit back and stare at the creases forming on her brow. They entranced me as a child, the way they slid around like snakes, forming new patterns on her forehead depending on what mood she was in. Then she would scold me for something stupid, like not tying the knots in my shoes tight enough or sipping my juice too loud. Then she would find another boyfriend.

Thatís how my mother coped with the world.

When I was 8 my teacher complained to the school shrink that I didnít talk. Not that I didnít talk enough, no, the issue was that I didnít talk at all. For me and my mother, this didnít seem like that big of a problem. To the rest of the world this was a disturbing situation that needed immediate correcting. They tossed around fancy words like severe childhood depression and anti-social tendencies. My mother threw back the word lawsuit.   

Around the time she moved onto boyfriend No. 10, I entered high school. I was still seeing a shrink for my talking issue, which had improved a little over time, I guess. Those were the days where I felt my life was just one giant VCR. Play, rewind, repeat. Play, rewind, repeat. All day, every day, the movie never ended. I could close my eyes and literally feel the life being monotonously sucked out of me. Looking back, I was trapped inside my own eyelids, unable to escape the borders set by the repetition in my life. I remember there being weeks on end where the only thoughts in my head revolved around ĎAm I the only one who feels this way?í"  

Ė By Amy Mrotek

 

 


This story ran in the August 2012 issue of: