Happy summer, dear readers and authors!

We would like to again congratulate those who were published in Issue 37 this year, and thank everyone for their support.

As we are an entirely student-run journal, we would also like to remind you that we will not be reading submissions during the summer, and will start again in September, Fall 2017, during the academic school year. Please know that while we are happy to receive your summer submissions, you will not receive any responses until September.

May your summers be full of creativity, productivity, and sensitivity! Happy writing, everyone.

— Alagia Cirolia, Managing Editor

Moira Peckham, BFR Editor

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              As I’ve gotten older, busier, and generally more stressed, I’ve noticed something sad about myself: I seldom read for fun anymore. When I was a growing up in the truly riveting hubbub of Morro Bay, California I would make a conscious effort to sit myself down and read a gosh darn novel or even just a few short stories every week. Eventually I didn’t even have to try because reading was the most wonderful thing I could be doing. There was nothing like getting lost in someone else’s world for a few hours and, to be honest, that’s still one of the most incredible things life can offer us. When I reached college, however, I found my time increasingly taken up by technical readings for my courses in anthropology, philosophy, or whatever I was taking that semester. And let me tell you, after a week of reading Marxist theory and critiques of cultural ecology, nothing and I mean nothing sounded less appealing than sitting down with and trying to actually understand the copy of Infinite Jest that’s currently collecting dust on my book shelf. And after several months of doggedly ignoring all the books I’d been collecting, I finally realized something: I would have to force myself to read for fun or face the reality that I would only be reading technical pieces for the rest of my life. And I was not cool with the latter option.

              The first strategy I utilized to make myself read for fun was by taking an English course. English courses are a lot of work and anyone who tells you differently is wrong and probably doesn’t know what they’re talking about. But in spite of the work (or maybe because of it), English courses are also unbelievably rewarding. English 27: Introduction to the Study of Fiction allowed me to read seven incredible novels that I would never have picked up otherwise (as someone who reads mostly science fiction it was a trip to actually have to sit down and read Heart of Darkness for a grade but you know what it was great). I got to read amazing books for units! And write about them, which is a reward in and of itself. It was so amazing to be able to read and critically engage with literature that I never would have looked at before. Had I not taken that English course, I wouldn’t have even discovered how much I love Thomas Pynchon. So that particular experiment in forcing myself to read non-technical writings was a complete success. But alas, the summer rolled around and with it the time in which I could take classes outside of my major came to an end, so I had to think of strategy number two.

              Strategy number two was less about clever tactical course-planning and more about brute force. Amidst the balmy days of summer, my favorite author published an 880 page hard science fiction space odyssey and I vowed to finish it that summer in addition to about five other books that were burning a hole in my bookcase. So the strategy was basically to utilize my summer months to read as many books concurrently as I possibly could. I failed. But, boy, did I try. I got through probably about seven hundred pages of literature by the time summer ended just by sheer force of will, but it took me until the end of winter break that same year to finish the space odyssey. But that winter break introduced me to strategy number three: power reading.

              My first experience with power reading was with Camus’s The Stranger. If you aren’t familiar with that particular title, all you really need to know is that The Stranger isn’t that long. Maybe 160 pages, tops. One night after Christmas, I decided to read The Stranger but given my track record with actually finishing the books I start I knew that I needed to finish it all in one sitting or I wouldn’t finish it at all. So that’s what I did. It took me two and a half hours of non-stop reading but I did it. And it felt amazing. And so, I decided to try this tactic with something a little longer over spring break. (In between winter and spring break I didn’t read a single book; it was really sad.) Over the break, I went on vacation to a place with no Internet and I attribute this in part to the fact that I finished a 660 page book in four days. I was a well-oiled reading machine. I don’t think I had ever read anything as quickly and as thoroughly in my entire life. This too, is more an exercise in brute force rather than in self-control and cleverness. As of right now, however, power reading appears to be my most successful tactic for dealing with the fact that during the school year I have less and less time and drive to read for fun.

              Other strategies I’ve not tried myself but have seen others successfully employ include but are not limited to: having a book to read on your breaks at work, reading books of short stories, reading just before bed (I have tried this and fall asleep every time but other people do not), joining a literary journal (I actually do this one but some people don’t consider work fun for some reason), read poems, attempt to substitute Netflix with books at least sometimes, and many, many more!

