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We’re Better Together: On Finding a Writing Community

By Christina Baulch

As a Literature major, I’m surrounded by creative writing all the time. Whether I’m studying Medieval English Literature or Sci-Fi, I’ve dedicated my four years at Purchase to analyzing and appreciating creative writing of all mediums, genres, and time periods. Yet, with all this reading in my course schedule, I’ve found it hard to dedicate time and motivation to doing my own creative writing.

However, this all changed when I enrolled in Introduction to Creative Writing. In class, I was in a room full of creative writers- and I was finally one of them. Every couple of weeks, we herded the desks into a circle and workshopped one another’s work. Even though the comments were sometimes comically spare (a poem of mine once received the comment “nice words” hurriedly scrawled across the top margin) every comment from our class meant the world to me and kept me going.

Since that introductory course, I’ve found friends both inside and outside the Creative Writing program who, like me, simply enjoy writing and sharing it with others. If you have yet to find a community of writers for yourself at Purchase outside of creative writing classes, here are some ways to go about it:

1- Join Clubs

There is a wide variety of clubs on our campus, and several of them relate to writing. The first and most obvious choice is The Writers Club, which meets Wednesday nights at 9 p.m. in CCN 0014. Though the club is associated with the Creative Writing major, it is open to all students. Bring paper and pen or a laptop, and have fun writing with other students on campus!

Likewise, the Literature Society meets Tuesday nights at 9 p.m. in Humanities 2031 and is open to Literature and non-Literature majors alike. In addition to lively discussions and debates about literature as a whole, the club also hosts events. One recent example was a “DIY Sparknotes” night in the Stood, where participants re-imagined existing stories into new genres.­

2- Form Your Own Groups

As an ex-commuter, I’m highly aware of how difficult it can be to attend clubs if you live off campus. If this is the case, consider forming your own group. A group can even be as informal as you and a group of friends writing on the Great Lawn or in the library.

One of my personal favorite group writing exercises is OuLiPo (read: ooh-lip-po), a French acronym that stands for “workshop of potential literature.” Though there are infinite variations for how you can structure your OuLiPo session, one basic option is to sit with a group and a variety of texts. You set a rule of how many words per page can be taken- say, two- and then each person opens a book and selects words they like. You write your words down in a notebook, then pass it to the person on your right. If you each start with a notebook, you’ll end up with several poems at the end of your session. Some of our OuLiPo creations have been serious attempts while others have taken surprising, comical turns. The main point here is enjoying the writing process and working collaboratively.

3- Finally, When All In Person Attempts Fail: Try the Internet!

There are innumerable Facebook groups and Subreddits dedicated to writing and writing prompts, but one Facebook group close to the heart of Purchase is The Wordsmith’s Guild. This group was started by a Purchase student, and its 106 members and counting include Purchase students and alum, as well as writers from outside the area. It’s a great space to bounce ideas off one another, participate in writing sprints, and connect with other writers both inside and outside the college.

I wish you the best of luck in your journey to connect with other writers on and off campus!

Defying Genre (and Gender): How Camp is More Serious Than It Looks

By Muse McCormack

 

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Stanley and Mitch arm wrestle before breaking out into the song,
“I’m a Man” in Act 1 of Belle Reprieve

I’m currently in an amazing class called LGBTQ Theater and Performance History where we’ve been reading plays about feminism, queerness, and genderfluidity. Many of these plays use camp or exaggeration, especially of gender, to comment on gender and feminism in America. Camp is a kind of performance or aesthetic that is usually ill regarded by mainstream society, but has found a home in the Queer community. If something is camp, it is over the top, ironic, and outrageous, usually to make a point. Here, I examine two works (one a queer play and the other a science fiction short story) that use exaggeration and campy qualities to play with mainstream notions of gender norms.

Belle Reprieve is a queer take on the play Street Car Named Desire by the company Split Britches. The character of Stanley is played by a butch lesbian, Blanche is a drag queen, and Mitch is a gay man. In Act 1 there is a song and dance number called “I’m a Man” where all the characters walk around the stage displaying stereotypical masculinity. However, while the two biological men look silly and their attempts at manliness appear contrived, Stanley looks comfortable and even sexy at times as she flexes her muscles and stomps around. By exaggerating the dance, the playwright shows us how constraining the binary of gender can challenge our understanding. We see how comfortable Stanley is exhibiting stereotypical masculinity and how uncomfortable it makes Mitch and Blanche, both of whom look more at ease when wearing dresses and moving delicately, thereby defying gender norms while simultaneously using them to perform their own versions of gender.

