A retrospective

Dear Professor Abeles,

         I hope this letter finds you well, and rest assured I am as I write this. I’ve had a fantastic experience over the past four months in our class and I hope the feeling is shared by my peers. However to be truly honest much of the joy came from the Reading we did rather than my own writing. I was exposed to a lot of new authors, foremost being Kelly Link of whom I’m now a rabid fanboy. But experiencing the texts that I had formerly read, “The Man in the Black Suit”,”Cathedral”, “Snow White…” was probably more fruitful in terms of learning about writing than the new experiences were. I felt this way because my familiarity with them allowed me to look at them as something manufactured rather than as entertainment; and this distinction enabled me to consider more carefully how they’re crafted rather than making sense of them as narratives. I’ve realized over the course of reading dozens of short stories this semester that much of the success of a short story hinges on it’s most powerful moment. This is in contrast to novels and the like, which rely more on an accumulation of smaller moments, of details and developments, rather than nesting all of its eggs in the basket of an “oh shit” moment as the short story does. Realizing how much of the success of a story is tied to the force of “the” (as in its ultimate) event makes me kind of wary on some level though too. It almost feels as if nothing is “good” enough when you’re formulating a narrative arc in your head. Like you need something extraordinary to serve as the lynchpin for your tale. Anyway, to tie this back into the course, I felt like “Family” was an especially strong story on the weight of its ability to take you aback. Killer babies are an especially earth shattering development, and a total distortion of reality. But it almost seems plausible, there’s believability in a situation that is unbelivable. Which is why I
can comfortably say it was my favorite story from the semester.

         I’m not going to choose a least favorite however. Because I believe any creative writing has value. If this semester has reaffirmed anything this uncouth undergrad knows about writing is that its possibilities are boundless. I’m personally captivated by reading and desire nothing more than to be able to produce the sort of stuff I really enjoy to read, one day. This course has changed my mind about some things though. Foremost being that writing, creatively, is an easy thing to do. I thought I would be able to write without issue and on a whim, and that was far from the case. I’d like to think part of it was life, and a slammed schedule getting in the way. But for some reason I think there’s an issue with my ability to believe in what I’m writing. Its like I know what I’m writing is tripe in the grand scheme of things, and on the other hand I know even prolific authors from Aphra Behn to H. James to Joyce Carol Oates probably wrote some really regretable things when they were cutting their chops, but my god its painfully embarassing to do it in front of other people. However, I lived through it, and I believe I’ve come out more willing to be open with my work.

         The course has made me a better Reader for sure. I’m much more aware of the mechanics of a short story at least. What I do with that knowledge remains to be seen. But I’d also like to think I’m a better Editor of peoples work as well. Although I rarely posted on my peers blogs, I did read more than a handful of them pretty religiously. The pedant in me is in full force while I’m doing this, which is why I wasn’t volunteering too much commentary. It’s hard to be pedantic when your own work is mediocre. But I feel like I’ve done enough reading at this juncture in my life that I can safely say when something is working, and when it’s struggling to take off. With that said, some of the stuff was really impressive in terms of narrative. The idea’s which set the story off were really captivating. However I always tried to see how I’d change the delivery. Not in terms of sentence level stuff, because you’re not going to agree with everyone’s aesthetics. But the delivery in the sense of tone, setting etc. It was especially interesting to see how my impression of the people who sit in the class with me contrasted with the pen and paper persona.

         This class is basically capping off my scholarly career for at least the next six months. Provided I even pass the class along with four others, which I hope I do, but nothing is definite in life except death. A word which is a ridiculously morbid addition to an otherwise cheerful essay, but I feel like keeping it in here because it was in my train of thought. Anyway, I feel like my time in your classes has been fruitful. Our previous adventure together in Women writers and the imagination led me to a taking a what is an essentially Queer Theory senior seminar in which we’ve read a bunch of Trans literature spanning the last two centuries. However I don’t know what the take away from creative writing is going to be, yet. I don’t think it’s going to result in such a enormous shift in my worldview as my prior classes have. But I do firmly believe that It has changed me in less tangible ways. I’ve realized that everyone has the power to write. There is no natural proclivity that is going to make you the next Ernest Hemingway. No one is born to write the great American novel. You work at it, really really really really damn hard. For a very long time, and then perhaps, maybe, there’s the possibility of something fruitful coming out of the hard work. There’s no shortcuts, and good writing doesn’t just materialize out of thin air.

