i write because i’m selfish

Here is a blog post I recently wrote for another class, thought I’d share here. Enjoy!

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“Poetry is always about my life. It’s a way to express how I feel,” sixteen-year-old Grace muses dramatically, holding her doodle-laden spiral notebook close to her chest after third-period study hall. Sixteen-year-old Grace has been utterly heartbroken approximately 2.7 times. She is assured that she has never been, and will never be, “seen” (whatever that means). She is still too embarrassed to buy maxi pads at the supermarket, but thinks she really knows the world for what it is. She wants to share this with you. Sixteen-year-old Grace un-ironically likes the Dave Matthews Band. She eats triple cheese Lunchables on the bus ride home from school, and as she stares out the window, she pretends she’s in an indie film, preferably starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt as her boyishly awkward but spellbound love interest. Sixteen-year-old Grace makes sure to document all of these things with an unmatched melodramatic flair, always with a mechanical pencil that she probably borrowed from Lexi during Algebra II and never returned.

When I look back at my younger self, and even when I consider my work now, some internal eyebrows are raised.

Are all writers selfish bastards?

I say probably.

Now, don’t get me wrong. There are genres that were built around pure philanthropic goodness, if such a thing exists. Dictionaries and thesauruses catapult themselves into the arms of red-eyed college students who have just used the word “pedagogy” seven times without knowing its meaning. In a more serious and historical example, many folks who contributed to writing parts of the Bible and other holy texts were martyred for their cause.

Creative writers, however, seem to take on a particular brand of literary narcissism. And that’s okay.

“All writers are vain, selfish, and lazy, and at the very bottom of their motives lies a mystery. Writing a book is a long, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand,” claimed author George Orwell, who, judging by his novels and this quote, never had much of a penchant for rose-colored glasses. In my own writing, I find this to be entirely true. The demon is a particular need. Just as sixteen-year-old Grace wrote incessantly about her recent arguments with the boy she just knew she would marry, I write now because the need is there. Namely in my preferred genres, poetry and CNF, it is a selfish need, one that aims to define the world in my own terms and assumes that the reader will care as I do, but still a need nonetheless.

If this need is unearthed whilst paired with technical skill, evocative language, and a refreshingly honest perspective, then the reader will care. If not, then a finished work, especially a non-fiction work, can end up as nothing more than a tired diary.

I believe, though, that the expansion of the ego is at times necessary for a work to develop. A writer must convince themself, however fool-heartedly, that the things they know about the world are important enough to share; consequently, they must explore the depths of their own perspective to articulate it all fully and effectively.

While the impulse to write is truly driven by some type of need, it is like any other—an appetite, a necessity. At the risk of sounding dramatic, the writer’s selfishness tends to be more about survival and less about fame and glory (if any of us are disillusioned enough to expect such a thing).

Regardless of what particular internal demons cause one to instinctually click-clack away at a busted Toshiba laptop at three in the morning or scribble ideas on recycled napkins at business luncheons, writing is one of the most self-focused “life sports” in existence.

But, of course, that doesn’t mean that it can’t bring others healing, perspective, and a realization of one’s own needs, especially ones they’ve never been able to articulate.

Sixteen-year-old Grace, still pocketing weeks worth of lunch money to purchase whatever band T-shirt will support the idea that she is beyond her years, encourages you to follow your heart and write whatever the heck you want, who cares if it’s selfish?

Perhaps you should listen to her, she seems to have it all figured out.

Revision Blues

The one thing I hate most about writing is revision. In general it takes a lot out of a person to be like yeah, I was wrong let me fix that. Let alone going back to their OWN writing and changing it.

We get so attached to our writing that we forget that these workshop comments are constructive criticism. They are meant to help not hurt us. I personally write poems, or even short stories, and find it so hard to go back and revise. Sometimes I wanna scrap the whole thing in general and start over. But then a voice in the back of my head stops me and tells me its not the end of the world, this revision is gonna make your piece stronger. That voice is right. If I stop being so stubborn, I can have the potential to really enhance my work by tweaking a few/or a lot of things.

Revision sucks in my eyes but at the end of the day I know that it can truly help me become a greater writer.

