Tag Archives: WritingAssignments

Five Years From Now

Danny Keys tells us what his plans are in “Do These, Danny Keys,” but if you haven’t gotten the chance to ask him there, he’ll tell you here! This was prompted by this assignment, worth 3 stars.

Where will I be in five years?

Here, hopefully. I love this town, moreso than any others I’ve been to so far. It’s small and friendly, but used to strangers. Someone new comes around every now and then and just settles in, never leaves. I’ve moved around more than a couple times each year since I left New York, but I stopped in this town and haven’t picked myself up to leave in almost two years now.

Of course, Johnny’s death hasn’t made that any easier. I hate always bringing it up, but I pass by his old saloon every now and again and I wonder if I had stuck around if he hadn’t opened that door to me. I hope losing him hurts less in the future, wherever I am.

I will stay here, though. I’ve already decided that. It’ll take a hurricane in Arizona to take me away from this place.

An Alternate Life

What would Danny Keys do in an alternate life? You might have asked him when playing the game “Do These, Danny Keys,” but if you didn’t, he’ll tell you here. This was made based on this assignment, worth 3 stars.

That’s a tough one, honestly. I like myself pretty well. Although… if there was one chance I could change my life, I might have liked to have been born here, out West. I had a good family in New York, but I like to think I would be more satisfied with my life if I had started here. I would be established in a town like the people out here are. I would have friends who knew me and who I knew just as completely. Maybe I would even have a family by now! Oh, if only.

If I were born in the West, I wouldn’t be classically trained in piano, but I’d be better for it. I’d have some freedoms in playing piano, which certainly wouldn’t be a bad thing. I would be in a saloon all my life, playing a dusty old set of keys, a cigarette lit up and the room hazy. I’d learn to read, of course, but my ears would be all I needed to play. No sheet music to worry about, no memorizing sonatas and concertos. I would be where I belonged.

I would grow up with people I’d known all my life, have close friends who knew everything about everything. The world would be a small place, and I would have my own little corner of it. I’d find the love of my life before I even realized it, and we would be together for the rest of our days. I wouldn’t be a stranger in that town, and even if we left, we’d have each other and a home to come back to.

That’s the ideal, anyway. I know as well as anyone else out here that it doesn’t always happen like that. And I’ve gotten used to blending in, so maybe one day I can settle in like I never was anywhere else. I believe it could happen.

Catching up with an old friend

It’s been months since Johnny died. Outside of work, I’ve kept to myself a bit. I admit, it hit me harder than it probably should have. Still, I’m trying to do better. I kept telling everyone that I’m leaving soon, that I won’t be around much longer. But maybe that isn’t such a good idea. I travel around a lot, sure, but Tombstone has been the longest I’ve been in any town since I came out West. I do like it here. Maybe I will leave eventually, but not as soon as I thought.

Anyway, I decided to catch up with some old friends instead of hiding away like a hermit. My old friend Talie agreed to come over for dinner, so I’m preparing a meal. Steak and potatoes, something I think she’ll enjoy. It’s a favorite out here, since half the town has cattle of their own. Not as expensive as where I’m from, either, which is nice.

Talie is one hell of a cowgirl, always keeps you in check. She makes sure everyone is taken care of, especially recently. I haven’t reached out to her much, but I caught her the other night while she was making her rounds in Riza’s saloon, my new place of employment. She accepted my offer (after joking about whether I even knew how to cook) and we agreed to tonight at 6. She’s got some things on the ranch to attend to, but I suspect she’ll be on time.

I set the table while the food is cooking, making sure my little house is fairly tidy. I take care of myself better than I do my surroundings, and it certainly doesn’t help that I hardly ever have anyone around to keep me in check. Hopefully it looks clean enough to house a guest. The dining room is spotless, anyway. I even have some tea waiting to be brewed for after dinner. This is the most organized I have ever been.