              And perhaps this issue isn’t as universal as I feel it must be given my complete and utter lack of interest in staring at more pages full of words after spending my week doing just that, but maybe someone somewhere is struggling with this is very same thing. And if you are, hi there. I am here for you. Reading is the best and it is possible to find time to actually finish books, it just might take more effort than you’re used to. But stick with it because one of the greatest gifts we can give ourselves is the ability to get lost, at least for a little while, inside someone else’s reality and to learn from it.

Alagia Cirolia, BFR Editorial Staff

College writers are desperate creatures, yearning for attention and audience. Hungry for praise, popularity, and even infamy, we all seek that fix—the sweet glory of publication—to validate those hours upon days upon weeks spent with head bent in humble supplication to whatever god may grace us from within the void of the blank, white page. The arduous journey from intangible thought to published work is wrought with rejection, and yet we must march on. Often, much of this rejection comes from publications that are merely mirages, beautiful traps designed to depress us with their authorial exclusivity. I say, enough of those nights spent checking my email to see if maybe, just maybe, I might be the next up-and-coming college writer published by The New Yorker. Let us march down different roads, all leading to publication.

While it’s still an excellent idea to submit work to traditionally renowned publications like The New Yorker or big names like Huff Post, consider expanding your pool of places to submit, as well as your body of work. I encourage you, my dear peers, to do a little dabbling. Write a short story, write a poem, write a heart-warming personal essay or comedically spiteful political commentary. Write more, and submit more. Cast more lines, follow more paths, and grow. And in the great empathy we all share on this NewYorkerforsaken trek across the hilly terrain of making a name for oneself, I share with you some strange (and familiar) places to take detours as a writer.

  1. Clickbait

As I’m sure you’re aware of, since you’re reading this, clickbait articles are all the rage on social media. Ranging from quippy and provocative to mind-numbingly cute, a good clickbait piece is one of the best ways to get your name on a popular piece,  and is particularly accessible to freelance writers. Although I say “clickbait,” many of these articles are admirably well-versed in pop-culture and artfully crafted with different styles of humor. In an age where cultivating an online personality is an art, writing successful is indeed an envied skill. Consider submitting to places such as Buzzfeed Community, Vice, College Humor, and Cracked. Now, these are pretty big names because, well, social media is everywhere. But they’re an interesting and ultimately valuable exercise in drawing from experience, testing your originality, and becoming internet famous. See: this article on eating steak with G-Unit, written by a boy who goes to Columbia. That could be you, man.

  1. Essays and Nonfiction

As preached in my school’s required 4th grade reading of Dear Mr. Henshaw, though fiction is a wonderful outlet for imagination and fantasy, it is just as important to write what you know. Drawing from experience is always a wonderful tactic, and writing personal essays and nonfiction pieces are an excellent way to hone that skill. Many holistic literary magazines include a non-fiction category, like the famed Emerson publication Ploughshares, which holds an emerging writer’s contest in poetry, prose, and nonfiction every year. Rookie is another site–an online zine by and for young women and teens–that accepts almost all forms of media pitches and encourages personal, intimate pieces. And finally, I suggest the Modern Love College Essay Contest held annually by the New York Times. This contest is begging for your torrid sophomore-year-club-retreat-turned-aching-3-year-sexual-engagement tale, and speaks directly to the principle of turning your personal experiences into art.

*Another mode of nonfiction to consider is science journalism; the scientific community desperately needs poetic writers like you to communicate its ideas!

  1. Non-traditional, Non-college Based Magazines

As a college student, it’s pretty standard to submit work to college publications. However, there are many excellent magazines to publish with that aren’t college affiliated and will add some variation to your published portfolio. Many of theses magazines also deviate from the cut and dry literary magazines produced by most colleges. For example, Brevity specializes in flash fiction that’s only 750 words or less. Or, you could follow in the footsteps of Shel Silverstein and become a Playboy contributor through this college fiction contest. Beyond your local college publication, there are a million amazing independent ones like Word Riot and Drunkenboat that also accept everything from poetry to flash fiction to small press literary reviews.

***

So come on my wonderfully ambitious peers, branch out a little. Give The New Yorker the bird and use other publications, other genres of writing, as training wings. Your work is worth more than a two year wait for a response from the Big Guy. Get your name out there and support yourself through social media, support small press, support the transformation of experience into expression, and don’t wait around for an answer from an intangible entity—get published.

