Where I Am Going And Where I Have Been

By: Maggie Parker

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I live in extremes. People laugh when I say that, they smile at me as if they know what I mean. “You go from zero to 60. But you got that from me.” My mother has said to me. But she’s wrong, I’m not like her. My intensity is drug induced. My personality is an amplification of the girl who is and the Dexmethylphenidate that turns my brain into a machine. My body is the catalyst for the drug and my mind is ever-changing under its influence. It may seem like a small change, the dosage of Ritalin that I am taking, but those drugs sit inside my head. They change the version of myself that I get to show. They change my perception and, therefore, they change everything about who I am. My doctor says that my heart beats too fast now.

I am a being that was always meant to binge and purge. Physically. Spiritually. I drink coffee and booze and take more Ritalin until I forget that is who I am. Yet, I am a firm believer that we are inescapably ourselves all the time, the fakeness of our facades just reveals more about the person that is within. We may be revealed to ourselves occasionally by the strong voice of another, someone who first reveals themselves to us. This week, I found that spiritual snake-charmer in the words of Patti Smith. She wrote an article for The New Yorker in December where she discussed her experience while honoring Bob Dylan at The Nobel Prize Award Ceremony. The show, where she stumbled over a section and then had to restart, went viral because of the raw emotion that her performance depicted. I read the article and then watched her portion of the ceremony through the linked video. The song made me weep. It made me weep not for the person that I am, it’s too late for her—the currents of life are moving too strongly for me to figure out who she is now—but for the person that I was. A girl who did not have the emotional walls to protect herself from the extremes that pick her up and drop her faster than the sun rises and sets.

It was junior year of high school and my English class had just finished reading the short story “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” by Joyce Carol Oates. I bring up this story in creative writing workshops all the time, I mention it at least twice a semester. I’ve always thought that my obsession with this story was due to Oates’ masterful ability to craft her characters and construct dialogue that drags her audience right into the scene. But I was wrong. I watched Patti Smith sing her rendition of Bob Dylan’s song at The Nobel Prize Ceremony and I was struck with an image of myself. I was sitting in my high school class, having just finished Oates’ story, and my English teacher played “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue” by Bob Dylan. I remember being startled by the emotional upheaval that came from the song’s chorus, “It’s all over now, baby blue. It’s all over now, baby blue.” I asked for a record player for my birthday the following month. The machine that my parents bought me didn’t have any speakers, so I borrowed an old pair from a friend who was a theater techy. His speakers didn’t let you adjust the volume and the sound was low, if I wanted to hear the music I had to lie on the floor with my head at eye level with the machine. That worked just fine for me. The bulimia that dictated my junior year was so rampant and uncontrollable that I would eat a gallon of ice cream, vomit it all up, and then curl up in a ball next to the record player and let the pain from my stomach hit me in waves. I would turn on Dylan and wait for the harmonica to play him on. “You must leave now, take what you need, you think will last/ But whatever you wish to keep you better grab it fast.”

Patti Smith sang “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” as a tribute to Dylan at The Nobel Prize Ceremony. The song starts with the lyrics, “Oh, where have you been, my blue-eyed son?/ Oh, where have you been, my darling young one?” I did not make the connection between the beginning of the song and “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?”, which uses that line almost verbatim (I was immersed in Smith’s singing and had not read Oates’ story in years.) After re-reading Oates’ piece, the irony of my fascination with a story of that name, just two weeks before the end of my college career, was no longer lost on me. I read through the story, still beautiful, but no longer as poignant as I had remembered. It was Dylan who had emotionally held me in that place in my life. It was Oates who was the catalyst for that discovery.

I had a friend in high school with eyes like the sun. Her mixed-raced heritage produced irises that started brown then expanded to amber, green, and blue. I would try to look into these eyes when she held me against the bathroom wall in our friend’s pool house, her mouth desperately grappling for my own. I used to write poetry about the colors in her gaze. I would stay awake at night during our sleepovers and write about the sun and how it touched me with flashing heat. I think she liked the attention.