Publishing Roulette

Publishing is the hardest aspect of writing. Some say it’s editing, while others argue that it’s the writing process itself. But it isn’t. Editing and writing are inside a writer’s control. Getting published is not. It can be very easy to stake our self-worth on how much we get published, and where we get published. If a piece of writing doesn’t get published, we can easily assume that no one in the entire universe will ever like this piece. But that’s a ridiculous notion. We, as writers, Publishing is the hardest aspect of writing. Some say it’s editing, while others argue that it’s the writing process itself. But it isn’t. Editing and writing are inside a writer’s control. Getting published is not. It can be very easy to stake our self-worth on how much we get published, and where we get published. If a piece of writing doesn’t get published, we can easily assume that no one in the entire universe will ever like this piece.

But that’s a ridiculous notion. We, as writers, are constantly blind-sided by the industry. A finished work has just as much chance of rejection as an unfinished work; publication cannot gage how “good” a piece of writing is. Writing is an interpretive art form. The bad news is, not everyone is going to like everything you write. But the good news is, there is always going to be someone out there who loves what you’re writing, and how you’re doing it. A lit mag somewhere might decide to publish your writing–but you have to take that chance. 

Putting My Skills To The Test//Writing and Confrontation

I recently (and by recently, I mean about twenty minutes ago), had an encounter where my writing became a literal necessity. I am very energetic and READY to write right now, since the topic is fresh and the cut is deep, and that’s why this blog post is relatively spontaneous–but SO important. 

Long story short, my friend has been physically, mentally, and verbally abused for the past year and a half. What started as a fun, and lovely college relationship, turned toxic extremely fast. However, by the time the moment came for her to step out, she was too deep in. Let’s call her Amy. Amy was so manipulated, and mentally abused that the things her boyfriend, let’s call him Bill, would do, she deemed as normal. Her ‘phone checks’, ‘outfit checks’ and regulation of where she can/can’t go, were SO normal to her, that she had no idea they were wrong. She was treated like literal PROPERTY for so long. As friends, we would constantly try to help and protect her, but it was almost a lost cause. We persuaded counseling, and advice. We involved parents–but nothing could get through to her. She loved him so much, she was blind to the manipulation because she just wanted to make him happy. 

This past weekend, the ‘fight’ that I referenced in class was because of their relationship. It dragged many people in the middle, and created a literal fist fight due to a threat he proposed. This was the final straw for Amy. She finally saw the light, and understood what we have been trying to tell her for a year. It finally clicked for her when she saw the dislocated thumbs, broken wrists, and bruised cheekbones. The impact that her relationship had on an entire national fraternity was actually insane.  I was in shock. 

Amy finally decided to say something. She went to the ARD, and then the Title IX Coordinator–THANK GOD, FINALLY. My friends and I were literally screaming of excitement. As support, Amy asked me and another friend to come and sit with her at the meeting. After describing the relationship to the counselor, she asked us to create personal statements of everything we could remember from the relationship–anything abusive, anything that the police or Dean needed to know. She then sent us on an hour break.

Within this hour break, I was so TRIGGERED and so HEATED from simply recalling all of the acts Bill completed, I sat down and started writing our personal statements. I was done within the hour. I made a 5-page bullet list of dates, explanations, acts, results, and impacts in regards to what has happened over the past year and a half. I then shared this document with Amy and our friend. They read it, and were confused how I asked my mom to write this so quickly. Instantly I was confused. 

My mom was an English major, and is now a lawyer. My friends literally thought that I called my mom, and told her everything and she typed it into a professional document and emailed it back to me to print. I replied and said “What  do you mean… I just wrote this in the hour gap between meetings?” 

My friends were SHOOK. I guess this proves that they have never truly seen nor appreciated my writing (until they needed it…).

They were impressed by the language, the efficiency, and how mature and how professional it was. To say the least, I was flattered. I suppose watching my mother type her legal documents all these years in correlation with my English Major really paid off…

Again, it is amazing how much my writing can have on people, and that is why I continue to write. From my Odyssey publication about my Ex that reached and helped so many people, to this ‘legal’ document that will reprimand this boy, I am ecstatic to make a difference, and to impact people simply with my words.

My suitemates, and the counselor, then proceeded to talk about how I should be a lawyer… go figure.

All in all, this has to do with the power of English, and of confrontation–that little ol’ subject we brought up last class. This disposition is the most confrontational thing that I have ever written. It is direct, bulleted, and doesn’t hold back. I am proud of it, as a piece of writing, and as something that could effectively help someone. 

 

 

Jules xox

Ain’t It Fun?

An unwieldy secret of mine is that I don’t like writing. 

