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

Advertisements

Logan Goldberg, BFR Staff

pens

The Academy Award for Best Picture — arguably one of the most monetarily valuable honors given anywhere in the world, a fact which is itself absurd — was recently bestowed upon the wrong film. Tens of millions of people from around the globe watched as the most famous humans, with the biggest possible stakes, royally fucked up, a fuck-up which was, even more preposterously, not rectified for minute after minute of unadulterated stupidity.

More consequential stupidity, of course, has wreaked far greater havoc than this debacle at the Oscars. Indeed, as our species struggles to cope with catastrophic and self-inflicted crises like rapid climate change, shocking wealth inequality, and the ever-mounting peril of nuclear holocaust, all that we seem able to do in response is fight over the meaningless differences in the pigmentation of our skin, over the irrelevant distinctions between which sexual organs we prefer, over the invisible borders we’ve established to divide us, and over our imaginary friends in the sky. This is not how educated and responsible adults are supposed to solve problems. On the contrary, this is how toddlers act before they get time-outs.

Moreover, the democratically elected leader of the (perhaps formerly) free world during the escalation of these existential-level crises is a stunningly inarticulate, insecurity-driven, orange reality TV star and pathological liar who has no previous political experience, who brags about sexual assault, who mocks disabled reporters, who openly advocates for the U.S. military to kill the innocent relatives of terrorists (itself an act of terrorism), who approves of torture, who calls global warming a Chinese hoax, who dislikes the freedom of religion and freedom of the press clauses in the Constitution, and who rose to power by bullying his political opponents about their appearance, accusing them of literally founding ISIS, and threatening to throw them in jail. In light of our collective choice to entrust this objectively thin-skinned and uniquely impulsive man with the nuclear codes, Earth-orbiting aliens deciding whether to save our failing planet would surely find it devoid of intelligent life and move on.

Such developments have led me to the horrific yet unshakable conclusion that humankind is essentially doomed, assuming that we don’t right the ship in the immediate future. My father, who shares many of my desperate concerns about our present state of affairs, has recently dedicated himself to doing what he can to prepare people for a much less comfortable time to come: helping found a university charged with solving global problems, securing land on the outskirts of Los Angeles to build housing for the city’s homeless residents, and so on. My conversations with him on this subject have, unsurprisingly, been fairly depressing. More than that, though, they have also burdened me with a persistent guilt about my planned direction in life, which has always been to become a novelist. After all, how could I possibly justify dedicating myself to writing, and to writing fiction, no less, with the knowledge that I could alternatively be working like him to assist my fellow Americans? And on the other hand, how could I live with myself if I chose not to write, with the knowledge that nothing else makes me feel so deeply whole inside?

This cocktail of emptiness and selfishness and confusion began to seep into my stories and poison my paragraphs, not ruining them outright, but instead giving me the vague, drunken suspicion that they were simply the single-spaced secretions of an overly inflated ego. Indeed, it wasn’t until a week ago, as I passed by one of the more ornate local churches, that this intoxicated feeling finally subsided (one of the rare occasions that a church has had such a sobering effect on me). Standing there, I remembered vividly the thoughts I’d had as a boy while reading Ken Follett’s The Pillars of the Earth, an almost thousand-page work of historical fiction about the construction of a cathedral in the 1100s, and, in retrospect, a bizarre book to recommend to a twelve-year-old.

Tedious as it may sound, that novel was one of the fastest reads of my life — the chapters flew by as I engulfed myself in not only another world, but also in another worldview. Even as a staunch atheist, I could feel the overwhelming awe that Follett’s characters experienced as they admired the practically anachronistic, approximately supernatural creation before them: this magnificent, colossal sanctuary and tribute to their Almighty God, rising majestically at the heart of the town, towering forty times higher than the humble dwellings in its environs, its iridescent windows illuminating a landscape of grey walls and colorless monotony, its every detail constructed with the utmost care over the course of decades and generations and hundreds of pages, this product of countless man-hours and several lost human lives, once burned to the ground only to be rebuilt yet more spectacularly, its architects undeterred, undeterrable, most of them knowing they’d die before they’d ever see their masterpiece completed, hoping against hope that it might serve as a beacon of salvation for their descendants in the next millennium. Among all my real-life encounters with beautiful cathedrals — St. Peter’s Basilica, Westminster Abbey — none have kindled within me such a profound sense of reverence for my species and its capacity to achieve the seemingly unachievable as did that mere ink-and-paper text. And frankly, it’s not even my favorite book.

