Wordsmith Wednesday: J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings”

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This week’s Wordsmith Wednesday comes from J. R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. It is a quote many of us have heard before and one that resonates deep within our minds.

“All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.
From the ashes a fire shall be woken,
A light from the shadows shall spring;
Renewed shall be the blade that was broken,
The crownless again shall be king.”

Frodo needed these words of wisdom from Gandalf to persevere in his journey, no matter how perilous it may be. It is the possibility of a bright future, a light that will shine through, that keeps us moving. Sometimes we just need a reminder that we aren’t the only ones fighting this battle, that there is hope for a rewarding road in front of us as long as we take up the journey.

– KK

Tolkien

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Editors’ Note for Issue 3

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The following is the full Editors’ Note for Issue 3:

“Anxiety can either cripple or drive you.

It can drag you down like a stone, trapping you on the murky psychic riverbed to choke on seaweed and self-critique. It can be the palm that holds you underwater, screaming bubbles and scratching at the invisible force. It is the sound in the distance, the figure in the dark, the uncertainty of the answer to a difficult question. It is the thing that stops you from enjoying any taste of success by planting the thought of a more satisfying success just ahead yet unseen. It is FOMO and the neighborhood watch and small town racism and narrow-mindedness in all forms. It is the smoke break and the bitten-up fingertips and standing on the back porch at 4 am.

It can also be the motivation that forces you back to the surface, making you flap your arms until you figure out how to turn slapping hands into a doggy paddle into smooth strokes propelling you for as long as your mind muscles allow. Anxiety can feed off fear, turn frustration into fuel. It can be the foundation for great innovations, inspired music, transcendent literature. It is that thing that must be alleviated through expression, the need to take some internal pressure and spit it out into the world so that somebody else can chew on the idea for a while. It is the desire to find solutions.

The tricky conundrum is that anxiety can also suppress that expression, trapping everything inside your skull. What if what I think is stupid? What if what I made isn’t good? What if what I did isn’t important? What if people laugh in my face? What if they laugh behind my back? What if they laugh in the comments? What if nobody cares at all? Anxiety can be completely paralyzing to creativity, killing all motivation before the process has even begun. The effect can be especially fatal if the primary motivation is to create something impressive or cool in the eyes of others instead of trying to give a voice to that gnawing thought in your frontal lobe.

The real trap is allowing anxiety to breed off itself, choosing activities and developing habits that perpetuate rather than alleviate that stress weighing on your brain and strengthening that pressure pushing down from a place unseen. This seems to be the elemental basis for addiction, whether it be to drugs or beauty or success or anything else. They all appear born of the idea that acquisition or achievement of some formless, yet theoretically attainable, thing will take away the “bad stuff” i.e. the generalized anxiety associated with just being alive.

The catch of course is that if a little is good, then more must be better. And so we overdose. We want so desperately to relieve that near constant anxiety associated with not feeling good that we cease to even let the uncertainty enter our lives by developing habitual coping mechanisms. We get high. We apply makeup. We work to exhaustion. We check our phones incessantly, hoping for communication from a friend/acquaintance/news source/etc. We make sure the boogiemen of doubt and depression don’t creep into our minds by making sure every crevice is filled with entertainment or consumption or communication. We are constantly doing regardless of what is being done. Some may say we do these things to feel good, but it seems more likely we do them to not feel so bad. And there is a difference.

This magazine itself probably started as a way to relieve some anxieties we hadn’t wanted to face yet. Anxieties about achievement and value and creativity and success and death. The fear that we were just floating through life thoughtlessly, consuming without creating and, thus, feeling empty and unsatisfied. A looming uneasiness that we were stagnant, being pushed in directions we didn’t want to go because we were ourselves directionless. Neither of us had dreams of starting a literary magazine. This isn’t a career move or a resume builder. This isn’t about social capital or appearing intelligent to our peers. This isn’t self-worship. This is two lost people on a park bench. This is sure why not. This is screaming into the void.  This is the need to do something.

The pieces of writing included in this issue are great examples of why we chose literature as our something rather than another medium. They make us feel connected to the authors, the world around us, and ourselves. They are nuanced and subtle yet moving, just as the more vivid parts of life often are. They relieve some of our own existential anxieties by giving us proof that people are finding ways to live despite the ever-present pressures. They inspire us to try and do the same.

Above all, they make us feel human and unalone. We hope they do the same for you.

Kathy Klimentowski/Nick Rossi
Chicago/Nashville, October 2015″

Sobotka Issue 3 Editors' Note

Wordsmith Wednesday: David Foster Wallace’s “Joseph Frank’s Dostoevsky”

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The Wordsmith Wednesday this week comes from David Foster Wallace’s essay “Joseph Frank’s Dostoevsky” from his book “Consider the Lobster.”