         So if we’re talking about achievement, I suppose I should single out what I was actually proud of this semester. For one, I was pretty vocal in class. This in and of itself is pretty extraordinary for me. Secondly I was really proud of my peer critique as a whole. I really hope that I was helpful to Courtney, I know John’s remarks to me were extremely instructive. They’re both fantastic writers, I felt quite lucky to have the privilege to work with them.

         In terms of how this tied into other courses this semester, I’m really unsure of how to delve into that. This semester was basically one in which I needed to fulfill two hard requirements to graduate- a senior seminar and ENG 251. Other than that I was free to take whatever electives I felt like in the English department. So I took creative writing, and two Poetry classes. This class definitely kept my pen moving throughout the semester, so there’s that. There’s often big lull’s between the middle of the semester and crunch time where you don’t write much. Although my output on the blog wasn’t necessarily prolific, I wrote a lot in class, and did spend a fair amount of time just futzing around with ideas that never materialized onto the page. I felt like much of the learning I did personally was from interfacing with other peoples work. As I mentioned before, I followed other peoples blogs, and spent a lot of time considering how other peoples stories operated, and how they worked and where I thought they were weak.

         This is rambling at this point and approaching the page limit so I’ll segue into how to improve the course. I felt like the Peer Critique was the most instructive portion of the course, I think doing it twice would be doubly so. I also especially enjoyed the exquisite corpse exercise. Not so much for the nonsensical poetry, but rather for the act of writing with other people. Any kind of collaborative writing exercise you can find would be golden in another iteration of the class.

         Other than that, I feel like the class as a whole was exceptional, especially the reading selections. If I could add just one author I’d really suggest an (any really) Edgar Allen Poe short story. Granted he was bat shit crazy and an awful human being, but his writing is first rate, and the fact that some people go through life never reading him is a tragedy unto itself. Also, you mentioned including a Miranda July short story. I’d highly suggest it, but for selfish reasons, she is among a short list of authors who’s work has really changed my life. I know she isn’t the “best” writer, or an infallibly great writer or something, but her persona/message is quite lovely and I wish her all the exposure in the world. With all of this said, I’d like to tie it off by saying thank you for everything. I don’t want to go into some blown up expression of gratitude, so I’ll just leave it at that and wish you the best of luck with your next adventure.

Sean J. Levine

A letter to Jonathan

         Beyond just getting credit, I wrote these pieces when I felt like I needed to write something. This is a compulsion that comes over me quite a bit, but It’s normally redirected to into other pursuits -online forums or my diary for the most part. What makes these “special” is that they’re largely a product attempting to be “creative” in ways that I normally am not. By and large I am an A-Z thinker, and attempting to create something out of whole cloth spontaneously is a difficult endeavor for me. What I’m getting at is that I’m trying to achieve a different way of thinking, rather a different mode, than what my “constructed” (as in written with a particular, refined purpose) writing usually entails- which is your standard Academic research essay.

         My hope is that these pieces, however scant in number, will build to better pieces. I’m also the sort of person who doesn’t like to make the same mistakes. I’m not anal to the point, or so full of myself for that matter, that I can’t stand to make the same mistake twice. But once I see systemic failure, making the same mistake time and again, I really start to hate myself. That’s where you come in however. Because I certainly cannot see all of my shortcomings, and I’m not practiced enough to easily isolate the areas wherein I’m making blunders.

         I’d like advice on whatever and wherever you’re willing to give it. I’m a person who has played sports, chess, and video games at varying levels of competitiveness. I take criticism very well, even if I think it’s unwarranted or biased. Anything you say, constructive or even flat out savagely disrespectful I’ll consider thoroughly and without reservation. I’d rather a true accounting from you, your initial impulse, than the “comment sandwich” or something tempered by the normal rules of civility. I won’t take anything you say to heart or as a personal attack, and I certainly won’t hold a grudge because in all honesty in the long run anything informative/constructive you say will be a bigger attribute to my success than any passing sleight could be a detriment.

         I enjoy the process of writing much more than the product. I find the process cathartic, and that the product always falls short of expectation.