Talie gets here at six o’ clock sharp and thanks me for inviting her over. She gets comfortable and we sit down for the meal. She compliments the food (but part of me wonders if she’s just too nice to tell me it’s no good) and we get to talking. True to her nature, she gets right on asking how I’m doing, just in the way that she does with everyone – kind, really concerned about your wellbeing. I tell her I’m fine and apologize for being so withdrawn lately. She asks if I still plan on leaving, and if I need anything. I tell her I’ll be around a while longer, and she brightens up, grins, tells me that we have to go drinking sometime if that’s the case. Next night I’m off, she makes me promise to come and hang out with the Gals again. They were planning on some cards sometime, too. I’m terrible at cards, but she knows it and asks me to play with them anyway. I agree to it and I can’t help but smile. Talie knows how to make anyone’s day brighter. It’s just part of her nature.

I make the tea after we clear off the plates and she tells me all about the ranch, how the new calf is doing, what her plans are for the summer festivals. She always wins at least one or two awards for her cattle each year, but she still puts in her all to make sure her cows and bulls look prime for the shows. I tell her I heard rumors that she was going to be part of the rodeo this year, but she waves me off and I just smile. I don’t know if she would, but I know she’d be good at it.

Soon enough, the tea goes with the daylight and she has to leave. A cowgirl’s work is never over, she says, and I get her hat and coat for her. Along with our farewells, she makes me promise again to join her next Thursday for a night out with the Gals. I tell her I’ll be there, no doubt about it. She smiles, gets on her horse, and waves goodbye as she rides off.

With friends like her, it’s hard to imagine leaving this town.


I wrote this story in accordance with an assignment in which you imagine having dinner with an old friend. For this week, we have to include other characters into our works, so I thought I would continue the story after the radio show (again) and have an old friend of Danny’s come over for dinner after the events of “Turning Tumbleweeds”. Talie is a cool character, and definitely one who I think would be a good dinner guest. Hopefully I portrayed her well!

I love writing, so making this story wasn’t difficult. The most difficult part is judging how a completely different character might respond to the prompts I give throughout the story without losing the personality of the character at all. I really enjoy writing collaborative stories, so the challenge was fun to take on anyway.

P.S. Be sure to listen to the radio show tomorrow (Thursday) to find out what happened! We worked really hard on this show and I’m very excited to have everyone listen in, so get ready!

Back to the Western

From: sallythecowgirl@gmail.com

To: dannythepianist@gmail.com

Subject: Where are they now?

Howdy Danny,

It’s Sally here on this new thing called a computer. I’m sending you this e-mail because I don’t know where the heck I am. I ended up in the north in a place called Virginia and I have been told the year is 2016. Remember that crazy scientist who kept saying he was going “back to the future”?! Well, I somehow ended up on his crazy train and am now in 2016! I thought I saw you the other day at a bar I went to but it just happened to be a stranger. I hope you get this at some point in time. How is everyone back in Tombstone? Especially after Johnny’s passing, I knw that took a toll on most of the town. Keep me updated!

  • Sally Winderson


From: dannythepianist@gmail.com

To: sallythecowgirl@gmail.com

Subject: Re: Where are they now?

Hello, Sally!

How on earth did you get to 2016? I received your note from some bird that flew in, and it’s sitting here now I think waiting for a response. I don’t know how you could possibly be writing to me, but it’s good to hear from you. I wasn’t sure where you’d gone out of nowhere! People have been asking, too. They’re mighty worried about losing you so soon after Johnny. Here’s hoping you have a quick journey back.

Everyone is quiet here, maybe a bit more chipper than when you left, but it’s still almost unbearable. I started working for Riza recently, but I think I’m going to head out of town soon. Her saloon is lovely, but just not the same as before. Hopefully the town brightens up again in time for the local festivals, but it’s a long way until then.

Anyway, Riza’s been busy as ever. I don’t know what it is about you saloon types but you don’t seem to sit still. She was kind to let me work for her after everything. I hear Bonnie Sue and Agnus and the sheriffs officially locked up the one who got Johnny. Still hard to believe it was that crazy woman all along. Talie comes by pretty often to make sure we are taken care of, always offering help. She’s been asking for you like crazy, too. I’ll be glad to give her something next time she comes around!