In the shadow of the much less noteworthy Berkeley church, I was struck by a series of semi-spiritual epiphanies. Writing, it occurred to me then, is something incredibly pure— without sound, or pictures, or someone else to guide your words. It’s just your brain and the page staring back at you, daring you to say something no one has ever said before, shaming you when you lazily recite the ideas of others, compelling you to unearth what your true values are, and pressuring you with the prospect of posterity to do so with a stark elegance that is forever the envy of other mediums. In the end, it’s just naked words, naked arguments, and naked humanity. Perhaps this literary nudity has revealed my hidden speckle of optimism, but beneath all the dogmatic intolerance and the capitalist greed and the manufactured anger, I guess I think that we, in general, prefer to love rather than hate.

Of course, hate has gotten a gigantic head start, and its lead may in fact prove insurmountable, but we cannot lay down our arms — or our pens — just yet. To those striving every day for a better future, I say to you — and to my father especially — you’re my heroes. However, at the risk of making everyone reading this throw up, I’ll state for the first time that writers can be heroes too. No, not just journalists, although journalism is also a great passion of mine, and journalists undeniably do critical work. Instead, I mean to say that novelists, and imagineers, and fiction writers can make a genuine difference as well. There’s a reason that the Catholic Church has a long history of banning books, and it lies in the fact that, as many a writer has noted before me, ideas are incredibly dangerous, and books are nothing but ideas.

Ideas, beyond just being threatening, are really all that we have. And fittingly, I believe they’re all that we need to fix this shitty mess in which we now find ourselves. If everyone on this planet sincerely believed the notion that their god wanted them to murder their neighbors, and that the universe depended on them doing so, we’d all be dead in short order. Conversely, if everyone subscribed to a couple more rational principles — we’re all in this together, we should respect our fellow creatures, we should feed the hungry, we shouldn’t kill anyone — the Earth would soon be transformed into a virtual utopia. It is eminently clear to me that what’s missing today is empathy and understanding and tolerance, and how better to perfect these traits than by reading about places and people very different from oneself?

Ultimately, the root of my guilt about being a writer is captured by a proverb we’ve all heard more or less since birth: actions speak louder than words. But maybe it’s not sheer volume and brute force that’s required today. Maybe the key ingredient that’s been lacking all along is not swift action but quiet contemplation, not speaking loudly but listening patiently. And maybe we need a world wherein we escape from our outside influences and pour ourselves onto the page, and then show those pages to anyone willing to give them a chance. In short, we need a world that writes. We need a world that reads. And we need fiction.

Moira Peckham, BFR Editor

book_header

              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.

Regan Farnsworth, BFR Staff

There is a common misconception that a writer is a particular sort of person. That being a writer is something you’re born into, that someone either can write or can’t. There also is a second common misconception:  the idea that people have to want to read what you write for it to be “good.”

Given these misconceptions, only the published can stand out as “writers,” and even then only the commercially successful published are held as objects worthy of imitation.

But let’s not even complicate the matter of writing with questions of commercial success and whether one must win some sort of lottery at birth to have the “right stuff” to write what people want to read.

No. Instead, let’s look for a moment at personal writing. Writing for you, or maybe a close friend or two. This isn’t exactly the kind of writing that happens all that often – or, rather, you don’t hear about it happening all that often—because that’s precisely the nature of it. And the thing about this kind of writing is it doesn’t have to be “good” the way best-sellers or literary classics are “good.” All it has to be is yours. And as someone who exists, I understand there’s more corn in that sentence than in the global agriculture industry, so allow me to provide an actual example of this type of writing:

As a cripplingly analytical individual obsessed with the metaphysical, I found myself in the midst of an existential crisis based on the possibility of free will. Without going into details, the crux of the issue was that there can of course be no absolute resolution. There is no answer, yet I was desperate for one. Thus, the need for this one piece of fiction: a setting in which there must be a resolution regardless of my inability to know one. That is, in writing I could create the necessary circumstances to better understand myself.