         In summation, I’d really like to thank you for your time and consideration. I know it’s difficult to evaluate someones work, and that moreover it’s a huge time investment to do it properly. So thank you, sincerely.

Week I

         Welcome to the Repository. This is unlike any other blog you’ve seen because I, Sean Levine, am the sole author and have chosen the blogs name and will henceforth fill it from content emanating from me and me alone. I’m sure you’ve seen and interacted with countless other blogs just like this one, however I’m hoping that the content you’ll find within will interest you on some level and moreover make the experience of this blog unique. I personally am ambivalent about blogs, I appreciate the opportunities a defined space generates in terms of intellectual productivity; but on the other hand I take issue with leaving the boundaries of the space undefined and unguarded by allowing the public at large into it freely. But to be fair these latter reservations are less weighty considering patrons of my site will at least have to go out of their way to access it. Which is unlike most blogging mechanisms/structures I’ve previously encountered throughout my academic career which were more akin to a class wide forum rather than an student created space. I am undertaking the creation of this blog and by extension this post because it’s a requirement of my Creative Writing class at Queens College, and it’s my first opportunity to showcase my ability to follow directions to my professor and classmates. However, I assure you, as my reader that the majority of my other content won’t be so banal or contrived. So far I’m feeling very blasé about it, it referring in this instance to the process of writing this post. I signed up for this class because I needed to fill the last of my elective requirements to graduate with an English B.A. and the opportunity to not have to write “academic” papers while doing so was too appealing to pass up on . Also I enjoyed a creative writing class I took previously at Nassau Community College immensely, which further nudged me towards enrolling. Anyway, I hope to suprise myself with my own growth in some aspects of my writing by the end of the semester. I may not reinvent the wheel as it were, but I can, I hope, smooth out some of the bumps on it in a handful of months.

         Now that the particulars are out of the way, bear with me while I tell you a bit about myself. If I could be anything besides a human being it would be an Avian humanoid, which in fantasy realms/worlds are essentially a mix between a Human and a Bird. Otherwise known as a Harpy when they’re more Bird than Human- and usually quite Evil. Avian’s retain most of there Humanoid qualities in terms of intelligence, personality ,societal structure etc. and are usually depicted as aesthetically pleasing despite their hybrid nature. They do have beaks instead of noses, but given the benefits otherwise It’s a small price to play in my estimation. I know this choice is a cop out on some level, but basically they’re humans that can fly; who wouldn’t want fly, and still be “normal” to an extent I mean…really, anyone? Next runner up would be a Bowhead Whale because they live an extremely long time (150-200 years), have nearly no natural predators and are likely intelligent to the point that they can employ some independent thought/logic to everyday life. Which is to say they aren’t animals that survive on base instinct alone. I wouldn’t mind 150 years of solitude to think and go on whatever whale-y adventures my whim takes me on on a given day. I’ve always liked Video Games since time immemorial, and ever since I read the first ten pages of Twilight I have disliked myself greatly for succumbing to curiosity. I’m not sure you’ll understand why, It is after all not even close to approaching what I’ll dub the “Pantheon” of the worst things ever published. It’s neither abhorrent in terms of content or so poorly written that it even lacks a sort of bizzare charm that goes hand in hand with mediocrity. I feel debased by reading it nonetheless, and swear I went into a stupor for 20 minutes after suffering mightily through a dozen pages. I cannot imagine a world without the construct of time and the idea of place. Nor a world without love, which wouldn’t be a world worth living in. But I think we’d all be better off without Television. I love the word Elegiac and would be at a severe loss without it, but apparently it’s no Cellar Door- which is by many accounts the most “beautiful” English word in terms of Phonaesthetics. One of my favorite sayings is “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.“ which may not be particularly inspired or especially cutting edge, but as a worldview it can do wonders for the shy and non confrontational alike. That reminds me! When I enter a bookstore I gravitate to Food Court so I can get a cup of coffee for myself and my friends at the Library whom I am surely on the way to visit. At the Library you can usually find me either in the Y.A. Section or in 820 (old English/english writings) or 828 (Misc. English usually where all the poetry/plays written/translated to English are) These are of course numbers from the Dewey system, I do however wish that public libraries ran off of Library of Congress designations as navigating College libraries was a task before I got the hang of it and acclimated myself to the LoC operating system.

Lastly I would just like to say thank you for your time, and godspeed.

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