Writing on Paper – T.J. Moretti

#howIwrite

I like to write. I haven’t published much, so I wouldn’t call myself a “writer,” certainly not a poet, though I started writing things when I wrote poems to cope in junior high. They were cheesy love poems for my first or second crush. Rejected, I wrote more poetry, either sighed a lot, or (more likely) bingewatched Video JukeBox until Green Jelly’s “Three Little Pigs” or Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” or Dr. Dre and Snoop Dog’s “Nothin but a G Thang” came on (YouTube it all, folks), or (just as likely) gorged myself on Super Nintendo or Genesis games to prepare for my first year in high school.

I don’t have those poems anymore. Don’t ask.

I wrote those poems on paper because it wasn’t until my second year in high school that I learned how to type on a computer and format a document.

I still write on paper whenever I can: poems, drafts of short stories, character sketches, ideas for novels, dreams, parts of an academic essay. I didn’t write this post on paper, I admit, but I tend toward paper, because writing on paper helps me remember what I wrote, what I changed.

My last writing: I wrote a poem for an Advent booklet distributed through Iona’s Office of Mission and Ministry. I started it on paper. Take a look at a section of an early draft.

See how messy it gets? I cut here, squeezed there, interrupted myself twice. I look back and flinch at some of my early word choices, like “numbing cold,” (like really, I could have done something else there, I mean, there was no need for me to even write that phrase down).

When I write on Word or Google Docs, I lose a history of those edits, those lessons in real-time, those signs that I was really thinking hard, really struggling to find meaning in an image, to find meaning at all. (I could just use “Track Changes,” but all the colors and lines seem too messy for me to untangle).

I don’t keep all drafts of all my writings. I’ve scrapped drafts of articles that have been published, or early, terrible versions of dissertation chapters that took my advisor hours to edit. I don’t feel the need to hold onto that history.

The poems, though, and the short stories, and the ideas for stories, and any drafts of unfinished scholarly articles demand that I document the changes, in the body of the writing or in the margins.

I want a written record of those changes.

I don’t want to tap “Backspace” or “Delete” to erase the history of my thought-process, my habits of mind, my search for meaning in art and my search for art in meaning.

Those writings demand that I take stock of my work, that I study the documents of their past, that I learn from those documents what I thought, felt, or thought I felt.

I need to write on paper to remember.

I can still write on Word and still make the final version permanent, but I find myself in the quirks of the drafts. Without a record, I don’t have a way to remember the quirks I changed, even if I can notice in the permanent version those quirks I can’t change. Take, for example, the final version of my advent poem:

The Advent Wreath: A Vigil

You fear what the dark means,

or might, you don’t know enough

to know why the holly, why the pine,

why four candles on a wreath

when coal for boys and girls

gone bad, born to the bad they know,

they know not, they know not what

they know.

Round and round

trace a bruise around an eye or wrist,

purples wrenched from pinks,

hope numbed cold.

Round and round loop the yarn by a lamp

near a hearth into stockings empty for more

quick picks, scratch offs, Crayola wax

to waste on stick-figure-family smiles

and North Pole lists next to Guida and Oreos

on the oak veneer table.

Round and round the barrel bomb

in Aleppo once, twice, more than three,

smote your peace.

Your hara feels what the dark means,

what excretes through pancreatic ducts

toward your right, your core—

call it your duodenum—

for food that feeds your life for more

than round and round until aground.

A square of candles, vertices on a circle of pine.

Light one, two, the third, four the sum.

Purples into a pink to purple,

you see in flickers—

dawn rays through dew on hydrangeas,

there is a peony—

the halo like a white oak

aspiring from winter’s ground

to rival the snow: I will green again.

Wax melts and puddles and sets

into the wounds of the world.

The wreath, the pine,

the wicks aflame,

the mess below,

or nest, a womb, dark aglow,

you know you know

you hope you know

See? Nothing I can change there, even in stanzas 2 and 3, which really need work. And stanza 1…

Well, I could edit this blog post, I suppose—take a screenshot of before and after or something. But that just sounds like so much work, you know?

Why English? – Anna Clark

Anna Clark

Often when I ask my students why they chose an English major, they’ll tell me stories about how in middle school Harry Potter seemed more real than their best friend, or how they’ve compulsively written short fiction since the second grade. I love such answers. They make English feel like destiny. For these students, the question isn’t why major in English, but why major in anything else. Passionate and determined, they’ve long known English was it.

For others, though, the decision to study English is a bit more fraught. After all, what do you tell your parents? Harry Potter and short fiction are great, but they’re not going to pay rent. What exactly can you do with an English major?