Science fiction has long been making use of overemphasis in order to drive home points about our own world through the display of another. In James Tiptree Jr’s story, “The Women Men Don’t See,” an unassuming woman, Ruth, and her daughter, Althea, choose to be abducted by aliens because as they see it, it is preferable to living on Earth where women are not treated as equals. Ruth says to the narrator, Don:

Women have no rights, Don, except what men allow us. Men are more aggressive and powerful, and they run the world. When the next real crisis upsets them, our so-called rights will vanish like—like that smoke. We’ll be back where we always were: property. And whatever has gone wrong will be blamed on our freedom, like the fall of Rome was. You’ll see.

This take on the world, while dark and without hope, is only further proven when Don underestimates both women because they are women and thus deemed inferior. They defy what he thinks of as female by continuously showing strength and intelligence throughout the story, and yet, he still believed them to be “just women.” Both of these women are polite and quiet at first, but they are shown to be so much more as the story progresses. Both of the women are not hindered by society’s standards for family and marriage, they both have jobs and are shown to have skills other than cooking and cleaning (at one point Ruth fixes Don’s broken leg into a cast when they are trapped in a jungle). Don dismisses all of this though in favor of his previously formed idea of their gender. Despite its serious delivery, this speech is met with a patronizing demeanor and dismissal that makes the reader empathize with Ruth and her plight. She is so disillusioned by the world she lives in, which underestimates her because of her gender and the preconceived notions surrounding it, that she would rather risk an alien one at the chance of finding respect and freedom.

In both works something unexpected and over the top happen: Belle Reprieve a song and dance that not only displays gender, but defies it, and in The Women Men Don’t See the characters’ choice to be abducted by aliens is made to seem reasonable. Maybe Tiptree’s work would not be classified as camp, but Ruth and her daughter’s display of gender is no more contrived than Stanley’s flexed muscles and Blanche’s attempt at walking in pants. Gender is a performance in both pieces and the defiance of it is what is shown to be true in both as well. Maybe the means to the end are ostentatious and defy reality, but the points they make are much more serious than at first perceived.

Watch the full performance of Belle Reprieve with the original cast here:  http://hemisphericinstitute.org/hemi/en/modules/item/907-britches-belle-reprieve

Read “The Women Men Don’t See” in full here:   https://www.ida.liu.se/~tompe44/lsff-book/tiptree21.html

 

 

A Magazine Given a Second Chance

By Trisha Murphy

If you travel to the back of Campus Center South, you will find a flight of stairs to your left. Take them to the basement, hang a right and walk till you’re just shy of the exit to the dumpster and room 0024/0025 will be on the left, the place I love most on this campus.

Gutter Mag began in the basement as a student-run zine that was distributed all over campus. It has transformed over the years, but has stuck to its DIY roots and is now an 11×8.5 stapled, monthly issue. Thanks to a faulty printer, the issues are hand-folded and therefore still look very much homemade.

I was first introduced to Gutter Mag as a freshman. By then, it was already a full sized, biweekly issue. I was too nervous to go to the meetings but poured over the issues when I came across them on a table or magazine rack around campus. By the time I finally got up the nerve to be more than just a reader, Gutter had ceased to exist. It was a quiet goodbye–issues had at first just become less frequent. By spring of my sophomore year they were down to just one issue a semester. Summer before junior year, Edyn Getz took it upon herself to relaunch Gutter Mag. The PSGA allowed her to do so. The budget was small and the charter needed to be tossed and recreated, but it was a start. Edyn asked me if I would assist her in bringing the literary mag back to life and I jumped at the opportunity and was given the title of Managing Editor.

Now, as a senior, being Editor-in-Chief of Gutter Mag has certainly been a learning experience. Falling in love with a publication and then being given the opportunity to run it has resulted in hours of planning, emailing, hand folding, and asking the printer if it would please do what I ask just this once.

I feel that Gutter’s place on this campus is essential. Gutter’s mission is to provide an opportunity for students of any major or background to see their art in print. Many students on this campus create original content outside of what they study. Our monthly issues give those students the opportunity to see their work in print alongside other creators on this campus. It allows them to be part of something bigger than themselves. Last year was our comeback year. We rebuilt from the rubble and continued to remember how we started.

Presently, Gutter produces monthly full-sized issues with smaller zines interspersed throughout the semesters. We work alongside the other services on this campus, such as The Forum Art Space and WPSR, to promote upcoming shows and remind students of the Safer Space Policy. We release our issues at student run events to encourage our readers to take advantage of all of the art available to see and experience on campus. We meet monthly (usually on Wednesday nights) to open submissions and discuss what we want for the upcoming issue. There is nothing more rewarding than seeing a room full of faces eager to create work for a magazine that’s been given a second chance.

