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

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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.

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.

[art]seen Review for Café Shapiro!

I was able to read my fiction last night at Café Shapiro, a University of Michigan event held every year by the English department. Creative writing professors nominate students to participate, and those students’ works are then published in an annual spring anthology. I was lucky to be able to participate last year as well (with poetry that time), and it was great to come back — especially because there’s always free coffee and dessert food to enjoy while people are reading, and one sure way to get me to do anything is to incorporate free dessert food. (They even had those flat little chocolate/caramel crisp things!!)

Anyway, I read an excerpt from my short story, “Paradise,” which was one-half of the submission that won me a Hopwood Underclassmen Fiction Award last month. My friend Kate Bishop came and did a great job reviewing the event for Arts at Michigan’s blog, [art]seen — if you’re interested, you can check it out using the link below! Everyone’s pieces were really intriguing, and it was cool to be a part of an event with so much variety in genre and subject matter.

http://artsatmichigan.umich.edu/seen/2017/02/08/review-cafe-shapiro-2/

Mama You Been On My Mind (Bob Dylan cover)

This is a cover I recorded a couple of days ago when I was home for winter break! This is one of my favorite Bob Dylan songs, and I actually fell in love with it all over again recently when I discovered George Harrison’s version on his album Early Takes Vol 1 — which, by the way, everybody should check out if they haven’t already. Also, the sound quality here is terrible, so I will probably just take this down at some point and redo it. But here it is anyway!