Will you be back soon? Are you with that crazy scientist? What is 2016 like? (I keep checking to see if you really went that far forward; part of me still thinks you’re pulling my leg, Sally. This is crazy.)

Best wishes,



From: sallythecowgirl@gmail.com

To: dannythepianist@gmail.com

Subject: Where are they now?


I am most definitely in 2016. There are all these fancy automobiles on roads covered with what looks like hard, black soot. And like I said before, I’m on this fancy letter-writing device called a computer. I don’t understand how these are getting to you by bird but the “internet” (I still don’t understand what it is) is really big so who knows! They also have small versions called cell phones, not quite sure how those work either… But besides all of that, last I remember of Tombstone was being at the bar with my good friend Meg. She had just returned from a trip to the North the day after Johnny passed. We went to the bar when I didn’t have to work and decided to celebrate her birthday late. All I remember was Riza pouring more shots for me and Meg trying to get me to go back north with her. I kept refusing because Tombstone is my home! Last I remember was a train at the most random hour carrying me off into the night with the conductor being some man with wild, grey hair and Meg asleep next to me. Since I arrived to this year I haven’t been able to find either of them. I do have a lead as to where I could find them though. There’s a bar, just happens to be down the street from this little house I am staying in. It’s called the Conductor. I’m hoping to find the conductor of the train I ended up on and see if he can take me home. It’s a shame to hear you wanting to leave! I do hope you’ll stay until the festivals are over! And tell Tallie I went on a trip to clear my mind and that I’ll be back soon! I’ll send more information as I figure out what to do!

  • Sally


From: dannythepianist@gmail.com

To: sallythecowgirl@gmail.com

Subject: Re: Where are they now?

Dear Sally,

I know you’re not one to spin stories, but I am still rather perplexed. I suppose you really did get my letter in your computer if you actually responded. Well, I decided to stick around until we figure out what happened to you at least, maybe until the festivals. My next destination hasn’t been quite mapped out yet, and I haven’t really told anyone else about it, either, so we will see.

Talie seems satisfied with your answer, although she seemed upset that you were sending me letters and not her, but I don’t know what I could do for her on that front. At any rate, I’ve been looking around here as well to see if there’s any way to find out what happened. I think I saw that scientist in Riza’s saloon the other night, talking to someone else about his crazy ideas, but I didn’t get the chance to approach him before he was gone and away. He seems to only exist within the saloons, which is unfortunate — lately the only time I’ve been in one is for work. It’s my night off, though, so I’m going to see if I can find that sneaky fellow. I might also ask around the train station if there’s anything about trains passing at unscheduled hours or anything similarly peculiar. I will let you know as soon as I can if something comes up. In the meantime, please let me know if you find anything out yourself.

Best wishes,



From: sallythecowgirl@gmail.com

To: dannythepianist@gmail.com

Subject: Where are they now?


Good news!!! I found Meg at a nearby store. She knows where the crazy conductor is and we’re going to meet him tonight to see if he can get us home. Turns out she had one too many of Riza’s shots and mistook his experiment train for her train to Boston! I hopefully will be home in the next two days, if not, please split up all of my stuff in Tombstone between all the Gals of the West. I’m hoping the end result is not that and that I will arrive safely at the station on the 10th platform but at this point I don’t have a clue. I will write you right before we leave so you know when to expect me home!

  • Sally


From: dannythepianist@gmail.com

To: sallythecowgirl@gmail.com

Subject: Re: Where are they now?

Dear Sally,

I’m glad to hear this! I hadn’t found anything on my end, so I had been extremely worried. I was just about to write you and find something else when your letter came. Everyone will be happy to know you will be returning soon and in good health. I will let everyone know tonight of your plans! Please let me know if there is anything you need on my end for your travels. I hope everything goes well. I’m sure you will have some wonderful stories to tell upon your return, too. I simply cannot wait to hear them!

