Posts Tagged 'Creative Writing'

Airport Exercises for Writers

Being something of a shy girl, you’d think that airports would overwhelm me the same way that theme parks and state fairs do. But airports are some of my favorite places, especially the teeny tiny local ones and the big international ones. They’re a writer’s dream: basically a full cast of characters to pick and choose from.

Airport Exercises for Writers

Look at the makeup of the crowds waiting at each gate. Study the general differences between gates and imagine what that says about the place. For example: On my recent flight, there was a disproportionately high presence of camo and hunting boots at the gate to Akron, OH.

Try to guess who’s visiting that place and who’s flying home. A lot of the people flying from Denver to Ohio had small babies. It turns out that a lot of young couples move to Colorado, but have to take the baby to visit their parents back East. Maybe this shows that we as a culture still have an idealized view about “moving out West” to make a fresh start, or to get away from family…

When you book your flight, schedule a leisurely layover. Think about it this way: you may spend a whole day in airports but you won’t rush to catch a flight, and you can use the extra time as professional development. Grab a drink at the bar, set up in a central area, and…

Watch. Airports are emotional places. People say goodbye, part ways, start new lives, reunite with old friends. Watch those stories unfold, and make sure to record as much detail as possible.

Eavesdrop. People don’t really read anymore when they’re waiting for a flight; they talk on their phone. Oftentimes, they talk about the trip from which they’re returning (or on which they are embarking). On my flight back to Colorado, a group of six black women with leopard-print luggage, obviously close friends, were discussing their friend’s son who had either a) committed suicide or b) been institutionalized (couldn’t quite figure out which). Apparently this kid’s dad had experienced similar problems, and they wondered if it was genetic; mostly, they talked about how their friend (the mother) should have dealt with the situation, and how she should deal with it now.

Use your flight to write. It’s the ideal setup for a writer: no internet for distractions, a handy tray that doubles as a desk, and snacks served right to you.

A College Career in Journals

My senior year of high school, I carried a moleskine notebook with me at all times. I was slowly (and painfully) detaching myself from high school, and I didn’t speak much that year– everything went into the book. It was sort of a compulsion, really: I had this tiny, meticulous handwriting, and I wrote in complete, cohesive sentences, often in essay-style. I copied down every quote that was meaningful to me, every conversation I overheard, nearly every unique thought that passed through my mind. And I neatly pasted in every receipt, ticket stub, every scrap of paper that I came across. My doodles were always photo-realistic, never imaginative. Looking back on it now, I see that year as a process of collecting the disparate scraps of myself before leaving for college.

So then, the turning point: I went to see a film with my dad, and my bag was stolen from under my seat. With my journal in it.

…and I learned the very important lesson, that you should always keep yourself whole enough to survive a stolen book.

Catharsis

I think my mistake was trying to make it honest and beautiful at the same time. I remember writing down horribly secret things that I had never spoken or written before: mortified, and brutally protective of the book afterwards. That honesty was necessary, but I had to set a lot of very restrictive boundaries for writing at the time: I only wrote in pencil, because I didn’t want to see any crossed-out mistakes. I would erase and re-erase until I had accurately articulated the feeling, event or thought that I wanted to convey. If I forgot to paste a ticket stub in, I felt furious– like something was missing and the book was incomplete. And I never allowed myself to go back and read my earlier writing.

After that book was stolen, I didn’t journal for my entire first year at college. It was too painful, and I was exhausted. I didn’t have the energy to put my life together so compactly again.

As it turns out, that painful transition was a Seriously Great Thing. For the first time in my life, I really embraced the place that I was in (which is to say, college). I explored it. I introduced myself to people, I put myself out there, I took risks. I cut my hair off. I got straight A’s, fell in love, twice, and began to see myself better, and more clearly. Basically, I put my energy into my life instead.

Back to the Book

But let’s face it, I’m a creative writing major: I need some paper in my life. I transferred schools, feeling infinitely grateful to my first college and peaceful about leaving it. This time, when I returned to the habit of writing things down, I began using a pen. Which meant I crossed things out, a lot, and my handwriting was larger and looser. I also discovered how inferior moleskine paper is.

And this time, I tried to be okay with leaving things out. I sought a balance between living my life, and distilling it onto paper. I reconnected with the art of writing itself, received my first fountain pen from my dad, and began to think more critically about the environmental impact of being a writer…

I can’t say that my three years of living at Kenyon were more meaningful than my first year at Hollins. But I can say that (slowly and consciously) I began to integrate writing into my life in a healthy way– a way that I could see playing into my future and my profession.

And shucks, it does feel nice to look at that stack of notebooks and know that my tumultuous, rewarding college career is messily contained within it.

I Am Officially A Paid Writer!

I suppose I can officially call myself a Professional Writer now. The top check is for the George B. Ogden prize for best essay in English prose, and the bottom check is for the Academy of American Poetry Prize.

So, if my blog entries have been lacking text lately, it’s because I’ve been channeling it elsewhere!

Tell Me, What’s An Artist To Do With A Gift?

