There is a box, buried deep in my closet that contains easily hundreds of letters I have received over the course of my life – from pen pals, for birthdays, from kids I’ve babysat, even the occasional scrap of paper with a scrawled sentence passed to me in class. I will be the first to admit that it’s a bit of a pack-rat tendency to hang onto all these letters, but there is something charming and nostalgic that keeps me from ever willingly being able to part with them.
Perhaps I am overly-sentimental, but there’s an often unnoticed beauty in a handwritten letter that is slowly dwindling away in the rise of much more efficient forms of communication. Why sit down to laboriously write out a letter to someone that will take days to even get to them? There is certainly no longer much logic to it, but there is a lost art.
I have found that it can be deeply personal to receive a handwritten letter. In an age where everything is being transformed to the peak of hyper-efficiency, knowing someone took the time to find some paper or a card, whip out a pen and write a note solely for my eyes can be more meaningful than a quick text message or email. Beyond that, the importance does not dwindle with time. As I look through dozens of letters, there’s still an excitement in unfolding paper that has become soft at the edges, reading old letters I’ve already read, learning again what someone wanted to tell me.
Beyond that, I love the uniqueness of handwriting. I’ve heard countless people say that they hate their handwriting or that it’s terrible. I argue that no handwriting is truly terrible. Even the near illegible handwritings that take a bit of deciphering are wonderful, because they are just like humans – consistently different. Handwriting could even romantically be looked at as a physical expression of their personality.
To those who may argue that they never know what to write in a letter, I am well acquainted with that prick of anxiety when staring at a blank page and realizing that you have no idea what you want to say to that person. But I also have a “letter” buried in my cardboard box that is just my name written about thirty times all over the page and it still makes me smile when I see it. Sometimes it doesn’t have to be the eloquence of the words we write, but rather the gesture of human kindness in written form. Beyond that, as much creative energy you use to write a story or a poem could easily go into writing a letter. Just because you have a much smaller audience doesn’t mean you can’t make artistic choices in your creation.
As writers, we have the opportunity to utilize our love for the written word and create messages to those important to us – to uplift them, to tell them a story, or just to make them laugh. With the holidays approaching and the wallets of students always too thin, maybe a handwritten letter could take the place of a gift. Maybe the joy found in receiving a letter is not universal, but there are those who would deeply appreciate the gesture and perhaps you never know until you try.
Meet the blogger:
MOLLY JOHNSON lives and writes in the Twin Cities. She is a graduate of Hamline University, with a BFA in Creative Writing. She was awarded the 2018 HU Broadside Award in Fiction and is now pursuing her writing career outside of college.
Do you remember a dream you’ve had?
Maybe you’re standing on top of a high place, or maybe you’re sitting on your bed and it’s teetering on a point. This sense of dread fills your stomach; your lungs are petrified as you wait and anticipate the inevitable fall that will occur. And yet, the anticipation never truly prepares you for when you do fall. It’s a fingersnap, a case of bad whiplash, and you find yourself jerked awake from sleep.
Maybe you’re stuck in a recurring pattern. Every night you close your eyes, you transport to a location, a person, or an event that you’ve been to previously. The feeling of recognition as you enter, the annoyance that bubbles through your veins as you try to leave only to come back around to where you began. Or maybe the sense of déjá vu tingles your senses as you traverse the familiar area.
Perhaps you’re lucid dreaming, stuck in the grey area between sleep and waking life. This is where you have the greatest amount of control; you make the conscious effort to interact with your subconscious environment. You know that you are dreaming but there is fun in the thought of ‘physically’ playing with your imagination, although Mary Ruefle says in her book, On Imagination, that “…the imagination is not what you play with, the imagination plays with you,” (7).
Associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard University, Robert Stickgold, says “In the broadest sense, dreams mimic a critical stage in creativity: brainstorming a range of possibilities, or what psychoanalysts call free association.”
Even in sleep, you take creativity to new levels. Those range of possibilities? They come from all your memories from that day as they coalesce together in your dreams and twist to create entirely unique t scenes and dialogues.
Or maybe you don’t dream at all. It’s a dark void, a black hole, that happens every night. Could it be you simply don’t remember? Quite possibly you do remember some snippets of your dream only for it to disappear within the first five minutes of waking up.
Maurice Sendak, quoted in an article by Flavorwire, says “‘What dreams do is raise the emotional level of what I’m doing at the moment. They add color or counterpoint to the work, acting as an almost symphonic accompaniment to what I’m doing.’”
Your feelings, actions and reactions, things you heard, saw, smelled; all of it becomes the physical representation of your metaphysical dreams. It’s the blank spaces in a journal sitting near your bedside where you can attempt to word vomit everything you can possibly remember about your dreams.
