Love in the Time of February

This is coming a couple of days late, but happy Valentine’s Day!!

I’ve always loved Valentine’s Day, if only for the candy and cupcakes. This Valentine’s Day was a little weird because I wrote two romance-related pieces for The Michigan Daily in the same week. The first was a “poetry playlist” for my literature column, which is pretty sweet and uplifting and contains a bunch of great love poems. The second was a music playlist full of mournful and/or angsty songs about being single. I wrote both of them on the same day, pretty much back-to-back, which made for kind of a hard gear shift. Maybe it’s official now — I don’t truly have any real opinions on anything, I’m just really indifferent, and I’ll stretch that indifference one way or another for the sake of trying to write convincing journalism.

I’m just going to fall back on my old reasoning that I truly believe many things, even contradictory things, at the same time. Like Alanis Morissette says: “I’m sad but I’m laughing, I’m brave but I’m chickenshit,” etc. I hate Valentine’s Day, but I love it!

Anyway, they were both really fun pieces that each include some good music/poetry recommendations, so I’d recommend checking them out if you have the time. 🙂

While I’m on the subject of the Daily, this isn’t Valentine’s-Day-related at all, but I also wrote my first lead for the B-Side! The B-Side is a biweekly insert that the senior arts editors put together on various subjects. This one focused on queerness in the arts, so I did some interviews and wrote a piece on queer art and social activism that you can find here if you’re so inclined. This was all in the span of the last week or so, so I’m in a journalism mood, big time.

Last but not least, bonus announcement: I might be going to AWP this year! :O Stay tuned!

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January Reading List

It’s the first day of February, yay! I read somewhere (on Twitter, I admit) that today is exactly halfway between the winter solstice and the spring equinox. I forget what the term for that is called, but I think it’s a pretty cool fact (if it is a fact), especially coming right on the heels of such a kickass full moon.

Anyway, as promised, here is the list of all the things I read in January!

Fourth Grade Autobiography,” by Donika Kelly
Night Sky with Exit Wounds, by Ocean Vuong
Selected poems from Flowers of Hell, by Nguyen Chi Thien
This Hour and What Is Dead,” by Li-Young Lee
Three Words,” by Li-Young Lee
In the Library,” by Jean Valentine
The soundtrack to O Brother, Where Art Thou? because I just love folk music
*Bonus folk song: “Can the Circle Be Unbroken,” by The Carter Family
“My Father Is the Sea, the Field, the Stone,” by Ruth Awad
“Math Lesson,” by Eloisa Amezcua
Self-Portrait as a Constant Point of Contention,” by Cortney Lamar Charleston
Sabratha,” by Charity Young
“startle,” by Francine J. Harris
Good Bones,” by Maggie Smith
Jacaranda,” by Robin Kozak
The moon rose over the bay. I had a lot of feelings.,” by Donika Kelly
If your Nerve, deny you (292),” by Emily Dickinson
Victory Lap,” by George Saunders
The Lake Isle of Innisfree,” by W.B. Yeats
A Cradle Song,” by W.B. Yeats
Puppy,” by George Saunders
The Mechanic,” by Robert Creeley
“It’s all fun and games until somebody gains consciousness,” by Franny Choi
Pavlov was the Son of a Priest,” by Paige Lewis
There is a solitude of space,” by Emily Dickinson
“The Pill Versus the Springhill Mine Disaster,” by Richard Brautigan, and by Joanna C. Valente
Dew,” by Kay Ryan (I read this one off the wall of a subway in New York City, which feels like a really hip detail worth mentioning—and look, according to the link I used, I’m not the only one who took notice of it!)
A Small Needful Fact,” by Ross Gay
What Did You See?” by Fanny Howe (again—I loved this poem in high school and just revisited it recently)
“Blindman’s Bluff,” by Raymond McDaniel
“Cataracts,” by Raymond McDaniel
Praying,” by Mary Oliver
The Peace of Wild Things,” by Wendell Berry
Michael,” by William Wordsworth
The Price of Rain,” by Franny Choi
I Cannot Be Quiet an Hour,” by Mary Ruefle
Little Mountain Woman,” by Terese Marie Mailhot

As with December, I think there’s a running theme of the list being very poetry-heavy. Again, I’m pretty sure it’s all the Twitter. But there are a couple of short stories on there, and books (of poetry LOL).

I’m back in Ann Arbor now, and still reeling from the awesomeness that was New York City. I went to the New York Public Library, and there’s a big part of me that’s resolved to move to New York just so that I can go and write there all the time. I think in big, distinguished old buildings like that, it’s hard not to get real work done because I’d feel kind of guilty otherwise—like, hundreds of people didn’t work very hard on the design and construction of this building just so that I could sit inside of it and watch The Office with my earphones in. I get this also with the Law Library at U of M.

