LHSP Release Party

This post will be short because I’m trying to get to bed before midnight, which is 8 minutes away so I’m really racing the clock. But tonight was the Lloyd Hall Scholars Program’s literary magazine release party, which I thought was worth mentioning!! (Shout out to the title of the magazine, which is literally “Things Worth Mentioning”.) My Caldwell-winning poems, “How Was Your Trip?” and “Winter in Oz,” were published in this year’s anthology, alongside a ton of awesome work from other current and former LHSP students. I took a picture so you can see what the cover looks like (along with a random corner of my bedroom):

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I flipped through the anthology as much as I could before people started reading, and there’s some really awesome work in it, some of it written by people I know and have studied with! I also got to read “Winter in Oz” tonight, and to hear some of the other published work read aloud. I’m pretty sure I’ve mentioned LHSP here a lot before, but at any rate I’ll say again that I’m so glad to be a part of such a creative and supportive community.

In unrelated news, I got three things today: two of them were rejections (holla @ my haterz) and one of them was my copy of New American Stories edited by Ben Marcus!!!!

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(A moment of appreciation for the line “You have to stare down a story until it wobbles, yields, then catapults into your face.”)

I took that photo with my bed as the background, so you can tell I’m scraping the bottom of the barrel here. I guess I’m just so proud of myself for knowing how to embed images in a post that I want to show off that skill as much as possible. Anyway, this collection looks great, I’ve already read two of the stories for my fiction class and I can’t wait to check out more.

Okay and it’s midnight, so that’s all my content for tonight! Peace out!!

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Late Summer Recap!

It’s been a long time since I last posted here! I would say it was because I’ve been really busy, but in truth that would only account for the first week or two. After that I started watching Game of Thrones, and that was sort of that.

The good news is that all of the stuff I have been busy with has been really exciting! Last weekend, I went on a writers’ retreat with the Ann Arbor Writers Workshop. We spent two days at a cabin in the woods in Lake, Michigan, reading and writing and workshopping each other’s pieces. There were also plenty of s’mores. I’ve had so much fun being a part of the workshop remotely this summer, and it was great to hang out with everybody in person and to get some writing done as well.

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While we were there, I started reading Stranger in a Strange Land, which has totally knocked me off my feet so far. There’s a brave nurse who risks her job and her life to do what’s right! There’s a journalist who gets arrested for being too heroic! There are sky taxis and Martians! And why haven’t ceiling tables been invented yet? (They hang from the ceiling and you can lower them to whatever height you want, and they never touch the floor or mess up your carpet or anything! I seriously can’t get over this.)

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While I’m on the subject of the writers’ retreat, I have some more delayed news: one of our members, Vahid Arefi, placed last month as the runner-up in Round 2 of Midwestern Gothic’s Summer Flash Fiction Contest! You can read his piece, “Unwed,” here.

On a more general note, summer is ending! This time next week, I’ll be back at school in Ann Arbor, taking classes and doing homework. Ordinarily, by this point in the summer, I’d feel a little resigned and maybe regretful that I hadn’t spent more time doing such-and-such (usually writing) during all of my free time. I do have a couple of regrets — I started writing a couple of songs that I never quite finished, and I never ended up going to the state fair — but I realized recently that I’ve done A TON of writing this summer! Granted, U of M’s summer is crazy long (four whole months!), so I’ve had a ton of time, but I still feel unusually good about this. Over the course of the summer, I’ve written two short stories, four short short stories, an essay, a couple of poems, a couple of songs, a crap ton of journalism (for my internship), and most of a novel. I don’t feel like doing the math to add up how many words that is, so I’ll just say it’s enough to leave me feeling really good about my summer.

Of course, I’m expecting school to be a different story — I’ll have homework to think about when I’m not working, not to mention various clubs and co-op-related activities. And (no point in lying here) I can already tell that until I’m all caught up on Game of Thrones, that’s going to be a bit of a time-consumer of its own. But I’m still determined to hit the ground running! I’m taking two separate creative writing classes this semester, a workshop and a tutorial, and my work can’t overlap between the two of them, which means I’ll likely be doing more fiction-writing this semester than I’ve ever done before.

So by December, depending on how I spend my time, I could either end up with quite a lot of carefully revised short stories I’m really happy with and ready to submit to publications and contests, or a handful of slipshod stories I didn’t try very hard to make awesome and don’t care to look at anymore. Either way, a lot of stories, but I know which outcome I’d prefer. Stay tuned to find out which path I choose!

And most importantly, I hope anybody who’s reading this has had a terrific summer! Happy September!

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 Merits of Crying

I’ve been really on top of it lately. I know how that sounds, but I can’t help it, I’m really proud! I’m finishing up an internship application, I recently came up with a cool idea for my first fantasy short story, and I’m about to start getting paid for my hours at Sweetland (an awesome campus resource where consultants like myself help people out with their papers). Today alone, I passed my calc gateway exam, took two quizzes I felt good about, and got my car’s oil changed. Success!!! Adulthood!!!