As soon as you wake up, your journal should be the first thing you grab. You may frantically scribble to capture those last wisps of your nocturnal imagination. Or a simple sentence is all you record, the last taste that lingers on your tongue. Does it matter what type of journal? A spiral notebook, an ornately covered diary, post-it notes stuck onto a hanging board, or even fragments of your voice in audio files on your phone can all be considered for your dream journal. You decide what form your dream journal will take.
It will become a pool of resources that you draw from for creativity. Just like your writing journal, your dream journal will be full of thoughts and ideas that are just waiting to be used. The personal emotions and actions that you have recorded are transferable to characters within your stories. After all, dreams (and even nightmares) can be considered the creative imagination of your subconscious brain can they not? And following all this, what dreams do you remember?
Meet the blogger:
SANDRA VANG recently graduated from Hamline University with an English major (concentration in creative writing) and a minor in Chinese. When she’s not writing or reading, she is spending her time hanging with friends somewhere in a corner. Currently, she is working on a few short stories and microfiction.
After binge watching the second season of Netflix’s original series GLOW: Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling, I was so drawn to (and distracted by) these women of the ring that my fan fiction(?) brain, started to imagine who their literary role models might be. I feel compelled to share my list so that we all may find inspiration from the. . . GLOW: Gorgeous Ladies of Writing.
Character: Ruth Wilder
Ruth is so traditional in her way of thinking, but she loves to break the rules. She believes she does everything correct, but is the first to apologize when she does something wrong. For these reasons, I think she would enjoy Jane Austen’s work, focusing on the feminine aspects of 18th century British nobility (not to mention the occasional themes and handling of infidelity).
Character: Debbie Eagan
Debbie is a bull headed woman that isn’t entirely rational. She is hard to negotiate with, a master at getting what she wants, and is prone to making rash decisions to fix temporary problems with permanent solutions. Daphne du Maurier is a romantic novelist I think Debbie would love if for no other reason than her quote, “women want love to be a novel, men a short story.”
Character: Sheila the She-Wolf
Sheila is by far the most mysterious one of the group. Her keen senses and acute relationship with nature makes her a character of curiosity and very memorable. Victorian era writer George Eliot is a great writer that seems to reflect similar characteristics: a nature enthusiast, feels as if she is one with animals, and is just trying to teach her readers self understanding.
Character: Tamme Dawson
Despite her controversal wrestling character, Tamme is a woman with lots of love to give. She recognizes the flaws her character depicts but decides to own it rather than let it own her. As a single mother trying to raise her son to stand up for what he believes in, I think she would recommend Maya Angelou.
Character: Melanie Rosen
Party girl Melanie is very outgoing and ready for anything. Her open sexuality and feminist point of view makes her a very personable character and relatable to many viewers. Her sarcasm and sense of humor are very similar to that of Erica Jong, who pushed the boundaries of modern feminism back in the 70s with her novel Fear of Flying.
So yes, by all means, watch the show; it’s fun. But then consider picking up a book by one or two of these characters’ writing doppelgängers; the bad ass women of writing.
Meet the blogger:
ALEXA CALLIGURI recently graduated from Hamline University. She won Hamline’s Broadside Award for CNF in Spring 2018. She lives in Lonsdale, Minnesota, where she is made fun of for taking things out of the trash and putting them in the recycling bin.
Unfortunately, we’ve all been there. You want to write, draw, put together a collage, compose your next symphony—but nothing comes out. The inspiration is there, the excitement, the drive, but the idea well has run dry and your bucket is just coming up with a whole bunch of dust. It sucks.
Fortunately, we’ve all been there. Plenty of other people before you have had to figure out how to work in spite of this exact problem, and in the information age we live in, it’s easier than ever to find a solution. Personally, I’ve got three go-to methods to generate ideas:
#1: The List of Cool Stuff
Last semester, I was lucky enough to be in a class that brought in fantasy novelist Steven Brust as a guest speaker. He was witty, frank, and full of good advice for beginning writers like myself. His Cool Stuff Theory of Literature is the thing from that lecture that stuck with me the most: I hadn’t realized yet that I was allowed to write about stuff that I found cool just because I found it cool.
Taking that theory to heart, I made a numbered list over this past summer when I was feeling equal parts creative and frustrated. It started as tropes and scenes in the novels that I liked, to try to figure out how to make my own writing that cool. It evolved past that, though—items on the list got less and less specific, had less and less to do with literature, and became a general list of things that I liked. It is now 82 items long and counting, ranging from “Making friends with things you should not be friends with” and “Prophecies that may or may not be self-fulfilling” to “Moss” and “A well-worn leather jacket”. I try to add something new whenever I think of the list.
This is where the idea generation part comes in: when inspiration strikes but my brain remains unresponsive, I find a random number generator and ask it for anywhere from 3-7 numbers. I go to my list, look at those items, and figure out a way that they would fit together in a coherent plot. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, but it always makes me think and kickstarts the creative part of my brain.
