From Farm to Table, Coffeehouse

Despite only being a part of the staff for one semester, being on Élan has shown me how much work goes into the events I took for granted in the past. For instance, at Douglas Anderson’s Coffeehouse event, I have been both on the stage and in the audience, but never behind the scenes. When the first discussion of Coffeehouse took place months before its fruition, I was forced into a completely new role as a key organizer for the event.

The onlooker, upon hearing that the event took such a tremendous effort over a long period of time to create, might think that Coffeehouse’s final night would be disappointing after so much hard work. I had the same fear. As artists, we are radically afraid of things getting “stale;” we hate tedium because, ideally, our work is never tedious but always spontaneous and exciting.

The work for Coffeehouse was not always spontaneous or necessarily exciting in the moment. Instead, Coffeehouse demanded a different type of thinking; we needed problem-solving and logistical mindsets, careful calculation and foresight. It slowly developed a different type of thrill: as point A, the first discussion of what Coffeehouse should be this year, receded, point B approached. In the end, the pleasure wasn’t entirely in the final performance—of which I was a part of—but also in the entire plan’s realization, coming together like a well-kneaded dough.

Coffeehouse was my first taste of community planning in Élan. Indeed, I had never really been a part of planning events ever. It felt like I had a real impact on my community because I did important things for Coffeehouse; my absence would have changed the final product. It was not necessarily glorious work but it put a sliver of my own identity into 2018’s Coffeehouse.

Of course, that may be a narcissistic way of looking at an event that was planned by many people, but I think being a writer and performer is a little selfish by itself. I also performed in Coffeehouse with my fellow Élan member, Shelby Woods. The event changed me as an artist because this performance was my most ambitious yet, and I was performing alongside some incredibly skilled artists (because I was both a performer and a staff member, I worked with the rest of the cast more than perhaps most of my peers). The pressure was on to make this Coffeehouse the best I could realistically produce.

I pushed myself, that much is true. The performance rapidly closed in on us, but the décor was planned, the lineup established, the backdrop painted, the performers rehearsed. The final night may not have been as exciting as my first time on that stage last year; I had performed once before and it had singlehandedly changed my perspective on sharing my work. But with this wide-eyed glamour stripped away, I was ready for next year’s Coffeehouse, which—if everything comes up roses and perfume—will be better than ever before.

Noland Blain, Junior Managing Editor

Yellow House: Solidifying Myself as an Artist

As a self-proclaimed writer, I want others to be just as passionate for the written word as I am. Being a part of Elan has allowed me to voice my own passion for the work that is done within the confines of Elan. We aren’t just a literary magazine. Elan has solidified who I am as an artist.

In my first two years at Douglas Anderson, I didn’t truly consider myself an artist. I as a person who wrote. I wasn’t a writer. Yes, my work was meaningful to me and affected me, but I didn’t think it had a large impact on anyone else. I didn’t even let my parents read my work.

As I became a member of Elan, I realized that I had to take myself seriously. If I didn’t think I was a writer, then I had no right to be reading other writers’ work. My third year at Douglas Anderson was when I wholly and entirely considered myself not only a writer, but an artist.

In the Spring of my junior year, Elan was given the opportunity to curate an entire gallery. This was one of the most defining moments for me. It was recognition from my own local art community. Hope McMath is well-established and was giving a staff of high school students the chance to showcase other high school students’ work. It was a point of realization that what we were doing in Elan was so important.

I was asked to read at the opening of Yellow House and I think that opened another door for me as an artist. A group of people I didn’t know gave me their time and attention to listen to a poem that I had written. There was no caveat. Everyone at this event was there because they wanted to be there. It was people coming together to enjoy art and take it all in and I had a role in making this happen.

Being able to walk through the gallery and seeing adults two or three times my age appreciate work or to see children half my age looking at a piece of art was absolutely heart-warming. What I was doing with my time on Elan impacted people and I could see them interact with the gallery and publication that the staff and myself put so much energy into affected them.

It is hard to get a sense of recognition, I think, because Elan publishes online and then a final print book. Doing these community events allows the staff the chance to see our impact in person and to truly take in what we are doing. We put together a book. A staff of high school students that have to balance everything that it takes to be a teenager make a book, which is amazing. I forget the magnitude of what I am doing sometimes. I forget how much this affects other people and not just myself.

Winnie Blay, Senior Managing Editor

Sleepwalking: The Art of Concision and Vulnerability

I’ve never been good at keeping things short and sweet. As a person who rambles in their writing, who takes a long time to say what they need to say, I deeply appreciate poets who master brevity. I immediately felt this admiration towards Gwyneth Atkinson after reading “Sleepwalking” in our Fall 2018 edition. Her piece has inspired me tremendously.

From a structural perspective, the poem is only comprised of twelve lines–each line no longer than ten words in length. Yet the content of the piece is so intimate and emotionally charged that the word count becomes irrelevant. In fact, it is strengthened by the fact that it takes up so few words on the page.

My favorite line is the poem’s first line: “I woke up this morning having dreamt of my mother.” There is so much implication! We don’t have to be explicitly told whether the dream was bad, or whether the dream was good. Or what even happened in the dream at all. We, as readers, can just tell that it was haunting enough to wake her up. And the rest of the poem parallels this structure of implying and not telling so beautifully…it greatly matches the piece.

For me, writing about my mother falls into a steady rhythm of sameness. I write about the same couple of events, the same couple of feelings, draw the same conclusions in the end. Reading this poem was a realization for me. You don’t have to tell the reader everything! In fact, Gwyneth says the word “maybe” three times in her piece. When writing a poem, you, the poet, don’t even have to know what you’re writing about! Allow the reader space to read, to think about what you’re saying…you don’t have to force-feed a message.

I’ve been trying to find other lines of the poem to quote, but I find myself wanting to excerpt the entire latter half: “Maybe, last night I crossed fields/ Of black grass and cow shit to step/ Into her room, to sit with her, my eyes moving/ Under my eyelids like animals./ Maybe she woke up having dreamt of me.” There is so much longing here. I was left thinking about my own mother: how parts of me still want to be with her, and how much I wish she wanted to be with me.

This is the haunting “Sleepwalking” embodies. We don’t know the speaker’s relationship with her mother. We know she is hurt. Her words sound like the most private confession; an almost guilty admittance. It doesn’t take a ton of words to be honest– it takes guts. In this piece, we know what the deepest and most subconscious part of she wants. And that is truly the most meaningful thing I can ask of a poet.

 – Olivia Meiller, Junior Editor in Chief