Best wishes,



From: sallythecowgirl@gmail.com

To: dannythepianist@gmail.com

Subject: Where are they now?


Well, I’m leaving for home today. The crazy conductor, his name is Doc, he promised to take us back in his “time traveling train”. It sounds crazy but if you go to the 10th platform at the train station we should arrive around 10:30 a.m. I promise I’m not making this up! If for some reason I’m not back by high noon call it quits and just divvy all my stuff up. Hope to see you real soon. Also when I get back, remind me to never had Riza’s shots anymore.

  • Sally


From: dannythepianist@gmail.com

To: sallythecowgirl@gmail.com

Subject: Re: Where are they now?

Dear Sally,

I’m not sure if you’ll get this letter, but I hope your return is safe and comfortable! I will be waiting when you return, as will half the town most likely. Hopefully it doesn’t come to divvying up your belongings, but I’ll honor your word. You’ll have to let Riza know that old Shot can’t handle her shots, though. Ha!

See you tomorrow,



This letter was written in collaboration with Tierra in accordance with an assignment that asked us to co-write a story via email. The email part was more or less up for interpretation, so we decided to have our two characters email each other. Since we worked together on our radio show, we decided to pick up the story from where the show left off, after the murder. Of course, we had to justify these old-timey westerners using email, so the twist in this story is that Sally, Tierra’s character, got caught on a curious time train that shot her to present-day. While Danny is still in his time, her emails are still reaching him. A new mystery of its own! Will it be resolved?

At any rate, this collaboration was lots of fun. Tierra is a really good partner to work with, and we got the whole assignment done in one day. Then we opted to post the same story onto both of our blogs. So, while it’s the same story, you can read Tierra’s perspective on the making of it here. We used Google Docs instead of email to write the story instead of emailing back and forth (although email was our primary form of communication throughout the process). Hope you enjoyed the final product.


A Southern Key

I’ve never seen bluer skies than when I went south to Virginia. As soon as I stepped off the train into that hot summer evening, I saw a matted jewel surrounding this earth, glorious and bright, just short of glimmering. Even as we entered the car and even our hotel, I couldn’t stop gazing at it. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a shade of blue that brilliant before in my life. And as the sun receded into the horizon, the colors only blossomed into still more incredible shades and hues. I admit, I was smitten.

In the dark, my concert mates and I spent an awfully long time drinking expensive variations of wines that I couldn’t name if I wanted to. I prefer a heartier drink myself, but of course we didn’t venture to find anything less than the forty dollar bottles offered to us by the richest hotel in the state. I drank a bit, sitting alone and gazing at the quiet, mute sky. I wondered what other colors painted the skies of the South.

One of my dear friends Ethan Caldwell, a violinist, sat beside me after he noticed my solitude. “More wine?” He offered the bottle to me, grinning. “This one came off of Thomas Jefferson’s own Monticello. Can you believe that? A drink practically from our founding fathers!”

I did my best to look like I had more interest in the wine than I actually did, taking the bottle and looking idly at the label. “Really?” I asked, but probably not in the right tone of pure wonder.

Ethan took the bottle back and poured some into my still-half-full glass. “Yes, really. It’s an excellent quality. Smell it – you’re practically sitting beside Jefferson, accompanying his own violin when you do.”

The wine smelled exactly like what I find other wines to smell like. Fruity, bitter, watery. “Did Jefferson play the violin?” I asked, looking at him sideways as I took a sip. It tasted like it smelled.

“Every self-respecting gentleman played the violin back then,” he replied, waving off the question as though it were a trivial matter. “Anyway, come and join us at the table. You look miserable.”

I don’t like to argue, and I was especially not in the mood for it just then. The wine was not helping, either; I admit I like to get more drunk with less of a headache the day before a show. So I joined them around the tables as they chatted and laughed and drank. After a few minutes of that, I abandoned my drink in favor of setting myself at the grand piano in the restaurant. It was beautiful, old, just a bit dusty and out of tune. Without a word I started playing a few simple tunes to warm up. The others continued their banter, paying no mind.

