You’re sitting on the bed, palms pressed against the soft, warm sheets pulled taut by your weight. Your legs dangle over the side facing him, suspended well above the ground. He’s standing, leaning really, against his desk, one arm pressing down on it, the other crossed over his chest as he stares at you.
You’re speaking. You’re explaining your tension, your struggles, your pain, and your dreams to him. They tumble out of your mouth, words flowing after one another like a waterfall, cascading down the side of your bed. He’s picking through them. He’s inspecting each one, sorting them, and storing them. At least, you think he is.
But you see it in his stare, his distant, glassy stare. You see that they are just sounds to him. The fear, the joy, the essence of yourself woven into your words dissipates the second they leave your mouth, and as he scoops them up he does so without comprehension, without understanding.
You pause. He nods. The silence stretches. He has nothing to say. He is thinking, but you know there is no sense in waiting. You wait anyway. Inevitably he breaks the silence, and the platitudes and miscomprehension drip out of him, clattering against the floor with the hollow, metallic clinking of rusty nails. They hurt.
The sky is dark, shrouded in the thick blackness of night. She’s staring up at it as she speaks. Her words are like the pitter-patter of rain striking a window, tarrying for but a moment before they slide down and off into the darkness. Her eyes are rimmed with redness, and the little cracks in her voice are jagged and uneven.
She’s staring up into the sky as she speaks, and the words flowing out of her mouth are obscured by the darkness. She’s staring up into the sky as she speaks, and not at you. And all the little cues - the quavering voice, the moist eyes, the slight trembling – all of them speak of pain, but she won’t look at you. And you can feel it in your eyes. You can feel the distance and the void, the irreconcilability of her world with yours. You can feel what she might be avoiding etching itself in your pupils. You turn to your right, and you see suffering. She looks straight ahead. Her pain will never be yours.
We are all as islands unto one another. Separated by vast stretches of experience, our inner lives are remote and trapped within ourselves. We search unceasingly for intimacy - with our friends, with our lovers, with our parents - with anyone we think might understand us. We are never successful. Despite our best efforts to explain ourselves and understand others, despite how well we sometimes believe we are understood or how well we sometimes believe we understand others, there is never true understanding. Each one of us has a distinct set of experiences, a distinct set of impressions, a distinct set of struggles and pains. We cannot expect ourselves to be able to step outside of those, to be able to fully step into another person’s life as easily as we might step into a pair of shoes. We are confined by what we know and who we are. Even as we empathize with others, we fail to fully understand them.
The goal of the writer or the artist is to break beyond this. The desire to be understood pushes us to understand ourselves and synthesize our experience into a story or a feeling we can share. We struggle to encapsulate our full experience in what we create, and if we share that work we are casting a part of ourselves out into the world to be seen and understood.
Alas, it a doomed enterprise. Even when we write and create, when we pull from ourselves all that we are able, we can never fully bridge the barriers inherent in human individuality. If you consider, for example, the first story, can you fully describe the “hurt”? To each reader it would be felt as a different sensation linked to different memories, and so even amongst fellow readers the experience would not be the same.
The actions of the artist, then, are like hurling a stone into the ocean. The true form of it sinks beneath the waves, lost somewhere on the ocean floor, and in its wake it leaves ripples. This slight disturbance in the water, this slight nudge to the lives and minds of others in the world – this is what the painter, what the composer, what the author creates beyond their work. It is a slight perturbation of the world. It is a distorted piece of the creator pulsing out from their creation, diminishing almost to nothing as it propagates, but it is something nonetheless.
This is what we hold onto when we write, when we paint, when we push our souls into our work and our work into the world. This slight taste of something - this slight sensation of having some dilute, distorted perception of our inner lives exist in others– this is our candle in the night. This is our paltry effort to stave off the darkness of our isolation, and though it is a small comfort, it is a comfort nonetheless.
Written by Shaan N.
I had an interesting experience at the symphony last weekend. The pianist was amazing, and for the first thirty minutes I was completely engrossed in his playing. And then my mind started to drift. Suddenly, I was writing a poem in my head while the concert was going on. Part of me felt guilty about it, like I should really be completely focused on the music. But it was pretty cool, too. While the musicians were making their art, I was simultaneously making mine. When I got home, I wrote down what I’d come up with, and it turned out wilder and stranger than what I’ve been writing lately.
I took two things away from that evening. First, the best writing doesn’t always start on the page. You can write while you listen to a concert, clean your room, or walk your dog. And secondly, at the symphony I was forced to sit down for two hours and just be there. There were no distractions, no one texting me, no homework to do. That kind of experience has been rare since I started college. Freshman year, I was shocked at how hard it was for me to write, and I wrote three times as many poems last summer (when I didn’t have a job and was extremely bored) than I did in my entire first year.
We’re all busy at Rice. But writers need time to rest—even to be bored. If every free moment of your day is filled with events, classes, friends, homework, Netflix, and napping, you have left your brain no time to cook anything, no time to synthesize and combine your experiences into that magic creative impulse that leads to art.
So here are six simple practices to give yourself some blank space to generate the beautiful poems, stories, and essays you have inside you.
1. Make a playlist that inspires you and listen to it for half an hour before you start writing. Really sink into the music. Close your eyes and feel the stories the songs are telling. (PS, the album To the Sun and All the Cities in Between by City of the Sun is some of the most evocative instrumental music I’ve ever heard. If you’re looking to start your writing playlist, give ‘em a listen!)
2. Go to a free event you think might be slightly boring—maybe a lecture on the physics of Star Trek or a silent movie screening. If it’s interesting, it could generate material for your writing. If not, you can zone in and out and think about whatever you want. The important part is that you’ll be in a space where politeness will restrict you from chatting, using your phone, or falling asleep, a perfect atmosphere for writing.
