Some thoughts on comfort

Today, Ray posed a question to the class: when/in what context are we most comfortable expressing ourselves in words?/In what situations does our narrative voice come most naturally to us?

I didn’t immediately have an answer. I’ve found that my expression, whether written or vocal, is usually fluid and dependent on the context — I sometimes catch myself mimicking my friends’ speech patterns when I’m with them, or writing essays in whatever voice the topics/discipline calls for. So my inner antagonist immediately strove to counter that maybe I’m just comfortable adapting to each scenario as it appears… But the more I thought about this question, the more I thought of my brother. Only three years apart, we’ve grown to be very close and both being native-Swedish-speakers-mostly-Americanized, our conversations blend into this Swenglish hybrid that I don’t experience with any other family member. A lapse of Swedish vocabulary on some topic will results in the sporatic interjection of an English word, just as some childhood memories — names of places, television characters, candies, family nicknames — will require expression in our first language when there just isn’t an English counterpart. Whichever language we start with is seldom the same that ends the conversation; it is perpetual lingual identity limbo that lends a useful metaphor for our upbringing.

In the end, it’s still an unhelpful answer to a straightforward question; I exist comfortably in the in-between, the center shadow of a Venn Diagram. How this will play out in my project I don’t yet know…

Contradictions in the Writer’s Revolution

I suppose what I struggled most with for the first draft of this assignment is staying on the topic of writing explicitly… Recognizing that this is fundamentally a paper aimed at getting us to dig into our undergraduate experience, I feel strongly compelled to flesh out the context of personal detail that surrounded each piece of evidence that I include all the same. This leaves me with the how-much-is-too-much dilemma. Obviously a paper without any personal detail is an uniteresting read, no matter how evidence based it’s supposed to be. But then I find myself going on about something I wrote when I was eight or my relationship with my mother or a break up that happened around the same time as a certain piece of evidence (I didn’t actually put that last one in but grapple with whether or not I should every time I read over the draft). How much is too much? How will I know when I’ve totally sidetracked off the path of the assignment and I’m just regurgitating every thought I had around when these pieces were assigned rather than constructing a thoughtful analysis of how/why I wrote it?

To future minoring writers

To future minoring writers,

Don’t be worried. You made the right choice.

You were looking for a way to further your interest in writing (professional or otherwise), to improve your skills, and to work on becoming the writer you knew (or perhaps didn’t know) you could be.

You applied to the Minor in Writing, and being the smart cookie that you are, you got in. Now, as you sit back examining your well-tailored schedule complete with a bi-weekly box labeled WRITING 220, you might be wondering what you’ve gotten yourself into. You might be worrying about arriving to class in the fall of next year only to find that you are the one plain tuna in a sea of gleaming Dickinsons and Hemingways, but let me tell you this:

You made the right choice.

You wrote a killer application that dazzled [whoever reads those] with your eloquent rhetoric and tasteful use of literary devices. You were chosen out of an ocean of plain tunas, sunfish, and minnows becaus you are a better writer than you think you are. I think I’ve exhausted my fish metaphor but the point remains the same.

You, my friend, are not a plain tuna. And you’re going to look damn good in that Minor in Writing T-shirt.

A lengthy thought

I have a cautious relationship with grammar.

On one hand, I can appreciate that the English language (or any other) must rely on a fundamental set of rules and structure without which people just wouldn’t understand each other, and language wouldn’t be language. On the other hand, those relentless champions of grammar that I think we’ve all encountered at some point in our lives mistake these rules for unquestionable mandates, overlooking the beauty that sometimes surfaces from language when they’re broken. Most of us don’t speak in complete sentences – there are times when I finally figure out where I wanted to go with a thought halfway through a sentence. Breaking grammar is itself a form of grammar, as great writers have often managed to convinced us.

Take the run-on sentence. It’s a grammatical structure that I both hate and love, depending on the context and the writer.

There is nothing more tedious than reading a long text or a facebook message from someone who clearly didn’t read it through before they sent it. In just one punctuation-less rant we are overloaded with a surprisingly detailed weekend summary, a status update on the noodles that were just put on the stove, and the surprising intensity of the sunlight shining through their window. A mindless concoction of words and thoughts can be terribly frustrating to decipher with a sunday morning hangover, but we put up with it because that’s what friends do (and we’ve probably been guilty of one or two of those texts ourselves).

