From Literature to Journalism: Writing for Two

DSCF6339

Last week, I got to read my poem, “When the World Went Deaf” (https://sarahleastories.com/2019/12/08/when-the-world-went-deaf/), to a group of student artists and faculty at the unveiling of The Kilgore Review, Pensacola State College’s annual student journal. Ironically, I was asked to read the piece that didn’t win last year’s collegiate writing contest and not the piece that won, which was a short story I had originally written for myslexia magazine (a UK publication).

Figuring it was a quintessential American story, I submitted it to the writing contest, because what college student wouldn’t want to read about what happens when a girl sneaks in pot brownies and spikes the punch at a Mormon potluck?

It was a humor story, of course, which has become my favorite to write (as well as read). I’ve found that during my time in college, I am not only evolving as a person but also as a writer and speaker/storyteller.

Creative writing will always be my first love, because I don’t have to depend upon anyone else to give me the story; if I do need to conduct research, I can find it with a few clicks or hang out in the archives at the local university.

I will always be a writer first and a reporter second, but more on that later.

Last time I read my poetry, I opened with a joke. This time, I ended the reading with an explanation of what inspired the poem, which adds context and a more personal touch.

I have unilateral hearing loss, and I know I’ve missed out on things (which is why I am a shameless eavesdropper). I probably look quite apt when someone is speaking, because I have to make a conscious effort to listen. That’s why I don’t notice people snoring behind me—I am too focused on what’s in front of me.

On “When the World Went Deaf,” I wondered what life would be like, how humans would adapt, if everyone was like me, more than I was like me (i.e. completely deaf). The film Perfect Sense, which epitomizes the cliché, “poetry in motion,” also inspired me.
I made sure to plug my story; when you use the words Mormons and pot (and mention that it was a first-place winner), you just might get people to read it.

I invited my mom because there was free food, and it was nice to have someone there who loved me. When my husband tells me he’s proud of me, it means a lot, but it doesn’t carry the same weight as when my parents say it; it’s not because I love them more, it’s just that way (I think) because we all have an inner child that never grows up.
We grow up, innately wanting to please our parents.

~

The next day was our journalism workshop.

So this Michael Koretzky (http://www.koretzky.com/) was the VIP, wearing a Che Guevera shirt (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Che_Guevara) with a monocle hanging from his neck. As soon as I saw him, I thought, this guy looks a bit intimidating (I usually only see other women as intimidating).

Within the first ten minutes, I could tell he was the type of person to psychoanalyze you, and that puts me on my guard. He didn’t care about our names—he just wanted to know what we did for the paper (some people didn’t know!), where we saw ourselves in 5-10 years (some were still figuring that out), and our favorite genetic/communicable disease (I chose Huntington’s chorea, because I’ve written two poems on it). https://sarahleastories.com/2015/04/02/poem-a-day-writers-digest-challenge-2-theme-secret/.

Some he referred to by our “favorite” diseases (glad I chose one most non-medical students have never heard of), but never by our name. I’m the type of person who feels humanized when people use my name, so I wasn’t crazy about this tactic, but it was creative. It did spark some interesting conversation, so perhaps that was the intent.

He said the people who had quick answers are those who are always reassessing what others think about them. I’m not sure that’s true, but I will say I don’t always ask certain questions because of the Mark Twain quote about opening your mouth and looking like a fool, so maybe there was a little bit of truth to that. I don’t even like it when my husband reads me, but that’s the poker player in him. I don’t like to be studied (just admired).

Ten years ago, I would’ve burst into tears when he pulled up my story on green living and said it was good writing, but shitty reporting (which I still don’t understand, as I had three good student quotes on things they did to be more environmentally-conscious). However, I didn’t have any pictures, and that is something I’ve learned—take your own or arrange for a photographer. Instead, a bunch of lame graphics/clipart were used, and I think that’s something we need to get away from.

But on the shitty reporting. I will be the first to admit, I am much more a writer than I am a reporter. I am still learning, but reporting includes stills and video now I still think the reporting was good, but what I gathered was that I was supposed to find someone on campus who did something outlandish to be green; I would then profile that one person, and I say, I much prefer to prearrange to interview one person than go out and get quotes from strangers. I like in-depth profiles, but where to find these people? My eyes and ears are wide open—maybe I should hang around the biology department. I don’t know. I think what I need to do is find the story, rather than write the story, and build the narrative around it.