The words are:

“Am I a good person? Deep down, do I even really want to be a good person, or do I only want to seem like a good person so that people (including myself) will approve of me? Is there a difference? How do I ever actually know whether I’m bullshitting myself, morally speaking?”

This passage appears as an aside in an essay about a biography of Fyoder Dostoevsky, a piece filled with these self-aware inclusions that break the fourth wall. Wallace’s ability to tease out those little gnawing human questions in his writing and engage the reader in conversation is one of the main reasons I’m drawn to him and the above words express something that had been bouncing around in my brain for years before I saw them in print. Thanks to David Foster Wallace for putting words to feelings I think a lot of us have.

– NR

David Foster Wallace

Wordsmith Wednesday: Fugazi’s “Suggestion”

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Wordsmith Wednesday this week features the lyrics to Fugazi​’s song “Suggestion” from their record “13 Songs,” released on Dischord Records​ in 1989. They read:

“Why can’t I walk down a street free of suggestion?
Is my body my only trait in the eyes of men?

I’ve got some skin
You want to look in

There lays no reward in what you discover
You spent yourself (boy) watching me suffer
Suffer your words, suffer your eyes, suffer your hands
Suffer your interpretation of what it is to be a man

I’ve got some skin
You want to look in

She does nothing to deserve it
He looks at here ’cause he wants to observe it
We sit back (like they taught us)
Keep quiet (like they taught us)

He just wants to prove it
She does nothing to remove it
We don’t want anyone to mind us
We play the roles that they assigned us

She does nothing to conceal it
He touches her ’cause he wants to feel it
We blame her for being there
We are all here
We are all
Guilty”

The use of rhetorical question and perspective in these lyrics introduced me to issues of objectification of women, victim blaming, and bystander responsibility well before social media and viral think pieces made the discussion these topics ubiquitous. Hearing the intensity of Guy Picciotto and Ian MacKaye deliver these words, my view of masculinity was directly challenged as a teenage boy. That is the strength of these lyrics: they are straight-forward and indicting yet give implied suggestions on how to undermine the systems of oppression highlighted within them. I owe a lot to these words for helping me consider what it really is to be a man.

– NR

Fugazi

Wordsmith Wednesday: Ursula K. Le Guin’s “The Lathe of Heaven”

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This week’s Wordsmith Wednesday is the opening passage of Ursula K. Le Guin’s novel, The Lathe of Heaven.

It reads,

“Current-borne, wave-flung, tugged hugely by the whole might of ocean, the jellyfish drifts in the tidal abyss. The light shines through it, and the dark enters it. Borne, flung, tugged from anywhere to anywhere, for in the deep sea there is no compass but nearer and farther, higher and lower, the jellyfish hangs and sways; pulses move slight and quick within it, as the vast diurnal pulses beat in the moondriven sea. Hanging, swaying, pulsing, the most vulnerable and insubstantial creature, it has for its defense the violence and power of the whole ocean, to which it has entrusted its being, its going, and its will.”

In Le Guin’s encapsulation of the life of a jellyfish, we see ourselves. Thrown against all the powers that be, and yet all these powers are the same ones that are meant to be at our disposal. We are born into them, yet they control us nonetheless. In the end, we are vulnerable but we trust that our surroundings, all that we have come to know, will help direct and guide us towards what we are meant to become.

– KK

LeGuin

Wordsmith Wednesday: Lupe Fiasco’s “Intruder Alert”

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This week’s Wordsmith Wednesday is a verse from Lupe Fiasco‘s “Intruder Alert” off his 2007 album, “The Cool,” and reads:

“Famine striking his homeland/
and no social standing/
in the economic pecking order/
emergency relief distribution systems is in disorder/
he’s checking water/
making sure it’s safe enough for his daughter/
to float across in the boat he built/
hopefully strong enough to support her/
praying border patrols don’t catch her/
and process and deport her/
before she reach the shore of the land of the free/
where they feed you/
treat you like equals/
deceive you/
stamp you and call you illegal”

In one verse, Wasalu Jaco (aka Lupe Fiasco) concentrates a complex sociopolitical issue down to its human core. Some of the children I teach now are refugees from Latin America, the Middle East, and Africa, but I have this song to thank for helping me empathize with those in this situation years before I’d met anyone who’d lived through it. As the debate about immigration policy remains a staple of U.S. presidential platforms, I continue to come back to these words for a personal perspective rather than political posturing.

– NR

Lupe Fiasco

Labor Day Sale

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In honor of labor movements worldwide, Issues 1 and 2 are on sale through Monday!

“The working class must be emancipated by the working class.
Woman must be given her true place in society by the working class.
Child labor must be abolished by the working class.
Society must be reconstructed by the working class.
The working class must be employed by the working class.
The fruits of labor must be enjoyed by the working class.
War, bloody war, must be ended by the working class.”
– Eugene Debs, 9/1/1904 (Indianapolis, IN)

MLKGuns