Introducing My Project: Surveyances of Morningside Heights

Hello MiW community, without further ado, here is my site!

Surveyances of Morningside Heights is a longform poetry piece I have written which explores what makes a space a place for us. How do we make places bigger than their physical attributes? I look at this through a relationship, the place’s history, and my own memories of experiencing this place. Within this I explore how memory work on an objective and subjective basis, and how they work sometimes outside of a chronological timeline. And it’s about who can claim a relationship- to a place, or to a person.

The piece takes form on the site as a digital poetry map so that you can explore my version of Morningside Heights, both through the locations on the map as well as through my images and words. I hope you enjoy!

Jack

My last Caldwell performance!

As part of engagement with the writing community on campus, I have stayed fairly involved in my learning community that I was in Freshmen year, LHSP. This was also the platform that launched my interest in doing the minor given that I had wonderful Sweetland professors then. Last night, I got to both perform and judge for an event held every year that celebrates performance and poetry called the Caldwell Poetry Award. As a former winner I had the opportunity to judge but I also competed again in the alumni category.

It’s amazing to see how the program has grown since when I was a freshman. The competence of the performance of Freshman students was also fantastic given that I can still recall how nervous I was during my first performance many years ago now. I also had the opportunity to judge with Shelley which was a ton of fun. This kind of engagement in a broader writing community is something that I feel I will really miss out on next year when I graduate and so it’s important for me to do them now, and remind myself how energized I get from events like these.

Thanks to Shelley, T, and of course, Carol (alongside all the other Sweetland profs who teach at LHSP) for creating an awesome sense of community.

Meeting Ada Limon

Last week I went to the Ada Limon reading hosted by the MFA program. I have been a fan of Ada’s work for awhile after reading her poem American Pharaoh .  I love the work she does in intermingling her apathetic attitude towards horse racing with the attitude she has on the speaker’s partner in this piece, and how that shifts as the speaker sees the horse actually race. A lot of her poetry has a distinctly American feel, and I suppose the recurrence of animals and nature bring me back to my hometown in some ways.

I really love poetry and am doing my capstone project primarily in poetic words but it’s really more of a hybrid writing. Ada does a lot of prosaic poems and so I derived inspiration from these as well as the more traditional poetic forms she works with. But I think her talk and thus likely the other talks that are coming up that Zell hosts are awesome opportunities to glean more from how writers actually work for a living if they are freelance. Ada talked about how she wrote her first two books while also writing and managing work for the magazine Travel and Leisure.  For me it was inspiring to see someone who believed in being her own patron as I never really want to go strike out as a writer with no financial security because I don’t want to rely on others. It’s made me see how finding the right communities once I move to NYC will determine how much writing I actually keep up doing. The other aspect of this that I found interesting was less about Ada and more about the people around her, the MFA students. I’m intrigued by looking at MFA programs in the future and so getting a sense of the type of people who you might share this community with is interesting. I think sometimes the MFA programs can feel a bit gate-keepy in terms of who can write and talk about writing and so it has made me think more critically about whether the path is for me.

Overall, an awesome night. Ada Limon signed a book for me and wrote a personalized message after I said her poems always give me such hope. I get so nervous when I meet poets so it was cool to have her be so generous with her time AND take a photo with me. Excuse the shitty lighting and awkward posing, there was about a thousand people waiting in line behind us.

Get your writing out there friends

Hey friends,

I just wanted to give thanks to this program because of the opportunities continuously pumped out to us on the Sometimes Weekly. I’ve enjoyed all the opportunities to at least keep up with what’s going on. For example, I know a few of us, including myself, took the time to apply to The Edit on the NYTimes. Has anything come of it? No. Will anything? Probably not. But the act of taking time to write something AS AN APPLICATION FOR THE TIMES IS IMPORTANT. It means that you take yourself seriously as a writer, and I think that’s the most important aspect of the minor. Being in class with everyone has taught me that we all came in as competent, strong writers. What we perhaps need to learn is how to take that and run with it in a new direction.

I think of Emma Y’s decision to use the Gateway as a time to explore her future career path through writing, and she looked at how she can use her skills at writing to make herself more useful in that career. I loved seeing her children’s book as an example of this. This isn’t to say I will be doing my capstone project on something in finance, god forbid, but it’s essential that I work in projects like this in my work this summer. Thinking as a writer will make me a better asset to the team and able to take on unique challenges, or craft my job in a more interesting way.

