Writing Outside of Yourself, By Taylor Elgarten

Writing Outside of Yourself, By Taylor Elgarten

Living in a world surrounded by people that don’t quite share your beliefs, you find yourself stopping. Having to write from a perspective that is commonplace to you, but “other” to the person sitting next to you.

I write as a Jewish person. I write from that place of “other”. Usually, in a classroom, I am the only Jewish person.

Here’s what it means to write as a Jewish person in a non-Jewish Community:

It means rewriting your experiences to be understood

More often than not, I write two drafts. The first draft is for me. The second draft is for the reader. For example, I had to write about a summer experience for a class. I chose to write about Shabbat (the sabbath) at the Jewish camp I had gone to every summer for 12 years. The first time I wrote it, none of my classmates had understood what was going on. They would have gotten the gist of the piece, but there was some connection for my classmates who didn’t know what Shabbat is in the Jewish community.

This isn’t the hard part. The hard part is rewriting every. Single. Time.

It means explaining culturally specific words/holidays

When I went back to edit that piece for class I realized that most of the things I wrote about needed explaining. I spent a good chunk of time rewriting about Shabbat in a way a non-Jewish person could understand. I called it Sabbath, the day of rest, instead of Shabbat. I explained what the customs were and why we were doing it, both in the context of camp and in the context of Judaism as a whole.

It means writing to inform

This form of reiteration has provided me with a perspective: how do I write so someone other than me understands my point of view. These rewrites are not authentically “me”, there is always the subtext of education. Before the editing stage, there is an “understanding” stage of making sure that all things said made sense to people outside of that community. Writing for non-Jewish classmates has enabled me to think about context and information outside of my experience.

It means writing yourself as “other”

We all write things to be understood. The subheader of “Jewish” is an ever present part of me that becomes a source of commentary. Shabbat becomes more than this thing that I do. It becomes a difference between me and my classmates. By writing about my Jewishness, I become subject to the commentary of my environment. What my practices mean to non-Jews. How my classmates perceive me.

It means getting the chance to educate

As a person subjected to such commentary, my writing is a platform to provide perspective. The first draft is intended for other Jews that understand and relate to the experiences I have. The second draft is for the uninformed, the audience that I write for because of mere circumstance. The ability to think of myself as “other” allows a sort of educational drive to my writing. Shabbat becomes more than what I did, it becomes a way to let the unknowing in. I am able to teach someone about a different religion just by writing about the things I do in my daily life.

It means being empowered

My writings provide perspective. By writing from a perspective of being “other”, a lot of times I feel as though I’m able to add something for the person reading it. I contribute to their overall knowledge of Judaism through my experiences. I am asked questions a lot, further explanation, “what does this word mean?”, “why do you do this?”, etc. When I write as a Jewish person my writing becomes more than just for myself. And that is empowering.

Meet the blogger:
TAYLOR ELGARTEN is a senior at Hamline University who will graduate with a BFA in Creative Writing. She owns three cats, and will one day open a book and coffee “food” truck.


Seven Gift Ideas For The Poet On Your List, by J.R. Selmi

Seven Gift Ideas For The Poet On Your List, by J.R. Selmi

Whether it’s for an upcoming holiday or a birthday, here are 7 gift ideas for celebrating the main poet in your life—from the unique to the necessary—that they will love.

Empower Tools   

Let them know their poetry is better than that cheap plastic stapler they’ve had since high school. Help them update an essential tool of the poet with a durable metal stapler. Nothing says Your poetry doesn’t suck like a red Swingline.

Give Them the Moon

Thousands of years before the poet in your midst was a twinkle, the ancient greek poet Sappho tilted her white-washed face up to the moon and waited for that next perfect word to come to her. Unfortunately many of her words were lost, leaving us only fragments of her work to drool over. In this same vein, give your poet a fragment of the moon. Buy them one-acre, five-acres, or up to 100-acres of the land that has inspired so many words and emotions since the beginning. http://www.lunarland.com/moon-land.

