As an independent film and lit junkie, I will be the first to rattle on about the exciting crossovers between books and cinema. That said, some directors do a better job than others of capturing narratives and developing characters in the same complex way that literature does. Enter, Mike Mills. Seriously, this man’s ability to meld autobiography, history and fiction into a seamless work of art will make skeptics sing his praises (ask my uncle). I would marry him were he not already married to another one of my favorite writers, Miranda July (can I ask to be their step-child)?
I was first introduced to Mike Mills through his film Beginners (2011), which is on Netflix right now (go watch it). Beginners, a semi-autobiographical work, traces two stories: the story of a struggling artist falling in love, and the story of a relationship between a dying father and son after the father comes out as gay. Mills’ own father came out as gay late in his life, and Mills saw this film as a way to better understand his father and to come to terms with his parents’ decision to marry. Like all good Indie movies, Beginners searches for intimate moments that capture both the difficultly of love and the promise of starting anew at any age. Oh, and there’s a dog that talks.
When I heard that Mills’ new film, 20th Century Women (2016), was generating Oscar buzz, I was thrilled. Rarely do Indie movies make it into the mainstream Hollywood scene, but Mills deserves it. Like Beginners, 20th Century Women is also autobiographical, but this time he paints a portrait of his mother, Dorothea (Annette Bening), in a coming of age story set in 1979 in California. When Dorothea decides that young Jamie (Lucas Jade Zumann) needs the advice of young women to “help him become a man,” a funny, touching and occasionally gut-wrenching story ensures. The difficulty in knowing one’s parents, womanhood and feminism all feature alongside other fascinating characters played by Elle Fanning, Greta Gerwig and Bill Crudup.
Now that Mike Mills has been catapulted onto the stage of mainstream Hollywood, I’m worried that his films will lose their credence and down-home charm. Part of what makes them so great is their loyalty to the small moments and interactions that make us who we are. They find the beauty and pain and never pretend to make ends need in the cloying way that these kind of slow movies sometimes do. In each of his works, one can see the touch of a artist trying to work through the material of his own life and, in doing so, discovering of stories that intimately connect us.
Written by Sophie N.
Here's a question that's worth considering, if you're ever wondering about the process of R2 or why it is our magazine picks what it does. It's a confusing process to someone not intimately involved in the publication, so let me give you a little insight on what R2's process looks like. Treat this as a little update as to where we are at this point in the semester.
Step 1: Submit - Submit - Submit! The Solicitations Phase
As R2 is a university publication, we operate on the schedule of an academic year; we spend the fall semester preparing for the spring publication and distributing the previous edition of R2. Starting at our Open Mic Night in October, we are open for submissions and accept until mid December. The most important part of this for staff members is the solicitation process: making posters, doing announcements, popping up around campus handing out copies of last year's magazine, and anything else we can think of. As a result, R2 usually has a hefty number of submissions from which we choose.
Step 2: The Big Read
The Big Read is an annual event held on the first Friday of the spring semester and lasting for a number of hours. It's the biggest event of a staff member's time in R2, completely exhausting, and also one of the most exciting days of the year. Over winter break, our section editors, managing editors, and editor-in-chief have gotten to work sorting through some submission, but what makes it to the Big Read are a huge collection of pieces. There, each staff member sits around reading and thinking about what sort of place the pieces they're reading could have in the magazine, doing this until every piece has been read three times. From this process, we get a general opinion - any piece that was somewhat enjoyed by the three readers makes it to section meetings.
Step 3: The Fight Begins
The next step is section meetings: meetings conducted by section editors with the people that read and select for that particular section. Each staff member signs up to read the possible pieces we may publish and leaves comments, and then those comments and any further opinions are discussed in section meetings. And section meetings can go from complete agreement to complete dissent, where a few members of the staff just fell completely in love with this one piece that the other members just aren't getting. The problem is just that every piece that makes it this far is incredibly, incredibly good. And there are a few things we're considering when compiling the magazine: what would make the section fit together as a whole, how much we would potential ask of the writer to adjust (we don't want heavy edits, obviously), and how much the piece stands out and calls to readers. Since the reading experience is so subjective, it can be super hard to come to a decision! But it's in these decisions that our magazine begins to come together and be formed into a real publication.
That's where we are now - making selections and forming a complete magazine. It's a long process to distill the many incredible pieces that were submitted, but we're working hard to produce a magazine that functions as a cohesive unit to showcase some amazing voices on-campus.