Let’s be clear: this was probably the worst story I ever wrote in my life—and that includes those ones I wrote in second grade. It was a couple pages, done in an hour, and truthfully was such garbage even flies couldn’t stand it. But that’s not important, because neither you nor anyone else is ever going to read it. All it did was what it had to do: it resolved my cognitive dissonance.

Obviously there are more uses for writing than settling the inner turmoil brought about by an excessive need for agency; all this example set out to prove is it didn’t matter if it was good, or made sense, or had a solid plot or possessed meaningful character development or even had proper spelling. Sometimes writing is its own reward.

All I hope to express is that you don’t need to be a writer to write. If you’re an avid reader—and surely you are if you’re reading a column on a fiction magazine’s blog—there’s something you get from a story. Sometimes you can get it from your own story, too, even if you—like me—would sooner set it on fire than on a shelf.

Caeli Benson, BFR Staff

I have a talent for recognizing faces in the crowd while remaining a face in the crowd. They stand out more than I do in my tie-dye and Hawaiian shirts or my Frida Kahlo socks. I see the flags flying over their heads; the staff marks where our paths have crossed, and the colors mark our memories. There’s Marge from Beverly Cleary, the girl who defends R-Kelly when she’s drunk. And there’s Nick from Latin American Studies, the lacrosse player who pronounces Chile like “chili.”

I relive these experiences constantly with different people all the time. I’m the only one who recognizes the other person, but it’s not like I do anything about it. I don’t say hello or wave frantically to get their attention. But with her, I did.

 

Dorothy sits with her feet crisscrossed, her fingers interlaced in her lap, and her head bowed low. Before I approach the green bench she rests on, I see how much age has withered her. The clothes she wears—her light pink plaid shoes, dark grey slacks, white dress shirt, and the black North Face jacket—hang loosely on her. Her hair is completely white, whiter than the dress shirt she wears on a daily basis. It seemed like only a few years ago that she was the woman who protested eating hamburger after the Mad Cow epidemic hit the US, who told me when I was eight years old that I’d never be a better writer than her, and who drove both of her Volvos into two different telephone poles.

I walk slowly to the bench, the dry grass and wood chips crunching under my feet. She looks up and the sun hat shifts on her head, “Well hiya, kid!”

“Hey, Grandma. How are you?”

“I’m good. Just resting.”

“That’s good. Can I sit here?” I point to the seat next to her.

“Oh, sure.” She grabs the small purse sitting next to her and sits it on her lap. It’s a new purse that she’s used the past two years. She never opens it, but she always fidgets with its zipper.

I sit next to her and we watch the families flooding out of the dining hall. I watch their every move, hoping that one of them will help spark a conversation between us. We used to talk a lot more than we do now, but it’s been six or seven years since it happened.

“What’s… that thing over there?”

I look in the direction she’s pointing. I tell her that it’s some sort of pipeline that firefighters can use in case of an emergency. I don’t know if it’s entirely true, but she gives me a small shrug saying, I’ll take your word for it. She looks up at the sky, staring at the tops of the trees. I follow her gaze, trying to see what she’s seeing.

I flip my phone open to check the time. “My dad wants me to take you up the hill to take your meds. You almost ready to go?” I ask, predicting the answer she’s given me every time I’ve asked.

“You know, I think I’m going to sit here for a little while longer.” I nod, and we return to our silence.

For the next hour and a half, I ask her icebreaker questions that I already know the answer to. How has the weather been in Berkeley? Really… cold. Have you been going to the Happy Hours at Amy’s cabin? Yeah… Lars brings me some wine and crackers. Have you written anything new recently? Well, no. I haven’t had time. I’ve been… busy lately. (I call my Uncle Lars every night who responds, “Oh, we just watched TV.”)

