Creating from Nothing

Whenever my eyes used to come across “Milkmaid” by Eryka Goldsworthy, it struck a familiar chord. I’d find myself staring at all aspects of the painting, the way the wood contains small looped circles and the bread reflects the light coming from the window. I believe that this painting resonated with me because it focused on a small action, something simple, a snapshot of milkmaid. The inspiration for this painting had to have come from the oil painting by a Dutch artist in 1658, also called “The Milkmaid”. The biggest differences between the two paintings is notably the setting. The painting done by Eryka is much more modern, the milkmaid is pouring milk in ceramic bowl on the edge of a stainless-steel sink.

            From the hues to the Milkmaid’s expression, there is no question that the painting is organic. It illustrates an overall feeling of home coming from a creator. I believe that any entrepreneur, cook, farmer, writer, painter, can relate to feeling radiated by the painting. Writing takes places first in the home and when I look back at my earliest memories, some of my writing took place while watching my mother cook in the kitchen. Paintings like “Milkmaid” exhibit a feeling grounded in the roots of any culture. Writing involves reaching into memories to explore more about oneself, whether it was a good or bad period in our life. It is a good feeling to know that the emotions behind a piece are true, and they can be true to anyone.

One of my poems describes how I used to watch my family work at the back of a restaurant, elbow grease and all. I think that “Milkmaid” resonated because it reminded me of an actual memory at a very young age. Paintings that take me back to a certain point in life inspire me to create something from nothing. Personally, “nothing” is a state of mind or a plateau for an artist.  Creating something out of nothing is when my best ideas take place. Last year, “Milkmaid” pulled me out of a plateau with writing that I was going through and inspired me to create a creative nonfiction story about the milkmaids of Colombia. I have found myself always writing about small actions in my daily life, mostly because it amazes me how differently I can experience them.

The Elan literary magazine publishes nothing but organic work. Our paintings like “Milkmaid” exhibit a profound candid expression. The action of the milkmaid is a lot similar to other pieces that Elan publishes, it makes writers like myself reflect on a memory to create something memorable.

Evelyn Alfonso, Poetry Editor

My Old Friend, Writing

I remember at any social event; my mother would tell everyone I had my own imaginary friend. This made me feel stupid of course, shy even to get to know people. At such a young age I created a bubble, separating the outside world from my own imaginations and desires. My mother thought my imaginary friend was something I could see and hold on to. I never considered this imaginative being a physical entity or a way to escape my social encounters. It never had a name either. I communicated with my imaginary friend in the form of little sentences in a glittery journal I got for Christmas because I was too nervous to speak. Always confused with Spanish and English language, I was scared to mess up in front of my friends. I didn’t want them making fun of me for not knowing English. I spent up until fourth grade with speech difficulties and I resorted to writing my conversations down to pass my classes. I fell in love with writing as a form of communication first and then it just disappeared.
At the end of my childhood and especially during late stages of my preteen years, I was mad at writing. In the sense that I was betrayed, writing left me for a while. Like an old friend, writing just moved on from me and it left me feeling extremely bitter. My family was going through financial difficulties and I was still confused about my growing body. I’d thought about what I wanted to say when writing came back. “Hey um, you pretty much left me at my lowest point in life. Thanks, I hate you”. At that age, I told myself that writing left me, like it was something it could ever leave. I was defensive. I left writing.
After my trip to Colombia for a summer, I had recurring night terrors of not being able to speak. One morning I woke up to a dream that a man from Bogota removed my eyes as I was walking down the street. My experience in a third world country made me realize my fortune in the United States. The hot water, the air conditioning, the equality. I never realized how free I actually was. My dreams of Colombia’s brutality pushed me to write until the sun rose, and if I was tired, I slept in a closet where no one could see me. Instead of being afraid to speak, I was afraid to step outside. I wrote long poems, poems that had two lines, and poems that tasted like hot dogs they sold after church. I wrote when I told my grandmother I hated her in front of a mountain that stretched all the way to Venezuela. Sometimes I painted with my neighbors when there wasn’t any money for paper.
It was the strangest feeling when my old friend came back. We were both familiar with each other and it was almost like we picked up right where we left off. I was still bitter at my old friend but I never stopped coming back for more. Today I realized that I am addicted to writing, addicted to communicating how I feel on paper. The only way I got over my fear of speaking was to write about being afraid.
Evelyn Alfonso, Poetry Editor

Reading the First Élan

Jacob's Blog Post PictureWhen working within a publication with as long a history as Élan, it’s easy to forget how complicated and interwoven tradition is. For 30 years, this magazine has collected and judged student writing and art under the supervision of teachers and students. There have been dozens of print issues, ranging from handwritten construction-paper projects to typewriter printouts, from small wads of paper custom-printed for Extravaganza to professionally produced full-color journals. Hundreds of staff members have worked on the magazine, and thousands of authors have given their work to the custody of the advisors, the editors, and the staff members of Élan.

It’s easy to forget. You work on only the most recent content, the newest poems, stories still in such rough drafts that writers will change entire plotlines when asked to. For those submitting work, it’s the same concept. Writing is new—it’s unique, it’s singular for the person creating it. Even if a long tradition of writing exists for a form or a character type or a style, the work feels like it only exists in a moment. Still, over time I realized how much my own writing had benefitted from the ideas and works of other authors—never from my contemporaries as much as from long dead authors who had been all but forgotten in the modern day.

It was thinking about tradition that made me want to investigate the history and lineage of Élan. To understand my role in the publication and the role of the work we were creating, I knew I had to look to the past and see where we had come from.

It started in 1986 with the first edition. Élan began as a letter-size stapled magazine, supervised by the English department with advisors that included Ms. Lynch and Mr. Lipp. Each piece was type-written and Xeroxed into the actual magazine, often with strange but eye-catching layout and almost always accompanied by illustrations, not by contributing artists but by the staff members themselves. The cover is blocky, grungy, impressively raw. The art is black and white, simple, almost primitive in its action and emotion.

But the most impressive part of the first edition is the writing. One would think that writing so unpolished and unprofessional, so unguided by the structures of a formal department, would be hard to read—spiky, sharp. And one would be right—the poems often rhyme, the stories are simple, and the style overall is what one would expect from any high school, not an arts magnet. But the honesty of the writing still shows. An essay from an English class, strange as it would be in our Élan, feels like it has a place in the first edition because it was written with care and passion.

Passion sums up the first Élan. It was simple, it was D.I.Y., but the people making it cared about writing. They cared so much that they started a magazine. It’s our job to continue that tradition of caring and passion—even if it feels rote and mechanical, art began and still begins in a place of creative excitement.

-Jacob Dvorak, Senior Fiction Editor