Friday, March 31, 2017

Viva La Ape: On NOT Draining the Swamp in D.C.

Wear a heavy, latex Planet of the Apes monkey mask swathed in mounds of fake Spanish moss, cumbersome black-and-also-mossy-winter gloves, and a ghillie suit in the name of literature?!?

“Sure, why the hell not?”

That was my response, anyhow, when one of my clever peers in the MFA program suggested this little stunt as a way to call attention to The Swamp Ape Review, FAU’s graduate student run national literary magazine. We were weeks away from launching the inaugural online issue.

I was all about getting into that Swamp Ape costume and traipsing around the AWP literary conference. I knew I could ham it up with strangers and goad them into taking a picture with the Swamp Ape and then hashtag the magazine on social media. I would have done something like this anyhow (like…just in my normal, everyday life) because I’m kind of a freak like that, so I was excited that for my first time ever attending AWP, I would be doing so “in character.” I mean, I am a writer, after all, and, therefore, pretty socially awkward around new people and big crowds.

The conference was in Washington D.C., and since I am a part-part time student (I only take one class at a time) and a full-full time high school teacher (I wish I could only teach one class at a time), I was thrilled that I was going to get to take an out-of-state odyssey with my fellow graduate students and would get to know them on a whole other level.

But back to the Swamp Ape. Let me first say that I had no earthly idea what a ghillie suit was when we were in the initial planning stages for the Swamp Ape appearances at AWP. I had to “Wikipedia” it. According to Wikipedia, a ghillie suit is “a suit traditionally donned by snipers, hunters, and nature photographers to allow them to conceal themselves from enemies or targets.” As a pacifist, this amused me. The online adverts for the suit would have you believe they are “lightweight” and “breathable.” I assure you, they are not. They are stinky, sweaty death suits. The experience of being the Swamp Ape was fun, nonetheless, a great success, even (viva la swamp!).

In addition to being one of the students behind the Swamp Ape, I also had the opportunity to attend panels with Ta-Nehisi Coates, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Sarah Manguso, and Paul Lisicky (to name a few); I was fortunate enough to have had a conversation with Dave Eggers, a social activist and literary hero of mine for over twenty years; I discovered what wonderfully talented, delightful people my fellow MFA students truly are; I learned invaluable lessons about writing and publishing; and, last but not least, our literary magazine gained a ton of exposure.

AWP is happening all over again in a little under a year, but this time in Florida, the home of the Swamp Ape him/herself. Let the countdown begin!

Brittany Rigdon is a creative non-fiction writer who dabbles in poetry and teaches high school students how to think critically and write creatively. She went to Florida Atlantic University and has an M.A. in American and British Literature; she is currently working on an M.F.A. in creative writing. Brittany has edited and published six annual student writing anthologies for the creative writing students at Alexander W. Dreyfoos School of the Arts and is a reader for The Swamp Ape Review. When she’s not attempting to finally publish her own work and not just that of her students, she can be found walking her most adorable chocolate lab— Henry Miller, training for triathlons, or watching a stunning sunrise somewhere in the world

Monday, March 13, 2017

Screw the Audience

Dude, screw the audience.

They mean well. They wait so patiently for you to finish your work, then read it. In some cases, (hi, Internet!) they helpfully point out what they liked about your piece or, most often, what totally sucked, which is very constructive criticism.

One of the biggest issues I have when going into the writing process is that idea of audience. Now, this isn’t always the case. Sometimes, I can write through a piece easily because I am confident about my concept, what I want to do with it, and how I can build on it. No, the problem starts when I’m sitting at my laptop and that stupid sticker I plastered near the keyboard of Garfield hugging a nug of weed is winking at me and I’m wracking my brain for ideas that won’t come.

Then the rhetorical questions start.

What can I do that’s different? What can I do that will make people go, wooooow, what a genius, please let me buy your currently nonexistent book immediately (be the first of your friends to give me money!!!!).

It is in these moments, these pre-writing brainstorming sessions where I can’t find anything to say that the naysayers start creeping in. Quit while you’re ahead, they cackle at me. Your audience won’t get the concept anyway.

I think that’s when we need to start ignoring the audience. Oftentimes, we (okay, me) fall into this trap of trying to write something that’s universally appealing or perfect in its first draft. Sometimes we have to accept - again, me - that someone, somewhere is going to hate what you write. That terrible review or rejection is going to happen, probably over and over again, but it should not inhibit the writing process.

Funnily enough, the inspiration for this blog post comes from an essay I read last semester for ENC 6700, a course we take at FAU that focuses on writing methodology and rhetoric. The article, titled “Closing My Eyes as I Speak: An Argument for Ignoring Audience” is focused on helping our students write through any writer’s block that comes up while drafting academic essays by teaching them to, at first, not consider the audience at all. The author, Peter Elbow, found that when students were hung up on how to compose for an academic audience, they couldn’t even begin the writing process. While Elbow was specifically focused on academia, I have run into the same problem myself as a creative writer. Too often, I’m worried about the reception a piece will get even before I’ve started writing the damn thing.

So, how do I move past this idea of audience so I can actually produce the work I want to be writing? I have found that the simplest, and yet hardest, thing to do is just keep going. I take those negative things my imaginary audience is yelling at me and use them as motivation to develop the idea at hand.

Of course, it’s easier said than done. But hey, I’ll take it. And the audience can suck it.

With that being said, please buy my future books!

Mary Mattingly is a fiction candidate in her first year in Florida Atlantic University's MFA program. Originally from the Detroit, Mich. area, she is very bad at writing bios and unsure of how to end this one, whoops, looks like we're done here.