 

I was one of these others. I too have always loved reading and writing, I too found friends in books, but I’m also pragmatic to a fault. As a kid, I would reply to the “what do you want to be” question with “actuary!” or “orthodontist!” My ambitions were always firmly tethered to reality. By the time I reached high school, I knew I’d be a doctor—a cardiologist, to be exact. I started volunteering at a hospital; I watched The X-Files for gory autopsy scenes; I imagined myself with a white lab coat and stethoscope, professional, serene, gainfully employed.

So what changed? For one thing, when I got to college, I discovered I didn’t actually enjoy science and math classes—or at least as much as I did my humanities seminars. I was far from home in a big city, and I wanted more than anything to connect with people and make sense of a vast new place. My humanities classes—English and philosophy especially—helped me do just this. Taking them was like being initiated into a special club of really smart people who knew everything about everything. Being part of this club, or at least one of its wannabes, made me feel that I was participating in something big—what I said, the arguments I made, mattered. It was an amazing sensation, better, even, than the calm serenity of knowing what I’d do when I graduated.

Late in my sophomore year, I told my dad I was declaring a double major in English and philosophy. He made the kind of tight grimace usually reserved for taxes and plumbing repairs and muttered something about postponing retirement. But my pragmatism didn’t disappear when I switched out of premed. I started hunting down workstudy gigs that let me practice the writing and analytical skills I was getting in my English seminars, first taking a job writing press releases for the fine arts department, then becoming a tour guide at a local art museum, and then eventually finding an internship doing PR and sales for a summer music festival. These jobs didn’t pay much—I was always babysitting on the side—but, paired with the work I was doing in my major courses, they helped me plausibly imagine myself into many different careers: advertising, PR, publishing, museum education, arts administration. Before college, none of these pursuits were on my radar, but the people I was meeting who did these jobs seemed happy. They had autonomy and respect and intellectual engagement. And they too had studied things like English and philosophy. When I interviewed for work, I found that my major came across as serious rather than frivolous. It told prospective employers not only that I could write and communicate, but also that I was capable of puzzling through hard ideas. It told them that I possessed the kind of knowledge and abilities that matter to thoughtful people in creative fields.

In the end, my dad needn’t have worried. I found a job almost as soon as I graduated, helping with arts education at the same small museum where I’d been a tour guide. I stayed there while I earned a masters degree, and then worked in non-profits for nearly two years before returning to grad school for a Ph.D. (probably the least pragmatic decision I’ve ever made). I enjoyed those years, and in truth, I think I could have stayed in any one of those careers and been happy. I love being an English professor, but this job, just like my college major, is a choice. Studying English prepared me for where I am now, but it also prepared me for many other meaningful kinds of work.

 

I don’t mean to minimize English majors’ very valid concerns about employment. In lots of ways, I was lucky. And of course, no future is a sure thing. Circumstances that can’t be predicted close off some roads and open up new ones. Interests change. But for all these reasons, for someone who likes to read and write and think, I believe that English, in its own strange way, is one of the most pragmatic majors out there. It’s not an end in itself—you won’t graduate and “do” English. But that’s exactly why it’s so great. It changes with you. You can make it and remake it into what you want it to be. It translates itself into opportunities you can’t yet name.

Maybe you’ve always known you were going to be an English major. Maybe, to your own surprise, you find yourself considering it. Either way, welcome. It’s a worthy destiny. It’s a fine choice.

Starting Convos – Dr. Dean Defino

Conversations start when two or more people share something in common.  It may be something very basic, like standing in the same place at the same time (“Do you know if the bus is running on time?”; “I think that penguin just winked at us”), or something more profound, like a shared passion.  If you have come to this blog, it is most likely because you share a passion for books, for stories, for words, and the ways they work on our senses and our imaginations.  Here you will find others who share that passion.  And so a conversation will begin.

What will we talk about?  The things we love.  Sometimes we will simply want to share our passions by recommending the things we love to each other.  Sometimes we will feel compelled to explain; other times, we will be forced to admit that we don’t fully understand.  That’s good.  This isn’t a thesis or a project, but a place to meet and be enthusiastic.  Not necessarily as students or teachers or scholars or critics, but as amateurs, a word that originally meant “lovers.”

We’ve all had that experience of reading a book or poem, watching a movie or a play, and suddenly falling head-over-heels in love with it.  Not the sort of love we feel for concepts, ideals, or community, but the messy, irrational, trip-over-ourselves-to-tell-others kind of love.  That’s what we want to celebrate here.  Will we try to convince each other that we should all love these things too?  Of course.  That’s what we do when we are passionate.  That’s what connects us.  That’s what starts conversations.

So to all lovers of stories, of words, of the music and noise, beauty and horror, virtue and vice of reading—whatever it is we love to read: I say to you, welcome to the conversation.

~Dean Defino