Setting the Mood

Picture 88by Amelia Williams (’13)
From the Sarah Fontaine Unit

I’m too lenient with my first drafts; I like my first drafts. (That opening sentence was a first draft; the semicolon was a later edit. I quite like it.) I churn something out, because I write in sittings. I am rarely stringing little scribbles and images and soliloquies together that I’ve accumulated throughout the day; it all just kind of comes out at once. I am a big fan of semicolons. But anyhow, I write in bursts. I write like turning the hot water faucet all the way and for those forty-five seconds the water is still cold. And I like how that aggravatingly long period of not-hot water looks, scrawled out on a page.

I write by hand. I hate beginning something on the computer. It has no anchor, nothing tangible, no soil for all the following thoughts and (hopefully?) eloquent metaphors and musings to grow from. I like the feeling of my hand cramping and scribbling things out because I’ve written it too messily, in haste.  Perhaps I lied a bit when I said I write in bursts because I do take breaks. Maybe too many breaks. I like to do other things, other assignments or stretch my hamstrings or bob my head to crude rap lyrics. I really like crude rap lyrics. I also like snacks. I had dark chocolate-covered acai berries before I sat down to write this. I like the lingering taste, but now my mouth tastes like medicine. Like I said, breaks.

I need a trigger. I imagine, at least when I am writing poetry, that the poem is some kind of changeling companioned by a feral, blazing dog-like animal. I actually don’t really think that but it came to mind and I wanted to write it out. Too forgiving of first drafts (a word from my teacher Heather, that is actually some other woman’s quote but I’ve forgotten her name (sorry) “all first drafts are shitty first drafts. Am I a narcissist to think my first drafts hold merit? I am probably just a last editor.). Really though I like my poetry to have a bite. I like my poems to be something a reader keeps around the living room of his or her brain, like something lovely on the mantelpiece or a nice pillow. Fiction is like a slow-burning candle of immersion and something a little dangerous. I find myself writing longer and longer pieces the older I get. I am not entirely sure if that means anything at all.

Ultimately I try to write like I am talking to myself. If I had to impress myself, on a page or from the mouth, I would like to be entertained, and intellectually aroused, and perhaps a bit inspired. I try to sound smarter than I actually am (a big perk to writing is having the time to craft the perfect seemingly spontaneous banter that I am nowhere near as adept at in person). I really hadn’t put all that much thought into the process because it works like a muscle now; I want to write and I just do. I write to convince people to keep reading, to intrigue people into the mysterious caravan of my mind. I want people to read what I have to offer and, to be quite honest, decide I am worthy of fame. I don’t think I write to be famous, though. I write as if I already am. That is quite possibly the most atrocious sentence I have ever spelled out but there is truth to it in the sense I write to the audience I hope to have one day. I remind myself every word is a practice for grandeur.

The bottom line is I write until I am happy enough to believe that if I saw my own writing in a bookstore, I would read until I creased the spine and looked around to make sure none of the employees saw me putting it back on the shelf.

In The Neighborhood

by Amelia (’13)

Dance Mission

If you have ever been to the mission district of San Francisco, you know you will never run out of things to do. Among the taquerias, panaderias, bookstores, cafes, yoga studios and thrift stores is a dance studio very close to my heart, a space tucked between a Chinese restaurant and a Turkish café, Dance Mission. My time at Dance Mission has not only informed my modern/contemporary technique, but also educated me on contemporary artistic feminism and issues that plague women and minorities around the world. I have danced for oil drilling and deforestation in South America, victims of domestic abuse and violence and women’s reproductive rights. Not many dancers in the dance department at SOTA can say that. But now if modern isn’t your thing, that’s fine, you could try out hip hop, salsa, bellydance, Afro-Cuban, or taiko drumming: I certainly have. What is utterly lacking in Dance Mission is its sense of elitism. Dance is often made out to be an expensive, individualized art for the few who can dedicate their lives to it. Dance Mission has never and will never operate like that. The Grrrl Brigade youth program (not unlike Riot Grrl) seeks to empower girls and women in their communities by allowing them to realize their potential through dance. Dance Mission is a matriarchy, made up almost entirely of queer feminist artists lending their abilities to social awareness through dance, spoken word, sign language and taiko drumming. These women are incredible. They are all indisputably talented, ridiculously compassionate and unabashed about standing up for what they believe in.

I am coming up on my final performance as a principal dancer with Grrrl Brigade and my first incorporating my own writing. I suppose this warrants some self-actualization in how, over the years, my dance and my writing are equal players in my identity. To remember: writers are not lethargic and dance is not void of poetry. I am terrified of leaving a community that has been such a support system and so attentive to my personal strengths and weaknesses. What if a “conventional” dance studio doesn’t suit me? What if my next instructors don’t want to have drinks with my mother and ask me about my poems? I will leave that up to time. But if you ever find yourself at 24th and Mission with an hour to kill and $11, I urge you to discover something you will be inexplicably unable to forget.

Exhibit C


You do it for me,
in so many words
I would like t o know where you come from
like a c rumple d document tossed off a boat
or a bundle of a baby and silverware,
tucked under your coat.
How the grit erodes your cheekbones
and sand lightens your eyes.
You might be love or a chance encounter
rolled up with bones and big blinking
Perhaps you are coincidence
like a border or
The pleasant void of public space
and freedom.
I would trace you in skin
To before language and paper and strangers
Because your face knows distance
And how to breach it .
I would count the countries
And your body of water
Studied like a moth that dies on my window.

–Amelia Williams
class of 2013
from “The Divine Feminine

A Visit From Lorin Stein

by Amelia (’13)

As a Creative Writing senior, I’ve had my fair share of rejection emails from publications I submit my work to. Without fail, they open with a seemingly cheery “Thank you Amelia!” before the ominous “but,” and to polish it all off, “we could not accept your work at this time.” I remember feeling enraged at the fact that a stranger could not see the genius (or potential, mostly potential) my classmates saw in my work. I imagined magazine and literary journal editors as stodgy old men who read the first three words of my piece before laughing maniacally at it and sending it straight to junk mail.

Lorin Stein of The Paris Review is no such editor. First of all he’s not old, or stodgy, and I can’t imagine him laughing at the efforts of a fellow literary mind (with a few exceptions I’ll keep within the department). His humility and appreciation for the contributions of writers like myself are both a huge relief and reassuring for someone who is interested in entering the publishing and editing field. What the department anticipated as a lecture became a two hour discussion about personal history, ambition, the turmoil of self-interest and the interest of the magazine and the art of translation. How wonderful it is to have no preconceived notions of a literary figure and discover he is very much a man doing what he loves for the pleasure of other people. umläut is sending him a care package of our own editing expertise, for good measure of course. I find myself eager as a freshman to dole out the next round of pieces to the next round of journals and zines, in the hope and confidence that like Lorin Stein, they’ll feel bad about saying no.