Writing Without Fear

Up until college I had been homeschooled my whole life. It wasn’t until I reached high school age that it became very apparent to me that I couldn’t relate to the social struggles of my peers. Whether at soccer practice or in youth group, everyone was either complaining about their teachers, gossiping about their fellow students, or making plans for prom. When I didn’t chime in on their conversation they’d turn to me, expecting me to join in. That’s when I had to explain to them, “I’m homeschooled.” Typically, they’d nod their heads and say “Oh” before continuing their conversation without me. I had always hated telling people about my education, mainly because of all the stereotypes that came with it, like: no friends, no social skills, prom at home with my brother, etc… I distinctly remember a time when I was at church, waiting in the lobby with the kids in my youth group. There was a girl going on about how homeschoolers are “so weird” and “have no social life,” that’s when my I piped up and said that I was homeschooled. The look on her face was pure shock, she even argued with me and said that “there’s no way you’re homeschooled, you’re too normal!”

I used to hate the fact that I was homeschooled, because many of my peers caused me to believe that my education was inferior to theirs. I often felt as though I wasn’t as smart as my public-school friends. Though I was never bullied for it, I noticed that people looked at me differently once they knew. Most people assumed that I couldn’t relate to their academic struggles while, in fact, I could in many ways. It was their social problems that were foreign to me. After all, I had no teachers to hate, unless you want to count the guy on the computer that taught me algebra. It took me a long time to realize that just because the location of my education was different, didn’t mean that my subject matter was any easier than theirs.

Being at home allowed me to focus on my education while avoiding all the drama and unneeded stress that my friends went through. I was also able to focus on my passion for writing. As a child, I was an avid reader. The book that got me hooked was Maximum Ride by James Patterson. After I finished that book, I began reading every type of young adult fiction I could find. Every time I came home with a new book, I would lock myself in my room and read for hours, typically finishing an average sized book in a day or two. I can’t remember when I realized it, but I knew that I wanted to be a writer when I grew up. As I grew older, I carried with me the idea of wanting to be a writer, but I continued to carry with me the fear that I wasn’t smart enough thanks to being homeschooled.

After I graduated high school, I took a year off school to decide whether college was for me. I knew that I wanted to be a writer, and that I wanted to go to college to improve my writing, but I still carried those childhood doubts. Though, one day, that all changed. I decided to put aside my self-doubt, get rid of my feelings of inadequacy, and prove to myself that I am smart enough. I am now the first in my family to obtain an associate degree, and it’s safe to say that my days of feeling inferior are far gone. 

To See Yourself

I’ve always felt slightly different from other people, but I could never put my finger on what exactly it was that made me different. None of my friends seemed to feel the same way I did about certain things; my feelings weren’t portrayed by characters in the movies and shows I watched, and never appeared in the books I read. I assumed I was some weird anomaly and I would have to deal with feeling like I was alone on the subject for the rest of my life.

I was never able to understand my feelings before I found my place. I had no representation to compare myself to and help me navigate the rocky waters of understanding my sexuality. The young adult books I read dealt heavily with romance; whenever there were mentions of a character that didn’t fit the norm of sexual attraction they were disregarded and labeled weird, which didn’t help younger me feel any better about myself. The books released within the last couple of years have become much more inclusive than the books I was reading back in high school, when I was questioning myself. Even though there is more inclusivity, there are still groups being left out; it hasn’t been until the last year that I even was able to see characters like myself on the pages of books. Last December I was finally able to put a name to my differentness, I figured out I fall somewhere on the asexual spectrum in the LGBT+ community.

A few months ago I read the young adult novel Puddin’ by Julie Murphy; it was the first book that made me feel seen. There is a character, although they’re a side character they’re still a large part of the story, that identifies as ace and goes about explaining what exactly asexuality is; how there are so many different facets that people can fit into on the ace spectrum. After reading that scene, I remember putting the book down, taking a deep breath, and then clutching it to my chest with a gigantic smile as my eyes watered—for once in my life I could see myself represented. Let me tell you, it felt so good to see a character like me. There is no other feeling in the world that’s like seeing yourself represented.

Diversity has come a long way in literature from where it used to be, but there are still so many other identities that have yet to have their time to shine. I hope we get to see more of them represented because they deserve it. Everyone deserves to feel like they are represented; whether it be because of their ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, etc. EVERYONE deserves to have that moment where they go, oh shit, that character’s just like me. I want others to have the same feeling I had when I first saw a character that was like me, and made me feel less alone in my journey of discovering who I am. Like I said, we’ve come a long way with diversity, but we still have a very long way to go.