In this next phase of Gutter Mag, we want to make every student on this campus feel welcomed and included. We want the issues to feel like they are for them, and the best way to do that is to get submissions from as many students as possible. I have loved Gutter Mag as an admirer, a contributor, and now as its Editor, and I want nothing more than for it to thrive on this campus. Help me make that possible and send us your art, poetry, short fiction, recipes, graphic art, prints, comics, doodles, rants, horoscopes, any  and all of it to purchaseguttermag@gmail.com.

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It Gets Gory: Discussing Bleeding, Healing, and Writing with Students at Purchase

By Emily Hargitai

When I was a freshman, a professor told me that writers should wait at least 20 years before attempting to write about personal painful experiences. I believe this is an accurate estimate. Two decades seems like just the right amount of time for existential pain to fully decompose into usable soil. I remember once, I brought in a story for workshop that was quite obviously written about a recent and painful event. While certainly raw, the story had no clear plot, and was so incomprehensible that it legitimately called my mental stability into question. Luckily, my classmates were kind, and no harm was done. In fact, even though from an editorial standpoint, my story was a smoldering pile of garbage, there was something cathartic about writing it, and something sobering about hearing my classmates’ feedback. The workshop was tough—almost like an intervention—but I am better off as a writer for having gone through it.

This experience–of writing an unpublishable story that tore me apart emotionally, but in time also brought me to a better place as a writer—is confusing and paradoxical. Even though I’ve gone through it first-hand, it makes very little sense to me that the writing process can simultaneously be therapeutic and maddening. At one end of the spectrum, we have heartwarming sentiments like this one expressed by Anne Frank: “I can shake of everything as I write: my sorrows disappear, my courage reborn.” But on the other, we have Hemingway’s decidedly more frightening declaration: “There’s nothing to writing. All you do is sit at a typewriter and bleed.”

For clarity on this complicated matter, I approached some of the writing students here at Purchase for their thoughts. Their perspectives are passionate, enlightening, and derived from their own unique experiences.

First, I talked to Sydney Shaffer, a poet who is deeply inspired by Virginia Woolf and Sylvia Plath as well as Walt Whitman and T.S. Eliot. On the conflict between writing and healing, Shaffer said, “The writing process isn’t a conflict between catharsis and madness, but a blend of the two. The maddening part comes when the writer needs to re-experience whatever they are writing about, but the cathartic part is putting it into beautiful new words that become unfamiliar to the reader, and sometimes even to the writer.” I found this response fascinating, particularly Sydney’s discussion of unfamiliarity as something that dilutes the raw emotion of experience to ingestible levels in her poetry. She also introduced an entirely different, and arguably more productive, way of thinking about the issue: That maybe writing and healing are not at war with one other, but in harmony, one informing the other in the process of writing.

I also approached Finola McDonald, a poet here at Purchase, for her two-cents on the matter. Like Sydney, Finola understands bleeding and healing as inexorably linked when it comes to the writing process. But she also points out that the intensity of the emotional turmoil is not fixed, that it depends a great deal on how close the writer is to the subject. She shares from experience: “The process of writing tears me open. My mind flips inside out and upside down—if the content is more personal, it’s chaos. But once everything is on the page, I’ve been stitched up and tucked in as though nothing ever happened.” I was struck in particular by this image of being “stitched up and tucked in.” For Finola, writing a personal poem is a little like undergoing an invasive surgical procedure. The procedure itself is unpleasant and messy, but if it goes well, the result is worthwhile.

Finally, I spoke with Shannon Swiatowicz, a screenwriter who studies horror films and psychological thrillers. To write them in a genuinely horrifying and convincing manner, it is necessary for Shannon to explore the darkest regions of human consciousness through observation and introspection alike. When I asked Shannon for her thoughts, she said, “Writing is in many ways both the band-aid and the scalpel. Some days I need to feel the relief of tearing myself open and seeing what pours out, while other days I would rather wash dishes than sit alone with a blank sheet of paper and the expanse of my mind.” On the topic of introspection and character development, she added, “I don’t think you can truly understand your characters and the heart of the story you’re trying to tell if you haven’t torn apart your own suffering and found the root of what makes you tick.” As someone whose work generally comes from a more autobiographical place, I was surprised by how much I related to Shannon’s screenwriting experience. Just because you aren’t writing directly about your own life, that doesn’t mean the process isn’t highly emotional, and more than a little gory.

