Panicking over Kim Kardashian

written by Keaton Tennant

I don’t know what I’m doing. That’s what my bio on Twitter says. That’s what I whisper to myself when I click the “Submit” button on Submittable. That’s what I think when it’s three in the morning and I’ve finally finished the part of my story that was taking me weeks to complete.

When my mentor, Kelly McMasters, had first told me about an opportunity to work with her and Melissa Connolly to help start up a literary magazine right here at Hofstra University, I was nervous. That overbearing feeling of “I don’t know what I’m doing” kept coming up like a whack-a-mole, and I wasn’t hitting them hard or fast enough.

A part of me feared the fact that I was working with MFA students. Another part of me feared that one wrong decision and the entire project could tank within seconds like the stock market. If I typed things in Helvetica instead of Calibri, bees would go extinct. If I used the bathroom at the wrong time, California’s drought would somehow reach across the plains to the east coast. If I followed Kim Kardashian accidentally on our Twitter account, Pluto’s orbit would be massively shifted and crash straight into the Earth.

After a few meetings with Melissa and a couple of reassuring conversations with Kelly, however, that voice started to shrink. It became less of an “I don’t know what I’m doing,” to more of an “I can do this,” and then, after a month and a half of working here, finally to an “I know exactly what needs to be done.” Of course, when I did follow Kim K nothing happened, though I wish she would follow back and potentially submit something.

On Children Writing Memoir

written by Michael Heiss

I’m sitting in a room full of middle school students at the summer school that I teach at, and they’re writing memoirs.  I have been planning for this first writing experience since I arrived a week ago.  Since the program began, my colleagues, who teach other subjects like biology, logic, fast-paced mathematics, and even neuroscience, have asked me, “Are they going to be able to write memoirs?”  I smiled and nodded, but inside I quietly wondered, “Are your kids going to be able to dissect sheep brains in your biology class?”  “Are your students going to be able to determine the radius of orbital movements in your astrophysics class?”  I know they know the answers to these questions, so I wondered why they felt the need to ask me.  Of course these students are going to be able to write memoirs.  Just because people are young doesn’t mean they can’t be introspective or reflective.  Needless to say, it bothered me.  Is writing about one’s self really harder than doing science and math?  From the way these teachers of tangible fields inquisitioned me, I would guess the answer is “Yes.”

The questions they asked raised questions in me.  My students are all high-achieving superkids, but have they ever really been asked to think about themselves, their lives, their challenges?  I would assume that some may keep a journal or a diary, but that’s private, and writing a memoir is not writing a diary.  Could they really do it?

The experience triggered an emotional response I hadn’t experienced teaching undergrads.  I began to ask myself if I prepared them enough.  I sweated.  I read over my lessons, my syllabus.  I read them again.  But as the academic week began, and I watched these young minds, who had never read a personal essay, never read creative nonfiction, and never been asked “why” about themselves, succeeded, I knew that I was teaching them well.  My fears subsided, and in their wake was left a realization:  “These mathematicians and scientists might be afraid of engaging the unknown world inside themselves.”  It made me feel good, and it made me feel that writing personal essays were just as important, maybe more important, than all of the other subjects combined.  Science, Math, Engineering – these are subjects with questions that lead to answers.  Right or wrong, they feel concrete.  Finite.  If it’s wrong, why is it wrong?  Of course there are unknowns, but there is a trail that they can follow.  When examining the self, there is no right or wrong – just a sea of grey and lots of cause and effect.  It’s personal, and one person’s journey is never the same.

Looking ahead, in three weeks when this program is finished, these thirteen young minds will walk out of this classroom with a better sense of self and the experience of being able to look at themselves and understand why and how the things they’ve done have happened, and I feel good about that.  They’re all going into math and science fields, and maybe they’ll make some amazing breakthroughs because they know they can conquer the unknown.  They’ve already done it once.

The Blessing of Find but not Replace

written by Melissa Connolly

There were, after the editing was finished, 647 instances of the word “look” still in the manuscript. This was after I had noticed my penchant for talking about how we just looked at one another in silence, or with meaning, or longing, or how I looked at him while he talked or moved or ate…I looked at the floor, at my feet, at the vista beyond.  Characters said “look” as a means of opening a dialogue, they looked through friends, at the food.

And so began the painful movement through those 647 instances of look, word by word. Even at just a minute of edits each, it was, by my admittedly terrible and inept calculations, a 10 hour task.

In truth, it was a blessing. And not just because I varied it with “stare,” “glance” or “gaze,” which I did, on occasion.

Sometimes, I just took the “look” out.  Of course I was looking at the person I was talking to. Did I need it? No.

Sometimes I rewrote it, realizing I needed something else entirely. Maybe there was something I needed to say about the relationship between these two people. Maybe I was exploring something, maybe I was seeing something new or for the first time, and it wasn’t about the looking but about the seeing.

And in the end, I realized that the looking was becoming a sort of theme, one I hadn’t (pun intended) seen before. That this character looked but didn’t want to see. And I didn’t know that, at least in that efficient phrasing, before finding, reading and replacing the 647 instances of the word “look.”

Look no longer owned me.  But I saw what was important, and I used look with purpose.

And I’d like to thank Microsoft, because in truth, this would have been the work of several editors in the age of manual typewriters.

Tomorrow we’ll find and replace the word ‘smile’ and see what happens.