Leonardo Valdez Ordoñez, BFR Staff

“Mom. I’m okay. Really,” I swung my backpack over my shoulder and closed the car door. The cold, morning mist clung to my pale skin. I could see my breath come out of my mouth. My mother’s face looked sad and tired through the car window.

“Okay, honey. Remember, when you come home, I’m still going to be at work. Either Sarah or Matt will be home,” she said. My older brother and sister both went to the community college and they had the day off. It wasn’t fair that I had to come to school.

“Fine. Bye, Mom. Love you,” I waved at her through the window and walked through the dew covered grass and through the doors to my school. The halls buzzed with the excitement of the last day of school before Christmas break. I arrived at my locker just as the bell rang. I stuffed my jacket in and took out my books for first period. The kids in the hall were beginning to disperse as they rushed to class, not wanting to be late. I ran down the hall and straight into my ninth grade Geometry class. Everyone stared as I walked in, and as soon as they saw it was me, they continued their conversations. Nobody gave me a second look.

The day went by slow. By the time it was lunch, I felt sick. I felt like throwing up and my head hurt. Deciding to ignore it, hoping it would go away, I ate my lunch in the library alone. I took out my phone and checked my email. They library was warm and cozy. The chair I sat in was hard, and the table was scratched and scuffed from years of being used. Being surrounded by shelves and shelves of books was comforting. I didn’t have any friends and I didn’t mind. Ever since we moved to Washington from Florida, I had been miserable. We lived in a suburban home, and the neighborhood was supposed to be really nice, but in reality, it was dirty.

As I sat in History, I felt sicker than I had in the morning. I couldn’t pay attention to anything the teacher was saying, no matter how hard I tried. I stared out of the window, daydreaming, when the loudspeaker buzzed with static.

“Gabriel Thomas. Please report the main office at once. Gabriel Thomas. Report to the main office at once.” The entire class turned to look at me. I stood up, collected my things, and the teacher ushered me out. I ran to the office. My head hurt worse than before. I opened the door and walked in. There, talking to the principal stood two policemen. My father sat in a chair and my sister in another. My dad stared at the floor, and my sister was sobbing into his shoulder. As soon as my father saw me, he stood up and embraced me in a tight hug.

“Dad, what’s going on? What happened?” I asked. He let go of me and looked into my eyes.

“Gabe. Please sit down.” I took a seat next to my sister. She wouldn’t look at me. The policemen and the principal came over. One of the policeman knelt down next to me.

“I’m sorry, Gabriel,” he said. He looked as if he hadn’t shaved in a couple of days and he smelled like coffee.

“What happened? Please, someone tell me!” I was frustrated.

“I’m so sorry. Your mother,” His voice broke. He coughed and tried again. I looked at my dad, his eyes were welled with tears, and he looked like he was trying not to cry.

“Your mother has died. I am so sorry,” The policeman stood up and slowly backed away. What had he just said? My heart raced, and I felt dizzy. This couldn’t be. But then, the realization struck. They all looked serious. They weren’t kidding. I didn’t notice until after I had begun to cry. I sobbed and hiccupped as my sister held me. Slowly, I slid down my seat and onto the floor.

“Gabriel, kid. I know. I know,” My father lifted me up and held me. I was gradually blacking out. The last words I heard were: “We don’t know. All we found was the body, but there was something. A slip of paper.”

******

My mother died in a river. They found her body. The morning they found her, it was cold and dreary. No wonder I had felt sick the moment I left my mom. I felt sick the moment she left me. The moment she left the world. Nobody knows what happened. The investigators thought it might have been suicide. I didn’t know what to think myself.

When they found her, a piece of paper was wedged under her tongue. When they found it, they immediately contacted my family to see if we knew what it meant. The words written on the paper in my mother’s small scrawl were barely legible, but I could tell what it said. It read:

“The beginning of the end.”

Still, three years later, I haven’t totally found out what she meant by that. I have formed bits and pieces of what I think it could mean. When I put them together, they don’t make sense. But, I will not stop until I figure out what the last thoughts of my mother were, before her last breath. I will not cease. I will only stop at the end of the end.

Ben Rowen, BFR Editorial Staff

Teachers always told me to write like Hemingway. With that lesson in mind, I feel the need to preface what follows: I apologize for, amongst other things, my long-windedness, loquacious garrulousness, bombastic verbosity, rambling blabbiness, general predisposition towards being voluble, and distaste of the laconic and brusque. Chiefly, I apologize for possessing a thesaurus.