Who Art Thou Mona Lisa?

I was giddy with unspent energy as I traversed the halls of the Louvre. People shedding their winter coats walked down the checkered hallway, pausing to snap pictures of the headless Nike statue before moving on. Glass skylights illuminated a grand hallway with towering ceilings embellished in ornate carvings. I followed the congested flow of people, my school friends in tow, as we rushed past life-sized battle scenes, mythological images, and picturesque landscapes rendered in remarkable detail. The crowd slowed, and the top of a dark painting rested with a glass case on the wall. I saw Da Vinci’s famous lady, surrounded by people scrambling to get near, and I laughed.

She was small, and her colors were muted, but she monopolized everyone’s attention. She sat across from a grand painting ten times her size with ten times her vibrancy of color. She was underwhelming. Or perhaps, I was just very young.

I would later learn that my approach to art, and to the world, was still developing past its shallow stage. Appreciation of the arts was more complex than its surface level, and that to access something beyond a superficial approach was key in understanding not only the world, but myself as well.

I grew up on TV, fast ads, and colorful cereal boxes. My attention span was here and then out the window watching a cat climb a tree.  But I was living in a society that fostered my behavior. There was sugar in my breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Colorful signs trying to sell me something fast. Time was money, and money made the world go around. Worship it, worry over it, waste it. But do not waste time.

I didn’t have time to be staring out windows. I had to be focused on my grades, on sports, on my friends, on my social media. I had to worry about how my life appeared to colleges and how my face appeared to the world. Because those things were important, right?

It wasn’t until I got to college that I learned that I worry too much about the world’s perception of myself. I worry about the words I write on this page. That they will never be good enough. Never perfect.

But to create art in any form involves leaving yourself at the mercy of others’ scrutiny. It is my primary reason for writer’s block. Why I am constantly conflicted, because I am a writer that does not write as often as I should. Can I call myself a writer and admit that I sometimes hate writing? I tell myself to stop trying to fit into a box of what a writer should be and to just be me.

It’s a popular mantra now days. Just be yourself. And through living it, people are breaking down barriers not only in literature and writing, but in all facets of life. This freedom of expression allows for a plethora of diverse perspectives and allows us to look beyond the surface level to find greater understanding and greater human connectivity.

Four Influential 20th century Female Horror Writers

When we think about modern horror, the great and disturbing Stephen King pops into most people’s minds. While King is  wonderfully spooky and influential to one of my favorite literary genres, there are also plenty of women who wrote many creepy tales that impacted the 20th century and the horror genre as a whole.

Daphne du Maurier

Daphne du Maurier began her writing career in the early 1930s with one of her most successful works being the Gothic novel Rebecca (1938). In a similar way to traditional Gothic novels, Rebecca contains a heroine, who is never given a name, who is forced to deal with the oppressive and almost ghostly past of her new home. The real terror in this novel comes from the titular Rebecca’s grasp on the protagonist’s psyche, causing the heroine to feel a kind of inadequacy that many people experience when constantly compared to another, seemingly perfect, person. With discussions of identity, obsession, and even suicidal thoughts, Daphne du Maurier’s novel is an intricate modern Gothic novel with a dark and well-written twist ending.

Shirley Jackson

Shirley Jackson has written many creepy novels and short stories that have become classics in the Horror genre. Her novel The Haunting of Hill House (1959) is often considered one of the best haunted house stories ever written. This novel contains creepy hauntings, shocking incidents that are never truly explained, explorations of mental illness, bisexuality, and a diverse small cast discovering the ominous character of the titular mansion. The Haunting of Hill House is a suspenseful horror novel that leaves readers with chilling images and thoughtful explorations of fear, paranoia, and isolation.

Anne Rice

Anne Rice first appeared during the horror boom of the 70s and 80s with her debut novel Interview with the Vampire (1976). This vampire novel has been cited as the beginning of the “romantic vampire” trend that took off in the 20th and 21st centuries. Despite writing about vampires who are human in many ways, Rice’s characters are complex and intriguing monsters who give the reader a striking and bleak look into the life of the monster that usually is just in the story to be defeated by the good guys. Interview with the Vampire is also revered for its positive depictions of sexuality between its vampire protagonists as well as discussing morality in a philosophical way.  With deep introspection, a disturbing and well written cast of characters, and a deep look into the monster’s point of view, Interview with the Vampire is an enchanting and horrifying look into the psyches of humans turned into monsters.

