Grad School: Part 3 – Sticking your chin out

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Meadow Brook Hall’s library, where OU’s communication and marketing shot a video of me talking about my research and of me working on the revision.

Remember what I said about putting in the extra work? It’s not just about getting a good job or furthering your career. It’s emotionally healthy to achieve a goal, to be appreciated for one’s effort or to impress yourself. As for the latter, that’s something people should keep in mind more than they currently seem to do. Of course, it sounds arrogant or can be construed to an excuse for not doing anything.

What I try to say here is that you shouldn’t try to live up to other people’s expectations. You should live up to your own. You pursue your dreams and fulfill your own wishes, because you aren’t here to impress other people or please them or blindly follow someone else’s idea of success. If that means jumping out of your comfort zone, it shouldn’t quench your desire to go after what you want (and perhaps need). Obstacles build character after all; they offer new perspective, perhaps the chance of meeting new people and they may even bring you to places you never could have imagined. I can tell you from personal experience that even when you think you know what you’re doing and/or where you’re going, you don’t always get the results you expected.

In the States, there is the expression, “Sticking your neck out,” which means doing something that’s risky yet hopefully rewarding. Swedes have a similar expression – “Sticka ut hakan” – which literally means “sticking out the chin.” I don’t know about you, but that sounds grueling; it reminds me of the times I’ve stubbed my toe and that shit hurts. One thing I can say for certain is that ever since I started grad school, I have been more of a go-getter and done things and dreamed of things I never could have imagined doing. When I walked into my first class, it didn’t occur to me that I would feel so inspired and deeply moved by the reading or my professors or the topics we discuss.

 

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Early stage of revision (beginning of the winter semester this year).

For instance, last year I wrote a research paper on women’s representation in Game of Thrones and other fantasy shows, and how it has changed for the better in some shows and how patriarchal notions persist in others. I did it because I thought it would be fun and I wanted to contribute to the discussion on whether Game of Thrones is sexist and degrading to women.

When my professor returned the paper to me, I read her comments and suggestions and truly took them to heart. Suddenly I wanted to change a bunch of different little things in the paper and make it good enough for publication. Aside from the stuff I wrote in my creative writing classes, I can’t recall a time when I wanted to even look at something I had turned in. Now, however, the thought of showing something to other professionals in the field and getting something academic in print doesn’t seem so abstract to me. In case you’re wondering, I’m currently in the process of revising the paper. I don’t know where I’m going to send it. I just know I want to finish it before July 16, which is when Game of Thrones‘ next season begins and I don’t want to be influenced by it.

Even though the revision isn’t complete, it has already been exposed to the world. On March 10, I attended a conference by the Michigan Academy of Science, Arts and Letters at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo. It’s a huge event where people from all fields from all over Michigan gather at one place to discuss their research. For the most part, you’re with people from the same field because you’re presenting your research to each other, but during lunch, you have the option of attending a luncheon and meet other scholars.

I, for one, met someone from WMU’s journalism department who also dabbles with Michigan history and one retired science librarian from Michigan State University who is working on a book about two female geologists. Once I told them that I was studying communication with a focus in media studies, we discussed the idea of teaching environmental journalism. With the climate change evolving so quickly, it’s now more important than ever to talk about the planet and the environment and the effect we have on it. Especially young people studying journalism today should learn how to handle that kind of news, how to explain scientific facts to the general public and how to catch people’s interest. The science librarian said it would also be a good idea improve scientific communication. Scientists are good at finding relevant information, but they don’t necessarily know how to spread the message. Perhaps a communication professional would be able to help.

Oh, it was a wonderful conversation! I learned so much at that table alone and that was before they announced the luncheon speaker, Ashlyn Kuersten. She is a sociology professor at WMU and the director running the Wrongful Conviction Program, which is both a class and the real deal. You can read more about it here if you’re interested.

Excerpt: While most innocence projects—whose purpose is to exonerate the wrongly convicted through DNA testing and reform the criminal justice system to prevent future injustice—use law students to do research, WMU’s program allows undergraduate students the opportunity to research potential cases of innocence. Kuersten’s students learn from her about the most common causes of wrongful conviction, then work on evaluating the requests from inmates who contact her claiming innocence.

She has a backlog of 5,000—from Michigan alone.