Prepare for a follow-up post to this one to show the rest of the publication process! And if you submitted something and don't see it in the end result - don't be discouraged! There are a plethora of incredible voices and pieces in our submission pile that made it a super-long way down the process. It's always possible that a piece we just couldn't fit in one year turns into the standout piece in the next. Producing R2 is a process that's identical to life - timing matters, and art is never standstill.
Written by Erika S.
The perspective shared in this blog post is that of the author and not of R2 as an organization. This editorial is covering an event and its meaning and is not meant to further a political platform.
About nine months ago, I purchased what I thought was a rather ironic t-shirt from an online vendor. It was the first political tshirt I’d ever bought, and for the record, it was not very political, and its irony only appears now. I don’t take a stance; all I could take was the opposite of one. IDK NOT TRUMP THO 2016, was the only political slogan I could bear to plaster onto my chest. It was the primaries at the time. Things obviously changed. Still, at the time, I got my absentee ballot and spent a long time in my dorm room with a pen not knowing what to fill out. What I filled out in the end was essentially worthless: it was a little streak of rebellion, a little streak of ink that went on to become 1% - maybe less - of the primary vote in my state. A stance of nothingness.
Today, the English Undergraduate Association at Rice hosted a "Resistance Read-In," an event where any member of the community could read a piece of writing - poetry or prose, original or not - that they thought represented or had come from a people that had not been heard, or a group that were not being listened to. Political stance of the event aside, the key here was being listened to. And it was about something hard: saying no when people either want you to say yes, or don't want you to say anything at all. “Our goal is to fill today with sounds of acceptance and solidarity,” read the signs on all side of Willy’s Statue.
As people walked through the Academic Quad today, passing between their classes as they normally would, there was a surprising amount of silence. Most of the people going about there day were forced to listen to the single voice – cutting and demanding attention, asking to be heard. There’s something about listening that’s hard on this campus. Maybe it’s just the fact that there’s a helicopter landing on a building nearby, churning through the clouds to suck all the words out of the air. Or maybe it’s just the fact that we just don’t try very hard.
The read-in asked for people to say no and for people to listen, but it’s not as those two things always go hand-in-hand. I’ve heard far too many voices saying no so loudly they won’t listen to people saying yes, either. In writing, we can say much, but only some of our voices carry. Some of them are closed in poetry books or wrapped up on the sites we never read. I would argue that some people in this country have gotten used to being invisible and never should have needed to – and if you feel silenced, shout. There’s no need to tear the helicopters out of the sky and smash their pieces on the ground, because if we say listen instead of no, if we make the space and say we're listening, voices will shine out - over the helicopters and over the passerby.
Today, there were a lot of incredible pieces read and a lot of incredible lessons learned. We heard all sorts of voices, some sad, some absolutely elated, and all of those voices are valid. It can be difficult for us to realize that sometimes. Today's read-in was important to a lot of people and an excellent event, because it reminded us of the incredible voices that are out there and the incredible power of the written word - that which makes the air around it still and the people around it listen. I ask you to consider a thought by Jose Marti, read clearly and confidently this morning: that "Trenches of ideas are worth more than trenches of stone."
Written by Erika S.
Happy Holidays! With second semester just starting a few days ago, it feels like everything went from a calm and happy new year’s to the panic of the semester, and it can be easy to want to push things off...especially forming new habits. But starting from the very beginning is exactly how a trend in behavior becomes a routine. If you're interested in upping your writing game in 2017, here are a few tips and routines for you to consider getting into this year.
Maybe this is an obvious one, but it's challenging to find time to read for fun in college. I mean, you're already reading two novels a week for your two English classes, and there's your chemistry textbook, and there's those articles for sociology, and why would you want to read after that again? But reading really is the best way to get better at writing, and picking what you read feels like a little dash of freedom. But it has to be a routine. So, if you want to really read more books, treat it like a daily/weekly challenge: read 30 minutes of a novel, or 2 poems by a new poet, or one creative non-fiction essay.
2. Give yourself deadlines.
I’m one of those people who started making time for writing early in my life (good job, past self), but I still accomplish the most work (and sometimes the best work) when I set deadlines for myself that I treat like normal school deadlines. Add “Write 500 words about protagonist” or “Go to a coffee shop and write” to your to-do list, and then make sure you check it off! If you’re one of those people who have trouble meeting deadlines or goals you set for yourself, get your friends involved. (My roommate just got an Amazon Echo Dot for Christmas, so I’ve been considering having Alexa yell at me about my deadlines, so there's a protip also.)
