So here’s the thing, I’ve got baggage. It’s not cute or quirky, and it doesn’t make me a tortured artist. It gets all jumbled together in the front of my brain where I’m trying to sort through the setting description for the fiction I’m writing (well, trying to write).
You may be thinking, “Jennifer, everyone’s got baggage. It’s part of being human. Don’t act like yours is special.” And you’d be right. Everyone’s got baggage. Everyone’s got issues, and that’s why I want to talk about creative nonfiction, or CNF. When I took my first creative writing class and was introduced to CNF, I thought, “The whole reason I write is so I don’t have to think about me. My life is boring. Why would I write about it?” And then I started writing about it.
I wrote about the toxic relationship I had recently left. I wrote about feeling lost without my hometown reputation dictating who I was. I wrote about the deaths I saw on a nearly yearly basis throughout high school. All my baggage came tumbling out of its suitcase, and it felt incredible. I physically felt lighter.
There are many others who have also talked about how writing about our baggage helps to lighten the load. The author of one article explained that the relief of writing it all down doesn’t come from catharsis alone. “I imagine catharsis as an evolutionary adaptation, nature’s mechanism of positive reinforcement. Catharsis feels good, so writers seek to recreate the experience, in this case by continuing to write about troubling experiences. This initial purge can lead to mulling over, which results in new ways of seeing old problems and an evolution of thought.”
Counselors have also weighed in on the topic. One decided he should take his own advice and try creative writing. He ended up sorting through the baggage that 100 hours of counseling hadn’t gotten to. Yet another article stressed that writers in particular could benefit from CNF. It states, “Authors can benefit from this because their jobs are filled with doubt and fear and imposter syndrome and all sorts of feelings that often can’t be expressed, for fear of damaging their brand, or their work or their income.”
Once I started writing about my damage, I couldn’t stop. I wrote letters that I would never send to the people who hurt me. I wrote journal entries to myself, asking my future self if we would be okay, pleading with my past self to hold on, reflecting with my present self if we were really happy. The longer I wrote and let everything spill out onto the page, words and tears alike, the more often I could say, “Yes, Jennifer, we are happy. This isn’t where I thought I’d be, and I’m scared, but I’m happy, and I think, someday, I’ll be okay.”
Creative nonfiction is in no way a substitute for professional help, and I am in no ways an expert. However, CNF helped me, and it helped me a lot. If any of this resonated with you, give it a shot. Go ahead and put your bags down for a bit.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255
Or if you want to see what CNF looks like on the published page, check out Heart Berries by Terese Marie Mailhot
Meet the blogger:
JENNIFER FRITTON is a junior BFA student at Hamline University in St. Paul, MN. She’s working towards a degree in Creative Writing and is looking forward to her retirement in 70 years.
There’s a more than solid chance that you’ve heard of the names J.K. Rowling and Rick Riordan. Or, if you’ve lived under a rock the past two decades, you’ve at least heard of their creations: Harry Potter and Percy Jackson respectively. Bonus if you’ve read both of their series (for Riordan this pertains specifically to his first well known series Percy Jackson and The Olympians) because if you have read them then you’ve probably noticed the three commonalities most of their characters share: straight, white, and cisgender.
The good news? Both authors seem to have realized their mistake. But how they each chose to rectify the situation matters. It’s important to for us as writers, to learn from the reconciliation–to note that the act can sometimes improve the situation, and other times make it worse.
Rowling took to twitter and post publication interviews to provide us with some insight or confirm our suspicions that, most notably Hogwarts had Jewish characters and that Dumbledore is gay. When news first broke, fans were elated that they were being represented in Rowling’s beloved universe. Mass media even cheered and retweeted when Rowling defended Dumbledore’s not-overly-present sexuality in canon because gay people “look like everyone else.”
However, as representation became more common in mass media, Rowling’s post publication edits suddenly became too little, too late. Frustrations from fans seeking representation have now only been heightened as it was recently announced that Dumbledore would not be openly gay in the new Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald movie.
Riordan, on the other hand, put his pen where his problems were, and made certain no one could claim any of his other books were lacking representation. The spin off series to Percy Jackson and the Olympians—titled The Heroes of Olympus—featured a Latino character, a Creole character, a Chinese-Canadian character, a Native American character, and had one of his most popular characters come out as gay. He would later also add a bisexual point of view character, a Muslim character, and a gender fluid character (to name but a few) to his universe.
The final character even earned Rick Riordan the Stonewall Award, an award that recognizes LGBTQ representation in literature. In his acceptance speech, Riordan acknowledged the inherent problem of giving this award to a straight, white, cis male such as himself, but used his speech as a platform to call other authors to action in addition to promising to work harder in his own writing.
Of course, there are plenty out there who would argue that Riordan isn’t doing that great, that he has jumped the shark, that his first series was the best and he’s only writing representation now for the sake of representation (not totally certain what the problem is there, but whatever). What a lot of people don’t know is that even his first story, the super straight and white one, had its roots in representation. See, Percy Jackson started as a story for his son who, like Percy himself, suffered from ADHD and dyslexia. Riordan wanted his son to know that, even with learning deficiencies, he could be a hero, too.