Let me tell you something about presenting your research to complete strangers: It’s only as scary as you let it be. I spent at least two weeks working on my speech. I rehearsed and rewrote it a dozen times. Hell, once I checked into my hotel room the night before, I spent at least three hours editing the speech even more and writing down keywords and 20170309_200458phrases on index cards. The chairperson of the communication and journalism department was kind enough to organize a practice session beforehand, too. By the way, this was also my professor who suggested that I should send in an abstract to the Michigan Academy. I don’t know how many universities or academic departments help their grad students prepare for a conference presentation, but I would say we were lucky to get that support. My mother also reminded me that no one knows my research better than I do. It is mine and I should be proud of it and explain it the best I could. Once I stood in front of everyone with my index cards and PowerPoint, I felt a new sense of confidence.

Another way my research has been exposed is that Oakland Univerity’s communication and marketing department got interested. They’re currently working on a series of videos promoting research and they thought what I’m researching is pretty interesting. (Their deadline for this video is also “sometime before next season begins.”) Last week, I packed all my books, notes, articles and DVDs, and hauled them to Meadow Brook Hall, a mansion and historic landmark; the founder of the university Matilda Wilson lived there.

It felt surreal walking into that place. First of all, I was walking like a pack-mule. Second of all, the mansion and its courtyard were beautiful and looked like something out of a British detective movie, like a place where something secret and scandalous once happened and it was now up to me to solve the mystery. Third, as a former journalist, I’m more used to being behind the camera. Nonetheless, it turned out to be a fun experience. In the library, Kelly, Colleen and Jason were waiting with their camera equipment and with smiles on their faces. I got to wear a tiny microphone. I maintained eye contact with Colleen while I was talking and sometimes forgot that the camera was there. I made a lot of jokes.

I wrote two of my professors the same day and told them about the video; not sure why I didn’t say anything earlier. Perhaps part of me thought it wouldn’t really happen. One of the responses I got was: “Thanks for sharing. This is so cool and a good reminder of how we can never know where our work might take us so it’s a good idea to get it out there in the world.”

Don’t be afraid to stick out your chin. Don’t be afraid to do new things. As you can see, it can bring you to all kinds of adventures.

 

 

Grad School: Part 2 – Things to Expect

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Living off-campus won’t take away from the experience of attending college. You can make new friends on the grad level, even though many of you likely commute. Of course, you shouldn’t expect the same kind of crazy scene as you probably lived through during your undergrad years. As I mentioned in the previous post, the culture itself – no matter which field you go into – is vastly different. It’s more “adult” (for lack of a better word), but certainly not boring. People are there to learn and to dive into the field. You would be surprised by the myriad of goals and ambitions of your classmates. In my case, no one has the same future in mind for their post-master years. They also find different things appealing within communication and have various things to offer to the discussion.

If you feel apprehensive about making new friends or out of your league, keep in mind that none of you is an expert. You’re in the same boat. It’s best to keep an open mind and an open heart when school starts, because you’re going to need some friends to get through all that hard work ahead of you. 

As a grad assistant, I was fortunate to meet and get to know most of the faculty in the communication department that teach the grad students. I would advise that even if you don’t land a job like that, take a moment to reach out to the professors in your department. They can help you figure out your classes, what kind of jobs there are for someone with your degree, which people to talk to, who may be studying the same/similar thing you are, which books you should read, et cetera.

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Some extra “light” reading.

The communication department at Oakland University is pretty small. It isn’t the type of situation where everyone knows everyone, but you know most people and you know of certain people. Since the classes are challenging, it’s only natural that we all turn to each other for help, emotional support and a laugh. Sometimes we wonder aloud, “What the hell did we just read for class?” I can’t speak for every grad program, but in communication you’ll read more within a four-month period than you could possibly ever imagine, anything from scholarly articles to book excerpts to long blog entries. Be willing to carve a decent portion of time just for reading if you attend grad school. Write down your thoughts about the reading, because your professor will ask about them. The answer “I liked it/didn’t like it” doesn’t cut it, just FYI. (Half the time, you won’t like it anyway.) Haha

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Michel Foucault (1926-1984)

Find something that you care about after you’ve been in the program for a while, and find your “groove.” Some readings have had a great impact on me and driven me to look for more at Kresge Library. For example, Michel Foucault, who wrote extensively on post-structuralism and the effects that power relations have on our society, has helped me reconsider what I know and how I know it. Antonio Gramsci, who coined the term “hegemony,” has been fascinating as well. Hegemony is the construction of power through ideas and knowledge, which is done by the consent of the people, instead of force. Racism, for instance, is form of power and it continuously exists due to the general public and their acceptance thereof, because of a set of ideas that have been instilled in them. And by reading a vast variety of feminist scholars, I’ve come to a better understanding of feminism, which has become more complex than ever before. It means something different for everyone and is used differently by various cultural and political groups.

