The Future Past: The Creative Writing Open House and Showcase
by Ingrid Reiche
As a graduate student in English I was happily surprised, inspired and somewhat nostalgic after I attended the department’s Creative Writing Open House and Showcase on November 26th. I will admit it has been a while since I found myself in an English department after completing my B.A. in 2008. Upon my return to the field I was admittedly looking forward to two things: the first was pursuing my own research interests; the second was being back among those who appreciate literature and its composition. Unfortunately, due to my first goal, my course work allows me little time in classes where I read creative literature. As a matter of fact I will only read four novels during my year-long Collaborative Masters program in English and the Digital Humanities at Carleton. But I found some reprieve from my life amongst theory and all the end-of-term deadlines that are upon me when I decided to attend this Open House.
There were over two-dozen pieces read and performed and I believe four hybrid installations from three undergraduate classes: intro to fiction, creative non-fiction and literary hybrids here at Carleton. I found myself longing for that past moment in my life where I too counted myself amongst this crowd. To hear so many undergraduates put a voice to the words they penned (or typed) – perhaps in angst, perhaps in haste and perhaps with pleasure – made me look back but also forward.
Once upon a time in my undergraduate degree I found myself reading more books than I thought humanly possible and discussing them with both pleasure and fury. And then there came a time when I decided to start writing (okay, I had been scribbling in notebooks since high-school) but it was time to compose my first ‘novel’. I had not taken any of the classes in creative writing, but somehow I convinced two professors at the University of Guelph to supervise my Honours’ thesis as a creative writing project. Then I turned out about 100 pages of a first draft to my novel in a semester, which still remains an unpublished but complete manuscript that needs some work. I have read once or twice at poetry readings, but I would say all the students from these courses far surpassed my performances. I do not read well, but they did. Every one of them stood in front of that crowd with seeming ease (even if they were scared underneath it all) and for that I applaud them. This is the reason I studied English in the first place, one of the reasons I’m back and it reminded of what it is I really want to do (dare I say it) – WRITE!
Thank you all for reminding me. Aside from the personal introduction this is perhaps a two-part story. The first is a brief review of some of the pieces that caught my attention. The other is an anti-cautionary tale to those students who want to pursue writing and perhaps what I would do different if I could go back in time to 10 years ago.
There were some really great works that caught my attention that night, unfortunately I cannot mention all of them, so here are a few that I really enjoyed. The second of the readings was by Fraser Tripp who performed a great piece about hanging out with a drag queen in a parkade while reporting as a student and tread the path of publicly talking about gender – for which he deserves accolades. Not just for being honest about a personal subject but for presenting an exceptional well written and well read piece that discussed how drag queens are sometimes seen in a negative light by gay male culture and expressing how this impacted his personal story in a positive manner.
Two other pieces that particularly caught my attention were part of the literary hybrids. The first was the opener at the event Clarissa Fortin, who played the guitar and had part of a podcast in the hydrids section that was about traveling through small towns in Ontario covering various events for a radio station. I would actually like to hear the rest of that podcast or know where to find it. Another piece that performed exceptionally well as a hybrid was by Jenny Greenberg who had jazz music and the background noise of a bar playing as she recited a piece about developing tendonitis while being a jazz musician. Her timing was impeccable and though she forewarned the audience that if she messed up something the whole piece would be thrown off, she kept up with the audio track in every single instance.
The piece that was the most fascinating to me personally was an installation by Noah Lefevre that included objects of a fictional author named Samuel Morgan who died at the age of 27 on his desk, apparently from an overdose of sleeping pills and alcohol while working on the third book in a trilogy known as the Afterworld Trilogy. The installation included a desk, numerous papers and notebooks, a typewriter with a page in it and empty bottles of what one would assume to be alcohol. Why is this my favorite? I don’t know, perhaps it sums up something about the “lifestyle” of so many famous artists. There is the story of Jim Carroll, the New York poet and musician from the 1970s who hung around with the Velvet Underground and Andy Warhol, who did reportedly die at his desk though at the age of 60. And then there is the infamous 27club (Jim Morrison, Janice Joplin, Jimmy Hendrix, Kurt Cobain, etc.), all artists who died at 27. For some morbid reason it fascinated me.
The cautionary tale (which no one should listen to and I wish I hadn’t) is: writing won’t pay your bills. And it won’t. When I finished my undergrad I was told by both of my supervisors (who are also successful authors), “It is great that you want to write, but how are you going to make money?” I mean despite having success as writers both are professors at a university and assured me writing alone would not pay the bills. So maybe writing won’t pay all your bills. Or will it? It paid some of mine, as a content writer and doing a few other jobs that I cannot mention here. But I did have to work doing other things to make ends meet (movie theatres, factories, landscaping, cleaning, office work) as I attempted to finish and polish my book. But my humble advice is try to make it, be a starving artist, enjoy life and youth, it goes by fast and life only gets harder in my opinion. Other pursuits will get in the way, goals change, etc. etc.
Graduate school might buy you some time, but unless you pursue a MFA you won’t be doing creative writing (I can assure you of that – this Masters #2 for me). But it might let you hang around an English department or help build other interests and a career in a related field –teaching, etc. etc… Don’t get me wrong, academia is really the only place I feel at home and I love learning, reading, writing and yes, theory – mostly because it irks me to the point that I actually say something.