This Broad’s Rather Broad Ideas

I currently have a couple half-baked ideas for my capstone project, and I’m having a hard time narrowing them down. At one point I thought I might write the libretto for a musical about Dungeons and Dragons (more specifically, people who PLAY D&D, and not the actual content and characters of the D&D universe), though I’m not quite sure if I could think of this project as a means of answering a driving questions, or if I could even complete it in the time allotted. That said, I still flirt with the idea, and I definitely haven’t given up on it as a potential project.

However, Ray’s suggestion to think about topics that we’ve been exposed to in undergrad that we have yet to fully exhaust got me thinking about other, perhaps more promising ideas. For example, last year I wrote a research paper about the image of the werewolf in medieval literature, and while I was really proud of my final draft, I felt that I had only skimmed the surface of my topic. Writing the paper allowed me to explore how, why, and when humanity creates images of monsters (in short, I think that the monster often indicates a disconnect in human understand, and reflects a particular fear [most likely borne from ignorance] of a given culture/era/population/etc), and I’ve been curious to explore the subject more ever since. I’m wondering if I could try and craft a potential project that could explore this idea in greater depth, or at least in a different genre/format from medieval literature (which isn’t my favorite genre to work in, if I’m being completely honest). I think there may even be a way to combine this topic with my musical idea, though I’m not entirely sure how I’d go about doing that just yet.

An Open Letter to Future Cohorts: Welcome to the CHAOS

Dear Writing Cohort-folk,

First of all, congratulations!  Getting admitted to this program is easily one of the coolest things that’s happened to me since coming to U of M.  The projects in the gateway course are really fun, and, if you play your cards right, they’ll  really push you to grow and develop as a writer.

This brings me the main point of this blog post: “playing your cards right”; what exactly does that mean, and how do you go about doing it?

The answer is simple, but much easier said than done: You need to constantly revisit the chaos.

There’s this article I read for Writing 300 (Seminar in Peer Tutoring) called “Responding to Student Writing” by the very smart, scholarly Nancy Sommers, where she discuses the notion of “revisiting the chaos” in writing, meaning re-entering the place in your writing process where you feel lost, overwhelmed, or just plain old unhappy because you’ve cut too much, rearranged things in a weird way, or have done something else to really mess up whatever balance you had in the previous draft.  For her, revising is built on this notion, and I couldn’t agree with her more.

The truth is, I don’t think you’re really a writer until you reach a point in your work where you think you’ve completely destroyed everything and have no hope of recovery, only to find a few minutes later that you’ve made the piece waaay stronger than it was before.  And I think you need to do this at least 3 times.

For me, this is what the gateway course has been all about.  I have been revisiting the chaos so much that I practically live there.  Is this terrifying, stressful, and at times awful?  YES!  But DAMN have you read my essay for Project 2???  That stress and terror are worth creating art I feel proud of.

My point in telling you this, future writing minors, is not to scare you off, or give you any sort of tough love.  I just want you to know that if you find yourself feeling freaked out, lost, or overwhelmed in your revising process, it’s okay.

This is a good time and place to be lost.

Textual Healing

My love affair with the semicolon began back in my high school days.  I had already learned about the saucy minx in middle school, though I had yet to learn just how saucy and minx-ish she (because that curvy figure and sense of mystery could only belong to a lady, let’s be real) could be.

It was in my freshman Introduction to Literature class; our teacher had decided to spend a day going over common grammar errors, and had just opened up the floor for questions when it happened.  One student asked if we could please go over that “half-comma-half-dot-thing.”

Teach responded with “Oooh yes, the sexy one.”  And wrote the following sentence on the board:

“I ate the whole pie; I barfed.”

Rawr.  Am I right?

She then went on to explain that the reason semicolons are so very sexy as follow: they join two independent clauses in a snuggly, intimate relationship.  That’s hot, right?  I mean, I say that as a fiercely independent little bookworm, so I suppose that it stands to reason verbal four-play (or, if I may, textual healing) between two self-aware subjects might turn me on.

That being said,  I hate commas.

