Challenge Journal 4: Missed opportunity?

My biggest missed opportunity as a result of a lack of time and experience probably was most of my pieces I wrote for the sports and opinion sections in the Michigan Daily. One stands out to me the most — it was a feature article on a track runner that was in law school and almost made the NFL who just broke a Michigan track record: https://www.michigandaily.com/sports/meet-john-spooney-michigans-davinci

I wrote this my freshman year and I think it was good at the time but looking back on it now, there was a lot more reporting, time, and effort I could have put into this like I could’ve done so much better with this lede:

“He was a two-sport athlete at Brown, but that time has long since passed.

Now he is an aspiring medical school student. He was once good enough for a tryout with the Baltimore Ravens. He has just run the fourth-fastest 60-meter time in school history in his first race as a Wolverine. And he has come a long way from a childhood near Jacksonville, Florida.

Meet John Spooney, the renaissance man.”

I think a lot of work I did for the Daily wasn’t as good as I think it could have been due to a lack of time, desire to make it exceptional, and honestly, running out of ideas. It helps a lot in my writing not to have a specific writing block each day or deadlines in which I need to get things done. Then it feels monotonous and forceful, though it is necessary. I have found that as I have gotten older that I do most of my writing by thinking inadvertently when engaging with people and art in the world. I’ll then write down some snippets and let everything come together in a free-flowing way. It’s weird but I write a lot more when I’m given time to think about it and let the words kick into overdrive. It’s also very helpful to not have any expectations of topic, form, or style, at least initially. Right now in doing poetry, I can talk about whatever I want in this method that feels like freedom. With the Daily, I chose to stay with one sport which constrained what I was able to talk about. And in writing columns, I felt that I had to write a certain way that I had to free the world of its evils and be an authority. It was like I was putting on a persona that wasn’t really me. It was awkward and concrete. I wish that I would’ve been a better writer in those moments but I need to understand that doing this messy and what I deem now as unsatisfactory writing got me to where I am today. And I’ll look back on what I’m writing now in a couple years and probably hate it. I’m trying to approach writing as “whatever I’m feeling at the moment.” Soon I’ll change the topic of what I’m writing about now but I’m not sure when. Though sometimes not having a structure or a change of pace can keep me in the same ruts. And I’m running the risk of my current writing not making sense to the audience or even having the writing to be plain bad. I must write but also accept structure and criticism. I wish I would have sought that out more with the Daily as my displeasure with my work was my own fault. Hindsight is 20/20.

Challenge Journal 3: Finding the Balance Between Too Much and Not Enough

I’m a long-winded writer. I like to write poems and stories and books that are really long. It feels a lot less constraining to me and when I write longer pieces I assume it makes for better content. When I do this, however, I run the risk of losing the reader’s attention as their mind gets bored or wonders when the story will end. I hope that won’t happen but it is good to remember that is completely possible. On the flip side, it’s hard for me to write short pieces. I feel like there isn’t enough room for the words to be powerful. It’s difficult to be my own editor. I’ve been told at times in journalism and novel writing that my pieces are too long. But when I cut them down, it feels like I’m diminishing the story. Writing shorter poems has been a good exercise in making each word count as much as possible. To leave the reader coming back for more. I’ve been writing more short poetry for this project and for some competitions because most places won’t publish 5-10 page poems like I have. It has been weird to be forced into writing differently but there is so much good in switching length up.

Here’s my shortest poem from my collection that I like:

the catalyst of guilt

Future acceptance of clauses and destroyed stereotypes
are ruined by people asking for apologies
Just like you (I’m speaking to a specific) wanted to be an individual
so are the white people in the front row
You can be angry, but don’t feel sorry for yourself
because, if you’ve observed like me
you will see that reparations don’t resolve
out of pity

There needs to be variation in style and length to keep the reader’s attention and interest. It’s difficult though because sometimes readers will ask what something means. Is that the point or should something be longer to explain what is happening? With my project this semester, there will also be some annotations on the site explaining the work like footnotes. Recently I have deleted some at the smart request of my classmates, giving the reader some credit and room to figure things out on their own. I just don’t know what others know, so sometimes I will lose the reader in some references or style and that is perfectly fine!

