A Letter to Future Gateway Students

Future Gateway Student,

Breathe.

You are certainly not a number to the Minor in Writing. You are you, and the gateway class will help you explore whomever you believe you are..

The journey you are about experience will be one of the most informative of your college career so far. The writing minor gateway class is unlike any of your other classes. There is no cramming, no memorization, no true target. It is exclusively up to  you how this class will academically service you. You merely need to show up and involve yourself in the daily discourse to  jump into the deep end. Try not to skip the readings ~ they are the heart of self improvement in this course as you may soon realize some of the greatest writers have a lot in common with you.

What is writing? Why do you write? What is good writing? Does good writing exist? Do not worry about the bigger questions. Just write. Struggling to make the first blog post? Just let the words flow. Afraid to speak during the first conversation about an article? Just let the words flow. Unsure where you want your major project to go? Just let the words flow. If there is one piece of advice I can give you, it’s just let the words flow. The gateway class is about getting the first “shitty draft” out and returning to it for improvement. You will realize that sometimes a heat-of-the-moment fire of writing will let you delve into a sea of honesty and raw emotion. Don’t be afraid to jump. The words on the page, although they may appear to be at first, are not a stranger. The words are you. Use the paper to have conversation with yourself.

Unlike Orgo or States, there is no wrong answer in this room, and there certainly is a multitude of routes to arrive at one. Some of your peers will use this class to improve their professional career aspirations while others may use this course to explore themselves. You will read personal narratives, poems, journal entries, research reviews, and genres you didn’t consciously realize existed.  What will draw every one together is a desire to explore. Try to figure out how the words can be written on a page in an intriguing and meaningful way to communicate your story.

I started this semester a bit knocked down. The sophomore slump can be real (perhaps more real than the freshman 15). The gateway course has made writing much easier for me. I’m not perfect, nor will I ever be, but I am willing to let the words flow and get lost in my own brain.

Be careful not to procrastinate too much on first drafts. Once a full draft is done it’s much easier to take your time to return to, but make sure – no matter how bad it may be – to power through and pump out the first round, ALWAYS. You’ll be happy you did.

And even on nights when you get very little sleep, show up to class!

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Enjoy the journey.

Sincerely,

Daniel Greene

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.

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:

Winter
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
Winter
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
Buzzfeed
Paula Deen
Winter
My sad, rusty 2001 Ford Taurus
Not getting enough sleep
Margery Kempe
Uptalk
Vocal fry
Talking shit
Living in an attic with very low ceilings
And, of course, WINTER

 

Things I am not tired of:

Learning
Spanish, especially the subjunctive
Magic realism, especially Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Words, especially mine
Kale
Puppies
Learning about/exposing the evils of the food industry in the USA
My prom dress (seriously)
Processing my losses
Celebrating my victories
Bananagrams
The Legend of Zelda
Braids
Sweaters
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)
Netflix
Bagels
Romance
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.

But I want to! A Response to the Internet

The Internet doesn’t want me to go to law school. And with good reason. Debt, long hours, a lack of jobs, no social life, schools lying about LSAT scores… and on and on and on.  Apparently there is nothing redeeming about the experience, and I should just pack up my Political Science undergrad degree and figure out something else to do.

But… but… I want to go to law school!

I’ve been trying to figure out which school to go to for weeks now. Like many before me,  I decided to ask the Internet for blogs about the personal experiences of students who go to the institutions that I am interested in. I can’t find any, but I have found many many articles, blogs, and one horrible website that equates law schools to backed up toilets and provides pictures of said toilets above their descriptions that assure me that this is the biggest mistake of my life. It has been an extraordinarily disheartening two hours. I really want someone to tell me the truth about law school- if going to a more prestigious school will really mean that much in the job market, how they liked classes, if they made friends with fellow students, if professors are at all approachable. But instead, all I have found are endless lists of reasons not to go to law school, and pictures of toilets.

Call me a cockeyed optimist- or just sing the song from South Pacific because everything is better with musicals- but I want to go to law school anyway! I realize that it isn’t going to be like the brochures everyone keeps sending me (especially Michigan State, good lord you guys really know how to compile brochures!) but it can’t possibly be as horrible as the Internet says, right? Right? Please let me be right… What I want right now is not some angry person who hated their experience, or some bright eyed-bushy tailed admissions officer but an average law student who is going to finish out their JD to tell me what their life is like. Maybe I am super delusional and all those average law students are the ones screaming at me to jump ship now before it is too late. But I can’t imagine there isn’t some medium.

A part of me is super scared now that I am making a huge mistake. Unfortunately for the Internet, it isn’t a big enough part of me to give up on my ambitions of becoming a lawyer, because that is what I want to do, not because I want to make money, or because I can’t thing of other things to do with my degree but because it is something I am interested in and think I would be good at. The other part of me knows I’ve been talking about this for five years now, and I’m sure about it. So the Internet can just go bother someone else.

Do you feel a lot of pressure about your career choices because of the economy or whatever? How do you deal with that?