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.

PATERSON: The Blue-Collar Poet and Writing with a ‘Day Job’

By: Nicholas DiBenedetto

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Screenshot from Paterson (Creative Commons/ Flickr)

Jim Jarmusch’s Paterson is Paterson in ways that I never realized something could be Paterson. The film’s star, Adam Driver, plays a bus driver and poet named Paterson, who lives in the city of Paterson, New Jersey, and whose favorite poet is William Carlos Williams (whose epic poem Paterson, is set in the same New Jersey city). The film’s plot is like an onion where each layer peels off to reveal a deeper layer of Paterson. But, unlike an onion, any crying that results from this delayering is less of a chemical reaction and more of an honest emotional response.

The film chronicles one week in the life routine of the eponymous character: he wakes up and goes to work as a bus driver, eavesdropping on the conversations of his passengers, and writing during the brief respites he has just before his shift and during his lunch break. Afterwards, he returns home to his wife Laura, an artist/aspiring cupcake shop owner/aspiring country music star. They share dinner before Paterson walks Laura’s English bulldog Marvin, stopping at his favorite bar for a beer, and makes conversation with the bartender, Doc.

As someone who works part-time and attends school full time, I found myself empathizing with and admiring Driver’s character. Writing within the confines of a daily schedule can often feel like a maddening effort, as I’m sure some of my student and work peers would attest to: on one hand, there is a struggle to decide what to write about, to find inspiration when one is making the same moves, literally, day by day. On the other hand, there is a struggle for time, to carve out a moment to do the physical act of writing. ‘Oh, I really miss it, but I just haven’t had time to write lately,’ or ‘I haven’t done anything worth writing about lately,’ are common excuses I’ve heard from my peers and that I’ve made to both others and myself. While I can still empathize with these sentiments to a certain extent, they are still, at their core, excuses.

Paterson’s life is mundane on the surface level, but his careful observation of his surroundings, most evident in the extended conversations he overhears on his bus, really amplify how poetry and inspiration can come from the most mundane places if one is willing to pay attention. In the aphoristic words of the old man in the electric wheelchair and the sailor hat (who has sometimes attended poetry readings at UConn): “poetry is all around us.” One such conversation Paterson overhears is between two blue-collar construction workers; they talk about women in the way one would expect the stock construction workers to talk about women, but Jarmusch’s careful writing and shooting of the scene show that their conversation is exactly that: all talk. Luis might claim that he hasn’t called Rita, the alleged bombshell, because he wants to make her play the waiting game. However, his hesitant voice and vague details suggest that he likely made up the story to impress his coworker. Jarmusch even includes Paterson’s observation of the young woman who shoots the men a glare just as she gets off the bus, clearly upset by their vocal display of sexist machismo. This, like most scenes in the film, reflect the subtle but calculated craft of Jarmusch that reflect a writer’s observations of the careful moves of daily life, and how inspiration can come from an overheard conversation or even the suggestion of a brief glare.

Recently, I’ve started to believe less in writer’s block and more in my own capacity to be lazy. I am quick to cry “writer’s block!” when someone chastises me for not having written or revised anything, but lately I’ve started trying to break down what that really means. I have a theory that writer’s block, or at least most forms of it, are rooted in laziness about the revision process. For many that write, whether creatively, or for school or work, revision is arguably the most difficult but also the most important part of the process. Because of how difficult it is to revise, I often find myself trying to get a poem or a piece of prose in as perfect a state as possible before committing it as a ‘draft.’ However, writing something perfectly the first time has never happened to me, and I doubt it ever will. Being preoccupied with achieving perfection the first time not only makes it harder to start in the first place, but also makes me lazier about the revision process: if the draft is already so perfect, why put as much effort into revising it? Being lazy about my writing and revising, and being insecure about producing something that isn’t absolutely dazzling (which has happened and will continue) has had serious effects on my writing process. So, I’ve started to conduct an all-out attack on these habits. I’ve started adopting more of a policy of just writing.

As for time, I don’t think that should be an excuse for anyone who wants to write. If one really wants to write they will find time. For Paterson, that time is just prior to work, on his lunch break, and in his study after work or during the weekend. For some professors, I’ve been told that carving out a block of time daily or weekly helps, whether it is first thing in the morning or late at night. Having my schedule relatively booked with attempts at the triadic balance of work, having a social life, and sleeping, I’ve adopted the strategy of always carrying something to write with and write on (paper, cardboard, napkins). I scrounge for any loose minutes or seconds when I get the inkling. It sounds stressful, but I’ve been relatively successful thus far, and I’d encourage similar attempts at others who are frustrated by the same kinds of excuses they come up with for themselves.

Nonetheless, while I can give as much writing advice as I please, there is no way it will apply to everyone. Some of it is acknowledging my own inexperience, the fact that I could change my mind with future experience, but some of it is acknowledging my own privilege when it comes to writing. I still have the advantage of being able to take creative writing classes regularly; the threat of not writing being tied to my GPA. Plus, although I go to school and work to pay for rent and food, I’ve never been at a point where I’ve been poor. I may be low income, but I’ve never gone hungry for stretches of time or homeless or had other people to take care of. I think it’s important to talk about those things when we talk about having to write to make ends meet, or while simultaneously trying to earn a living. A collection of essays edited by Manjula Martin called Scratch: Writers, Money, and the Art of Making a Living involves popular writers speaking frankly about their financial struggles. In an interview with Joseph Frankel, Martin makes note of a kind of “writerly code-switching” that goes on when writers relate their own story of ‘struggle,’ notably commenting on her own story; “I have this narrative of myself as a scrappy college dropout who made it, when in reality, my parents work in a university and have my whole childhood. I was middle-class growing up.”

Paterson (the character) may not be affluent, to the point of hesitating at Laura’s request that they purchase a harlequin guitar, but there is certainly no financial struggle over the course of the film. No bills to pay; no jobs lost. One might wonder how different the character’s relationship with writing might be if he was more actively struggling against different economic barriers.

Nonetheless, I would recommend Paterson. The film’s presentation makes the smaller moments feel that much more profound in the scheme of Paterson’s life. There’s also a fair amount of balance in the film that makes even the minor characters feel well-rounded. Not having a huge cast of one-dimensional characters does wonders to bring the world within the film to life. I was worried at times that the film was going to force a moral message upon me. Paterson, notably, does not have a smartphone and makes mention of it when asked by others, but this movie doesn’t spend time demonizing technology as a new evil that ruins everything. Instead, the decision is balanced in the film, as not having a cell phone in modern day does come with notable disadvantages. I appreciated that the film didn’t try and take a moral high ground; especially because Paterson is about a poet. It could have really run the risk of being pretentious or high and mighty if there was a lesson woven into the story’s conclusion.

Paterson inspired me to rethink my processes and deconstruct the excuses I’ve made for myself with regards to writing. So, in that sense, I can recommend it to writers interested in the portrayal of the day-to-day experiences of a poet who writes primarily for himself. To others, I will recommend it as a quiet journey and celebration of life’s routine.