Koretzky went into detail about all the different ways you could write for companies without being a journalism major. That would be something I would do freelance, but my primary career will be working in a hospital or clinic in an administrative capacity until my creative writing pays off (i.e. I become a best-selling novelist or win the lottery and buy a million copies of my book).

I like writing “the verities” that Pulitzer Prize-nominated columnist Rheta Grimsley Johnson who visited our Corsair class, talked about. I write the kind of writing that transcends time.

That said, I believe all kinds of writing are important, and so I want to become better. Reporting has helped me become more comfortable with others, and learn how to ask good questions. I’ve had experiences writing for the paper I would never have gotten just writing my own thing. I am not a news junkie, which I believe you must be if you want to be a journalist.

However, I wouldn’t mind writing for a newspaper as a correspondent on a freelance basis, or what I call citizen journalism.

I never have a problem with finding ideas for my writing, but for my reporting—that is a challenge.

So even though I don’t want to become a journalist, I want to become the best reporter I can become while doing it for the paper.

Koretzky helped us discover that our largest problem was communication. We don’t always make the meetings or collaborate; most of us work independently. I prefer to just write the story and let them do with it what they may. I don’t hang out in the Corsair office; I already work in an office all day during work-study. I prefer to work remotely, but I do show up for the meetings. However, I do need face-time once in awhile. The only thing that drives me crazy is when the meeting doesn’t start on time and its just dead time, wasted time.

The workshop was a good (if lengthy) experience; I learned a great deal and got more motivated. Did you know that group photos suck because they’re boring? Journalism doesn’t have to be fair. There was a great shot of a girl in the geology club climbing a rock, and it wasn’t used, but rather a posed group shot was. I am also a fan of including negative space in a photo and overlaying text in that space, because I do that with my poetry sometimes. (I call it “phoetry,” which is just a little too precious.)

One of his best lines was about talking about your own media—not someone else’s. We all discuss our favorite shows on Netflix, books we’re reading, etc. Let’s give that same attention to the content we create.

The Evening the We the World Ended

My eyes feast upon the book—
the colors and the contrasts,
the cursive with the curlicues,
the lines and the shadows.
I gaze outside through the open window,
a breath of wind parting the sheer curtains
to reveal the soul inside the outside:
tangerine, ruby, and violet—
a fruit, a rock, a flower—
all weapons in the right light.
The light diminishes,
the barometer is going kablooey.
I reach behind me to turn on the lamp,
but my eyes are wide open
when everything goes dark.

My ears feast on the sounds of music,
the fluid art of language,
the happiness in laughter,
the clinking of a spoon against a teacup,
ice in a glass.
“I Love Lucy” is on,
and I can hear humor and humanity—
the very lightness of being.
It is a comfort.
I feel the flickers on my face,
bathing me in the golden glow of black and white.
I can smell the honeysuckle outside my window,
remembering the bead of dew on the tip of my tongue.
We are our memories.
And then everything goes silent.

My nose feasts on the aromas of fresh-picked fruit,
of flowers, a lemon cake cooling on the counter;
of the smell of green tea soap after a shower.
I can smell the rain I know is coming down,
the salt from the ocean,
the mist that is like a dewy shroud.
Fecund, fresh.
I lick my lips, trace them with my finger.
The Earth is more alive than we are.
I turn my face to the scarf my mother left that last day,
expecting the powdery, floral scent of White Shoulders.
I inhale,
but the fragrance is gone,
and without smell,
memory fades.

My tongue feasts on the crispness of a Honeycrisp apple,
the light crunch of a raw cashew,
the creamy, savory mouthfeel of fontina,
the subtle sweetness of dark chocolate,
the slight bitterness of espresso with steamed milk and agave nectar.
I want the chewiness of something—
a bread.
I’ve always made meals of varying temperatures,
tastes,
textures.
I reach my way to the kitchen on bare feet,
the tiles cold now,
but it is my last chance.
I find the focaccia.
I chew, but the taste is gone.