These images of myself are only loosely connected. They were produced within the lifetime of a single person, but outside of that understanding they are just fragments. Before this, I have not been able to make the connection between these parts of myself because they are the result of the ups and downs of my personhood. When Smith wrote in her New Yorker article, “And all the things I have seen and experienced and remember will be within me, and the remorse I had felt so heavily will joyfully meld with all other moments,” I realized that I cannot hide these parts of myself from each other any longer. I am not a person divided, but a person loosely conjoined. I am a string of moments that flap together in a wind produced by the great expanse of my future and past.

Oates’ story “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” ends with “My sweet little blue-eyed girl.” I wonder who would say that to me. I loved a boy in college that I was not allowed to love. He held me under the artificial, painted stars of Grand Central Station once, and then I moved past him into the depth of the train station and beyond. I loved a girl in college who could not love me back. Her eyes were deep and brown, perfectly framed by her tan face. These are the people that I imagine speaking to me. But they did not stay, and I may not have kept them. There is no violence in my connection with them, and that is what I have come to expect. I expect it because I receive it from myself. Therefore, I am alone with myself when I am being called “little blue-eyed girl.” I look at the speaker who calls to me and I do not know who that person is or where they want to take me.

“My sweet little blue-eyed girl,” he said in a half-sung sigh that had nothing to do with her brown eyes but was taken up just the same by the vast sunlit reaches of the land behind him and on all sides of him—so much land that Connie had never seen before and did not recognize except to know that she was going to it.

Punctuation Party Stereotypes

By: Mairead Loschi

If you’re living the life of a typical college student, you’ve probably made it to a party or two (no word back on if you remember them…). And, if you’re at all like me (a writer and a deeply introverted person), you’ve probably also cringed at the memory of going to any of those parties. I’ve tried a few methods to get over my shyness at these social events. My latest plan was to bring a notecard with 3 thought provoking and engaging questions to foster interesting conversation. This, however, inevitably failed. I remember being stuck, sitting on a couch, and watching my fellow partygoers move around me. Suddenly, it hits me. Every person in this room can be described with a punctuation mark (and no, I haven’t been doing any illicit substances or been drinking heavily. I’m just a writer at a party who is isolated with her thoughts and has been doing a lot of copy-editing recently).

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So here it is, my punctuation party sketch.

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The exclamation point: (used to indicate strong feelings or high volume)

This person crosses the threshold into the party and, although it is pretty dark in here and there are bodies everywhere, is greeted without fail with “Finally, I’m so glad you made it!!” or “OMG so happy to see you!” You look up and it’s your tipsy guy friend who always seems to get cheerier and touchier the longer the night goes on. He wraps you in a huge hug. He’s wearing a white T-shirt under an eye-watering shade of blue button-down and a hat that reads Let’s Party.

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The comma: (indicating a pause between parts of a sentence or used to separate items in a list)

The comma is the friend that you arrived with who grabs you by the wrist, pulling you deeper into the crowd. She says, “okay here’s what I need, another drink, a dark corner where I can dance, and Ignition Remix on repeat”. She’s your comma, a lover of lists and a firm believer in the classic use of the Oxford comma.

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The Certitude point: (used to end a sentence with unwavering conviction)

Standing by the doorway, you get the chance to observe the pick up artist who is well practiced in the delivery of cheesy one liners (For example: “how much does a polar bear weigh”) and a whole array of surface compliments. But hey, at least this guy can approach others with statements of purpose and certainty in his intentions. After all, confidence is key.

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The Period: (a full stop that ends a sentence)

This person is leaning against the doorframe, largely unimpressed by the pick-up artist’s attempted come-ons, and simply states, “climate change is a real problem and I don’t think it’s the weight of polar bears that’s causing fissures in arctic ice caps,” before walking away to refill their drink. End of that conversation.

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The Semicolon: (used to connect two independent clauses)

At the bottom of the staircase that leads to the second floor is the friend who’s eveyone else’s wing-(wo)man. She spends the night connecting acquaintances with “have you met”s and “my friend’s super into tennis too”s.

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The Question mark: (used to indicate an interrogative clause)

A few feet away are two new acquaintances and you can tell that one is interrogating the other. That’s the Question mark. He rattles on with, “What’s your major?” “Where are you from?” “How many pounds did you weigh at birth?” “What’s your astrological sign?” He is crushing any possible future conversations under the weight of his questions.