In addition to being writers, the women I spoke to and I have this is in common: we are all college-aged. My freshman year professor’s rule—that a minimum of 20 years should pass before a painful experience meets the page—is certainly ideal, but it just isn’t possible for us. With deadlines to meet and portfolios to compile, we can’t feasibly limit our pool of writable experiences to the womb, or fresh out of it, which is generally where “20 years ago” places us. Discussions about how to produce quality work without sacrificing sanity are not just fascinating to have, they also serve practical purpose at the college level: They provide comfort and clarity for writers like Sydney, Finola, Shannon, and myself, who cannot afford to wait, and do not want to.  ​

 

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Ernest Hemingway in the hospital during World War I

 

 

 

 

Top 5 Places to Write at SUNY Purchase

By Vee Weeks

Stephen King wrote his famous book, The Shining, while spending a night at Stanley Hotel, supposedly haunted and located in Estes, Colorado. J.K. Rowling composed some of the Harry Potter books at the Elephant House, a café in Edinburgh, Scotland with a view of Edinburgh Castle. But not everyone has the money to travel the United States as extensively as Stephen King did in the 1970s and 80s, and the “cafes” in this country feel more like a noisy Starbucks than a writer-friendly place.

If you’re a Purchase student who’s looking to write, you know this struggle all too well. Too broke to travel further than White Plains and without easy access to cafes, you’re stuck writing on campus. Your dorm room and the library might seem like obvious writing spots, but you’ve no doubt learned by now that roommates, lack of available computers, and the general noise of people working in a public space make those options dreadful. If you have the above problems, you’ll benefit from reading this article. Whether you write creative pieces or you just need a relaxing place to complete a paper, take two minutes of your life to read about five great writing spots on campus you probably didn’t know about.

 

  1. That Area in the Main Gym Entrance After You Go Down the StairsPicture1

With various types of seating, this area of relative silence makes it an ideal writing spot. The huge, glass windows at the gym entrance let in rich amounts of sunlight, perfect for making you feel more positive and productive.

 

  1. Couches in the Visual Arts Building Basementcouches purchase

 

The VA basement is mostly a long hallway with a couple of water fountains, but there are couches at the very end, next to Room 0005. With soft seats and the silence of an abandoned hallway, this is a great writing spot if you seek a relaxing experience. Plus, looking at all that art on your way downstairs could be inspirational.

  1. Commuter Lounge (after 6 pm.)

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Those of you who live on campus probably never give the Commuter Lounge a second glance. Even if you have, you probably walk past it during the day and can’t imagine getting any writing done with all that noise and are they fighting with chairs in there? While watching chair fights is always a good time, the Lounge doubles as a writing space, becoming a ghost town after the commuters go home. As you can see, the Lounge has two rooms. So even if the main room is noisy, you can find solitude in the back room. With an abundance of seats and the Hub a short distance away, the creative juices will flow in no time.

  1. Tables in the Woods between the Neu and the Dance Building

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If you’re an outdoors writer, you’ll find yourself at home in this spot. Walk down the pathway between the Dance and Music Buildings in the direction of the Neu and you should see woods to your left with two tables sitting there. Well-hidden and surrounded by nature, this spot gives you an opportunity to thrive on scenic views, especially now that it’s fall

  1.  Third Floor of Student Services

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The noisy first and second floors might discourage you from trying the third, but I assure you it’s deserted up there. This is the absolute best spot, combining a quiet atmosphere with comfortable seats and a scenic view of the campus’s main plaza. Watching all those people is bound to provide inspiration for characters. Each chair even comes with a wooden “table” that’s the perfect laptop size!

 

Hope this information was helpful. Now go out and decide which spot is best for you. Happy writing!

 

 

 

 

 

From Paperback to the Big Screen: Is it Worth the Watch?

By: Taylor Johnson

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Every year it seems like more and more books are being adapted for the small and big screen, and the same question follows its release: which is better, the movie or the book? I struggle with this decision as well: whether to watch the movie or read the book first. I fear that by doing one, I’ll miss something about the other, and the overall story that the author intended for me to know will be lost or tampered with in some way. I enjoy both mediums of storytelling, but I wonder if  in some way I betray my writer-self for liking a film adaptation more than the book on which it was based.