We also went to the MET, where they were having an exhibit on the art, music, writing, politics, whatever else of the 1960s—so that was pretty much perfect—and we went to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, where I got really sucked in reading quotations from immigrants arriving to the U.S. It was crazy how there were so many specific stories from people from completely different places, stories that were sometimes similar but also different in really important ways. I took pictures of a couple that really stuck out to me in particular:

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I want to go back to Ellis Island someday because I didn’t get to read every single quotation, and I kind of wanted to—I could have spent hours there.

On a different note, while I’m importing stuff onto my computer, here are a couple more photos! The first is me in Times Square, and the second is my brother and my dad on the ferry to the Statue of Liberty.

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Okay, I’ve got more poetry to go and read (not on Twitter, for class), so that’s all for now. Thanks for reading! 🙂

New Poetry in The Merrimack Review

I have some new poems out in The Merrimack Review!

There are three of them—”Fur,” “The Tardigrade,” and “Winter in Oz,” and you can read them here (same link LOL). Very very happy to have some new poetry out there in the universe. I want to start writing more poetry because I’ve been reading a ton of it lately (January reading list coming soon), and I often come up with little lines and emotions and ideas that I feel like would fit ideally inside poems if I could only figure out how to write them. I guess the only way I’ll learn how to do that in a way that I really like is to keep practicing, so we’ll see!

Also, shameless plug for my friend Brooke White, whose nonfiction appears in the new issue of Midwestern Gothic. Midwestern Gothic is one of my favorite publications out there and Brooke is one of my favorite people, so if you have a chance to check out the new issue, I’d definitely recommend it! It features work from tons of other awesome writers as well (including Cortney Lamar Charleston, whose amazing poetry I just started reading within the last month or so).

In other news, I’m considering posting some very amateur photography here and would appreciate some input on whether that’s a good idea or a horrible one. 🙂

Forthcoming Fiction in Blue Earth Review

There’s no real point to this post other than what the title says: I’m getting published in Blue Earth Review!!!

Yay!!!!

The fiction in question is “Paradise,” a short story I wrote last year inspired by John Prine’s song of the same name. So naturally I’m back in my recurring John Prine mood for a few days. Everyone should listen to his eponymous debut album. Also the new album Ruins by First Aid Kit. (Glowing review coming soon from The Michigan Daily.) Also, according to it seems like everybody, the new Porches album? Although I haven’t listened to that one yet, so I guess I shouldn’t say. But the First Aid Kit one is beautiful—I can’t get enough of “Postcard,” and “It’s a Shame,” what beautiful songs!

Anyway, I’m off-topic now. Writing and music always end up going together for me—like right now, for instance, I’m in my house’s dining room listening to the soundtrack from The Last Five Years coming out of the kitchen. Now I really want to watch that musical.

I’m actually seeing a musical this weekend! The Lion King. I’ll be in New York City for a concert of my dad’s. My goal is to take a bunch of pictures and to bond with my family. A+ goals!

I’ve been in such a good mood the last few days—I don’t even know if it’s the publication thing, I kind of don’t think so. Although that is great! But I think writing a lot just puts me in a good mood. The night before last, I was on my way to bed at 1:00am, but I kind of felt like writing, so I sat down to write a few paragraphs, and I ended up writing around 2500 words. I went to bed at like 2:30. And I’m not the sort of person who normally does that—I really usually just write in the morning or early afternoon, by the time night comes around I’m a lot worse at thinking. But it was really fun, very stream of consciousness. By the end I was writing all about Japanese maples. I’ve been getting really into specificity lately and I just can’t believe how beautiful they are.

And then today I woke up early-ish to work on something for my fiction tutorial, and I wasn’t really expecting to get through the whole thing because it was very last-minute and I only left myself two or three hours to do it. I was expecting to just use the Japanese maple CNF thing. But then I did get through it—I actually felt really good about it—and now it’s like my whole day is better. I love how that’s how it works, writing and feeling good, or sometimes just feeling better. It’s like this whole reciprocal thing.

Anyway, I have real things to go and do (for Midwestern Gothic! I’m officially an intern there now!), so I should sign off. It’s weird how this started out with me patting myself on my back and it sort of ended there, too. But also it started out as kind of an announcement and then it turned into more of a diary entry. I think I must be very big into stream of consciousness these days.