Commas are like my least favorite people: so indecisive!  You can use them in far too many ways: linking dependent clauses, appositives, lists…I don’t see why they can’t just take a leaf out of the semicolon’s book and find one path and stick to it.  Also, they enable dependent clauses to continue their reliance on perfectly lovely independent clauses; and if that’s not messed up, I don’t know what is.  I mean, come on, dependent clauses!  Go find yourself!  Get an ankle tattoo, travel to Europe, try spending more by yourself, just do something besides leaning on independent clauses for personal validation.  And commas, quit allowing them to live such an incomplete life.

You sicken me, commas.

But even though commas are terrible and I still forget how to use them from time to time, I can live with them.  Though that’s largely due to the fact that I have semicolons in my life; they get me through tough times.

How to Write an Un-love Story

Figuring out what exactly it is I’m doing for Essay 2 has been kind of an adventure.  I’ve had about a billion different ideas about how to go about re-purposing an old piece, a poetic elegy inspired by my break-up with my ex-boyfriend.  I initially wanted to write a screenplay, but found that everything I wrote in that format came out sounding forced and cliché.  I then thought about trying my hand at making an animated short, but then I remembered that I don’t know the first thing about making animated shorts.  Whoops.

Eventually, I decided to compose an audio essay a-la The Snap Judgment Podcast.  The final product will (I hope) be in the form of fictional story, spoken by me, and inspired by the relationship mourned in my elegy.  Also, like Snap Judgment, I’ll include music and sound effects to give the story added depth and texture.

Because this the story of a break-up, my research has been focused mainly on finding other creative work (e.g. movies, T.V. shows, written stories) that tell similar stories.  For example, my annotated bibliography currently includes the movie Annie Hall, which begins with its star (played by Woody Allen) announcing, “Annie and I broke up,” and then proceeds to tell the story of their relationship.  I also cite 500 Days of Summer, which begins similarly to Annie Hall by asserting that it is “A story of boy meets girl, but not a love story,” and Sleepwalk With Me, which follows the un-doing of its protagonist’s relationship with his girlfriend alongside his struggle with a rare sleep disorder.

These stories, I think, belong to their own, sub-genre of love stories: the non-love story.  I’ll admit that this title needs some work, but it’s the best I could come up with for now.  Labels aside, the non-love story shares all the trappings of the regular love story, but with one key difference: in the moment where a relationship is “put to the test,” it fails.  Furthermore, in regular love stories, this challenge usually takes the form of a problem that would absolutely never happen in real life, like discovering that one’s significant other is a vampire, learning that the person you fell in love with is only dating you because of a bet they lost or hope to win one, or, while wearing a disguise, falling for someone who doesn’t know your true identity.  But in non-love stories, these challenges are usually more realistic, like trying to make a long-distance relationship work, infidelity, or conflicting values or goals in romantic partners.

The reason for this, I think, is that people want love stories that comfort them.  We want Cinderella to run off with the Prince because it reassures us that the perfect partner is out there, and that they’ll find us no matter what.  We also want to watch Tom spiraling after Summer ends it with him, because we want to know that we aren’t the only people who’ve fallen apart post-break-up.  On the surface, these two stories couldn’t be more different, but they both deliver the same message, “It will al be okay.”  For the heart-broken, they promise that things will get better and assure them that they’re not alone, and for those in stable relationships, they remind them how good they have it.

I wonder now if my non-love story will provide the same sort of comfort at those that have inspired it.  I wonder also if, by writing it, I’m trying to find some way to comfort myself.  Maybe that’s what really drives these love stories; it’s not about what the audience gets from it, but what the author feels writing it.

Being Full of It or, How I Feel About Charles Baxter

Here’s the thing: I kind of love Charles Baxter. I mean, how could I not? The dude’s a serious badass. Sure, he doesn’t pistol-whip his foes or go on high-speed car chases (as far as I know), but he writes beautiful, heart-breaking stories about the Midwest that have many a Midwesterner’s approval. This is no small feat. On that note, if you’re not familiar with his work, do your soul a favor and go get a copy of Feast of Love from your local library. They’ll have it; it won a National Book Award after all.

So it comes as no surprise, then, that when I had to pick a piece to respond to for the Minor in Writing blog, I went straight for Sir Baxter’s “Full of It,” expecting to find something that reads both cool and authentic, and leaves me with a head full of new and interesting thoughts.

