Summer Farah, BFR Staff

Although online shopping is amazing, the thrill of finding something unexpected in a bookstore is unmatched by doing so off any Amazon recommendation.

This summer I utilized Barnes & Noble greatly as a daily hangout. It was the perfect spot; there was an endless amount of books to look through, the employees hardly spoke to you, you could spend hours in a corner undetected by anyone, and the connecting cafe had cheesecake if you got hungry. Cheesecake.

I loved discovering cool, new poetry and looking at the newest additions to Teen Literature, seeing all of the different editions of classics I said I would read but probably never will.

The “no sitting on the ground” rule was the only thing in my way.

Some people love to stand while they read, probably. I am not one of them. After I find a book to skim through, my body automatically drops directly onto the floor. Reading and sitting are directly connected—I cannot do one without the other. Barnes & Noble, however, tried to take that experience away from me, when they sent an employee down the aisle to tell me I was not allowed to sit on the ground. Being the good customer I am, I apologized and got up, keeping all frustrated thoughts to myself.

For a while, this rule discouraged me from spending too much time in the store. This is where they got the loiterers. You couldn’t comfortably spend too much time enjoying a book without paying for it.

I soon found a loophole: the children’s section.

Barnes & Noble had two sitting options: either you could sit in the café and risk spilling cheesecake on your precious purchase, or you could sit in a small plastic chair in the brightly decorated children’s section.

I chose the latter.

With a friend, I tested my bounds. We each grabbed a novel and made our way to the children’s section, took a seat, and began to read.

Reading in the children’s section is very different from reading on the ground in an isolated aisle. There is so much more stimulus, even if you ignore the glares of the employees who want to tell you to leave but don’t because technically there is nothing wrong with 18 year-olds reading picture books. The floor was a bright wood, there were shelves and shelves of toys, the promotional material was of gaudy design, and sometimes there were kids. While the isolated aisles that contained the material we brought into the children’s sections were calm and quiet—optimal for reading—the children’s section was distracting.

The shelves of the children’s section were an intense mix of nostalgia and intrigue. I found so many books from elementary school that I had loved and forgotten about or given away. Seeing them still prominent filled me with so much joy. Whatever new literature that was being cranked out was probably just as great, but I love A Series of Unfortunate Events, and it would be a shame for kids to not still be encouraged by their school librarians to read those books. Harry Potter was still front and center, with beautiful new cover designs. Diary of a Wimpy Kid was still growing strong. I wondered how old that kid must be today.

What caught my eye the most were the picture books. One book in particular: The Day the Crayons Quit.

I put down my big-kid chapter book, picked up the pretty, hardcover picture book, and got to reading.

One of the most healing experiences is unexpectedly finding a story that so completely and utterly fills you with joy. It’s been a rocky road the last few years, and I’ve sought out books that I wouldn’t be embarrassed to be seen with if I died while reading.

The Day the Crayons Quit was a masterpiece. It follows the correspondence of disgruntled crayons with their owner whom they believe has not been using them to their full potential. The illustrations combine a sketchy, kid’s-drawings-style with a more defined, cutesy “real object” style for the crayons and the letters.  

Reading this book set off a string of picking up picture books and seeing what the next generation was learning from. Just like when I was learning to read, some of them are beautiful and have deep messages about creativity. Some of them are just sort of silly.

I have always lost myself in books. The type of books changed as I got older, but they were always the cure. Even though I love the ease of online shopping, random findings are always more exciting than deliberate purchases. Amazon recommendations never would have introduced me to The Day the Crayons Quit, or the other magical mix of books I have found by loitering in Barnes & Noble.

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Regan Farnsworth, BFR Staff

Why even bother?

That’s a question perhaps worth asking of the written word. We have movies, we have television, we have videogames. Why go to the trouble of reading at all? It’s a lot more effort, with a lot less—well—production value.

Movies are single, big, events. Explosions (literal and figurative) and grandiosity galore. Television shows have continuity, length, and the potential for constant variation. Both are easy to consume – just sit and watch, some barely even ask that you listen. Video games ask more of you, but in return grant you agency.

Books ask that you sit down with minimal potential distractions – and for a lot of people that includes even being in a moving vehicle – and put forth a great deal of focus, for consumption you have no control over. There are no fancy graphics, big special effects, or surprise Christmas episodes. So I posit the question again:

Why even bother?

But books are not without their own merit, even in the face of our new age of technological supremacy, because all such media rob the consumer of the one thing books grant: imagination. A book challenges its reader to quite literally read between the lines – to fill in the blanks as they come – and in doing allow access to an infinity of variety.