She swatted an ant that was crawling up her leg. She let out a laugh, “That was huge!”

“I never knew ants could be that big!” I joke.

I was thinking of another question when she asked, “Have you seen my mom?”

I don’t let the sigh leave my chest. I know that I should tell her the truth, but what’s the point? I remember the lesson I learned at Miller’s Place, when the patients would ask the head nurse where their husbands and wives were. “I haven’t seen her around in a while. What does she look like? I’ll keep an eye out for her.”

“Oh, yeah okay.” She chooses her words painstakingly, fitting each into her narrative. She tells me how her father, a Portuguese butcher, left my great-grandmother when he found out she was older than him, how they sold produce on the side of the road, and how her mother would only smoke two cigarettes a day—once after breakfast and the other after dinner. The more she talks, the longer it takes for her to form her story. I let her struggle through it because I’ve never known much about her or her family. She never liked talking about her life, but she showed me the diaries and bundles of old envelopes she wrote in for most of her life.

I hardly recognized my dad walking down the hill. “Hey Mom.” He said, waving at her.

“Well, hi…” She nodded, trying to remember the name she gave him.

“Let’s go take your meds.”

“Oh, okay.” She struggled to get up from the bench, so I gave her my hand. “Thank you.”

“You’re welcome.” I whisper.

We begin the trek up the hill, stopping every five or six steps to let her catch her breath. As soon as we get to her cabin, my dad asks, “Do you know who this is?”

She looks up at me, “Well, no.”

“She’s your granddaughter.”

She looks up for the second time, “Oh!” She shines a smile up at me, and I smile down, trying to hold back my tears.

 

Jeremy Siegel, BFR Staff

On a humid September evening, in the astonishingly not-well-air-conditioned children’s section of a cozy San Francisco bookstore, I sat beside my girlfriend in a crowd of unabashedly pretentious literary folk, eagerly awaiting the arrival of my favorite author, Jonathan Franzen, who was to read from his new novel, Purity.

But here’s the thing: As he walked onto the stage (more of a small platform—fitting for the children’s section; an employee literally had to stack children’s books to raise the microphone to Franzen’s level), I realized that I sincerely did not want to be there. This wasn’t because of the unbearable temperature. This wasn’t because of the horn-rimmed glasses-wearing, moleskin notebook-carrying audience that I was slowly beginning to realize I was a part of.

It was because I was terrified of what he might say. Terrified of what I might say when I met him. Terrified that Franzen The Person and Franzen The Author were not compatible. Terrified that by meeting the man whose words I had fallen in love with I would somehow fall out of love.

See, three months prior to this event, I read my first Franzen novel, Freedom. It was nuts: how captivating his emotionally detached, ironic but loving, voice was; how he said so much about modern American life through the story of one, uninteresting Midwestern family; how accessible the narrative was—how unpretentious it was, how real it was.

I was hooked.

After Freedom, I went on to read The Corrections, The Twenty-Seventh City, How to Be Alone—everything I could get my hands on. I watched and listened to innumerable interviews. I found that Franzen had the unique ability to present a pure, honest image of himself when he spoke; he was unafraid to tell interviewers exactly how he felt (the source of most anti-Franzen criticism). I understood him more vividly than I understood myself.

But when I finally saw him, all of that disappeared in an instant. I felt anonymous.

“Hello,” he said, before clearing his throat and drinking from a glass of water—this, I assume, is standard protocol for any author at a book reading. He introduced himself, thanked the bookstore, and went on to comment on the heat: “Perhaps it’s more bearable down there where you’re all sitting.” (It was not.) I recognized his voice from the interviews—deep and round, with the slightest lisp, each sentence said as if he were losing his breath.

Franzen proceeded to read from a chapter of Purity entitled “[lelo9n8a0rd],” which takes the form of a document written in the first-person by a character in the novel, Tom. It chronicles Tom’s dysfunctional relationship with another character, Annabelle. The excerpt Franzen read primarily consists of comical dialogue between a recently divorced Tom and Annabelle as they hike through the secluded woods of New Jersey.

