Intern Post, Carson Abernethy: A Second Lost Generation: The Case for Millennials in the Arts

college-1440364No generation in history has experienced the kind of cultural and societal shift that millennials have, no period so tumultuous, so fervid, so unapologetically modern. But while science and technology have been so effectively forged in this smithy of currentness, the arts have seemed to lapse into the foreground, antagonistic and outdated towards this age of information. But it is in the arts where millennial identity is made, where an antidote to the vacuousness of 21st century can be found.

Every generation has been defined by its literature and arts; the 20’s were encapsulated by Fitzgerald and Hemingway, who defended their Lost generation, showing them still wayward, but not broken, not defeated. What better statement can be found about the state of America (or even the world) in the 50’s than Kerouac’s On the Road or the poetry of Ginsberg, or about the drugs, vapidity, and alienation felt in the bright lights of the big city in the 80’s than in works by McInerney or Bret Easton Ellis? These writers are so essential to their times it would be nonsensical and impossible to understand those times had they not existed, but the beauty of their works is that they are both grounded in and informative of their own times but also transcendent, applicable to our own and the lives of human beings ever after.

This trend of writers and artists dictating the importance of their time is apparent throughout human history, before the novel, before the poem, before the canvas, in oral traditions, cave painting, and song. But this worryingly drops off around the time millennials started appearing. Some are only on the cusp of adulthood, but many have already grown. But there is no millennial novel that we can pick out like we can The Sun Also Rises. It seems millennials may not even have a place in the arts like their forefathers, and perhaps more importantly, they might not care. But while this seems to be the case, it is not and is complicated by significant factors. The STEM trend has long been a worrying one, with jobs in the humanities becoming scarcer and the cost of living for an artist becoming astronomical. This is not to discount the value of work being done in STEM fields, rather it should not be the only mode of existence; “Go into STEM” should not be the prescriptive catch-all it’s becoming. In the midst of our technological living, we are quick to forget that humans are essentially story animals, and storytelling thus the most human action.

Millennials do have a place in art and literature, any generation does as long as they are human, but they are slower to. They find themselves straddling a not-so-distant past and a rapidly approaching future, born at the death of one century and the explosive birth of the next. Millennials therefore, instead of having nothing to say or caring to, have the potential to say so much more than any generation before them. The Lost had a great war, and we had a great war too, a great many on battlefields, on computer screens, in classrooms. Society is a battle zone. Millennials occupy the most fertile ground to draw on for artistic expression, and there too is meaning and significance found. Artists before needed voices to give a voice to the voiceless, now all that’s needed in this sea of noise, where anyone with a keyboard has a say, are voices to unite us, to inspire us, to define us.

Interview with Molly Soda: Internet Fame, Magic and New Adolescence

Photo provided by Molly Soda

Photo provided by Molly Soda

Under her pseudonym, internet artist and social media star Molly Soda has made her portfolio off the pitfalls of social media and the new generation of Internetisms. She set aside some time to talk to our Art Editor, Regan Henley about some of her work and her perspective as a web artist in the spotlight.


Regan Henley: One of the things I find most interesting about your work is your examination of internet fame, which of course, is a relatively new invention. I particularly like “Inbox Full.” Did you set out to examine these concepts, or do you think they are more just a product of your situation?

Molly Soda: I never put myself or my work online with the intention of becoming “famous” or with any attempts to amass a large following. I’m interested as to why certain personalities gain such followings–why do I choose to follow who I follow online? What makes someone appealing?

“Inbox Full” was definitely a product of my situation. At the height of my Tumblr “fame,” I began to notice major changes in the way people would interact with me online. The Tumblr “Ask” button sort of allowed this influx of anonymous communication–anyone can contact you, and anyone can tell you what they think of you. And all anyone wants to see–when they send someone a message, especially something negative–is a public reaction or response. I had thousands of messages in my inbox, both positive and negative. It was a way to acknowledge everyone as well as a way to purge and sort of wipe that digital slate clean.

RH: A lot of your press and presence in the art world seems intrinsically tied to your social media persona. Did you find that to be a help or a hindrance?

MS: The Internet has gotten me further than going to art school ever has.

RH: Ha. You’ve addressed the unique aspect of tween girl friendships in the context of new technology, like your “Tween Dreams” and sleepover videos. How do these stack up to your own adolescent experiences?