I don’t mean to sound like a grandmother, futilely attempting to persuade her grandchild to put that blasted watchamacallit down and pick up a book for once. What I hope to express is that books were not step one of an evolution, and that they do not compete with movies, and TV, and video games. The reason movie adaptation of novels are infamous for infuriating the readers of said novels optimistic enough to go and see them is related to this same concept. Movies can’t do the same thing – they’re marketing towards a different audience entirely, because if they weren’t, that audience would have been happy to just read the book instead.

So, no, I’m not saying books are better than movies and you all need to get your heads out of your screens – I love screens. This is a blog post for crying out loud; you’re on a screen right now, probably with Netflix on another tab. And that’s okay. That’s fine. That’s great. Stories are stories! But know that the story is only so much the story, and all the rest is in the telling. What a book does is give its consumer creative freedom. Not agency in the action but agency in the understanding. Different stories grant different levels of this freedom, but all of it is more than you can ever attain when a TV show, movie, or video game is showing you precisely how they envision it, not how you do.

Perhaps this is all rather old news to anyone well-read enough to bother reading this blog post, but in that case perhaps it might help you articulate to your less literary-enthused contemporaries.

And if not, well, hey, would it have been any better if this were a vlog instead?

Leah Tyus, BFR Staff

Leah

Who is the artist behind this piece? Is the individual male or female? What ethnicity? If we were to imagine that individual’s story, what might it be? How would their tale unfold? Regardless of the artist you’ve envisioned, it’s important to consider how our conception of an artist comes into formation.

If I told you the artist is a twenty-six year old African American male, with the physique of a D-line football player, would you believe me? Well, guess what? The artist is all those things plus more. What’s astonishing is how few people would associate such artistry with the true artist. Our preconceptions of what and who constitutes the art world lend themselves to biases. These biases have the potential to be detrimental as they impose pre-judgments. We allow our perceptions to create a limited normality.

Our faceless artist is named Julian.

Birthed within a name is the individual’s personality. Julian possesses a story that reveals his particular journey as an artist. He and other artists are more than fantasized ideas because they are living, breathing individuals. Because Julian does not fit within the societal norm of who an artist aught to be, does that make him any less of one? Have we considered how biases limit success for an artist? Doesn’t Julian deserve to be recognized for his artistry rather than an ability to perpetuate an artist stereotype?

I precaution us all to remember the impact our preconceptions have on artists. Let us not be limited in our understandings but become expansive in our thinking. Let us dismantle our concept of the idealized artist to that of the totality of the artist.

*Art by Julian Tyus

Sean Dennison, BFR Editorial Staff

            Robert,

                        Another day, another hundred errands. Could you please take Robbie to the beach? I’ve packed some snacks for you. For dinner I’m thinking pizza. Call for trouble. xoxoxoxoxo

                                                                                                Mathilde

*

Robert thought of paintings on the drive to the beach. The sunny day expressed every detail in his sight with loving focus. Robbie rolled his window up and down, stealing highway breezes that kicked up his hair. Another day, another Mathildeless venture. The hours and the errands she said she did didn’t match. Neither did her car’s odometer.

“Dad, are we gonna catch fish?”

“Maybe, buddy,” Robert said.

Robbie started clapping his plastic shovel and bucket together. Robert let the hollow sounds soundtrack his thoughts. Would Amy be there? He’d told her last minute, but figured they were both used to it by now. Mathilde only smiled at Robert’s complaints about working on nonexistent work projects. As for “getting to this point,” he’d long since gotten over it.

“Maybe, buddy,” Robert said again.

“Huh?” Robbie asked, but they were already pulling into the beach lot.

**

The woman walked up and down along the bottom of the sheer cliff face that overlooked the jetty. What was a jetty anyway?

We’ll be at the jetty, he said.

The what?

Just meet us—me—at the beach, near the cliffs.

Us. He was being sloppy again. She kicked away a spinachy pile of seaweed. Seagulls flew overhead, and she resolved that, if shat on, these meetings would stop. She found a small pool where she chased crabs with her finger. It was easy to disrupt them, or anything, really. Hell, she’d let him disrupt her life after a chance meeting at a coffee shop.

“Hello,” she finally heard.

She worked up a smile before looking at him.

“I’m not doing it here, in public, with your son here she said,” pointing to a small boy with a plastic bucket and shovel, running to the tide pools with his back toward them. “Lotta fucking nerve bringing him here.”

“I just wanted to see you, Amy,” he said. “It couldn’t be helped.”

“Well, you see me Robert,” she said. “Now, what can be helped?”

***

The starfish looked like his Mom’s jewelry. He liked to watch her put it on for big parties, a five-pointed sunset red necklace. He reached in the tide pool to pull the ocean gem out. Saltwater wetted and weighted his clothes, but the starfish felt as light as the paper masks he made at school. He couldn’t wait to show Dad.  They could take it home to Mom, who wasn’t really with him and Dad anymore except at dinner and maybe breakfast. Mom would love the starfish.