December Reading List

December was a huge month for me in terms of poetry. I think it’s because I spent a lot of time mindlessly cruising through Twitter, and I follow a lot of people who are also into writing. Or maybe that’s just what happens when the semester ends and I don’t have any books assigned for me to read anymore. At any rate, I ran into a lot of good stuff this month, yay! Here are my recommendations:

Get in Trouble, by Kelly Link
Shewings #66 and #69 by Julian of Norwich
Mirk’s Festial
Prik of Conscience
Ode to the West Wind,” by Percy Bysshe Shelley
Beowulf
The Most of It,” by Robert Frost
Cat Person,” by Kristen Roupenian (’cause, duh)
Something Better than This,” by Mary Gaitskill
The Husband Stitch,” by Carmen Maria Machado
This blog (my friend and old housemate, Ji Ye, is doing a bunch of world travels and documenting them here with a ton of amazing stories and amazing photography)
the lost women,” by Lucille Clifton
how to say,” by Safia Elhillo
“The Apple Trees,” by Louise Gluck
The Gift,” by Li-Young Lee
“Choi,” by Franny Choi
I’m Nobody! Who are you?” by Emily Dickinson
All the poems I could find linked on Ocean Vuong‘s website
Intelligent Design,” by Vievee Francis
Say It, Say It Anyway You Can,” by Vievee Francis
Given to Rust,” by Vievee Francis
Beast & Beauty,” by Vievee Francis
Proletarian Portrait,” by William Carlos Williams
“It Is Maybe Time to Admit That Michael Jordan Definitely Pushed Off,” by Hanif Abdurraqib
Song of a Man Who Has Come Through,” by D.H. Lawrence
A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeleine L’Engle
things that shine in the night,” by Rigoberto Gonzalez
“Not Crazy Just Afraid to Ask,” by Shauna Barbosa
Amen,” by James Baldwin
The Conditional,” by Ada Limon
The Captain’s Verses, by Pablo Neruda
Choi Jeong Min,” by Franny Choi

This might be just because it’s the most recent thing I’ve been reading, but I’m absolutely in love with The Captain’s Verses. It’s a bilingual version, too, with the Spanish on the left and the English on the right, so I’m getting to practice a little Spanish while I read. It’s really interesting to see which phrases I like more in Spanish or in English, and which poems hardly needed any changes when they were being translated. My favorite poem so far is definitely “The Stolen Branch,” or “La Rama Robada“.

I’m definitely going to try getting my hands on some more of Neruda’s work soon! I’m not kidding, he might be shaping up to be my actual favorite poet (or I might just be going through a phase). The Captain’s Verses includes mostly love poems, so maybe if I read some other stuff by him that isn’t all love-related, I’ll know for sure.

Publications of (Christmas?) Past, Present, and Future

Hey everyone!!!

I know it’s the middle of the night, but even as I write that, I know I’m not really justifying it to anyone except for me. And I don’t care anyway.

Never mind! It’s morning time now. But I’m not going to delete those first few sentences and write new ones because I just don’t feel like it!

I have a new short story published!!!!

It’s called “Homecoming,” and you can read it here in Solstice Literary Magazine. I wrote it last fall (2016 fall) for my creative writing class, so getting around to seeing it published has been kind of a long process. Very early this year, I did get to see it win a Hopwood Award in fiction from my school (alongside another story of mine, “Paradise,” which is still home-searching), which was really exciting. Now, at the tail end of 2017, I’m very, very happy to have found a home for it in Solstice.

I think one of the coolest parts of having a story published is that (ironically, since now it’s out there for all to see) you can kind of tuck it away. I spent a lot of 2017 trying to find a place to put “Homecoming,” and now I can be satisfied that I’ve found the perfect spot for it. Now I have room to focus on sending more of my stories out there to be read, because I’ve written a ton recently. Winter semester last year was admittedly dry for me, but I spent my four-month-long summer (thanks, U of M) writing a literal crap ton of random novel stuff every single day. Actually: if a crap ton is a real measurement, which it is, then that’s how much I wrote. Then I took two separate creative writing classes this semester, and I wrote a crap ton of stuff for each of them, too.

I have so much stuff that I hope will be up for other people to read soon. Knowing myself and the current quality of those drafts, it may be a while. I still need to do some revisions on some of them, and then even after I submit them all over the place, there’s still the matter of waiting to hear back from various lit mags. But I’ve got a lot of work right now that I have faith in: I have a romantic arcade story, a supernatural war story, a surreal road trip story, a ghost story about a cop, and even a couple of essays about my own life.

Speaking of which! I have a couple of Michigan Daily pieces from this semester that I’m actually really happy with, and I’ve decided that I’m going to start including some random journalism, nonfiction, and reviews of mine in the “My Writing” section of this blog, because just because it’s not fiction or poetry doesn’t mean it’s not writing that I’m proud of. Off the top of my head I can think of two emotional and kind of personal pieces that have to do with The Beatles, and one article about Anna Akhmatova that might not be my best writing, but should still be read because I think people ought to know more about Anna Akhmatova. I also might put up a link to a book review I wrote last year, because I really trashed the book that I read and I saw yesterday that someone had posted a mean comment about my review. This makes me feel kind of cool because I don’t think I had ever gotten a hate comment before.