By groove, I mean your own way to study a phenomenon. There are several kinds of research methods and in communication alone, there are several fields, sub-fields and theories (or your viewpoint of the world). There is an on-going debate in social science whether one should let the data speak for itself or if one should analyze it and draw their own conclusions from it. That’s just one of many, many philosophical questions that never will be fully answered. Nonetheless, people will argue about them. I assure you, it doesn’t matter what you’re studying, once you climb higher on the academic ladder, people expect you to have some opinions and a willingness to participate in debates.

Truth is, even with a master’s, you won’t be an expert in whatever subject you’ve spent the past two-plus years on. You’ll have a clue at best. For real, man, the more stuff you read and the more research you perform, you’ll become increasingly aware of how little you know. Now it almost sounds like getting a master’s is a dead-end, but please hear me out.

I would say that so far this experience has expanded my views and taught me new ways to process and analyze information. I ask more questions than before and approach most topics with a degree of skepticism. I’m learning how to form a good argument and I’m growing my patience because when it comes to research and finding the good stuff, you got to dig, dig, dig, dig, dig.

Most of all, I have come to value the act of discussion or conversation. Earlier I was more concerned about being right, you know. Being in grad school has helped me realize this: Even if you’re talking with someone with completely different views, knowing you would  rather outlive god than change your mind, listening to someone else’s point of view is healthy. It offers a new light on the subject. It helps you grow as a person, you understand where people come from and you can empathize with others. In a day and age where people post their opinions on the Internet, a.k.a. shout into the void, I feel like that’s something many people forget.

Grad School: Part 1 – The Choice

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Campus in the early fall of 2016.

I consider attending grad school one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. If you’re thinking about applying to one, please think about what you want to do with your master degree. Do you even need it? How will it help you? Do you want to go on to a PhD program afterwards? Any type of degree above a high school diploma looks awesome on a resume, but keep in mind that you still need to put in a fair amount of work into landing a great job. You need to be pro-active, optimistic and willing to walk the extra mile in order to stand out.

Since it seems like so many are going for a bachelor degree these days, I find it a little surprising that not more people climb a little higher on the academic latter. Perhaps it’s the crippling debt. Perhaps they’re stuck in a three-jobs-minimum-wage hole. Perhaps they’ve started a family and it seems impossible to make the time for classes, essays and other homework assignments. Perhaps it feels daunting to return to school if completing one bachelor took more than four years. Perhaps they think they’re too old.

The fun thing about grad school is that there is a wide range of students: Young people like me who recently finished their undergrad and older folk who already have stable jobs or fully fledged careers. Some of them have children. The graduate courses tend to be a little more expensive than undergrad ones, but you don’t need to take nearly as many credits. More importantly, you don’t need to take a bunch of silly requisites that are unrelated to your major. You have more control and can tailor your master’s to your liking. If you’re busy and money is tight, you can always take your time. I plan to finish in two years (two classes each semester, plus one summer class this year), then there are others who have decided to work on their master’s over a 6-year span because of various obligations outside campus. For example, one woman I know has five children to think of and a demanding job, not to mention she also coaches a dance team (I think she said the girls are from middle school).

4Just to put it out there, a bachelor’s isn’t worthless. The problem is that there are many people who have them. When an employer is looking to hire someone, they’re going to look at dozens and dozens of people with an applicable degree, who may be equally qualified. This means that once you have your bachelor’s, you need connections, unique skills and perhaps an internship or outstanding project. If someone is looking at 50 applications and three of them say “master’s in…,” they’re most likely going to toss the other 47.

Again, a master degree doesn’t guarantee success, and it’s up to everyone to decide for themselves what they want and need in their professional life. But it makes a difference.

In my case, it was needed. I had graduated from Central Michigan University in May of 2015 with a Bachelor of Arts. My major was creative writing and I also had a minor in journalism. I wanted to be like Rory Gilmore, a journalist, perhaps even a freelancer. (Yeah, yeah, laugh it off.) Not unlike that “A Year in the Life” special they released on Netflix, it didn’t work out. I worked for a newspaper in Mount Pleasant for two and half months, then got laid off because of budget cuts and downsizing. I could have continued chasing the journalist dream, but that meant moving (which costs money… money I didn’t have), taking risks (which I had done by taking that job), and scraping together passion for it (which wasn’t there anymore). Frankly, I’m just glad it didn’t take me 10 years to say goodbye to journalism.

The one dream I’m sticking to is becoming a full-time writer, like my idols J.K. Rowling, Neil Gaiman and many others. In the meantime, though, I need a stable job and preferably an interesting one.