However, some of my favorite authors are unquestioned masters of the run-on sentence, and use it often because it so perfectly mimics the human stream-of-consciousness. Take Keruoac or Hemingway for example. Monstruous sentences the size of paragraphs are their forte, but reading them is anything but tedious. Carefully crafted and decidedly composed, these sentences serve a specific purpose – to convey a certain emotion and to make their characters human. I recently read The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath, and even she was guilty of a run-on or two. In my opinion, it is nothing short of poetic to be able to convey the frustration, fear, or love that a character is feeling without ever writing those words. The run-on sentence is one tool that allows writers to do that (once they’ve grasped the correct ways in which to use it).

Because, as we learn from the world’s enthusiastic texters and Facebook messagers, it’s easy to swing and miss with this one (unlike Batman who definitely swung and made contact with Robin’s face for speaking in run-on’s… Too violent? I think I made my point).

I’m not a fiction writer

The cool, collected academic narrative is my forte. I can produce a five-page paper on the biological competition between invasive Asian carp and native species of fish in the Great Lakes without breaking a sweat. But when I’m asked to write creatively without a specific prompt or concrete guidelines, my mind goes as blank as the paper in front of me.

So imagine my surprise when I saw the words “fiction” and “horror” appear seemingly by their own volition at the top of my repurposing proposal. The truth is that the idea of writing a chapter in my own imagined horror novella excites me, but I have no idea how to begin. So I turned to the master of horror himself for help.

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=128239303

“I’m convinced that fear is at the root of bad writing.”

So writes the notorious Stephen King in his book on creating works of fiction/prose. I found a lot of truth in this sentence. It’s easy to settle into the comfort of writing academically because you really aren’t putting very much of yourself on the page; when it’s evaluated, it is only the writing being critiqued, not you. But writing creatively, as King describes, requires all of you, one hundred percent, and you can’t half-ass it because you’re afraid it will be bad (because then it will be bad).

I found that replacing all the aforementioned hypothetical “you’s” with “I’s” and “me’s” yields a pretty decent pep-talk for embarking on a project such as the one I’ve taken on.

King intended this book,  On Writing, to be not so much an overarching, presumptuous mandate that every prospective writer must blindly follow (there are already plenty of those already, he writes), but rather more akin to the subtitle he chose for the book; “A Memoir of the Craft”. That is exactly what he accomplished. The book is saturated with the anectdotes and experiences that he himself has had with writing, or simply those that in retrospect were fundamental to his development as a writer. With this book, he deconstructs the fairytale of Stephen King the Bestseller, revealing the every day person underneath that writes because he loves to, and struggles with it sometimes – just like anyone else.

I gathered a lot of valuable insight from reading On Writing, and it has been a tremendous help to the development of my project, which I plan to shape in the image of his writing style. Here is on of my favorite chunks of the book that I hope can help you, too:

“I’m not asking you to come reverently or unquestioningly; I’m not asking you to be politically correct or cast aside your sense of humor (please God you have one). This isn’t a popularity contest, it’s not the moral Olympics, and it’s not church. But it’s writing, damn it, not washing the car or putting on eyeliner. If you can take it seriously, we can do business. If you can’t or won’t, it’s time for you to close the book and do something else.

Wash the car, maybe.”

The balancing act

I like to be busy. A steady stream of assignments and responsibilities is just grease to my gears where others shut down. I can imagine my peers gasping at this proclamation, but it’s just how I function – I  don’t get things done when I have the time to do them.

This is not at all what I was like in highschool. I skated through my classes, doing fairly well in them, yet never more than what was required. I was more concerned with my field hockey team, or getting ready for states in tennis, or finishing an entire season of Skins (UK, obviously) in as little time as possible. But coming to college changed my perspective on doing my work, and I became busier and busier.

