Caldwell Update– Winning Pieces

I already wrote about this a while ago, but this spring I was lucky enough to win the Alumni/Written Category of LHSP’s Caldwell Poetry Competition, although I submitted five poems and wasn’t sure which had won. Last week I got an email letting me know that two pieces of mine are going to be published in the LHSP Arts & Literary Journal! The poems are “Winter in Oz” (which reimagines Dorothy’s journey through Oz as something actually difficult) and “How Was Your Trip?” (a poem I wrote for my mom after babysitting my younger siblings alone for a week). I’ve had “Winter in Oz” sitting around for a particularly long while, so it’s good to have somewhere to put it finally. I’ve thought before about adapting it into a short story (mostly just because I got bored one time and wrote the first paragraph on my phone), but we’ll see if I’m ever in a dreary enough mood.

Nashville Summer (original song)

Here’s another song of mine! This was only the first or second one I ever wrote, so I’m aware of how cheesy the lyrics are and I apologize. I guess that’s what being a freshman in college does to a person.

Also, fun fact, this song is not about the Nashville you’re probably thinking of.

Next Time (original song)

I’m finally starting the process of posting some of my original songs on YouTube (which thankfully makes this a lot more relevant for this blog)!

This song I actually recorded a while ago, and then never uploaded it because the guitar sounded really soft and I wanted to try redoing it. But yesterday I decided I was just going to be lazy about it and upload it as it was! So here it is!

FAIR PEOPLE is up!

Issue #19 of Ginosko Literary Review is officially published!

As someone raised in Indiana and going to school in Michigan, I love the Midwest and feel at home in it, but I also know that thanks to politics, history, and general public culture, there are plenty of people who are not made to feel at home in the Midwest at all, even though they ought to be. (Obviously this problem extends beyond the Midwest, this is just the region I was thinking about when I wrote this story.) I was thinking last fall about how hard it can be to reconcile a love for one’s hometown with an awareness of the town’s underlying judgments and prejudices, and whether this reconciliation is even possible. The resulting short story, “Fair People,” is about Midwestern pride and the problems that exist under its surface. I often use real experiences of mine as very loose jumping-off points in fiction, so it’s based in part off of truth — namely that, like the narrator, I’m from Indiana and I went to a county fair last summer — but all of the characters and events are completely fictional. If you want, you can check it out at the link below. Enjoy!

http://www.ginoskoliteraryjournal.com/images/ginosko19.pdf

Published!!!

I got word today that a short story of mine, “Fair People,” has been accepted for publication in Ginosko Literary Journal! “Fair People” is like 5000 words long and therefore probably the longest short story I’ve written before, and I honestly wasn’t expecting anybody to want it, so it made me really surprised and happy to find a home for it with Ginosko. I’m especially glad because all of my previous publications have been with campus and school-affiliated literary magazines, and while I’m super thankful to be featured in all of those, it also feels good to branch out a little into the broader scheme of things. Yay for publication!!

The issue should be up in a couple of weeks and it’ll be available online, so I’ll be sure to post a link here as soon as that happens.

An Argument Against Sadism (Hear Me Out)

I know what you’re thinking. Nobody needs you to argue against sadism. It’s sadism. Everyone already knows it’s bad.

In the context of writing, though, I don’t think that’s totally true. Kurt Vonnegut has a list of 8 basics that he calls “Creative Writing 101,” and number 6 is this:

“Be a sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them—in order that the reader may see what they are made of.”

I know obviously I’m in no position to argue with Kurt Vonnegut when it comes to writing, and I don’t want to — in fact I totally agree with this point. Writing is nothing without conflict. It’s important to put even the most charming characters — maybe even especially the most charming characters — into terrible situations, exactly for this reason, so that the reader gets a better idea of who they really are. (It also makes them more relatable. It’s better than reading about a character you really like just walking around and having a good day.)

But I disagree with the idea of that being sadism. And I know that seems nitpicky — it’s just a word he used to get your attention — but I’ve heard this idea elsewhere. A friend once told me that all writers are both sadists and masochists. That seemed like a bit of a melodramatic way to put it to me, but I also kind of got where they were coming from. It can be fun, really fun actually, to write about situations of conflict, because that’s where things get interesting! Since conflict is so central to writing, if you dislike writing about challenging situations, then you’re probably going to have a tough time writing any fiction at all. So the act of writing about these situations themselves — giving yourself that chance to really think about conflict — is probably what attracts a lot of people to writing in general. At least it is for me.

So there is pleasure to be found in putting characters into these situations. And this can seem weirdly close to a kind of sadism.

But this is where I think I disagree.

