At four in the morning on May 5, 2018, we found ourselves, after what felt like an eternity of waiting, in Ireland. We flew out of Boston the day prior and with restless anticipation, unable to sleep through the five and half hour flight. We did our best to get settled in our Airbnb and take a nap before we took on the city of Dublin. We got a map and didn’t know exactly what we wanted to do first. I had a bucket list of course and decided to tackle as many things as we could. I knew that on the very top of my list was the Trinity College Library. As an English Major, I have a profound sense of appreciation for literature and its history. In school, I have learned so much about the history of literature, learning about how the oral story first started becoming the written word. In the heart of Dublin, the Trinity Colleges magnificent Old Library houses the ninth century gospel manuscript—The Book of Kells, kept at the Trinity College since 1661, a literary treasure.
Despite the jet lag, the day was perfect. 21 degrees Celsius (which is about 70 degrees Fahrenheit), smooth baby blue skies, and warm sunshine. I wore an old pair of black vans across the cobblestone streets of Dublin; I walked with all my senses peeled so far back that my bestie, who was with me on this the trip, kept having to snap her fingers in front of my face. I was so hyper-aware of everything else around me that I wasn’t hearing her talk to me. The architecture, the millions of voices reeling off so many different languages, a world so new and intriguing to me—I felt overloaded with wonderment.
We left the cobblestone streets and blue skies and entered the exhibition for The Book of Kells. There is so much information that you could easily spend hours scouring the vast quantities of historical material. Once you get through, you enter the Long Room. The Long Room houses 200,000 ancient books cased in towering oak bookcases that rise up along each side of you as you walk: a perfect long room. Glass cases center the room, while on each side, sections of books are roped off by thick red velvet ropes. Each alcove of books has one large window pouring in natural light, tall ladders in order to climb to the second-floor shelves. There are marble busts of philosophers and writers that sit on pillars between each section: Aristotle, Isaac Newton, Socrates, Homer, Johnathan Swift, and William Shakespeare among many others. In a glass encasement, you can read the 1916 Proclamation of the Irish Republic. Also, to be admired, a harp (the emblem of Ireland) that dates back to the fifteenth century sits in the center of it all.
We learned that since the beginning of the 1800s, the library was privy to receive a copy of every book published in Britain and Ireland. The barrel-vaulted ceiling allowed for the towering upper gallery bookshelves. Walking down the Old Library, smelling the oak bookshelves, and being surrounded by so much history, gave me goosebumps. I knew how lucky I was in that moment, to be standing there in that packed room with so many other visitors, to be seeing something that I never truly imagined I would.
After leaving the Old Library, we walked back onto the green. A length of grass in the center of the college. We laid down, tired and relaxed under rolling white clouds, listened to the chatter of the people around us, the busy voices of tourists like ourselves. Despite having much more to see, I knew that I had just experienced one of the best parts of our trip. From the very beginning, this trip was already completely worth every penny I had spent to get there.
Jessa Frances De La Rosa
From the second I laid my tiny hands on a book until I graduated high school, I knew I wanted to have a future that involved books. Everything about them entranced me, from the smell of the pages to the way some of the covers shimmered in the light. I loved the way I could run my fingers over the snapped spines and imagine the people that read it before me. Once I learned to read the words on the pages, I never set them down. I can’t recall a time until college that I didn’t go through at least five novels a month. Every one of the happiest memories in my life can be recalled with my nose half buried in a book while the world moved around me.
I spent my junior and senior years being eaten alive with anxiety. I was a book nerd, there was no doubt in my mind, but what could I do with that? When I looked out towards the world, towards my future, there were so many options. Too many. I spent many sleepless nights looking over them.
There was the obvious choice of freelance writing but that was too risky for my soul to handle. The next option was teaching, which didn’t interest me at the time. I had seen how poorly teachers were treated and had no intention of living my life like that. After that, the options came and went faster. I thought about going to school for criminal justice, psychology, forensics, and finally, to become a librarian.
It wasn’t until a few weeks before my graduation that my one true calling hit me in the face. Literally. My boyfriend and I were in the last stages of writing our final papers for English class when he asked me to look over his work. I did; it was littered with mistakes, which I circled in red ink. I added some funny comments on the side, and when he threw the crooked white paper back in my face, we both laughed until we cried. After that afternoon, I took the time to look over the rest of my classmate’s papers and helped them make corrections. I took a lot of pride in knowing that they had bettered their grades because someone had helped them catch the mistakes they couldn’t see.