My touch feasts on the softness of my baby’s unblemished cheek,
my baby, now quiet,
now still,
not understanding,
but accepting all the same.
I reach for the glass of water,
letting the coolness of it glide over my hands,
I let you enfold us,
you the head,
I the heart,
my fingers threading through the fine, blond hair on your arms.
I delight in the warm whisper that tickles my ear that can no longer hear,
and I know I am not alone.
I can feel the moonbeams being placed over my eyes like daisies,
and then not at all.

A worldwide phenomenon,
a rapturing of all our senses—
a rapid metamorphosis.
We lie in beds,
sit in chairs,
wait, pray, sleep for the inevitable—
a moment of silence stretched into eternity.
We are a stopped clock with no face,
huddled together with those we love most,
having found each other by scrambling in the dark still night,
awaiting the last of the plagues.

We know not whether our eyes are open or closed,
whether it is hot or cold,
but I know you are near,
and there is no pain.
Just consciousness.

Mr. Wonderful Full of Himself, Wordsmith Stars, and Perfect Sense

I happened to catch an article (wish I had kept the link) that suggested a book doesn’t sell as well if it won an award.  My theory is that when people see a book won a prestigious award, they assume it’s boring (or overrated, like some classics).  Most people don’t like highbrow stuff.  They don’t want to think, they want to be entertained.  At least one out of every ten books I read is for pleasure, though I am challenging myself to read at least one nonfiction book a month (which I am 99% sure will be about writing, though the last nonfiction book I read was a biography of Marilyn Monroe, which read like creative nonfiction).  As you can see, I am not an egghead, nor will I ever pretend to be, but I am educated and do believe in lifelong learning, whether it be taking a class (I am hoping English composition will be one of the first classes I have to take when I go back to school) or teaching ourselves something new (I am getting ready to make my first batch of handmade soap).

Though an award would be an honor, I’d prefer to have the sales (unless the award came with a big payout).  I’m like Mr. Wonderful (Kevin O’Leary) from “Shark Tank” in that way, though only in that way.  I will forever care about the quality of the writing that will be published under my name, whether I write for Harlequin Romance or a scholarly journal.

I’ve been on a “Little Women” kick lately.  I tried watching the 1933 version, but I just can’t stand Katharine Hepburn, so after about fifteen minutes, I had to pass on it.  I’ve always liked the 1949 version, even though I’ve never been a fan of June Allyson, who plays Jo, and then I watched the 1994 version with Winona Ryder, who made a less annoying Jo.  Her spouting “Christopher Columbus” all the time in the earlier versions was annoying, and seemed put-on to make her more of a tomboy (though I realize this was probably how she was portrayed in the book which I read a VERY long time ago).  Though the cinematography was far more realistic in ’94 version, I still prefer the ’49 movie.  The ’94 version just didn’t have the charm its predecessor did.

I like “Little Women” because the protagonist is a writer, but I relate to her because she is a female writer.  However, one of my favorite films of all time is “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn”.  I fell in love with it as a little girl; Francie Nolan was just like me.  She had what her teacher called imagination.  My third grade teacher, Ms. Cahoon, was the first person outside my family who recognized my talent, and will be one of the first people who will receive a copy of my book.  Every morning, we had to write in our journals, and I would always write about my summers up in Poplar Bluff, Missouri, when I stayed with my grandparents.  My aunt, uncle and cousins lived right next door to them.

I wrote about what I knew and loved.  I still do that today.  Oh, I’ve fancied myself writing some nonfiction piece about a subject I know nothing about (writing creative nonfiction is a great way to learn something new through research), but personal essays are one of my favorite mediums to write in because it is a story no one else can write.

That teacher scene with Francie after class still brings a tear to my eye.

Now though I am not a fan of Stephen King’s books (or even most of his movies), I did enjoy his novel, “On Writing”, and I like his personal story of how he got where he is today.  It is very inspirational.  I’ve noticed he likes to make authors his main characters, as in “Secret Window”, “Misery”, and “The Shining”.  (I liked those.)

Cuba Gooding Jr. played a struggling writer in “A Murder of Crows”.  I don’t think it was a hit, but it drew me in like a Lisa Jackson novel.

While I’m on the subject of movies, there is one that I believe everyone must see for the experience, if nothing else, and that is “Perfect Sense” with Eva Green and Ewan MacGregor.  It’s like poetry on celluloid.  I will say nothing more.