The Reach of Loss and Longing

I feel as though, whenever I’m having trouble digesting something or with my writing, I find myself going back through my origins. My roots. By this, I mean where my writing began. What has inspired me the most. I’ve read and been introduced to so many words and pieces and writers through my journey of being a writer of my own.

The first poem I can really remember being hit by, my breath taken away from such a small amount of lines, I read my freshman year of high school. I found the piece scrolling through a website for inspiration and got just that. Matt Rasmussen’s, “After Suicide [a Hole is Nothing]” struck something deep within me. Blew some fuse that hadn’t really been lit yet, not so early on in my experience with the writing program. This poem was the first one I’d read and really understood, I think. Before, most of the writing I’d been introduced to had gone over my head, with meanings and messages too layered, too thick and dense for my young arms to grasp correctly. Too much for me to understand.

The brevity and specificity of this poem grabbed onto me. How much Rasmussen was able to say, the depth of the emotions he describes in so short a number of lines was unreal. It was almost like an epiphany for me, reading that poem. That was the moment I realized I could write about anything. I could take something so deeply personal to me and put it on the drawing board, stretch those emotions I felt to the reader and allow them to sit in on the moment with me. Before then, I hadn’t really thought there was room for my own feelings in my writing, but rather those of a character. I understood, when I read Rasmussen’s poem, that it was real. Even if it wasn’t his experience exactly, it was something he’d felt. Some sort of grief or loss. A longing.

To say I’ve attempted an emulation of Rasmussen’s poem would be to say I tried to write. That, of course, if what I’ve been doing from the moment I discovered the poem. However, I don’t think I achieved that level of personality and authenticity in my own poems until this year, when I dug so deep into myself that it began to hurt. That’s when I started to put myself into the writing, the things I’d experienced, or thought of, or felt. That longing, not matter what it may be for, belongs in the writing. It needs to be there.

Kinley Dozier, Senior Managing Editor

Grounding Myself in Art

Whenever I feel like I have come to a point where I have “run out” of things, ideas, themes, I turn to visual art to try and find inspiration. I do this thing where I am constantly writing about myself and what is happening in my life and, in turn, feel as if I am continuously writing about the same things over and over again in the same exact ways with the same exact language. It feels like I am stuck in my own writing.

Going to visual art allows me to disconnect my personal life from my writing and take on the voice of the subject or artist or to interact with something other than myself in my writing. I will write pieces that I would have never thought about writing or even thought of in general because of pulling my inspiration from something else, something intended to make the consumer feel some sort of visceral reaction.

Both writing and visual art make their consumers think and go further into each piece than what is first seen. It’s amazing. I can look at the same piece of art endlessly, but still continue to find something else about the it. There is always more.

Élan takes both art and writing and uses them so that a kind of symbiotic relationship occurs within the book itself. There is writing that has to do with the art and art that has to do with the writing. Each feed off the other.

In the 2017 Fall edition, an art piece titled, Fruit on Wheels III, is one that I find myself going back to consistently and doing nothing more than just looking at it and trying to piece together a semblance of the story of what is happening in it. Who are the two men? What are they doing? Where is it? Why was the artist drawn to capturing this moment in time? What did the artist want people to get out of it?

In all honesty, I am not entirely sure as to why I am drawn to this piece. There’s a story or something deeper lying in every piece of artwork, and I will most likely never truly know what the artist intended to say with this piece, but I can piece together what the art is telling me.

It tells me anguish and hard work and determination and exasperation and aspiration and just-getting-by and this-is-life-and-it-is-okay. I think it is partly because I am who I am and that I write what I write. I don’t do super crazy fiction stories or fantasy or abstract. I do grounded and realistic and in your face and there is more to what I am saying. That’s what I felt from this artwork. On the surface, you understand what is most likely happening, but you keep going further and further into the work itself and the smallest aspect of the art means something.

Writing from this piece would be me removing myself in the sense that maybe it isn’t a personal narrative that I am telling, but instead, someone else’s narrative that I am telling with personal conviction and connection.

Winnie Blay, Junior Managing Editor

My Grainy Confidence

As artists, we all reach stages in our writing where we feel like our work is the worst we’ve ever created. We put our hearts and souls into personal pieces only to find the harshest criticism comes from ourselves. This doesn’t only happen to famous authors, it happens to all writers. As human beings, our confidence is like grains of sand; it slips between our fingers and completely leaves before we even know it.

December of last year, I felt like the tiny amounts of grainy confidence I had finally was blown out of my palms. I had been involved in a project produced by the Elan staff called Coffee House. It’s a performance put on by the students that go to our school and the pieces presented are all original work. This includes poetry, Spoken Word, short plays, musical bands, and singing. To get into the performance, you had to audition and then be chosen by the staff in charge. I had written my piece, performed it, and was picked by the judges to be in the show.

As I went to rehearsals and worked on making my piece better, I began to get this feeling that maybe my piece wasn’t all that good. Especially being surrounded by so many beautifully talented artists, who before the age of 19 are already extremely skillful, I found it very hard to maintain the pride I had in my work before.

I had to keep telling myself that they chose me for a reason. The judges liked my piece, and they thought my message was important enough to be in Coffee House. The fellow members who heard my piece also enjoyed it, and encouraged me every day at rehearsal to not hold myself back on stage. Other people told me I had created good work, but it didn’t really help me feel any better about it.

It’s important to recognize that as artists, our confidence can only rely on ourselves. We nurture our work, fall in love with it, and sometimes even share it with others. The reason we love writing isn’t just because we love how it makes us feel afterwards, but because we appreciate ourselves more when we put ourselves through the struggles and challenges of finishing work. I remember that even on the night of Coffee House I felt like no one in the stage would like or even understand my piece. But when I finished performing and took a deep breath, I realized that I loved my piece after all. It didn’t matter if people hadn’t clapped and given me support. What matter was that it felt right to have gotten my piece out into the world.

What truly helped me love my piece again, and what I use most of the time when I feel like I’m falling out of place with my writing in general, is thinking about the reason I started writing something in particular. What motivated me to write it down and work on it? What do I like about my writing? It’s also important to ask myself why I don’t feel like my writing is good. Whether it’s just one piece that maybe isn’t where I want it, or it’s over time where I feel like all my writing isn’t nearly as strong as I want it to be, I like getting down to the core reasons why I don’t believe it’s where it should be.

Good work needs patience and attention. Good work needs time to breath by itself and time to stand on its own. Writers, be kind to yourself. Be kind to your work and your passions.

Valerie Busto, Fiction/Creative Non-fiction Editor