After a little bit of digging, I found out that being a professional editor was a career. It had never occurred to me before that someone had to be looking over works before they were published. Not long after, I signed up at the University of Mount Olive to be an English major. Being an Enlish major left wiggle room for me to change my mind after I graduated while still allowing me to focus on literature. That kept my childhood dream alive and kicking. I added on the publishing minor, and briefly, a creative writing minor. With that, my heart is content and I know that one day, I’ll be doing what I’ve loved since I was old enough to understand what books were.
Death has always been something different for me than the rest of my family. Sometimes it’s like standing on the outside of a glass bubble. I can press my hands against it, feel it, and deny its there all at the same time. This can also be applied to the way I feel writer’s block, something that’s been plaguing me for months.
My mother passed away in May of 2018. In July, my grandfather joined her, and at the beginning of August, my other grandfather also passed. The glass bubble grew thicker with each person. Instead of breaking, my heart lost itself in a maze of denial, of nights spent staring at the ceiling thinking of everything and nothing all at the same time.
Before everything, when the world hadn’t broken apart, I had considered myself a serious writer. I’ve completed three novels; an accomplishment for someone who’s only nineteen, or so I’ve been praised. Currently, I’m in the middle of my fourth, the second book in a series that has defined my life for years. After I lost my grandfather, it all came to a screeching halt.
As writers, we learn that we can fix things. It might take some planning, some painstaking backtracking and replotting, but we can always fix it. It is our work, it stems from a part of us, and we can always control where is goes. Death, however, isn’t something that can be bandaged back together by changing tenses or fixing verbs. It permanent, inked into skin like a tattoo. There is no rewriting. There is no backspace button, no second chance at fixing the plot.
Since July 30th, the last day my grandfather took a breath, I haven’t been able to write a single word in the book he was so proud to see me putting together. It’s like choking on air, the same air that used to keep me going when the rest of the world seemed so hopeless. It makes me ashamed to know that I don’t have the energy to spit out even a couple of sentences. When he left, he took my words with him.
But I know I’ll make do. I’ll survive, just like I always have, with a couple of notebooks and a good pen.
I’m learning how to use words again. They aren’t the same ones I could muster up two months ago. I’ll need to go back and fix everything I’ve written up until now. It’s hard, so painfully hard, but writer’s block is a monster in my closet that I intend to rip apart with creativity. I’ve written more in my life than I’ve spoken. I have file after file, journal after journal, all filled to the brim with words that have defined me over the years. I’ve spent sleepless nights raining my wrath down on a keyboard with the desperation of being heard and my voice will not be silenced because I can’t break through a stupid bubble.
So in short, the world will keep going. I will keep going. I have plans to finish the book before the end of 2018, during NaNoWriMo and during December when school lets out. Writer’s block is something we all face in different circumstances in our lives, but as writer’s, we have to learn to get passed it. That is the hardest part but it is also the most satisfying thing in the world once we succeed. Break the bubble, the one in your heart and the one on your page, and push forward.
I’m in my giant comfy chair wrapped up in a blanket. The weight of the book is heavy in my hands as I turn to the first page. Soft light illuminates the words as they start to form images in my mind.
Harry shouts from way up on the broom. Quidditch teams fly to win and see how many hoops go in. Pictures whisper through each and every room. Magic faces require passwords to enter all their spaces. I get to journey through all their rooms and hear the fat lady sing. With each turn of the page new images are brought into my mind. Hermione screams when magic brings evil, awful things. The troll she sees weakens her knees and makes her run and hide. Harry cries when Dobby dies and there’s nothing he can do.
In spite of the tears, laughter rings in each and every chapter. Friends find ways to get through the days. They take some time to talk and dance. They eat some candy when they have a chance. They get together at Hagrid’s hut. They use these moments to get together and have some peace. These times are used to forge their friendship and remind them there are things to lose, but also things to look forward to at the end of the day.
Witches and Wizards travel to distant places, running through walls and using chimney places. They travel through the air on winged beasts. Hippogriffs and Thestrals get them where they need to go. Motorcycles and cars fly through the air. Don’t crash into the willow or you’ll be in despair. What wonders this magic can bring.
This book brings such joy and magic to me. Things I never imagined come to life inside my mind’s eye. I get to take this journey along with the characters. Danger and woe accompany the angry foe. The dark one is here; he enjoys your fear. Wands fight with flashes of light. Harry will battle with all his might. There is no greater adventure than what’s in my mind. I reach the last page and start to feel sad. Then I remember there is a new book to be had and adventures to explore—maybe one with witches and wolves, or one where a man has hooves. There are many to choose but I am glad to know that as this adventure comes to an end, in my head a new shall begin.