“I’m gonna take you home,” the boy whispered, stroking its five limbs. He ran back to where Dad was.

Dad had his arms around a lady. He’d seen Dad wrap his arms like that around Mom. The lady smiled, and now Dad kissed her. He did that with Mom too. He never saw Dad do that with anyone else. He clutched the starfish tighter. He didn’t know he walked to them until he was right next to them. The lady noticed first.

“Robert,” she said.

Dad quickly unwrapped himself from the lady and took a few steps back.

“Got a fish, buddy?”

Robbie nodded and held up the starfish. He touched his thumb to the center. He imagined a magic button on the starfish’s center, and when you pushed it the ocean would rise, higher and higher until it turned the world into a pool.

“It’s beautiful,” the lady said.

****

Mrs. Robertson noticed Robert and his boy pull up in their driveway while she watered her plants and went to say hello.

“Why, hello there, handsomes!” she said.

“Hi,” Robbie said without looking at her, and headed straight for the house. He threw a plastic shovel and bucket set on the grass.

“Hold on, buddy,” Robert said. “Hi Mrs. Robertson.”

“Robert, how are you? Father-son outing?”

“Yah, beach day today,” he said. Mrs. Robertson smiled at him. His face was red, and he kept tugging at his collar. He noticed he had missed a button on his shirt and fixed it. “Robbie found a starfish,” he said after some silence.

“I hope the next time I go to the beach I find one,” she said. “Take care.”

“You too.”

She thought of Robbie and Robert. They looked exactly like each other. But Robbie had Mathilde’s eyes and nose. The mother’s car wasn’t there. She’d be back later this evening, then, to cook dinner. Robert, Robbie and Mathilde sometimes ate dinner with the drapes open, and every now and then Mrs. Robertson would see them eating together.

What a lovely family, she thought, and continued to garden.

Jenna Lee, BFR Staff

A writer, above all other professionals, ought to be self-aware. Nothing is more detestable than writing that is hypocritical. To prevent hypocrisy, a writer ought to walk the talk. She ought to wield truth like a sword and hack away at herself—especially at those parts of herself that would inspire ridicule in any reasonable reader.

What might inspire ridicule? For one, arrogance. Arrogance is a most dangerous thing for a writer to nurse. Those who are arrogant should take care to be perfect, for the slightest slip of tongue, slip of the pen, slip in reputation would be greeted with delight, rather than sympathy, laughter instead of sadness. An arrogant writer has no friends—and those friends she has are like herself, so respect is scarce in her midst. Arrogance is the antithesis of respect, so a writer should never pander to herself when the seeds of arrogance sprout in her breast. Hack away at those sprouts! The pen is only as mighty as the writer who wields it.

In that vein, it is imperative that a writer bring a fresh perspective to things. Banality is unforgiveable in writing, as in life. People will put up with satire, with something that inflames their passions and anger, but will rarely, if ever, put up with writing (or speech) that bores them. A reader’s attention is a precious thing, and should never be squandered. Risk saying too little rather than saying too much. Brevity conveys meaning better than a superfluity of words.

And the final thing that inspires ridicule is anger. A writer must not write from a place of uncontrolled passion. If a writer can be lucid about their passion, put words to their rage, that is one thing, but uncontrolled anger is something ugly to behold. Few people will applaud such an exhibition of unbridled angst. If you must be angry, find the appropriate words to explain your anger. Articulate anger is something to be respected.

Of course, I have done all of these things myself. I have been arrogant, boring, and angry. So of course I agree that writers deserve some leeway to grow and make mistakes. But writing is ineffectual unless it contains seeds of truth. Journalism lacks purpose unless coupled with character. And the character of a writer is doubly important, for she is a ledger for a section of humankind. Writers ought to be their own worst critics, to an extent. While the act of writing should be playful and spontaneous, subsequent readings should be done with an intent to “kill our darlings.”

Let us not pander to our egos. Let us see the negativity in the world as an indication of internal negativity that we could work through in ourselves. Let us not blame others. Let us seek to take responsibility for our own feelings. Let us find happiness and confidence in ourselves, so we can be a light illuminating, rather than a sound and fury signifying nothing. Words, in their most exalted moments, take on the importance of deeds.

Elise Cox, BFR Staff

The world was churning, churning, churning. Not the real world, but the world in my mind. The world where things appeared a thousand times more grotesque than they really were, the world where every thought latched itself onto the previous one, until my every thought became one more bar in nightmarish prison of my mind.

My rapid inhalations made my teeth tingle and I wanted so badly to shut my eyes—tightly, tightly, tightly—but that would only accelerate the construction of the iron bars of my mental prison.

So many things to do, do, do. So many people to see, see, see. Places to go. Go, go, go. That’s what the blinking cursor on my blank Word document was cackling at me.