I never set out to be a writer and, certainly, no one set out to make me one. In middle school, I was placed in the “regular” English section. As a high schooler, I was cut from A.P. Literature, won no school awards, was told I wasn’t good enough time and time again. By all institutional measures, it was clear that I was not considered an ingénue — no young Pablo Neruda or Sylvia Plath. If I could learn to write a five-paragraph essay and master the comma, that’d be enough.

And so, for years I bore the tedium of learning an academic skill, the way many force their way through maths or chemistry. Writing was never presented to me as an outlet for creativity — it was a unit of expression.

But then, a death. Illness. Financial burden. It all happened so suddenly and I found myself overwhelmed by an inexplicable grief. The experiences were so new that I didn’t know how to conceive of them.

As many will agree, it’s difficult to cope when you fail to pinpoint what you must cope with. It was at this juncture in life that I first came in contact with the work of Joan Didion, namely her essay on “On Self-Respect.” Until then, I’d never witnessed someone articulate thought with such precision and took deep comfort in the knowledge that it was possible to control one’s narrative or, at the very least, understand it with so much clarity. 

Didion’s “cool girl” image aside, there was so much to admire. Her technical competence in the form of taut prose — each sentence metered with an accuracy usually reserved for anesthesiologists or vascular surgeons. No wonder Nathan Heller in a Vogue editorial heralded her work as “Mozartian.”

In “Goodbye to All That,” Didion delineated through the vague fog which often obscures everyday discomfort. Later, Haruki Murakami in his “Norwegian Woods” would follow suit.

                                                                    * * * * * * 

There’s something intoxicating about writing. To name Rumpelstiltskin is to deprive him of power. Indeed, it’s the unknown which is most frightening. Quickly, I realized the potent relief which could come from naming fear or pain — enough to induce a spiritual high. And so I wrote too. 

I want to tell you that this is where it ends, but we never talk about the conditions it takes to produce a Didion. For certain individuals, writing is less hobby, more coping mechanism. And we’re not alone. At T.C. Tolbert’s reading, Tolbert talked about how writing comes as impulse; it’s not so much an activity done for fun so much as it’s an, albeit difficult, form of self-care — necessary work. This is one of the reasons why I struggle so enormously in workshop settings: I can’t write to write — it happens as compulsion.

In one course, I was asked to write an essay and I did. The response was positive, but the process which served as precursor was one which demanded the self-infliction of trauma. Post-workshop I wouldn’t touch the piece again the following six going on seven months. When we talk about writing, we editorialize. We focus on F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, larger than life, grand, romantic figures every writer is taught to aspire to. Or it’s James Joyce and David Foster Wallace in their most tortured presentations. But, for some, writing is none of those things. Not love or lust — that most glamorous iteration of the craft. 

It’s a difficult burden to bear. Often, I feel immense guilt. I can’t shake the feeling that, in many senses, I’m the biggest imposter of them all. I’m by no means bad at writing despite what I’d been told in my earlier years. Even worse, I’ve received some attention for my work. How dare I then dislike writing? There are people who choose to do it, enjoy it, and work just as hard as I do at it. Why am I taking space from them? Could this have been different had I come to writing not because of trauma, but because a love of it that my education had fostered? 

Honestly, I’m uncertain. Sometimes, I want to give it all back — what few awards I have I’m not sure I deserve. Of course, I worked hard for them, but the newfound accolades don’t change the fact that I can’t write when asked to — it just happens. I don’t have the kind of control over my work, my productivity that I wish I had. 

I know this will come as a surprise to many. If not for love, why would anyone wake up at 4 A.M. to do anything of their own volition? Who dedicates hours to obsessive revision — weighs the difference between “a” and “the?” 

Well, me.

But is it fun? 

No, not at all. 

 

 

 

sung lyrics vs written poetry

I’ve been listening to a lot of music for inspiration, and I’ve been thinking about how poetry and song lyrics are tied together, yet so different. Rythym in poetry needs to be carried by the meter- the words themselves need to have a consistent pattern in emphasis and release that create a rhythm where there is none. Music does the same thing- but with an underlying beat and rhythm, the lyrics need to conform to the beat. 

A lot of pop songs, I’ve noticed, resort to simpler and repeating lyrics to do this. It’s difficult, to have a song that has no repeating lyrics and still conforms to the beat. It adds that extra layer of difficulty, and I’m blown away by artists that can pull it off and have their lyrics still sound good. But, the song has roughly four mins to kill, the artist might as well repeat the same word or phrase a couple times to emphasize the beat. You can see this, when you look at written song lyrics versus heard. There’s an incredible amount of repetition. 