I’m not going to do that high-school-English-essay thing here where I give you the Merriam-Webster definition of something, but we all know that sadism is basically deriving enjoyment from the pain of others. I’d like to reiterate at this point that I’m a total amateur when it comes to writing and that I know about as much as any presumptuous undergrad with an English major can claim to know about it, because that’s all I am. So if you’re looking for a valid opinion from someone who actually knows what they’re talking about, go buy a copy of On Writing or something like that. But it seems to me that writing about conflict, if you want it to be good, has a lot less to do with sadism and more to do with its opposite, with compassion.

Think about it: You want the reader to be right there with the character while this is happening. You want them to be so close to the character that when the character is driven into a serious situation of conflict and comes away changed, the reader comes away a little changed, too. That’s all writing is supposed to do. What does this necessitate if not compassion? If you’re just sitting there having fun while you torment this character, and that’s the only motivation behind any of it, then that’s not going to lead to any real end. Really caring for and thinking about the characters, even while you’re writing them into difficult situations, makes those situations more layered, even if that’s only happening subconsciously.

I didn’t even start thinking about this until pretty recently. People ask me every once in a while why I like writing; three or four times in school I’ve had to write essays about it. I never know what to say. I want the answer to be really complicated, and/or really passionate. Like I write to uncover the truths of the world, which isn’t true at all because I think you can find truth doing anything, or Writing helps me deal with the demons of my own subconscious, or the standard fallback, Writing is my passion/I need it like I need air/look at me I shed paper, I bleed typewriter ink if you can believe it. It’s different for everybody but for me, that’s kind of BS. The real answer is that whatever my reasons, I don’t really think about them too much. I think writing is really fun.

Like I said before, enjoying writing about conflict is a big part of that fun. I only realized pretty recently that that’s not because I enjoy causing my characters pain in and of itself. It’s because I love figuring out how to make conflict mean something. It’s like a big puzzle — sorting out how to fit it into the rest of the story, making sure it’s relevant and will mean something to somebody. This sounds technical but it really isn’t — it’s a matter of figuring out how to conjure up emotions out of completely nowhere, of looking at something as neutral as a piece of paper and somehow finding a way to make someone look at it and feel grieving or angry or relieved. That’s true emotion and there’s nothing technical about it, because if there were, then maybe it would be easier to become good at it. I believe in magic because when I read stuff by Katherine Anne Porter, by Flannery O’Connor and Joyce Carol Oates and everyone else I look up to, I know I’m feeling it. They’ve figured out this impossible puzzle — they know how to teach me something, how to reach me and affect the way I think, even though they’ve never met me, never even seen me and never will. They’ve gotten close to something I might never touch, but it’s so worth trying.

I write because when I finish writing a story that I feel good about, it’s a feeling like nothing else I know: like I’ve gotten to know somebody who isn’t even real, but who matters anyway. Like me and them have worked together to say something that could maybe mean something to other people.

If you want to call it sadism, then fine. But the way I see it, writing is about understanding people and trying to show people how to understand you. And even if that’s an impossible puzzle, it’s a really fun one to mess around with, and I think that’s something people know — even if they only know it subconsciously, and “sadism” is the first word they can come up with for it.

Writing is obviously different for everybody, or else we would all be using it to say the same thing. For me, though, thinking about writing as an exercise in compassion has I think made my writing better than it used to be, and hopefully someday it will make me better as a person, too. I can’t say what other people use it for or how other people view it because I’m not them, but I know caring when I see it in other people’s work. This is just the way I think about writing personally these days, and I’m glad for it.

Bury Me Under the Weeping Willow (The Carter Family cover)

So this doesn’t even have to do with writing! I didn’t even write it! But here it is anyway. I started watching the new American Epic documentary yesterday and it’s got me in the mood for folk music. Who knew The Carter Family was/is so cool?? (Or maybe I was the only one who didn’t?)

Anyway, apologies also for the end of this video — my computer logged me out while I was recording and I had to log back in. But here it is, enjoy!

Caldwell Results!

Today was LHSP’s End-of-Year Festival, which meant performances by all of the clubs, free dessert food, and the announcement of this year’s Caldwell Poetry Competition winners!

The Caldwell winners were announced first. Caldwell is split up into written and performance categories, as well as into an alumni category and a category for current students. As an alumna, I submitted to both categories, written and performance, and I found out today that I won first place in both! This was surprising and exciting, and it was a huge honor to be recognized alongside so many talented poets. In particular, my friend Rhea Cheeti got first place for performance in the current students category (which was no surprise, because I saw her performance and it was amazing).