As he read, my discomfort slowly dissipated. He read the excerpt with endearing imperfection, stumbling at times. This was fitting, as Tom and Annabelle are flawed characters: Tom, at times gendered and chauvinistic; and Annabelle, later described by another character as “the kind of ‘feminist’ who gives feminism a bad name.”

Like his characters, Franzen was perfectly imperfect.

After his reading, he took questions. I didn’t ask any—still afraid that anything he or I said might shatter my love of his work. But when audience members asked him about his writing, he answered with such beautifully conversational honesty—a genuinely amused grin always on his face—that it was impossible not to dwell on his every word. (My girlfriend later described this phenomenon perfectly: “He makes you feel like you have an inside joke with him.”)

The book signing followed. And wow, if you’ve never participated in a book signing, it’s an immeasurably humiliating process. You’re only allowed to have your book signed if you bought it from the bookstore ($30) and are able to present your receipt to the staff, you’re called up one row at a time, and you’re forced to stand in a single-file line for what feels like hours. All of this only to spend thirty-seconds-max with the author.

My girlfriend and I only purchased one book, but the staff graciously allowed us to stand in line together (as a “package-deal”). When it was our turn to speak to Franzen and have our book signed, I froze.

I stood at his table and didn’t say a word, my girlfriend close beside me. He signed my book and looked up at us, slightly confused. “We’re a package deal,” I said.

“For now,” my girlfriend said, quietly, then laughed a little.

He stared at us and laughed for what felt like thirty seconds. He seemed so amused by our presence. I wasn’t sure if it was what my girlfriend had said, but he kept chuckling. Perhaps he thought our relationship to be doomed like Tom and Annabelle’s. It was uncomfortable but fun. I thanked him, told him it was a great reading, and left.

At the time, I hadn’t finished reading Purity. But now that I have, I think I understand Franzen’s amusement with our presence a little better. See, “[lelo9n8a0rd],” the chapter he read from, is the heart of the novel. It’s an exploration of absolute dysfunction in a relationship, a comical portrayal of the dire ramifications of Tom and Annabelle’s young love. But there’s another, more hopeful segment of the novel, in which Franzen writes about how Purity, the novel’s central character (who is the same age as my girlfriend and me), finds love—and in this love she discovers a blissful escape from the dysfunctions of modern America.

Perhaps Franzen was amused because he saw in us an escape from dysfunction, a certain kind of purity. Or perhaps this is wishful thinking.

Regardless, our interaction was purely imperfect. And I’m glad I met him.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Alyssa Rochelle White, BFR Staff

There are points in a writer’s life when the creative juices are not flowing. The juices have hit a block, a wall, and they say to the writer, “let us not be productive today.” The writer complies, justifying the lack of output by thinking that motivation will come later. Then the writer gets the idea to go search for that motivation. Stories have been found whilst watching people in the park and meandering through a pharmaceutical store, so the writer questions how difficult it can really be.

We’ve all been there with that hope that the story will just come to us out of thin air. I don’t mean to dismiss the figure of the muse, the fantastical expectation that ideas can appear from nothing, for the world would be a much bleaker place without that creative fall back. However, it is in the wait and the search for creativity that the writer becomes co­dependent on external modes of motivation, forgetting that the only true mode of writing is the act of writing itself. If we strip away the inspiration that every “Ten Steps to become a better Writer” tells us we need, we find that all we truly need is a writer with a will to write.

But with the need for motivation, the writer goes on the hunt. The writer’s mind is still constrained and will be constrained until the simplicity of a pen and napkin is taken up. Before that, the writer will search through writer manifestos, talks on writing, and even print out the fancy posters that say, “You are a writer!” This type of writing advice (and affirmation of one’s writerly status) can help when used in moderation and when molded to the writer’s own style. But the accumulation of tips and tricks that line the internet more often than not creates further boundaries to get through. The advice says, “No! Don’t do it that way! You won’t get published!” And the writer shall digress out of fear. Then the writer reads books about writing and blogs about storytelling and tweets from people that are supposedly writing. And this should all trigger . . . something? Some form of inspiration is expected to burst out of the writer’s chest with every word of a novel ejaculated in the course of one day.

