Zeina Yacoub, senior in English, enjoys reading, cooking, driving, binge-watching Netflix originals, and overthinking. Her favorite place in the world (aside from the Writing Center) is the Art Institute of Chicago, which offers free admission every Thursday from 5 to 8 p.m. Zeina shares one of her poems along with her writing process:

Writing is a skill I had to grow into. In fact, I still continue to do so. The truth is, I don’t write nearly as much as someone whose teachers and loved ones generously label as a writer, and having others put their faith in me so generously always came with a polite grin and an underlying sense of guilt.

The first step of my writing process starts with anxiety, which morphs into avoidance, then sways over to guilt, and then back to anxiety. Perhaps I’m comfortable with this vicious cycle because it’s all I ever knew whenever I tried to type my thoughts into an empty word document. Still, I hear my fifth grade English teacher–plump, red-faced, smiling down at a miniature version of myself–saying “Zeina, you are going to be a great writer someday.” In a perfect world, this would dissipate the uncertainty gnawing at my core and let the words flow as they must. At this point, I catch myself idly scrolling through my Facebook feed.

Step two: I decide that I simply don’t have the incentive. Maybe I need to feel like there are dire consequences to not writing, and so I promptly log onto next semester’s course selection database and register for both poetry and fiction writing workshops. Now I have no excuse to let my feelings get in the way when my GPA is on the line. I’ll have a solid portfolio of work. I’ll be writing, and maybe the next time being called a writer won’t sting anymore.

By step three, I realize that I’m wrong. I strain myself to come up with something, anything, that I can submit to the workshop on time. Everyone’s going to trash my work, but that’s what workshops are for, right? Even if I come up with a solid narrative coupled with language that flows seamlessly as it’s being read, won’t they find something wrong with it regardless? I was never a poet anyway, why should I expect myself to produce work that resonates with so many people at once?

Step four is when I sit in the backseat of my father’s car surrounded by my family, driving down the i-88. Fields of golden shrubbery embrace the open road, and I feel at peace. My phone finds itself in my palms, my fingers begin to tap words into the “notes” app, and the words become a poem. It feels as natural as breathing. I begin to wonder if this is what writing is meant to feel like rather than a questionable and crippling sense of purpose.

It’s a question I’ve yet to find an answer to, but all I know is that I have a poem that I’m proud of. In fact, I’m so happy with this one that I’d like to share it with you. This is called I-88.

I-88

What brisk breeze
breathes life into the tired
Midwest that for years
has rubbed an eternal
sleep from its sagging eyes?
A hologram of prairies
melt into each other and hug
the open road.
Oh say can you see
the painted grey skies arching
over the crust of time? Does
the American sunlight
illuminate your sense of
vastness or dig subtle trails
into your aging skin,
epidermal roads leading everywhere
but home?

Someday, the Illinois soil will relish the flavor of all that used to be.

Zeina Yacoub