MS: “Tween Dreams” is very much based off of my actual adolescent experiences. I set out to make something more realistic with that series–something that reflected the reality of being a tween more so than the stuff I watched (and hoped for) when I was a tween. Also, something that actually looks like it would be made by a tween. It was important to me to put less focus on crushes, boys, not liking other girls and more focus on female friendships.

RH: How do you think these tween experiences changed/are changing with technology?

MS: I’m sure the tween experience is completely different from when I was growing up. What’s the equivalent to AIM now? That’s how I communicated with everyone after school… how I got my first boyfriends, etc. Does everyone just text?

Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and Instagram didn’t exist… I don’t even think MySpace was a thing yet? Smart phones weren’t a thing. I got my first cell phone at 14. The list goes on. I only used to the Internet to take online quizzes, talk to my friends on AIM and play Neopets.

It’s vastly different! I’m sure the social codes for how to interact online with each other have changed as well because there is such an influx of new technology and rapid communication. [It] would be interesting to dig deeper–[I] feel like now that I’m not a tween, I’ll never fully comprehend it.

RH: You’ve incorporated a lot of occult elements in your work, particularly with the creation of your colorful and idyllic digital spell book. How do these practices fit into your work?

MS: I’m not a witch by any means. The Spell Book was sort of a way for me to try and incorporate our digital lives into our spiritual lives. Because the digital is so present and so fluid, it makes sense to want to reach some sort of clarity through our screens. I’m always thinking of ways to virtually cleanse myself–there’s a lot of clutter and stress that happens online that isn’t really talked about–perhaps because it doesn’t feel as palpable.

RH: Your work has a very early Internet, 2000s vibe to it at times, can you speak a bit more to that?

MS: This is mostly a product of what I grew up with. There’s something comforting in the glitter graphic. There’s something mildly liberating and chaotic about design sensibilities from the early 2000s. Everything now is a bit streamlined, you can only customize your user profiles so much–it can feel stifling, and I like to get away from that in my work.

RH: A lot of your work directly confronts social media sharing, and you’ve gone out of your way to post images of yourself that many may be more hesitant to share online. For example, your “Should I send this” nudes or any “less than flattering” images of yourself. Would you say your work comments more on a new culture of over-sharing or more on over-produced, highly-selective sharing?

MS: Just because I’m “over-sharing” and posting unflattering photos of myself does not mean I’m not curating my image to a certain degree. We all are. There’s no shame in that. For every selfie I take, there are at least 10 that didn’t “work” for me. I’m no more “real” than anyone who retouches their photos.

RH: When making these pieces, do you ever delete something you’ve put up?

MS: I generally don’t delete anything I post. It’s all up there, as embarrassing as some things may be. Owning up to embarrassment or shame is the best way to work past it.

RH: What’s your big dream for your art as of late? If someone gave you a huge grant what would you do with it?

MS: There are a lot of pieces I want to make that can’t be realized because of financial limitations. My dream is to ultimately be able to make the work I want to make and live comfortably off of it. It’s not a “big” dream, but it often feels impossible because of how money is displaced in this world–artists put so much work in and are expected to do it for free constantly.

If I were to receive a huge sum of money, I’d put it into public spaces. I want to make work that can be inhabited IRL as well as online outside of a gallery. I’m interested in parks and would like to eventually do a piece where I create my own fantasy park that people can visit.

RH: What have you read, recently or not so recently, that has inspired your work?

MS: I misread a sign that said “no cycling,” and I thought it said “no crying.” That one’s stuck with me for the past few months.

RH: Where can we find you these days?

MS: You can find me online: mollysoda.biz

Twitter: twitter.com/mollysoda

Tumblr: mollysoda.tumblr.com

NewHive: newhive.com/mollysoda

Instagram: bloatedandalone4evr1993

 

Technology and the Space between Publisher and Author

The most rewarding experience I had while interning at Superstition Review came, rather not surprisingly, during the selection process for our most recent issue. I say not surprisingly because it is during this process that you get the opportunity to give an author the thing they have been searching for: publication.

What did surprise me though were two works that the fiction editors discussed during the selection process and how we were able to work with the authors of those pieces in order to get them published in Issue 11. Both of these pieces would have more than likely received “nos” if we had not been able to work with the authors, something that I was not previously aware was even possible. I had never before thought of the freedom that technology afforded the literary world and the opportunity it offered in erasing the barrier that seems to exist between the publisher and the author.