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The Em-dash: (used to mark off information or ideas that are not essential to an understanding of the rest of the sentence)

At the corner of the kitchen table – now a makeshift snack bar – is any member of the LRR fiction panel, newly obsessed with the grammar of em-dashes and using every opportunity to clarify the long-winded story they’re telling.

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The Quotation Marks: (used to set off direct speech, a quotation, or a phrase)

The pretentious intelligentsia drink-sipper boring those around them with, “I was reading Nobokov the other day” and “I believe it was Audre Lorde who said”.

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The Interrobang: (combination exclamation point and question mark that has recently begun gaining popularity)

The resident hipster drinks her elderberry wine with holistic properties in order to prevent hangovers. She got this symbol tattooed on her forearm because she saw it online once and loved the symbolism, as she also questions life with a passion.

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The Ellipses inside Parentheses: (used when omitting a word, phrase, or more to save space or remove material that is less relevant)

Me, sitting on the couch. I am half caught up in daydreams of my punctuated fellow party-goers and half inner eye-rolling, carrying on an internal conversation questioning why I even went out.

 

Books and Videogames: A Marriage of Two Mediums

By: Autumn Magro

I love videogames more than books – sometimes. It’s not easy to admit that books are not my one bountiful passion in life (because how romantic is that?), and it’s taken me even longer to rationalize the two together.

Unlike books, there is a negative connotation with video games. There is a good possibility that a certain type of person comes to mind when you think of this medium: orange Dorito-fingered teenagers with potty mouths perhaps. I get it. The buzzwords are endless: unintelligent, mindless, frivolous – the list goes on. Perhaps this is why I hid my late-night gaming sessions from everyone except close relatives and my boyfriend for years.

But this past December, I stumbled across a blog while sitting on a bullet train on its way to Zurich: “Video Games: Developing a New Narrative.” The fact that the word found its way onto a literary website was in itself astounding to me, since typically these two worlds steer clear of one another. Instead of a scathing review of games’ gross lack of content and taste, I was pleased to find the author of the piece defending their credibility with one pointed question: “Must a video game be on par with such literature as Dickens’s Great Expectations or Tolstoy’s War and Peace to receive recognition [as an art form]”? The answer: Certainly not.

The primary argument presented for video games as an art form is that it is a dynamic medium for storytelling. Furthermore, it allows you to “do things with narrative that no other medium has done before” and that is be in control over the unfolding of events. Naturally, all humans look for some modicum of control over their lives, but there is a delicate balance. Too much control leads to hubris. Too little control leads to manipulation.

For me, this is a balance that I’ve begun to internalize by examining my use of video games and books in my own life. Recently, I’ve let Dostoevsky rule over my time and pick apart my notions of judgment and justice to the wee hours of twilight. I spent spring break playing an interactive story by Telltale games called “Life is Strange,” which got me thinking about the weight of my choices on others and how life can truly be strange sometimes. And that’s okay.

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“Life is Strange”

Furthermore, it is video games that have taught me a little bit like what it feels like to be a writer, a passion I have wrestled and wrangled with over the years.  I take great care in choosing paths for character in games, which is not unlike what a writer does for those in their books. I feel for them. I revel when I can lead the detective to the missing girl in “Heavy Rain,” or cry when I have Joel lie to Ellie in the final scene of “The Last of Us.” These things matter to me in the same way that they do in my own stories.

Above all, I’ve gleaned what I believe I already knew: I am a lover of all kinds of stories. I like to be told stories as much as I like to tell them to others. The parallel of these two inherent desires is one that books and video games have bred into me over years. They have crossed the delicate and sometimes hostile line between mediums and have found a happy middle in their ability to offer me their stories.

And now, when someone says to me “I don’t read,” instead of drawing that line in the sand between readers and non-readers, I offer them my PS4 copy of Metro 2034 (which also may happen to be based on a book of the same title), and let the story do the rest.

Ten Books I was Assigned to Read as an Undergrad that Actually Didn’t Suck

By: Amanda McCarthy

It happens every semester. You arrive on the first day of class, sit down, and pour over the list of assigned texts that you will need to trudge through over the coming months. You remember something your tenth grade English teacher said about the classics being important and every time a professor stands in front of you, practically crossing themselves at the mention of the literary canon, you wonder why any of us should care.