So writing diverse characters to show kids everywhere that they are strong and capable of doing amazing things? That’s kind of always been Riordan’s modus operandi.
This is not meant as a condemnation of Rowling. Really, Rowling probably wouldn’t have any problems if she simply admitted that her books are products of their time. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, the first of the series, was published in 1997. The final book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows, was published over ten years ago, in 2007. In terms of societal change and the rise of representation, that’s a *long* time ago. Rowling can acknowledge this and, as Riordan did, simply promise to do better and use her notoriety to encourage other authors to do so as well, because if the representation isn’t prevalent in canon, then what good is it doing?
Meet the blogger:
SKYLER KANE is a junior at Hamline University studying Creative Writing. Fully under the belief that living just one life is sad and boring, Skyler has found a home in storytelling. She spends her days collecting books, imagining that one day she might see her name on one.
Sometimes finding time to write is tough, especially if you work full-time, or go to school full-time and work a part-time job too. Finding time while doing that is hard, but imagine when you have a child. Time is nonexistent; your day is full of mommy chores and baby stuff. Sometimes writing can’t fit into your schedule, like mine––I work full-time, I’m a student full-time, and a mommy on top of those two things. Trust me, I know it’s hard squeezing in time to write. I know most people’s advice is, “Have a notebook ready or in arm’s reach when you have an idea or something you need to write down before you lose it!” But that’s not always the case. Sometimes having a notebook and pen in arm’s reach isn’t always the solution, because either you’re too busy doing mom stuff, chores around the house, or just plain busy making sure your child doesn’t get into something they shouldn’t.
Mommies, having a child doesn’t mean you no longer have the time to write like you used to have. When it comes to being by yourself and writing to your heart’s content, it means making sure your little human is taken care of and happy. I’ve learned that being with your child and noticing the smaller things can make a beautiful poem that others can enjoy with you. Here are some examples.
Watch a movie with your child and notice how they’re reacting to the movie, the music, and the characters. Do they pick up any mannerisms from the characters in the movie? If so what is it they are mimicking? Use that to make a poem that embodies that moment. Let us, the readers, live through that moment with you, let us feel what you felt when you noticed this smaller thing that most don’t.
This can be an exercise to help with a poem; it helps you notice small details like body movement, and facial expressions. This should get your creative juices running, if it doesn’t then try this exercise next.
I know all of us listen to music no matter what genre, or where it comes from. I listen to whatever music sparks my attention or gives me a feeling that I need to get down in paper. This can also be linked to the first exercise with movies, depending on the movie––many kids’ movies have fun, upbeat music for our little ones to be entertained and not be jumping around (let’s hope, but not always the case) like my daughter, Rocio, who loves Coco because of the music. If a piece of music or lyrics bring something to life inside you or bring back a memory that’s been itching to get out, use that opportunity to write it no matter how messy or sloppy it can get. It can always be cleaned up. No matter what music you use to write with, even try to write to the beat of the song if you can and make it into a spoken word piece. If you can, experiment with the music and writing you are doing while listening to the song.
I actually use music a lot to write some of my pieces, I find sanctuary when it comes to music. It gets me to a place in my head and heart that helps me write what I need to write––not what I necessarily want to write. Later on I add what I want but first I try to write what needs to be written.
Both options can also buy you some quiet time from your child to write some ideas down (if not a whole piece) because they’ll most likely be too entertained from the movie or music. I’ve been doing this with my child and it’s gotten better now that she’s older; she’s able to be entertained for much longer periods of time than when she was a year old. I hope these exercises and prompts help spark a poem or piece that you’ve been wanting to get on paper!
Meet the blogger:
BLANCA CRESPIN is a recent Hamline BFA graduate now studying in the MFA program there. Her current work centers on being a mother and issues influencing her everyday life. Blanca spends her time working at Avalon School, writing, being with her daughter, and waiting for a new adventure to begin.
I remember when I heard Adventure Time was ending. It felt like an invisible hand was squeezing my heart. I stumbled. My vision became blurry. My left arm began to tingle. Everything smelled like burnt almonds. I woke up in a hospital.
But what do you care? You don’t even like Adventure Time.
Adventure Time is so good that it reminds me that someday I will die. In reminding me of my impending last breath, it makes these brief, liminal moments so sweet. Not many shows can make me appreciate being alive. Alas, deep in the loins of my achy, breaky heart, I knew this gem of gems had to end.
Aspiring storytellers take note! Here are just a few reasons why the show is one-of-a-kind:
Totally Righteous – I say righteous with no pretension behind the word. The goodies never bully the downtrodden but are always up for whooping some baddies. If you aren’t aspiring for righteousness then what are you doing?
For Adults – I’ve heard criticisms that the show couldn’t make up its mind if it was for children or adults. That’s a false appraisal. It is an inner-child’s show. It’s a kid’s show, yes, but any self-respecting adult should love it. If you don’t like Adventure Time then obviously the clammy tentacles of this world have suffocated your inner child. You don’t believe in magic.