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Challenge Journal 2: Scrapped Work Isn’t Wasted Time

Ray told us a couple weeks ago that all the things that we work on won’t end up going into our final projects — it’s just part of the writing process. This has been a difficult lesson for me to accept because I hate wasting time and wish that everything I’ve written could work. It’s also kind of embarrassing to look back on things and wonder why they aren’t good and don’t make the cut. But it’s even better to catch things we deem as sub-par before they go into our final projects.

I had a crisis moment about a book I’m writing outside of class. It’s “finished,” but is anything really done? Anyway, I received a rejection letter after going through a few steps with an agent, so I thought I was going really far but had the possibility of working with this agent fall through the floor. In that moment read all of what I had wrote and hated it, exhausted of rejection and continual editing. But the next day I got an email from another agent that wanted to read my work. Instead of scrapping all that I had done, I used my previous words as foundation to replace them with better prose. I still kept the first line: “Listen to me, goddammit! My head is on a platter. I am not the boy who cried wolf. The dogs will soon eat me for dinner.” But I have made the prose more conversational and in-your-face: “You may think life is simple and defined by simple rules. I’m here to tell you it doesn’t. It’s strategic. It’s a cruel game. It’s a conglomeration of all that is good and holy and holey and demonized.”

For now, the dream is still alive! And I’m learning with my new poetry project that not everything I write will end up in the final version. So I keep writing, seeing what sticks, not judging my writing until I sit on it and review later.

It’s easy to get discouraged in writing, feeling like nothing is good or worth being proud of. But we can take that energy and process we’ve already gone through to write exponentially better works. It’s all about rolling with the punches and staying positive. I watched some of the Oscars and Get Out director, Jordan Peele, is a huge inspiration of mine. Even he was worried about his writing of Get Out. He apparently stopped writing it 20 times. We’ve all been there. We all have the potential to make amazing art if we don’t look at all that we do as wasted time. https://pagesix.com/2018/03/04/jordan-peele-makes-history-with-get-out-win/

Challenge Journal 1: Chris Crowder

I think the toughest thing about looking back at previous writing is the shame or embarrassment of looking back at some of it, not being satisfied with my work. I always want to use things and to have it be as perfect as I thought it was at the time I initially wrote it. But that’s part of being a writer and an editor — some works must be left behind. It was helpful for me to hear from Ray that the writing that is left behind isn’t wasted time or effort. It’s just a foundation and a learning process for better writing later.

In constructing my project for Capstone, I was going to include a poem I did two summers ago about police brutality. It was about a dream of mine in which I witnessed someone being unlawfully shot by a cop. Here’s an exerpt:

“Hello, Officer, I just saw that you shot a man of my same skin tone/My hands won’t go near the wallet in my pocket/So leave your holster alone.” I really liked it at the time, but now realize that it doesn’t necessarily fit into the message of my project. Its relevance isn’t as strong as it was when I wrote it. And other things I have written lately haven’t either. My new project is about examining complexities and empathy and raw emotion in this racially-tensioned time. I think I don’t like some of the things I’ve written because I’m trying to make my poems rhyme and that doesn’t really fit my style. Rhyming feels like a limiting poetic device for me at the time. There’s good in getting out of my comfort zone but it’s also good to stick to my strengths and what I know.

I’m learning that there’s a time and a place for certain things that we write. And that what make work one time, may not fit with new material. I’m finding comfort in the fact that I can make mistakes and these mistakes and attempts can be used in an abstract way to produce more refined material. Squished lemons can still make lemonade.