After a few minutes, I was halfway through one of our pieces. “Ethan,” I called, gesturing for him to come over and listen. He made his way around the table and leaned against the piano, grinning. He knew what I was up to. “Listen to this. I’ve been practicing something new—“

“A new trick?” he asked, still with that knowing grin.

“Just listen.” I began playing, taking one of my pieces and cutting its timing a bit. I liked the feel of a quicker beat, one that went a bit against the grain for a concert pianist. Once I finished, I paused and looked at him. “What do you think?”

He took a thoughtful gulp of his drink. “I think,” he started finally, “if you played like that tomorrow then we’d be chased out of town before you could finish.”

“It’s just a small change. It sounds more modern, don’t you think?” I protested.

“Our itinerary has classics, Daniel, not silly jives. People want to listen to a concert, not get up and dance around to it.”

I didn’t argue any further. He was right, after all; no one who would step into our concert hall tomorrow evening would want to hear anything that they haven’t already heard. That would be blasphemous, surely.

*          *          *

The next night, after our concert was a roaring success, after it moved the crowd in ways that were unimaginable, I went out alone to find a bar or something, somewhere to appreciate a bit of peace. The sky was alight with hues of pink and orange, even as the sun had ducked away. I wandered until it was nearly dark and I found a small bar hidden away in the middle of the street. Inside were men laughing and drinking and singing – working men who had just finished a long day. At the piano sat a stout, older man, with sleeves rolled up and a hat set askew, hammering away at the keys in a manner I didn’t think was possible.

I bought a drink and watched the bar pianist play away. He had so much energy, so much style. I couldn’t believe it sounded any better than the discordant smashing of keys, with the way his hands moved. He didn’t miss a beat, and as soon as he finished one song someone called for him to play another, and no matter what the request was, he was at it again, giving them what they wanted to hear. Even if it was the same song four times in a row.

After a while I made my way over to the piano, eventually leaning against it a bit. The pianist was taking a break, drinking a beer that someone had bought for him. He smiled and winked at me. “You’ve been real stuck in this piano,” he said with a low, gravelly voice. “You play yourself?”

“Yes, sir,” I replied, not really sure what to say. After hearing that man play, I felt like I was six again, hearing my teacher explain to me what the different chords were for the first time.

He slid to one side of the bench and gestured for me to join him, smiling with the enthusiasm and kindness of a grandfather. Hesitantly, I joined him, setting my drink on top of the worn out little piano. He took another long drink and watched me expectantly. “Go ahead and play a tune for us, son,” he prompted gently.

I shifted uncomfortably. “I’m afraid I only know classical tunes,” I murmured. “Doesn’t seem like the kind of music any of you folks would care to hear.”

“Well, what’s say I accompany you, then?” he offered, beaming with a look I couldn’t possibly describe, though I suppose something similar to encouragement was in his eyes.

Again, I hesitated. I’d been playing all evening for a crowd of thousands, yet I felt like I knew nothing, couldn’t get a tune out if you tried to choke it out of me. But I didn’t want to disappoint this man. I sat up and placed my hands on the keys. “Uh, do you know Pachabel’s Canon in D?” I asked, though I felt foolish doing so.

He shrugged and smiled. “Go ahead,” he replied, settling on the keys further down the board.

I began playing, and not four bars in he joined me with a ragtime accompaniment that sounded like he’d known the song backwards and forwards. Every note I hit had another sound beneath it, one that my instincts said would ruin such a classic, but which sounded too good to resist enjoying. I hadn’t enjoyed playing music that much since I’d played the piece for the first time. Once it was over, I just looked at the man in awe.

Someone shouted the name of a song I’d never heard of before. The pianist started on it immediately and that group of men cheered for it.

“How long have you been playin’, son?” he asked me.

“Oh, since I was six,” I replied timidly. Didn’t feel like much of an accomplishment next to this guy. “What about you?”