Angela Carter

Angela Carter is a great British author who has written many plays, short stories, children’s stories, and some novels during her lifetime. While Carter’s work usually falls under the umbrella of Magical Realism, her body of work also contains some horror novels too.  One of her most popular short story anthologies The Bloody Chamber (1979) is one such work. The Bloody Chamber is an atmospheric and mature reworking of different fairy tales such as Little Red Riding Hood, Sleeping Beauty, and Snow White with a dark and distinctly feminist edge. Dealing with women’s sexual identities, luscious and graphic prose, and a chilling harken back to the more adult Grimm’s fairytales, The Bloody Chamber is a startling collection of feminist fairy tale horror that is scary as it is thought provoking.

Dyslexia: Spell Check is for the Weak

As an editor, it can be hard to admit that my greatest passion is also the source of one of my biggest inhibitions. A big part of this stems from the fact that not many people are vocal about learning disorders, and those who are aren’t always the most constructive. I’ve known from an early age that I am dyslexic. Even though this isn’t anything world-ending, or even something that’s necessarily complicated, I’ve noticed that there is still a significant amount of stigma surrounding learning disorders. Being a student of the Liberal Arts means that I am surrounded by bright and intelligent people on a daily basis, who not only analyze everything they read, but are obnoxiously good at it. Initially, this intensified a fear that I’ve harbored since the first grade, in which I feel that everyone around me understands something that I don’t, and that my cover will be blown at any moment. Of course, the only logical response to this was to double up on literature classes and enroll in a second language. Because that’s not overcompensation, right?

As unhealthy as it may sound, this has been my approach to tackling dyslexia for years. It’s almost like a vigorous hike; every time I start to get winded, I see that the peak is that much closer and I force myself to pick up the pace. When I first learned to read, this was how I kept myself going. If a book tripped me up, I would pick up another and read them back to back until they both made sense. Even today, I still read roughly five to six books at a time to keep myself engaged.

Before I go any further, I suppose I should explain what dyslexia means for me. Most people understand dyslexia as that thing where kids sometimes confuse the letter “b” with “d,” but dyslexia can go so much farther than that. In fact, once my parents had realized what was going on, mirrored consonants became the least of my concerns. My biggest challenge was, and still is, the struggle of being inconsistent. What is a reflex one day is foreign the next. Just the other day I tried spelling “optimist” as “optemest” and had to review Greek and Latin root words until I could understand where I went wrong. This word has never been a problem in the past, and I use it pretty frequently, but out the window it went.

I can see when my words come out wrong and I can recognize broken sentences and phrases, but this is because I had to develop an intuition that could save me when my brain short circuited. This is how I first developed an interest in editing. Suspicious, right? In a way, every error I catch and every student I tutor justifies the ridiculous amount of time and effort I’ve put in to learning the written English language.

Dyslexia may not be particularly interesting for those who are unfamiliar with it, but for me it’s like the ultimate challenge. It has forced me to think outside the box and learn things in unconventional ways. It’s popular advice that writers should read the works of their favorite authors so they can emulate their writing style. I took this a step further and turned to literature for lessons in grammar. Not only was I trying to capture the elegant sentences of Poe and the subtleties of Philip K. Dick, but I was also trying to figure out what the heck a dependant clause was and why my teacher kept circling mine but not my partner’s. In my case, dyslexia has driven me to better understand the written word, because I can’t handle the idea of being inherently bad at something. Of course, being dyslexic still has its issues, and it always will. The takeaway here is not that learning disabilities can be cured, but that they can be overcome, and every step I take as an editor is a massive victory.

“Where are you from?”

While easy enough to answer for most people, it exists to some of us as one of the most complicated questions in our lives. It’s an impossibly loaded interrogation that has been long embodied in the small-talk canon, not taking into account a large number of factors that may distort the reply, and not caring. It demands a simple answer, a recognizable place on the map. It doesn’t take into account those of us that just don’t know, whether it be lost to history, or left enigmatic by circumstance.

In my case, I can’t establish or trace back to home-base. I never lived anywhere long enough to really set up camp and lay claim to a cultural or regional piece of identity. I’ve also come to learn that identity is everything to a person, and knowing where you are from is one of the largest pieces of the puzzle, and when absent, can leave you feeling blank.

 

Where is home?


What is home?

 

What am I?

 

Who am I?

 

However, my passport tells me I have a home — Guanajuato, Mexico. And while I can show you beautiful, postcard-like pictures of my little birth-town, and maybe tell a tourist brochure’s slogans worth about it, claiming it as my own would be a fallacy. I was never able to own it; I simply never lived there. And when I’ve tried, the cut-throat nature of Mexican culture has prohibited me from laying claim to it, not having met enough of its criteria: I have printer paper white skin and speak none of the language.