Rejection letters and “I’m sorry”

In my opinion, the most prime examples of boiler plate are in denial letters, especially for internships. Over Spring Break I received one, and the first thing I said was, “Tell me how you really feel.” Here’s what part of it said: “We had an extraordinarily strong pool of applicants this year. We are very impressed with your application. Unfortunately, we cannot offer you an interview at this time.” But you said the same thing to my two friends next to me who didn’t get the position either. Were you really impressed with all of our applications? Maybe I’m just bitter, but this use of boiler plate came off pretentious in the moment when in all seriousness I knew they were being completely polite. But I honestly would have preferred if I had gotten a little bit of feedback, though I know that is nearly impossible to receive when hundreds apply for a limited number of positions.

One of the sayings that I think is common, but not boiler plate, but a form is when someone sincerely says, “I’m sorry.” Sometimes we overuse it, but for the most part I think it’s used genuinely when it’s said. Sometimes people say it when they don’t know how to respond to a tragedy or unfortunate situation in someone’s life, but with the right tone, it lets someone know that you care about them. It’s only two words, but it can be a preamble to a display of support.

Twisted, concealed words

I was particularly intrigued by thinking about words that conceal or twist the real meaning behind them, especially when we describe people. Thinking about this phenomenon in writing or about writing is an interesting (seriously interesting, not odd interesting) avenue to take. I came up with these examples:

“This is good, but…” (At least for me, I remember using this with my sister to not totally rip apart her writing as a whole by starting with a halfhearted compliment before getting into how I really feel)

“An instant classic” (I’ve seen this used to describe good books that we don’t know if will last the test of time or be critically acclaimed by many)

“Tough” (To me, it means more multi-layered, which will take more analysis to understand a piece of writing)

“Descriptive” (Sometimes can be used to just describe a use of a lot of words when it really means simply trying to describe with detail)

“Cryptic” (I’ve heard it be used to describe writing that had ‘darker’ — dark is one too — subject matter that made the listener/reader uncomfortable)

“Literally” (I’m guilty of this. Do you mean figuratively?)

“Simple” (Usually used negatively, like a less complimentary version of calling someone just ‘nice’)

Writing as a spiritual experience

I’ve been writing since I was four years old. I remember the thrill I got from finishing my first “book” — a poorly stapled collection of different sized pages explaining the journey of seven kids selected to fly a space shuttle to Pluto. I wanted to be an astronaut and my aspirations were very high, especially since I thought that using a “space anchor” would be able to slingshot the space shuttle around a planet and back to Earth in a day. But I think my real aspirations were to be a writer because that’s the only thing in my life that I have not stopped doing. It reveals my aspirations, whether it be joyful or depressing.

In my senior year of high school, I wrote a 100 page screenplay about a teenager who attempted suicide multiple times who ended up in a mental rehabilitation center and falling in love with a girl with multiple personalities. He ended up dying at the end. So it goes. I wrote this in a depressive state in my life, and I think in the back of my mind, it revealed that I would have been fine if I died, not by suicide, but if it just happened. That’s scary to think about now, especially now that I’m an opinion writer, hoping to help people see and treat the world and the people in it better.

I write to flush out my emotions. If I don’t express how I feel through words, I’m trapped inside my own mind. If I write, everything is more clear, I can let everything go, and I come to new realizations. Sometimes the process is incredibly painful as I become angry about people or things that usually don’t affect me in that way. And sometimes it’s incredibly beneficial, as I write about the things I love.

I don’t write the same style every time because I’m not the same person when I choose to write. Every time I choose to write, part of me lives and part of me dies. It’s a more spiritual experience for me, especially if I am journaling or writing poetry. Writing can be my time to connect with God or just have a conversation with my crazy self. I write because I have always been a writer. It comes naturally to me and it’s my true passion. I just had no idea where it would get me.

It’s crazy how something you love can hurt you so much.