I should probably clarify that things are not always like this for me, which is part of why this recent, week-ish-long string of successes has surprised me so much and gotten me so excited. I’ve actually been in a really good mood. I feel comfortable talking to other people,  and I’m motivated to come up with new ideas and projects. I’ve even woken up earlier than necessary the last couple of days (which normally is impossible for me), and I’ve been excited to wake up in the first place — there’s this moment of apprehension when I first realize I have to get up, but it doesn’t really cut deeper than mere annoyance. Once I’m out of bed and brushing my teeth in the bathroom, the annoyance is gone and I’m just happy.

I’m writing this because pretty recently today, a lot of this happiness sort of came to a head. A little background: For the past two weeks, my computer has been getting repairs done, due to this weird crashing problem where it randomly freezes, goes all squiggly and scary with black and blue lines, and then goes black. I brought the repair place (which I won’t name here for the sake of confidentiality, I guess?) a new RAM and hard drive, and they said that installing them would take three to five business days. Today I finally got the computer back, and when I started it up in the hallway outside the repair place, it went black instantly and gave me the three little beeps that indicated that the problem was still there. I brought it back, stood around for twenty minutes or so while they looked at it again “downstairs,” then re-accepted it with the assurance that the problem was now taken care of. Apparently a thick layer of dust had been built up somewhere inside the computer, but the technician had just now cleared the dust away, and it should be fine now.

“Why didn’t they see the dust when they were replacing the hard drive?” I asked.

“They were probably just in a big hurry and didn’t notice it,” the technician said.

I nodded politely as if this made sense, thinking privately that if they had been in a big hurry, I might’ve had my computer back about a week and a half ago.

So I brought it home, more or less satisfied, then sat down, plugged it in, and turned it on. Everything was working much faster than it was two weeks ago, and, when prompted, I even decided to treat myself to a tour of my new Sierra Operating System — until? Midway through the tour, the thick black lines appeared again on my screen, and my computer crashed.

And I kid you not, I started crying. Suddenly, out of nowhere, everything seemed so unnecessarily difficult. I think my thought process went something like: It took them so long to fix my computer, and now it’s not even working! And this is such a dumb thing to be frustrated about anyway! And those guys at Wendy’s took so long today, and while I’m at it, everyone at Sweetland is so much better than me at consulting! And my room is so messy! So-and-so would know what to say right now, but they’re not even here! I miss so many people! And at the auto shop the guy said I had mouse debris in my cabin air filter, and I’m basically breathing mouse air, but a new filter would be so expensive so there’s no way for me to avoid breathing mouse air, and I think I deserve to breathe mouse air, anyway! I bet it’s from that possum I hit on 46 when I got Dad from the airport at two in the morning that one time! That possum could be alive right now! And why do living things have to die?

Needless to say, all of it was pretty dumb, especially considering that my life is generally so unnecessarily un-difficult. I’m white, I’m middle-class, I go to a great university, I’m lucky enough to have a lot of great friends and family members I care about. Most of the problems I have to complain about have less to do with deficits in the world around me and more to do with my own deficits of patience and perspective. I try to approach my problems this way because it gives me a better idea of how much control I have over changing them — if I listen to myself complain for long enough, eventually I reach the point where I realize it’s just time to stop. “Oh, God,” I moan over and over again, “I have ten assignments due tomorrow and I haven’t done research for any of them, and I spent way too much money today, and I’m pretty sure so-and-so is mad at me.” I say these things to myself on repeat for some length of time, ranging from ten minutes to multiple weeks, and then eventually I start to hear myself and I grumble, “Okay, shut up already, you should hear how stupid you sound.” I do the assignments, I make a plan to start saving more money, I move on past my social anxiety, and the process never starts with any excitement or enthusiasm, but ultimately I do accomplish it, and I do feel better.

But the important thing to note here, I think, is that you can’t just switch a flip (edit: flip a switch) and make yourself be productive, or make yourself feel better. I’ve tried. You can’t force it. It always starts with the complaining or the crying, with some way to release your problems audibly, to wring them of a little of their tension before you turn back at last to deal with them. I think this step is important. In fact, I love this step. Today when my computer crashed, I felt a wave of brimming frustration, followed quickly by my natural instinct to gently press it back down and move on. But instead, I told myself, No, you should cry — to cry would feel good right now — so I crawled into bed and started crying, and I didn’t stop my thoughts as they wandered toward subjects that I knew would only make me cry more. It was a huge release.

Now, about two hours later, I feel decent and awake. I don’t feel fresh and vibrant and ready to take on whatever I come across with a goal of productiveness and efficiency, but then again, I don’t normally let myself get too close to that sort of feeling anyway. (I do slip into it sometimes, and it’s fun, but I’ve found it’s an easy feeling to get carried away with, and I can give myself a bit of a headache with all of the organization and goal-setting and proactive Life-Changing). Right now I’m not thinking of spring break or summer internships or even any of the tests or assignments I’ll have to worry about next week. Right now, after a frustrating afternoon, these anxieties are my enemies. I can submerge them for a night and let them resurface again as friends when the time is right. When they do, I can rein them in and work them into a shape that will help me accomplish something. For now, I am going to publish this blog post. I’m going to finish my shift at work and go home and eat dinner, and then I’m going to sing and play guitar at my house’s open mic. It’s going to be fun, or maybe it isn’t, I don’t necessarily care because I’ll be there either way. Maybe, after the events of the night are over, I’ll read something until I fall asleep.