The first example I want to talk about is the piece by Jacob Appel, “Burrowing into Exile.” Appel originally submitted a story called “A Display of Decency” which looked at a young man’s struggle with religion. It was well written and a good read, but the piece was drenched in baseball paraphernalia and took place in the 1940s. The general consensus was that this created a setting which might be difficult for our particular readership, which tends to be younger. In fact, one of our fiction editors did not recognize many of the references in the piece. This decision about how any given story fits a publication’s aesthetic is one that all literary magazines have to make (and trust me, as a writer this is a difficult lesson to learn). This could have easily been the end of this story: a decline due to incompatible audiences. Instead we contacted Appel and solicited another, more contemporary, piece from him. This is something that I do not think would be possible without the immediacy available through the internet.

Our second “on the edge” story was from an undergraduate student at Utah State University. Since we tend to publish mid and late career authors, we get very excited when we find work from undergrads that make the top of the pile (we don’t publish any ASU undergrads since we have a non-compete agreement with the ASU undergraduate literary magazine LUX).The editors involved in the selection process saw the potential of Kendall Pack’s story, “Make Your Own Lawn Darts (and Rediscover Happiness) in 8 Easy Steps.” It was equally clear that, as submitted, Pack’s piece was not quite where it needed to be in order to be published. There were rough spots and inconsistencies and neither the author nor the publication benefits from bringing a story to the public which is not really finished. This could have easily led to a rejection letter for Pack as well, but the freedom of Superstition Review’s setup allowed us to contact Pack and offer him publication contingent on his willingness to revise his submission. What could have easily been just another homeless story became Pack’s first publication which can only be seen as a great success story.

This ability to become an entity which can work hand in hand with an author to get a piece to publication level is one of Superstition Review’s greatest strengths. As a writer, I am well aware of the distance that often exists between the writer and the publisher, an expanse that is so large that agents are sometimes required as go-betweens. But the landscape of publishing is changing and no longer is an author required to mail out manuscripts and wait months to years before hearing back (at least this is becoming a near extinct process).

Technology has the capability to erase the gap of information between the publisher and writer, something that has not really existed on a wide scale until now. No longer is it a requirement that a publication send out a faceless rejection letter that tells the author only that they have not been selected for publication. Now, with the ability of submission programs to organize all submission along with the comments of the editors involved, it is easier to go back and see which submissions were on the cusp of publication. We can then look at these submissions and see why they were turned down and make that a part of our rejection letter. In an industry where so many variables can lead to a piece not being published it is an invaluable tool to be able to offer the writer at least a slight indication of why a piece was not selected. Or, even better, there is an opportunity to not only disclose these reasons but allow the author the chance to correct these mistakes if they so choose.

Obviously this cannot always be the case. Some large publications just do not have the time to look through all their submissions and tailor a specific response, but they at least have the option to tailor one for the submissions that are on the edge. It will also to take time for these technologies and the assets they offer to catch on. However long it takes, it does give me a great sense of hope for the future of publishing and I see a time where publishers and writers can work as closely as peers in other fields. I can see the benefit of writers and publishers establishing professional relationships that provide brief points of contact concerning the craft of writing.

Bonus opinion: without delving too deeply into an already cantankerous subject, I see these constantly evolving technological tools as a gateway to a future where biases can be circumvented by using submission programs to cloak the identity of submitting authors. This seems like an unbelievable boon to an industry which so recently suffered from a humiliating setback.

Guest Blog Post, Patricia Clark: The Writing Hut: A Dedicated Space

There is a primal urge in our muscles, housed in ligaments, tendons, cells. For a wrapper around us: the shell of an egg, nest, hut. To sit reading by a fire in a house with sturdy walls: one remembers the pleasure.Patricia Clark

I want to advocate for a dedicated space—for each of you, each of us, as writers—and if possible a writing space separate from your living space. As I write the sentence I lament that it took me years to know I needed such a space and then years to have the means to build one. Mine is small enough a white pine hides it from view, and yet it’s ample. How much does a writer need?

A desk, a chair, a lamp, heat, a ceiling fan for when it’s too hot. A shelf for books. A notebook, a writing implement. Windows, with some that open wide.