“I can’t remember not playing,” he said with a grin of pure pride. “We had an old keyboard like this one in my home. The only one in the neighborhood. I played for the church and here and there once I got old enough.”

“What are you doing in a place like this, if you have so much experience?” It sounded rude, putting it out there like that, but I couldn’t figure out how this old pianist wasn’t touring Europe with his skill.

He shrugged and smiled. “I took some lessons a while back, probably when I was your age,” he explained slowly, his fingers dancing across the keys, “but I couldn’t deal with all those rules you boys up in the concert hall have. ‘Sides, who would play this poor old thing if every guy like me was working like you do?”

I was baffled. How could someone who played so well be satisfied sitting in a bar like this, playing to a bunch of shouting drunks? Surely he didn’t get paid a fraction of what his skill was worth.

But then, I felt as though I knew exactly what the reason really was. He had what I wanted, what every musician or artist wanted.

“Could- could you possibly show me how to play like that?” I asked, nervous and anxious about his response. “Not right now, of course. But if I –“

“Sure, we could play a little right now,” he replied, moving effortlessly down a couple octaves without interrupting the music for a moment. “No one’s gonna mind a bit more music. Here, just follow my lead.”

I could barely keep track of his hands, let alone follow his lead. There was no sheet music, no guidance whatsoever. “What are you doing, exactly?” My heart was pounding; I couldn’t keep up if I tried. He was everywhere.

“Just listen, son,” he said, once again in that grandfatherly way. “Play along until it feels right and sounds good. It’s all right if you go about it slow.”

I played for hours that night. No guidance, no rules. He would play a song and I would imitate him, counter him, go against his beat. And if it sounded good, he would smile and praise me. If it sounded bad, he would tell me what key to hit instead. All my years of classical training didn’t come close to the amount of music I learned on that piano.

*          *          *

I quit my job after that concert series ended, decided to learn more about the piano on my own. I travelled around the South for a couple of years, meeting the best pianists around, playing with them for a while and then moving on. I didn’t stick around for too long, since being a “damn Yankee” made it hard to find some real work, especially on a piano. I still had a lot to learn.

I went out West after that to see if I could find some new teachers in some other towns. I didn’t expect to go as far as I did, but once I settled into Heatherton I opted to stay for good. I would have liked to learn more from the South than I did before leaving, but I have yet to use another sheet of music to learn a song out here. I’m not the best, but just as long as I get to play it doesn’t matter. I’ve got years to improve.


So here’s the “origin story” of Danny Keys. I took this prompt in order to explore his character more, since he’s still brand new. I thought doing a background story could be a great way to round him out more. Danny is kind of a narrative character, so he doesn’t mind telling the tale himself. He likes to talk about himself.

This story ran a bit long for just background, but I really enjoyed the writing process. I’m a bit of a sucker for narratives, especially when I get to be the character I’m writing about for a brief moment. I didn’t have much time to revise any of its content, since I was in a bit of a rush to get it posted, but hopefully there aren’t any glaring errors.

It’ll be exciting to see where Danny ends up next.

Planet Sabotage?

Tired of the army, a soldier escapes with one of the prisoners and teams up with a warrior and her robot to destroy a planet.

Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens


This prompt was super fun to think about. What would a movie look like if it was only given one sentence of description, and that sentence was horribly misconstrued? Originally, I wanted to make this blurb western-themed, but going for a more recent and widely known film sounded more appealing in the end. After lots of speculation, I decided to go with the latest addition to the Star Wars films, since so many people have seen it and the references would be easier to get. A lot more happened in the movie than a group of misfits going to destroy a planet, but once you remove the context the whole plotline sounds like a terrible idea, which I enjoy quite a bit.

Despite my final blurb being so small, I spent a lot of time making sure it sounded right. I took the time to pick out the right words so it would flow like a brief movie description as opposed to a joke. The exercise here came with a lot of word choice and brevity practice. Making a short joke that sounds entirely serious is a writing task worth spending more than a few minutes on. Hopefully it sounds convincing enough!