Well, I wasn’t disappointed, but there were a few times where I found his portrayal of the “suffering artist,” wherein he likens creative work to an “affliction” borne by an artist, a little cliché. I’ve met enough artists to know that the drive they feel to make art is, in some ways, burdensome, and leads to as much trouble as it does good, but I think that it’s worth noting that they make a choice when they decide to act on their artistic impulses, and isn’t the ability to even have such choices a privilege in itself? I guess I just get tired of talented people complaining that being talented is both as much a blessing as it is a curse. I’d like to tell all of these talented people that it’s just a blessing, and that part you’re calling a “curse” is just what the rest of us call life. Sometimes it’s kind of hard.

But besides that one complaint, I’m pretty happy I read this piece. I, like so many other young 20-somethings preparing to leave college and enter the “real world,” am nothing if not a little lost, and to see a writer whom I admire say that “wisdom is simply somebody’s personal prejudice masquerading as truth,” and encourage me to “make my own mistakes the way that I made mine,” is pretty reassuring.  What’s more, I like that Baxter is all about encouraging people to figure their own stuff out, and makes a point to emphasize the value in working through your mistakes because I am just all about making mistakes lately. I also like that he points out that all writers have to be “good noticers,” because I’ve always felt that way about myself. For example, I can tell you that I remember the time I fought back tears while my 2nd grade teacher, Mrs. V., yelled at me for talking in class, I remember feeling the corners of my mouth pull themselves sideways while my throat tightened up, and that I saw the moment Mrs. V. started to re-think her choice to shame me in front of everyone in the way her brows pulled apart.

Point is, to hear a writer whom look up to say, in his own words, “Hey Brooke, you’re on the right track to be a pretty decent writer!” is pretty comforting. What’s less comforting, of course, is him following with, “You know those flaws you have? They’re intimately connected to your talent as a writer.” I think I always knew as much, that my love of gossip, tendency to daydream, and unrelenting insecurities were all what drove me to write with the voice I have, and what created that “relatable” quality in my work. Of course, I am not an aspiring fiction writer; at least, not in the same way I think Charles Baxter was at my age. When I think about my future career in writing, I usually think about pitching a T.V. show to HBO, publishing collections of personal essays about my own misadventures, and composing screen plays based on my favorite books. For whatever reason, I’d like to think that this path, the Brooke Gabriel path, will be different from the Charles Baxter path. That in choosing a writing career that involves different media than the short story or novel, I can simply take the good bits that come with this “affliction” or “condition” Baxter and I both suffer from and avoid all the bad parts that come with it.

But of course, I, like Baxter, am full of it.

The Snow is Sharp

I woke up hopeful this morning.

Yesterday, the weather had behaved a little better than it has been in recent weeks.  In wasn’t snowing, the ice was starting to melt, and I didn’t have to cover every inch of exposed skin under some type of knitted something.

I woke up thinking, “Maybe today will be like yesterday.  Maybe it’ll even be a little warmer than yesterday.”

After I checked the weather app on my phone, which informed me it was about 32 degrees outside, I realized that the weather wasn’t really better than it was yesterday’s, but it wasn’t going to be the epic, bitter wintery mix that chipped away at my outer epidermis and sanity all through January.  And so, it was with a slightly lighter spirit and more optimistic outlook that I wiggled into my long-johns and extra undershirt this morning.  And as I made my way across campus for my first class of the day, tip-toeing around big, slushy puddles, I thought that maybe, just maybe, today would be one of my last multi-layer-days of the year.  Maybe, I thought, some day next week I can just wear pants without the extra layers of under amour beneath them.

But then, this happened:

Seriously, weather?
Seriously, weather?

I watched this happen out a window.  It was pretty painful.

At first, it was a slow, gentle snowfall.  This was disappointing, thought not devastating.  I was okay with a little snow falling so long as it didn’t stick.

But then the snow got heavier, and heavier, and even heavier.  The flakes grew larger and greater in numbers.  In less than 30 minutes, what started out as a gentle sprinkling of snow had turned into an all-out blizzard.

I swear I heard my long underwear cackling underneath my jeans.

I walked outside after class, already feeling sad and defeated, only to find that not only was the snow cold, wet, and stupid like snow always is, it was sharp.

I’m going to say that again:
The snow
was sharp.