Katherine Cummings, Olive Press Editor
J. Frances De La Rosa
I am writing this as a way of self- improvement. I often do this. It’s how I think things through, how I process most mental dilemmas. I start by writing out what the problem is, work towards understanding where it stems from, and then figure out ways in which to resolve the issue.
When I think about what it will take for me to be a truly successful writer, I know where my biggest fault lies. It’s not what I write or how I write. It’s not my bad grammar or my constant bounce from past to present to future tense. I know that as far as the writing goes… I can do it. My fault lies in follow-through. But, where does this fault come from?
For most of my life I have been a quitter. (Here lies one of my strengths—humility. I am not afraid to admit my faults, to face my fears.) No one wants to be called a quitter. No one wants to be a quitter. We all want to have the virtues of consistency, of follow-through, of courage and perseverance. But, whether we like to admit it or not, we all quit sometimes. There are plenty of things that I finish. But when it comes to my writing, I never seem to get it all the way done. Even if the piece is polished, you have to find a place to submit it and go through the process of doing so. I know it stems from some fear. Most likely just the fear of failure. This is something I work on constantly. I cannot quit before I’ve ever truly begun.
I write something out. I revise it. I edit it. I get frustrated with the constant need to go back over it. Over and over and over. That is the part that makes me throw up my hands and walk away. But even when I do go back and I do finish, then I need to give it away. To be an author, you must publish. And this is the ultimate goal for me, to be a successful author! So, obviously, the need to submit my work is extremely important.
What is it that makes me stop? What is it that keeps me from following through? It’s not the fear of the solitude it will require or the time needed to get it done, the amount of effort. I’m not afraid of the work. Or am I? Do I think that it will be too hard? Is this what makes me quit before I have even begun.
So, what’s the thing to do? How do I go about conquering this problem? For every problem there is a solution. Right?
Here’s what I’ve come up with:
Think of it like going to the gym and eating healthy. Find a fitness buddy, make a plan and force yourself to do it. Yell at yourself; fight with yourself; force yourself to face your fears by whatever means necessary. It’s like meal prep. Get everything together ahead of time, organize it, schedule it, and then find someone or something to help yourself stay accountable.
So, what am I doing today that will make a difference for me in the future? How will I go about with the follow-thru? I have found friends who will help edit my work and are constantly motivating me. I have given myself deadlines, assignments that must be finished- turned in. I have learned that the only thing that will truly make me feel better is doing the work. And here I am.
Were born into a brightly lit and invasive world, crying babies pulled from the soft, warm, dark wombs of our mothers and thrust into chaos. From the moment of conception, everything about us starts changing, and change never stops until we take our last breath.
Your mind settles into the pattern of your repeating days. How often do we hear “everything changes?” Of course, it does. Between the everyday repetition and the immense change—you deal with life somehow. It is also true that many people hate change even though change is the basis for our lives.
From infancy to the freedom of childhood to trying to live a good adult life all the way through to death, we try to make the most of our lives—our often repetitious and even sometimes humdrum lives. Whether you get up each day at the crack of dawn and work until dinner time then go home to the wife and kids or if you never marry and are always on the move, we have patterned lives. We do the dishes and the laundry, sweep the floor, and feed ourselves in regularly spaced out intervals. We try to keep ourselves feeling good, try to educate ourselves, better ourselves little by little, hurdle over hurdles. We watch the news and the neighbours. We judge and compare and conform. We switch out our wardrobes and move the furniture around in order fight against the monotony. Some of us have children and find it is in their lives that our own are so transformed. All the time, we are consumed with day in and day out repetition.
Many of us only have a short chance at a life of frivolity or spontaneous adventure. How strange the life of a single man and/or woman is and even then, how much rarer is the human who never settles. The gypsy, on the constant move, has always been somewhat taboo. We feel sorry for them. No home to fall back on. But at the same time, we are a little jealous… as we all innately crave freedom. Freedom: the very thing we pride ourselves on as Americans, waving our flags and shouting our points of view into the wind. What we believe, who we believe in, and what is the right way to do it.
And then we eat and do the dishes, and we eat and do them again and all the while, in between, we change. Just think of how often our lives are completely transformed. It seems to me that just about every seven years, our lives are completely overhauled and yet we don’t even notice it as it is happening.