No matter what the “answers” are, a good place to start looking is in Lewis Hyde’s “The Gift: Creativity and the Artist in the Modern World.” This book, along with Neil Postman’s “Amusing Ourselves to Death,” is one of the two foundational texts for my ever-evolving ethic of Rurality. Not to mention, it changed my life (you know, how beautiful it is to say that about something without any irony!)

Brief summary, before moving on to the topic of this post

The Gift was published in 1983, and on its journey to becoming a “modern classic” (as described by the back cover), it has been recognized by writers like David Foster Wallace, Margaret Atwood, and Zadie Smith. In fact, (before I ever attended Kenyon or took a class with Lewis Hyde,) I remember Foster Wallace being a bit giddy in one of his essays about Hyde…

Basically, Hyde argues that art (in today’s world) exists simultaneously in two economies: a gift economy, and a market economy. Art’s natural economy is the gift economy– something that emerges from a gift to the artist, and given away by the artist. The gift economy is one that is constantly moving (instead of accumulating, as it happens in a market economy). And of course, because art is a gift and not a commodity, this means that there is nothing in the process of making art that assures an income. Which brings me to…

Act III. The Artist Graduates.

…by which I mean, of course, me. I’ve been trying very hard not to let my angst about graduating seep into this blog– which might explain the lack of text-based posts lately, and the proliferation of image-based posts. In any case, my angst is no different than any student who has chosen a major that doesn’t exactly buy into the market economy. My resume looks something like this:

English Major concentrating in Creative Writing, with a Women’s and Gender Studies Concentration. General Rural Academic has experience in nonprofit work (i.e. Habitat for Humanity) and nonpaying work (i.e. being a Woman Farmer). Also has experience being a freelance artist, but that was before she had to pay her own health insurance. Knows how to buckle down under The System (waited tables in high school) but would rather not do it again. Seeking a creative, collaborative position after graduation, and not in the euphemistic Human Resources sense.

So. What I’ve noticed (as graduation creeps ever-closer) is that even a small liberal arts college like Kenyon is fostering doubts about the legitimacy of a creative person in today’s world. First of all, I’ve never been so busy with meaningless work in my life, which has left almost no time at all for me to research post-grad options. (And to think that college is supposed to help open up options for life after graduation! Sigh.) Second of all, Kenyon functions, at a very foundational level, as a good ol’ boy network– one with strong ties to Wall Street and “old money” alums. As a lower-middle-income woman student, I’ve consistently felt excluded from this networking system. And yet, despite all the evidence that this network would only connect me to corporate positions, I still have a lingering jealousy of the possibilities that rich alums can offer.

What I want is alternatives— the “third option” between selling out and living in poverty –that I know exists, but that the Career Development Center hasn’t been able to help me explore. In fact, the Career Development Center is fairly mystified as to why I would want an alternative path.

Not Quite a Solution

So I am spending this spring break writing, and reading, and making art– and flailing around the internet for futures. It’s funny how I feel so open to a thousand different possibilities, and yet researching job websites on the internet is making me feel closed-minded. Wanting to do something subversive? Something creative? Something that I might feel passionately about? …Well that’s just unheard of.

…but if you do hear of anything, drop me a line.

I’m Having an English Major Weekend

My thesis is due Monday (eep!) and I’ve basically set aside my social life for the past two weeks to really hone this piece. It’s particularly hard doing a creative thesis– it takes a lot of discipline to keep working on something even when I’m not feeling particularly inspired.

But on the subject of books and literature… I wanted to link to this excellent article from The Non-Consumer Advocate about the Amazon Kindle versus old-fashioned books. I’ve tried to be pragmatic about technology (getting an iphone was an angst-inducing decision for me) but I think I must side with the article on this one. Books aren’t environmentally perfect, but they’re a much better alternative than the Kindle, which has a massive carbon footprint and a short life span.

I was particularly impressed by the article’s observation about how the kindle will be “upgraded” in the future:

What’s going to happen to all these Kindles in two years when Amazon comes out with a newer, shinier, improved version? (Titanium for him, pink for her.)

This has certainly been the case with the ipod– or, well, with almost any product, really. This is a great example of the way that corporations exploit gender in order to maximize their profit. And, of course, causing massive environmental waste in the process.

As for me, I’ll stick with my old-fashioned, “recyclable and virtually indestructible” book. In fact, there’s a stack of them right here waiting for me to get back to my thesis…

Literary Blogging and the Digital Countryside

Link for the day: Society for Literary Excellence – an excellent example of the ways that analog living adapts to a digital world.

My senior thesis as a creative writing major is centered around a similar theme. I go to school in the middle of Amish country, cornfields, and apple trees. I’m saturated with the quirks and the brilliance of rurality, and at the same time, the sadness of rurality: the superficial attempts to imitate urban culture, the sense of cultural inferiority, the rude ways that city students treat the locals.

It’s complex. I like working it into words. I’m in the middle of writing a shorter essay about this topic, so look for that post in the coming weeks.


Art adventures, literary hangovers, rural politics and other songs worth sharing.

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