It wasn’t hail, freezing rain, or some other type of precipitation that we know to be a bit more stab-y than snow, it was actually sharp snow.

I can only assume that this arrived because I dared to hope that we’re nearing the end of winter in (what I thought was) the safe space of my mind, and Mother Nature felt compelled to teach me a lesson.

I can’t believe I thought about wearing rain boots today.

Therapeutic List-Making Pt. 1: Stuff I Am Tired Of

Confession: One of my biggest fears is that I will never find a career, field, or partner  that won’t eventually bore me.   Have I, being a product of my generation, all but destroyed my attention span?  Or maybe humans just haven’t evolved enough to sustain interest in any person, place or thing for years at a time.  I mean, the first folks who uttered the phrase “’til death do us part” probably didn’t live too long, know what I mean?

This fear is deep and unrelenting.  I am terrified that I may reach a point in a job/project/relationship where all I feel is an overwhelming sense of boredom and emptiness, like the great whiteness in Moby Dick.  Will there ever come a day when I, after looking over my many accomplishments (or lack thereof) find myself asking, “Is this all there is?”

Now, I figure that I could either let this existential crisis really run it’s course, but I’ve got a full course load, a part-time job, and some semblance of a social life, and therefore do not have time for breakdowns.  I think that instead of melting down, I’ll do something that’s roughly as silly as worrying about what might happen in the future, and write some lists:

Things I am tired of:

Waking up early
My natural hair color
“News” stories about the antics of Justin Bieber, Amanda Bynes, Miley Cyrus, or anyone else who is famous simply because they are famous
Having little to no spending money
Being in school
The song they’re currently playing in Bruegger’s as I write this
Internet trolls
Hearing about the debate between Bill Nye and that creationist guy
Paula Deen
My sad, rusty 2001 Ford Taurus
Not getting enough sleep
Margery Kempe
Vocal fry
Talking shit
Living in an attic with very low ceilings
And, of course, WINTER


Things I am not tired of:

Spanish, especially the subjunctive
Magic realism, especially Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Words, especially mine
Learning about/exposing the evils of the food industry in the USA
My prom dress (seriously)
Processing my losses
Celebrating my victories
The Legend of Zelda
Talking about scary stuff (e.g. death, illness, the meaning of life) in literature
Books with really sad, beautiful endings (e.g. Of Mice and MenThe Grapes of Wrath)
Do I feel better?  Oddly enough, yeah, I do.

Moral of the story: When freaking out about the big picture stuff, ask yourself if this crisis has any concrete ties to your real, present life, and if it doesn’t, try to find ways to make it so.

Brooke Writes

Because I have a lot on my mind, and I don’t like a heavy brain.
Because if I said the things I pen in my journal out loud, God help me.
Because I don’t know myself that well yet
and it’s my hope that I will someday.
Because I honestly don’t know what I think about things like literary classics, arguments with my friends, catcalling, and the inherent terror that comes with being alive on this planet
and I’d like to find that out.

Because I have some really, really good ideas as well as some really, really terrible ideas, and I can’t always tell one from the other.
Because that woman on NPR once said language is powerful,

mundane sign

and I believed her.
Because that guy my dad works with said that print is dead, and I didn’t.

Because I’m angry,
feeling dumb,
feeling smart,
or just feeling,
and it makes for beautiful words.

Because as far as I can tell, mind-reading is not a real thing, and I know of no better way into someone’s head. Because I have thoughts, ideas, and experiences that are valid, and I think that there are people who could benefit from hearing as much.
Because sometimes, I feel wronged, and I need to get right.
Because I am a truly anxious person, and I feel safe here, on the page in front of you.
Because it makes me happy, dammit!

Why do I write?
The same as anyone else, I suppose, out of necessity.  Though if I’m being really honest, I think I might need it just a little bit more than everyone else.

Brooke Gabriel doesn’t like cats…

…but is otherwise a pretty decent human being.

Brooke is what happens when you combine equal parts self-deprecation, goofy impulses, and Catholic guilt with a full head of thick, unruly hair, and stew until frustrated enough to do something about it.  She presently attends the University of Michigan, where she is trying desperately to become a real person and hopefully earn something resembling a degree in the process.

Sometimes Brooke looks like this. Other days, she isn’t so lucky.