My family is trying to leave for breakfast, so I’m going to wrap this up. But check out “Homecoming,” fresh off the digital presses, and I should have those articles linked here later today!

November Reading List

Hello! Here (a few days late) is the list of all the awesome stuff I read in November:

  • House Carpenter,” also known as “The Daemon Lover”—an old Scottish ballad. I have three different versions of it on my November Spotify playlist (Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, and Nickel Creek), and I was straight-up obsessed with it for like four days. Creepiest/best lyrics I’ve heard in a long time
  • Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley
  • Ode on Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood,” by William Wordsworth
  • Frost at Midnight,” by Samuel Taylor Coleridge
  • These poems by June Jordan
  • Some random stuff by John Clare
  • The Monk Dilemma,” by Cameron Stewart
  • Parsley,” by Rita Dove
  • These poems by Anna Akhmatova, plus just the Wikipedia page about her life in general (“Snow” is my favorite poem of hers)
  • Macbeth, by William Shakespeare
  • Babi Yar,” by Yevgeni Yevtushenko
  • Lies,” by Yevgeni Yevtushenko

Happy reading, and happy December!! I’m weirdly hoping it gets colder here soon, just so that being in a wintery mood can feel more natural. I haven’t really been listening to any Christmas music because it still feels so unseasonable. It snowed once in early November and it’s been fairly warm since then. I don’t ordinarily hope for snow, so the season is off to a weird start for me.

Arbwriters Fall Retreat

This is going to be a short post because it’s late at night and I have to wake up at like 6 am  tomorrow(/today) to do revisions.

(Brief aside: I honestly suck when it comes to deadlines. Like my attitude is literally “if it’s due on Thursday afternoon, why would I do it anytime before Thursday morning?” Which I know is maybe bad. I’m trying to change. (Except not really. I’m trying to do a lot of other things. I can focus on changing my bad habits later.))

ANYWAY: the Arbwriters had a fall writing weekend in Detroit!!

IMG_20171028_192053.jpgThat’s us, getting ready to eat an amazing dinner. Photo credits to Vahid, and dinner credits to Will Toms. Brooke and I had to do a lot of weird furniture maneuvering to make all of this table space possible, which I for one was very proud of.

This was personally my second time getting together with everyone for an in-person retreat thingy (I’m pretty sure I wrote about the first one here, too — it was the one back at the end of the summer, the one where I learned about ceiling tables). It was honestly so much fun. There were writing and revising times, and there were friend times. That’s about as articulate as I’m capable of being right now, I’m sorry. But it’s important that there were both — both types of times, that is.

I don’t really have a point, but I’ll try to make one up here anyway: If you’re a writer, find yourself some writer friends. It will make things so much better. If you’re lucky, they won’t just be your writer friends, they’ll be your friends friends as well. I’ve always invested a lot of time into writing in terms of class scheduling and extracurriculars and that sort of thing, so it’s often worked out for me like that anyway. And if you don’t know where to start, just hit me up! I will be your writer friend. See, now you have truly no excuse.

October Reading List

For the sake of just generally writing more here, I’ve decided I’m going to start posting lists at the end of each month of everything I’ve spent that month reading. I figure even if this will be of use to absolutely nobody else, it’ll at least be a good way for me to keep track of everything I’ve been reading lately. And who knows, maybe it’ll even motivate me to start reading more — although, what with all of my classes and everything, I don’t really know if I have room for that type of motivation in my life.

Anyway, here is everything I read in October! (And for your reading pleasure, I’m cutting out anything too boring and/or irrelevant.)

  • The Haunting of Hill House (by Shirley Jackson), which I actually wrote an article about here for The Michigan Daily
  • We Were Eight Years in Power (by Ta-Nehisi Coates), which I reviewed for the Daily here
  • The Ballad of the Sad Café (by Carson McCullers), and the short stories included with it (my favorites were “A Domestic Dilemma” and “Wunderkind,” which McCullers wrote and published when she was still a teenager!)
  • Dracula (by Bram Stoker)
  • H.R. 40, which I learned about while reading one of the essays in We Were Eight Years in Power, “The Case for Reparations”— it’s a very important government document that I didn’t even know existed before
  • The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, by Robert Louis Stevenson
  • Daddy’s World,” by Walter Jon Williams
  • “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” by Samuel Taylor Coleridge
  • “This Lime-tree Bower My Prison,” by Samuel Taylor Coleridge
  • These scary poems

That’s about all I can think of for now! Have fun checking out any and/or all and/or none of those. And Happy November!

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.