Currently I’m working on a master’s in communication with a focus on media studies at Oakland University. The past year has been incredibly exciting! I’ve read so many scholarly articles and book excerpts. Often times, as an extracurricular activity, reading folks such as Michel Foucault and various feminist scholars. This spring semester I had the wonderful opportunity to work as a graduate assistant, which allowed me to get to know the faculty better and I performed one-hundred (or at least close to that many) hours of research on their behalf.

The culture in grad school is radically different compared undergrad, which I like a lot more. My classmates are more adult. They’re truly there to learn and grow, not to get away from their parents or something to that effect. Unlike my undergrad, I’ve never found myself sitting in a classroom with 25-30 other people, thinking, “How did they get into college? My God, I’m surrounded by idiots. Please, end class early.” I don’t have to endure homesickness since I’m now living with my parents. There are no opportunities or incentives (at least for me) to stumble into a bad crowd in the desperation of “finding myself.” Partially because I commute, partially because I have found my center by now.

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Not to undermine my time at CMU. It was an amazing experience that helped shaping me into the woman I am today. During those four years, I fluctuated between being a straight-A student, a writer who neglected everything for her art and – no bullshit – just stupid, hanging out with people who had a bad influence on me.

I surely met a buffet of people: batshit crazy roommates; easy-going, tea-drinking artists; radical, left-wing potheads; smug, charming douche-bags and creeps; better roommates who loved Disney movies and invited me to parties with their theater buddies; young women who loved expressing themselves through dance; fellow journalist students who have gone on to writing really cool stories at big newspapers; a myriad of writers and poets who inspired me; professors and mentors I still look up to; awesome friends who listened, supported me and made me laugh. Let me give you some advice: Stay in touch with the friends you make in college, make an effort to meet them sometimes, because they are more valuable than that degree you bring home.

Making friends in grad school is different as well, especially if the department of your choice is small. I will elaborate on that subject another time because this post has carried on for a bit longer than planned. Hopefully you have found this helpful if you’re thinking about grad school or if you’re wondering whether it was a mistake to get a bachelor degree. (I know I did the latter for a while.)

This series will continue till I graduate next spring so keep an eye out if you want more insight on my life at grad school.

Careers one can pursue with a master’s in communication:

University instructor, Community college professor, Communication & Marketing for universities or businesses, Athletic management, Human resources, Corporate communication, Account management, Public relations, Recruitment,  Sales and Business development, Non-profit communication, Consulting, Change management, Editor/Writer

Life Lesson: Things Can Change

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The beautiful fountain in front of Kresge Library on Oakland University’s campus. Taken by Anna J. Palm on May 17, 2016.

At the risk of sounding sooo cheesy, I write this to tell you that if you’re unhappy about where you are, things can always change. As bad as things may get, you have the power to make the difference in your life.

Let me tell you a story.

Less than a year ago, I had nothing going on. I was sharing an apartment with my brother in Mount Pleasant, a farm town that’s really only awake during college season, residing on a flatland countryside literally in the middle of Michigan’s mitten. More accurately, in the middle of nowhere. I didn’t see the town that way while I was attending Central Michigan University and certainly not when I came back for a journalism job at The Morning Sun. But when the company you work for suddenly goes through budget cuts and downsizes several of its newspapers, it’s difficult seeing anything on the sunny side.

I had worked at the paper for two and half months. They called me into the conference room on a Friday afternoon (three weeks before Christmas) and told me, “Today is your last day.” No warning, no two-weeks notice to give me a chance to find a new job. It had no reflection on my work; they just couldn’t afford to keep me. From what I hear, that company is gradually going out of business at this point.

Two months later, I was making $8.5 per hour (before the state’s minimum wage went up to $8.9) as a courtesy clerk at Kroger, plus I managed to get 5-10 hours a week at Kohl’s unloading the truck. During my spare-time, I read a ton of self-help articles and (counter-actively) looked at my friends talking about their new jobs, upcoming weddings and travel plans on Facebook. I fruitlessly searched for other journalist jobs, preferably far far away from Michigan. Eventually I realized that I didn’t give a shit about journalism anymore. I applied for grad school at CMU, but changed my mind after having another epiphany: I can’t fucking stand Mount Pleasant. More importantly, you can’t start a new life at the same place.

Looking back, it feels like it took me a little too long to figure that out, but I suppose I was just stuck emotionally. Once I moved back into my parents’ house and began attending grad school at Oakland University, everything changed for the better.

