The Validation of Attending Conferences

Editor’s Note: this post first appeared on the blog that SRU’s Sigma Tau Delta students compile around attending the honor society’s annual conference, this year held in Louisville, Ky.

Emma Cummings, who is both a Theatre major and a Creative Writing major, won an Honorable Mention for Scenic Design, the Vectorworks Award, and the Stagecraft Institute of Las Vegas Award at the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival in January. At the Sigma Tau Delta conference she presented a paper entitled “Not Easy to Love.”


The most intriguing parts of the two sessions I attended today were the questions and discussions after the papers were read. They were thought-provoking, engaging, and refreshing. There were many questions addressed to the panelists that I wanted to answer myself.

First, I attended a session of Creative Non-Fiction works dealing with love and loss. The moderator ended the discussion by asking them why they write. A short, yet totally complex and weighted question. The panelists seemed to answer them with such quick ease (so much that I am envious) and all had distinct reasons for beginning their journeys in writing. But because no one asked me personally, I had to ask myself, why do I write?

Well, I write because it is who I am. It is in my nature to write. When I was a child, I found books on my own. I gravitated toward story telling by some unseen force. I was fascinated by what I read and I wanted to create my own world too.

I write because it is the only way I am able to make sense of anything that happens in my life. I have kept dozens of journals, all probably less interesting than the last. I record everything that happens so I know how I feel about it. Nothing makes sense in my brain until it is copied down on pen and paper. I also fear forgetting each detail and need it all to be documented.

I record everything that happens so I know how I feel about it. Nothing makes sense in my brain until it is copied down on pen and paper.

I write because I cannot think fast enough to speak my mind. I need that time to capture what it is I truly am trying to say. Take this post, for example: if I had been asked this question during my session, I would have stammered out some whirlwind of a response that I would think back on later and kick myself for sounding so incoherent. Instead, I get to sit in this hotel bed on my laptop, analyze my thoughts, and use a thesaurus to cure my chronic brain burps. This post is so long because I did not realize how much I had to say about the subject until sitting down to write it. I could go on with this answer until I have written many volumes of books on why I want to write many volumes of books.

The second really important discussion occurred in the other session I attended on Sci-Fi/Fantasy short stories. An audience member asked the panel how their departments support them not only as writers, but as fantasy writers, and if they ever felt inadequate because of their choices in genre. Most of them answered very similarly and I am grateful that I could relate to them. They each talked about how they have professors and advisors who may try to break them out of their shell, but who also support and push them towards what they are most passionate about. While I am not drawn to fantasy writing, being in a department like ours helps me to uncover my passion and feel connected to those who feel similarly. I am lucky to have never felt inadequate. Freshman year, I would have never thought I would enjoy writing creative non-fiction. Yet here I am, presenting a CNF paper that I am strikingly proud of.

Being surrounded by people with similar passions is a bit of morale boost. It makes you realize that you are not alone in what you love. Attending conferences validates the choices I have made in educational paths. I can do what I love and not have to feel sorry for it.

Bailey Vox Reading, February 2017

I’m looking forward to seeing more people share their stories in the future!

Students doubled-up on the seats as extra chairs were wheeled into the room. Some people sat on the floor next to their book-bags. Two dogs were also there. John Riggio cupped his emotional support dog in his arms like a tiny, teething football, while my service dog sprawled out on the floor and made doe-eyes at people. Room 315 of Spotts was small, considering the crowd that showed up. But the Bailey Vox Reading turned out to be a cozy event in the end.

Suzanne Hasenflu read “To the Girl Who Wants Big Boobs.” She bemoaned all of the beige-tone shirts with high-cut collars (while wearing a tan-colored sweater). The poem was witty and honest, and it listed one irritation after another. Suzanne’s poem is important for women of all bra sizes to hear. Despite the importance put on having a large chest, big boobs are a daily pain.

In between readings, raffle tickets were drawn and prizes were distributed. One student won an emergency get-well kit, in case he gets hit with the flu. The kit included oranges, chicken noodle soup, cough drops, and tissues. This was very thoughtful of the SLAB staff!

Joe Szalinki shared his experience of encountering another tall person at a concert:

To the tall piece of shit at the Old 97’s concert,
I see you there, because it’s hard not to.
All gangly and awkward, obscuring views . . .
From one tall person to another, you’re an asshole!
I make sure I’m not blocking anyone,
I’m self-conscious about my height,
plus, we’re tall people . . . we can see anywhere!
My girlfriend, who is a foot shorter than I, cannot,
not to mention, we were there first,
you only came in after the opening act!
You’re not a true fan of the music, you bastard!
Did this really seem like the best place to stand?!
Be glad my girlfriend stopped me from saying anything.
I would’ve been pleasant…at first
Asked you, “We paid for tickets, just like you, could you please move?”
But you’re an asshole, from bumfuck Cleveland,
so you probably wouldn’t have.
If that happened, I would’ve gone all passive aggressive…
Begun stepping on your shoes, shouting lyrics in your ear,
which would gradually progress to insults, and then threats.
I don’t care how fucked up I was,
I could’ve kicked your ass, had it come to it!
Hell, I’d’ve ripped off my belt, choked you, had your girlfriend punch you in order for me to stop…
I don’t care if you fuck with me,
but mess with my lovebug, and I’ll go primal on your ass!