This also works wonderfully as a game if you’ve got writer friends; get your 5ish numbers, set a timer for 15 minutes, and say go. Everyone writes something, scene or outline, that has to use all of the items on the list. Sharing the outlandish ideas that you put together in 15 minutes is bound to make you laugh, and some of the things you come up with might actually be worth a second look. Bonus points for creativity!
#2: Daydreaming with a Soundtrack
Soundtracks are instrumental to a good moviegoing experience (pun intended), so why not try to add that to your writing? Original scores are meant to enhance the emotion of a scene, so the music is a story of its own. Put on the score for your favorite movie or video game and close your eyes for a minute. Imagine what kind of scene would go with the song you’re listening to. Get to writing it as quick as you can, even if it’s just describing an image or a landscape. Let the music dictate what you write. If you don’t like what you come up with for the first song, put the album on shuffle and try again, or find a different album. If you do this enough, you’ll have several little scene starters—maybe one of them will grab your attention.
If you don’t know enough about movie or video game scores to know where to start, here are a few of my favorites. If you’re like me and pay a lot of attention to soundtracks in the movies you like, you might want to choose a score from something unfamiliar for this activity, or else you’ll hear the first notes of Aunt Marge’s Waltz from Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban and all you’ll be able to think of is that story. If that’s the case, you could also do this with instrumental music that isn’t a soundtrack—here are some suggestions for you if you want to go down that path. Good luck and happy listening.
#3: When In Doubt, Prompts
We all know about this one. There are thousands of blogs and sites where you can find or generate writing prompts online, and those are just as viable as coming up with your own ideas—anything that gets you writing works. There’s bound to be a page dedicated to posting writing prompts on your preferred form of social media, be that twitter or facebook or instagram or tumblr or something different. Follow those pages, look through the prompts, find something that grabs your attention. There’s bound to be at least one that interests you. Take the idea and run with it.
Have any fun methods that I missed? Suggestions for other struggling writers? Feel free to share with us in the comments below.
Meet the blogger:
MEGYN JOHANSON is a creative writing major at Hamline University. In addition to reading, she likes studying languages, playing tabletop games, and asking offbeat questions. She wants to know what color your legs would be if they had to be a different color than the rest of your body.
They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us
Reviewed by LAUREN STRETAR
For a collection centered around the anger, violence, and death in America, each essay in They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us is profoundly focused on life. In this poignant and timely work, Abdurraqib uses music and culture as a lens to view the chaotic landscape of the country. With essays ranging from Carly Rae Jepson and the spectacle of emotion to the way kindness is ascribed to black culture, each subject is a gateway into exploring themes that have long divided this country: race, religion, and what it truly means to be an American.
Structured around the night Marvin Gaye sang the National Anthem at the NBA All-Star Game in 1983 and the July 3rd fireworks in Columbus, Ohio, each section of essays is astute, provocative and emotional. His writing ranges from rants to personal anecdotes about being a black Muslim in a country that celebrates whiteness, a powerful combination that has the potential to shake the nation to its core. In simple terms, it will break readers’ hearts before building them back up with the knowledge they are still living.
With a tone that is both conversational and critical, Abdurraqib’s essays invite each reader into his world. Readers are with him as he shoots baskets to a crowd of none, with him as he enjoys a concert, with him as he later learns that while he was living, Trayvon Martin was killed for wearing a hood. His background in poetry aids him in crafting strong, effective prose that weaves together lyrics, history, and cultural significance that is impossible to ignore.
“By the time Marvin gets to ‘…bombs bursting in air…,’ you can see his hands finally stop shaking. A rhythmic clap begins from the audience. I watch fireworks in July 2013. Two weeks later, George Zimmerman walks free and Trayvon Martin is still dead.” (120)
The very nature of Abdurraqib’s prose is soothing and provocative. His mastery over first and last lines makes them hard to be forgotten. They demand attention and thought, and the time spent reflecting on them is not undeserved. The middle, while occasionally falling flat for those who don’t intimately know the subject of the essay, is tied together with each cutting final line.
While readers who don’t know Lil Boosie from Webbie, or can’t distinguish the members of Fleetwood Mac may be disoriented during parts of the collection, Abdurraqib’s specificity arms him with an exquisite command that demands trust. It’s hard not to trust his recollections when he always treats his subjects as human first and uses intimate details of their life. The readers might not know who they are, but he does, and that feels like enough.
As a whole, They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us is a journey through 2016. It’s about the deaths that shattered the country. It’s about the communities that rose up against the violence. It’s about learning how to once again be uncomfortable.
It is about learning to see the fireworks in a landscape buried in bullets.
Meet the blogger:
Lauren Stretar is a current BFA student at Hamline University. She is primarily a fiction writer, and currently drafting her first novel. When not writing, you’ll find her in the kitchen baking.