The reality is that locations are often just stops to people—distant memories. Nomadic as that is, a lot of us yearn for a “home” of our own — an answer to the ever-present question that we can just yell out with excitement and dignity. A “home” is a place which we can embrace and say, “that’s me.” A place whose colors and histories you can stand by, good and bad; a place that fills in the missing piece.

Really, we draw too much validity from places. Like children trying to conform and make friends in the classroom, always worrying about being ostracized and ignored because we’re the most different face in the room; but also, that we are not different enough, concerned that we may be boring and lost in a sea of average.

I can’t help but feel like we’re misconstruing diversity, diversity always being heritage and appearance, but seldom this implicit thing that can’t be categorized in absolutes. We can’t always be expected to look the part, and part the look, and more often than not, most of diversity can’t be seen. Living a wandering life has made me realize that. We can’t expect people to be pigeon-holed, or to pigeon-hole themselves. I’ve always been “American,” not by my own creed but because I look the part, despite only living here for the last couple of years and way out of my formative period.

We, as people, are collages of experiences, and that should be reflected in our writing. We are seldom token characters, and it pays to reflect the reality of what really creates diversity among us. The real world is complex, and so are we; we should all be making an effort to portray mélange in both the characters we create, and the real people we talk about—humanizing those we know little about, and avoiding cheap attempts at emulating or portraying pseudo-authenticity.

So, when people ask me where I’m from, I tell them “I don’t know.” Because I don’t. I blank on the thought, and a big enough part of me is tired of giving one line lies or convenient truths that codify my life into something appreciably short enough: “I’m American.” “I’m Mexican.” There’s no way in hell I’m accepting the grand total of my genetic lineage as what I am, or where I’m from.

But I’d love to tell you who I am, and ultimately, I think that’s what diversity actually comes down to. Not a blip on the map, and not my skin-tone.

 

Being the Black Girl

Writing has been a part of my life since I learned cursive in the third grade, but I didn’t fall madly in love with it until well into my high school years, where I was often known as the “Black One” or “That Black Girl with the Weird Hair.” Writing became the channel that I never knew I needed. I struggled with my identity as a Black girl and what it means to be black. People often tried to quantify my blackness; my classmates or some of my family didn’t believe I was black enough because I went to a predominately white school. Through my writing I was able to find myself, and it illuminated the person I am today. I don’t know the kind of person I would be now had I not fallen for writing. Something as simple as writing my feelings on a blank page could extricate me from any bad mood or bad day.

Black.

Is the starless night

A hole in space that absorbs all that can fall within.

The colorless color fabricates as rubbish to the blind.

The sign of evil and frightening reminder of sin,

The magic of silver tongued casting witches twisting the mind,

Devils, liars, mystics, cheats, and criminals all absorbs in one,

Distorting the color, policing the image is man who places the bind.

 

Embrace your beauteous form whose curves thy dark caress on light ought,

Enthrall those who shun your essence in ignorance, for the future is fluid to sight.

A resilient experience has made the child in me wise,

Your pain knit in every fiber and strand within my heart and soul forever sown.

Black, is my pride, armor, culture mixed in a bowl, the essence that creates my mind,

A woman painted an image of a man, woman, child in thy color refined.

My identifier, the absorbing shroud over my mirror,

For one so illustriously dark and ebony, my opinion is ever clearer.

Thy inky hand caresses my hair and face sweeping down to my feet.

Acceptance, the windy cold mountain challenge, the greatest feat.

I am you, and you define me.

Black.

This poem created a vacuum for all the thoughts of what it means to me to be black, and how I should move forward, despite all the labels added to my race. Writing is a way to find one’s self-awareness, and I think that bleeds into my works often. To quote the well-known author Enid Bagnold, “Who wants to become a writer? And why? Because it’s the answer to everything… It’s the streaming reason for living. To note, to pin down, to build up, to create, to be astonished at nothing, to cherish the oddities, to let nothing go down the drain, to make something, to make a great flower out of life, even if it’s a cactus.”

Intersections – What it Means to Me

Diversity in Literature: Intersections

Literature is a preserved collection of the human experience. It transfers thoughts and ideas into a shareable medium. Literature by nature is diverse, but does it represent the expanse of the human condition? Does it provide a truly collaborative snapshot, or merely the most popular narrative?

We are all humans, and like literature, exist in a variety of forms. We are diverse in race, gender, ethnicity, sexuality, culture, socioeconomic status, political beliefs, occupation, etc. Literature helps us understand/comprehend the differences and the connections between us. Literature is at a point of intersection. To expand our minds, we must also expand our exposure to different perspectives.