What did I have to say about the Mayans, when I hadn’t done the readings for this class for weeks, because I couldn’t keep my eyes open; when I hadn’t been to a lecture since the first week of classes because most days I couldn’t bear to get out of bed. Even if I had been a proper student, how could I possibly focus on the significance of Mayan culture in modern Mexican society if I had to do the dishes, walk the dog, polish my résumé, call my mother to ask how her chemo was going, going, going.

With every blink of the cursor, my thoughts churned faster, more powerfully, until they were a whirlpool of panic. I sighed shortly and slammed my laptop shut, holding my face in my hands. I was too exhausted to cry, so my shoulders shook and my throat rasped dry exhalations.

My roommate, Candace, looked up from her bed, where she was watching Netflix on her laptop. She pulled an earbud out, asking me what was up. I began to tell her about the churning, the prison, the Mayans, the dishes, the chemo.

“I’ll do the dishes,” she said placidly.

“It’s my day to do them.”

“So? I’ll do them.”

“You’ll do them.” Do them, do them. I bit my tongue to hold back the echoing utterances. So hard that I drew blood, blood, blood.

“Hey, um, John and me are going on the roof tonight. He’s supposed to be here in just a couple minutes, actually. Come with us.”

I protested—I couldn’t bear to third-wheel. I felt lonely enough, just being inside my own skin.

But John did come over just a couple minutes later, and he and Candace literally dragged me out onto the walkway outside our apartment. The crisp autumn air embrittled the iron bars of my mind and the whirlpool slowed a little. I was able to climb onto the roof by myself, tightly gripping the cool metal railings. The gravelly rooftop crunched satisfyingly under my Chuck Taylors. The faint, syrupy scent of weed mingled with the underwhelming dusty smell of autumn air. The night was quiet, save a siren wailing somewhere in the distance.

But the crunching, the smells, the quiet of the night—none of that stilled the ceaseless churning of my mind. It was the twinkling, twinkling, twinkling. Not of the stars above, but of the little amber dots as they blinked across the Bay Bridge. The cars were all kinds, I imagined—little Coopers, big semis. But from that rooftop, they all seemed so small and slow.
Small and slow. Small and slow. Small and slow.

Ilana Pessah, BFR Staff

When I was twelve, I began to write my first book since my debut novel, Ilana Showshanah, which I wrote in the first grade — the story of a girl who overcame the perceived obstacle of her short height in order to achieve her dream of becoming a famous singer. Needless to say, I had set the bar pretty low for myself. With fresh motivation, I scribbled the new story across a multicolored pocket-sized notebook for the better half of a summer. For a time that scrappy notebook was my pride and joy. The storyline needed a bit of work and the overuse of profanity that I thought made me sound older didn’t help, but all in all, I was content with my work.

Of course, when one twelve year old finds out that another twelve year old is writing a book, news spreads quickly, and for a few weeks my work-in-progress floated from friend to friend. As I continued my work, I wrote openly, and my friends didn’t hesitate to recommend changes to the storyline. I tried to accommodate everyone’s wishes, because even if I didn’t necessarily agree, they had to know what was best. It didn’t matter if I liked it; it just mattered if everyone else did.

By the end of the summer, I still hadn’t finished my book. The high of my fifteen minutes of fame eventually wore off and I became frustrated with a book that was no longer my own. I didn’t recognize my own writing and, in the end, I decided that writing books wasn’t for me. I threw the notebook in a drawer and never picked it up again.

Then, during my eleventh grade year, I had a core group of incredible teachers who inspired me to re-evaluate my relationship with myself and how I viewed my self-worth. For some reason, as I was doing this extensive self-reflection, I began to think about the book I had tried writing four years earlier. With a few additional years under my belt, I began to examine my disenchanting experience, trying to figure out what had caused me to resent something that once was my passion. With fresh eyes and the continuing support of my educational mentors, I found where I went astray.

I had loved my book when I was writing it for myself; I wrote what I wanted to and found joy in the process of doing so. But, due to my lack of self-confidence, I tried to please everyone else rather than staying true to the story I wanted to write. I had such a low opinion of myself that I didn’t trust my own judgment about the thing I loved most. I was too afraid to embrace myself, quirks and all, to allow myself to fully open up and write with confidence. Even in Ilana Showshanah I had made my character grow a few inches taller instead of embracing her shortness and loving herself for who she was.

With my new perspective, I sat down in November of 2013 and began a new book, this time committing to writing it for me; nobody else. It took seven months, but I eventually finished my first book since Ilana Showshanah, and this time I did so with confidence. I love my book; it’s quirky and complex — just like its author. My manuscript is currently sitting in some cubical at a branch of Penguin Publishing waiting to be evaluated by a member of the firm. But while it would be nice to be a published author, whether or not I hear back won’t change how I feel about the experience. For the first time I created something that was completely mine, and that’s a gift only I had the power to give myself.