Guest Post, Leslie Standridge, A Year in Review: Navigating Oneself After Graduation

Leslie Standridge headshot photo“Human beings are not born once and for all on the day their mothers give birth to them, but that life obliges them over and over again to give birth to themselves.” – Gabriel García Márquez

In about two months, I will have been graduated from college for a full year. Really, a year is not a terribly long amount of time. So why does this feel so monumental?

For me, graduation was but a momentary emotional catharsis that lasted long enough for me to feel somewhat relieved until my panic set in. Of course, I worried about the things most graduates do, like finances and the job market and whether or not it was a good idea to get two Liberal Arts degrees in this economy. However, the majority of my distress came from not knowing what my next step was or, really, who I was outside of being a student.

For seventeen years, my identity was wrapped up in being a student. Throughout junior high and high school, I was an honors/AP kid—I spent every waking hour at school or at home doing school work. When I graduated high school, I dove headfirst in college because I knew it was what I was supposed to do, and I believe it’s what I wanted to do too. Throughout undergrad, I felt like the natural next step for me was graduate school. Yet, as I was reviewing universities and degree programs, I came to the realization that I had absolutely no idea what I wanted to do outside of going to school.

I weighed my options. I could see myself doing a variety of things, and yet, I felt no pull towards any particular direction. This isn’t to say that I was lacking in passion or motivation, but that, when it came down to it, I was so unsure of what was the right path to take. Pursuing one direction would mean sacrificing another, and I wasn’t ready to do that, even after four whole years of undergrad.  So, feeling like a failure, I decided to put off graduate school indefinitely and set a goal to “find myself” first. Sounds simple, right?

The unfortunate truth is that finding yourself is nowhere near easy. Identity itself is complicated. We all have a general sense of who we are, but how much do we really know about ourselves outside of a certain context? Where does identity begin and end? Can you really just leave one identity and enter another?

The answer to the latter question, I think, is no. But maybe the problem here is that we are expected to do just that. Maybe the reason that me and many, many others feel so lost after graduation is that we’re expected to walk off the stage and into our new selves. There’s so much pressure on millennials to be self-assured and immediately successful as soon as they grab that faux diploma. Yet, that pressure won’t facilitate any meaningful growth.

This pressure can make us lose sight of who we are and what we truly want. School is all consuming, and once it’s over, it really does feel as if we are left with no real identity and maybe, if you are like me, no plan for the future. However, a year into this madness, I feel as if that’s more of a blessing than a curse.

Discovering who you are and what you want isn’t a glowy, carefree experience—it’s grueling. There’s so much you have to learn through trial and error, through making decisions that turn out to be mistakes and by making mistakes that turn out to be great decisions. It’s not a particularly fast process, either, but it is rewarding. Since graduation, I’ve moved into my own apartment, started a new job as an automotive copywriter, adopted a second dog and discovered a multitude of interests and disinterests. All of these things, as mundane as they can sometimes be, have contributed to me developing a better sense of self.

So whether you are newly graduated, or it’s just over the horizon, and you are feeling lost and frustrated, know that you aren’t alone. It’s perfectly normal to feel off kilter for a while. However, you now have so much time—so, so, so much time—to figure it all out.

 

Guest Blog Post, Jacob Oet: Why “Art” and “Serious” Should Get a Divorce

Jacob OetFor some people, “serious art” is a compound word. They say it with the most severe reverence that is usually reserved for funerals and graduation speeches. These are people who think that good art can’t be silly, or that silliness can’t be sincere or profound.

However, as any creator knows, art is entirely unpredictable and rule-breaking. Creating something good is like riding an endlessly bucking horse; if the artist wishes to ride any distance without falling off, they must learn to adapt to the horse’s movement.

Mediocre art is very easy to identify; it feels unnatural, restrained, sedated, in chains. A horse that doesn’t buck will never go anywhere interesting. It’s more like taking a pony in a circle at an amusement park.

For critics, there is little worse than making the wrong distinction between good and bad: mediocre art is sincere, however poorly executed; bad art is always insincere. While mediocre artists give us clichés and flat soda, they are not as dangerous as “serious art” snobs.

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“Silly or serious” is not a dichotomy. Attend a wedding reception to see this in action; watch the bride and groom, hours after making “the most important decision of their lives,” get drunk. Watch their parents get drunk and start reminiscing about baby moments. Also, consider sex, one of the silliest acts. Intercourse is the only time when it is interesting and enjoyable to repeat the same motion hundreds of times, time and again. Yet this is what allows the human race to continue.

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“Silly or serious” is not a dichotomy. When evaluating art, one must treat “silly” and “serious” as the primary colors of any good work. The mark of a brilliant artist is the ability to be both silly and serious.

This appears in all genres of art, and I’m going to take you through music, literature, and unframed art with such examples as Mozart, Lewis Carroll, YouTube, and Futurama.

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I love Mozart. I love the calm-before-the-storm-iness of Mozart. I love the crystalline confidence of his scales. I love the catch of his melodies. I especially love how Mozart mixes silly and serious.