Run For It

You manage to sidestep all six shots from Six Shooter Sam and bust out of the saloon doors. Johnny pauses to reload his gun, and you make a break for it across the dusty road. Good thing you didn’t try to shoot, since you’ve just now remembered that you forgot to bring any bullets with you today. The sun is bright in your eyes and it’s hard for you to navigate through the streets. Still, you make your way past some buildings right as more bullets come flying at you. His shots still ring in your ears as you trip over some bar or something, which sends you tumbling to the ground. Before you know it, a horn is roaring at you, the ground rattles, and you shade your eyes to find a rapidly approaching train just feet away from you.

Suddenly you remember that, in fact, you had loaded your gun before leaving the house this morning. If it’s any consolation, you probably would have missed anyway.


I love choose your adventure narratives, so when I found this prompt I definitely didn’t want to pass up the chance of writing my own bit. The prompt only requires you to write a “bad path” ending, but thinking about the rest of the narrative was still necessary and no less challenging. I wanted to make this story western-themed, so of course it’s about a show-down in a saloon. The character you’re playing had just gotten into a squabble with a notorious gunslinger, Six Shooter Sam. Your only options were to either try your hand at shooting at him or try to run. The fun (and mostly frustrating) thing about these kinds of stories is that they often wind up unlikely or absurd, going against what might actually be logical. I mean, why would you try to shoot a gunslinger who is probably quicker than you are? The logical thing to do is run, but perhaps Sam isn’t that great with a gun after all and secretly you should have tried to outshoot him. It’s silly and ridiculous, but that just goes with the theme of the game genre.

It’s Me, You from the Future

Dear Little Lindsey,

At your age, you’ve already been through a lot – parents divorcing, mom going to college, moving across the country three times – and yet, much to my relief, you’ve always kept your head high. Honestly I’m really proud of you for that. People always tell you you’re smart and you try to keep humble about it, and while your choice of friends is infinitely questionable, you keep yourself together nonetheless. You’ve also kept out of the infinitely stressful circle of dating, and for that I owe you practically everything. You and I both know things would have been a hundred times worse if you tried to keep up with any “real” relationship. Stick to your friends and homework and all that.

I’m gonna go ahead and say the exact thing you hear from every other adult: growing up is hard. I know that means absolutely nothing to you right now – after all, you’re just a kid and you don’t really want to worry about all that “growing up” business right now. Besides, you’ve got everything figured out; you’re “mature for your age” and planning on becoming an astronomer or geologist or librarian or something like that. Still, I hate to break it to you, but what you’ll probably end up doing is going to be really, really different from any of those. You’re gonna go to college and you’ll even take some astronomy classes, but science is not for you, kid. A librarian is a little closer to what you’ll be working towards, but honestly it’s not going to be what you think that entails. If I have any career advice for you, it’s to make sure you keep some connections and for God’s sake think about internships.

Right now you’re probably not worried so much about your relationships – and you really shouldn’t be anyway – but consider that not everything is perfect, no matter who your friends are. You might find that some of your closest friends are toxic, maybe not for years from now, but just accept that no one on this planet is worth giving up everything for. Even in your nearer future, the people you think you’ll never lose will eventually find others, or just change in general. Don’t be afraid if you’re lonely. You’ll find some wonderful people down the road. And again, at least you haven’t dated anyone. Just wait until college. Really, trust me on that one.

You’re going to have a lot of weird experiences when you’re older, especially once you’ve turned 18. Some of them are going to be wonderful, others not so much. My heart both flutters and hurts to remember what you will go through in that year alone. Always remember that things change over time. Ideas reshape themselves, pain fades away.

Oh, and don’t get me started on this upcoming presidential election. You won’t believe what happens after President Obama’s second term. Don’t forget to register to vote, alright? It’s important. Like, really important.

Anyway, I hope your homework isn’t bogging you down too much (I’m afraid it gets a lot worse). Here’s to the two of us, going forward in a blaze of whatever happens. Keep at it, little me.


