Writing Catalog

Max Halberstam

Grade: 11

University School - Hunting Valley

Instructor: Jim Garrett


Flash Fiction


There was something wrong with Maddy. She was a bad student. She was lazy. She made promises to her professors she could not keep. Each time they granted her an extension, she missed the deadline. She took advantage of them. Her professors, her friends, everyone. If there was something important—a birthday celebration, a Halloween party, an experience that mattered—she would apologize on the pretense of too much work, too little time. She was a liar. She would close herself in her room and sleep. And It hurt. She truly hurt us—her friends who loved her completely. She missed our moments of grief and transcendent joy. All for what? She would not work anyway. She would close herself in her room and hide. Eventually we thought, enough was enough, and we stopped inviting her to things. No more faked illness. No more unanswered calls. She could avoid us all she wanted. We did not matter to her, clearly.

So we forgot about Maddy. It was easy. We stopped seeing her at Luna's. She wasn't at any of the parties we frequented. Her seat was empty in psych class. We did see her once, though, in passing. She walked towards us outside Met when we were lying together on the Green. She approached as if to ask something—to make clear what was misunderstood. But her little pink high-tops hesitated off the walk, and they carried her past us, into Simpson's.

And later, we caught Dr. Egberts whispering her name to a colleague in an empty room in Mains. "Maddy Roberts, yeah, do you know if there's something wrong with her? She hasn't shown up to my class in weeks, and she didn't answer my email about the term paper. What's she thinking?" And when Dr. Egberts cornered us after psych class, when she asked us, what was going on, we told the truth. We did not know. We did not hang out with Maddy anymore.

But one time, when we were drunk in Liam's room and lay with our backs on the floor, her name came up. We wondered where she was. Was she all alone? So we trooped downstairs to the vending machine and bought cookies. We found her room and knocked on her door and presented them as an offering, a consolation gift.

Love Letter

Short Story

Love Letter

The young woman alone in the museum hated everything. The fake marble columns. The trashy love letters in backlit displays. The museum attendant who stared with dopey pity eyes. And the advert written by someone with no secondary schooling.

Victorian Romance—Love Letters to Make You Swoon!

She moved to the next display and scanned the letter. It was written in 1842 to some high-class lady, probably sixteen.

My dearest Emily,

Your smiling erubescence fills my soul with unquenchable longing. Oh my heartstrings! They throb a sweet melody each time-


She walked past the staring attendant and out the exhibit. She was starved but ignored the cafeteria on the way out. Took a swig of water. She took Parkway towards the park. Tall, brick townhouses gleamed in the summer sun. The wacko private collector probably lived in one of them. The guy who donated all five thousand love letters. Or maybe he was dead. A guy like that wouldn't let go so easily. A hoarder. He probably died bald and loveless.

She imagined herself in one of those old, high-ceilinged apartments overlooking the Thames. A successful artist known for her youthful brilliance who entered retirement at thirty and threw the best parties. Originally, she had come to London to study Art History and get laid. A bright future stretched out before her. The smell of chalk dust and hashish fumes beckoning. But now she couldn't see herself anywhere. At first the city had an exciting foreignness. No strip malls, lots of alcohol, strange conversations with cab drivers at 4 in the morning. And now that magic had faded. She had nine months left in college. A long time.

She stuffed her hands into her pockets and kicked a can into the street. She was mopey. She liked to walk when mopey.

Stupid can.

She crossed the street and checked the time. 4:45pm. There was a six-hour time difference between Eastern and—

It didn't matter anyway.

If HE wanted to message her it was HIS business.

She spat into the street as indelicately as possible. From way back in her throat. All phlegmy and stuff. Not that she cared. No one to care.

And the park smelled like trash. Trash cans were overflowing. It was deeper into the city than the museum. It was on a big, milky river. She sat down somewhere farther from the trash and closer to the river, but not too close to freeze herself with river-wind.

Which was ridiculous.

It was summer.

It was seventy degrees with the sun shining and she needed her sweater. HE would complain about it, of course. She would refuse his jacket, and he'd start lecturing her about the absurdity of pseudo-toughness. He would get all puffed up, hands waving around. Then he'd glance down at her boobs and lose his mind. He just shut down. Mid-sentence. Gone.

One time he was arguing the relative importance of Freudian thought, and she just stared at him. She looked him straight in the eye, no-nonsense. And he fell apart. A quivering, blushing mess. It was brutal.

She shook her head like a dog. She leaned back on the park bench and hiked up her sweater. Her skin was covered in goosebumps. Flexing her stomach muscles, she took two fingers and pinched the fat below her belly button between them.

She took a swig of water. Opened her phone to Page Six.

The 41 best celebrity bikini pics of 2022—so far.

'Love Island USA': Felipe shuts down Courtney's "Toxic" relationship claims.

Julia Haart spotted making out with mystery man in the Hamptons.