Mozart’s canon “Leck Mich Im Arsch” (literally, “lick me in the ass”), is one of my favorite examples of how silly and serious can work together to produce art that is unquestionably brilliant, even if it does make you giggle. Just think that without these lyrics, this would sound like a solemn ode to brotherhood.

Another of my favorite Mozart moments is from his final opera The Magic Flute. In one of Mozart’s most cheerful, upbeat, and memorable pieces, the Queen of Night asks her daughter to murder Sarastro, while exercising insane vocal techniques that singers have to dedicate their lives to attain. It’s a funny song, because the seriousness of the lyrics clash with the flowing lightness of the tune.

The vengeance of Hell boils in my heart,

Death and despair flame about me!

If Sarastro does not through you feel

The pain of death,

Then you will be my daughter nevermore.

It’s a scary song; listening to it, I get chills. And it’s a song that gets me through the day, one I love to sing over and over, under my breath, everywhere I go.

It’s not just the mixing of silly and sincere that makes these pieces great; it’s the undeniable humanity and sincerity of the music.

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Now consider Lewis Carroll’s “Jabberwocky.” Its linguistic brilliance and inventiveness is first class, as the beauty isn’t in the meaning so much as in the way the plot is actually understandable, despite the strangeness of its language. The atmospheric brilliance of the first stanza is inimitable:

`Twas brillig, and the slithy toves

Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;

All mimsy were the borogoves,

And the mome raths outgrabe.

Its specific nonspecific language allows us to imagine and feel anything, depending on how we enter the poem. Many would write this poem off as silly. Yes, it is silly, but I find serious and sincere qualities in its retelling of the hero’s journey. It is a metaphor for triumph over any conflict in our lives.

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There is also the problem of unframed art. Some people tend to think that art must present itself as art, and that only certain kinds of art exist. Music, poetry, theater, painting, sculpture, etc… What about TV shows? What about YouTube videos?

This YouTube video by user wendyvainity seems at first to be nothing but nightmare fuel, with dogs. Here is a full synopsis of the video: two dogs sing an auto-tuned song about being dogs while the hairs on their coats grow incredibly long and then shrink back into their body; they jump over each other, and then they jump over what is probably the River Styx. Even on the other side of the river, they keep singing, and their hairs keep growing and shrinking back. Yes, I’d say nightmare fuel with dogs is a pretty accurate term, but—wendyvainity’s video also engages the absurd and the nonsensical to speak about (or at least prime in our unconscious minds) mortality, change, identity, fate, self-consciousness, and the possibility of real connection. Oddly enough, it reminds me a lot of Beckett.

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The animated sci-fi comedy show Futurama has proven itself capable of genius, but what really makes some of the episodes “art” is the show’s commitment to sincerity. Take for example my favorite episode, “Jurassic Bark.” The episode is a perfect blend of silliness and seriousness.

For those who are not familiar with Futurama, the premise of the show is that Fry, a loser pizza delivery boy living at the turn of the 21st century, accidentally gets cryonized until the year 3000, and must adapt to his new life. A common theme is Fry’s attempting to reconcile his past life with his current existence, and the possibility of his own insignificance.

Why is “Jurassic Bark” such a brilliant episode? Because it confronts cynicism with sincerity.

Here is a brief summary of “Jurassic Bark”: A museum in New New York digs up the remnants of the pizza restaurant that employed Fry in the 20th century. In the exhibit, Fry finds the fossilized body of his old dog, Seymour. After making a show of protesting in front of the museum, Fry gets to keep his fossilized dog. Fry’s mad scientist boss, Professor Farnsworth, says that he can bring the dog back to life. However, Fry’s best friend, Bender, gets jealous and upset with Fry for spending so much time preparing for the dog’s revival.

The episode alternates between Fry’s preparation for Seymour’s arrival in the present, and flashbacks of the history of Fry’s experience with his dog. The flashbacks start with their first meeting, when Fry gets a prank pizza order and shares the unpaid-for pizza with the starved dog in an alley, who follows Fry home. The flashbacks culminate in Fry’s cryonization and the dog’s subsequent search for Fry.

Fry: “I have a pizza here for Seymour Asses.”

Man at Delivery Address: “There isn’t anybody by that name here. Or anywhere. I hope in time you realize how stupid you are.”

Fry: “I wouldn’t count on it.”

At the end of the episode, learning that the dog lived for twelve years after Fry got cryonized, Fry succumbs to the contagious cynicism of his coworkers, and decides, for the first time in his life, to be ‘emotionally mature’ and to let his dog stay dead. The last lines of the episode (as given by IMDB) are:

Fry: I had Seymour ‘till he was three. That’s when I knew him, and that’s when I loved him… I’ll never forget him…

[Picks up the fossil and looks into its apparent eyes]

Fry: But he forgot me a long, long time ago…

But the episode doesn’t end there. The episode ends with a montage of the twelve years Seymour spent waiting in front of the pizzeria for Fry’s return, accompanied by a beautifully sung rendition of “I Will Wait for You” from The Umbrellas of Cherbourg.