Since then, I have met so many interesting, smart and funny people. I am working towards a master’s in communication and find myself setting goals for the future. I’ve read more scholarly articles and books in two semesters than I could have possibly imagined doing in two years. My professors have introduced me to Michel Foucault, Stuart Hall, Angela McRobbie, bell hooks and the Foss twins. I got to work as a graduate assistant for one semester, helping faculty with grading and their own research and re-designing the billboard for the graduate program in communication. Since I set foot on campus, I have performed so much research, for instance, on women in engineering, postmodernism, feminist rhetorical theory and many other topics within communication.

Not only that, people are showing interest in my research! Only last month, I presented my paper on women’s representation in Game of Thrones and other fantasy shows at a conference taking place in Western Michigan University. It was for the Michigan Academy of Science, Art and Letters, where tons of professionals and grad students gather to talk about their work. Now OU’s communication and marketing department want to include me on a series of videos promoting research. If someone would have told me a year ago, “Hey, people are gonna ask you to be in a video and talk about Game of Thrones,” I would have scoffed.

And next month I’m going to Washington, D.C. for the National Conference for College Women and Student Leaders! It’s so crazy how I turned my life around, starting with the thought, “Fuck this place! I’m outta here.”

I don’t have a recipe for success and everyone’s situation is unique, but I’d like to leave you with some words of advice for changing your life.

  • Ask yourself what you want. What are your goals? What is important to you and why?
  • Figure out a plan on how to achieve your goals. It doesn’t have to be perfect. It can be as simple as finding the answer to, “What now?”
  • Ask for help: In my case, I was lucky to have support from my family and friends. Whatever you need, turn to someone you trust.
  • Do your research. Be curious. Ask questions.
  • Fear is normal: Change can be spooky. It’s perfectly OK to be nervous when you try something new.
  • Write an end to your last chapter: Whatever made you angry, sad and/or frustrated before, it’s in the past. Tell it to fuck off and move on.
  • Celebrate the change: It’s brave to make a change in your life, whether it’s a decision to jog every morning or packing your things and move to another city. Pat yourself on the back!
  • Dare to dream: Once you start pursuing your goals, you’ll find yourself thinking of other adventures to embrace. I myself have become much more of a go-getter since I started grad school. I even started taking karate classes last summer!

Change can become a domino effect of happiness once you’ve turned your back on the negative things in your life. I hope you’ve found my advice helpful. Now go do stuff!

Writing Prompts from “Mysterious” Book

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I picked 10 lines from a favorite book of mine that will serve as writing prompts. Pick one and use it as the beginning of a short story, or perhaps as the theme for your short, or… do whatever you wish with it! As long as it’s a short story or flash fiction. See it as a fun experiment.

Found a tumblr a long time; apologies, but I can't remember who took this picture.

Found a tumblr a long time; apologies, but I can’t remember who took this picture.

By the way, if you mention in the comments which book it is and from which author, kudos.

Up and down he paced, consumed with anger and frustration, grinding his teeth and clenching his fists, casting angry looks out at the empty, star-strewn sky every time he passed the window.

The sight of them looking so nervous made him feel slightly ashamed.

But the great black dog gave a joyful bark and gamboled around them, snapping at pigeons, and chasing its own tail.

“It’s best to know what the enemy are saying.”

He was talking in a very fast, feverish way.

The happiness that had filled him since Saturday was gone.

It was as though a film in his head had been waiting to start.

“Well, wouldn’t it have been easier if she’d just asked me whether I liked her better than you?”

There were screams and yells reverberating from somewhere above them.

“It was foolish to come here tonight.”

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There you are. Happy writing!

When the Creativity runs dry

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A raven flying around in the neighborhood the other day. One of my favorite birds.

A raven flying around in the neighborhood the other day. One of my favorite birds.

There have been more times than I can count of me sitting down to write and knowing exactly what I want to say, but perhaps not how to say it. I might be tired from work or from doing several household chores. It might be a good solid 15 minutes of typing and suddenly, when I’m done with a scene, my brain freezes.

Let’s forget that “writer’s block” even exists. It’s an evil term, if you ask me, because it’s like blaming an explicable condition that “prevents” us from writing. Some of us avoid writing out of pure laziness, procrastination, insecurity or whatever it might be. As much as we love telling stories and tinkering on them, sometimes the words won’t flow, and as time moves forward in its typical rapid pace, we start blaming it on writer’s block. It happens to the best of us.

No one and nothing – including writer’s block – can stop you from writing. No one but yourself.