Your Future Self


This short letter was inspired by the assignment prompt that asks you to write a letter to your younger self. For me, this was a little difficult, since I was a pretty straight-and-narrow kid. I never took too kindly to having adults try to tell me what I need to do in my life. Of course, the fun of this assignment is that it is purely hypothetical and everything I’ve said is something I already know. Little me won’t be able to roll her eyes upon reading this note.

Despite knowing myself pretty well, I had a bit of a hard time coming up with meaningful content to say. While imagining myself at around 13 or 14, I tried to find ways to express ideas in a manner that would get through to me. It took me some time to figure out what was most important to tell myself as well. Would I have cared about whether I got a job in college? Would I want to hear details about my future friends and relationships? How much should I tell me without “ruining it” for myself? Regardless of my thoughts and word choice, I think I would have still been wound up by my own vagueness. But I would understand later on. That’s what growing up is about, right?

After getting my topics sorted out, I had a lot of fun writing this letter. It was strangely calming, a pleasant exchange with a time in my life where I might have been uncomfortable with the very idea of knowing what happens after high school. Each phase of our lives comes with a new set of challenges which often make the trials we have previously faced feel trivial and minor, no matter their importance to us at the time. Revisiting our past struggles with the mentality of having never experienced anything worse helps us see our present as a matter of overcoming the current obstacles that we will later consider just as small and laughable. We grow each day we live, but we should never forget how we have lived each day.

Meet Danny Keys

Well hi, how are you? My name’s Daniel Ellison, although if you ask anyone around here they’ll call me Danny Keys. I’m not real tall or broad, but I can hold my own pretty alright. I’m a pianist, the finest – but maybe not the best – in my good town Heatherton in the lovely state of Nebraska. I’ve played in saloons for years now, I think about ten or twelve. Due to the nature of my work I’m not well known but certainly well heard. In Snake Brush Saloon you’ll hear me play just about anything you can come up with.

I admit I’m not home bred and baked in the hot plains of this great frontier, but I certainly wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. You see, I’m from the northeast, classically trained in what they call up there “art” and what you might know better as “background noise”. ‘Bout twelve years ago, somewhere in Carolina, I left my concert group to explore what real music sounds like. On that soul-searching journey I wound up on a train headed Nowhere and eventually found myself here, playing for those who wouldn’t give you more than a handful of change to hear you play. Somehow I prefer that, though. Ask me, music should be freely heard, not glorified like it is back east. And besides, working in a saloon means no one gives a damn about you missing a chord or getting a little off key, or trying something new now and then.

My boss is a man who looks like he was born to get others drunk, rough-faced but good-natured. He’ll give you the shirt off his back and take not a favor in return, but once he’s serving booze you’ll bet he keeps track of your tab until the day you die. Won’t heckle you for the money, of course, but if you ask him how much you owe him he’ll tell you down to the penny. So long as you’re not leaving town, you can pay him any time. He keeps business like that, even takes favors sometimes to cover the bill. Lord knows how this place is still open.

This isn’t my first bar, saloon, whatever you call it, but it’s certainly my favorite. I worked here and there for a couple of years before wandering into this place. My first time playing this here piano was when I was a customer myself. The old performer had stepped out for a break and I was drunk and cocky enough to slide right on the bench the moment the music stopped. Wasted as I was, I couldn’t distinguish a black key from a white one, but the bartender liked my tune anyhow. So did my drinking mates – they got a kick out of my performance, called me Danny Keys ever since. I woke up the next morning with my tab paid for and a note saying I was now employed at the saloon I could hardly remember leaving.

The old pianist and I took shifts every other day until he wound up in some fight and got himself shot. The owner was shaken up by the poor guy’s death, but not enough to stop this piano from singing for his customers. Since then I’ve been full-time pianist and part-time patron for this dusty old place. Haven’t quite shaken off my Northern side – glad I don’t need to talk much while playing – but I’ve settled in pretty damn well. I certainly plan on sticking around awhile.