3. Engage with a new form.
This is a pretty easy one to do, because it can be a lot more fun and less of a routine than the other suggestions I've given. In my opinion, any sort of art can inform your writing, no matter what it is, and it gives you a better appreciation of what the written word can accomplish when you compare it with something else. If you’ve never read a graphic novel, go read one. If you’ve never listened to a podcast that tells a story, go listen to one. If you’ve never watched K-Drama, go watch one. It’s important to engage with the type of writing you want to be doing, but you can also learn a lot from the expectations and warping of expectations that happen in other forms of media.
4. Sharing is daring!
“When are we going to read your poetry?” asked your great-uncle from Oregon over break. If you’re like me, you’ve probably stuttered something along the lines of “Well you see I’m working on something but I don’t really like it and uh I’ll it’ll be uh yeah when I’m ready, when I polish it more, then you can read it.” Maybe you don’t have to share your precious soul-space with Great Uncle Freddy, but getting feedback from a friend, or a classmate, or your Tumblr followers can be extremely helpful, and everyone should practice doing it if you're serious about writing. It tells you what is working and what still has yet to work, which we as writers can't always see on our own. Plus, the more you share things by your own volition, the easier it gets when you have to.
There are lots of possible things you can do to better your writing life in 2017, and if these aren't doing it for you, there are so many people on the internet that are doing the same thing this blog post just did. Whatever your new year's writing resolution is, good luck!!
Written by Erika S.
In these times of stress and fatigue, I have found it exceedingly difficult to read for my own enjoyment. The things that inclined me to be an English major in the first place - those long nights wrapped up in the pages of another world - no longer seem open to me. There is simply too much to do. That essay, lab, or internship is just more important.
So, I want to use this writing space to bring up a piece by one of my favorite novelists: Isabel Allende’s “This I Believe” personal essay for NPR, called, “In Giving I Connect with Others.” In her essay, Allende details how her daughter’s untimely death led her to a revelation on how to live her life. Like many of us at Rice, Allende “lived with passion and in a hurry, trying to accomplish too many things.” However, when her daughter Paula died, everything stopped for her. Through a harrowing grieving process encompassing two years in which she reflected on her daughter’s life, Allende discovered a personal mantra to live by: You only become rich through spending yourself.
I think it is easy for us to get lost in the routine drama of life. When something like losing a loved one happens, it’s like getting a bucket of icy water to the face. All of a sudden, we see the bigger picture.
While Rice champions a culture of care, individual acts of kindness can still be forgotten in times of monumental stress. I have been guilty of this myself; when a friend was in need, I still chose to pursue my academics rather than support her. At a higher level institution like Rice, it is expected that people would need to spend more time focusing on academics. However, I think it is equally important to keep in mind that GPA and leadership positions are only a few small facets of life. When we focus in on things like grades, it is easy to become blind to the bigger workings of life and the people around us. Allende’s essay reaffirmed a tenet I always kept in the back of my mind: human relationships are the most important thing in this world. That’s probably a drastic and somewhat naïve thing to say, but it is something I see confirmed again and again in daily situations.
So I guess what I’m trying to say is this: while life is definitely stressful (especially with finals coming up), it may be beneficial to step back and see all the wonderful humans we have around us—and to be grateful for the relationships supporting us.
Also, if you want to read Isabel Allende’s personal essay, here it is: http://www.npr.org/2005/04/04/4568464/in-giving-i-connect-with-others
I highly recommend it ☺
Written by Jennifer F.
My friend told me a while back that he encountered an "astounding ass." He was returning a textbook at a UPS station, and the man assisting him asked him his major, to which my friend responded that he wasn't sure yet.
"Well, let me give you some advice," Mr. UPS Man said. "Whatever you do, don't become an English major. I mean, why would you major in a language you already speak and know?"
My friend relayed this experience to me with righteous rage and frustration — probably half of which was for my benefit.
I wasn't even upset by the story. I mean, recently a Rice administrator literally said on the record, with extraordinary nonchalance, that our incoming humanities majors this year had lower test scores than STEM majors.
I've come to expect this attitude, at this point. It's so easy to feel the projected stereotypes — English majors aren't good at math, English majors have it so easy in school, English majors want to publish a novel and become the next J.K. Rowling. It's always a surprise if someone says, in response to my "confessing" that I'm an English major, "That's really cool, I don’t think I could ever do that!"