As for myself, my greatest fear is that my novel is too outlandish, too complicated, with too many characters, overbearing, et cetera, et cetera. Based on what some of my beta readers have said, yes, the story is outlandish. As I look at my character list and the diagram showing how they all connect to each other, I think the novel may indeed have a lot of characters. Not as many as the book series A Song of Ice and Fire, but hello, if George R. R. Martin can be successful with an outlandish story with tons of characters, why can’t I? And even if I didn’t have anyone to compare myself to, I should still tackle this story head on and finish it.

There are plenty of reasons for all of us to shy away from a writing project. However, remember that it feels so damn good getting something done. Yesterday I re-wrote the prologue and it felt so satisfying. Writing the third chapter feels like a breeze now.

Never be afraid to change the rules. If you’re trying to write a story, but something doesn’t feel right, figure out why you keep getting stuck and adjust from there. No one is hovering over you and no one will criticize you if you, for example, suddenly decide to write in present tense instead of past tense, or write from a different perspective. The editing can come later. It’s called a “rough draft” for a reason.

If you find yourself unmotivated, dried out or stuck for some reason, I’ve thought of a few things you can do to get those creativity juices flowing.

  • Go for a walk.
  • Do a chore in the house or exercise to get your mind off the story for a while.
  • Clean your work space.
  • Watch a favorite movie or read a favorite book of yours that has inspired you before, something that makes you think, “Wow, this is awesome. I want to make something like that.”
  • Free-writing for five minutes or so; it doesn’t even have to be about the story itself.
  • Hang out with friends for a while, relax, listen to what they have say (they might tell a nice anecdote).
  • Go out and have a cup of coffee or eat lunch/dinner where you feel comfortable, take in that energy around you.
  • Meditate.

I hope this helps.

Happy writing!

More Writing Competitions This Spring

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“Don’t worry about failures, worry about the chances you miss when you don’t even try.” | Jack Canfield
My old journals and notebooks.

My old journals and notebooks.

I thought I’d put up another post about competitions and open submissions. There’s so much out there for writers and poets once you start looking. Personally I’m excited for the $35,000 Academy Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting. It would be so cool to write something that could go on screen. I already have some neat ideas (leaning towards comedy).

Before I start, Aerogramme Writers put out an article listing many opportunities for writers in March and April. Please have look; they’re one of the best sites to go to if you’re looking for challenges.

The 7th Annual Spirit First Poetry Contest is open for submissions of poems that relate to meditation or mindfulness. Poets may submit up to three unpublished poems. The first place winner will receive $200; second place will receive $150; and third place will receive $100. Deadline is February 29.

The Lindquist & Vennum Prize for Poetry is currently open for submissions. Poets can submit a book-length manuscript, but there is no page requirement. The winner will receive $10,000 and publication by Milkweed Editions. Deadline is March 1.

Lake Forest College and &NOW Books are currently hosting the Madeleine P. Plonsker Emerging Writer’s Residency Prize. Fiction writers under forty may apply for the prize, which includes $10,000 and a three-week residency at the college. Deadline is March 1, and only the first 200 applicants will be considered! Apply for this one right now if you’re interested.

America Magazine, the National Catholic Review, is holding its 2016 Foley Poetry ContestPoets may submit one unpublished poem for consideration. While the poem must be 30 lines or fewer, there is no restriction on genre. The grand prize winner will receive $1,000 and publication in AmericaDeadline is March 31. 

Winning Writers is currently hosting it Wergle Flomp Humor Poetry Contest.Poets can submit one humorous poem for consideration. The first place winner will receive $1,000; second place will receive $250; and 10 honorable mentions will receive $100 each. All winners will be published online. Deadline (appropriately) is April 1.

Blue Mountain Arts is hosting its 28th Biannual Poetry Card Contest. Writers can submit poems that focus on a special occasion or person. There is no limit to how many poems a writer can submit. The first place winner will receive $300; second place will receive $150; and third place will receive $50. The winning poems will also be published online. Deadline is June 30.

The Griffin Poetry Prize welcomes poets and translators to submit their work. Two prizes will be awarded. The Canadian Prize will go to a Canadian poet or translator who has published or translated a work. The International Prize will go to a poet or translator from any part of the world. Each prize winner will receive $65,000 CAD. In addition, shortlisted poets will receive $10,000 each. Deadline is June 30 with a second deadline of December 31.

 

For more competitions, check my previous post on this subject.

Brief Review of “Ready Player One”

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WARNING: SPOILERS.

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“The Distracted Globe” – Ready Player One Fan Art by Andrew Guerrero

Ready Player One reminded me a few other books as I read it.