It’s Honest – Somehow, throughout it all, Adventure Time has been able to never come off as cynical. Unlike you. It never condescends to the audience. The themes can run deep; you’ll be questioning your identity while the show is making a fart joke. And it never sugarcoats the real talk.
Flippin’ Fantastic Characters – What cartoon has characters with an ever-expanding wardrobe!? Just like their clothes, Adventure Time’s characters can change physically (Finn’s lost his arm how many times?), emotionally, even spiritually. Even the baddies worth their salt can realize their mistaken ways. But I forgot that you fear change.
Chances at Redemption & Room to Mature – Finn and Jake were plagued in the early seasons by their nemesis The Ice King. In the episode “Thank You” Finn becomes aware that the Ice King isn’t really bad, just pathetic. At the very end Finn gives the defeated Ice King a kiss on the forehead. After that episode the Ice King still did annoying stuff that totally annoyed Finn and Jake (and countless princesses) but they treated him like a brother – one you could pick on but defend if need be. I’ll do my best to treat you better, but I still don’t trust you.
Chronology – Adventure Time can be enjoyed in any order. Maybe if you’d stop staring at your phone for eleven minutes you’d know that. No other episodic television show, especially a cartoon, has so many permanent changes happen to its characters, yet a newcomer can sit down and watch three random episodes and be completely on the level. It’s that warm ‘n’ gooey spot between lyric and narrative.
Perfect Length – Adventure Time packs a lot of story into eleven minutes. It’s perfect for our short attention spans. Some episodes feel like five minutes and others feel like twenty-five. Even you should be able to handle that.
Perverse – Let’s face it: there’s a lot of kinky imagery in Adventure Time. Does that make you feel uncomfortable? Hopefully it makes you wonder why you’re so uptight about sexuality anyway. There’re even theories that the show is just one big allegory for discovering sex. Let’s just say Freud would be having a field day watching this show.
Schmowzow – There’s so much play in the language and storytelling. The ability to get away with almost anything in this show is greatly owed to the post-apocalyptic-anything-goes fantasy world Pendleton Ward has created. Some episodes are eerie and linger like a Twilight Zone. Some are touching and gentle. But there’s always humor. There’s so much use of off-the-wall ba-naynay words, if you were just able to appreciate the absurd then it all would all make sense.
So, no offense, I just can’t trust you if you don’t like Adventure Time. We live in a bizarre and overwhelming world, Finn the Human and Jake the Dog – though flawed beings – anchor us with their ultimate goodness. I could go on. I didn’t even get to the songs! Adventure Time has a largesse of lessons on how to make a great all-ages story. The more I watch, the better creator, friend, and person I become. You should really give it a try.
What did I miss? Make a comment and express yourself!
Meet the blogger:
NOAH TILSEN is a current student in the BFA program at Hamline University.
Hi, my name is Lauren and I swear. (Sorry, Mom and Dad.) Does it have something to do with my being a writer? Because come to think of it, I don’t think I’ve ever met a writer who doesn’t swear. As my vocabulary has grown larger, the amount of times I’ve been told swearing is unbecoming has increased. So in defense of writers (and non-writers) who swear, I’ve found a list of science-backed studies that show that occasional profanity won’t hurt you. In fact, if used in a healthy environment, it’s even good for you.
Swearing can help reduce pain
A study done by the School of Psychology at Keele University proved people who swear generally have a higher pain tolerance than those who don’t. Other research has hypothesized that swearing can activate your body’s release of natural, pain-relieving chemicals. However, using swearing as a method of pain relief works best when you swear sparingly, so those of us who drop an f-bomb on a regular basis won’t have as much luck. I’ll tell you, I thought I was being really edgy as an eighth grader when I said cleaning a cut was going to hurt like hell, but because I swore, it didn’t. It just hurt. And that was because I said hell.
Swearing is a sign of intelligence
Those who believe that people swear because they don’t know what else to say are incorrect. In fact, a study done in the United States illustrates that people who swear actually have a higher IQ than those who don’t. This is due to the larger vocabulary people who swear tend to have. If you’re interested in testing this out yourself, get a couple of friends together and have them think of as many words beginning with the letters F, A and S as they can in a minute.
Swearing can give you a sense of calm
In an article in Psychology Today, Neel Burton, a psychiatrist based in Oxford, England, explains that swearing can help increase circulation, elevate endorphins, and bring an overall sense of calm, control and well-being. To quote Elle Woods: “Endorphins make you happy. Happy people don’t kill their husbands. They just don’t.” Therefore, the rush of endorphins you get from swearing can make you happy. When you’re happy…well, let’s just say swearing is a good thing.
People who swear might be more honest
In a society where truth is so highly regarded, this is the point that should sway doubters. According to a study done in collaboration between researchers from Maastricht University, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, Stanford, and the University of Cambridge, there is a positive relationship between the use of profanity and degree of truthfulness. In short, the more you swear, the more ways you have to express unfiltered feelings and sincerity.
Let’s face it: writing is a hard profession. It’s mentally and physically taxing and—on occasion—painful. After killing off my favorite character in whom I’ve poured my entire heart and soul, I need a pick me up. And since I’m not old enough to drink, I’ll take the next best option and say fuck.
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.