She stood up and walked around. She sat down. If she ever offed herself, it would be the river. Very cold, fast-moving water. Hypothermia would make it quick.


Her phone buzzed with a new message. She looked around to see if anyone was watching, before slowly, carefully opening it.

How are you doing?

That asshole.

That donkey ass.

What kind of question was that? What was he trying to prove? That he cared? That he was caring? She shoved her phone into her purse and pulled out Catcher in the Rye.

It didn't matter that HE had given the book to her. That won't stop her from reading it. That it was HIS book. That HE had given it to her. That HE will never hold her again.

She jumped out of the bench and spat sharply into the bushes.

She walked out of the park and kicked a can into the street. A fat man in a black sedan was following her. The car was going 5 miles an hour and he was staring. She rapped her knuckles against the glass and bent down for a broken chunk of asphalt, but then he lowered the window and showed his fat face. Disgusting.

You must be 300 pounds. Can you even walk? Stop eating, fatty.

She saw fury register on his ugly face and took off down the road. She hid in a café. Sat down at a booth.

Oh wow.

Oh perfect.

A mousy-haired boy and a skinny girl were making out at the table next to her. They were practically on top of each other. They were kissing like summer was a permanent thing. No winter.

Those fuckers have no idea what's coming for them. They are mindless meat-sacks. Engaged in mindless meat-sackery. What are they trying to prove? They are dead. They are already dead and pretending they don't know it yet. You could almost pity them.


She waved over a waiter. Can't you do something about that? It's disgusting. I'm losing my appetite.

The waiter made a motion with his hands and invited her to leave.

You know what? Its fine. I'm taking my business elsewhere. Enjoy the show. Screwball.

Her stomach growled and she drank the rest of her water. Walking helped. She walked back to the park. It was dark.

Dark in the park.

She didn't care. She found her bench and sat down. Her phone buzzed and she opened it. It was a picture of him smiling and holding a blue slushie. He was standing in the sun next to a baseball field somewhere very far away. His tongue was sticking out and was very blue.

Nice tongue. Very blue.

Is what she typed. And she stared at his picture.

I am a smurf.

An idiot.

I can see that.

Is what she typed. And the darkness surrounding her didn't feel so empty. It was like that time on the Salisbury trip. When they sat together on the Avon. When he held her against his chest so that his heartbeat—slightly elevated—could bump against her back as he shifted her slightly, so she fit better against his neck. And she felt safe enough to snuggle in. To lean back into him and—

Srsly though. How are you doing?

She looked at his picture again. His hair was getting long. He looked good, happy. She thought of meat-sacks and the inevitability of death.

This hurts. I want to kiss you. Taste blue.

She didn't type this.

Instead, she jumped off the bench. The river-path ran up to the river. A black void of emptiness and river-air. She sprinted the last few steps to the cold river-railing and leaned forward over it. She hawked up a fat one and spat. Watched it sail down to the churning water below.

Gatsby's Blindness

Critical Essay

Gatsby's Blindness

In The Great Gatsby, the narrator, Nick Carraway, tells the story of a Jay Gatsby, a character bent on realizing an unattainable dream. Gatsby dreams to restore his amorous relationship with Daisy, a girl he met five years before and has not seen since. He longs to return to the past exactly as it was five years ago, to marry Daisy and move into her old home in Louisville. It is impossible to repeat the past, but Gatsby believes otherwise; "Can't repeat the past?" he shouts, "Why of course you can!" (110). It is with this false hope that Gatsby creates a fake persona, illegally amasses wealth, and hosts decadent parties in the hope of impressing Daisy and, eventually, winning her affection. On the last page, as Nick sprawls on the beach before the moonlit Sound, he thinks of Gatsby and his inexorable, hopeless pursuit of a dream; "[Gatsby] did not know that [his dream] was already behind him, somewhere back in that vast obscurity beyond the city" (180). Gatsby is blinded by his dream. He embellishes it with wonder and fantasy until it becomes an illusion of "colossal vitality" (96). He tricks himself into believing that after five years apart, Daisy still loves him completely, and is willing to abandon her life for him. In the Allegory of the Cave, Plato explains the concept of looking away from the truth, to be actively "turned" in the wrong direction (Norton anthology 290). Gatsby blinds himself in the pursuit of his dream—he has metaphorically "turned himself" in the wrong direction.