Shots in the dark at remediation

Since my project for repurposing is a poem, my first idea for remediation would be to perform it as a slam poem. I’m not sure what the venue would be, maybe performing it at a poetry slam or filming myself reciting it and posting it on YouTube. My second idea would be to slightly change the tone of performance and rapping it while adding beats and other instrumentals in the background. The problems to this are: 1. The poem doesn’t rhyme and I’m not sure how it would flow as a musical piece and 2. I can’t rap. Well, I can recite mostly all the words to Kanye’s Yeezus and My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy albums, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that this is a task I am capable of performing well. My third idea for remediation would be to make a photo collage of scenes of the Flint Water Crisis. I would prefer to take my own photos, but since the heat of the crisis is starting to die down and certain parts of the beginning like when water bottles weren’t even being delivered would be lost. It could be cool to put pictures side by side to scenes from other natural or economic disasters as a comparison to this tragic event and my frustration with it.

An internet search is a vortex

My mom always used to use this quote by Albert Einstein, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

She said it when I would get frustrated building with Legos as a child or putting in the wrong iTunes gift card code when I got my first iPod. She would probably say it again now if she noticed how many times I check to see if I got my tax return back. Every 10 minute check is basically poking it, saying “give me more money!”

And I realize that my search results have a lot to do with what I don’t have a lot of right now, but is supposedly slowly on its way — money.

But a lot of the searches seemed to end up pointless. I searched for flowers for Valentine’s Day when the shop will be closed on Sunday, LCD Soundsystem tickets when they haven’t even announced their tour dates yet, and what I could be making this summer if I miraculously get an internship I’ve applied for. The crazy thing is that I’ve searched these things in the past. And I still decided to search it again to see if anything would change. Nope.

Insanity.

Among other searches were articles on the Michigan Daily to check out my friends’ work, see if anyone commented on mine, who the Panthers backup QB is, what movie Tom Cruise is in where he doesn’t look like Tom Cruise (it’s Tropic Thunder), No More Parties in LA, among many other pointless searches and click-baited Rolling Stone articles.

Shea Serrano’s legendary tweets

The man, the legend, Shea Serrano. A former writer for the now defunct Grantland, Serrano has taken Twitter by storm. In October, Serrano released a book called The Rap Yearbook: The Most Important Rap Song From Every Year Since 1979, Discussed, Debated, and Reconstructed. Little did Serrano and the rest of the world know at the time, but the Houston-based writer would start a firestorm to propel the book to the New York Times Bestseller List.

Serrano first started promoting his book by using hilarious tweets attempting to convince followers to buy his book. He joked about saying that the profit from the book would help pay his bills (with screenshots of his bank account alerts attached) although the money the book generates mostly goes to the publisher. He used gut-busting guilt trips like telling us things like if we didn’t buy the police that we were “the police.”

I already liked Serrano as a writer, but wasn’t interested in his book, because pre-2000, my knowledge of rap music is severely limited. But with his promotion, I caved in and bought the book. I saw thousands of followers buying his book. If you took a screenshot of you holding the book or a receipt proving your purchase, he retweeted you while telling you a joke. To buy this book meant you were a part of something, a movement, a campaign to get a writer the attention he deserves. I bought it because I felt like if Shea could help me, he would. He gives out his email to his followers, answering in detail questions you may have, for God’s sake!

I feel like I can relate to Shea Serrano. Three days ago he tweeted, “I was eating lunch at my desk & Run The Jewels cycled on i accidentally chewed through both my own legs oh no how am i gonna drive home now?” I can relate — when I listen to Run The Jewels, I feel like I can punch through a brick wall. On January 9th, he tweeted, “i don’t trust a man who starts a possession in pickup BB without checking the ball first he has no honor you can’t count on him in a crisis.”

In a measly 140 characters, Serrano appeals to his audience. His followers started out as lovers of sports, pop culture, music, and his writing from Grantland. Now that his writing there is done, he continues to keep his followers laughing and looking back at favorited tweets. Whether he talks about his French Bulldog, Younger Jeezy, or the weird things his 3-year-old son says, Shea Serrano has mastered the Twitter game. He acts normal, not like a celebrity. He’s down to earth, having the same problems with money and family that everyone else does. But in the end, he laughs. And we laugh along with him.