Good writers are deliberate, and every detail in “Jurassic Bark” is necessary to the episode and has some poetic value. I am going to offer a few of the most striking motifs, and some parts of the episode that I think embody them. As a warning to the reader, many of these examples are extremely specific and require a familiarity with the tropes and characters of Futurama:

The buried past is still alive in some form: fossilized Seymour, flashbacks… False emotional showiness: Bender the magician, Leela dramatically stripping and running to the lava, Bender emerging from the floor like a volcano, Bender’s robot dog… Cynicism as a destructive force: Bender’s throwing the fossil into the lava, Fry’s parents ignoring Seymour’s barking at Fry’s cryonized body, Fry’s ultimate decision not to recover Seymour… Cynicism as learned behavior: Fry is Bender’s apprentice, Fry’s ultimate decision… Sincerity as something frowned upon: the crew’s lighthearted scorn of Fry’s three-day dance-protest to get his dog from the museum, Bender beating up Zoidberg after Zoidberg explains Bender’s magic trick to the audience, Bender choosing to believe that Fry’s emotions are fake and that Fry is only acting that way to make Bender feel bad… Sincere connection as a rare and valuable ideal: Seymour is weak at first but grows healthy when fed and given love, Fry is only happy when with Seymour, Fry and Seymour are lonely and outcast but fill a void in each other’s lives, symbolized by their ability to sing together “Walking on Sunshine”…

Many viewers, angered by their own emotional responses to the episode, have complained that the ending of “Jurassic Bark” is manipulative, and rightly so; like all great stories, we are tricked into feeling emotion for people that don’t exist and the decisions they make. Where the objectors are wrong, however, is in denouncing this manipulation. Yes, we are tricked, as many great writers have tricked us in the past. We are tricked into first believing that Fry is making the right decision (a triumph for cynicism), and then shown that his dog never stopped believing and just kept waiting. In the end, moved to tears and anger as many viewers are, we ourselves are the triumph of sincerity.

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So. What’s the takeaway? Why is any of this important?

Silliness is the most underrated aspect of art.

More than anything, sincerity is what counts.

Art doesn’t have to be serious to make you a better person.

If you can be a silly genius, more power to you.

Meet the Review Crew I

Content Coordinator for Poetry and Nonfiction: Ashley Maul

Once, she was asked to list five books she’d bring with her on a deserted island and without fail her answer remains: Harry Potter and the Goblet of FireThe Scarlet Letter, a collection of Allen Ginsberg’s poetry, To Kill a Mockingbird, and Billy Collin’s The Trouble with Poetry. Her favorite reading reflects her own writing style – a combination of youthful fancy and shenanigans mixed with sarcasm and adult confession.

Like many students so close to graduation, she is unsure of where the future will take her, but she is very interested in the publishing industry and imagines a career that allows her to telecommute as an editor for a posh literary magazine or book publishing company. With a history in bookstore management and an avid thirst for reading and writing, there is little she can imagine that can combine her interests so perfectly.

Art Editor Arjun Chopra

Arjun started working with Superstition Review over the past summer as a guest contributor with his blog series, “Dispatches From Delhi.” Despite being relatively new to the world of editing/publishing, Arjun finds his position intellectually stimulating and instrumental in giving him his first glimpse into the actual working side of writing. He finds his work to be a comprehensive learning experience in meshing creativity with professionalism, an invaluable skill of those who strive to make a living through their writing, a skill he is glad to have the chance to practice.

When not in class, doing homework, or compiling graduate application materials, Arjun enjoys spending his free time reading novels and poetry collections, writing, watching movies, skateboarding, and listening to a wide variety of different music.

Advertising Editor Brooke Passey

Along with her reading load for class, Brooke tries to read one recreational book a week. To stay motivated she posts weekly book reviews on her blog brookepassey.wordpress.com. She also loves horseback riding and spends her spare time training and teaching riding lessons. In the 15 years that she has been riding she has only fallen off a horse once—when she was reading a book while sitting on her horse bareback. Although she loves both hobbies she has since decided to keep them separate. After graduation she plans on pursuing a career where she can use her writing skills during the day and her riding skills in the evening.

Fiction Editor Abbey Maddix

Superstition Review is Abbey’s first experience working with a literary magazine and hopefully the first stepping stone to a career in the editing and publishing world. She finds the position demanding but educational, particularly informative when it comes to thinking about her own future career as a writer. Her work centers on fiction of all forms, exploring genres and forms and her own limitations. She enjoys pushing the boundaries of her comfort zone and enjoys exploring the question “What does it mean to be human?” from both a literary angle and a scientific one.

On Abbey’s “favorites” bookshelf there are the works of Kurt Vonnegut, Neil Gaiman, Italo Calvino, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, although she’d like to expand her experience with contemporary literature. Although she has a difficult time understanding poetry, the works of Pablo Neruda and Tomas Tranströmer have managed to win her over.