How many times have people I barely know asked me what I was going to do with an English major? How many times have people asked me why I wanted to be an English major? How many times have people asked me if I'm also pre-med or pre-law, as if that'll somehow justify "what" I am? Why can't I just be an English major?
Every first club meeting, every casual introduction during which we detail name, college, major, I flinch when I have to follow “CHBE” or “kinesiology pre-med” with plain old “English.” It’s a knee-jerk reaction of feeling, like I have to explain myself, because apparently being an English major is intrinsically confounding.
It's not just others' perceptions; I've begun to believe the prejudice myself. I won’t lie — I've had more than my fair share of moments of inferiority. When I hear that someone, especially a girl, is majoring in computer science or bioengineering, I feel awe and a strong pinch of jealousy. I always ask myself, "Why couldn't I do that?"
And I think this feeling of inferiority is especially prevalent at Rice, a school so obviously focused on STEM students, that every English major I meet is a treasure to behold, a rare sympathizer and genuine peer.
Some people think we sit on our butts all day and think about books, that we don’t actually do anything while other students are at lab or research or the OEDK. Yes, the STEM students are incredibly busy — I respect that. They’re brilliant and they do so much in school and the real world. But the fact that English (and really any humanities) majors have shockingly fewer class requirements does not invalidate what we do. We make sure we’re busy, and we choose what makes us busy. Trust me, we’re loaded on the extracurriculars, and our classes take time too, in a different way.
Such critics should be ashamed for shaming us and what we love. What right do they have to criticize the choice we've made? Maybe we know something they don't — something hidden in the (literal) hundreds of books we have to read in school, our analyses, the millions of words we've written.
Language built this world. Who cares if we all already know it? In the Old Testament, when the people grew too arrogant and tried to build the Tower of Babel with an intent to reach the heavens, God only had to take away their ability to communicate, and they fell apart, just like that.
English teaches us about people and how to understand them. It teaches us about experiences we have yet to encounter. It teaches us about the many facets of the world about which we would otherwise have no idea.
So before you assume English majors had no other choice and that they are literally incapable of everything else, ask yourself if you're able to analyze the hell out of a seven-word sentence the way we can, or turn a three-second encounter into a 16-page short story, or even begin to comprehend the world in all its layers and people and confusions.
And before you take to criticism, ask yourself if you love your major as much as English majors love theirs. Very few people these days can boast they truly know their passions. In the millennial world, where instant gratification (not to mention instant money-making) is all the rage and ladder-climbing is considered an absolute necessity, many have lost sight of what they genuinely love. If there's one thing I know about English majors, it's that we all love what we're studying.
English majors aren't the lackadaisical, last-resort people some might assume them to be. We didn't swivel around looking for anything but this and find that we had no choice but to sigh, settle for English. And so what if being purely an English major without a pre-____ track sometimes means having to "wait and see"? There's nothing wrong with that. People jump from job to job in their 20s anyway — sometimes later than that.
I'm tired of defending my life choice to people. I'm tired of having to cite people like Mario Cuomo, Sting (ha), Diane Sawyer or Steven Spielberg. Do I really have to justify my major based on celebrities' successes?
I’m not going to make it my mission to critique your or anyone’s major because it’s not like mine. Major in whatever the heck you want. The point is, don’t shit on *insert major here* because you probably have no idea what you’re talking about.
Trust that it's nearly the same across the board for any major: If we work hard, we'll get somewhere. Simple as that. Even if our “somewhere” is not as concrete as "I'm going to be a pediatric oncologist" or "I'm going to be a software engineer," doesn't mean it's not valid. We'll figure it out. There's nothing wrong with giving it a little time.
Written by Julianne W.
Yesterday was the start of one of my favorite-and-least-favorite months of the year. It’s now November, which means National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo, as you may have heard it called) has officially begun. For anyone not familiar with this challenge, writers around the world will be spending the next 30 days attempting to write 50,000 words, roughly the length of a novel. As someone who has won NaNoWriMo a few times before, I wanted to share a few of my tips and tricks.
1. Make your NaNo experience yours.
It can be hard to motivate yourself to write if you aren’t going into it with a clear goal about what you want to get out of the challenge. NaNoWriMo is a set challenge – 50,000 words in 30 days – but it’s also an entirely flexible framework. You can take advantage of all the excitement of the month and the tremendous support NaNo writers get, even if you aren’t attacking the challenge directly. Maybe it would be more meaningful to you to try something different. Let me give you some examples – my own experience.