3. But also, sleep. I sometimes come up with ideas for writing in dreams. For bonus points, wake up half an hour earlier than you need to and use that time to jot down a few ideas/images/ephemera.
4. Go for a walk and leave your phone on silent.
5. Take a long shower.
6. Cultivate a stress-free hobby; crocheting, biking, cooking, organizing your room. Activities that engage your body without asking much of your brain are prime writing times.
These are just a few ideas. I’m sure y’all can come up with even better practices that work for you! Best of luck, and happy writing.
Written by Annabelle C.
Look up, and you shall see a tree. A tree much like you. You walk away from your third exam of the week; you see a tree as exhausted as yourself, with its long torso slouched against the grass, leafy fingers outstretched, toward the frequented pathway outside McMurtry and students passing by. You fall off your skateboard on your way to class; you see a tree bark--scraped yet tough. You feel a great explosion of enthusiasm and validation; you see a tree: proud-faced, arms thrown up in a Y, ecstatic and free of worries. You want a break from your hectic schedule; you see a tree, in the middle of everything, but serene, a head of broccoli, under which you are tempted to sit down and slumber away into oblivion.
At night, I walk under their gnarly fingers, a tunnel made for me. It is nine p.m., you look up and see a roof of curly bones; you look down and see images cracked into the ground. Shadows leap from the lights cast from the lampposts—a growing claw besides me, dragging zombies up ahead, a bestial blob in front. A host of frightening yet curious figures. A strange feeling settles in me; and I slow down and observe. A knot, a branch, a cluster of diamond-shaped leaves. Up, up, up, up. It is a climb, one that brings you beyond the shadows and the fears and the narrow-mindedness. A wide, pitch-black void, night. What we find there is that precious thing that Plato calls Truth.
There are as many trees as there are students. Or at least, that’s what I think as I walk around Rice campus. All of the trees in Houston congregate here, offering us oxygen for our carbon dioxide. Mutualistic exchange, or something more. While some of them may seem odd or intimidating, they each have as much character as us, a permanent resident and companion. So--
Look up, and you shall see a friend.
Written by Kristie L.
Think about your favorite poem. If you don’t have one, think about your favorite book, movie, song, TV show, art piece, whatever. Where did you find it? Who were you, then? Did you pick your favorite book off a library shelf and take it home with you? Did you read it all in one go on the floor at a bookstore? Did you hear your favorite song at a party, in the background of a TV show, or did you download it before listening to it because you knew it was by your favorite artist? Do you have a picture of your favorite art piece saved on your phone? Is it your lock screen? Is it better in person?
I went to an English Undergraduate Association event where we made stickers out of cut-outs from old books and art magazines. I picked up a vintage (2008) edition of R2 and, as I flipped through it, was struck by two things: (1) the magazine had no visual art component, and (2) there was a poem, titled “V. Credits,” about end credits, at the very end of the magazine, right before the contributor biographies. I was so struck by how perfect the poem was, and how perfect the placement was (I thought at first that they were literal “end credits” to the magazine) that I almost got emotional over it, so I cut it out of the magazine to make a sticker out of it.
It was only after I cut it out that I realized what a horrible, violent act I had performed--attacking this artifact of Rice history, slicing this poem out of its home, ditching the page number, the author’s name, cutting off the arteries that had once fed life into the poem. While I’m sure that other, intact copies of the 2008 edition of R2 exist somewhere else in the world, this copy will never be the same again, and this poem will never know its home again. I was almost compelled to glue it back into the magazine.
I didn’t, but hopefully I can resurrect this poem and give it a new home here. I was moved by it in the magazine; who says that someone else may not be moved by it in the blog?
Written by Rynd M.
Walking around the Tokyo National Museum gallery this summer, I saw this scroll of poems with words that looked more like chicken-scratch than actual Japanese. Originally I took this photo because I intended to ask my host family whether or not they could read it.
For those who are unfamiliar with Japanese, it looks like this:
*Hiragana is used for Japanese words and Katakana is used for foreign words (and some miscellaneous usages such as for onomatopoeias)
With my limited knowledge of the language, I could make out a few characters,
but as for the rest, all I saw were scribbles.
Before I ever got around to asking my host family, I met a Japanese student who had studied Japanese calligraphy for nearly a decade during her childhood. So naturally I showed her the picture I had taken and asked her what she thought. “This is very beautiful calligraphy,” my new friend said, “The balance is very good.”
When I told her I didn’t quite get what she meant by “good balance,” she explained that,
1. The lines went straight up and down and did not curve or slant
2. The connection of letters within individual words was smooth
3. The spaces between letters were all even, including the spacing of the connected letters.
The “fluid” look actually required years of training to master. My friend said she would practice writing individual words over and over again until her teacher approved.
But what I found most interesting was that the writing on the scroll was poetry. I still don’t know what it says, as my friend said the Japanese was too old for her to understand, but I imagine the reading of the poem flows just as smoothly as its lettering: a wonderful fusion of visual and written art. From past experience, I don’t remember the last time I saw a poem in which the visual components (besides the spacing) were taken into as much consideration as the poem itself. And I’m sure many writers don’t give a second thought to whether their writing is printed in Times New Roman or Arial.
That led me to wonder what would happen if we also developed specific English lettering systems to write certain poems. Would it change the way we read them?
(Note: the purple/blue spots on the scroll are part of a “flying cloud” decorative pattern.)
Written by Ginny J.
I share my body with an angel / of light who sunbursts / on my horizons at dusk
- Deborah D.E.E.P. Mouton