So with this in mind, keep thinking of yourself as a writer and please please keep submitting things to those who are interested! There are sites out there for all sorts of the different types of projects. For example, last semester I did my first flash fiction. I submitted it to the journal Brevity. Did I get accepted? No! But dammit it was good writing! I’m glad I did it, and glad I am taking more chances.

Let’s get some things written down

The whole point of this post is to share our writing manifesto but I have completely revised my thinking on writing in some ways since the beginning of this semester as I have done more writing independently and really taken time to consider what type of writing i love and what writing I am not so crazy about! Also, I completely lost the original copy (truth comes out).

 

I write here about what it means to me to be a writer, and the inherent ego in it. I hope you don’t all think me an egomaniac because of this.

 

A Semester of Stoicism

Earlier in this semester, I shared with you all how I had set out some resolutions. I wanted to let everyone know that I actually kept to it!

During the holidays this year, my sister had gotten my dad a book entitled The Daily Stoic: 366 Meditations on Wisdom, Perseverance, and The Art of Living, by Ryan Holiday. My father, like many fathers that I know, is infamous for being difficult to buy gifts for. This gift was no exception, not because he didn’t like it, but because he had already bought the book for himself. So, my sister’s copy came back with me after break to my home at the University of Michigan to start a winter semester that I wasn’t entirely sure I was ready for.

During my three years, I have come to love this University. But I dreaded coming back for the second semester of my Junior year because it lacked all the stability that I had grown accustomed to. Many of my friends were headed to fabulous semesters abroad. Those that were still here I had grown distant from as we had become encumbered with carving out our own paths. My own path, was also a source of anxiety, given that the next stage of my life was rapidly around the corner. And I was returning to school with no relationship to come back for.

The transition into Junior year was no less difficult than the new start in freshmen year. After a difficult breakup over the summer with my first “real” boyfriend, Mark, I became dismayed over the power that the emotions I had for him, had on me. I made the same mistakes as I did when I was a competitive tennis player. I would have a sizable lead, only to result in my improbable loss. My mother said that it was because I was playing not to lose, instead of playing to win¾ a product of my struggles with depression and anxiety. With Mark, I began to plot out every detail and action to present myself as the perfect boyfriend. But when this slipped up, my mood would flip towards anxious, clingy, and obsessive.

I wanted to change my behavior, but simple awareness wasn’t enough. When I fell for a closeted boy this past fall, a tenuous basis for a relationship, I returned to my same well-practiced habits. He could not both fix my extremist emotional expressions and the situation that prevented us from really being together. Even though I knew what I was doing was making matters worse, I only knew how to control my emotions by letting someone else dictate them.

Through reading, I finally found something that could make me feel rooted. Around New Year’s, I set an intention to read The Daily Stoic every day, and journal about it when I felt I had something that I needed to say. I was beginning to follow the motto of author and retired Navy SEAL, Jocko Willink, which was “Discipline Equals Freedom”, in a time when I so desperately needed to be freed from myself.

Stoicism is thought of as an indifference to what has happened. But I will never be impartial towards my own life. Instead, it keeps my eyes always looking forward. The best way I can describe this to you is by describing a little bit about my nightly process. Tonight’s reading was from Epictetus, who said “Don’t let the force of impression carry you away”. I immediately thought of a new friend that I had made this week who I had originally written off as artificial despite her joyful façade. As it turns out, the façade was truly her. She engaged me in questions that provoked me to think more reflectively daily and to change the framework of how I view my role when in places that are competitive and draining. If I hadn’t made assumptions about her, I could have built that friendship much earlier.

The effect of this menial reflection may not seem like much, but accumulating experiences that help me recognize the importance of stepping back and using my rational mind has shaped the choices I make. I am more open, understanding, and comfortable with the idea that I can define my own emotional well-being without attaching that to another person. Successfully executing on keeping up with this habit also encouraged me to exercise more frequently, leading me to feel stronger, happier, and healthier. Both of these activities are some of the only things that I feel I have done only for me.

 

When I have bad days, there is a small part of me that is angrier at myself than I used to be because I have improved my mental well-being so much. It asks why I still get like this in spite of all my changes. But when I can step away from this and view it rationally, I acknowledge that that part of me might always have a seat at the table, it does not lead the conversation.

I am still single. For the first time in a long time, I do not resent this. Instead, I spent it working on myself through self-reflection, exercise, and meditation. I spent it working two jobs, launching independent research on microfinance, being an uncle, learning to Samba in Brazil, writing. With twenty days left in my semester, I am thankful to have spent this one with stoicism. While I may not always know what paths I am to follow, I am walking firmly forward in my path, and there is a power in that.