The first time I did NaNoWriMo, it was just because it seemed like a really exciting challenge to me. I wrote a book in 30 days and managed it quite well; at the end, I did have a complete book. However, when I decided to attack this process for the second time, four years later, I realized that I didn’t need to write a first draft of a novel in a month. What I did instead was devote myself to a more challenging month – 65,000 words split up over working on and wrapping up three or four projects I’d been working on for years. I got a lot out of both of these experiences, even though I didn’t technically achieve what the goal of the program was.
Last year, my third NaNo win, I decided that my writing pace had gotten to the point where 50,000 words wasn’t going to be enough to constitute a real challenge. I’m a pretty disciplined person, so I stuck myself with 75,000 words towards a new project. This was a welcome break from my primary novel project, which I’ve been slaving over for years, but looking back, I only have about half a book out of that project. Even though I hit my word limit – 75,000 words – I don’t have a complete project yet, and the story has sat untouched in my Dropbox for a year now.
This year, therefore, I’m prepping myself for a writing challenge that will really address my goals at this precise moment. Instead of NaNoWriMo, I’m tackling “NaNoEdMo,” aka the month I edit 10-11 pages of my novel per day. I don’t need to generate new material; I need to work more diligently with the material I already have.
The point is this: NaNoWriMo is supposed to be a fun and challenging exercise that helps you grow as a writer. Whatever that may mean to you is an entirely personal process; don’t feel like you have to do the same thing as everybody else.
2. Get some support.
The NaNoWriMo website (http://nanowrimo.org/) has lots of opportunities built into it that can help you find some people in your area also attempting NaNo this year, or you can just designate a friend who will help motivate you throughout. Having some sort of group message that you can just rant your NaNo problems to can be extremely relieving, and you get to celebrate together when you’re done.
It’s also really important to make it clear to your family and friends the challenge you’ve set yourself up for. I’ve been preparing for NaNoWriMo for about two weeks now by working through some writing exercises every day and by telling everybody around me that I’m doing NaNoWriMo. Your family will thank you when they have an explanation for your stress over Thanksgiving, too!
3. Forget "inspiration" - just write.
Every writer can cite a time when writing has seemed like the hardest thing in the world. Dispel the myth right now that a writing burst or mood will just “come to you,” because maybe inspiration can work like that sometimes, but you don’t have to wait on a magical sparkle of divine energy in NaNoWriMo. My advice in this situation (and in general) is just to sit down, take a deep breath, set yourself up with music or snacks or whatever you need, and write. Write until your fingers bleed and you can’t look at the words on the page anymore (or you hit your wordcount, whatever comes first).
And have a backup if you really get stuck. Last year, my 75,000 word story for NaNoWriMo was about pirates. I cannot tell you how many times I got slightly stuck and sent my main character walking across the deck talking to various other characters until I found a place to go with the story. Have one of these types of “when-in-doubt” cards you can play. If even that doesn’t work, you can always just break the fourth wall and start writing about how awful this whole writing thing is; you’ll probably hit your word count eventually.
4. But what if I really need inspiration?
Check out these resources, which may help to get your brain up and going in that writing mood again or can guide your interests and stories!
http://fantasy-faction.com/ (for fantasy)
http://www.springhole.net/index.html (articles about writing, also a whole bunch of random generators for names, objects, settings, everything you can think of)
http://www.charlottedillon.com/characters.html (character development documents)
http://alyssahollingsworth.com/2015/08/06/100-questions-for-character-couples/ (if you’re trying to develop a realistic romance)
http://100-prompts.livejournal.com/692.html (a whole bunch of prompts)
And, if you want your writing inspiration in small doses:
Good luck, NaNoWriMo community! Happy writing!
Written by Erika S.
Over the past year, my taste in music has evolved from the Rock & Roll my parents teethed me on. There's still a lot of love in my heart for AC/DC and Zeppelin, but man, give me some fingerplucked guitars and soft poetry, and I'm in heaven.
The love affair started with a month of nothing but Hozier in the snowy northeastern winter, something to help roll the wheels of my beat-up '89 Honda Civic to school, something to fall in and out of relationships to. Hozier tells stories through his songs, mournful and multilayered tales that transcend a linear concept of love. It's something living, something pure and bittersweet and catching.