 

Everyone has their reasons for why they feel one is better than the other. Remember the Harry Potter debate? The 8 book series was still being published as the movies were released, and in some circles, one could be dismissed for even considering watching the films before finishing the books. These people, the purists I like to call them, only read the books and didn’t dream of watching even a minute of the films. They feared that the book would lose its integrity, that the story would be lost in the vast world of CGI and special effects. Others only ever watched the movies, never cracking the spine of the actual texts.

 

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro (who recently won the 2017 Nobel Prize for Literature) is a dystopian novel that was published in 2005. The film was adapted five years later  Both received critical acclaim in their respective fields, but it is no secret that the two have their differences—the most apparent being its treatment of character development. I watched the film first and then read the book and after doing so, discovered an unsettling change. In the book, it is made abundantly clear that Kathy and Ruth (the story’s two female protagonists) are close friends throughout childhood which informs the difficulties they face as adults. In the film, on the other hand, this relationship is not as apparent, and changes the story quite a bit. They are distant as small children and Ruth is painted as sneaky and selfish when they become teens, which creates an audience bias for Kathy. The film made me dislike Ruth, whereas the novel made her more relatable and sympathetic. After reading the book, I felt as though the movie cheated me a bit. I didn’t know the characters as well as I thought I did, and it made me wonder how many other stories I really didn’t know simply because I’d watched the movie instead of reading the book.

 

Given the demands on our time, I wonder whether other people face this dilemma: to read first or just watch the movie?

 

Unblocking Writer’s Block

By Ashley Fields

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At the start of spring semester 2017 every time I picked up my notebook and pen, or opened my laptop to continue a piece, my hands froze over the same scene:

“The first thing I saw when I opened my eyes was the man from the night before.”

 I couldn’t seem to write past that line. I had a goal in mind; my character would wake up the morning after a one-night-stand and have that awkward moment with her future romantic interest. But I couldn’t seem to manage to write beyond that first sentence. After weeks of pushing the story to the side, I turned to my other pieces only to realize I had the same problem. That’s when I knew that I had writer’s block.

Writer’s Block is one of the most frightening things I have ever gone through, because I felt like I was failing as a writer, the one thing I want to do with my future. However, I wasn’t a quitter. I started researching strategies to get back to my writing. I tried many tactics, but the following eight are what I found the most helpful.

Follow A Prompt: Sometimes following a different prompt can be great practice, or it push your work in a different direction and perhaps change your story for the better. Some helpful books I’ve purchased to play with prompts are “The Writers Block: 786 Ideas To Jump-start Your Imagination” by Jason Rekulak, and “Complete the Story” by Piccadilly.

  1. Listen To Classical Music: I found it distracting to listen to regular pop music, or any music with lyrics. I’ve found Classical music a better way to stay focused on a task.
  2. Set A Daily Goal or Deadline: It was easier for me to write after I’ve set a goal for myself whether it be write 1000 words, or finish a chapter, or a specific section a day. This helped me with my time management.
  3. Read Your Work Aloud: Reading my work aloud has given me a chance to catch errors or fix up story logic and sometimes would inspire me to write a different scene or new phrases. Try messing around with wordplay and cadence in the work.
  4. Write In The Mornings: After a good night’s sleep, and after hours of dreaming, the mind is more imaginative and creative when you wake up. Also, it’s much more quiet and peaceful in the mornings.
  5. Step Away For Anything Creative: Sometimes it’s best to step away from a piece for a bit when blocked, but it’s even better to step away and do something creative that gets your creative drive moving. Try coloring, drawing, crafting, or even photography. When I have a block I begin to doodle anywhere in my notebook and my mind drifts as I draw, next thing I know an idea springs to mind.
  6. Play A Writing Game: My favorite game to play is “Hot Laptop.” It requires a small group of people, but it’s worth it. It can be played on a laptop, or in a notebook, as long as each player has something to write on. The game starts with each player having only two minutes to start writing a story, whatever they like. After two minutes, everyone passes their stories to right, and the player to the right continues the story. This pattern continues until everyone has their original laptops, and then you share your stories. It’s an entertaining method and is a great way to get the mind moving.
  7. Write to Write: Sometimes it’s good to just write whatever is in your head, not worrying about mistakes or rambling. Just get all of your thoughts out and worry about corrections later.

Through my research, I’ve slowly learned that Writer’s Block is just an illusion. It’s a wall writer’s create subconsciously, due to many reasons-Fear, Perfectionism, and Timing. A writer might have hesitations and doubts in their work, feel like their work is not good enough, or might not have time to write at all.

It’s natural to feel stuck or hesitate in the writing process, but it’s something you must push aside in order to produce good work. We should have faith and trust in our writing abilities and we must make time for it, because we love it.