Drowning in things to do – whether it was a research paper for an English class, or a concert review for SHEI Magazine – began to spurr some other strange changes in my persona. For example, suddenly I became a morning person. Most days I get up before eight (sometimes before six when I’ve truly overloaded myself) and start my day at the library or with a run. Then, I proceed to freak out about everything I have to get done that day until I’ve accomplished a sufficient amount to soothe my conscience, and I go to class or return home for a quick dinner, more work, and then sleep.

And still, I keep signing up for more things to do outside of my actual schoolwork. Why, you ask? I couldn’t tell you. Last semester, I signed up to write a weekly column for SHEI Magazine, contributing an additional article every few months for our bi-annual print issue. This semester, I decided to also joing the editorial section of the Daily, while  babysitting once a week in order to regularly fortify my checking account with a whopping $34. I live for the balancing act.

Maybe I do this to myself because I enjoy the thrill of almost falling off the beam, of almost not finishing that assignment, that story on time. Maybe I do it because I’ve realized the importance of what I’m learning and engaging myself in extracurricularly, and how doing lots of things will ultimately benefit me in the long run. Maybe it’s a combination of my enduring perfectionist tendencies – I will not allow myself a late assignment or a dropped commitment – and my curiosity to try new things. Whatever the reason, I like the person it’s turning me into. Driven, motivated, and precise, because I can’t afford to waste any time.

Image: from this blog

The Power of the Pencil

When I first read the disjointed, seemingly unrelated collection of anecdotes of Paul Astere’s “Why I Write”, I was confused. The memoires followed no chronology, lacked transitions and topic sentences, and not all of them were his own.

Then I read it again.

He tells the story of a friend whose auspicious connection with a Hepburn movie prompts her to go into labor each time she watched it. He reflects on the time his parental instinct to save his toddler daughter overcame the laws of physics. He recalls the time he watched a boy die. He mulls over his childhood encounter with his baseball idol that spurred a life long habit of always carrying a pencil.

These are snippets of moments and encounters that not only make Astere Astere, but reveal some insight into what inspires him to write as he writes. A glance behind the curtain, a peek into the frameworks of his mind – the seeming lack of self awareness in the piece is powerful, as if Astere was casually scribbling away in a diary rather than compiling an intentful piece of writing; it is not until the very last sentence of the baseball anecdote that these glances are at last tied together.

“As I like to tell my children, that’s how I became a writer”.

Out of all the “Why I Write” essays that we’ve encountered so far in the course, Astere’s stuck with me the most. I suppose it must have been his lack of analysis, his frank, factual recollections that painted such a stark image in my mind, almost as if the memories were my own. Which is strange because I’ve never seen anyone die, I don’t have a daughter, and I in fact actively avoid going to baseball games, but I could feel and relate to his sentiment all the same. Then in the last sentence, he wraps it all up very nicely for us, a sentence that grammatically could have been placed at any one of the preceding anecdotes, so in that same sense ties them all together.

If Astere hadn’t missed an opportunity for an autograph as an eight year old baseball fanatic, he might not have picked up the habit of carrying a pencil on him at all times, in which case he might not have taken the time to write any of the things that happened to him and others down. The power of the pencil is that it prompts its holder to write things down. And I for one am glad that Astere decided to carry one.

Write Because

Write

Because you like to,

Because you know what words can do when they’re

strung together right,

Because you admire those

who do it well.

Write

Because you want to,

Because your fingers itch when you watch the

sun set,

Because it’s the only way to

be truly honest.

Write

Because you need to,

Because no one understands

you better than your pen,

Because you know your thoughts will

spark and combust

within you

If you don’t.

http://astrophysics.gsfc.nasa.gov/outreach/podcast/wordpress/index.php/2011/07/22/faiths-blog-sunsets-scattering-and-similes/

An entirely too honest introduction

Miriam Akervall is a first generation American immigrant, a full-time University student, and a part-time horror film enthusiast. She has started many things that she never finished, appreciates a dark shade of lipstick, and thinks too much. Miriam is critically acclaimed for the thorough use of her Netflix account and lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan with four girls and one surprisingly friendly snake in a house with deplorable heat circulation. Her work has yet to be published and dwells peacefully inside her head.

Miriam and Stella, her Black Russian Terrier
Miriam and Stella, her Black Russian Terrier