A lot of experimental songs get around the incredibly difficult meter and rhyme scheme by using partial or internal rhymes, along with lyrics of a similar syllable count. R&B is interesting, in that it uses the same repetition as pop songs, but it gets around the meter constrictions by just changing inflection to fit the rhythm. Most electronic music forces the lyrics to fit to the beat by chopping them at the needed intervals. This is all generelization- each genre, artist, and even song will approach this problem differently. It’s impossible to narrow down each method without creating millions of sub-genres within sub-genres. 

The written word, however, gets around this by not having any beat to conform to, but presents unique opportunities as a visual medium. The words are the same- but the medium changes everything. You can’t use shape poetry in song, and it’s incredibly difficult to convey tone through written words without resorting to sheet music. 

[i have zero music experience so this is all very interesting]  

Do We Limit Ourselves with Labels?

We’ve talked about poets each having a signature style, such that their work is recognizable. I would love to know what my poetic signature is, that is what makes my work distinct. At the same time, I do not consider my writing to be fully developed. Upon entering college, my poetry has changed drastically. This change is even apparent from semester to semester. Therefore, this poetic signature that I am longing for might not even be established yet.

Do established poets feel the need to keep writing a certain style to appease their fans? Similarly, when music artists transition from one genre to another, they often receive quite cynical feedback, is the same true with poets? Do poets have an obligation to stick to one style? Are poets allowed to jump from one style to another and have both types be considered good?

On the other hand, when does this much-coveted poetic signature indicate stagnance. In other words, can one overdo a particular theme or tone? How can a poet keep pushing outside their comfort zone while maintaining a unique quality?

I would love to know what other people think about this topic. I know some of my peers have distinguishable poems and was wondering if they feel pressure to continue writing these namesake poems or if they desire to branch away. Does venturing away from your style prove to be nerve-wrecking?

Definition: poetry

So I’ve been asking myself this question since my last post and thought I’d bring it up here. Reading through other posts put up this week, I saw that Henry actually mentioned the same thing I’ve been thinking in his post “Poetry I don’t understand”. A couple weeks ago, I wrote a review on Matthew Dickman’s Wonderland. I remember feeling like my review couldn’t possibly be enough to express how fascinating Dickman’s work is because I could barely understand it. I got a basic idea of what he was saying, but I wasn’t sure how since (to me) nothing was clearly connected. But it was. And I know this because I got something from it. I kind of wish I could have a better understanding of the poems in his book, but I also loved how I was able to thoroughly enjoy it despite how little I “understood.” Now I want to ask you all this: Continue reading “Definition: poetry”

Poetry I don’t understand

The other day I was reading this Keat’s poem “The Fall of Hyperion: A Dream”, I was thoroughly enjoying it but also understanding none of it. The rather long piece was chock-full of mythological references I didn’t get and the wording was archaic. I had an understanding of this being a very good poem, and certain lines did make me smile in delight, but overall I didn’t grasp a lot of it. I’ve had similar situations reading poems such as T.S. Eliot’s “The Wasteland.” I didn’t quite get the themes of “The Wasteland”, until I read up on them a little bit after finishing the piece, it doesn’t help that I read the bulk of Eliot’s revolutionary poem while waiting around grand central station, being hassled by people telling me, most likely fabricated, sob stories in an attempt to get me to open my heart and wallet to them. I’d still say I liked The Wasteland, but on some level I feel insincere making this claim seeing as I didn’t grasp a good amount of it.

I have the same feeling with movies but to a greater extent. Watching long and slow paced films like Solaris or Stalker, both by the Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky, often feels a bit like a chore, even when I acknowledge them as being objectively well made. Solaris in particular is composed of absolutely gorgeous shots, yet throughout its duration I had to struggle not to check my iPhone for bursts of easy, ephemeral entertainment. At the end of these movies I’m not left questioning my sanity, as I hoped I would, but my intelligence. With complex poems I may not get what’s going on, but I’m not usually bored.

I don’t necessarily think it matters if I don’t get all of what I read, but I still worry that it makes me Holden Caulfield’s favorite word. Maybe I should be honest with myself, acknowledge my technology-fried attention span, and lay off the long movies, but I still derive a lot of pleasure from elaborate and cryptic poetry, so I’m going to continue to read it. Perhaps I’ll picture myself as a deep sea diver, surrounding themself with creatures they may not understand, but which they find fascinating all the same.