Indulge Their Vice

Just like any job, writing poetry is work. Help them blow off some mental exhaust by satisfying their vice, whatever it/they may be. You could try a stocking full of scratch-offs, a DQ ice cream cake, or a monthly coffee subscription. Bean Box will send your poet a 12-ounce bag of freshly roasted coffee beans from the independent small-batch roasters of Seattle, a place world famous for its coffee and literary scene. A happy worker is a productive worker.

Give Them Balls

Keep your poet’s writing hand strong and mind sharp with Baoding Balls, the original fidget spinner. You probably already know what these are as they go by a number of other names, such as Chinese Meditation Balls and Chinese Stress Balls, but do you know their exact purpose? These balls first appeared in China during the Ming Dynasty and were constructed with iron. Today, they are made of other materials besides iron, but the same concept still applies, and that is the idea of balancing internal life energies by way of the Yin and Yang philosophy. This is achieved by rotating the Baoding balls around each other in your palm, first clockwise and then counterclockwise. As a bonus to balancing your innards, it couples as a good exercise for your hand, strengthening your mechanical writing muscles.

Make Them Glow

Flatter your poet by framing their most revered personal work, or if you can’t get ahold of a copy without raising suspicion, frame a poem from any poet that you know has inspired them. This extra layer of thought will be apparent to your dear poet, as you, the gift-giver, must make detailed decisions about the right poem, paper, color, font, frame, etc. The extra time spent on this gift might just get you written into their next poem.

Give Them a Nostalgic Thrill

An easy gift for a poet is always a journal, but, let’s be honest, it’s boring. Change that notion with a locking journal to make writing feel criminal again. Go with a combination lock to keep street-sophisticated moms, and others, from picking the lock with ease, thereby giving the author’s thoughts peace of privacy until they’re ready to go public in a poem.

Introduce Them

Further cement the connection to their big literary family by giving your poet a subscription to a literary journal. Do you know if they’ve submitted their work to any journals? If so, that might be a good one to subscribe them to. If not, try to pick a journal that you feel represents their own aesthetic. This gift option doubles your impact of giving by providing your poet with the gift of a year-long subscription while also providing the journal with financial support to continue operating—a give and take that will keep both writer and publisher going strong into the future.

Meet the blogger:
J.R. SELMI is a poet in her final year at Hamline University. She was raised in an all-women, tri-generational household and added a fourth with her daughter, which, to say the least, gives her a unique perspective.


A Case for Fanfiction, By Kaitlin Hatman

A Case for Fanfiction, By Kaitlin Hatman

Fanfiction has a certain stigma in the literary community as being Less Than original works, written by tweens with Mary Sue’s and self inserts, or just riddled with typos and clichés, but it fulfills two very specific purposes in the lives of young writers and consumers.

1. Fanfiction is a safe place for young writers to practice writing

Putting your work online for a new or young writer is a dangerous game. You risk ridicule and even harassment in some cases.  But in exchange for the safety of anonymity, there is no better place to test drive your writing than in online communities. Unfortunately, a lot of them can be… well, snobby. Especially if you’re a young writer, especially if you don’t know “the rules” yet, and especially if you’re writing original fiction or, God forbid, poetry.

Fanfiction communities offer a special kind of respite for young and new writers where anything goes.   

It also gives young writers the unique ability to play around in a sandbox they didn’t have to build themselves. It teaches consistency, forces writers to think about the development of a character’s arc in its source material as they write about that character, as well as the rules of the world that character lives in.

2. Fanfiction gives young readers representation they are not getting in source materials

When I think about what draws people to fanfiction, what’s drawn me to fanfiction in the past, it’s almost always because I want to see something on the page (or on the screen as the case may be) that I was not given in the source material.

At its very root, this desire is expressed in the self-insert cliché; fanfiction authors who insert themselves into their favorite fictions to try and bring themselves closer to the story. But this concept is mirrored in slash fiction. Queer and trans youth almost never get to see themselves represented in mass media without either being a villain, killed, tortured, or otherwise emotionally or physically abused. So what do they do? Turn to fanfiction, where queer representation is bountiful and presented in every different genre you could possibly imagine, and where trans representation is on the rise.

Sure, there is occasionally a trope ridden heteronormative fic here and there written by some straight white girl who is getting off on “the gays,” but more and more these types of fanfictions are disappearing as queer communities in fandom become more prominent and vocal about harmful tropes.