What shall it be called? I reject shack, but wish that the word studio had fewer syllables. I prefer the word hut. A friend recommended a longer title, suggesting cursive words burned into a plaque I nail up: “Pavilion for the Gathering of Harmonious Intent.” I resisted that, too. I refuse a sign, a name. I have a knocker in the shape of a trowel next to the door. “Please don’t knock unless it’s an emergency.” This is what I’ve told my husband.

I step outside, hiking up on my shoulder a bookbag with notebook and binoculars; in my other hand a thermos of coffee, a cup. Once I step into my writing hut, I breathe new air. I look out on a ravine behind our house, a creek, deciduous trees. All is forgotten: teaching schedule, chores, dinner menu, dentist appointment. I am riding the crest of a wave, alone. It’s thrilling. It’s where I need to be.

Trees by Patricia Clark Writing hut

Depending on your writing methods, you can leave technology behind—though wireless does extend out this far. I write longhand in a notebook, ones I buy in bulk quantities. I buy the same ones: lined, thick paper, with a colorful front and back and an elastic closure. I write with a pen. Eventually I will put the poem on my computer (in the house), print it out, work on revision (on paper), and repeat the process. But I love writing by hand. It slows the words down for me; there is time to think, reflect, stop and start again. Recursive, reflective, slow. It is “slow food,” this writing. Here’s a pat of butter sliding across the page, or a piece of ice melting, moving. Mixed metaphors. I think of Robert Frost’s words, “Like a piece of ice on a hot stove a poem must ride on its own melting.”

One also leaves behind the whole writing profession, its worries, publishing, frets, envies, niggling doubts. Here one is up against writing itself, by itself. One grapples, struggles. The opponent? Oneself. There is no other here. Get it right; tell the truth, give the right, specific detail.

I like it quiet, like it with the windows open to birdsong, and I like it with music. Either way, find your space. Have it reflect the unique self that is you, and relish it.

Writing as practice, the hand caressing the page, the wet ink lapping at the dry paper. Each poem is a walk, a journey, and the mind wants to rove. Let us go a’maying, let us venture out.

Are eBooks Pushing Print to Extinction?

There is something about the aroma of a worn book that induces a sense of nostalgia. Print aficionados have fought to maintain the sanctity of printed press, but as the popularity of eReaders and tablets continues to rise, how long can book-advocates withstand the pressures of a technology-driven society?

With Apple’s iPad, Amazon’s Kindle, and Barnes & Noble’s Nook leading the revolution, more and more readers are turning to the instant gratification of eBooks and digital readers over more traditional mediums. They can now hold entire libraries in their hands, buy a book with the tap of a finger, and read until their screens go dark. So what’s not to love?

Some argue the experience is not the same. A book’s battery never goes dead. Browsing an App Store can’t compete with wandering the shelves of a bookstore and running your fingers along the spines. Holding a book in your hands, with its binding and tangible pages, doesn’t feel the same as holding plastic, aluminum, or glass. Books are permanent entities whereas digital media feels ephemeral; an ebook you own could be there one day and gone the next, but a printed media will withstand decades. Actor and journalist Stephen Fry said recently, “Books are no more threatened by the Kindle than stairs by elevators.” Other authors would agree that while eBooks are convenient, they will never replace print.

However, some statistics show that the move towards eReaders is happening more aggressively. In a recent article, The Wall Street Journal estimated that one in six Americans now uses an eReader, a number that has nearly doubled since 2010. That statistic is estimated to more than triple in these next few years, which leads to the question, what will become of print?

The bright side to this new trend is that eReaders aren’t entirely replacing books in American households; many readers own both an eReader and a hearty bookshelf filled with volumes of print. According to the Wall Street Journal, amongst eReader users only 6% admit to not purchasing a single book in the past year, which is a much better percentage than the 32% of Americans who haven’t purchased a book at all in the past year. Perhaps the accessibility of books on an eReader increases not only book sales, but also reading and literacy rates.

Both book lovers and eReader advocates have strong feelings on the topic. It will be interesting to see what the future holds for both print books and their digital counterparts.

Is Pushcart Pushing Out Online Publications?

Graphic courtesy of Perpetual Folly

With every new year comes a new edition of the Pushcart Prize and with it, the names of publications and pieces lucky enough to grace its pages. Known for compiling submissions from small presses all over the world, Pushcart has created a high standard of quality that authors and literary magazines alike hope to achieve. Perpetual Folly has released a ranking of Fiction, Non-Fiction, and Poetry submissions published in the Pushcart by each literary publication for 2012.