The event was so much fun in general because I love getting to do anything that helps me reconnect with friends and professors from LHSP. Not to mention the dessert food was spot-on (brownies, cake, and little cheesecake cups), and it was great to see the performances by all of the clubs. Creative Writing Club wrote a Mad Libs and had the audience work together to fill it out, so they were my favorite, although I may have been a little biased. (It is Creative Writing, after all.)

All in all, this made for a really great end of the day. I also got an email earlier today letting me know that the hard copies of the Café Shapiro Anthology have arrived, which is another exciting thing to look forward to this week. I’m not sure which of the poems I submitted to Caldwell won the written category (I sent in five), but I’ll probably post again here whenever I find out.

Poetry Slams & 80s Shakespeare

Hi! Two awesome things happened the other week, and I didn’t have time to write about either of them!

I’m going to take them one by one and in order. First, last Wednesday night (or maybe it was the Wednesday before last — I need to get my life together) was 2017’s annual Lloyd Hall Scholars Program poetry performance!!!

For the sake of a little background, LHSP is a first-year learning community at U of M that specializes in writing and the arts. I did it last year as a freshman, and it’s how I met pretty much all of my friends that whole year. It’s a really great experience, and I’m used to talking about it this way because I work as an LHSP Student Recruiter! I recruited for them last year, when I was still actually in the program, and now I’m just kind of hanging around anyway, the ghost of LHSP Recruitment’s past, because I love the program so much and because the candy that we hand out on Campus Day is usually really good.

One of the really cool things LHSP does is the Caldwell Poetry Competition, which has a written category and a performance category, as well as an alumni category and a current-LHSP-student category. Last year I was lucky enough to win the written category, and this year, as an alumna, I thought I’d try out both written and performance. I didn’t do performance last year, but I went to the event and saw all of the amazing performances (I know I just said “performance” three times in a row, but I was too lazy to think of a way around it), and I thought it was awesome enough that it made me want to try myself.

To put it simply, this year was awesome, too. Even though I’ve been out of the program for almost a year, I still recognized a lot of the alumni, as well as current Student Assistants who were freshmen with me last year. Some people did memorizations of pieces out of poetry books, others did interpretations of slam poems or even performances of original pieces. I did “Pretty,” by Katie Makkai, which has been one of my slam pieces ever since my junior year of high school, when I went on a slam poetry kick and bounced around YouTube videos for just about a straight week. I always show “Pretty” to my friends because I think everyone should see it (so watch it, by the way, if you’re reading this), and I was really excited to get to perform it myself.

I had only done slam poetry twice before this. The first was at a high school talent show, when I did an original poem called “Neon Signs” (which went well, but I was scared out of my wits), and the second was at a summer writing camp, where I did some much-less-good original pieces that I’d written pretty much on the spot. Those were both in my distant, high school past, so I was really nervous to perform “Pretty,” but it ended up being ridiculously fun. After knowing the poem for years, I was so comfortable with it that I slipped up very minimally in terms of memorization, and pretty much as soon as I started, I got too carried away with the feeling of the poem to even remember how nervous I’d been.

Poetry slamming also did WONDERS for my confidence levels. It feels like a really outgoing thing while you’re doing it, which is refreshing in an interest area like poetry, which is more often associated with quiet reflection and introversion than with excitement. I’d recommend the experience to anybody — there’s no excuse for not trying it, since you don’t even need to write your own poem (case in point: me).

The weekend after that, I was also able to go to the reading and release party for Xylem, a campus literary magazine that published one of my poems this year. It’s a strange poem I wrote back in high school — I basically took the Don Henley song, “The Boys of Summer,” and rewrote it as a Shakespearean sonnet. It felt a little weird reading that aloud to a roomful of people, but I was really glad I went. I got to hear a lot of great pieces from other writers published in the magazine, not to mention they had free dumplings and little plastic clappers you could shake during the applause after each reading!

That should be about it in terms of outdated updates — except I’m also just going to leave “Pretty” here, in case the rest of this post was too subtle about the fact that I think you should watch it.

The new issue of Fortnight is out!

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I was recently very lucky to have two of my poems, “How Was Your Trip?” and “The Home You Provide,” featured online and in print by Fortnight Literary Press! The most fun part is that my friend Kate Bishop’s poetry is featured as well, and at one part of the magazine, you can see our poems printed on adjacent pages (my “The Home You Provide” next to her lovely “Cosmogyral”). The printed issue is out now and can be found, for anyone in the University of Michigan vicinity, in the magazine/newspaper racks of the UGLI, Mason Hall, and probably some other places as well. (The MLB, maybe? They have newspaper racks there, right…?)

Anyway, I’m honored to have been published by Fortnight alongside Kate and so many other talented writers! The issue is free for anyone who feels like browsing through a little student writing.