A few months later, I overheard a song in a tea shop that set me off on a new tangent. If you’re interested in indie folk, you’ve probably heard of Gregory Alan Isakov -- and if you haven’t, here’s your cue to plug your headphones in and pull up YouTube. “The Stable Song” is the first song I've ever heard that took my breath away. It's poetry through and through, and it never quite says what it wants you to understand. It's an artful form of melancholy that both soothes and fans my homesickness for a place I’ve never been, and it’s unwoven my stress many a late night. Beyond anything, though, “The Stable Song” renewed my faith in the lyricism that I’d lost in my music, and these two lines in particular:
now i’ve been crazy couldn’t you tell
i threw stones at the stars, but the whole sky fell.
Something had stepped out of my reach the day I realized music was an industry, and that industries are made to make money above anything else. It was always this question, with every song that came on the radio - is this a feeling or a sales pitch? Discovering the indies reminded me that music is an art form, even if it comes in the two-lines-repeated-for-three-minutes-straight variety. It’s what you need in the moment, what your friends have in their hands, what your family has in the car. We find the poetry that follows the same rhythm as our heartbeats, and we fall in love with the words that we can memorize and stylize on the way to class. Some days, it’s Barns Courtney; some, it’s Big Sean; others, you can find me bouncing back and forth between Lord of the Rings scores and the Eagles. There’s a whole universe of sound out there that you can wield throughout your day to day to compose the kind of soundtrack you wouldn’t mind being remembered with. Draw from the classics, the popular, the path less traveled. Throw your own beats into the ring, tell your own story. It’s all music, in the end; and that’s what matters.
and i ran back to that hollow again
the moon was just a sliver back then
and i ached for my heart like some tin man
when it came oh it beat and it boiled and it rang...it’s ringing
ring like crazy, ring like hell
turn me back into that wild haired gale
ring like silver, ring like gold
turn these diamonds straight back into coal
turn these diamonds straight back into coal.
Written by Kristen Hickey ('20)
When I was a young and foolish freshman, I was in a FWIS entitled “Writing Everyday Life.” We were assigned to read a book of poems that I’d never heard of before by a guy who, frankly, I’d never heard of before. Though I started out hopeful, I soon grew aggravated by the loose structure of the poems. I tried and failed to find meaning in the name-dropping and the place-dropping, which read less like poetry and more like a pointless chronicle of a person’s day. “I went here. I did this.” Nothing else.
I hated the poems. I wanted to cause harm to the publication that had caused me so much aggravation. Like a medieval torturer specialized in finding new and unique ways to induce pain, I plunged the book into a sink full of water, as if to dissolve the very words off the paper, and then for good measure I threw it in the microwave.
As an aside, I do not recommend doing this. Microwaved glue is not a pleasant scent.
The book I so savagely attacked was Lunch Poems. The poet was Frank O’Hara.
I’ve thought a lot about that book since. I no longer have it – when I could not get the scent of burned glue off the pages, I decided to throw it out entirely, and at the time I did not consider it a loss. But as my knowledge increased a little and my patience for things I do not understand increased a bit more, I began to wonder if I was simply taking the wrong approach to the poetry on the page.
I have since learned, from Edward Hirsch’s A Poet’s Glossary, that O’Hara and the other poets that made up the New York School of poetry often used the city as subject matter. They “valued spontaneity and movement, impulse, accident and coincidence.” O’Hara himself literally referred to his own poems as “I-do-this-I-do-that” poems. By looking for allegory and allusion, by searching for symbolism in the place names and concrete details, I was perhaps missing the entire point of the poetry, which was simply to convey everyday life.
One day in my FWIS, we watched a video that, even at the peak of my hatred of his poetry, made me respect and admire O’Hara as a writer willing to abandon all control over the details his poems contained. In the video, O’Hara is sitting at a typewriter, tapping out his latest project as he talks to the interviewer behind the camera and another man, Alfred Leslie, off frame. The phone rings, and O’Hara picks it up. We hear only his side of the telephone conversation as he asks his friend “How are you? You have an upset stomach?” still typing away at his machine. He talks for a time, explains to his friend on the other end of the line the peculiar situation of simultaneously talking on the phone and writing and being interviewed “for educational purposes.” He jokes around. He stops typing, falling still at something the man says. “Flash and bolt, what does that mean? Flashing bolt, you mean?” He recommences typing. “Good. Flashing bolt, good, good.” He takes his hands off the keyboard to look at what he’s written. “A flashing bolt. Is that art, or, what is it? I just laid it onto the paper.”