In the beginning, as the author showed the grim reality of 2044, I got a strong 1984-feeling. More people lived in poverty than ever before, there were neighborhoods with trailers stacked on top of each other like dysfunctional Leggo towers and many sought refuge in the OASIS, an advanced virtual reality. It’s not that it was anything like 1984 (more like the opposite in several cases, since in that world, you can enroll in online school without giving your real name), but I definitely had the creeps. If the energy crisis blows out of proportion and the unemployment sky-rockets, I can see all that crap happening. Plenty of us are already hiding behind one screen or the other, and using the Internet to “connect with people,” while we’re pretty much just shouting in the void.

Another book I thought of was The Hunger Games: Our heroes are a group of young people trying to win a contest. With a prize of riches beyond imagination. The difference, of course, is that they enter it willingly and they don’t realize that they’re in real mortal peril until the bad guys catch up to them. It definitely doesn’t feel as dark and depressing either. I’m grateful for the humor that the protagonist Wade Watts and his friend Art3mis bring to the page. (Aech, Shoto and Daito are beautiful characters as well.) Their vast knowledge of video games and 1980’s trivia showed some realistic sides to being introvert geeks: One, Wade was overweight from his sugar-inflated poverty diet and his continuous game-play; Two, neither of them had any real friends outside the OASIS because they didn’t spend much time outside. The passage that stood out to me the most in the entire book was:

Standing there, under the bleak fluorescents of my tiny one-room apartment, there was no escaping the truth. In real life, I was nothing but an antisocial hermit. A recluse. A pale-skinned pop culture-obsessed geek. An agoraphobic shut-in, with no real friends, family, or genuine human contact. I was just another sad, lost, lonely soul, wasting his life on a glorified videogame.

But not in the OASIS. In there, I was the great Parzival. World-famous gunter and international celebrity. People asked for my autograph. I had a fan club. Several actually. I was recognized everywhere I went (but only when I wanted to be). I was paid to endorse products. People admired and looked up to me. I got invited to the most exclusive parties. I went to all the hippest clubs and never had to wait in line. I was a pop-culture icon, a VP rock star. And, in gunter circles, I was a legend. Nay, a god.

It becomes so easy to feel bigger and more powerful than you actually are when you’re being some alter ego in a game. Last summer when I had two crappy minimum-wage jobs, I would try to forget about my day by turning on Skyrim or Mass Effect and go on quests, fight criminals and save people. Video games is sort of the modern day version of playing Cowboys and Robbers. But towards the end, I like that Wade and his friends begin to realize that even if they find the Easter Egg and win the contest, the world hasn’t changed. There’s still poverty, famine and so forth. The only difference now is that they have the power to do something about it.

As for Wade and Art3mis, who by the way is an amazing female character, I love how their relationship develops over time. It has its ups and downs and it doesn’t feel unnatural or forced. They show that a simulation can only do so much for a person; humans need true contact with each other. Even if you talk about everything between heaven and earth, it’s not until you spend time together that you know them.

I loved the book (five out of five)! Ernest Cline managed to tell a story nicely with characters who could have easily become stereotypes, but he made all of them interesting and appealing. The plot itself was clever, not to mention the riddles within the contest.

There were only a few times when I blanked out during the extreme nerd rage or video game monologues, but that’s mainly a personal taste; it doesn’t make the story any less good. I know next to nothing about the 1980’s so I had to mainly “tag along for the ride” and trust that Wade knew what he was talking about. Honestly I think even if the reader knows nothing about that era either or doesn’t play video games, they can enjoy the story nonetheless because of Wade’s fun, witty and smart narration.

Upcoming “Compare&Contrast” with Ready Player One

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Quick announcement, folks. The regular Wednesday post is postponed to Friday, because of two reasons. Honestly, I cannot think of anything clever to talk about; all my creativity fuel is being channeled to my fictional stories at the moment (check most recent post on competitions and you will understand). Second of all, my time is also consumed by job hunting. Oh joy…

But fret not, on Friday I will give you a fun review on this cool book called Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. It takes place in 2045 when the world is falling apart due to the energy crisis, poverty and hunger, and most people try to escape through O.A.S.I.S., a virtual reality. Then there’s also the Hunt, a video game contest where the winner can go home with billions of dollars. Different books and various uncomfortable thoughts have passed through my mind. There’s one book in particular that I’ve recalled several times, because I get the same eebie jeebies as I’m reading. I also love the writing itself.