Occasionally, amongst the noise of all the work that college shoves down your throat, something catches your eye. A book lifts itself up from the rest and speaks to you in a way more akin to symphonies than static. Finally, a book that is a feast for the mind and the heart, rather than just a lecture slide. Here are ten books that I read as an undergraduate that actually contributed to my relationship with literature.

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“Reading” By: Timothy Baldwin (Creative Commons/ Flickr)

 

  1. Annihilation – Jeff Vandermeer

Sometimes, I worry that I read so much that I will become desensitized to powerful literature and great books will no longer have the ability to make my heart burst. Annihilation confirms that I still have the emotional energy to become completely invested in a novel. This book takes ecology and scientific exploration and wraps it up into an arrow directed at the heartstrings of the reader. This book will make you think about life, humanity, the unknown, and our fundamental understanding of ourselves.

  1. Twelfth Night – William Shakespeare

We’ve all been forced to read a play by Shakespeare. The classics are important, I have been told several times, but Twelfth Night has had a more lasting impact than the rest of Shakespeare’s work. Here, the playwright mocks comedy and demonstrates the limitations of art, including the potential unreliability of writing in general. For me, this work demonstrates the lingering significance of Shakespeare. I almost understand now why I have been forced to read his work throughout most of my English education.

  1. Women in Love – D.H. Lawrence

Warning: this book is dense. The plot follows the stories of two sisters, exploring the human element of love and relationships in puzzling and nuanced ways.  Through complicated love interests and outside influences, both characters end up in completely different situations and each is left to contemplate how she arrived at her particular conclusion. Ultimately, Women in Love is a story interested in why certain things happen to certain people.

  1. Break it Down – Lydia Davis

Ever read flash fiction about a woman possibly masturbating with an oboe? Here’s your chance. Davis takes zaniness to an extreme level in her micro-fiction collection, taking her stories and her readers to the very edge of the human imagination. Nothing I’ve read for a class has ever made me laugh harder.

  1. The Reluctant Fundamentalist – Mohsin Hamid

There is nothing more accessible to a college student than a story about trying to find oneself in the capitalist power struggle with the U.S.A. Hamid’s story is one of strife and searching for philosophical answers in contemporary society, inside oneself and through interactions with one’s environment. The many dimensions of this work makes it one of the best books I’ve ever read.

  1. Light in August – William Faulkner

Faulkner is one of those authors whose name is met with a chorus of groans. Even so, this man’s ability to move between pages is amazing. Faulkner crafts some of the most realistic, multifaceted characters I’ve ever read. His protagonist, Joe Christmas, is easy to love and hate and love over and over again. Light in August is a great source reference for anyone struggling to make their characters as human as possible.

  1. Oryx and Crake – Margaret Atwood

Here, Atwood depicts the potential future of humanity. I love books that make me think, and there is no way to ignore the blatant questions that this author is asking in her post-modern setting. Depicted through the perspective of a survivor after humanity is almost wiped out, this book’s plot confronts us with questions to which we have no answer: What is human? What isn’t? And who are we to say?

  1. Baltics – Tomas Tranströmer

Baltics is a book length poem divided into six parts that has been translated into English. Reading this piece changed the way I write and read almost immediately. While I love all the books on the list, Baltics is one of the few I can’t help but come back to repeatedly. The family history twisted into this character’s love of the sea leaves a haunting impression even after a first read. If I were to ever teach creative writing, this would be on my syllabus.

  1. Pale Fire – Vladimir Nabokov

I read Pale Fire in a room of mostly sophomores just beginning their English careers who were totally underwhelmed by all the reading on our syllabus. By the time that we picked up this book at the end of the semester, most of my classmates were completely over the work load. However, I couldn’t help but be intrigued by my professor’s love for such a dense, difficult to understand novel. There is something so satisfying and simultaneously dissatisfying about a book that provides no real answers for the questions that it possesses. Here, there is no train of thought to follow through to the end.

  1. Watchmen – Alan Moore

How can one explain Watchmen? Easily the most influential book I’ve ever read. If you’ve never picked up a graphic novel, you should. If you’ve never picked up this graphic novel, you should. There’s a shocking realism to this story considering that it’s set in a version of America where Nixon is still president in 1985. Through these heroes, Moore questions his readers about how far someone should be willing to go for what they think is right and how vastly different those ethical perspectives can be.