Now, when I imagine O’Hara writing Lunch Poems, I don’t imagine him perusing a thesaurus, trying to find the perfect word that conveys the perfect emotion. I imagine him walking down the street, taking detailed, specific mental notes of the things that he sees. Making art out of that, out of the everyday.
I have lately revisited O’Hara for the first time since freshman year, and the experience I had was much more profitable – and much less violent – than my last interaction with his poetry. In recently reading “The Day Lady Died” for class, I was able to appreciate the detailed account of his movement throughout the city and his mundane actions not as a pointless digression from the subject of the elegy, Billie Holiday, but as O’Hara’s account of a day in which Holiday’s death – and her life – lingers behind every detail and every interaction, though she only literally occupies three lines of the poem. And I recognized that O’Hara’s name-dropping and place-dropping had its own sort of unique purpose – to contrast with the one thing, the one person too sacred to name. Like someone looking at the sun out of the corner of his eye for fear that direct exposure will blind him, O’Hara talks around Holiday; yet, she remains nonetheless an omnipresent, all-pervasive part of the poem. Her central presence is striking, considering that she is kept on the periphery of the poem until the very end.
I’d be willing to bet that no matter how much you disliked a piece of writing, you’ve never dissolved it in water and thrown it in a microwave. But maybe you’ve felt as confused and aggravated by a piece of literature as freshman Indigo felt about O’Hara. Before you take your anger out on the book, a word of advice: learn a bit about the literature before you sink the knife; learn a bit about its author. Though art may at first appear pointless, it can take on profound meaning and depth once you take the time to learn its background; if you don’t believe me, look up the back story to Felix Gonzalez-Torres’ museum installation that consists of 175 pounds of hard candy piled in a corner of the room. You would never guess it at first glance, but this is one of the most moving art installations I’ve ever heard of (http://www.artic.edu/aic/collections/artwork/152961). For me, O’Hara’s poems function the same way. When I went in looking for something specific, some adherence to some convention, I was aggravated when I found nothing; but in turning my back, I failed to see something interesting, something uniquely moving, that I was never expecting to see.
Written by Indigo V.
When I watched the most recent film adaptation of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince with my sister, I cried like a baby — I actually had no control over my emotional reaction. We paused in the middle because my sister declared she had to practice violin (typical disciplined type A older sibling), and because I have no self-control, I looked up the rest of the movie on Wikipedia (the movie necessarily deviates from the original source material). Even just reading the article, which is plain old plot summary, made me cry. That’s how ridiculous of an effect it had on me.
We finished the movie together anyway, and at one point, Jennifer asked me, “Wait, why is she looking for the little prince? He’s not real.”
I felt annoyed and couldn’t exactly pinpoint why, until after we finished the movie and I figured, well, none of it is real, per se. And does that matter?
We keep literature, music, film — the arts, basically — close despite the fact that none of it is really tangible. Think about how different it is to read something like A Song of Ice and Fire or Love in the Time of Cholera versus a New York Times news article. More often than not, there’s such a distinction that, somehow, these books affect us much more strongly than a fact-based report. Somehow, someone else’s world — which in turn becomes inexplicably yours — is so incredibly powerful and moving. The words on pages bound together into a novel, shapes on a movie theater screen, that tell a story separate from reality are yet far more identifiable than the reality in which we’re rooted.
I’m sure we’ve all felt this, whether with Harry Potter, or Calvin and Hobbes, or Her. But the skeptics remain.
Albus Dumbledore famously said in the final Harry Potter novel, "Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?"
Yes, none of it is concrete and none of it is tangible — it’s hardly even explicable. Things like novels and films are woven, entangled with metaphors, because art simply can’t be defined in normal terms. It can’t be quantified or rationalized. And maybe it’s hard to pinpoint exactly why it affects us so, but maybe the reason they do is the reason we need them.
So yeah, all of that was happening in someone else’s head. And it’s playing out in yours now, too. But at the end of the day, isn’t everything? Is anything “real”? Does the "realistic" nature of art matter at all?
When it comes to art — the intangible — the part that matters is the fact that it does.
Written by Julianne Wey (’18)
R2: The Rice Review
Rice University's undergraduate literary magazine. Here you can find event updates, monthly writing contest winners, and opinions by the R2 staff on what's new, interesting, or subject to discussion in the literary and arts world.