That’s not how it works, though. So, what’s missing? Well maybe it’s the atmosphere. Coffee needs to be made, a rain dance needs to be done, and music needs to be played, matching the tone of the novel and emphasizing the emotion that will prompt the words forward.

And still, nothing.

Not even rain.

After all this is done, the writer still wonders why the words aren’t coming. And the answer is that the writer hasn’t taken the time to mess up, to fail, to create a horrible slosh of words that will need to be edited later. The life of the modern day writer has become a bag full of “when’s.” When I’m inspired. When I’m motivated. When I find the time. When I know the exact thing to write. When it all lines up.

But the art of spilling ink (even at the keyboard) is messy and in turn it’s productive.

Writing a book takes the time that it takes, and that means it takes three weeks or three months or three years. Let it take the time. But don’t let time be something that escapes you. Don’t be the writer that says time cannot be found. Time is everywhere. And when you do find time, don’t be the writer who says, “Well now that I’m here, I have time to write, but I don’t know what to write about.” Write about anything. Write about the fear of writing and go from there. Fail and fail hard because among twenty horribly written stories, blogs, and novels comes a well­-written piece of work. Failure provides powerful lessons. It affords insight. You can feel good about failure. Failure means you did something. And you could do it with all those modes of motivation mentioned above; I know I’ve resorted to using them countless times over my life. But it is important to know that you are not a lost writer without them.

Samara Michaelson, BFR Staff

What is there to say that hasn’t already been felt? I can create nothing new, only new to young eyes. I can create nothing new but can only cut and paste words to tell you something I want to say. What do we tell anyone, and what do we tell the anonymous everyone?

The walls are white, and there is a clothes rack in the middle of the room. The windows are open, and the comforter is damp. The lamp is turned on, and a dog just barked. Is that what I should tell you?

The ink of my pen is blue, but that doesn’t matter does it? What makes it not matter? And what makes anything matter? I use the same words to tell you when I woke up and where I’m from as when I tell you that I’m scared of never getting what I want because I’ve turned my desires into things that could never exist. It’s all the same words, or at least the same letters, or at least the same lines and curves and edges.

Only the ideas of things exist, when these things are not before you. So we live in a world that is swarmed with an infinite number of ideas. Anything is possible as an idea, but that doesn’t mean anything’s possible. Things keep moving as I move my pen across this page, they keep moving and allow me to sit up here and act like everything’s still. That’s a privilege really, most people aren’t allowed to question themselves or the reality on which they are dependent. They can’t risk it, they can’t climb all the way up and hold their tic tic ticking watch off the edge and let it slip to be amazed at how far they’ve climbed or how far they’ll fall.

I heard a homeless couple break up last night out my window. He felt she was selfish because she complained about being hungry after a day of no food while he starved himself for three days just to give her anything he had. He called her selfish, said that she didn’t care about his feelings. It’s strange to think that no one’s immune from feelings. But, it’s the way in which we find and express them that hides that characteristic of universality.

It is that feeling of loneliness in the empty space of emotions that make them ever more potent. Thus it is the very nature of feeling anything to at once feel like an individual, and to feel the duplicity of being a body that others can look upon and think to know and a self that is blind to that very body. It is the privacy of self even to the conscious part of that same self. We are scared to not know ourselves. How could we not when we are constantly having to be so sure and decide where to eat tonight? We are forced to pretend to ourselves that we know every one of our parts. It’s cleaner. The outline is defined, the wood isn’t splintered and the metal isn’t rusty.

Let’s all write what we are supposed to. Let’s all say what we are supposed to. But no, then we would all fade into the outline of these words, of these bodies, and nothing would mean anything if I ever figured out what I wanted to tell you.

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.

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.