J. Frances De La Rosa
Olive Press Editor
My mom always said, “To thine own self-be true.” There is something so wonderful that comes when we learn how to love ourselves. When we can face ourselves in the mirror, when we have looked our pasts straight in the eye and accepted them, taken them in and forgiven every single mistake, every stumble and then moved forward anyway, then we discover the strength involved in self-acceptance. When you feel that strength—when you feel that power—nothing can stop you. Take that power and use it. It’s like magic. The only real magic I have ever felt in my life is the love I have given to myself. No love you ever receive from anyone else is quite like the love you give yourself. No one can make you happy; your happiness is up to you.
I have a lot on my plate, but the thing is—I put it there. Every little morsel of it is there because I have picked it up off life’s buffet table and placed it on my plate. Your decisions determine your destiny. I have three children because I wanted to be a mother. I am married because I wanted to get married. I am going to college and getting my degree because I have a plan for my future that requires me to be educated. As a veteran, I am using my GI Bill. I have only thirty-six months to get my degree and because of that, I have to take at least 18 credit hours per semester. I get asked all the time, “how do you manage it all?” Well, it’s simple enough. I make it happen.
There is no outside force that pushes me toward my goals. It all comes from within. “An empty pitcher can’t pour milk,” mom always said. “You must take care of yourself or you won’t have anything to give.” So, I eat right, and I exercise. I wake up early in the morning, just like my mother always told me I should, and I start my day off with a determination to do my best with the day presented to me. I work out for an hour, come home, and sit with a cup of tea (these small breaks with thoughtful contemplation are a must for me). The kids need dressed and fed. Lunches need to be made. Once they are off to school, so am I. I pay attention in my classes and speak up. I eat healthy foods in-between, all my fruits and veggies, just like my mother always said I should. I give myself fifteen-minute breaks to watch the clouds float by or just to sit and talk with a friend. I use my spare time to accomplish tasks and you will often catch me doing two things at once.
“Make yourself a to-do list,” my mother always said. I don’t put things off. I make to-do lists and put them in order of priority. One at a time I get them done, no excuses. Every time I mark something off that list I let it make me feel good. This is an important step, letting myself feel good for small accomplishments. Most of the time it surprises me how quickly I can get things accomplished. It’s not that I don’t watch a little tv or take time to have a picnic in the park with my daughters, but I make sure that my list is being constantly worked at.
When the kids get home, we get snacks and do homework. I make sure to spend time with them. I make their dinners each night with their help and then have them help me clean up after. Because of this, I can feel good about myself as a mother and also get things done around the house. I read to them each night, sing lullabies, and give plenty of kisses. Once the kids are in bed, I put myself down and read. A lot of my classes require reading, and this is the perfect time for me to do that.
Life is distracting.
Things happen that catch us off guard. It’s not easy to keep yourself always heading down the right path, always moving forward toward the success we hope to reach. Being focused is just as much work as the work we are doing itself if not harder. We meet people that throw off our concentration, family issues arise, our health fails, our cars break down. Perseverance is key in almost every situation. Sometimes we fall in love. Sometimes we get our hearts broken. Sometimes, someone, we love dies. These types of circumstances are the hardest to keep working through. When things like that happen, we want to quit… sometimes all together. We want to lie down and throw our hands up, done. Too tired to continue or to move. It’s not easy to pull ourselves out of that mindset. But, if we do, if we keep fighting even when it’s hard, that is when we will see the success we set out to find. Always, keep the goal in sight, always put your best foot forward. It’s not always going to be easy, but it’s not always going to be hard either. Look up into the sky, stop to breathe and center yourself, ground yourself in the earth and remember who you are and why you are doing what you are doing.
Everything changes. Nothing in this life is permanent except for the fact that things will change. My mom always said, “This too shall pass.” So, remember that with each passing moment. Remember that every time you feel like you will never get through the next hour, the next day, it will pass. If you believe you can do it, if you love yourself, you will.
J. Frances De La Rosa
Olive Press Editor
Writing is hard work. The challenge of craft never seems to diminish. So I look for inspiration to keep going.
I’ve long admired Julianna Baggott. Her poems and novels have been threaded through my life. I often turn to her blog when I need something to boost my writing spirit or to help me see a new possibility.