Not my first time experimenting!

Every experiment has been somewhat of a pain in the ass. Again I’m talking about writing here. And I’m only somewhat joking about that being a pain in the ass. The experiments haven’t just forced me to write differently, but have forced me to think in the scope of the larger project. Because of this, I feel like I have to have a more holistic vision that combines, word, meaning and form is required. Perhaps that is why I have chosen my third experiment, which utilizes found poetry from the screenshots about Blaze Bernstein’s death on facebook. It’s the only experiment that has kept me asking questions of my self and my work. Here’s one of them that describes how people who don’t even know him mourn for him. I wonder if writing all of these projects makes me somehow like these strangers who I find weird in the intensity of emotions:

But I think all three of my examples are showcasing different interests in my work and so I’m thankful to have played with that. Experiment One’s sample I think is some of the best writing that I’ve done in such a short form, where I did a snippet of a piece that one might see in The New Yorker. Experiment two was unique, visual, and in some ways tied to how my writing tries to explore life on this campus often. I think in general my writing is centered around place a lot and instead of rejecting that, I want to embrace it. But experiment three is really where I’ve displayed the most quality work. I think what’s great about this piece is I came in really underestimating the genre of found poetry and sold it short. But I’ve reckoned with how hard it is to say what you want, when using other people’s words. On top of this I’ve appreciated how I’ve been able to play with genre conventions by really sticking to them but by using a new source media for these projects. This experiment is truly the most explorative of the three, and that’s why I’ve finished it for the final project. I’m excited to hear what everyone thinks!

Departures

It’s no surprise that it’s difficult to write about a difficult subject. But it has come as a surprise that a project I’ve felt a compulsion to write and a story I’ve been drawn to has at times gotten so draining. I know that my third experiment is by far the best I’ve done for this class, but it has also been the most difficult in terms of genre and content. My third experiment is writing a found poem commenting on social media’s application in collective and anonymous grief, and about homophobia persisting in spaces of progression. It has been deeply personal as well so far through my sample, and moving forward I perceive drawing on my own experience even more. Doing a found poem as I’ve mentioned before in class has been more out of my comfort zone then I would’ve imagined. For a long time I have thought that my core competency in writing was poetry. To be honest, I thought this project would be something easy to whip together and finish quickly. But the time it takes to look for a specific sentiment from a facebook post that someone made on Blaze’s facebook groups is not only exhaustive in terms of time, but at times for my mind.

Here’s one, for example:

In that same vein, it gives me a sense of my purpose in writing about Blaze’s death. I had to reckon with a grief I had for some stranger because of our commonalities. In that way, I wasn’t all that different than the other people posting on these facebook pages. Where I find it at times disturbing is the outpouring of anger, or theories, or treating the trial as one would treat a law and order case.

I look forward to taking my poem and transforming it into an audio recording as well. My concern is that I don’t think I will be able to produce a physical copy as I imagined given the lack of time for turn around in using a service online, and it’s fairly costly. I think that I have several options for presentation, but really don’t want to consider that until my final project is done. I feel that finishing this project will act as a real place for me to move beyond this story and feel that I have done enough for this subject and this story.

Write Now

My role and self-perception of a writer has changed dramatically since entering the gateway class. Firstly, this is represented in that I call myself a writer now. Despite feeling that I was good at writing, I did not see myself as a writer, a term which felt loftier and more self-important. I’ve found however that taking ownership in this term has boosted more accountability in my craft and in my own style. When I use writer as a title, I think of someone who works as a writer as a profession. In that, I have brought a more diligent work ethic to my independent writing. I believe that I can write even when I don’t feel any sense of divine inspiration, and this sense of urgency and purpose has allowed me to write more. Additionally, it’s pushed me to look at platforms where I can showcase my writing more publically, such as my recent application for the NYTimes Edit newsletter, and submitting my flash fiction to Brevity, a magazine catering towards short shorts. In evaluating myself as a writer, it’s led me to use a more authentic voice. I am 20 years old. I enjoy writing for others my age. But now I’ve begun to write as a 20 year old actually would, as opposed to feeling that I have to adopt language to establish my authority. I believe my command over my writing, and my increased willingness to share more personal experiences, has led me to be more credible to a variety of audiences. In this way, while I know to designate certain projects for certain people, I feel that my work becomes more accessible without pursuing relatability at all costs. In short, I feel my writing persona is more assertive and confident, and feels able to take stances and ask more nuanced questions, without being contrived.