– Joe Szalinki, “To the Tall Piece of Shit at the Old 97’s Concert”

It makes sense that people who are taller, or larger in some way, are self-conscious of the space they occupy. I enjoyed that there was a sort of unspoken “code of ethics” among tall people. It was humorous seeing Joe want to “go primal on” somebody who broke this code. His reading of this piece was very fast and angry, and the writing was very real. Several people in the room enjoyed Joe’s experience at the concert.

As I read my piece, my service dog, Mavis, whirled around me and sniffed people’s ankles. She doesn’t have stage fright, unlike me! I am glad to have gone up and read.

The Bailey Vox Reading was a good time. It was a very supportive environment, and I’m looking forward to seeing more people share their stories in the future.

Halloween

It lets the doom in, but not the doom out.

Bob Ross, The Pope, and a DEA agent walk into a room. . . No, that is not the start of a bad joke but rather the events at the annual SLAB Halloween reading last week, where students and faculty alike take the opportunity to become someone or something else on the gothic night. Spiders had spun their synthetic webs around the room and sounds made to frighten played softly in the background of the dimly lit hall.

The music played through students sharing their work. It was audible how passionate each of them were about writing; a few shared multiple stories, some only appeared once, but all of them were entertaining. I couldn’t help but feel proud of my classmates and my department, even those I didn’t know in the slightest.

Valerie Robuck, a senior here at Slippery Rock University, read her story. For me, the story was psychological horror, taking one of my fears and bringing it to life. Her descriptions were intense and made the situation feel realistic and wonderfully disturbing. I actually had a chance to talk to Valerie about her story and what had compelled her to write it. She said:

I’d come across an article a few weeks ago about how a woman in the 1940s had jumped from the Empire State Building, landing on top of a government official’s limo. She was only 23 years old. The incident was dubbed “The Most Beautiful Suicide,” as photographer Robert Wiles snapped a shot of the woman on top of the limousine. The woman radiated beauty even in her state, her arms delicately placed on her chest and her legs crossed. Not a hair or bone was out of place or even a scratch to acknowledge she had just jumped 87 stories.

The story stuck with me. Using the photograph, I based my main character on the woman and her tragic tale, creating Evelyn McHale in a modern day story experiencing an unexplained-other-worldly phenomenon.

Many more students shared their work along with Valerie. Their confidence was intoxicating and their words seemed to resonate with each person in the room. Joe Szalinski, a staple of the SRU English department, shared multiple stories and poems. During a particular poem from a series that featured a woodland creature, the listeners couldn’t help but show their enthusiasm. He premised the poem by saying it’s based off of his friend group, The (self-proclaimed) Pepperoni Brothers. Joe commented on this later, saying,

It’s fitting that my friends, Dylan and DJ are included in a published poem because they helped me develop as poet so much over the years. Whether it was songwriting in bands that never worked out; reading poems in Dylan’s garage, The Doombunker (it lets the doom in, but not the doom out); or DJ recording and releasing music with me; they’ve helped grow tremendously.

Another poet of the night, John Riggio, enthralled people with his poem “Ded Boiis Get Bonerz 2”: “My baby fucks like a corpse / Pounds like a heart giving out / She’s got a way with those hands / Has a knack for showing men the other side . . . ” Read the whole poem . . .

The audience quieted, reveling in the stark opening. This was my first experience with someone who read a poem like John did. It felt like the poem took on a life of its own and came out through the author; his emotion and eloquence was incredible and helped further punctuate the splendid creepiness of the poem. The night ended with this work, after the cake had been cut and the costume prizes were distributed. It was an event filled with wonderful pieces like Valerie’s, Joe’s, and John’s, all well-written and perfect for the occasion.

That night I found more than just stories of monsters and horrors.

That night I found more than just stories of monsters and horrors. I saw the words of my peers spring forward and entrance a crowd. I heard the applause and recognition given to readers. Most of all, I felt the importance of sharing fellow undergraduate work. This was not an event I had been to before or a situation I imagined myself in, but it was exceedingly valuable to me as both a student and a writer. I have a lot to learn from my fellow English lovers; they are inspiring, intelligent people who have voices that deserve to be heard. This is why RockScissorsPaper is important to me. It gives these voices a place, and that’s the most exciting part of it all.