In a post dated May 9, 2017, she turns the challenge of point of view. How and why first person can work in some situations and how and why third person is better than others. In this particular post, she pulls in the significance of humor. She shares this insight: “I should say that in first-person I always allow my characters to have a sense of humor — if nothing else than a realistic coping mechanism and how I personally process — and it can really high-jack a scene. I’m not saying that humor is bad in horror or thrillers or drama. The opposite. It’s necessary — for realism and, when used the right way, it’s a great counterpoint and it can make the scene even darker. But it can also fight you line by line, letting the reader off the hook, letting air out of the scene. One way to ease the effect is to go more retrospective. Past-tense and widen the time gap. This allows for a little softening of the lens, nostalgia, less flattening of the scene and more control of how it’s being read because of meddling from the narrator who has a stronger vantage point.”
In an earlier post, dated April 4, Baggott discusses the difference between form and formula especially as it relates to the novel. She writes, “And, look, structure is often something novelists do have to create by hand — and often it’s a brutal process of the story pushing its form into view. We have to chop through the jungle with machetes. But paths exist. They just do. We’re in the same jungle that other novelists have been through long before us. If you can start off as a writer on a path — in a structure that already exists — all the better. You can keep your eye on other things, like your sentences.”
So if you feel stuck in your writing or if you’re simply looking for a little inspiration, take some time with the writers you admire. Have they shared insight into the process? And if so, what can you take to breathe new life into your work and habits?
I ask my myself why I changed.
Why did my smiles stop?
There were no tears,
No aching sadness,
Just a missing smile.
Silence and loneliness clings to me
Like darkness hugs all during the night.
The sun chases away the darkness,
Still I remain standing in the dark,
No light comes to rescue me.
People come and go —
Laughter comes and goes.
The silent, lonely darkness remains.
My ever faithful companion.
Still there is no sadness.
I wondered did this happen to other people as well?
And then I realized,
I am only ever as alone as I allow myself to be.
I decided that while the darkness may be a part of me.
It would not rule me.
I let the sun bring me into its warm embrace,
And my smile shines as bright.
The need to find sadness is gone.
I can smile.
Sara Horton is a Founding Editor of The Olive Press
Want something different to read? Rogue Agent is a journal that is worth looking at if you enjoy poetry. Jill Khoury, Editor in Chief of Rogue Agent, wanted to create a space for poetry on embodied poetry–poetry about the body. The poetry addresses gender, race, heritage, queerness, dis/ability, mental illness, motherhood, the impact of religion on the body, and the impact of societal expectations on the body. What makes it even more interesting is that the poetry published is on the author’s individual experience and not other’s experiences. I love reading poetry from the author’s point of view, this helps me gain a better perspective on relevant issues. Rogue Agent only publishes ten poems by ten poets a month, as well as interviews and art features. So, if you want poetry that is unique and about the body, go read some of the awesome poetry in Rogue Agent.
Jennifer Burnside is an editor for The Olive Press.
Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds is a story of revenge and the consequence of revenge. At least that’s what you think it’s about. Reynolds main character Will lives by three simple rules: no crying, no snitching, and always revenge. The premise of this novel is based on a true event from Reynolds life. At 19, he had considered taking revenge himself for the murder of his best friend at the time. What he did instead was to write a book about gun violence that just might break the mold and actually change some minds. Reynolds says that he tried to write this book in a three dimensional way in order to really hit home with people. He is not trying to teach the reader a lesson. He is simply trying to make reality jump off the page. However, this is not the most surprising thing about this book. This novel is not like most novels because it’s written as poetry. Reynolds said that he knows that many communities and people struggle with literary challenges, therefore he wanted to write a book that someone could sit down and read in 45 minutes and walk away understanding the message.
Sara Horton is a founding editor of The Olive Press.
As December begins, I feel the rush toward the end of the year pick up. It is an inner frenzy–all those things I had hoped to complete this year, my need for plans in hand, the lurking pressure of the holidays.
This sense of pressure makes me appreciate those mornings when I don’t need to worry about an alarm, when it is enough to let the sun break through the blinds, allowing the increasing brightness to shake me into the world.
Today, while browsing and reading online, I came across a poem by David Whyte titled “What to Remember When Waking.” It concludes with these lines:
“Now, looking through the slanting light of the morning window
toward the mountain presence of everything that can be
what urgency calls you to your one love?
What shape waits in the seed of you
to grow and spread its branches
against a future sky?
Is it waiting in the fertile sea?
In the trees beyond the house?
In the life you can imagine for yourself?
In the open and lovely white page on the writing desk?”
So here is my hope, that we all find the quiet and still mornings that allow us to look outward and inward, both and find what is calling us into the world this day.