At the end of the day, fanfiction, just like any other genre of fiction, is a mixed bag. Often, the fanfictions that make it big in the world at large (I’m looking at you, Fifty Shades of Grey) are the worst representations of what fanfiction has to offer because fanfiction, at its core, is about filling the holes left behind in mass media’s idea of representation.

Instead, here is some suggested reading for those who still feel critical of fanfiction better understand its many merits:

Meet the blogger:
KAITLIN HATMAN is an extraterrestrial living in secret on planet earth. She is a poet and fiction writer, occasional artist, and smalltime podcaster who loves dogs and D&D. Once, she met Hulk Hogan at a Perkins.

 

Write What You Know: The Benefits of Journaling, By Alex Werner

Write What You Know: The Benefits of Journaling, By Alex Werner

Every single person that will come across this post is guaranteed to understand stress, be it in their work, their studies, their schedules, or their relationships with others. Recently, I have had some trouble with each of these and I found additional stress in trying to juggle them all. It was after the sudden passing of one of my family members that I rediscovered the importance of journaling, which used to be one of my main outlets for handling stress. Whether your forte is fiction, creative nonfiction, or poetry, I believe there is potential for journaling to become a starting point for any genre.

  • Catharsis. Personal journaling is, to me, an incredibly cathartic experience. Like with any project, getting my thoughts down on paper helps to clear my head and organize my thoughts in a constructive way. The main inspiration for this blog post was actually an event I felt the need to write down my thoughts for: the funeral of for my great aunt. I had a lot to chew on from the stress of starting school and the sudden news of her passing, and on the day of the event I had moments where I was feeling reflective and found the need to write down my thoughts once I had the chance. Putting my focus into writing kept my thoughts from becoming too overwhelming. In a way I was able to say the things that I needed to.

 

  • Point of View. I’ve been keeping sporadic journals throughout the course of my life, the most frequent being from around the time when I was in middle school. I look back on these and marvel at the way in which I used to write, including how I found the need to write in code sometimes on the off-chance my journals would be discovered by someone else. Now, as a writer at the age of 20, I sometimes find it difficult to recapture a voice meant to be from a younger perspective. That is where holding onto old pieces of writing can come in handy: in a sense I have captured my past self in words. Even if you haven’t kept any works from as far back as I did, there is still potential to start journaling the thoughts of your current self and use that to draw from in the future. Perhaps there will come a time where your mentality shifts, such as a mind-frame that comes from the loss of a loved one–it can sometimes be hard to capture that voice from raw memory.

 

  • Remembering Events. This may be obvious, but it is still worth mentioning. It can be extremely beneficial to write down events that seem important as they occur. Personally I have trouble looking back even a few years ago to try remembering what happened to me and how I might have felt about it. The past has a tendency to become muddy, or can become affected by hindsight: for example, I can remember some details about my first breakup, but without consulting the things I wrote down about it I can’t even ground myself in which specific year that it took place. Was it the year I was on the speech team or the year I joined the strategy game club at school? All three of these events have a lot of weight to me, but I only know when one of them occurred. There is also merit in keeping track of events should you ever be asked to record autobiographical information; I believe that the more grounded in time you are for that, the better.

 

  • Inspiration. Always write down the things that come to you or inspire you. This has less to do with “personal” journaling and more with keeping an ideas journal. I imagine most writers out there have this in some form or another but I would like to emphasize my personal belief that a writer should have something to write on/in at all times. Inspiration can come in the strangest of ways and can also disappear at a moment’s notice. I found my latest inspiration at a funeral, feeling motivated to jot down my thoughts on the program as soon as I could get my hands on a pen. When I got home after the event, I typed up some paragraphs that were reminiscent of a CNF piece, even though I usually write fiction. Whichever route I choose to go, I have the material that I need to make something meaningful.

 

I encourage everyone to consider journaling as a tool to help better their writing. While you may not need it as a stress reliever like I do, there is still benefit in using it to organize your thoughts and tie down fleeting ideas. If you write what you know, you can’t go wrong; and I’d argue that journaling your current thoughts, feelings, and perceptions will reflect what you know best.