One eleventh grade teacher (anecdotally, a teacher I once caught wearing a beret) read a personal essay I wrote about the blooming of Bradford Pears on Swasey Parkway. This seemed an appropriate, humble essay topic, so I was confused by my poor grade. Mr. Lee, hopped-up on a recent re-viewing of The Dead Poet’s Society, had me leap up on my chair to read a story to the class.

It was a Hemingway story. “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.”

Mr. Lee then recited the apocryphal tale of its origin, which he, nonetheless, took as gospel. Hemingway walks into a diner; a bar is not a wholesome enough place for irreverent high schoolers to encounter in lessons, so Hemingway walks into a diner. He turns to his friends—who weren’t on their cell phones, Mr. Rowen—and says, “I bet you I can write a short story that is only six words long.” They make the bet, he writes about baby shoes (how twee!), and everyone at the table cries (their drinks are taking forever to come). Mr. Lee told us that this was the power of brevity.

My response: “Hemingway’s bet, itself, took fifteen words.”

Mr. Lee suspiciously ignored this and dared me to write him a six-word story by the beginning of next class. I one-upped him and delivered my story on the spot, the spot still being atop my wobbly desk chair. “Yard sale: baby shoes, already worn.”

Mr. Lee said I missed the point. The Swasey Bradford Pear blossoms remained reserved, bundled tight like a baby in a blanket, on the precipice of splitting open like the spray on a lake’s surface as a falsely skipped stone plummets after a solitary hop—and I received my C-.

A few months of English class bereft of joy later, I was cutting words from essays like someone making space to cram more accomplishments into a character-count limited college application. My writing did get better. Mired in a positive feedback loop, I truly immersed myself in brevity, and my sentences became strings of monosyllables. My writing got boring.

Here’s the thing. Mr. Lee was half-right. Overwriting is miserable to read. But, the power of Hemingway’s short story is not in its brevity. The most obnoxious people you know are probably pros at telling stories in 140-characters, but you would never assume that means their stories are high literature.

The power of his story lies not in its succinctness but rather in the definiteness that succinctness exports. You can tell Hemingway’s short story over-and-over again in six words that don’t create a good piece: for example, “She miscarried, needs her money back.” Brevity is important, but only insofar as it is evocative and not on the nose. Hemingway’s story is clear enough to convey meaning and is still suggestive.

If brief writing sacrifices the latter, give me thesaurus-heavy writing, prolix prose, and interminable gabbiness.

Rachel Lew, BFR Staff

The trees are wet. Joey can see this through the small window of his room. For hours he has been roving, mentally, across the moist pavement and stilled cars outside. The sun is rising now, dragging itself out of its bed of clouds; soon its malignant rays will be creeping up his wrinkled sheets. Picture this: innocent Joey, helpless, the light exposing his soft shoulders, curved in meek avoidance of the other inert singularity under his blankets.

A decidedly female singularity.

He has not turned to Harper for hours, and does not do so now. Instead, lying on his side with his knees drawn to his chest like a dead beetle, he has been tracing mournfully in his head an image of her slim self. Reflexively, the voice of his art teacher guides him:

Let us start at the feet.

One curved white sole forms on his imaginary canvas, crinkled and tucked under a smooth calf.

Begin by fleshing out the light and the dark.

There is something both intimate and disgusting about bare feet. On one hand they remind Joey of public bathrooms at the pool, of slippery film accumulating on tiles; on the other, they are beautiful things in the realm of art, and make Joey think of old ivory statues, of new bars of soap, of a bowl of rich milk sitting on a table.

The toes of the other foot: creamy white dots, poking out tentatively from under pale haunches. Very good, says Mr. Meyer.

If only he could conceive this on a real drawing pad!

But Joey cannot wield even a charcoal stick with grace, let alone a paintbrush. After weeks of steady instruction, the marks on his paper are insistently large, dark, and awkward; no amount of lessons on perspective or shadow seem to have reformed his hand. Even Mr. Meyer, equipped with the blind faith of a young teacher, has become less generous in doling out encouragement to Joey.

Perhaps he has become disappointed in Joey. Indeed, even the most exuberant of instructors require the occasional verification from their student: a successful imitation, an independent epiphany—at the very least, verbal acknowledgement of the mentoring effort. But reciprocation has always eluded Joey.

The rest of his teachers have learned to ignore him. Joey is perfectly fine with this. In any case he is not the sort to raise his hand in class; the exchanges between question and answer happen too quickly to allow for the pauses between his utterances.