We at New Plains Student Publishing encourage everyone to have a voice, and are excited to announce a new biweekly diversity blog series: Intersections.

Intersections will feature blogs from alternating diversity themes.

-New Plains Student Publishing

racial identity
What It Means to Me

Written by Caitlin Carnall

I would be lying if I said I had it figured out from the start, writing that is.  For the first couple of years, I was extremely self-critical of my own work and never wanted to share it in fear of judgement from my peers.  

During my fourth year on campus at the University of Central Oklahoma, I was in a Young Adult Literature course and we were studying W.E.B. DuBois’s concept of double consciousness.  The concept encompasses the idea and struggle of an individual’s identity being split and divided into two or more facets.

It was difficult for me growing up with a Hispanic grandmother who blared Latin tunes during Sunday’s chores, singing every word in Spanish, but not understanding what I was listening to.  Not to mention, I would look in the mirror and notice my skin wasn’t as dark as hers, so did I really belong to her ancestry? Or was I just this white girl living in the Mexican neighborhood in Oklahoma City?

When I first began studying the concept of double consciousness, I didn’t recognize that I, myself, was split between three different racial identities: Caucasian, Hispanic, and American Indian.  When speaking directly about the effect of my racial identities upon my writing, I rarely talk about and reflect on my American Indian ancestry for the simple fact that I know very little about it.  On my mother’s side of the family, my great grandmother’s mother was full-blood Cherokee Indian, but we couldn’t trace back the history far enough to take ownership of our benefits. On my father’s side, I know my grandfather was less than 25% Indian.  I reflect most on my Hispanic and Caucasian ancestry in my writing, especially my poetry. The divide between my racial identities add a certain kind of character to my work, where in reality causes me anxiety that I am normally uncomfortable sharing out loud.  However, through my writing, I am allowed to express this struggle I encounter with my racial identities without feeling directly judged. My writing truly allows me an outlet for overwhelming emotion, and it gives voice to a diverse individual. The following is my poem, Tough Meat:    

Girl, you crazy.

Yeah, gram.  You.

Best friend—my fear

Is my best friend.

 

Hold you close, but at a distance.

Like your skin color, like

the color my skin should be—

Stuck to my finger and stuck to my memory.

 

Mine—

Just don’t let anyone catch me

Admiring mine:

Love you at your worst.

 

Oh shit, maybe I’m crazy too.

The skip-a-generation bullshit is real.

We got tough meat—as hard as is—

Always soft.

 

Lithium over easy atop my enchiladas

¿Por favor Abuela?

Over easy brain,

Over cooked heart, impenetrable.

 

Impenetrable

I am crazy, but

We got tough meat—as hard as is—

Always soft.

 

¿Duele?  Swallow pills like Portia

Swallowed fire. Your neuro

home is not a home any longer.  You

know the medicine is there in your food, your brain.

 

I stopped taking my happy pills and

I’ve been searching for the roundness

in light, caramel dermises on the streets.

We got tough meat.  Always soft.

Within the piece, I am questioning my identity as a Hispanic female, but also, I am questioning my future mental stability as the grandchild of a woman who suffers from a severe case of bipolar disorder.  So, not only do I struggle with a divide in my racial background, but also, I struggle with the fear of my genetic mental state. The personal tear I experience when dealing with such issues is flavorful for my writing.

 

Alexander Lawrence Posey Speaker Series featuring Danez Smith

In the Fall semester, we have a very solidified series called Sherman Chaddlesone Arts and Letters Lecture Series, and for a while, we’ve known we wanted something in the Spring. Where our Sherman Chaddlesone series features Native Americans, our Alexander Lawrence Posey Series will feature artists who represent otherness that so often may not be spoken for. This is in an effort to combat erasure and the silencing of diminished voices. Our inaugural event on March 30th will feature Danez Smith.

quarterlywest.com

READ MORE…

(W)riter (o)f (C)olor: A Perspective

When I was young and inexperienced, all of the characters I made were, by default, white. To put this into perspective, I am of mixed race, black and Filipino, and grew up in a predominantly black and Filipino world. I like to joke that I could count on one hand the number of white people I knew growing up, but thinking back, I’m not sure that’s an exaggeration.

And as much as I love my cultures, and I celebrate who I am and the color of my skin, this wasn’t something that I recognized until college. Even then, it took me until my junior year before I had a main character that wasn’t white.

Twitter: @WritersOfColors

READ MORE…