Meet the blogger:
ALEX WERNER is currently a junior studying creative writing at Hamline University. Her focus is fiction and she enjoys the fantasy sub-genre the best. In what free time she has, she likes to draw and hopes to be able to provide illustrations for her writing in the future. Her dream is to eventually publish her own novel.

5 Ways to Survive (And WRITE!) in Our Political Climate with a Sense of Humor, By Alex McCormick

5 Ways to Survive (And WRITE!) in Our Political Climate with a Sense of Humor, By Alex McCormick

As we all know, the last year has been a trying time for Americans who care about their own future well-being, and it can be hard to feel safe in a country where the fan-favorite former host of Celebrity Apprentice’s main political strategy, is to fire those around him who fail to do his job well enough for him. Luckily, we are all equipped with pens that are possibly the most useful weapons for fighting our fears and foes. Writing and humor provide necessary catharsis and release of tension in our day to day lives. Psychologists who have researched humor have identified 3 primary theories of why people find something funny – incongruity, superiority, and relief. Aspects of each of these theories can be identified in most humorous literature, and can be used easily within your own writing as well if you understand how they work. Here are 5 examples of how to do so.

1. Make a trip to McSweeney’s website. They publish a unique blend of humorous hybrid-genera works such as “The Coffin Industry Proudly supports the Graham-Cassidy Health Care Bill” by Matthew Disler and “Six Pillows I Screamed Into After Learning My Preschooler Has To Participate In Active Shooter Intruder Drills” by Hayley Deroche that are sure to add some fun to your day. Then, write your own humorous short-form essay. Try taking an absurd persona as Disler did, or use hyperbolizing a personal fear in a relatable way as Deroche did, in order to create a humorous but educational discussion about a serious topic.

2. Once a day, choose a part of a politician’s appearance or character that you find ugly, funny, annoying, or just downright weird. Write it down. Make fun of it. Like really just dig into the powdery cheese exterior of that factory defect Cheeto. What does this have to do with politics? You may be asking yourself. Nothing. That’s the point.

3. Catch up on your politics for the week by watching a political satire monologue. John Oliver and Trevor Noah provide great examples of how to be humorous while still getting your point across. Then pick an issue that angers, perplexes, or upsets you, and try writing your own monologue. Incongruity and absurdity are your best friends here, however, don’t be afraid to throw in an immature joke (possibly from the prompt in section 2) to keep things light. Few people are too moral to laugh at someone else’s expense if it’s for the sake of feeling better.

4. We live in an age where conflicts of ethics and morality polarize people. Sometimes it’s possible to laugh about it. Science fiction comedies like Rick & Morty are a good place to look for examples of this type of scene. The two main characters have the ability to travel between any planet or dimension, which allows the writers of the show infinite opportunities to compare the moral compass of the protagonists, with the moral compass of people and societies they meet that aren’t limited to earth-like realism. Create a scene in which two characters discuss moral differences.

5. It has already been stated that creating a fictional universe can provide a writer with many opportunities to create absurd humor, however, there’s no reason the universe can’t be humorous in itself. As previously mentioned Rick & Morty flash through many different realities sometimes for full episodes, sometimes for only one scene and a few seconds at a time. However, if you are looking for more expansive universes, many of Terry Pratchett’s books take place on a fictional planet called Discworld. Discworld is half what it sounds like – a large flat disc that his various protagonists can all live on and fall off if not careful. The unexpected half is that the disc rests on top of the backs of 4 elephants who stand stationary on top of a gigantic turtle that floats aimlessly through the universe. Create your own bizarre planet and/or universe in the form of a setting description. What are the rules of this universe? Who or what lives there? Is there government, gravity, or god? The options are endless.

Meet the blogger:
ALEX McCORMICK is a poet, songwriter, and musician from Minneapolis, MN. His poetry is experimental in form, incorporating found texts that are later annotated, transcribed speeches and fake documents like resumes and letters. All are primarily tools used to create political satire and philosophical discussions. Alex’s other passion is playing and writing music, and currently performs with Minneapolis based indie rock band Sass, as well as several others. He is a senior at Hamline University, with a major in Creative Writing and a minor in English.

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