Gatsby makes his dream, his pursuit of Daisy, an essential part of his identity. He meets Daisy when he is stationed in Louisville and he spends only a month of summer in her company before he is deployed to Europe. Yet his very existence is bent on reuniting with her. From his first experience with Daisy—in autumn under the stars—he becomes trapped in this state of longing; "Then he kissed her. At his lip's touch she blossomed for him like a flower and the incarnation was complete" (110). In this way, Gatsby becomes trapped in the idea of Daisy. After he has "wed" his "visions" to her, he can see nothing else. His wonder and imagination are intrinsically tied to her. And after Gatsby loses contact with Daisy after the war, his wonder pushes him into seeking her out again; "he wanted to recover something, some idea of himself perhaps, that had gone into loving Daisy. His life had been confused and disordered since then, but if he could once return to a certain starting place and go over it all slowly, he could find out what that thing was" (110). Gatsby feels lost without Daisy. He is blinded to all else but her. So when he returns to Louisville and finds her moved on, he goes to the ends of the earth in her pursuit. He schemes with Wolfsheim to sell alcohol during prohibition and amass enormous wealth. He buys a fantastic mansion across the water and hosts decadent parties for social prestige in the hopes of earning her affection. And when it succeeds, when Gatsby's elaborate plan finally works, and Daisy is once again in his arms, he cannot help but to be somewhat disappointed.

"Almost five years! There must have been moments even that afternoon when Daisy tumbled short of his dreams—not through her own fault but because of the colossal vitality of his illusion. It had gone beyond her, beyond everything. He had thrown himself into it with a creative passion, adding to it all the time, decking it out with every bright feather that drifted his way. No amount of fire or freshness can challenge what a man will store up in his ghostly heart" (95-96).

This is the danger of "over-dreaming." In the process of seeking Daisy out, Gatsby's imagination has embellished their reunion with wonder. His visions have gone "beyond her, beyond everything." Ever since their first kiss, Gatsby strove to reunite with her. In the process, he has blinded himself to all else but Daisy. It is now, we realize, he has blinded himself to Daisy as well.

Gatsby desires a return to his past relationship with Daisy. But he is captivated by the idea of her, not the person herself. This is seen in the confrontation between himself, Tom Buchanan, and Daisy in the hotel, when he pressures her to confront her husband and annul the last five years of her life; "Just tell him the truth—that you never loved him—and it's all wiped out forever" (132). Gatsby is committed to his dream. He is committed to exacting the terms of his dream completely—to return to the past exactly as it was. Daisy must forget her marriage with Tom and love Gatsby the same. Daisy, however, has her own experience; "Oh you want too much!' she cried to Gatsby. 'I love you now—isn't that enough? I can't help what's past.' She began to sob helplessly. 'I did love him once—but I loved you too" (132). Daisy's outburst is shocking. The line, "I can't help what's past" shows Daisy as her own person. She has her own personal experiences and desires. Gatsby forgets this for his dream. He cannot see Daisy as she is changed. She must conform to the illusion he has kept in his mind. This is his third blindness; to Gatsby, Daisy is merely an object of desire, a material pursuit. He cannot view her as she is.

With all of Gatsby's compounding illusions, his turning from the truth, it is no wonder that his prospective relationship fails. Daisy skips town with Tom, and Gatsby is crushed with disillusionment. As he floats on a floatie in his pool, the world changes. He beholds this new world as "material without being real" (161). With the blinding effects of his illusion stripped away, Gatsby sees the world as it truly is. He comes to understand that people are "poor ghosts," yoked each by their own dreams. They move "fortuitously" about, beckoned by their trivial desires. No longer led by his own dream, Gatsby can see the pointlessness of their pursuit. He comes to find "what a grotesque thing a rose is" (161). The rose is a symbol of romance, and Gatsby condemns this symbol as "grotesque." This epiphany should be liberating for Gatsby, as he is freed from his illusion. But this is not the case. Without his pursuit of Daisy, the world is meaningless. It is monotone and insubstantial; "he had lost the old warm world, paid a high price for living too long with a single dream" (161). Once again, Gatsby suffers the consequence of "over-dreaming." He made his dream essential to his identity, and without it, he cannot exist. And just like that, Gatsby is dead. Walter shoots him dead on his floatie in the pool.

The story ends with a deep sense of irony. The last paragraphs shift into the collective voice and "we all" strive towards a utopian future. But Gatsby will never reach his future, much less his dream. Despite this, the last few lines are written with hopeful diction, "—tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther…. and one fine morning——" these lines capture something essential about human nature; we all strive toward our unattainable dreams. Perhaps it is important to strive for something, some greater meaning beyond our hopeless existence. And while it may have ended in tragedy and dissatisfaction for Gatsby, he had come a long way. Nick states this on the 2nd page and the last page, and Gatsby's father displays this in the enthusiasm in which he beholds Gatsby's house and wealth. The deep irony is that Gatsby himself is not fulfilled, Gatsby pursues Daisy by way of attaining material wealth and social prestige, but these things are insubstantial. They are of little value. This is the tragedy of Gatsby's story. After five years of yearning, striving, reaching, he is left with nothing. No one comes to his funeral, he has no friends, his father barely knows him. Because of his intense focus on his dream, He has lived a hollow, insubstantial life. This is his ultimate blindness, his turning.