While some notable names like Tin House, Poetry, and Ploughshares grace the top spots, some new faces have also joined the ranks. The rankings are a great way to discover new publications and revisit some familiar magazines. You can also see rankings from 2010, 2009, and 2008.

The Pushcart Prize, known for its prestigious spot on the small press altar, has come under recent criticism for its narrowed scope. Pushcart editor Bill Henderson wrote in his introduction: “I have long railed against the e-book and instant Internet publication as damaging to writers. Instant anything is dangerous – great writing takes time. You should long to be as good as John Milton and Reynolds Price, not just barf into the electronic void.” There’s an excellent article about this comment in Luna Park, but we’d like to add our thoughts as well..

Publishing has come a long way since the days of stone tablets. Digital media has become a rapidly evolving field that is changing the way we consume literature. While some literary magazines have already converted to online platforms, other notable publications stand by their steadfast printers and traditional paper mediums.

The Pushcart’s bias against online publishing is apparent: only one submission from an online publication was printed in the 2012 Pushcart anthology. Pushcart had long been known for incorporating the best of the best small presses, but if it continues to disregard online publications, it will no longer be representative of small press publishing.

While not all online magazines uphold the same rigorous editing procedures of their print counterparts, many maintain traditional practices of print journals, with the only change being that they are free and immediately accessible.

We can understand Henderson’s argument to some degree. Online publishing, after all, is a double-edged sword. Often, editing is sacrificed in the name of immediate publication. An author can write a sentence and hit submit without a second thought. It can lack the craft and artistic value that many unplugged authors have spent years honing. However, online publication also opens doors to high-quality work. Connecting in a digital environment increases accessibility,  eliminates physical printing constraints, and fosters collaboration and community. We have to ask ourselves, how long will Pushcart continue to ignore the growing field of online lit mags?

What We’re Reading

This is what our interns are reading:

Christina Arregoces, Interview Editor: Currently I’m reading Autobiography of a Face, a beautifully written memoir by the talented Lucy Grealy. The memoir deals with the real life experiences that Grealy went through as she began her childhood struggle with Ewing’s sarcoma, a cancer that went on to almost kill her, demand multiple life-threatening surgeries, and severely disfigure her face. And though the book is interlaced with the nonfiction aspects of the scientific and the medical, Grealy’s literary talent emerges at every turn and through her highly relatable and witty tone, she draws in her reader and transports him or her back to the confusing days of childhood and the rawness of adolescence.

Autobiography of a Face is striking and sad and through it, Grealy works to redefine what beauty truly is.

Samantha Veléz, Content Coordinator: A close friend of my mom’s recommended Teacher Man by Frank McCourt. She brought it up because I was describing my first (and so far only) experience teaching a class. One or two kids listen intently, two doze off, and most don’t seem to be paying attention at all. I’m glad I said that because now I am reading a borrowed copy of a great book.

Teacher Man is a memoir about teaching English in New York high schools. It’s filled with anecdotal bits of wisdom, occasionally of adolescent and naivety and determination, and a personal look into the dilemma of adulthood: Where do I go from here? Will I ever fulfill my dreams?

This book has an enjoyable, lightly sarcastic tone that tells a heartfelt story. Those acquainted with his work will be used to his tearjerkers and enjoy this light, personal tale.

Stephanie De La Rosa, Blogger: Candide by Voltaire, in the original French. The humor doesn’t translate quite the same in English. It’s still a wonderful read, an interesting insight into eighteenth century European literature. To say the least, it is hilariously surprising, and not at all what I expected.

The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros. I am re-reading this book after about eight years. I absolutely love it; this is the novel that inspired me to start writing. It is whimsical, lyrical, little episodes that come together to make a comprehensive picture of what life was like for a little Hispanic girl growing up in Chicago and trying to come to terms with the person she wants to be.

Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart. Both stylistically and content-wise, Super Sad True Love Story is a polemic in novel form. Lenny Abramov, middle-aged and afraid of death, falls in love with a young woman who embodies the restless youth of his chaotic world. It’s funny and thought provoking, especially when one considers how social relationships, across the globe, are being affected by technology.

I recommend watching Shteyngart’s book trailer for this novel as well.