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.

Embarrassing First Lines

By: Sydney Lauro

A few years ago, my mom found an old composition notebook of mine from when I was a wee tike. In it, there was one entry that struck her. It said something like: “Meghan (my sister) says if I try hard one day I might write good.” Even little me knew that I wanted to be a novelist. The phases of me wanting to be a pediatrician, an architect, a buyer / business lady wouldn’t last. What parent wouldn’t be proud of their kid throwing away money and stability for books and an inevitable prescription for glasses?

Well, my mom was thrilled. She had read every crappy novel I ever wrote, and she was still like, “Go, Sydney! Live your dream!”

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(Creative Commons/ Flickr)

And I believe that she was right to do so. I’ve come a long, long way. It’s a history I’m both mortified and thrilled to share. So, here goes:

It all began a long time ago with a fantasy novel I wrote and re-wrote a few times before finishing. It’s called Sarma. The first line was: “The rain soaked my auburn hair, and the tiny droplets of water destroyed my fabulous silk robes.” Yikes. A little melodramatic, and not very original or interesting. But hey, at least I didn’t write a character exactly like me. Auburn hair and fab silk robes? That ain’t me.

When I was 13, I was still a little stuck. In a book labeled “Love Story 2009,” we get: “The raindrops were like bullets ricocheting off the mansions rooftop.” Rain again? This was also back when I was thinking, “wow love stories are the way to go.”

The same year I decided to write something called To the Stars With Difficulty (who knows why that title) and I diverged from the rain trope, electing to go with: “My name is Cadence, Cadence Morgan Foxwood.” While I admit that’s a great name, it’s no call to read. There’s nothing at stake. What’s to separate Cadence Foxwood from Alex Chase? Carmody Evans? She might as well be Jane Doe. Jane Doe might even be more interesting.

’09 must have been a big year for me because I also started a project called Dreamweaver. “The Suburban street flashed by outside the car window, and I ducked down, out of sight, from the children playing foolish games like street hockey and tag.” Oh those hooligans! Playing street hockey? And tag? The nerve! I think it’s obvious that teenage me had some angst and wasn’t the most social creature (I mean, I wrote the greater part of three books that year).

The next year brought even more angst. The Shoes of Jennifer Satchet began a little like “Junior year is not something worth looking forward to.” Poor young Sydney. She was only a freshman and already dreading junior year. I still couldn’t separate my emotions from my writing and couldn’t put myself in the mind of other people.

And there’s a whole era of these self-obsessed, cliché, trite, boring, bored, depressed, self-loathing novels. There’s With Yet Stronger Reason, which I’m pretty sure is about this time-traveller dude who is miserable and depressed until he meets this chick Misty. Boring.

BOOK – MUSIC is about two musicians at a highly competitive school being depressed together. And somehow learning the Japanese language is involved.

WALKING BOOK is something about how King Aldrous the Mighty (yeah, that’s right) was an asshole and these people became outcasts in society.

But then there’s a breakthrough. I never titled this one, but it’s called “humanoids, dystopia novel,” and I started it in 2011 when I was 16.

“I remember my father telling me we had all but won.” That’s not half bad. So they lost? Lost what? Why did your dad tell you that? What’s the story? It evokes some curiosity, it has nothing to do with my little teenage life, it doesn’t involve rain or being depressed, and I had finally written a strong main character who wasn’t sad all the time. But more importantly, I found my aesthetic: social commentary. ‘Humanoids, dystopia novel’ is about different species of human emerging over time and how they are discriminated and hunted by the regular humans. So yeah, still a little angsty, but it was a direct commentary on things I was seeing in the world. Things I wanted to create a conversation about. Break. Through.

I took a hiatus for a little bit, but I came back strong with the next book. This project turned into a trilogy. And I actually finished every single one.

The Garden of Eden: The prologue begins “The Earth is, or was, or was meant to be, paradise.” (Ooh what does that mean?) And chapter one starts with some anonymous narrator asking, “Can I show you something?”

The Earth King: “It was said that the valley below the escarpment was something truly beautiful.”

The Man and His Star: “Men would later say that there was a first cause to the universe.”

Getting better, right?

I’m now writing my thesis, which is a novel. Its prologue starts, “His fingers snapped, crisply popping, though it felt more like metal kernels of popcorn exploding through the joints in his hand.” I admit this was not the original first line because even that was bad. In fact, chapter one became chapter two, and then I still decided to add a prologue to bury the original first sentence. It goes to show that writing is this constantly evolving process that’s never really finished or perfect.

I’m already writing ahead, trying to figure out what my next book will be, because what looking back at these crappy first lines tells me is that I’m growing exponentially. I’m growing so fast that I can’t even finish a book before outgrowing the beginning.

It’s important to look at this hilarious progression of first-sentences. It’s important to remember how bad you were once but that hard work pays off. Great writers don’t become that way overnight.