Despite what his teachers think, Joey is not deaf. In their voices he can discern not only the meaning of the words they speak so readily, but also certain sympathetic undertones and the leaden march of speech reserved for the uncommonly stupid. Yet, slow he may be, but not stupid—he only needs time to practice the purse of his lip, the lift of his tongue; each word must ripen before it is borne into the air. This his teachers do not understand. They catch him mouthing syllables and rush to his rescue with careful enunciations, hoping to wipe up the sentence before it dribbles down his chin. Unfortunately it is a dynamic that goes not unobserved by his classmates.

“Joey. Joey-Joey-Joey.”

“Coo-ee!”

“Fatty-says-what?

they whisper, trying to get him to utter the hallmark of the hearing-impaired.

Joey has tried to gratify them in the past. Each time, it has ended poorly; each time, he has imagined that if he is to give them one word, it will be the most articulate, scathing monosyllable that anyone has ever pronounced; whipping his head around, he will deliver it like a blow, and they, unfortunate animals, will be shocked into their own silence. Naturally, when he does turn around in his seat, he is so furious that the word comes out in funny puffs: “Wh-wh—wh—”; his classmates, capitalizing on his likeness to a heavy freight train, only burst into further mockery.

“Look at him!”

“Look at how red he is!”

From fleshy canals in his head the heat spreads; his hands creep up and cover his ears, lest they begin to spout fire. What a self-conscious dragon he is, more agitated by the sound of their laughter than the cause of it. Ugly laughter! he thinks. Unseemly, large-mouthed, like the monstrous approximations of people that blossom on his sketching-pad. And yet he makes little effort to prevent future episodes like these. Such unattractive details of his life he is only too willing to hide from others; for the sake of their own ears he stuffs them deep in cerebral folds, camouflaging them, with a sort of sick delight, amongst the couch-debris of his brain (dimes, hair-clips, crumbs, oh my!).

Caeli Benson, BFR Staff

The sun scoured the football field for his next victim. He had a decent amount of fun with the asthmatic girl, even more with the boy who blew pineapple chunks. He noticed them sitting on the bleachers in their regular clothes, defeated. Which one will it be today? He perused all 52 options. None suited his fancy until the 325 pound boy waddled onto the field.

Justin lowered himself onto the turf, his joints creaking under each pound. He looked down at his Jordan’s, one of the laces coming undone. He struggled to get ahold of them, the ends slipping from the stubs he called fingers. The PE teacher hovered over him, providing him with temporary shade. He checked his name off the roll call, “So Mr. Blanchard, are you going to trot the mile today?”

“Don’t worry about it.” Justin kept his gaze on his shoe, not wanting to give his teacher any satisfaction. When his teacher walked back down the aisle, he muttered, “Asshole.” He looked up at the cloudless sky. Why did I fuck up so badly?

Justin Blanchard had sported an F+ since the third week of the first quarter. The occasions he and his friends decided to bless the teacher with their presence, they refused to finish the run. He enjoyed catcalling at the girls and badmouthing everyone. When he was with his friends, he felt untouchable. He could care less about what people thought of him, especially his PE teacher who got paid to sit on his ass all day.

But then his friends left. Well, “left” put it softly. Expelled is more accurate. What could José have expected when he lit the new girl’s hair on fire? Mid-April, and he had no one. His friends weren’t there to fail with him. His counsellor called him up to her office. All you need is a D, she iterated, then you’ll never have to take P.E. again.

They lined up at the 50-yard line. Five words ran through his mind faster than he could ever dream to: One mile. Four laps. Done.


The snickers passing Justin in the mile couldn’t amount to a tenth of the heat running through his body. He blinked the sweat dripping off his forehead out of his eyes, the salt irritating them. When he blotted at the sweat on his cheeks with his sleeve, he cursed under his breath at the recurring sunburn. He looked down at the ground beneath him, praying his sore legs would keep moving forward. He felt his head pulsing with his elevated heart rate. He rounded the corner, relieved.

Then it hit his lungs.

His breaths shortened, wheezing with each successive step. His lungs searched the air for relief, but every breath they could muster fell short. He collapsed onto the football field, the turf sticking to his face.

The Sun laughed at him from above, enjoying the performance the marshmallow gave him. The teacher kneeled beside Justin. Checking his stopwatch and his clipboard, he whispered into his ear, “Three down. One more to go.”