I’m only half-way through, but I’m certain that I’ll finish on time. Last night I hit that point in the book when you can’t put it down. I had to call it at three in the morning (so sleepy right now).

P.S. Apparently they’re making this into a movie and Steven Spielberg will direct it; can’t wait to see that magic happening.

The Importance of Short Stories & Competitions

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Who has brought the beginning of their novel to a creative writing workshop? Show of hands? All of you? Most of you? I thought so. I’m guilty of bringing the first couple of chapters of my novel to a workshop once and I still feel bad about it, because it was way too much. I can’t remember the page limit our professor gave us, but I know I overstepped it (over 30?). And not only did I overstep the limit, I didn’t double-space; I only spaced it 1.5 so I could shorten the number of pages. I knew perfectly well what I was doing.

Ray-Bradbury-quoteMost professors teaching a creative writing class will encourage his or her students to bring short stories. I don’t want to say because writing short stories is a lost art. It probably seems like it since everyone wants to write a New York Times Bestseller and perhaps have their book turned into a movie or TV series.

Aside from being short but sweet pleasantries, short stories serve a purpose for any writer who wants to master their skills: It has a beginning, middle and end, which everyone in the workshop can read and analyze when they have a short story. It also allows a writer to finish a story. It’s good practice. They’re truly healthy doses of creativity. Plus, a short story can always lead to something unexpected, which I will get into in a minute.

Like Ray Bradbury said, “Write a short story every week. It’s impossible to write 52 bad short stories in a row.”

Additionally, short stories are easier to sell. I hope I don’t sound like a poser when I say that, but it’s true. I searched writing competitions and magazine submissions before the weekend started and found many interesting goals to pursue. [List of competitions and possible publications are further down the page.] Yesterday I sent in a short story I wrote two years ago… after dusting it off, editing out over 2,000 words and re-reading it ten times over, of course. I also submitted an article to another competition, which I frankly don’t have a ton of hope for, but at least I tried.

I know that over the past year or so, I’ve said things like, “Write for you, man. No one has to see it.” Writing is something personal, yes, we do it for ourselves. Not having your name out there doesn’t make you less a writer. However, getting published is such a rewarding feeling; it’s like winning a prize at the end of a marathon. So why not give it a go? Jeez, the only thing I’ve gotten published since high school – not counting any news articles – is a one-act play called “Shoveling Shit in Hell,” which got out last spring in The Central Review. It was so fun to attend the event that followed the publication where all of us writers met with friends and faculty at the library at Central Michigan University. Each and every one of us read his or her piece to the audience. I was a little nervous when it was my turn and it didn’t help that the guy reading with me played the snobby character as a Silicon Valley girl; it took me a moment to choke down my own laughter before I could go on.

Me reading at opening event of The Central Review's spring edition on April 24, 2015 (courtesy of the student magazine's Facebook page).

Me introducing myself at opening event of The Central Review’s spring edition on April 24, 2015 (courtesy of the student magazine’s Facebook page).

As I was saying earlier, a short story can lead you places. After sending the short story, I recalled all the little “spin-offs” I had cooked up in my mind. The story itself had many interesting characters, not to mention that it had an epilogue that introduced several possibilities. For whatever reason, I tucked away the story somewhere and forgot about it instead. I’m happy I picked it back up, because I think I finally found the people and the setting for my crime novella. Sometimes a story has the weirdest sense of sneaking up on you.

Wow, a novel with a deadline on May 1st, this novella and several short stories I got to write. I am good at giving myself homework.

Here are some competitions and open submissions for you to look into. Good luck to you and may the best man or woman win!

  • Visions of the Future in Cicada Magazine: Due Feb. 7
  • Science poetry competition in Event Horizon Magazine: Due Feb. 29
  • Innocence and Experience in Parabola (The Magazine of Myth and Tradition): Due March 1
    • Same magazine has submissions for Paths to Healing (Due June 1) and Generosity and Service (Due Sept. 1).
  • Returning Home in Temenos: Due March 21
  • Florida Keys Flash Fiction Contest (three-week residency): Due March 31
  • Identity in Story Magazine: Due May 1
  • General issue in subTerrain: Due May 1
  • Nostalgia in subTerrain: Due Sept. 1
  • Chicken Soup for the Soul has several submissions coming up:
    • Dreams and Synchronicities, and The Spirit of Canada: both due March 31
    • The Joy of Christmas: Due April 30
    • Stories about Teachers and Teaching, and Blended Families: both due June 30
  • The New Yorker has open submissions year-round.
  • Fantastic Stories also takes submissions, original stories up to 3,000 words long, either science fiction or fantasy.